Is morality a fundamental part of nature?

Viewing nature as a signaling network shows its advantage with this question.

Instead of asking where our moral sense comes from, we ask instead what makes for a good signaling network?

The answer is “good organization.”

By “good,” I mean efficient, well-made, good use of resources, easy to maintain, rational, etc.

You are a signaling network.

A well-organized you will probably tend to be morally pretty good and wanting to get better at it, depending on your conditions.

Of course some people view “morality” as whatever is in their best interests. And that is a type of moral thinking. When it is found out, though, most other people, very reasonably, do not like it.

If we view nature as the evolution of signals and signaling networks rather than as the evolution of matter, we will see that changes in signal organization are fundamental to the evolutionary process.

In this sense, it is the most ordinary thing in the world that you, a complex signaling system that is conscious, would consciously seek good organization and/or want to adapt your organizing principles, both objective and subjective, to conditions that impact you.

Conditions that impact you are signals being perceived by the signaling network you think of as yourself.

Your adaptations, both small and large, will encompass many moral considerations and choices.

Morality can be viewed as a kind of organization. The networks that make up your being must organize their relations with the world around them and other sentient beings. We make many moral decisions when we do this. These decisions are an integral part of how we are organized.

Last night I heard a drunk swearing at his friend from the street. “You fucking bastard…” etc. Not well-organized, but still he was yelling a local version of morality and this was fundamental to his networks and behavior.

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first posted 04/04/17

Abstract reasoning and mental illness

Listening to the ranting of a friend who has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), I am struck by two things:

  • he gives reasons for his anger
  • his reasoning or abstract understanding of his predicament is ridiculous

(His rant was recorded and sent to me by a third party who is trying to help.)

With that as a starting point, consider the various ways abstract reasoning or solid abstract paradigms can compensate for or mask mental illness. Not all of it is pretty.

For example, serial killers often mask their illnesses for decades by holding fast to the appearance of normalcy while secretly indulging their madness.

Less bad are career criminals who act with savagery in less direct ways, through hit men, poisons, theft, fraud, and so on.

There is a wide spectrum between serial killers and normally inoffensive people.

It is reasonable to see all cultures as fundamentally abstract paradigms that mask and allow for madness among large groups of people.

A culture, after all, is nothing more than a Lowest-Common-Denominator system of communication; an LCD semiology. Consider how many cultures are grotesquely narcissistic.

Personality is much the same whether it conforms well or not to whichever cultural semiology it inhabits.

From this point of view, enshrining diversity only ensures a wider array of mad people. Identity politics is the same; just more ways for mad people to function, more room for them to run free; more abstract paradigms to mask their underlying chaos.

That is a decent modern restatement of the First and Second Noble Truths: life is suffering because we are crazy.

The Third and Fourth Noble Truths tell us that the way out of being crazy is to use our reason better; to understand why we are crazy; that clinging to LCD semiologies can’t ever work.

A philosophical psychologist might rightly say that a mad mind open to reason will gradually become well.

My friend with BPD can reason, but his reasoning is really bad. It’s selfish, marinated in anger, and not open to contrary views. But even he can do it if he clings to reason and evidence.

Abstract reasoning and paradigms such as Buddhism, science, other religions, atheism, psychology, or philosophy can lead us out of madness if we use them diligently.

Diligence or perseverance is one of the most important virtues in Buddhist practice. Wisdom is the most important. Compassion is probably the most famous Buddhist virtue but compassion without wisdom or diligence is not good and can even be dangerous.

Indeed, my BPD friend frequently and loudly demands unreasonable compassion from others. And that is one of the most obvious flaws in the way he thinks about himself, the way he reasons.

Speech and emotion

Good speech can and sometimes should be emotional.

Adrenaline, cortisol, and other hormones can and should stimulate our bodies and brains when we discuss subjects that matter.

I love it when my SO stands up to emphasize her words with gestures. Her voice rises with the conviction that her point is relevant and important.

Usually it is. If it isn’t, she almost always easily moves on. Even if she doesn’t, I still love it.

I know she talks with feeling because the subject matters, not because her ego or “identity” is emotionally invested (though even that can be good).

When people care about what they are saying, their bodies resonate with feeling.

IMO, it’s a mistake to try too hard to control that or hide that. Emotions like that stimulate the mind/brain and make us smarter.

Is there a universal morality or basis for morality?

Anthropologists from the University of Oxford believe there are seven components or rules of human morality that can be found in all societies.

…help you family, help your group, return favours, be brave, defer to superiors, divide resources fairly, and respect others’ property, were found in a survey of 60 cultures from all around the world.

An article about this study can be found here: Seven moral rules found all around the world.

The study itself can be found here: Is It Good to Cooperate? Testing the Theory of Morality-as-Cooperation in 60 Societies.

The study concludes that the universal basis of human morality is cooperation.

Among the seven rules, bravery is defined as a moral virtue in defense of one’s group, an ultimate form of cooperation that may result in death.

Deference to superiors seems to be a virtue that supports group hierarchy.

Both bravery and deference to superiors indicate that fighting within and between groups is common.

In today’s world, obviously, many people and most Americans do not live in tribes or stable neighborhoods, so our groups have become nebulous, abstract, bound more by belief and imagination than tribal and clan and familial bonds.

In this respect, the study shows why politics—and other subjects touching on group identity—can become so polarized and so difficult to discuss rationally.

Word order and word choice affect how and what we think

A new study shows that the word order of the language(s) we speak affects how we remember spoken information and perhaps more.

An article about the study can be found here: Word order predicts a native speakers’ working memory.

The main novelty of this study is that the link between language and thought might not be just confined to conceptual representations and semantic biases, but rather extend to syntax and its role in our way of processing sequential information. The language we speak affects the way we process, store and retrieve information.

The study can be found here (no paywall): The word order of languages predicts native speakers’ working memory.

Word choice can have even bigger effects on how we think and what we think about.

For example, using the term default mode network in place of unconscious mind or the Freudian Id yields a very different kind of understanding about what people are and how they function.

If you pay close attention to your default mode network, I am certain you will find yourself making judgements about other people. I am also certain that many of those judgements will have been repeated many times in the past and without intervention from your meta-self will be repeated many more times in future.

These judgements affect how you think and feel about many things; they tend to be fundamental to the workings of our psychologies.

Often our default mode judgements include our desired punishment for the offense we have just judged: “I hope that SOB falls in the river” or however you would put it.

A wonderful side of our minds is we can see that. We can see what we are doing and even figure out ways to act on what we see.

The next time you notice yourself wishing someone would fall in the river, stop and ask yourself if that is what you really want.

I am not saying get all moral with yourself and pray for the person. I am just saying ask yourself if that is what you really want. Do you really want them in the river?

I bet most of the time, if not all, you would much rather see them repent, reform, apologize, make amends, sin no more.

If you see that, you can see there is no spiritual need for revenge or punishment. What we need and want is the betterment of the person we have judged and the betterment of ourselves.

The way we think about our real-world minds and uses of language can be changed by how we think about them.

Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory & The Scapegoat

Rene Girard, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, began developing his theories over 40 years ago, while researching the great stories in literature. He wanted to know what made these stories great and he discovered that they had some similarities. He further began to research the rituals and mythologies of primitive people. He noted the same common structural properties in those stories. These similarities in the world’s mythologies and rituals led to the development of his theories of mimesis and the scapegoat mechanism.

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