Re: [asa] The Spiritual Brain

From: Merv <>
Date: Mon Oct 08 2007 - 21:08:57 EDT

I'm glad to see others on this list appreciating the nuances of the
ultimatum game -- I had posted earlier on this, but no discussion
followed. I'm gaining appreciation every day (as a teacher and as a
parent) for this tendency in humans to demand fairness. It disturbed a
student mightily in school today to learn that I might grade different
questions on her homework paper tomorrow than what was graded for the
rest of the students today. Her objection: "that would be
inconsistent of me". Never mind that it is what I have always done for
homework handed in late (thus being consistent in a way not visible to
her.) But her objection (and my consequent resistance) were both far
out of proportion to the paltry points at stake in the small
assignment. We were both defending principle far beyond our potential
gain. Or a parent who may ask something of one child, but not the
other --e.g. a heavier child asked to cut back a bit more on sweets
while a more active child isn't given quite the same prodding. Such an
"inconsistency" provokes protests. If Timmy got some ice cream at a
friend's house then Tommy should get some now too! Never mind that
Tommy may likely be punished with a lifetime of diabetes and an early
grave. Apparently "consistency" is more important to us than a child's
health. It is a cruel god that we serve, this consistency. And I'll
wager that our desire to adhere to it can prod us to an astonishing
amount of personal suffering from a biologist's or economist's point of
view. (parting disclaimer -- I'm not advocating for deliberate
inconsistency here.)


David Campbell wrote:
> It's not exactly perceiving that the others have more than they. The
> scenario is that a certain lump sum (often cash when people are the
> subjects) is available. Person one (not directly met by person 2)
> makes an offer "I'll take x% and leave you the rest. If person 1 is
> greedy and wants to take most of it for himself, person 2 often
> rejects the offer, leaving neither with anything. It's a small-scale
> example of imposing perceived fairness on others despite personal
> cost, and correlates with greater willingness to share.
> Of course, this is a rather simplistic scenario attempting to produce
> an easily replicated test of people's inclinations. Foregoing a small
> share of the reward in order to punish greed in another could be spite
> or a strong sense of fairness or various other motives. Conversely,
> whichever chimp was #1 was usually greedy by human standards, but
> exactly how they would perceive it is certainly speculative. It's not
> amenable to simply labeling the humans as bad and chimp good. I
> suspect there are connections to the ability to recognize another
> individual as having needs and desires like oneself, an ability
> apparently largely confined to humans as far as we know and which is a
> key part of moral responsibility.
>> "..It seems man's best friend has lost a part of its brain that kept much
>> of its wolf instincts. On the other hand.. it has gained the ability to
>> understand pointing. When we point at something, a fellow human
>> automatically transfers its attention to the object we point to, rather than
>> just staring at the hand. So does a dog with just a little training. Wolves
>> do not, and neither do chimps or any other species known to man. ...the
>> capacity to point and to understand pointing is everything..."
> Actually, several species in domestication do this. Tamed foxes can
> do the same; wild ones don't. Our eastern painted turtle seemed to
> learn to follow our pointing from outside his tank to find a cheerio
> or bug (no rigorous experimental setup).
> Many animals have some way of communicating that something of interest
> or concern is in a particular direction, even if they lack the ability
> to point.

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Received on Mon Oct 8 21:00:25 2007

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