Genealogy of Religion / Cris Campbell

Cris Campbell holds advanced degrees in anthropology, philosophy, and law. This (WordPress) blog is his research database and idea playspace. (The most recent post seems to be in 2015, but there is plenty to explore)


Why “Hunter-Gatherers and Religion”?

Anyone who surveys the “religious” beliefs of hunter-gatherers (or foragers) will almost immediately discover that many of them do not have a word that translates as “religion” and do not understand the Western concept of “religion,” as explained to them by ethnographers and others.  Anyone who engages in such a survey will also soon discover that hunter-gatherers have a dazzling and sometimes bewildering array of beliefs related to the cosmos, creation, spirits, gods, and the supernatural.  Within a single group, these beliefs may be different and contradictory from individual to individual; the beliefs are often fluid and change considerably over time.  When comparing groups, the details — at least on the surface — seem to be so different that nothing general can be said about foragers on the one hand and their beliefs on the other hand.  Despite this variety, one can identify certain common themes, motifs and tropes that are characteristic of hunter-gatherer metaphysics.  These include:

  • A generalized belief in higher powers, which may be gods, spirits, or other forces; (I would modify this based on those who are visual thinkers and do not make abstract “things”)
  • A spiritualized reverence for nature and everything of nature; (what does ‘spiritualized’ entail? This is one of those Weasel Words that is never defined)
  • A cosmology oriented horizontally rather than vertically; “egalitarian”
  • A cyclic notion of time and perpetual renewal; and (or non-time, ie “living in the present”)
  • A belief array that includes animism, ritualism, totemism and shamanism. (these are all “western” inventions. The people supposedly practicing these “religions” may not see any difference or separation between these categorizations and behaviors of everyday life. There are atheist hunter-gatherers)

Because humans have been foragers for the vast majority of their time on earth, understanding the supernatural beliefs and practices of hunter-gatherers is essential to any genealogy of religion.  This Category will examine those beliefs as part of a larger effort to trace the history of religion.

How ironic! It is modern social humans who are trapped in a supernatural dimension created by “magic words”


Another odd belief about Asperger behavior


Optimum population density for "wild" Asperger's

Optimum population density for a “wild” Asperger? One person per square mile.

The previous post was about the number of modern humans who can peacefully coexist; I decided to google “Asperger’s and territoriality” as well as “Asperger’s and boundaries.” Once again, the links that popped up surprised me, since the claims don’t match my experience. A common assertion is that ASD /Asperger types are aggressive; don’t observe boundaries and must be taught social rules. Social people can tell us the rules and try to force us to act them out, but the rules will still not make sense to us.

It’s pretty obvious that we’re not hierarchical people. My native impulse has always been that any person ought to be approachable. It’s that simple. No one is so high and mighty that they may refuse natural hospitality; neither is anyone so lowly that we may ignore them. I’ve made mistakes in judgment by choosing to be friendly to the wrong person (authoritarian, self-important) and was immediately rejected, but I’ve also found that some people who are “too important to talk to” are often receptive when someone sees beyond their status and speaks to them “on the level.”

I think that social typicals are confused about aggression. What Asperger people experience is fear, and like a wild animal that is cornered, an Asperger may panic and try to escape a confusing social situation, and if not allowed to retreat, will become agitated and desperate. Social typical behavior is unstable and predatory, and therefore not to be trusted. This is not a sound basis for gaining the friendship of an Asperger type individual.

And, I suspect that most, if not all social typicals are not possessed of “magic mind reading” of other people’s “mental and emotional” states, and get exasperated by the people in their daily lives who refuse to say whatever it is they have to say, or to give a straight answer to a reasonable question. Social communication is too often a childish “guessing game” as to what the other person “really thinks” or “how they feel.” How do I know? Google “Why don’t people say what they mean?”



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. 



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.





The irony of social living / reproductive isolation

Futurists are always talking about the human race voyaging to distant star systems. Really? All 7 billion of us? They are liars: a handful of elites will “escape” human-caused disasters and run away to screw up other planets.

We tend to think of isolation as a geographical phenomenon. The wilds of Alaska unpopulated except by old geezers that have a “problem” functioning in a city or town, or belonging to a family. Or edgy patched-together families with haphazard living arrangements for whom life on-the-fly means chronic failure. People who by actual movement, and society’s encouragement, drift farther and farther away from “golden cities” that are jam-packed with successful, educated, well-off people; official, professional” humans who shop, attend the arts and eat peculiar expensive food, the   cost of which, could support entire families for months. Isolated people who “belong to” certain geographic islands in the sky, which protect them from contamination by  the world’s lower classes.

The “winners” of society are by definition the owners and occupiers of the tiny top of the global pyramid; individuals who circulate the globe like the Albatross, doomed to soar the empty skies between red carpets and charity events. Wealth and power guarantee social isolation for the wealthy and powerful and that’s the way they want it. The reward for “making it” is isolation from those one has left behind.

I’ve written before about “the species definition problem” as it applies to hominids, and specifically Homo sapiens. One of the vehicles toward speciation is reproductive separation and isolation. A species migrates and encounters a geographic barrier and divides. One group seeks a path around the mountain range, body of water, or climate boundary and the other decides to stay put. The separation can result in reproductive isolation, or eventually, speciation, should the two groups remain disconnected from each other for an extended period of time.

Society erects similar barriers for modern humans, but based on wealth and class, not on geography. Picture a slice of New York City: one that includes both the isolated, heavily guarded towers of the rich and famous, and adjacent neighborhoods with streets and buildings straight out of post Apocalyptic novels; a social and cultural divide exists that effectively ensures that the two groups will (hardly) ever interact and therefore reproduce. Is this not reproductive isolation? 


We have seen again and again in human history that isolation of the “elite” has  terrible consequences; too few options for non-incestuous reproduction exist. If reproductive contribution is not diversified, an inferior, inbred and shrinking supply of “talent” occurs. The standard scenario is that “fresh genetic stock” is supplied by a harem arrangement; by “trading” females between top families; and the occasional adoption of healthy outsiders, both male and female, to fill vacancies in the ruling elite.  This may have serious results: if the dynasty is made up of weak and isolated individuals, new members, chosen for intelligence and aggression, can easily dispose of the ruling family. Once this is done, the peasants may assume that overthrowing the elite class is possible and even easy.

It may seem unlikely that this violent type of change can happen in modern nations, but reproductive speciation is a likely outcome. The rich and powerful won’t need to reproduce: cyber existence, extreme medical intervention, and replacement of inferior body and brain parts by “perfect” long-lasting artificial components, will isolate those at the top of the pyramid from organic humans even further. And geographic isolation will increase due to expansion to new exotic locations: a residence in earth orbit, or on the moon, will simply confirm the incredible social distance between the elite and humans left behind in decaying cities.


Great! Mars will look like suburban Salt Lake City!


A handy set of clones will allow the rich and powerful to outlive themselves several times over.


Personal thoughts on anxiety in ASD / Asperger Types

My quest is to “untangle” the bizarre mess that “researchers” have created around ASD / Asperger’s symptoms and the “co-morbidity” of anxiety.

How difficult a question is this?

Is anxiety a “big problem” for individuals diagnosed with Asperger’s? If yes, then is it commonly “debilitating” in that it prevents the person from engaging in successful employment, satisfying relationships, and “freedom” to engage the environment by participating in activities that are important to their “happiness”?

And yet, what I encounter are articles, papers, and studies that focus on the argument over whether or not anxiety is part of ASD Asperger’s, the diagnosis, or a co-morbid condition. Anxiety, for “experts” has taken on the “power” of the Gordian knot! Honestly? This is the typical “point” at which an Asperger “looses it” and wants to simply declare that neurotypicals are idiots… but, I’m on a mission to help myself and my co-Aspergerg types to survive in social reality. We’re not going to find logical reality-based “answers” in psychology or even in neuroscience…we are on our own. 

So let’s look at anxiety, another of those words whose meaning and utility have been destroyed by neurotypical addiction to “over-generalization” and fear of specificity!

Over the past few months, I have experienced an increase in “sudden onset” panic attacks: it’s not as if I can’t assign a probable cause. The facts of my existence (age, health, financial problems) are enough to fill up and overflow whatever limit of tolerance that I can summon up each day. Severe (and sometimes debilitating) anxiety has been integral to my existence since at least age 3, which is the time of my first “remembered” meltdown. I can honestly say, that if it were not for “anxiety” manifesting as sudden meltdowns, panic attacks, “background radiation” and other physical  reactions, (who cares what they are labeled?), my life would have been far easier, with much more of my time and energy being available to “invest” in activities of choice, rather than surviving the unpredictable disruptions that I’ve had to work around. The fact that I’ve had an interesting, rich and “novel” existence, is thanks to maximizing the stable intervals between anxiety, distress, and exhaustion – and avoiding alien neurotypical social expectations and toxic environments as much as possible.

Here is a simple formula that I have followed:

Life among NTs is HELL. I deserve to “reserve” as much time as possible for my intrinsically satisfying interests; for pursuit of knowledge, experiences and activities that enable me to become as “authentic” to “whoever and whatever I am” as possible.

This realization came long, long before diagnosis, and I had to accept that a distinct possibility was that there was no “authentic me” and if there was, it might be a scary discovery. But, ever-present Asperger curiosity and dogged persistence would accept no other journey. It is important to realize, that Asperger or not, this type of “classic quest” has been going on in human lives for thousands of years, and for the most part has been in defiance of social disapproval (often regarded as a serious threat) by societies world-wide, which impose on individuals the carefully constructed catalogue of roles and biographies handed down from “on high”.

The point is that the choice to “go my own way” was “asking for it” – IT being endless shit (and the accompanying anxiety) dumped on human beings existing on all levels of the Social Pyramid, but especially directed toward any group or individual who is judged to be “antisocial” or inferior. I have encountered conflicts large and small, and was exposed to “human behavior” in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

What I have confronted in “normdom” is the strange orientation of “experts” who ignore the contribution of environmental sources to hyperarousal, a physiological reaction to conditions in the environment. (Note: Fear, anxiety, and all the “emotion-words”  are merely the conscious verbal expression that infants and children ARE TAUGHT to utilize in social communication, and for social purposes) These words are not the physiological experience.

A feedback “loop” exists between the environment and the human sensory system.   The physiology of fear and anxiety is an ancient “alarm system” that promotes survival, but in the human behavior industry, anxiety has been “segregated” and  classified as a pathology – an utterly bizarre, irrational, and dangerous idea. The result is that “normal” human reactions and behavior, provided by millions of years of evolutionary processes, and which  PROTECT the individual, are now “forbidden” as “defects” in the organism itself. Social involvement and culpability are “denied” – responsibility for abuse of humans and animals by social activity is erased!

Social indoctrination: the use of media, advertising, marketing, political BS and constant “messaging” that presents “protective evolutionary alerts and reactions” (awareness of danger; physiological discomfort, stress and illness) are YOUR FAULT. You have a defective brain. It’s a lie.

Due to an entrenched system of social hierarchy (inequality), social humans continue to be determined to “wipe out” the human animal that evolved in nature, and replace it with a domesticated / manufactured / altered Homo sapiens that just like domesticated animals, will survive and reproduce in the most extreme and abusive conditions.

This “domestic” hypersocial human is today represented as the pinnacle of evolution.

Human predators (the 1 %  who occupy “power positions” at the top of the pyramid)merely want to ensure that the status quo is maintained, that is, the continued  exploitation of the  “observation” that domesticated humans will adapt to any abuse – and still serve the hierarchy. This “idea” also allows for the unconscionable torture and abuse of animals.

The “expert” assumption is that a normal, typical, socially desirable human, as defined by the “human behavior” priesthood, can endure any type and degree of torture, stress, abuse, both chronic or episodic, and come out of the experience UNCHANGED; undamaged and exploitable. Any variation from this behavioral prescription is proof of a person’s deviance, inferiority and weakness.

The most blatant example of this “attitude” is the epidemic of PTSD and suicide in soldiers returning from HELL in combat. Not that many wars ago, militaries literally “executed”  soldiers suffering from this “weakness, cowardice and treason” on the battlefield, or “exiled” them to asylums as subhuman and defective ‘mistakes”. Now we ship soldiers home who have suffered extreme trauma and “treat them” so badly, that suicide has become the only relief for many. Having the afflicted remove him or herself, rather than “murdering” them is considered to be compassionate progress.  

And my point is about relief: I concluded long ago that chronic and episodic “hyperarousal” must be treated immediately with whatever works; in my experience, that means medication. Despite limiting one’s “exposure” to toxic social environments, one cannot escape the damage done to human health and sanity.

Some relief can be had by employing activities and adjustments in thinking patterns, that often (usually by trial and error) can mitigate physical damage. But what we must remember is that anxiety, fear, distress and the “urge to flee” are healthy responses to horrible human environments. How many mass migrations of “refugees” are there at any time, with thousands, and even millions of people, seeking “new places” to live a life that is proper to a healthy human?




Jordan Peterson Video / IQ and Suitable Employment

All I can say about JBP (this is my first exposure to his thinking), is that I like his “concrete” approach…

Oh, and I like the descriptive label “disagreeable person” over and above the (becoming tiresome) label Asperger. LOL

I tried to choose a couple of videos that would apply to Aspergers…especially employment problems.

WIKIPEDIA: Jordan Bernt Peterson (born June 12, 1962) is a Canadian clinical psychologist and public intellectual (I hate this label), who is professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.[2][3] His main areas of study are in abnormal, social, and personality psychology,[1] with a particular interest in the psychology of religious and ideological belief,[4] and the assessment and improvement of personality and performance.[5]

Peterson studied at the University of Alberta and McGill University. He remained at McGill as a post-doctoral fellow from 1991 to 1993 before moving to Harvard University, where he was assistant and then associate professor in the psychology department. In 1998 he moved back to Canada, to the University of Toronto, as a full professor.

Peterson’s first book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, was published in 1999, a work which examined several academic fields to describe the structure of systems of beliefs and myths, their role in the regulation of emotion, creation of meaning, and motivation for genocide.[6][7][8] His second book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, was released in January 2018.[9][10][11]

What the Hell is Concrete vs. Abstract Thinking? / Does anyone actually know?

This “post question” is vital to untangling much of what is said by “experts” about the ASD / Asperger “way of thinking”. One reads that we are “socially stupid” because we think concretely; receive language literally; fail to “comprehend” the gloriously sophisticated and complex use of “social language” (Have a nice day! Those jeans make you look skinny!) The assertion is that concrete thinking ranks as a “lower level” type of thinking on the grandiose pyramidal system of “human social development”, which has become the only development that “counts” toward being a “true” Homo sapiens. Other “experts” claim that we are “good at” abstract thinking; math and science and engineering, but this assumes that these activities are exclusively the product of abstract thinking! Far from it. 

We have to start somewhere! 

Abstract Objects

First published Thu Jul 19, 2001; substantive revision Mon Feb 13, 2017

It is widely supposed that every entity falls into one of two categories: Some are concrete; the rest abstract. The distinction is supposed to be of fundamental significance for metaphysics and epistemology. This article surveys a number of recent attempts to say how it should be drawn.

Here we are again: this “supposed distinction” is everywhere – but I find myself muttering, as I read various articles and papers, “What the Hell is this person talking about” when they refer to abstract thinking? I “get” formal thinking in math and other systems; the need to discover, set up, find an equation or formula that is “accurate” for all cases; a generalization that “matches” certain general conditions and provides for solutions and predictions. But the rest of “reality”?

What the Hell are people talking about? Human language itself seems to be a big part of the problem – this obsessional necessity to “chop up” a smooth experiential existence into a word salad. Yes, this is my Asperger confusion and frustration with “verbal language” – like using a chainsaw to carve butter. 


The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy organizes scholars from around the world in philosophy and related disciplines to create and maintain an up-to-date reference work. Principal Editor: Edward N. Zalta

1. Introduction

The abstract/concrete distinction has a curious status in contemporary philosophy. It is widely agreed that the distinction is of fundamental importance. And yet there is no standard account of how it should be drawn. There is a great deal of agreement about how to classify certain paradigm cases. Thus it is universally acknowledged that numbers and the other objects of pure mathematics are abstract (if they exist), whereas rocks and trees and human beings are concrete. Some clear cases of abstracta are classes, propositions, concepts, the letter ‘A’, and Dante’s Inferno. Some clear cases of concreta are stars, protons, electromagnetic fields, the chalk tokens of the letter ‘A’ written on a certain blackboard, and James Joyce’s copy of Dante’s Inferno.

The challenge is to say what underlies this dichotomy, either by defining the terms explicitly, or by embedding them in a theory that makes their connections to other important categories more explicit. In the absence of such an account, the philosophical significance of the contrast remains uncertain. We may know how to classify things as abstract or concrete by appeal to intuition. But in the absence of theoretical articulation, it will be hard to know what (if anything) hangs on the classification.

Well, I’m not alone in my confusion!

It should be stressed that there need not be one single “correct” way of explaining the abstract/concrete distinction. Any plausible account will classify the paradigm cases in the standard way, and any interesting account will draw a clear and philosophically significant line in the domain of objects. Yet there may be many equally interesting ways of accomplishing these two goals, and if we find ourselves with two or more accounts that do the job rather well, there will be no point in asking which corresponds to the real abstract/concrete distinction. This illustrates a general point: when technical terminology is introduced in philosophy by means of examples but without explicit definition or theoretical elaboration, the resulting vocabulary is often vague or indeterminate in reference. In such cases, it is normally pointless to seek a single correct account. A philosopher may find himself asking questions like, ‘What isis idealism?’ or ‘What isis a substance?’ and treating these questions as difficult questions about the underlying nature of a certain determinate philosophical category. A better approach is to recognize that in many cases of this sort, we simply have not made up our minds about how the term is to be understood, and that what we seek is not a precise account of what this term already means, but rather a proposal for how it might fruitfully be used in the future. Anyone who believes that something in the vicinity of the abstract/concrete distinction matters for philosophy would be well advised to approach the project of explaining the distinction with this in mind.

2. Historical Remarks

The contemporary distinction between abstract and concrete is not an ancient one. Indeed, there is a strong case for the view that despite occasional anticipations, it played no significant role in philosophy before the 20th century. The modern distinction bears some resemblance to Plato’s distinction between Forms and Sensibles. But Plato’s Forms were supposed to be causes par excellence, whereas abstract objects are generally supposed to be causally inert in every sense. The original ‘abstract’/‘concrete’ distinction was a distinction among words or terms. Traditional grammar distinguishes the abstract noun ‘whiteness’ from the concrete noun ‘white’ without implying that this linguistic contrast corresponds to a metaphysical distinction in what these words stand for. In the 17th century this grammatical distinction was transposed to the domain of ideas. Locke speaks of the general idea of a triangle which is “neither Oblique nor Rectangle, neither Equilateral, Equicrural nor Scalenon [Scalene]; but all and none of these at once,” remarking that even this idea is not among the most “abstract, comprehensive and difficult” (Essay IV.vii.9). Locke’s conception of an abstract idea as one that is formed from concrete ideas by the omission of distinguishing detail was immediately rejected by Berkeley and then by Hume. But even for Locke there was no suggestion that the distinction between abstract ideas and concrete or particular ideas corresponds to a distinction among objects. “It is plain, …” Locke writes, “that General and Universal, belong not to the real existence of things; but are Inventions and Creatures of the Understanding, made by it for its own use, and concern only signs, whether Words or Ideas” (III.iii.11). (I agree)

The abstract/concrete distinction in its modern form is meant to mark a line in the domain of objects or entities. So conceived, the distinction becomes a central focus for philosophical discussion only in the 20th century. The origins of this development are obscure, but one crucial factor appears to have been the breakdown of the allegedly exhaustive distinction between the mental and the material that had formed the main division for ontologically minded philosophers since Descartes. One signal event in this development is Frege’s insistence that the objectivity and aprioricity of the truths of mathematics entail that numbers are neither material beings nor ideas in the mind. If numbers were material things (or properties of material things), the laws of arithmetic would have the status of empirical generalizations. If numbers were ideas in the mind, then the same difficulty would arise, as would countless others. (Whose mind contains the number 17? Is there one 17 in your mind and another in mine? In that case, the appearance of a common mathematical subject matter is an illusion.) In The Foundations of Arithmetic (1884), Frege concludes that numbers are neither external ‘concrete’ things nor mental entities of any sort. Later, in his essay “The Thought” (Frege 1918), he claims the same status for the items he calls thoughts—the senses of declarative sentences—and also, by implication, for their constituents, the senses of subsentential expressions. Frege does not say that senses are ‘abstract’. He says that they belong to a ‘third realm’ distinct both from the sensible external world and from the internal world of consciousness. Similar claims had been made by Bolzano (1837), and later by Brentano (1874) and his pupils, including Meinong and Husserl. The common theme in these developments is the felt need in semantics and psychology as well as in mathematics for a class of objective (i.e., non-mental) supersensible entities. As this new ‘realism’ was absorbed into English speaking philosophy, the traditional term ‘abstract’ was enlisted to apply to the denizens of this ‘third realm’.

Philosophers who affirm the existence of abstract objects are sometimes called platonists; those who deny their existence are sometimes called nominalists. This terminology is lamentable, since these words have established senses in the history of philosophy, where they denote positions that have little to do with the modern notion of an abstract object. However, the contemporary senses of these terms are now established, and so the reader should be aware of them. (In Anglophone philosophy, the most important source for this terminological innovation is Quine. See especially Goodman and Quine 1947.) In this connection, it is essential to bear in mind that modern platonists (with a small ‘p’) need not accept any of the distinctive metaphysical and epistemological doctrines of Plato, just as modern nominalists need not accept the distinctive doctrines of the medieval nominalists. Insofar as these terms are useful in a contemporary setting, they stand for thin doctrines: platonism is the thesis that there is at least one abstract object; nominalism is the thesis that the number of abstract objects is exactly zero (Field 1980). The details of this dispute are discussed in the article on nominalism in metaphysics. (See also the entry on platonism in metaphysics.) The aim of the present article is not to describe the case for or against the existence of abstract objects, but rather to say what an abstract object would be if such things existed.

3. The Way of Negation

Frege’s way of drawing the abstract/concrete distinction is an instance of what Lewis (1986a) calls the Way of Negation, according to which abstract objects are defined as those which lack certain features possessed by paradigmatic concrete objects. Nearly every explicit characterization in the literature follows this model. Let us review some of the options.

According to the account implicit in Frege’s writings, An object is abstract if and only if it is both non-mental and non-sensible.

Here the first challenge is to say what it means for a thing to be ‘non-mental’, or as we more commonly say, ‘mind-independent’. The simplest approach is to say that a thing depends on the mind when it would not (or could not) have existed if minds had not existed. But this entails that tables and chairs are mind-dependent, and that is not what philosophers who employ this notion have in mind. To call an object ‘mind-dependent’ in a metaphysical context is to suggest that it somehow owes its existence to mental activity, but not in the boring ‘causal’ sense in which ordinary artifacts owe their existence to the mind. What can this mean? One promising approach is to say that an object should be reckoned mind-dependent when, by its very nature, it exists at a time if and only if it is the object or content of some mental state or process at that time. This counts tables and chairs as mind-independent, since they might survive the annihilation of thinking things. But it counts paradigmatically mental items, like the purple afterimage of which I am now aware, as mind-dependent, since it presumably lies in the nature of such items to be objects of conscious awareness whenever they exist. However, it is not clear that this account captures the full force of the intended notion. Consider, for example, the mereological fusion of my afterimage and your headache. This is surely a mental entity if anything is. But it is not necessarily the object of a mental state. (The fusion can exist even if no one is thinking about itit .) A more generous conception would allow for mind-dependent objects that exist at a time in virtue of mental activity at that time, even if the object is not the object of any single mental state or act. The fusion of my afterimage plus your headache is mind-dependent in the second sense but not the first. That is a reason to prefer the second account of mind-dependence.

If we understand the notion of mind-dependence in this way, it is a mistake to insist that abstract objects be mind-independent. To strike a theme that will recur, it is widely supposed that sets and classes are abstract entities—even the impure sets whose urelements are concrete objects. Any account of the abstract/concrete distinction that places set-theoretic constructions like {{ Alfred, {{ Betty, {{ Charlie, Deborah}}}}}} on the concrete side of the line will be seriously at odds with standard usage. With this in mind, consider the set whose sole members are my afterimage and your headache, or some more complex set-theoretic object based on these items. If we suppose, as is plausible, that an impure set exists at a time only when its members exist at that time, this will be a mind-dependent entity in the generous sense. But it is also presumably an abstract entity. Gee whiz!

A similar problem arises for so-called abstract artifacts, like Jane Austen’s novels and the characters that inhabit them. Some philosophers regard such items as eternally existing abstract entities that worldly authors merely ‘describe’ or ‘encode’ but do not create. (Really?) But of course the commonsensical view is that Austen created Pride and Prejudice and Elizabeth Bennett, and there is no good reason to deny this (Thomasson 1999; cf. Sainsbury 2009; see also the entry on fiction). If we take this commonsensical approach, there will be a clear sense in which these items depend for their existence on Austen’s mental activity, and perhaps on the mental activity of subsequent readers. These items may not count as mind-dependent in either of the senses canvassed above, since Pride and Prejudice can presumably exist at a time even if no one happens to be thinking at that time. (If the world took a brief collective nap, Pride and Prejudice would not pop out of existence.) But they are obviously mind-dependent in some not-merely-causal sense. And yet they are still presumably abstract objects. For these reasons, it is probably a mistake to insist that abstract objects be mind-independent. (For more on mind-dependence, see Rosen 1994.)

Frege’s proposal in its original form also fails for other reasons. Quarks and electrons are neither sensible nor mind-dependent. And yet they are not abstract objects. A better version of Frege’s proposal would hold that:

An object is abstract if and only if it is both non-physical and non-mental.

This approach may well draw an important line; but it inherits the familiar problem of saying what it is for a thing to be a physical object (Crane and Mellor 1990). For discussion, see the entry on physicalism.

3.1 The Non-Spatiality Criterion

Contemporary purveyors of the Way of Negation typically amend Frege’s criterion by requiring that abstract objects be non-spatial, causally inefficacious, or both. Indeed, if any characterization of the abstract deserves to be regarded as the standard one, it is this:

An object is abstract if and only if it is non-spatial and causally inefficacious.

This standard account nonetheless presents a number of perplexities.

Consider first the requirement that abstract objects be non-spatial (or non-spatiotemporal). Some of the paradigms of abstractness are non-spatial in a straightforward sense. It makes no sense to ask where the cosine function was last Tuesday. Or if it makes sense to ask, the only sensible answer is that it was nowhere. Similarly, it makes no good sense to ask when the Pythagorean Theorem came to be. Or if it does make sense to ask, the only sensible answer is that it has always existed, or perhaps that it does not exist ‘in time’ at all. These paradigmatic ‘pure abstracta’ have no non-trivial spatial or temporal properties. They have no spatial location, and they exist nowhere in particular in time.

However, some abstract objects appear to stand in a more interesting relation to space. Consider the game of chess, for example. Some philosophers will say that chess is like a mathematical object, existing nowhere and ‘no when’—either eternally or outside of time altogether. But that is not the most natural view. The natural view is that chess was invented at a certain time and place (though it may be hard to say exactly where or when); that before it was invented it did not exist at all; that it was imported from India into Persia in the 7th century; that it has changed over the years, and so on. The only reason to resist this natural account is the thought that since chess is clearly an abstract object—it’s not a physical object, after all!—and since abstract objects do not exist in space and time—by definition!—chess must resemble the cosine function in its relation to space and time. And yet one might with equal justice regard the case of chess and other abstract artifacts as counterexamples to the hasty view that abstract objects possess only trivial spatial and temporal properties.

Should we then abandon the non-spatiotemporality criterion? Not necessarily. Even if there is a sense in which some abstract entities possess non-trivial spatiotemporal properties, it might still be said that concrete entities exist in spacetime in a distinctive way. If we had an account of this distinctive manner of spatiotemporal existence characteristic of concrete objects, we could say: An object is abstract (if and) only if it fails to exist in spacetime in that way.

One way to implement this approach is to note that paradigmatic concrete objects tend to occupy a relatively determinate spatial volume at each time at which they exist, or a determinate volume of spacetime over the course of their existence. It makes sense to ask of such an object, ‘Where is it now, and how much space does it occupy?’ even if the answer must sometimes be somewhat vague. By contrast, even if the game of chess is somehow ‘implicated’ in space and time, it makes no sense to ask how much space it now occupies. (To the extent that this does make sense, the only sensible answer is that it occupies no space at all, which is not to say that it occupies a spatial point.) And so it might be said:

An object is abstract (if and) only if it fails to occupy anything like a determinate region of space (or spacetime).

This promising idea raises several questions. First, it is conceivable that certain items that are standardly regarded as abstract might nonetheless occupy determinate volumes of space and time. Consider, for example, the various sets composed from Peter and Paul: {{ Peter, Paul},{},{ Peter, {{ Peter, {{{{ Paul}}}}}}}} , etc. We don’t normally ask where such things are, or how much space they occupy. And indeed many philosophers will say that the question makes no sense, or that the answer is a dismissive ‘nowhere, none’. But this answer is not forced upon us by anything in set theory or metaphysics. Even if we grant that pure sets stand in only the most trivial relations to space, it is open to us to hold, as some philosophers have done, that impure sets exist where and when their members do (Lewis 1986a). It is not unnatural to say that a set of books is located on a certain shelf in the library, and indeed, there are some theoretical reasons for wanting to say this (Maddy 1990). On a view of this sort, we face a choice: we can say that since impure sets exist in space, they are not abstract objects after all; or we can say that since impure sets are abstract, it was a mistake to suppose that abstract objects cannot occupy space.

One way to finesse this difficulty would be to note that even if impure sets occupy space, they do so in a derivative manner. The set {{ Peter, Paul}} occupies a location in virtue of the fact that its concrete elements, Peter and Paul, together occupy that location. The set does not occupy the location in its own right. With that in mind, it might be said that:

An object is abstract (if and) only if it either fails to occupy space at all, or does so only in virtue of the fact some other items—in this case, its urelements—occupy that region.

But of course Peter himself occupies a region in virtue of the fact that his parts—his head, hands, etc.—together occupy that region. So a better version of the proposal would say:

An object is abstract (if and) only if it either fails to occupy space at all, or does so of the fact that some other items that are not among its parts occupy that region.

This approach appears to classify the cases fairly well, but it is somewhat artificial. Moreover it raises a number of questions. What are we to say about the statue that occupies a region of space, not because its parts are arrayed in space, but rather because its constituting matter occupies that region? And what about the unobserved electron, which according to some interpretations of quantum mechanics does not really occupy a region of space at all, but rather stands in some more exotic relation to the spacetime it inhabits? Suffice it to say that a philosopher who regards ‘non-spatiality’ as a mark of the abstract, but who allows that some abstract objects may have non-trivial spatial properties, owes us an account of the distinctive relation to space and spacetime that sets paradigmatic concreta apart.

Perhaps the most important question about the ‘non-spatiality’ criterion concerns the classification of the parts of space itself. Let us suppose that space or spacetime exists, not just as an object of pure mathematics, but as the arena in which physical objects and events are somehow arrayed. Physical objects are located ‘in’ or ‘at’ regions of space, and so count as concrete according to the non-spatiality criterion. But what about the points and regions of space itself? There has been some debate about whether a commitment to spacetime substantivalism is consistent with the nominalist’s rejection of abstract entities (Field 1980, 1989; Malament 1982). If we define the abstract as the ‘non-spatial’, this debate reduces to the question whether space itself is to be reckoned ‘spatial’. But surely that is a verbal question. We can extend existing usage so as to allow that points and regions of space are located ‘at’ themselves—or not, according to taste. The philosopher who thinks that there is a serious question about whether the parts of space count as concrete would thus do well to characterize the abstract/concrete distinction in other terms.

3.2 The Causal Inefficacy Criterion

According to the most widely accepted versions of the Way of Negation:

An object is abstract (if and) only if it is causally inefficacious.

Concrete objects, whether mental or physical, have causal powers; numbers and functions and the rest make nothing happen. There is no such thing as causal commerce with the game of chess itself (as distinct from its concrete instances). And even if impure sets do in some sense exist in space, it is easy enough to believe that they make no distinctive causal contribution to what transpires. Peter and Paul may have effects individually. They may even have effects together that neither has on his own. But these joint effects are naturally construed as effects of two concrete objects acting jointly, or perhaps as effects of their mereological aggregate (itself a paradigm concretum), rather than as effects of some set-theoretic construction. Suppose Peter and Paul together tip a balance. If we entertain the possibility that this event is caused by a set, we shall have to ask which set caused it: the set containing just Peter and Paul? Some more elaborate construction based on them? Or is it perhaps the set containing the molecules that compose Peter and Paul? This proliferation of possible answers suggests that it was a mistake to credit sets with causal powers in the first place. This is good news for those who wish to say that all sets are abstract.

(Note, however, that some writers identify ordinary physical events—causally efficacious items par excellence—with sets. For David Lewis, for example, an event like the fall of Rome is an ordered pair whose first member is a region of spacetime, and whose second member is a set of such regions (Lewis 1986b). On this account, it would be disastrous to say both that impure sets are abstract objects, and that abstract objects are non-causal.)

The idea that causal inefficacy constitutes a sufficient condition for abstractness is somewhat at odds with standard usage. Some philosophers believe in ‘epiphenomenal qualia’: objects of conscious awareness (sense data), or qualitative conscious states that may be caused by physical processes in the brain, but which have no downstream causal consequences of their own (Jackson 1982; Chalmers 1996). These items are causally inefficacious if they exist, but they are not normally regarded as abstract. The proponent of the causal inefficacy criterion might respond by insisting that abstract objects are distinctively neither causes nor effects. But this is perilous. Abstract artifacts like Jane Austen’s novels (as we normally conceive them) come into being as a result of human activity. The same goes for impure sets, which come into being when their concrete urelements are created. These items are clearly effects in some good sense; yet they remain abstract if they exist at all. It is unclear how the proponent of the strong version of the causal inefficacy criterion (which views causal inefficacy as both necessary and sufficient for abstractness) might best respond to this problem.

Apart from this worry, there are no decisive intuitive counterexamples to this account of the abstract/concrete distinction. The chief difficulty—and it is hardly decisive—is rather conceptual. It is widely maintained that causation, strictly speaking, is a relation among events or states of affairs. If we say that the rock—an object—caused the window to break, what we mean is that some event or state (or fact or condition) involving the rock caused the break. If the rock itself is a cause, it is a cause in some derivative sense. But this derivative sense has proved elusive. The rock’s hitting the window is an event in which the rock ‘participates’ in a certain way, and it is because the rock participates in events in this way that we credit the rock itself with causal efficacy. But what is it for an object to participate in an event? Suppose John is thinking about the Pythagorean Theorem and you ask him to say what’s on his mind. His response is an event—the utterance of a sentence; and one of its causes is the event of John’s thinking about the theorem. Does the Pythagorean Theorem ‘participate’ in this event? There is surely some sense in which it does. The event consists in John’s coming to stand in a certain relation to the theorem, just as the rock’s hitting the window consists in the rock’s coming to stand in a certain relation to the glass. But we do not credit the Pythagorean Theorem with causal efficacy simply because it participates in this sense in an event which is a cause. The challenge is therefore to characterize the distinctive manner of ‘participation in the causal order’ that distinguishes the concrete entities. This problem has received relatively little attention. There is no reason to believe that it cannot be solved. But in the absence of a solution, this standard version of the Way of Negation must be reckoned a work in progress.

4. The Way of Example

In addition to the Way of Negation, Lewis identifies three main strategies for explaining the abstract/concrete distinction. According to the Way of Example, it suffices to list paradigm cases of abstract and concrete entities in the hope that the sense of the distinction will somehow emerge. If the distinction were primitive and unanalyzable, this might be the only way to explain it. But as we have remarked, this approach is bound to call the interest of the distinction into question. The abstract/concrete distinction matters because abstract objects as a class appear to present certain general problems in epistemology and the philosophy of language. It is supposed to be unclear how we come by our knowledge of abstract objects in a sense in which it is not unclear how we come by our knowledge of concrete objects (Benacerraf 1973). It is supposed to be unclear how we manage to refer determinately to abstract entities in a sense in which it is not unclear how we manage to refer determinately to other things (Benacerraf 1973, Hodes 1984). But if these are genuine problems, there must be some account of why abstract objects as such should be especially problematic in these ways. It is hard to believe that it is simply their primitive abstractness that makes the difference. It is much easier to believe that it is their non-spatiality or their causal inefficacy or something of the sort. It is not out of the question that the abstract/concrete distinction is fundamental, and that the Way of Example is the best we can do by way of elucidation. But if so, it is quite unclear why the distinction should make a difference.

5. The Way of Conflation

According to the Way of Conflation, the abstract/concrete distinction is to be identified with one or another metaphysical distinction already familiar under another name: as it might be, the distinction between sets and individuals, or the distinction between universals and particulars. There is no doubt that some authors have used the terms in this way. (Thus Quine 1953 uses ‘abstract entity’ and ‘universal’ interchangeably.) This sort of conflation is however rare in recent philosophy.

6. The Way of Abstraction

The most important alternative to the Way of Negation is what Lewis calls the Way of Abstraction. According to a longstanding tradition in philosophical psychology, abstraction is a distinctive mental process in which new ideas or conceptions are formed by considering several objects or ideas and omitting the features that distinguish them. For example, if one is given a range of white things of varying shapes and sizes; one ignores or ‘abstracts from’ the respects in which they differ, and thereby attains the abstract idea of whiteness. Nothing in this tradition requires that ideas formed in this way represent or correspond to a distinctive kind of object. But it might be maintained that the distinction between abstract and concrete objects should be explained by reference to the psychological process of abstraction or something like it. The simplest version of this strategy would be to say that an object is abstract if it is (or might be) the referent of an abstract idea, i.e., an idea formed by abstraction.

So conceived, the Way of Abstraction is wedded to an outmoded philosophy of mind. But a related approach has gained considerable currency in recent years. Crispin Wright (1983) and Bob Hale (1987) have developed an account of abstract objects that takes leave from certain suggestive remarks in Frege (1884). Frege notes (in effect) that many of the singular terms that appear to refer to abstract entities are formed by means of functional expressions. We speak of the shape of a building, the direction of a line, the number of books on the shelf. Of course many singular terms formed by means of functional expressions denote ordinary concrete objects: ‘the father of Plato’, ‘the capital of France’. But the functional terms that pick out abstract entities are distinctive in the following respect: Where ‘f(a)f(a) ’ is such an expression, there is typically an equation of the form

f(a)=f(b) if and only if Rab,f(a)=f(b) if and only if Rab,where RR is an equivalence relation. (An equivalence relation is a relation that is reflexive, symmetric and transitive.)
For example:

The direction of a=a= the direction of bb if and only if aa is parallel to bb .

The number of FF s = the number of GG s if and only if there are just as many FF s as GG s.

Moreover, these equations (or abstraction principles) appear to have a special semantic status. While they are not strictly speaking definitions of the functional expression that occurs on the left hand side, they would appear to hold in virtue of the meaning of that expression. To understand the term ‘direction’ is (in part) to know that ‘the direction of aa ’ and ‘the direction of bb ’ refer to the same entity if and only if the lines aa and bb are parallel. Moreover, the equivalence relation that appears on the right hand side of the equation would appear to be semantically and perhaps epistemologically prior to the functional expression on the left (Noonan 1978). Mastery of the concept of a direction presupposes mastery of the concept of parallelism, but not vice versa.

The availability of abstraction principles meeting these conditions may be exploited to yield an account of the distinction between abstract and concrete objects. When ‘ff ’ is a functional expression governed by an abstraction principle, there will be a corresponding kind KfKf such that:

x is a Kf if and only if, for some y,x=f(y).x is a Kf if and only if, for some y,x=f(y).

For example, xx is a cardinal number if and only if for some concept F,x=F,x= the number of FsFs . The simplest version of this approach to the Way of Abstraction is then to say that

xx is an abstract object if (and only if) xx is an instance of some kind KfKf whose associated functional expression ‘ff ’ is governed by a suitable abstraction principle.

The strong version of this account—which purports to identify a necessary condition for abstractness—is seriously at odds with standard usage. As we have noted, pure sets are paradigmatic abstract objects. But it is not clear that they satisfy the proposed criterion. According to naïve set theory, the functional expression ‘set of’ is indeed characterized by a putative abstraction principle.

The set of FF s = the set of GG s if and only if, for all x,(xx,(x is FF if and only if xx is G)G) .

But this principle is inconsistent, and so fails to characterize an interesting concept. In contemporary mathematics, the concept of a set is not introduced by abstraction. It remains an open question whether something like the mathematical concept of a set can be characterized by a suitably restricted abstraction principle. (See Burgess 2005 for a survey of recent efforts in this direction.) Even if such a principle is available, however, it is unlikely that the epistemological priority condition will be satisfied. (That is, it is unlikely that mastery of the concept of set will presuppose mastery of the equivalence relation that figures on the right hand side.) It is therefore uncertain whether the Way of Abstraction so understood will classify the objects of pure set theory as abstract entities (as it presumably must).

Similarly, as Dummett (1973) has noted, in many cases the standard names for paradigmatically abstract objects do not assume the functional form to which the definition adverts. Chess is an abstract entity. But we do not understand the word ‘chess’ as synonymous with an expression of the form ‘f(x)f(x) ’ where ‘ff ’ is governed by an abstraction principle. Similar remarks would seem to apply to such things as the English language, social justice, architecture, and Charlie Parker’s style. If so, the abstractionist approach does not provide a necessary condition for abstractness as that notion is standardly understood.

More importantly, there is some reason to believe that it fails to supply a sufficient condition. A mereological fusion of concrete objects is itself a concrete object. But the concept of a mereological fusion is governed by what appears to be an abstraction principle:

The fusion of the FF s = the fusion of the GG s if and only if the FF s and GG s cover one another,

where the FF s cover the GG s if and only if every part of every GG has a part in common with an FF . Similarly, suppose a train is a maximal string of railroad carriages, all of which are connected to one another. We may define a functional expression, ‘the train of xx ’, by means of an ‘abstraction’ principle: The train of x=x= the train of yy iff (if and only if) xx and yy are connected carriages. We may then say that xx is a train iff for some carriage yy , xx is the train of yy . The simple account thus yields the consequence that trains are to be reckoned abstract entities.

It is unclear whether these objections apply to the more sophisticated abstractionist proposals of Wright and Hale, but one feature of the simple account sketched above clearly does apply to these proposals and may serve as the basis for an objection to this version of the Way of Abstraction. The neo-Fregean approach seeks to explain the abstract/concrete distinction in semantic terms: We said that an abstract object is an object that falls in the range of a functional expression governed by an abstraction principle, where ‘ff ’ is governed by an abstraction principle when that principle holds in virtue of the meaning of ‘ff ’. This notion of a statement’s holding in virtue of the meaning of a word is notoriously problematic (see the entry on the analytic-synthetic distinction). But even if this notion makes sense, one may still complain: The abstract/concrete distinction is supposed to be a metaphysical distinction; abstract objects are supposed to differ from other objects in some important ontological respect. It should be possible, then, to draw the distinction directly in metaphysical terms: to say what it is in the objects themselves that makes some things abstract and others concrete. As Lewis writes, in response to a related proposal by Dummett:

Even if this … way succeeds in drawing a border, as for all I know it may, it tells us nothing about how the entities on opposite sides of that border differ in their nature. It is like saying that snakes are the animals that we instinctively most fear—maybe so, but it tells us nothing about the nature of snakes. (Lewis 1986a: 82)

The challenge is to produce a non-semantic version of the abstractionist criterion that specifies directly, in metaphysical terms, what the objects whose canonical names are governed by abstraction principles all have in common.

One response to this difficulty is to transpose the abstractionist proposal into more metaphysical key. We begin with the idea that each Fregean number is, by its very nature, the number of some Fregean concept, just as each Fregean direction is, by its very nature, at least potentially the direction of some concrete line. In each case, the abstract object is essentially the value of an abstraction function for a certain class of arguments. This is not a claim about the meanings of linguistic expressions. It is a claim about the essences or natures of the objects themselves. (For the relevant notion of essence, see Fine 1994). So for example, the Fregean number two (if there is such a thing) is, essentially, by its very nature, the number that belongs to a concept FF if and only if there are exactly two FF s. More generally, for each Fregean abstract object xx , there is an abstraction function ff , such that xx is essentially the value of ff for every argument of a certain kind.

Abstraction functions have two key features. First, for each abstraction function ff there is an equivalence relation RR such that it lies in the nature of ff that f(x)=f(y)f(x)=f(y) iff Rxy. Intuitively, we are to think that RR is metaphysically prior to ff , and that the abstraction function ff is defined (in whole or in part) by this biconditional. Second, each abstraction function is a generating function: its values are essentially values of that function. Many functions are not generating functions. Paris is the capital of France, but it is not essentially a capital. The number of solar planets, by contrast, is essentially a number. The notion of an abstraction function may be defined in terms of these two features:

  • ff is an abstraction function iff
  • a.for some equivalence relation RR , it lies in the nature of ff that f(x)=f(y)f(x)=f(y) iff RxyRxy ; and
  • b.for all xx , if xx is a value of ff , then it lies in the nature of xx that there is (or could be) some object yy such that x=f(y)x=f(y) .

We may then say that

xx is an abstraction if and only if, for some abstraction function ff , there is or could be an object yy such that x=f(y)x=f(y)


xx is an abstract object if (and only if) xx is an abstraction.

This account tells us a great deal about the distinctive natures of these broadly Fregean abstract objects. It tells us that each is, by its very nature, the value of a special sort of function, one whose nature is specified in a simple way in terms of an associated equivalence relation. It is worth stressing, however, that it does not supply much metaphysical information about these items. It does tell us whether they are located in space, whether they can stand in causal relations, and so on. It is an open question whether this somewhat unfamiliar version of the abstract/concrete distinction lines up with any of the more conventional ways of drawing the distinction outlined above.

7. Further Reading

Putnam (1975) makes the case for abstract objects on scientific grounds. Field (1980, 1989) makes the case against abstract objects. Bealer (1993) and Tennant (1997) present a priori arguments for the necessary existence of abstract entities. Balaguer (1998) argues that none of the arguments for or against the existence of abstract objects is compelling, and that there is no fact of the matter as to whether abstract things exist. The dispute over the existence of abstracta is reviewed in Burgess and Rosen (1997). Fine (2002) is a systematic study of abstraction principles in the foundations of mathematics. A general theory of abstract objects is developed axiomatically in Zalta (1983; 2016 in Other Internet Resources). Wetzel (2009) examines the type-token distinction, argues that types are abstract objects while the tokens of those types are their concrete instances, and shows how difficult it is to paraphrase away the many references to types that occur in the sciences and natural language. (See the entry on types and tokens.) Moltmann (2013) investigates the extent to which abstract objects are needed when developing a semantics of natural language.

NEXT: How is the concept of abstract thinking used in “the helping, caring, fixing” industry, which claims to understand and describe THINKING as a human behavior? 

Just what is the problem between Asperger types and Neurotypicals?

I’ve been posting for three years now on the bizarre insistence by neurotypicals  that the very existence of Asperger types is an affront to “their species.” I’ve also tried to convey how the myriad ridiculous, destructive and irrational things that NTs “believe and do” drive us equally batty. The details of this stupid situation are mind-boggling and confounding, but there is one simple difference in motivation that lies at the bottom of all this “blah, blah.”

Neurotypicals do whatever makes them feel good; they will “believe in” whatever cruel and idiotic nonsense gives them permission to do whatever makes them feel good.  

Of course, 7 billion people doing / believing whatever makes them feel good inevitably creates conflict. It also makes solving problems impossible; the “non-solution” is application of force and violence. The prime NT commandment is: “Destroy whoever doesn’t do or say what makes you feel good.

This makes us avoid NTs, because the need to eradicate any and all opposition makes them  dangerous.  

Asperger types are interested in how the universe  works, whether or not the “discovery” of how things work makes us feel good or not. Why? Because knowing how things work allows for making things better.

The result is that we contradict what NTs must be told (or else!), which is, “Yes, you’re right; the universe and everything in it exists to make you feel good. I am your slave.”






Every Asperger Needs to Read this Paper! / Symptoms of entrapment and captivity

Research that supports my challenge to contemporary (American) psychology that Asperger symptoms are the result of “captivity” and not “defective brains” 

From: Depression Research and Treatment

Depress Res Treat. 2010; 2010: 501782. Published online 2010 Nov 4. doi:  10.1155/2010/501782 PMCID: PMC2989705

Full Article:

Testing a German Adaption of the Entrapment Scale and Assessing the Relation to Depression

Manuel Trachsel, 1 ,* Tobias Krieger, 2 Paul Gilbert, 3 and Martin Grosse Holtforth 2 :


The construct of entrapment is used in evolutionary theory to explain the etiology of depression. The perception of entrapment can emerge when defeated individuals want to escape but are incapable. Studies have shown relationships of entrapment to depression, and suicidal tendencies. The aim of this study was a psychometric evaluation and validation of the Entrapment Scale in German (ES-D). 540 normal subjects completed the ES-D along with other measures of depressive symptoms, hopelessness, and distress. Good reliability and validity of the ES-D was demonstrated. Further, whereas entrapment originally has been regarded as a two-dimensional construct, our analyses supported a single-factor model. Entrapment explained variance in depressive symptoms beyond that explained by stress and hopelessness supporting the relevance of the construct for depression research. These findings are discussed with regard to their theoretical implications as well as to the future use of the entrapment scale in clinical research and practice.

Being outnumbered by social humans, 99% to 1%, is de facto defeat and captivity

1. Introduction

Assuming a certain degree of adaptivity of behavior and emotion, evolutionary theorists have suggested various functions of moodiness and depression. Whereas adaptive mechanisms may become functionally maladaptive [1, 2], there have been many attempts to explain potentially adaptive functions of depression. For example, Price [3] suggested that depression evolved from the strategic importance of having a de-escalating or losing strategy. Social rank theory [4, 5] built on this and suggests that some aspects of depression, such as mood and drive variations, may have evolved as mechanisms for regulating behavior in contexts of conflicts and competition for resources and mates. Hence, subordinates are sensitive to down rank threats and are less confident than dominants, while those who are defeated will seek to avoid those who defeated them. Depression may also serve the function to help individuals disengage from unattainable goals and deal with losses [6]. 

Social rank theory (e.g., [4]) links defeat states to depression. Drawing on Dixon’s arrested defences model of mood variation [7, 8], this theory suggests that especially when stresses associated with social defeats and social threats arise, individuals are automatically orientated to fight, flight or both. Usually, either of those defensive behaviors will work. So, flight and escape remove the individual from the conditions in which stress is arising (e.g., threats from a dominant), or anger/aggression curtails the threat. These defensive behaviors typically work for nonhuman animals. However, for humans, such basic fight and flight strategies may be less effective facing the relatively novel problems of living in modern societies, perhaps explaining the prevalence of disorders such as depression [8]. Dixon suggested that in depression, defensive behaviors can be highly aroused but also blocked and arrested and in this situation depression ensues. Dixon et al. [8] called this arrested flight. For example, in lizards, being defeated but able to escape has proven to be less problematic than being defeated and being trapped. Those who are in caged conditions, where escape is impossible, are at risk of depression and even death [9]. Gilbert [4, 10] and Gilbert and Allan [5] noted that depressed individuals commonly verbalize strong escape wishes and that feelings of entrapment and desires to escape have also been strongly linked to suicide, according to O’Connor [11]. In addition they may also have strong feelings of anger or resentment that they find difficult to express or become frightening to them. (Or are NOT ALLOWED to express, without being punished) 

Gilbert [4] and Gilbert and Allan [5] proposed that a variety of situations (not just interpersonal conflicts) that produce feeling of defeat, or uncontrollable stress, which stimulate strong escape desires but also makes it impossible for an individual to escape, lead the individual to a perception of entrapment. They defined entrapment as a desire to escape from the current situation in combination with the perception that all possibilities to overcome a given situation are blocked. Thus, theoretically entrapment follows defeat if the individual is not able to escape. This inability may be due to a dominant subject who does not offer propitiatory gestures following antagonistic competition, or if the individual keeps being attacked. (Relentless social bullying) 

In contrast to individuals who feel helpless (cf. the concept of learned helplessness [12]), which focus on perceptions of control, the entrapped model focuses on the outputs of the threat system emanating from areas such as the amygdala [13]. In addition, depressed people are still highly motivated and would like to change their situation or mood state. It was also argued that, unlike helplessness, entrapment takes into account the social forces that lead to depressive symptoms, which is important for group-living species with dominance hierarchies such as human beings [14]. Empirical findings by Holden and Fekken [15] support this assumption. Gilbert [4] argued that the construct of entrapment may explain the etiology of depression better than learned helplessness, because according to the theory of learned helplessness, helpless individuals have already lost their flight motivation whereas entrapped individuals have not.

According to Gilbert [4], the perception of entrapment can be triggered, increased, and maintained by external factors but also internal processes such as intrusive, unwanted thoughts and ruminations can play an important role (e.g., [16, 17]). For example, ruminating on the sense of defeat or inferiority may act as an internal signal of down-rank attack that makes an individual feel increasingly inferior and defeated. Such rumination may occur despite the fact that an individual successfully escaped from an entrapping external situation because of feelings of failure, which may cause a feeling of internal entrapment. For example, Sturman and Mongrain [18] found that internal entrapment increased following an athletic defeat. Moreover, thoughts and feelings like “internal dominants” in self-critics may exist that can also activate defensive behaviors.

For the empirical assessment of entrapment, Gilbert and Allan [5] developed the self-report Entrapment Scale (ES) and demonstrated its reliability. Using the ES, several studies have shown that the perception of entrapment is strongly related to low mood, anhedonia, and depression [5, 1921]. Sturman and Mongrain [22] found that entrapment was a significant predictor of recurrence of major depression. Further, Allan and Gilbert [23] found that entrapment relates to increased feelings of anger and to a lower expression of these feelings. In a study by Martin et al. [24], the perception of entrapment was associated with feelings of shame, but not with feelings of guilt. Investigating the temporal connection between depression and entrapment, Goldstein and Willner [25, 26] concluded that the relation between depression and entrapment is equivocal and might be bilateral; that is, entrapment may lead to depression and vice versa.

Entrapment was further used as a construct explaining suicidal tendency. In their cry-of pain-model, Williams and Pollock [27, 28] argued that suicidal behavior should be seen as a cry of pain rather than as a cry for help. Consistent with the concept of arrested flight, they proposed that suicidal behavior is reactive. In their model, the response (the cry) to a situation is supposed to have the following three components: defeat, no escape potential, and no rescue. O’Connor [11] provided empirical support in a case control study by comparing suicidal patients and matched hospital controls on measures of affect, stress, and posttraumatic stress. The authors hypothesized that the copresence of all three cry-of-pain variables primes an individual for suicidal behavior. The suicidal patients, with respect to a recent stressful event, reported significantly higher levels of defeat, lower levels of escape potential, and lower levels of rescue than the controls. Furthermore, Rasmussen et al. [21] showed that entrapment strongly mediated the relationship between defeat and suicidal ideation in a sample of first-time and repeated self-harming patients. Nevertheless, there has also been some criticism of the concept of entrapment as it is derived from animal literature [29].

To our knowledge so far, there is no data on the retest reliability or the temporal stability of the Entrapment Scale. Because entrapment is seen as a state-like rather than a trait-like construct, its stability is likely dependent on the stability of its causes. (Remove the social terrorism, or remove yourself) Therefore, if the causes of entrapment are stable (e.g., a long-lasting abusive relationship), then also entrapment will remain stable over time. In contrast, for the Beck Hopelessness Scale (BHS), there are studies assessing temporal stability that have yielded stable trait-like components of hopelessness [30]. Young and coworkers [30] stated that the high stability of hopelessness is a crucial predictor of depressive relapses and suicidal attempts. For the Perceived Stress Questionnaire (PSQ), there are studies examining retest reliability. The PSQ has shown high retest reliability over 13 days (r = .80) in a Spanish sample [31]. It is to be expected that with longer retest intervals as in the present study (3 months), the stability of perceived stress will be substantially lower. We, therefore, expect the stability of entrapment to be higher than that of perceived stress as a state-like construct, but lower than that of hopelessness, which has been shown to be more trait-like [32].

Previous research is equivocal regarding the dimensionality of the entrapment construct. Internal and external entrapment were originally conceived as two separate constructs (cf. [5]) and were widely assessed using two subscales measuring entrapment caused by situations and other people (e.g., “I feel trapped by other people”) or by one’s own limitations (e.g., “I want to get away from myself”). The scores of the two subscales were averaged to result in a total entrapment score in many studies. However as Taylor et al. [33] have shown, entrapment may be best conceptualized as a unidimensional construct. This reasoning is supported by the observation that some of the items of the ES cannot easily be classified either as internal or external entrapment and because the corresponding subscales lack face validity (e.g., “I am in a situation I feel trapped in” or “I can see no way out of my current situation”).

5. Discussion

The entrapment construct embeds depressiveness theoretically into an evolutionary context. The situation of arrested flight or blocked escape, in which a defeated individual is incapable of escaping despite a maintained motivation to escape, may lead to the perception of entrapment in affected individuals [8]. In this study, the Entrapment Scale (ES) was translated to German (ES-D), tested psychometrically, and validated by associations with other measures. This study provides evidence that the ES-D is a reliable self-report measure of entrapment demonstrating high internal consistency. The study also shows that the ES-D is a valid measure that relates to other similar constructs like hopelessness, depressive symptoms or perceived stress. Levels of entrapment as measured with the ES-D were associated with depressiveness, perceived stress, and hopelessness, showing moderate to high correlations. Results were consistent with those obtained by Gilbert and Allan [5]. Entrapment explained additional variance in depressiveness beyond that explained by stress and hopelessness. Taken together, the present data support the conception of entrapment as a relevant and distinct construct in the explanation of depression. (And much of Asperger behavior)

The results of our study confirm the findings of Taylor et al. [33], thereby showing that entrapment is only theoretically, but not empirically, separable into internal and external sources of entrapment. The authors even went further by showing that entrapment and defeat could represent a single construct. Although in this study the defeat scale [5] was not included, the results are in line with the assumption of Taylor et al. [33] and support other studies using entrapment a priori as a single construct. However, although this study supports the general idea that escape motivation affects both internal and external events and depression, clinically it can be very important to distinguish between them. For example, in studies of psychosis entrapment can be very focused on internal stimuli, particularly voices [47].

The state conceptualization of entrapment implies that the perception of entrapment may change over time. Therefore, we did not expect retest correlations as high as retest correlations for more trait-like constructs like hopelessness [32]. Since the correlation over time is generally a function of both the reliability of the measure and the stability of the construct, high reliability is a necessary condition for high stability [48]. In this study, we showed that the ES-D is a reliable scale, and we considered retest correlations as an indicator for stability. The intraclass correlation of .67 suggests that entrapment is more sensitive to change than hopelessness (r = .82). Furthermore, the state of entrapment seems to be more stable than perceived stress, which may be influenced to a greater extent by external factors. Given the confirmed reliability and validity of the ES-D in this study, we therefore cautiously conclude that entrapment lies between hopelessness and perceived stress regarding stability.

Whereas the high correlation between entrapment and depressive symptoms in this study may be interpreted as evidence of conceptual equivalence, an examination of the item wordings of two scales clearly suggest that these questionnaires assess distinct constructs. However, the causal direction of this bivariate relation is not clear. Theoretically, both directions are plausible. Entrapment may be a cause or a consequence of depressive symptoms, or even both. Unfortunately, studies examining the temporal precedence so far have yielded equivocal results and have methodological shortcomings (e.g., no clinical samples, only mild and transitory depression and entrapment scores with musical mood induction) in order to answer this question conclusively [25, 26]. It remains unclear whether entrapment only is depression specific. Entrapment might not only be associated with depression, but also with other psychological symptoms, or even psychopathology in general. This interpretation is supported by research showing a relation between distress arising from voices and entrapment in psychotic patients [49, 50]. Furthermore, other studies show the relation between entrapment and depressive symptoms [5153] and social anxiety and shame [54] in psychosis. The usefulness of entrapment as a construct for explaining psychopathologies in humans has been questioned [29]. Due to the present study, it is now possible to investigate entrapment in psychopathology in the German speaking area.

Modern social humans and the social hierarchy: Driving Asperger types crazy for thousands of years!


If only modern neotenic Homo sapiens could see itself…

More disgusting behavior: