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Group Evolution


Inthedark
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I recently showed this TED talk by Jonathan Haidt to my Ephesus Group, which is a group which explores topics such as spirituality, ethics, religion and other topics for discussion. We are mainly from a Christian background with some from other religious backgrounds, mainly liberal in outlook with some atheists thrown in for good measure. It started quite a discussion about social glue and combined suffering for a group being a requirement for individuals to self transcend in that context, similar to what Jesus might have done in his context, amongst other topics.

 

I wondered if anyone here would have an opnion.

 

Is a group situation and suffering required for self transcendence?

 

Is the lack of suffering in modern society preventing us from rising up the staircase?

 

Are we homo-duplex; the majority profane with a select few sacred?

 

Has anyone here lost themselves at any time and become simply part of the whole?

 

 

Any thoughts?

 

:)

Edited by Inthedark
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Each time I have seen this video I lose my respect for Haidt. Just a collection of popular ideas and images.

 

 

Is a group situation and suffering required for self transcendence?

No, self-transcendence is acheivable through meditation and other individual practices. The practices may involve self-denial. See Sam Keen's response below.

 

Modern sensory satiation may keep us from looking for the staircase

 

 

Are we homo-duplex; the majority profane with a select few sacred?

This suggests an inherent fixed attribute which I think is not accurate. It might describe the process. Here, in a religious context is how John Haught, theologian, would describe it.

 

 

"One way of contradicting what is ideal is to cling to low-grade forms of harmony or monotony when it is relevant to move on toward novelty, to something new that would keep [us] alive. Since life always involves self-transcendence, or going beyond, we constantly need to be challenged by the Author of new possibilities of being." from a conversation with Michael Dowd

 

I have become part of the whole, as Haidt describes it, at a football field - A Promise Keepers gathering.

 

When asked about transcendent experiences of the sacred in a group Sam Keen responded that they are very dangerous and asks the audience to consider:

Nuremberg rallies producing psuedo sacred experiences - werner erhart - jimmy swaggart - being born again - several times

 

http://fora.tv/2010/...God#fullprogram

 

I think there is a valuable discussion to be held about bonding and the evolution of prosocial behavior - and a different conversation about transcendent experiences. Haidt is tagging along.

 

Dutch

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Thank you for your reply Dutch. I have heard some criticism along the lines you mention of Haidt in recent times for this media savvy presentation, or rather its content. I think you are right in that homo-duplex seems a little simplistic, your either this or your this...

 

Transcedence is a funny thing. What some would call transecendence, losing oneself in the whole, might not be what other might call transcendence, such as those from an eastern tradition.

 

As I mentioned in the OP, I was in the military and experienced a version of this "losing yourself", in a submarine, which could quite easily have been lost in the particular circumstances. I don't recall any member of the crew showing any outward emotion, other than focus on their job. I remember feeling a warmth come over me as I accepted I might die at 21 years of age, it was a lovely feeling and I felt no fear. I was part of that whole that Haidt talks about.

 

I worked away at what needed to be done, as did we all and thankfully we managed to turn that situation around and come up again.

 

That was a case where group selection had our particular tight little group of 110 men initially circling around the value of doing your bit for your country etc etc, but that value infact turned out to be the 110 men doing what needed to be done for each other because of their tight relationship with each other, because of their shared experoiences and ongoing situation.

 

I can't speak for others but they appeared to be in the same boat (if you'll pardon the pun) but personally I did transcend my own petty wants, needs and fears and did what needed to be done. This warmth and loss of self was a lovely thing, not something to fear or resent.

 

On another occasion I had a criminal I was tasked to locate pointed a loaded rifle at my head and threatened me. I was unarmed and my colleague was just beneath me on a stairway unable to see what was going on. Again I felt the warmth, turned around expecting the lights to go out and simply told my off sider we missed out, nobody there and we slowly walked away. Once we were out of the driveway to the property, I told my offsider what had happened and we arranged suitably attired staff to come in and take down the criminal. This again was one of those times where the self was lost in the moment and the decisions are made for the (perceived) best of the whole, not the individual.

 

Is it driven by the individual or driven by the circumstances or both? Both I reckon, but still, group selection appears to be at work in a variety of situations out there including religion.

Edited by Inthedark
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I don't have time to watch the video now, but I have read two of Haidt's books and E.O. Wilson's recent book which discuss the dual nature of humans, "homo duplex." As Haidt says in The Righteous Mind, we are "a creature who exists a two levels: as an individual and as a part of the larger society."

 

I found their case to be very persuasive and am convinced that humans evolved to be eusocial animals. The positive emotional reaction we get from being a part of whole (like your military and sports examples) represent this. Our moral intuitions are part of this. Without this social instinct, 'altruism' cannot be adequately explained by the "selfish gene" existing alone.

 

If evolution could not produce social animals, then how do we explain ants and bees. Surely, their behavior is genetic, not culture. What about herding and pack animals. Did they sit down and decide that working as a team would produce better results? If other social animals developed their social instincts through evolution, what would make us think we are an exception?

 

George

Edited by GeorgeW
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Transcedence is a funny thing. What some would call transecendence, losing oneself in the whole, might not be what other might call transcendence, such as those from an eastern tradition.

 

. . .

 

That was a case where group selection had our particular tight little group of 110 men initially circling around the value of doing your bit for your country etc etc, but that value infact turned out to be the 110 men doing what needed to be done for each other because of their tight relationship with each other, because of their shared experoiences and ongoing situation.

 

. . .

 

On another occasion I had a criminal I was tasked to locate pointed a loaded rifle at my head and threatened me. I was unarmed and my colleague was just beneath me on a stairway unable to see what was going on. Again I felt the warmth, turned around expecting the lights to go out and simply told my off sider we missed out, nobody there and we slowly walked away. Once we were out of the driveway to the property, I told my offsider what had happened and we arranged suitably attired staff to come in and take down the criminal. This again was one of those times where the self was lost in the moment and the decisions are made for the (perceived) best of the whole, not the individual.

 

 

I appreciate the honest and heartfelt nature of your posts. Thank you.

 

Have you considered the possibility that the two experiences you describe here were not experiences of self-transcendence ("losing" yourself) but were instead experiences of "finding yourself" -- or, to put in a different way, "entering the kingdom of the heavens" as Jesus once tried to describe it?

 

"Finding yourself" is an experience of deep trust and compassion and divine love. It's about seeing more clearly than you've ever seen before the reality that the "other" -- each person around you -- is a full and complete being, a being who is separate from you, a being who is unique, a being who is entirely worthy of your respect, a being who is equal to you in the eyes of God. In that moment of clarity, when you step off the ladder of spiritual ascent, and understand that you are neither better nor worse than any other living creature, you find the courage to see yourself as the compassionate being you really are.

 

The self is not lost in these moments of clarity. The self who understands trust and courage and faith is found. The ground beneath your feet becomes more solid than it's ever seemed before -- so solid it may not be immediately recognizable as that thing we call courage. But that's what it feels like when you enter the mysterious place called the heart.

 

You ask, "Is the lack of suffering in modern society preventing us from rising up the staircase?"

 

I see tremendous suffering in modern society, perhaps more than we've ever known as a species, because of our refusal to teach our children how to find their way into the heart, into the place where we can know ourselves and know each other.

 

The journey of knowing the heart begins within the self (so from this point of view is driven by the individual) but can't expand to its full potential without the willing aid of others (a group dynamic, in other words). So, as you say, it's both.

 

Jen

Edited by canajan, eh?
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Wow, Sam Keen! I went through a stage where I read almost everything he wrote especially the out of print "To A Dancing God" which was a mainstay in my church circles(Episcopal) in the eighties.His spiritual growth from fundamentalist in the South(like Spong) to Harvard and Princeton educated academic to Editor of Psychology Today to Trapeze Artist and around again to husband of the Reverend Patricia de Jong, United Church of Christ minister in Berkley is well documented in numerous books.

 

His belief that group transcendant experiences being dangerous is woefully demonstrated by the current state of American politics.

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I appreciate the honest and heartfelt nature of your posts. Thank you.

 

Have you considered the possibility that the two experiences you describe here were not experiences of self-transcendence ("losing" yourself) but were instead experiences of "finding yourself" -- or, to put in a different way, "entering the kingdom of the heavens" as Jesus once tried to describe it?

 

"Finding yourself" is an experience of deep trust and compassion and divine love. It's about seeing more clearly than you've ever seen before the reality that the "other" -- each person around you -- is a full and complete being, a being who is separate from you, a being who is unique, a being who is entirely worthy of your respect, a being who is equal to you in the eyes of God. In that moment of clarity, when you step off the ladder of spiritual ascent, and understand that you are neither better nor worse than any other living creature, you find the courage to see yourself as the compassionate being you really are.

 

The self is not lost in these moments of clarity. The self who understands trust and courage and faith is found. The ground beneath your feet becomes more solid than it's ever seemed before -- so solid it may not be immediately recognizable as that thing we call courage. But that's what it feels like when you enter the mysterious place called the heart.

 

You ask, "Is the lack of suffering in modern society preventing us from rising up the staircase?"

 

I see tremendous suffering in modern society, perhaps more than we've ever known as a species, because of our refusal to teach our children how to find their way into the heart, into the place where we can know ourselves and know each other.

 

The journey of knowing the heart begins within the self (so from this point of view is driven by the individual) but can't expand to its full potential without the willing aid of others (a group dynamic, in other words). So, as you say, it's both.

 

Jen

 

Thanks for your thoughts Jen I found your comments very thought provoking. I'm not sure how to intepret what happened to me and I suppose that is why I don't mind discussing it with others in a forum such as this, to try and make some sense of it. I do know that the brotherhood I experienced in the environment of an operational submarine was like nothing I have experienced since. Away for long periods under tremendous psychological pressure, from 99% of your time being routine (pure boredom), lack of exercise, no fresh air, no sunlight, no natural colours, constantly dirty, your eyes never seeing further than about 12 metres in front of you and 1% remainder of your time with the "enemy" or the environment trying to kill you and your mates. In this circumstance, any one of us would have sacrificed themselves for the others in a heartbeat, with barely a second thought.

 

You seem to be saying that the giving of the self and becoming part of the whole is actually the opposite of that and it is the individual discovering the real self behind the ego. Would that be right Jen?

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You seem to be saying that the giving of the self and becoming part of the whole is actually the opposite of that and it is the individual discovering the real self behind the ego. Would that be right Jen?

 

Sorry :unsure: . . . I'm a bit unclear . . . when you say "the opposite of that," which "that" were you thinking of?

 

In your experience (which I deeply respect) "any one of us would have sacrificed themselves for the others in a heartbeat, with barely a second thought." This is what I mean by the experience of "finding yourself." Finding yourself means trusting your own heart, trusting your own compassion. Once you've found this trust in your core nature, it's a straightforward matter to sacrifice yourself for others with barely a second thought.

 

It's possible that at the same time you were feeling a core sense of trust and courage, some of your mates were feeling the same way. When two or more people come together to share their sense of trust and courage with each other, there's a heightened sense of being part of a whole. A whole family or group. It doesn't matter what the situation is. It can happen as easily in a submarine as in a touchy-feely campfire singalong. What matters is your ability to bring your entire core self into the situation to do what's right.

 

When individuals find themselves in these life or death situations, they have to make a choice. They have to make a choice in the briefest flicker of a moment about who they think are. They have to decide whether they're going to be their worst selves (selfish, non-altruistic survivors) or their best selves (trusting, courageous team players). What you choose will be reflected in your body's biological response in the immediate short term. If you choose to go purely with your "worst self," your body will respond by kicking in with huge boluses of stress hormones (epinephrine, norepinephrine, cortisol). If you choose to go purely with your "best self," your body will also throw in lots of neurotransmitters such as oxytocin, vasopressin, serotonin, and melatonin, which help you process your choice to be trusting and compassionate towards your mates. Hence the physical sensation of warmth.

 

For most people in most ordinary situations, the choices they make lie somewhere between the two extremes, So what they "feel" in terms of physical sensations lies somewhere in the middle. Not really "cold," but not really "warm," either, at an emotional, physical, and spiritual level.

 

In our language and literature, we instinctively use words like "cold" to mean selfish and uncaring. And we use words like "warm" to mean caring and compassionate towards others. There's probably a sound biological basis for this choice of words.

 

Best,

Jen

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Haidt is a social psychologist who studies human emotions. The video presentation is designed to elicite a variety of emotions as Haidt delivers his talk. Several times, he mentions an emotion called "elevation". I felt it several times during the presentation. In ordinary language we somtimes express a feeling of being "uplifted" or "enlightened", etc. It could even be called and "ah ha" experience. Maslow called it "an oceanic feeling of oneness with the world". It is what Jung means when he talks of a "numinous" experience. Other psycholgists talk about attachment and bonding. All of these terms find their way into Haidt's presentation in some form.

 

Evolution is pragmatic. Used wisely, positive emotions enrich and expand consciouness. Jung saw this and considered conscious feelings of emotions as rational. The same is at the core of Whitehead's work.

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Evolution is pragmatic.

 

Absolutely. If there were no useful purpose we wouldn't have them. They didn't develop to entertain us, although that is sometimes a side benefit. They help attract us to positive things and help keep us away from danger.

 

Myron, it is good to have you back.

 

George

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Absolutely. If there were no useful purpose we wouldn't have them. They didn't develop to entertain us, although that is sometimes a side benefit. They help attract us to positive things and help keep us away from danger.

 

Myron, it is good to have you back.

 

George

 

Thank you, George

 

The subject of our "dual nature" has a long history. The progressive model I grew up with said that there are times to pay attention to care of the self, and times to pay attention to care of others. Haidt is one of the few who is willing to address the implications of both.

 

Evolution gave us emotions. Emotions change as environmental conditions change. They are informative and not permanent states. What Haidt is really talking about is a feedback loop. Jung placed this concept at the center of his theory. The idea is that there is a balance of states over time moving from the self to others, and back again. Up the stairs and down the stairs.

 

Myron

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Myron,

I am also glad to see you back.

--------------------

The video presentation is designed to elicite a variety of emotions as Haidt delivers his talk. Several times, he mentions an emotion called "elevation"

------------

Thanks for pointing this out.

 

Dutch

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Each time I have seen this video I lose my respect for Haidt. Just a collection of popular ideas and images.

 

I am a fan of Haidt (in written form). I finally had time to watch the video and didn't much like it. It is much too new-agey, too Silicon Valley, too slick. I reminds me of the NPR gurus promoting a three-step (or five , or seven) program to a happy life (or wealth, or weight loss). It also reminds me Steve Jobs introducing a new iPhone (which to many people was a transcendent experience).

 

But, Haidt is a serious scientist who bases his theories on good evidence. I found his books very persuasive.

 

George

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I am a fan of Haidt (in written form). I finally had time to watch the video and didn't much like it. It is much too new-agey, too Silicon Valley, too slick. I reminds me of the NPR gurus promoting a three-step (or five , or seven) program to a happy life (or wealth, or weight loss). It also reminds me Steve Jobs introducing a new iPhone (which to many people was a transcendent experience).

 

But, Haidt is a serious scientist who bases his theories on good evidence. I found his books very persuasive.

 

George

 

Slick for the masses on the internet and as much self promotion as the promotion of a theory, but nonetheless, as the intended market, I felt he made some interesting points which certainly resonated with me.

 

Jen, you answered my rather poorly worded question perfectly. Thanks.

 

Paul

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I felt he made some interesting points which certainly resonated with me.

 

Thanks for posting it. If someone is not familiar with the idea of group evolution, it is worthwhile (unless turned off by the new-agey format). I think you would enjoy his books. If you are interested in group evolution, I would recommend E.O. Wilson be read first. Then, Haidt's ideas have a better context.

 

George

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Thanks for posting it. If someone is not familiar with the idea of group evolution, it is worthwhile (unless turned off by the new-agey format). I think you would enjoy his books. If you are interested in group evolution, I would recommend E.O. Wilson be read first. Then, Haidt's ideas have a better context.

 

George

 

Thanks George, I'll look into it.

 

Paul

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Myron,

I am also glad to see you back.

--------------------

The video presentation is designed to elicite a variety of emotions as Haidt delivers his talk. Several times, he mentions an emotion called "elevation"

------------

Thanks for pointing this out.

 

Dutch

 

Thanks Dutch,

 

Myron

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Western cultures tend to portray emotion in opposition to rationality. Buddhism makes no such distinction. If I experience an emotion called "elevation" I know it. How? The area around my heart seems loosened up and "warmed", my breathing and heart rate fall into a a synchronous pattern. I feel ... relieved, at ease, no longer in conflict with the flow of the world.

 

Elevation overlaps the concept of inspiration.

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I liked the video.

 

The core of science is observation. I am saying our consciousness is the instrument that we use to observe. Science at this time cannot explain consciousness within its present material structure. To experience consciousness at this time seems to be the way to observe it and I would call this spirituality because it is beyond the physical senses. We only see the result, but I feel self-awareness is a part of biological evolution and an important part of development. I feel our awareness of our consciousness emerges or evolves out of a primary consciousness. Sorry to those who are confused and want to classify consciousness into better or best. It is like energy just different.

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I watched the video for a second time looking for the key concepts Haidt uses. As I mentioned previously, Haidt studies human emotions. His research verifies that our emotions have two ways of relating to the world. One way relates self-to-world and the other way relates world-to-self. (I thank the philosopher John Searle for the core concept of direction of fit.) It would make sense if evolution matched real world demands. There are times, such as war, when cooperation is essential to survival.

 

The claim that Haidt makes is simple, yet complex. We need both competion and cooperation to survive. There must then be emotions promoting both. The emotions underlying cooperation are called "collective emotions".

 

Perhaps the best of this video comes where Haidt says that self-transcendance is recognition of "the sacredness of all around us". This is direct agreement with Albert Schweitzer, A. N. Whitehead, William James (cited by Haidt), and many others. Haidt is very well read.

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The claim that Haidt makes is simple, yet complex. We need both competion and cooperation to survive. There must then be emotions promoting both.

 

We are wired for intra-group cooperation and inter-group competition.

 

George

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We are wired for intra-group cooperation and inter-group competition.

 

George

 

George,

 

What interests me is that intra-group cooperation is felt as elevating and uplifting. It seems to be at the core of compassion. Haidt does not use the word compassion or altruism in the video, but does in his technical writings.

 

Myron

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