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The Righteous Mind Ch3: Elephants Rule


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This chapter presents six claims based on research findings, in support of the proposition intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.

 

1. Brains evaluate instantly and constantly

Affect: “small flashes of positive or negative feeling that prepare us to approach or avoid something.” Affect equates to Haidt’s ‘elephant’; thinking is the ‘rider.’

 

2. Social and political judgments are particularly intuitive

Partisans “have acquired the right set of intuitive reactions to hundreds of words…you find yourself liking and trusting the people around you who sway in sync with you”

 

3. Our bodies guide our judgments

“Immorality makes us feel physically dirty, and cleansing ourselves can sometimes make us more concerned about guiding our moral purity”; moral judgment is more intuitive than rational. Eg. a ‘fart spray’ experiment showed people standing next to a foul smell made harsher judgments on moral issues.

 

4
.
Psychopaths reason but don’t feel

Psychopathy seems to be genetically heritable, creating “brains that are unmoved by the needs, suffering and dignity of others”, although capable of reasoning in service of their desires. The results can obviously be tragic.

 

5. Babies feel but don’t reason

By six months, babies seem to be watching how people behave to each other, and are beginning to prefer nice people; ie make simple moral judgments, without the ability to reason. (This conclusion was drawn from observing reactions to a puppet show featuring a good guy and bad guy.

 

6. Affective reactions are in the right place at the right time in the brain

Brain damage to emotive areas in the brain affects moral competence; brain scans taken as people process moral dilemmas or issues generally show rapid activation of emotive centers.

 

The elephant makes instant judgments. It is “sometimes open to reason” - especially when there are positive feelings towards those supporting a conflicting stance. But the rider’s strongest tendency is to look for ways to support the way the elephant leans.

………………………

*Can you share any examples that seem to support or contradict any of the six points?

*Can you think of a time when your rider successfully guided your elephant away from an intuitive judgment?

*Any questions or comments?
Edited by AnnieG
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Psychopathy seems to be genetically heritable, creating “brains that are unmoved by the needs, suffering and dignity of others”, although capable of reasoning in service of their desires. The results can obviously be tragic.

 

A book I am reading now ("Connected" by Chistakis & Fowler) makes a similar point in a different context. They say that empathy is an evolutionary development in humans and variation between individuals can be, at least, partially accounted for by genes. They have used twin studies to test this. So maybe, we should be a little more empathetic toward hard-hearted people as they likely inherited the inclination.

 

What is also interesting (to me) is that natural selection resulted in variation where some people are more selfish and empathetic than others. If it were advantageous for the species, we would all be just alike in this but we are not.

 

George

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Partisans “have acquired the right set of intuitive reactions to hundreds of words…you find yourself liking and trusting the people around you who sway in sync with you”

 

An example of this (recently discussed here) is the issue of abortion. If someone refers to the unborn as a 'fetus' we know instantly that they are pro-choice where if they use 'baby,' we know they are pro-life. I think a similar situation is with the issue of gay rights. If a person uses 'gay' they are likely be favorable where if they use 'homosexual' they are likely to be opposed.

 

George

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What is also interesting (to me) is that natural selection resulted in variation where some people are more selfish and empathetic than others. If it were advantageous for the species, we would all be just alike in this but we are not.

 

George,

I know very little about evolution. Is the idea that variation makes a wider and therefore more healthy gene pool?

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Is the idea that variation makes a wider and therefore more healthy gene pool?

 

I think that is essentially what they argue. As a species, we need some members to be more selfish than others. If it were evolutionarily advantageous, we would have developed to have no 'chimp' side in our nature and we would be like bees (to use Haidt metaphors). And the 'chimp' component varies somewhat from person to person. As a result, we have Donald Trump (all chimp) and Mother Teresa (all bee) with most of us somewhere in the middle.

 

George

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If a person uses 'gay' they are likely be favorable where if they use 'homosexual' they are likely to be opposed.

 

George

That depends on who and where they are......

The New Zealand Prime Minister recently drew criticism for a (to him) humorous description of a radio commentator's clothing as a 'gay red top'. (Red being the color of the political opposition.) I thought he was using 'gay' in the old-fashioned sense of bright/ cheerful; he clarified that he meant 'gay' as in 'weird', which seems to be common useage by NZ and British children. Supporters of gay rights then organised 'Gay Red Top Day' to reclaim the positive connotations of gay.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/index.cfm?objectid=10846243

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sorry for going off topic, but, Annie, are you familiar with 'flight of the conchords'? this made me think immediately of the episode they met the (fictional i presume) NZ prime minister 'Brian'. just like something he would have come out with!

Jonny

ps i'm gettiing through chapter 3 and will comment in due course!

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Some care should be taken when using the term "selfish" or "empathetic". It is not necessarily the case that the underlying intuition is the same as the connotations attached to these words.. For example, the cognitive appraisal "must obtain scarce resources" need not be "selfish", as it it an intuitive reaction to potential threats to survival. In other words, Haidt is unclear as to the relationshiip between emotion and intuition. Are they linked at the level of origination? Or are they linked at a higher level of processing, with the increased possibilty of error?

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………………………

*Can you share any examples that seem to support or contradict any of the six points?

*Can you think of a time when your rider successfully guided your elephant away from an intuitive judgment?

*Any questions or comments?

 

 

First, I'm not quite sure what you mean by an "intuitive judgment". Ususally, the two words refer to different mental processes. In the sense that Haidt uses the word "intuition", judgment is not implied. The classic motto is "once judgment is applied to an intuition, it is no longer an intuition." In other words, "judgment" is the rider and "intuition" is the elephant.

 

Myron

Edited by minsocal
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This chapter presents six claims based on research findings, in support of the proposition intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.

 

1. Brains evaluate instantly and constantly

 

 

Affect: “small flashes of positive or negative feeling that prepare us to approach or avoid something.” Affect equates to Haidt’s ‘elephant’; thinking is the ‘rider.’

 

 

This is borrowed directly from Antonio Damasio. Properly described per Damasio, the high speed processor at the level of the midbrain sorts out multiple options based on past experiences before passing a select few to higher levels fo final selection. Damasio does not claim that one and only one option makes into conscious awareness. That brings up another point. As defined by Damasio and Haidt, these processes take place at a purely unconscious level. The output of these processes is routed to the rational processing centers of the brain and not ditectly to behavioral output..

Edited by minsocal
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George,

I know very little about evolution. Is the idea that variation makes a wider and therefore more healthy gene pool?

 

A wide gene pool is more likely to survive. A narrow gene pool could, for example, be wiped out by a disease attacking a specific vulnerabilty. The word "healthy" is replaced by "more likely to survive." Properly understood, evolution has no value distinction, it is simply "that which survives".

 

Myron

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First, I'm not quite sure what you mean by an "intuitive judgment". Ususally, the two words refer to different mental processes. In the sense that Haidt uses the word "intuition", judgment is not implied. The classic motto is "once judgment is applied to an intuition, it is no longer an intuition." In other words, "judgment" is the rider and "intuition" is the elephant.

 

Myron

 

Yes, point taken. I was using 'judgment' to mean 'affect,' but I can see it wasn't a particularly precise choice.

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Annie, quoting Haidt on affect

Affect: “small flashes of positive or negative feeling that prepare us to approach or avoid something.” [Affect equates to Haidt’s ‘elephant’; thinking is the ‘rider.’]

 

 

This is borrowed directly from Antonio Damasio.

 

Haidt's primary source in this area appears to be psychologist Wilhem Wundt (1907/1896)

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sorry for going off topic, but, Annie, are you familiar with 'flight of the conchords'? this made me think immediately of the episode they met the (fictional i presume) NZ prime minister 'Brian'. just like something he would have come out with!

Jonny

 

 

Jonny, Thanks, F of the C were really just a name to me, I'm going to check them out.

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Annie, quoting Haidt on affect

 

 

Affect: “small flashes of positive or negative feeling that prepare us to approach or avoid something.” [Affect equates to Haidt’s ‘elephant’; thinking is the ‘rider.’]

 

 

 

 

Haidt's primary source in this area appears to be psychologist Wilhem Wundt (1907/1896)

 

Wundt ardently denied that there were any unconscious mental process.

 

(edit to add)

 

If you look up Damasio and Somatic Marker Hypothesis you will see the connection to Haidt.

Edited by minsocal
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Wundt ardently denied that there were any unconscious mental process.

 

(edit to add)

 

If you look up Damasio and Somatic Marker Hypothesis you will see the connection to Haidt.

 

Haidt and Damasio are closer to the first fullly developed theory of emotion by William James, the James-Lang theory of emotion. This theory is also a foundation for A. N. Whitehead's Process and Reality or C. G. Jung's works. James was a stong influence on both thinkers.

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Do you find Haidt's arguments convincing (in this chapter, and generally)? Is there anything you disagree with?

 

Annie, I would ask the same of you. I was generally very persuaded by his arguments and evidence. But, it has been awhile since I read the book and I don't recall any specifics that I had serious doubt about or disagreement with.

 

George

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Haidt does seem convincing to me, but I admit to knowing next to nothing about conflicting theories / studies in this area.

 

Good point. I am not familiar as well with any contemporary competing theories. However I have read other things that are consistent with Haidt's ideas.

 

George

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