Big 5 Personality Traits / cont., The Evolution of Personality Variation in Humans

I would submit that these personality factors are not scientifically valid, but socially invented and constructed; not objective, but subjective. This “theory without proof” lies outside the scientific method of proof – but these “speculations” are the basis for Psychology; the socio-cultural Western religion.   

Note the highly “socially judgmental” descriptions of “low scorers” and “high scorers”. A polarized view of human personality, in which “socially approved” characteristics (outgoing, empathetic, warm, helpful) are given “high scores” The  trait categories are also skewed: extraversion, agreeableness, openness – conscientiousness, neuroticism! How do these highly subjective ideas drive the relentless push toward conformity to social prescriptions for “normal, typical, or idealized” behavior, which is determined by culture? What they “measure” is the opinion of the measurer – and his or her socio-cultural agenda. As the author points out, “However, it is important not to conflate social desirability with positive effects on fitness.” 

continued from: The Evolution of Personality Variation in Humans and animals by Daniel Nettle, Newcastle University in American Psychologist, 2006  Evolution and Behaviour Research Group, Division of Psychology, Henry Wellcome Building, University of Newcastle, Newcastle NE2 4HH, United Kingdom.

Human Personality Traits

The rest of this article follows the structure of the five factor model of personality (Costa & McCrae, 1985, 1992; Digman, 1990). Though the five broad factors, or domains, are decomposable into finer facets (Costa & McCrae, 1985) and certainly do not capture all the variation in human personality (Paunonen & Jackson, 2000), there is broad consensus that they are useful representations of the major axes of variation in human disposition (Digman, 1990). Following the considerations outlined in the previous section, I briefly examine the nature of each domain and consider the kinds of costs and benefits that increasing the level of the domain might have with respect to biological fitness. The reviews here are speculative, but they are offered in the hope of stimulating empirical work and of drawing psychologists’ attention to the idea that changing the level of a trait is associated with fitness costs as well as fitness benefits.

Extraversion

Note that many of the “negative risk factors” are actually admired and rewarded in American males: I would go so far as to say, that ‘extraversion’ is tailor-made permission for “boys to be boys” as defined culturally. In females, these same behaviors are viewed negatively. Also, my comments refer to the BIG 5 model, not to the author’s concepts. 

A dimension related to positive emotion, exploratory activity, and reward is a feature common to all personality frameworks and theories. Its most common label is extraversion, and its proximate basis is thought to involve variation in dopamine-mediated reward circuits in the brain (Depue & Collins, 1999). I have outlined a trade-offs-based evolutionary model for the maintenance of polymorphism in extraversion (Nettle, 2005). Extraversion is strongly and positively related to number of sexual partners (Heaven, Fitzpatrick, Craig, Kelly, & Sebar, 2000; Nettle, 2005), which, for men in particular, can increase fitness. High scorers are also more likely to engage in extrapair copulations or to terminate a relationship for another. This may lead to their securing mates of higher quality than those secured by individuals who are more constant in their choice of partners. The benefits of extraversion are not limited to mating, as extraverts, or those high on the closely correlated trait of sensation seeking, initiate more social behavior (Buchanan, Johnson, & Goldberg, 2005) and have more social support (Franken, Gibson, & Mohan, 1990) than others. Moreover, they are more physically active and undertake more exploration of their environment (Chen et al., 1999; Kircaldy, 1982). However, in pursuing high sexual diversity, and high levels of exploration and activity in general, extraverts also expose themselves to risk. Those who are hospitalized due to accident or illness are higher in extraversion than those who are not (Nettle, 2005), and those who suffer traumatic injury have been found to be high in sensation seeking (Field & O’Keefe, 2004). High extraversion or sensation seeking scorers also have elevated probabilities of migrating (Chen et al., 1999), becoming involved in criminal or antisocial behavior (Ellis, 1987), and being arrested (Samuels et al., 2004). All of these are sources of risk, risk that in the ancestral environment might have meant social ostracism or death. Moreover, because of their turnover of relationships, extraverts have an elevated probability of
exposing their offspring to step-parenting, which is a known risk factor for child well-being. One can thus conceive of extraversion as leading to benefits in terms of mating opportunities and exploration of novel aspects of the environment but carrying costs in terms of personal survival and possibly offspring welfare. It is unlikely that there will be a universal optimal position on this trade-off curve. Instead, local conditions, including the density and behavioral strategies of surrounding individuals, could lead to a constant fluctuation in the optimal value, and hence genetic polymorphism would be retained.

Neuroticism (Traditionally in psych / psych dogma, Neuroticism is by default the normal “female” condition.)

The neuroticism personality axis is associated with variation in the activity levels of negative emotion systems such as fear, sadness, anxiety, and guilt. The negative effects of neuroticism are well-known in the psychological literature. High neuroticism is a strong predictor of psychiatric disorder in general (Claridge & Davis, 2001), particularly depression and anxiety. Neuroticism is also associated with impaired physical health, presumably through chronic activation of stress mechanisms (Neeleman et al., 2002). Neuroticism is a predictor of relationship failure and social isolation (Kelly & Conley, 1987). A much more challenging issue, then, is finding any compensatory benefit to neuroticism. However, given the normal distribution observed in the human population, and the persistence of lineages demonstrably high in the trait, such a benefit seems likely. Studies in nonhuman animals, such as guppies (see the Evolution of Variation section), suggest that vigilance and wariness are both highly beneficial in avoiding predation and highly costly because they are quickly lost when predation pressure is absent. In ancestral environments, a level of neuroticism may have been necessary for avoidance of acute dangers. Anxiety, of which neuroticism can be considered a trait measure, enhances detection of threatening stimuli by speeding up the reaction to them, interpreting ambiguous stimuli as negative, and locking attention onto them (Mathews, Mackintosh, & Fulcher, 1997).

Because actual physical threats are generally attenuated in contemporary situations, (this is highly dependent on gender, race, socio-economic and class status and geographical location) the safety benefits of neuroticism may be hard to detect empirically. However, certain groups who take extreme risks, such as alpinists (mostly male?) (Goma-i-Freixanet, 1991) and Mount Everest climbers (Egan & Stelmack, 2003), have been found to be unusually low in neuroticism. Given the high mortality involved in such endeavors (around 300 people have died in attempting Everest), this finding suggests that neuroticism can be protective. There may also be other kinds of benefits to neuroticism. Neuroticism is positively correlated with competitiveness (Ross, Stewart, Mugge, & Fultz, 2001). McKenzie has shown that, among university students, academic success is strongly positively correlated with neuroticism among those who are resilient enough to cope with its effects (McKenzie, 1989; McKenzie, Taghavi-Knosary, & Tindell, 2000). Thus negative affect can be channeled into striving to better one’s position. However, here neuroticism certainly interacts with other factors. When intelligence or conscientiousness is high, for example, the outcomes of neuroticism may be significantly different than when such factors are low. Thus it is quite possible that very low neuroticism has fitness disadvantages in terms of lack of striving or hazard avoidance. Although very high neuroticism has evident drawbacks, it may also serve as a motivator to achievement in competitive fields among those equipped to succeed. Thus the optimal value of neuroticism would plausibly depend on precise local conditions and other attributes of the person, leading to the maintenance of polymorphism.

Openness

The trait of openness to experience again seems, at first blush, to be an unalloyed good. Openness is positively related to artistic creativity (McCrae, 1987). According to Miller’s (1999; 2000a) cultural courtship model, creative production in artistic domains serves to attract mates, and there is evidence that women find creativity attractive, (Again, we have the problem of just who is defining and judging what qualifies as “creative production”, a highly subjective culturally-dependent matter, often attributed in the U.S. to whatever/whomever makes a profit…) creative especially during the most fertile phase of the menstrual cycle (Haselton & Miller, 2006), and that poets and visual artists have higher numbers of sexual partners than controls (Nettle & Clegg, 2006). The core of openness seems to be a divergent cognitive style that seeks novelty and complexity and makes associations or mappings between apparently disparate domains (McCrae, 1987). Though such a cognitive style might appear purely beneficial, it is conceptually very similar to components of schizotypy, or proneness to psychosis (of course; creative types are “dangerous” in a rigid, impoverished culture of social conformity) (Green & Williams, 1999; Woody & Claridge, 1977). Indeed, five-factor Openness correlates positively with the Unusual Experiences scale of the Oxford–Liverpool Inventory for Feelings and Experiences schizotypy inventory (Mason, Claridge, & Jackson, 1995; Rawlings & Freeman, 1997). The Unusual Experiences scale is also correlated with measures of creativity (Nettle, in press-b; Schuldberg, 2000). Individuals scoring high in Unusual Experiences and on measures of creativity have increased levels of paranormal belief (McCreery & Claridge, 2002; Thalbourne, 2000; Thalbourne & Delin, 1994), and five-factor Openness itself is positively correlated with beliefs in the paranormal (Charlton, 2005). The Unusual Experiences trait is elevated in schizophrenia patients (Nettle, in press), and an extremely similar scale predicted the onset of schizophrenia in a longitudinal study (Chapman, Chapman, Kwapil, Eckblad,&Zinser,1994).Thus, openness and its covariates are associated with damaging psychotic and delusional phenomena as well as high function. Openness itself has been found to be associated with depression (Nowakowska, Strong, Santosa, Wang, & Ketter, 2005), as has a high score on the Unusual Experiences scale (Nettle, in press-b). Thus, the unusual thinking style characteristic of openness can lead to nonveridical ideas about the world, from supernatural or paranormal belief systems to the frank break with reality that is psychosis. What determines whether the outcome of openness is benign or pathological is not fully understood. It may be a simple matter of degree, or there may be interactions with developmental events. Poets, for example, differ from schizophrenia patients not in their Unusual Experiences scores, which are in the same range, but in the absence of negative symptoms such as anhedonia and social withdrawal (Nettle, in press-b).

And yet, we relentlessly promote creativity and “out of the box” thinking in American schools as social positives; are we actually promoting sexual promiscuity, schizophrenia, “Ancient Alien” “UFO” “Paranormal” delusion and psychotic behavior?

The Unusual Experiences trait is positively correlated with mating success in nonclinical populations, at least partly because it leads to creativity (Nettle & Clegg, 2006). However, when it leads to schizophrenia, reproductive success is much reduced (Avila et al., 2001; Bassett et al., 1996). Thus the fitness payoffs to openness appear to be very context or condition dependent, leading to the retention of variation.

Conscientiousness

The remaining two personality domains, conscientiousness and agreeableness, are often thought of as being unalloyed in their benefits, because they are generally negatively related to measures of delinquency and antisocial behavior (e.g. Heaven, 1996). However, it is important not to conflate social desirability with positive effects on fitness. Natural selection favors traits that increase reproductive success, including many cases in which this success comes at the expense of other individuals. It is likely that fitness can be enhanced by a capacity to demand a free ride, break rules, and cheat on others under certain circumstances. Conscientiousness involves orderliness and self-control in the pursuit of goals. A by-product of conscientiousness is that immediate gratification is often delayed in favor of a longer term plan. This leads, for example, to a positive association of conscientiousness with life expectancy (Friedman et al., 1995), which works through adoption of healthy behaviors and avoidance of unhygienic risks. Very high levels of traits related to conscientiousness —moral principle, perfectionism, and self-control—are found in patients with eating disorders and with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (Austin & Deary, 2000; Claridge & Davis, 2003).

Though some obsessional individuals can be very high achievers in the modern context, it is not evident that their fitness would always have been maximal in a variable and unpredictable ancestral environment. Their extreme self control not only may be damaging, as their routines become pathological, but may lead to the missing of spontaneous opportunities to enhance reproductive success. Highly conscientious individuals have fewer short-term mating episodes (Schmidt, 2004) and will forgo opportunities to take an immediate return that may be to their advantage. Adaptations that orient the organism toward working for long-term payoffs will tend to have the effect of reducing the opportunistic taking of immediate ones. This can have fitness costs and benefits, which will vary with local conditions.

Agreeableness

Agreeableness, with its correlates of empathy and trust, is also generally seen as beneficial by personality psychologists, and its absence is associated with antisocial personality disorder (Austin & Deary, 2000). Agreeableness is strongly correlated with Baron-Cohen’s empathizing scale (Nettle, in press-a), which is in turn argued to measure theory of mind abilities and the awareness of others’ mental states (Baron-Cohen & Wheelwright, 2004). Several evolutionary psychologists have argued plausibly that as a highly social species, humans have been under strong selection to attend to and track the mental states of others (Byrne & Whiten, 1988; Dunbar, 1996; Humphrey, 1976). Others have noted that we seem to be unique among mammals in the extent of our cooperation with unrelated conspecifics. Inasmuch as agreeableness facilitates these interactions, it would be highly advantageous. Agreeable individuals have harmonious interpersonal interactions and avoid violence and interpersonal hostility (Caprara, Barbaranelli, & Zimbardo, 1996; Heaven, 1996; Suls, Martin, & David, 1998). They are much valued as friends and coalition partners. Although this may be true, a vast literature in theoretical biology has been devoted to demonstrating that unconditional trust of others is almost never an adaptive strategy. Across a wide variety of conditions, unconditional trusters are invariably outcompeted by defectors or by those whose trust is conditional or selective (see, e.g., Axelrod & Hamilton, 1981; Maynard-Smith, 1982; Trivers, 1971). Levels of aggression can often be selected for (Maynard-Smith, 1982). Very high agreeableness, if it led to an excessive attention to the needs and interests of others, or excessive trusting, would be detrimental to fitness. Among modern executives, agreeableness is negatively related to achieved remuneration and status (Boudreau, Boswell, & Judge, 2001), and creative accomplishment (as distinct from creative potential) is negatively related to agreeableness (King, Walker, & Broyles, 1996). Though it is an uncomfortable truth to recognize, it is unlikely that fitness is unconditionally maximized by investing energy in positive attention to others. Instead, though an empathic cognitive style may be useful in the whirl of social life, it may have costs in terms of exploitation or inattention to personal fitness gains.

Moreover, sociopaths, who are low in agreeableness, may at least sometimes do very well in terms of fitness, especially when they are rare in a population (Mealey, 1995). The balance of advantages between being agreeable and looking after personal interests will obviously vary enormously according to context. For example, in a small isolated group with a limited number of people to interact with and a need for common actions, high agreeableness may be selected for. Larger, looser social formations, or situations in which the environment allows solitary foraging, may select agreeableness downward.

Conclusions

This article has had several purposes. The first has been to stress that heritable variation is ubiquitous in wild populations and therefore should be expected as the normal outcome of evolutionary processes acting on human behavioral tendencies. Thus, personality variation can be understood in the context of a large literature, both theoretical and empirical, on variation in other species.

Second, I have suggested that a fruitful way of looking at variation is in terms of trade-offs of different fitness benefits and costs (summarized in Table 1 for the Big Five personality factors). Theories based on trade-offs have been very successful in providing an understanding of evolution in other species. Moreover, the idea of trade-offs can be usefully married to the notion of fluctuating selection to explain the persistence of diversity. Such accounts are not speculative. Studies such as those on great tits, guppies, finches, and sunfish (see the section on Evolution of Variation) have demonstrated how fluctuations in environmental context change the fitness outcomes associated with particular phenotypes, which in turn affects the future shape of the population through natural selection. Thus, researchers examining nonhuman variation have been able to go well beyond post hoc explanations and actually observe evolution in action. The current trade-off account builds on the ideas of MacDonald (1995), who argued that the observed range of variation represents the range of viable human behavioral strategies and who stressed that there are fitness disadvantages at the extremes. Thus, he stressed stabilizing selection. The present argument is that selection can fluctuate, such that it may sometimes be directional for increasing a trait and sometimes be directional for decreasing it. Among the great tits, for example, selection on exploration is clearly directional in any given year (Dingemanse et al., 2004). The retention of a normal distribution is a consequence of the inconsistency of the direction of selection, not its stabilizing form. That said, I agree with MacDonald that there could be quite general disadvantages at the extremes of some personality dimensions, such as chronic depression with high neuroticism, or obsessive–compulsive personality disorder with high conscientiousness. It is not a necessary feature of the current approach that there always be stabilizing effects. The other major difference between the current approach and that of MacDonald (1995) is that he did not fully develop the notion of trade-offs across the middle range of a continuum, and in particular, he did not develop empirical predictions for the nature of trade-offs for all the different five-factor dimensions. It is important to stress that trade-offs and fluctuating selection are not the only possible approaches to the maintenance of heritable variation. Biologists have also observed that there are a number of traits that are unidirectionally correlated with fitness and yet in which substantial heritable variation is maintained (Rowe & Houle, 1996). An example would be physical symmetry. In general, the more symmetrical an individual, the higher its fitness, and yet heritable variation in symmetry persists. The maintenance of variation in such cases appears paradoxical, because directional selection might be expected to home in on perfect symmetry and winnow out all variation. The solution to the paradox appears to be that such global traits as symmetry are affected by mutations to many, if not most, genes. Most mutations that arise are to some extent deleterious, so deviation from physical symmetry becomes an index of the load of mutations an individual is carrying.

Selection, particularly that operating via mate choice, favors symmetry, and thus individual deleterious mutations are winnowed from the population. However, so many genes are involved that there is a constant stream of new mutations maintaining population diversity. Thus, symmetry is a fitness indicator trait in that it is a reliable signal of genetic quality. Some heritable human traits may be better explained by fitness indicator theory than by trade-off theory. Miller (2000b), for example, has applied such reasoning to intelligence. Intelligence is correlated with physical symmetry, (reallsuggesting that it taps overall quality (Prokosch, Yeo, & Miller, 2005). Thus, a fitness indicator approach seems likely to be fruitful in such a case. For personality, however, I suggest that an evolutionary trade-off account is likely to be useful. This does not mean that all personality differences are to be explained by the same mechanism. There are likely to be developmental calibration effects, too, as indicated by behavior genetics data showing a role for the unique environment and also as suggested by recent studies on early life stress and adult behavior (Figueredo et al., 2005). However, for the heritable basis of personality, the combination of trade-off and genetic polymorphism seems a fruitful avenue to pursue. It might be objected that the particular costs and benefits put forward here are speculative and as such amount to just-so stories about how personality variation has arisen. The former is true; as for the latter, such a charge misunderstands the utility of adaptive explanation in psychology. The evolutionary framework used here is hypothesis generating. That is, an article such as this one, which draws on evolutionary biology, is not an end in itself but rather an engine for generating testable empirical ideas.

The particular costs and benefits listed here may not turn out to be the correct ones. However, the framework makes testable predictions that would not have been arrived at inductively. For extraversion, the hypothesis that high scorers will have greater numbers of sexual partners but more serious injuries has already been confirmed (Nettle, 2005). For neuroticism, the current framework makes the prediction that performance on certain types of perceptual monitoring tasks, such as detecting an artificial predator, will actually be improved by neuroticism. Because neuroticism impairs performance on many kinds of tasks, this is a novel prediction.

For openness, the model predicts that high scorers will either be socially successful through creative activity or be socially and culturally marginalized through bizarre beliefs, (who decides which beliefs are “bizarre beliefs? This is highly culturally and individually determined) and the determinants of which outcome prevails may depend on overall condition. This is a hypothesis that certainly merits further investigation (see Nettle & Clegg, 2006).

For conscientiousness, the model predicts that high scoring individuals might perform badly on tasks in which they have to respond spontaneously to changes in the affordances of the local environment, because they will be rigidly attached to previously defined goals. Finally, for agreeableness, the theory predicts that high scorers will avoid being victims of interpersonal conflict but may often emerge as suckers in games such as the public goods game and the iterated prisoner’s dilemma game, which are well studied by psychologists and in which the usual equilibrium is a mixture of cooperation and exploitation. Thus, the current framework should be seen not as a post hoc explanation of the past but as an engine of predictions about the consequences of dispositional variation in the present. Such consequences are a central explanatory concern of personality psychology, and as such, the evolutionary framework, with its emphasis on costs, benefits, and trade-offs, could be of great utility.

Evolution of Personality Variation in Humans / A challenge to status quo

I’m including more of the paper in the next post: a section on the BIG 5 Personality Traits model. 

The prejudice against there being an Asperger type “personality” within the variation of “acceptable human” variation, is incredibly strong – and socially enforced – what I have encountered among “psych-psych” professionals is outright dismissal, and even “scorn” at the suggestion that an Asperger individual might not be “developmentally defective” but simply a “version” of Homo sapiens with different sensory and perceptual systems well-adapted to specific natural environments. 

Evolutionary Psychology is the branch of psychology that studies the mental adaptations of humans to a changing environment, especially differences in behavior, cognition, and brain structure.

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https://www.researchgate.net (Note; I have a direct link to the pdf, but the url of the pdf does not link to the pdf!)

by Daniel Nettle, Newcastle University in American Psychologist, 2006  Evolution and Behaviour Research Group, Division of Psychology, Henry Wellcome Building, University of Newcastle, Newcastle NE2 4HH, United Kingdom.

In recent years, there has been an extraordinary growth of interest in giving ultimate, evolutionary explanations for psychological phenomena alongside the proximate, mechanistic explanations that are psychology’s traditional fare (Barkow, Cosmides, & Tooby, 1992; Buss, 1995). The logic of ultimate explanations is that for psychological mechanisms and behavioral tendencies to have become and remain prevalent, they must serve or have served some fitness-enhancing function. (We AS types are still here, despite being a 1% minority!)

The explanatory program of evolutionary psychology has concentrated strongly on human universals, such as jealousy, sexual attraction, and reasoning about social exchange (Buss, 1989; Buss, Larsen, Westen, & Semmelroth, 1992; Cosmides, 1989). The focus has been on the central tendency of the psychology of these domains, rather than the observed variation, and explanation has been in terms of adaptations shared by all individuals. Indeed, some evolutionary psychologists have implied that one should not expect there to be any important variation in traits that have a history of selection. For example, Tooby and Cosmides (1992) argued that “human genetic variation . . . is overwhelmingly sequestered into functionally superficial biochemical differences, leaving our complex functional design universal and species typical” (p. 25). The reason invoked for this assertion is that natural selection, which is a winnowing procedure, should, if there are no counteracting forces, eventually remove all but the highest-fitness variant at a particular locus (Fisher, 1930; Tooby & Cosmides, 1990), especially because complex adaptations are built by suites of genes whose overall functioning tends to be disrupted by variation.

Because of the winnowing nature of selection, the existence of heritable variation in a trait is argued to be evidence for a trait’s not having been under natural selection: “Heritable variation in a trait generally signals a lack of adaptive significance” (Tooby & Cosmides, 1990, p. 38, italics in original). Tooby and Cosmides (1992) thus suggested that most of the genetic variation between human individuals is neutral or functionally superficial. They did, however, concede a possible role for “some thin films” (?) of functionally relevant heritable interindividual differences (Tooby & Cosmides, 1992, p. 80). The possible sources of these thin films—frequency-dependent selection and selective responses to local ecological conditions—are discussed in greater detail below. What is relevant for the present purposes is the low priority given to understanding these thin films relative to the task of describing and explaining the universal psychological mechanisms that humans undoubtedly all share.

Personality Variation and Evolutionary Psychology 

There has however, been a response from researchers seeking to marry differential and evolutionary psychology in a way that gives greater weight to the study of individual differences (see, e.g., Buss, 1991; Buss & Greiling, 1999; Figueredo et al., 2005; Gangestad & Simpson, 1990; MacDonald, 1995; Nettle, 2005). David Buss made an early contribution to this literature by enumerating possible sources of functionally important interindividual variation (Buss, 1991; see also Buss & Greiling, 1999). Most of these are mechanisms that do not rely on heritable variation in psychological mechanisms, for example, enduring situational evocation, or calibration by early life events, or calibration of behavior by the size or state of the individual. However, Buss also discussed the possibility that there are equally adaptive alternative behavioral strategies underlain by genetic polymorphisms, or continua of reactivity of psychological mechanisms, in which there is no universal optimum, and so genetic variation is maintained. The idea of continua of reactivity was taken up by Kevin MacDonald (1995). MacDonald proposed that the normal range of observed variation on personality dimensions represents a continuum of viable alternative strategies for maximizing fitness.

In this view, average fitness would be about equal across the normal range of any given personality dimension, but individuals of different personality levels might differ in the way that they achieved their fitness—for example, by investing in reproductive rather than parental effort. Implicit in MacDonald’s formulation, but perhaps not examined in enough detail, is the concept of trade-offs. The idea of trade-offs is reviewed in detail below, but the key point is that if two levels of a trait have roughly equal fitness overall and if increasing the trait increases some component of fitness, then it must also decrease other components. Every benefit produced by increasing a trait must also produce a cost. If this is not the case, there is no trade-off, and natural selection is directional toward the higher value of the trait.

The purposes of the present article are several. First, no reasonable biologist or psychologist should disagree with Tooby and Cosmides (1990, 1992) that humans’ psychological mechanisms show evidence of complex design and are largely species-specific. Nor need differential psychologists deny the importance of the branches of psychology that are devoted to the study of species-typical mechanisms. However, I argue that a more up-to-date reading of the very biology from which Tooby and Cosmides draw their inspiration leads to a rather different view of the extent and significance of variation. The films of functionally significant interindividual variation need not be particularly thin. The first purpose of this article, then, is to review interindividual variation in nonhuman species, with particular attention to the way that selection can allow variation to persist even when it is relevant to fitness. Second, although Buss’s (1991) and MacDonald’s (1995) reviews have been influential in enumerating possible evolutionary mechanisms that lie behind the persistence of personality differences, there has as yet been relatively little work in evolutionary personality psychology that actually tests the predictions of these models empirically (for some exceptions, see Figueredo et al., 2005; Gangestad &Simpson, 1990; Nettle, 2005).

The bulk of the work in personality psychology goes on uninspired by considerations of ultimate evolutionary origins. The second purpose of this article, therefore, is to build from MacDonald’s ideas of personality dimensions as alternative viable strategies, outlining a more explicit framework of costs and benefits, and to apply this framework to each of the dimensions of the five-factor model of personality. This approach allows existing studies that were done from a largely inductive, a theoretical perspective to be interpreted more coherently through the long lens of adaptive costs and benefits. In addition, the approach allows the generation of novel predictions and ideas for future research.

much, much more… 11 pages total 

Death by Medical Error / Not Reported or Tracked

This is a story without end. Dozens of articles and studies argue over the number of deaths, which are “guessed at” “arrived at statistically” “reworked from archival material” “fudged” “denied” – in other words, the numbers have no reality – Why? Because data on medical deaths is not required on Death Certificates.  There is no tracking of such deaths because they are not reported.

I wonder why? Could the Medical Industry be protecting itself by “not coming clean”?

Here’s where the public gets “shafted” Who would have guessed that the insurance industry is now dictating the content of Death Certificates, which are legal  documents that affect each and every one of us, and which have widespread consequences for families tasked with the complex mysteries of navigating the post mortem experience, including cheap shots from insurance providers who refuse to live up to promised coverage. 

Families have the right to know how their loved one died. 

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Medical errors may be third leading cause of death in the U.S.

By Jen Christensen and Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, Tue May 3, 2016

You’ve heard those hospital horror stories where the surgeon removes the wrong body part or operates on the wrong patient or accidentally leaves medical equipment in the person they were operating on. Even scarier, perhaps, is a new study in the latest edition of BMJ suggesting most medical errors go unobserved, at least in the official record.

In fact, the study, from doctors at Johns Hopkins, suggests medical errors may kill more people than lower respiratory diseases like emphysema and bronchitis do. That would make these medical mistakes the third leading cause of death in the United States. That would place medical errors right behind heart disease and cancer.

Through their analysis of four other studies examining death rate information, the doctors estimate there are at least 251,454 deaths due to medical errors annually in the United States. The authors believe the number is actually much higher, as home and nursing home deaths are not counted in that total.

When a surgeon should just say ‘I’m sorry’

This is a much greater number than a highly cited 1999 study from the Institute of Medicine that put the number in the 44,000 to 98,000 range. Other studies have put estimates closer to 195,000 deaths a year. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the inspector general in 2008 reported 180,000 deaths by medical error among Medicare patients alone.

Dr. Martin Makary and Dr. Michael Daniel, who did the study, hope their analysis will lead to real reform in a health care system they argue is letting patients down. 

“We have to make an improvement in patient safety a real priority,” said Makary, a professor of surgery and health policy and management at Johns Hopkins.

Bit by a squirrel? There’s now a code for that

One reason there’s such a wide range of numbers is because accurate data on these kinds of deaths is surprisingly sparse. That’s in part because death certificates don’t ask for enough data, Makary said.

Currently the cause of death listed on the certificate has to line up with an insurance billing code. Those codes do not adequately capture human error or system factors.

“Billing codes are designed to maximize billing rather than capture medical errors,” Makary said.

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PhD Dissertation / Asperger Syndrome Social Narratives

Dissertation for Dr. of Philosophy, Bowling Green State University, 2010 Neil Shepard

FULL TEXT: http://rave.ohiolink.edu/etdc/view?acc_num=bgsu1276714818

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From Introduction: This dissertation explores representations of Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. Specifically, it textually analyzes cultural representations with the goal of identifying specific narratives that have become dominant in the public sphere. Beginning in 2001, with Wired magazine’s article by Steve Silberman entitled “The Geek Syndrome” as the starting point, this dissertation demonstrates how certain values have been linked to Asperger’s syndrome: namely the association between this disorder and hyper-intelligent, socially awkward personas.

Narratives about Asperger’s have taken to medicalizing not only genius (as figures such as Newton and Einstein receive speculative posthumous diagnoses) but also to medicalizing a particular brand of new economy, information-age genius. The types of individuals often suggested as representative Asperger’s subjects can be stereotyped as the casual term “geek syndrome” suggests: technologically savvy, successful “nerds.” On the surface, increased public awareness of Asperger’s syndrome combined with the representation has created positive momentum for acceptance of high functioning autism. In a cultural moment that suggests “geek chic,” Asperger’s syndrome has undergone a critical shift in value that seems unimaginable even 10 years ago.

This shift has worked to undo some of the stigma attached to this specific form of autism. The proto-typical Aspergian persona represented dominantly in the media is often both intelligent and successful. At the same time, these personas are also so often masculine, middle/upper class and white. These representations are problematic in the way that they uphold traditional normativity in terms of gender, race and class, as well as reifying stigma toward other points on the autistic spectrum.

Having grown up with a family connection to Asperger’s syndrome, I can say that from my experience the truly challenging difficulties that emerge do so from encounters with the social world. I have never met a person with autism who is, in and of themselves, a “problem.” Problems come in the form of ignorance; the forms of this ignorance vary in range from inadequate educational resources to bullies. The sentiment that the problem is social rather than individual is something that I have seen echoed repeatedly throughout my research, whenever I have read of or spoken with people with autism, their parents, guardians, children, siblings and friends. Whatever Asperger’s or autism may be has, in my experience, been less important thanthe beliefs and practices that comprise it. The work of cultural studies, as I see it, is to interrogate those beliefs and practices.

To talk about a condition such as autism as being socially constructed isn’t to deny the reality of the condition, but rather to call attention to those beliefs and practices that shape the consequences of that reality. Understanding Asperger’s syndrome as a social construction is not to deny the clear realities of a condition that is manifested in the body, but to recognize the accountability of culture’s role in that reality. A social model approach to autism means an acute awareness of those impairments and those disabling features that are a result of the surrounding culture.

Citation: Shepard, Neil, “Rewiring Difference and Disability: Narratives of Asperger’s Syndrome in the Twenty-First Century” (2010). American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations. Paper 40.

Individualism is an atheist lie / from a “Progressive Christian”

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice/2011/10/19/individualism-is-an-atheist-lie/

October 19, 2011 by Morgan Guyton

We meditated on this quotation from Jesus yesterday at our Virginia Methodist provisional clergy mentor covenant group retreat. On the side, I have been reading Eastern Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas’ Being and Communion, which has caused me to see the implications of Jesus’ statement in a completely new light. Zizioulas writes that God is the only authentic person in the universe because God is the source of His own being. As creatures, we are completely contingent upon God for our being.

If we really believe that God is the source of every instant of our consciousness, then Jesus’ statement is a lot more all-encompassing than we might have previously thought. He is not simply talking about the relationship that followers have to their leader or students have to their teacher. He is not just talking about any kind of lifestyle or community we choose to enter into. He is talking about the relationship He has as Creator to all of His creatures who are branches on His vine whether we accept this reality or not. Nothing in the universe exists independent from Christ, who is not solely the man Jesus who walked the Earth 2000 years ago but also the very Word of God, the creative agency which articulates and implements the Father’s will as John 1:3 describes: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

On the vine of our creator Christ, those whose hearts are opened to communion and intimacy with their Creator “bear fruit.” Those who pretend to “be like gods” themselves (Gen 3:5) and cling to the delusion of their own self-sufficiency are “like a branch that is thrown away and withers… [before it is] picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (John 15:6). Individualism describes the atheist delusion that we are the source of our own being, which is having the naivete of a branch that thinks it does not need God’s vine to be fed and survive. You can be an individualist and talk about God all day, but God is not truly God to you if you think you’re a self-made person. Unfortunately, individualism is the default perspective with which people in our age view life, including many who never stop blabbering about Jesus.

Cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am. Written by Rene Descartes in 1637, this is perhaps the most definitive declaration of independence from God in the course of Western history. (How about Nietzsche / “God is Dead” ?) It is the origin of secular thinking, because it sets as a foundational premise that our minds in effect “create” our existence, i.e. we are the source of our own identity (rather than God). Descartes’ premise is a choice to view the world with the assumption that the boundaries of reality are determined by our perception of it. I think; therefore I am” applied to the world outside my brain becomes “I see it; therefore it is,” which is the foundational premise of modern science.

Truth becomes that which has been observed and measured by multiple persons coming to the same conclusions instead of what our ancestors tell us that God told their ancestors to pass down to us. Rather than being a tribe in which our identity is given to us by our family, humanity is redefined by the Western secular tradition of Descartes and Enlightenment thinkers as a race of individuals who are the source of their own identity and subsequently form families and societies through social contracts with other individuals.

To view the world in this “I-centered” way which is ubiquitous to Western culture means living as if God doesn’t exist, at least not the God who Christians for centuries considered to be the One in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Rather than being understood as the source of our being, God becomes just another infinitely bigger and more powerful being who’s a constant threat to our freedom. God is the one who started the world, who intervenes occasionally in certain spectacular supernatural moments, and who will ultimately end the world, instead of being the One from whom creation is constantly emanating. God is seen as Someone outside of everything to whom we call to intervene rather than Someone inside of everything to whom we seek a purer connection. (That persistent NT insistence of inside / outside human isolation from Nature!) Paul’s declaration that “in him all things hold together” (Col 1:17) sounds like pious poetry to us, but we don’t take this at all seriously as an ontological claim, because what we really believe in modernity is that “in science nature holds together” and, most problematically, “in our theological system God holds together.”

I understand that there are many positives to the legacy of Descartes and the Enlightenment. I just think it’s completely wrong to say Cogito ergo sum when we should be saying Cogitat Deus ergo sum (God thinks; therefore I am). Cogito ergo sum isn’t just Descartes’ delusion; it’s the delusion of all in our society who are taught to see themselves as self-made individuals. People don’t make themselves. Individualism is an atheist lie. Christ is our Creator. In Him all things hold together. All things are created through Him and for Him. He is the vine and we are the branches.

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Okay, this may seem an odd piece to post, but it does contribute to the topic of recent posts on the concept of SELF. It demonstrates the ongoing conflict between so-called ‘secular thinking’ and ‘religious thinking’ and also the failure to recognize that philosophical points of view, and definitions of specific terms, pass into popular cultural as  strange and distorted “thingies”. We can also detect the influence of psychology and the social sciences, which, with traditional Biblical sources, create a fine mish-mash of assertions. Science, the method, is completely misunderstood.

The “point” of the piece seems to be the instructive metaphor, “He is the vine, and we are the branches”. This seems a sufficient illustration of belief. Why all the  unnecessary flailing around over misrepresentations of historical contributions to “Western Thought”? This, to me, weakens the “message.” “Stand by your man…”

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INDIVIDUALISM / 1.The habit or principle of being independent and self-reliant. ‘a culture that celebrates individualism and wealth’ 1.1 Self-centered feeling or conduct; egoism. 2. A social theory favouring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control. ‘encouragement has been given to individualism, free enterprise, and the pursuit of profit’

Hmmmmm  …. If Individualism is an atheist lie, then The United States was founded by atheists, and no “true” Christian can participate in the U.S. Capitalist economy, and in fact, a “true” Christian believes in Communism / Socialism  and not in Democracy, as a form of governance.    

The fundamental “bottom line” of science. 

No “true” Christian should purchase or use any product of “computer science” (including the Internet) unless Jesus Christ can be proven to have invented it.  

 

 

Musings on THE SELF /

 

Excerpts various posts: 

https://aspergerhuman.wordpress.com/2017/07/25/co-consciousness-social-typical-dependence-on-word-thinking/

A child is told who it is, where it belongs, and how to behave, day in and day out, from birth throughout childhood (and indeed, throughout life.) In this way culturally-approved patterns of thought and behavior are imparted, organized and strengthened in the child’s brain. Setting tasks that require following directions (obedience) and asking children to ‘correctly’ answer questions along the way, helps parents and society to discover if the preferred responses are in place.

I don’t remember blurting out “Cogito ergo sum!” in school one day. Achieving awareness of my existence was a misty process, a journey taken before I “knew” of an existence of a “self”. Identity (which is not the same as personality) does not pre-exist; it is constructed. Long before a baby is conceived and born, family and society have composed an identity and a comprehensive world picture for it. The majority of those who belong to a religion or a social class are members by accident of birth, not by choice. We are born into cultures and belief systems; into versions of reality invented by humans long departed.

https://aspergerhuman.wordpress.com/2018/05/20/self-awareness-omg-what-a-hornets-nest/

Self awareness comes as we live our lives: true self-esteem is connected to that process, not as a “before” thing, but an “after” thing: a result of meeting life as it really is, not as a social fantasy. Self awareness is built from the expression of talents and strengths that we didn’t know we possessed. It also arises as we see the “world” as its pretentions crumble before us. Being able to see one’s existence cast against the immensity of reality, and yet to feel secure, is the measure of finally giving birth to a “self”. 

https://aspergerhuman.wordpress.com/2016/10/30/express-yourself-or-express-oneself-social-vs-hyposocial/

As a “hyposocial” individual, tattooing is somewhat of a mystery: tattoos are a social “sign of commitment” to a group or belief system, whether or not that group is large or consists of one other person. My reaction is: But what if you change your mind? What if your “self” changes? The notion of a “static” self is difficult to grasp.

Me, me, me, me, me! The social typical orientation. This is how NTs “look” to me. 

https://aspergerhuman.wordpress.com/2018/05/07/what-is-the-asperger-blank-stare-all-about/

One of the big mistakes that social typicals make is to attribute intent to Asperger behavior. This is because social typicals are “self-oriented” – everything is about THEM; any behavior on the part of a human, dog, cat, plant or lifeform in a distant galaxy, must be directed at THEM. Example: God, or Jesus, or whomever, is believed to be paying attention 24/7 to the most excruciatingly trivial moments in the lives of social typicals. We’re not as patient as God or Jesus.

The Asperger default mental state is a type of reverie, day-dreaming, trance or other “reflective” brain process; that is, we do “intuitive” thinking. The “blank face” is because we do not use our faces to do this type of thinking. 

Sorry – we’re just busy elsewhere! When you ask a question, it can take a few moments to “come out of” our “reverie” and reorient our attention. If you are asking a “general question” that is meant to elicit a “feeling” (social) response, it will land like a dead fish in front of us. Hence the continued “blankness”. 

https://aspergerhuman.wordpress.com/2017/04/11/to-see-with-the-minds-eye-what-does-it-mean/

The self is “imported” from a socio-cultural menu.

It is a very common assumption that all people “think and act” exactly alike. (Thus the insistence that “underneath it all, everyone is the same” – often said by white people to end discussions of racism) When I was a child I also thought that everyone had “the same brain” as if they roll off an assembly line into our skulls, and it created no end of problems! How could people “come up with” bizarre conclusions and irrational explanations for perfectly logical occurrences? And then one day, I realized that my brain “worked” differently than just about everyone I had ever met. This was a giant leap toward self awareness of the good news / bad news type.   

It is exactly this human self-centeredness that makes the “Theory of Mind” and “mind-reading” so laughable.

Neurotypicals assume that the other person thinks and feels as they do: this is a good “guess” when social people account for 99% of the population and the self is “imported” from an extremely limited socio-cultural menu. And, social people are taught to automatically agree with what others say, in order to be considered a “nice person”. 

Who am I?

The answer for me turned out to be simple: I am everything I have ever seen. Meep! Meep!

especially when young, asks,

 

 

 

 

 

What is self? / an anthropological concept

A. I. Hallowell on ‘Orientations for the Self’

The following summary of Hallowell’s analysis as set out in his paper The self and its behavioral environment (most easily accessible as Chapter 4 of his book Culture and Experience (1955; 2nd Edition, 1971): University of Pennsylvania Press, has been taken from A. Lock (1981) Universals in human conception, in P.L.F. Heelas and A.J. Lock (eds.) Indigenous Psychologies: The Anthropology of the Self. London: Academic Press, pp19-36, with minor revisions.

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Alfred IrvingPeteHallowell (1892–1974) was an American anthropologist, archaeologist and businessman. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and attended the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania receiving his B.S. degree in 1914, his A.M. in 1920, and his Ph.D. in anthropology in 1924. He was a student of the anthropologist Frank Speck. From 1927 through 1963 he was a professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania excepting 1944 through 1947 when he taught the subject at Northwestern University. Hallowell’s main field of study was Native Americans.

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NOTE: I’m “looking into” concepts of “self” and “self-awareness” after confronting, over and over again, the claim that “some high number” of Asperger types lack “self-esteem” – another of those sweeping generalities that likely is a ‘social judgement’ from the “outsider” – parent, teacher, psychologist, counselor, therapist, hairdresser, clerk at convenience store, neighbor or any bystander caring to comment on child behavior. This “lack of self-esteem” has become a “fad, cliché, causal certainty” for almost any perceived “human behavioral problem” in American psychology, education, child-rearing, pop-science, media and common gossip. 

My observation of this presentation of “self” (in a socio-cultural context) is that it’s BAD NEWS for Asperger types, or any individual whose inclination is to “develop” his or her own particular expression of self. Here is the problem: self, self awareness, self-control, self-determination and the myriad applications of the concept of “self” are commonly held to be “real things”; they are not. As pointed out in the selection below, in “normdom” the self is “fictitious” – a creation of culture; culture is a creation of selves. 

If an individual is for some reason, “out of sync” with the concept of self that is a co-creation of “homogeneous individuals” who subscribe to the same “cultural code” of belief, behavior, and perception of “reality” – well, it’s obvious that one is “in trouble” from the start: How does one “grow, create, construct” a familiar, comfortable, interesting, exploratory concept of self in a hostile socio-cultural environment? Even more difficult is the “biological, evolutionary” possibility, that one’s brain organization, and indeed, one’s experience of the environment, and perceptual fundamentals, are truly “alien” to those of the majority.  

As for “self-esteem” – is this not a concept of social conformity? 

In contemporary culture, the selfie = the self. Posting selfies on social media advertises one’s conformity to a culturally “approved” definition of “self” – which for girls and women, is an “image only” competition for social status. The desperation of “adult” women to conform to “imaginary standards” results in some very regrettable behavior. 

If one’s internalized “picture” of self matches that of what is expected and demanded by the dominant culture, then one is judged to “have self-esteem”. Any person who doesn’t measure up to the cultural “image” (imaginary standard) lacks self-esteem. The most obvious example today, is the crisis of “self-hatred” in young women due to highly distorted “ideals” of body type, promoted by misogynistic American cultural standards. External form is declared to be the self.    

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Excerpt. Full article: http://www.massey.ac.nz/~alock/virtual/hallowel.htm

This info is from the anthropological POV. 

Three things may be said about self-awareness:

(i) Self-awareness is a socio-cultural product. To be self-aware is, by definition, to be able to conceive of one’s individual existence in an objective, as opposed to subjective, manner. In G. H. Mead’s (1934) terms, one must view oneself from ‘the perspective of the other‘. Such a level of psychological functioning is only made possible by the attainment of a symbolic mode of representing the world. Again, this mode of mental life is generally agreed to be dependent upon the existence of a cultural level of social organization. We thus come to a fundamental, though apparently tautologous point: that the existence of culture is predicated upon that of self-awareness; and that the existence of self-awareness is predicated upon that of culture. In the same way as in the course of evolution the structure of the brain is seen as being in a positive-feedback relationship with the nature of the individual’s environment, so it is with culture and self-awareness: the self is constituted by culture which itself constitutes the self.

(ii) Culture defines and constitutes the boundaries of the self: the subjective-objective distinction. It is an evident consequence of being self-aware that if one has some conception of one’s own nature, then one must also have some conception of the nature of things other than oneself, i.e. of the world. Further, this distinction must be encapsulated explicitly in the symbols one uses to mark this polarity. Consequently, a symbolic representation of this divide will have become ‘an intrinsic part of the cultural heritage of all human societies‘ (Hallowell, 1971: 75). Thus, the very existence of a moral order, self-awareness, and therefore human being, depends on the making of some distinction between ‘objective’ (things which are not an intrinsic part of the self) and ‘subjective’ (things which are an intrinsic part of the self).

This categorical distinction, and the polarity it implies, becomes one of the fundamental axes along which the psychological field of the human individual is structured for action in every culture. … Since the self is also partly a cultural product, the field of behaviour that is appropriate for the activities of particular selves in their world of culturally defined objects is not by any means precisely coordinate with any absolute polarity of subjectivity-objectivity that is definable. (Hallowell, 1971: 84)

Similarly, Cassirer (1953: 262) in the context of kinship terminology, writes:

language does not look upon objective reality as a single homogeneous mass, simply juxtaposed to the world of the I, but sees different strata of this reality: the relationship between object and subject is not universal and abstract; on the contrary, we can distinguish different degrees of objectivity, varying according to relative distance from the I.

In other words, there are many facets of reality which are not distinctly classifiable in terms of a polarity between self and non-self, subjective or objective: for example, what exactly is the status of this page – is it an objective entity or part of its author’s selves; an objective entity that would exist as a page, rather than marks on a screen, without a self to read it? Again, am I responsible for all the passions I experience, or am I as much a spectator of some of them as my audience is? While a polarity necessarily exists between the two – subjective and objective/self and non-self – the line between the two is not precise, and may be constituted at different places in different contexts by different cultures. The boundaries of the self and the concomitant boundaries of the world, while drawn of necessity, are both constituted by cultural symbolism, and may be constituted upon differing assumptions.

(iii) The behavioural environment of individual selves is constituted by, and encompasses, different objects. Humans, in contrast to other animals, (that need for human exception again) can be afraid of, for example, the dark because they are able to populate it with symbolically constituted objects: ghosts, bogey men, and various other spiritual beings. (Supernatural, magical entities grew out of “real” danger in the environment: just as did “other” animals, we evolved in natural environments, in which “being afraid of the dark” is a really good reaction to the “the dark” because it’s populated by highly dangerous predators – it’s still a good “attitude” to have when in a human city today.)

As MacLeod (1947) points out,

purely fictitious objects, events and relationships can be just as truly determinants of our behaviour as are those which are anchored in physical reality. Yes, this is a serious problem in humans; the inability to distinguish natural from supernatural cause-explanation relationships leaves us vulnerable to bad decision-making and poor problem-solving.  

In Hallowell’s view (1971: 87):

such objects, (supernatural) in some way experienced, conceptualised and reified, may occupy a high rank in the behavioural environment although from a sophisticated Western point of view they are sharply distinguishable from the natural objects of the physical environment.* However, the nature of such objects is no more fictitious, in a psychological sense, than the concept of the self.

*This sweeping claim to “sophistication” is typical over-generalization and arrogance on the part of Western academics, who mistake their (supposedly) superior beliefs as common to all humans, at least in their cultural “fiefdoms”. The overwhelming American POV is highly religious, superstitious, magical and unsophisticated; the supernatural domain (although imaginary) is considered to be the source of power that creates “everything”. 

This self-deception is common: religion exempts itself from scrutiny as to its claims for “absolute truth” above and beyond any rational or scientific description of reality. It’s a case of, “You don’t question my crazy beliefs, and I won’t question yours.” 

 

Consciousness / A Damaged Word – plus other important terms

Language has a problem: words, even those meant to have specific definitions and uses, gather extra meanings once “let loose” in different environments, including academia, popular conversation, and ethnic, religious, and social groups. Words can become so degraded that they no longer have a specific (or even consistent) meaning and must be re-evaluated.

Conscious(ness) is one of those words.

Human beings are severe hoarders – any and every idea is saved, whether valid, nonsensical, or incomprehensible. Archaic ideas are held to be as true or accurate as modern knowledge. The result is that human thoughts, from the confused and valueless, to the sublime and revolutionary, are a tangle of debris, like that of a  Tsunami that collects everything in its path. And now that we have the Internet, no one is cleaning up the clogged beaches.

Any discussion of “being conscious” must first define what “being conscious” is, but few writers bother to do this. I think that an individual animal (human) is either conscious or not. Qualifiers such as “partially conscious” or “levels of consciousness” demonstrate that we don’t have a clear definition or understanding of being conscious.

If we want to make progress in the study of human behavior, we must strip away the overburden of “supernatural and archaic” deposits that murkify the idea of a “conscious state.” There needs to be a valid intellectual scaffold on which to arrange concrete evidence. I don’t care how in love with psycho-babble our culture is, consciousness must be rooted in physical reality.

Humans not only hoard objects, we hoard ideas that no have no purpose other than screwing up our lives.

Humans not only hoard objects, we hoard ideas that clutter and devalue our thinking.

A short list of terms that I use in evaluating information.

Natural: Having a real or physical existence as opposed to one that is supernatural, spiritual, intellectual, or fictitious.

Supernatural: A being, object, location, concept or event that exists outside physical law: a dimension that exists solely in the human mind. 

Religion: The ritual presentation of the culture myth that includes the —-“isms” Patriotism, Consumerism, Nazism, Militarism, Capitalism etc. (From Joseph Campbell)

Mind: The sum of an organism’s or group’s reactions to the environment. Instinct is the source of automatic reactions; other reactions may be learned. So-called “emotion” is a physiologic response to the environment and belongs to mind.

Culture: The sum of an organism’s or group’s interactions with the environment. These interactions may be instinctual, learned or invented.

Mind and culture are not exclusive to Humans. Bacteria react to, and interact with the environment.

The criteria that I use to define mind and culture removes the “supernatural” barrier between our species and what is referred to as “lower animals” or “the rest of life” or plants, and all that “alien” stuff such as fungus, which do react and interact with the environment in amazing ways and therefore possess mind and culture.

Consciousness is the use of verbal language to process and communicate information. (Not limited to other humans; we talk to anything alive or dead.)

This definition recognizes consciousness as a process; it is not a “thing” – not a bump on the brain nor a nebulous supernatural fog. This definition frees us to talk about the characteristics of human consciousness, without having to project our type of verbal consciousness onto other life forms. It also recognizes nonverbal communication and the ALTERNATE states produced by using other languages –  music / mathematics / visual-spatial and other languages of which we are unaware.  These other brain processes require new definitions and terms. Individuals whose primary communication is by means of mathematics / music surely experience brain states not available to concrete visual thinkers like me.

Conscious does not = self aware. Animals such as apes or dolphins are self aware as demonstrated by the mirror trick, but as to what subjective state occurs when they use their languages, we are not in a position to know. Their languages surely convey information, but their subjective experience is outside our knowing.