viernes, 15 de diciembre de 2017

¿Podemos ser honestos sobre las mujeres?



Aquí hay un pequeño secreto que tenemos que decir en voz alta: a las mujeres les encanta la interacción sexual que experimentan con los hombres, y les encanta que los hombres deseen su belleza.



David French de National Review escribió recientemente un artículo en el que preguntaba: “¿Podemos ser honestos sobre los hombres?”. En él, lamenta la avalancha de casos de acoso sexual en los medios, la política y el entretenimiento y pregunta: “¿Cuándo terminará?”.

“La respuesta obvia es nunca”, dice . “Al menos no hasta que miremos la naturaleza humana a la cara, la confrentemos directamente, y llamemos a los hombres a vivir de acuerdo con un propósito más elevado y mejor. Podríamos soportar el apocalipsis zombi, y el mundo estaría lleno de caudillos locales usando su poder y estatus para explotar a las mujeres”. Continúa:
Aquí hay una realidad simple: un gran número de hombres ingresa en profesiones de alto estatus (como entretenimiento y política) en parte o incluso principalmente para obtener acceso a mujeres hermosas. Un gran número de hombres logra riqueza en parte o incluso principalmente para obtener acceso a mujeres hermosas. Un gran número de hombres que ingresan en profesiones de alto estatus o que obtienen riqueza por buenas y virtuosas razones pronto se corrompen por el acceso a mujeres hermosas. Como hemos aprendido, algunos hombres incluso se convierten en lo que llaman “feministas masculinos” principalmente para ganarse la confianza de las mujeres hermosas.
Ponga todas las objeciones que quiera, pero es verdad. De hecho, para los hombres, tener una mujer hermosa en el brazo a menudo es visto como el último marcador de estatus. Conviértase en lo suficientemente exitoso, sin importar su apariencia, torpeza social o dolorosa historial de citas, y una mujer hermosa será su recompensa.

Ciertamente, no voy a poner objeciones, aunque creo que muchos hombres ingresan en profesiones de alto estatus para ser mejores que otros hombres en su campo de experiencia, no solo para obtener mujeres hermosas. La competencia puede motivarlos aun más que el sexo.

De todos modos, no podemos negar que los dulces brazos son parte de eso. No conozco a muchas personas que no estuviesen de acuerdo, lo que explica la popularidad de la Hot-Crazy Matrix. Básicamente, dice que los hombres tolerarán un muchas locuras de una mujer ardiente, y las mujeres soportarán un mucha fealdad de un hombre rico.
Las mujeres no son víctimas desventuradas

French lamenta este hecho básico de la vida, diciendo que los hombres no necesitan ceder a sus impulsos naturales de esta manera. En su lugar, necesitan superarlos. “La tentación sexual es tan poderosa y omnipresente que ninguna sociedad humana estará libre del escándalo sexual, pero existen sistemas morales que, si se aplican, pueden mitigar el pecado original”.

Un buen consejo, por supuesto, y no tengo ningún problema con los puntos básicos del artículo de French, pero discrepo con la suposición de que las mujeres son pasivas e inocentes en esta interacción sexual entre los sexos. Esta podría no haber sido su intención, ya que se estaba centrando en los hombres, pero no podemos permitir que estas conversaciones permanezcan fijas solo en los hombres, como si solo ellos se aprovechasen. No siempre podemos asumir que las mujeres son damiselas desventuradas angustiadas por la forma en que son objetivadas.

Aquí hay un pequeño secreto que tenemos que decir en voz alta: a las mujeres les encanta la interacción sexual que experimentan con los hombres, y les encantan los hombres que desean su belleza. ¿Por qué? Porque es parte de su naturaleza.

Las mujeres quieren ser deseadas por los hombres, atraerlos, ser la única mujer en el mundo para ese hombre. Su belleza es una parte esencial de su atractivo, especialmente cuando hombres y mujeres se conocen por primera vez. Tienen poco más que apreciar porque no se conocen, y la belleza sirve de guía para un mayor interés.

Fuera de una mujer en busca de pareja, su belleza es una fuente de poder porque los hombres y otras mujeres lo valoran. Esta es la razón por la cual las mujeres casadas todavía quieren ser bellas. Es una expresión de su feminidad, que no desaparece en el altar.

No necesitamos estudios que lo confirmen, aunque sí los tenemos. Un estudio reciente de Pew Research dice que la sociedad valora más el atractivo físico en las mujeres. La educación y la empatía vienen después. Los principales rasgos más valorados en los hombres son la moralidad y el éxito profesional. En otras palabras, los hombres quieren mujeres que sean atractivas y emocionalmente conectivas, y las mujeres quieren hombres buenos que tengan éxito financiero.
Esta es una verdad eterna sobre la naturaleza humana

Las feministas dirán que esta es una construcción social de la época victoriana que todavía no se ha limpiado de nuestra sociedad. Yo digo que esto es la naturaleza humana. Lo mismo ocurre en la historia, la religión y los miles de mitos, leyendas y literatura. Las historias de la humanidad están llenas del hombre más competente que gana la mujer más bella. Los hombres se sienten atraídos por la belleza como las polillas por una llama, y ​​las mujeres quieren ser la llama.

En palabras de Lord Byron: “Ella camina en la belleza, como la noche / De cimas despejadas y noches estrelladas/ Y lo mejor de lo oscuro y lo brillante/Se encuentran en sus rasgos y en sus ojos/Así, suavizados bajo la tierna luz/Que el cielo al llamativo día niega”.

James Joyce en Retrato del artista adolescente captura la belleza de una mujer con detalles sensuales:
Una muchacha estaba ante él, en medio de la corriente, mirando sola y tranquila mar afuera. Parecía que un arte mágico le diera la apariencia de un ave de mar bella y extraña. Sus piernas desnudas y largas eran esbeltas como las de la grulla y sin mancha, salvo allí donde el rastro esmeralda de un alga de mar se había quedado prendido como un signo sobre la carne. Los muslos más llenos, y de suaves matices de marfil, estaban desnudos casi hasta la cadera, donde las puntillas blancas de los pantalones fingían un juego de plumaje suave y blanco. La falda, de un azul pizarra, la llevaba despreocupadamente recogida hasta la cintura y por detrás colgaba como la cola de una paloma. Su pecho era como el de un ave, liso y delicado, delicado y liso como el de una paloma de plumaje obscuro. Pero el largo cabello rubio era el de una niña; y de niña, y sellado con el prodigio de la belleza mortal, su rostro. [1]

Las palabras de Joyce son una reminiscencia de la “Canción de Salomón”, un libro en la Biblia lleno de imágenes del cuerpo de una mujer, su belleza y su sexualidad. “Tus pechos son como dos cervatillos, como cervatillos gemelos de una gacela que navega entre los lirios […] Tus mejillas son hermosas como pendientes, tu cuello con cadenas de joyas”.
La atracción no necesariamente explota a la mujer

Hablando de senos, no puedes elegir una revista, encender un sitio web o mirar televisión sin ver tetas. Están por todas partes. Desde selfies hasta fotos de perfil y anuncios; están en pantalla completa. ¿Por qué crees que es? Es porque un hombre se siente atraído por la belleza femenina de una mujer, y una mujer quiere atraerlo con sus rasgos más sexuales.

¿Crees que las mujeres que tomaron estas fotos fueron encadenadas y obligadas a tener sus tetas pegadas en Internet o en la televisión? ¿Crees que las mujeres que ves en las noticias con las piernas cubiertas y los vestidos apretados son obligadas a vestirse seductoramente?

¿Crees que las mujeres de Hollywood que aparecen en la alfombra roja con grandes escotes, revelando las tetas por los laterales, y vestidos transparentes tenían una pistola apuntando a sus cabezas mientras se vestían? No. Ellas quieren hacerlo. Quieren vestirse con ropa reveladora y gastar miles de millones de dólares al año en maquillaje, cirugía cosmética, ropa y calzado, no porque la sociedad espera esto de ellas, sino porque quieren ser bellas.

Las mujeres, por supuesto, no siempre hacen esto conscientemente, y no todas las mujeres se enfocan en su belleza de la misma manera. Algunas ni siquiera lo piensan y probablemente estén horrorizadas por lo que estoy escribiendo, pero la mayoría lo hace. Para ellas, es tan natural como respirar. Así como es tan natural como respirar que los ojos de un hombre sean atraídos por los pechos de una mujer o por sus largas piernas.

Cuando los hombres están siendo su ser sexual, atraídos por la belleza de una mujer, no están explotando a las mujeres. Están respondiéndolas. Las mujeres son el fuego, atrayendo a un hombre hacia su calor femenino.

Esto es cierto incluso para todas esas bellas mujeres que se conectan con hombres ricos y poderosos, el “dulce brazo”. Estaba viendo un partido de fútbol de la Premier League el otro día, y la cámara se centró en uno de los propietarios ricos y su esposa. Era bajo, viejo y terriblemente poco atractivo. Ella era un pie más alta que él, con largos cabellos rubios y piernas kilométricas. Estaba vestida con un abrigo de piel y los diamantes adornaban sus dedos. Ella no se veía miserable en absoluto. De hecho, se parecía al gato que se comió al canario. Uno se tiene que preguntar, ¿quién está explotando realmente a quién?
Tanto hombres como mujeres pueden ser malvados

Por favor, señores, cuando escriban diatribas sobre las depravaciones de su propio sexo, no pinten a las mujeres como puras e inocentes. No lo son. Pueden retorcer y distorsionar sus impulsos y deseos naturales tal y como lo hace un hombre, y lo hacen.

¿Cuántas mujeres intentan atraer a los hombres en la oficina, los medios, la industria del entretenimiento y la política para probar el poder y cosechar las recompensas, sean cuales sean? ¿Están realmente en posición de quejarse cuando un hombre responde? No lo creo. Las honestas saben exactamente lo que están haciendo y aceptan los golpes que provienen de ir por ese camino en particular.

Esto no significa que apruebe la violencia hacia las mujeres, el comportamiento delictivo, la explotación real, el abuso sexual o el acoso laboral. Yo no aprobaría tales acciones de los hombres más de lo que toleraría que una mujer le robe a un hombre, usándolo para sacarle dinero, casándose con él por sus propias razones egoístas solo para abusar emocionalmente de él, o la explotación su éxito para su propio beneficio.

Todos estos actos son inmorales y crueles. El daño que los hombres pueden infligir debido a su fuerza física es, por supuesto, más significativo. Pero no permitamos que este hecho disminuya la devastación que una mujer puede desatar cuando se vuelve malvada. Solo pregúntales a los hombres que luchan por sus propiedades en los tribunales de divorcio después de que ese hermoso unicornio que creía haber capturado se convirtiera en una malvada arpía.

Las mujeres tienen su naturaleza y su pecado. Parte de su sexualidad, su naturaleza femenina es la belleza y el encanto del sexo. Su pecado es explotarlo para abusar y aprovecharse de los hombres, para reducirse a objetos en lugar de cultivar sus mentes y almas, y para concentrarse tanto en las partes externas que olviden el valor de las virtudes internas.
Aceptemos nuestro poder y úsemoslo de manera responsable

Como sociedad, debemos alentar a ambos sexos a que se sientan cómodos con lo que son naturalmente y con todos los giros y vueltas sucios, incómodos, tambaleantes, tentadores y gloriosos que conllevan. Los hombres y las mujeres deben mostrarse mutuamente gracia y respeto a medida que se involucran como seres sexuales en cualquier esfera en la que interactúan.

Ayudaría que supusiéramos lo mejor de los demás en lugar de lo peor. Permita que los hombres amen la belleza de una mujer y que una mujer se deleite en la competencia y el éxito de un hombre. Esto es parte del baile entre lo masculino y lo femenino, y seríamos unos miserables si lo detuviéramos.

No podemos convertirnos en dualistas practicantes, cerrando el aspecto físico de nosotros mismos porque podríamos torcerlo para abusar. No podemos esperar que las personas actúen entre sí como máquinas, desconectadas de sus propios deseos. Nuestros cuerpos, nuestra sexualidad y nuestro anhelo físico el uno por el otro, todas estas partes esenciales de nosotros mismos, son hermosas. Deberíamos cultivar esos aspectos.

Pero no son los más importantes, y no se pueden activar sin control. No somos animales, gobernados por apetitos. Tenemos aspectos más profundos de nosotros mismos que necesitan ser nutridos. Tenemos una mente racional y una conciencia moral para informarnos sobre lo que está bien y lo que está mal. Tenemos un espíritu que tiene una belleza propia, y es una belleza que nunca disminuye, a diferencia del físico, que muere demasiado rápido.



Denise C. McAllister es una periodista con sede en Charlotte, Carolina del Norte, y colaboradora principal de The Federalist. Síguela en Twitter @McAllisterDen.

miércoles, 13 de diciembre de 2017

The Scientists and the Philosophers Should Be Friends



FIGHT FOR OUR PHILOSOPHY, PART 3

A Symposium in Print
Daniel C. Dennett, Honorary Chair
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein


I’d like to teach you all a little saying

And learn the words by heart the way you should

I don’t say I am better than anybody else

But I’ll be danged if I ain’t just as good!

“The Farmers and the Cowboys Should Be Friends,” Oklahoma! Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein

There’s been a recent outbreak of philosophy-jeering on the part of some prominent scientists in both the United States and United Kingdom. Whether in books, interviews, or tweets, some of our most high-profile scientists have gone out of their way to opine on the mortal state of philosophy, either declaring its death a thing most devoutly to be wished for or already dancing on its grave.

These gratuitous slams are at odds with the respectful attitudes of such former scientific luminaries as Albert Einstein,1 and they call out for explanation, especially since, almost to a man, the philosophy-jeerers in question are active in the pro-reason secularist movement. The fact that philosophy is, together with science, so essential a resource of reason adds an element of irony to these displays of contempt.

But the recent outbreak of philosophy-jeering is more than ironic. It is:
Ill-informed, because it is based on a misunderstanding of what philosophy is about;
Incoherent, because in order to make their case, philosophy-jeerers must engage in philosophy; and
Irresponsible, because this does happen to be a moment in our species’ history when we’re faced with alarming extremes of irrationality, and we need all the resources of reason that we can muster.

I’m going to concentrate on the first point: the claim that the pro-reason philosophy-jeerer doesn’t know what the point of philosophy is, which will force me to say what its point actually is.

Here a slight complication presents itself. Because there are divergent approaches to philosophy, no one philosophical mission statement will draw the assent of all philosophers, no more than one scientific mission statement will draw the assent of all scientists.2 I’m going to confine myself to discussing analytic philosophy (an approach that values clarity and precision, à la David Hume and Bertrand Russell, and shares with science an antipathy for self-enclosed and obscure thought-systems, à la Hegel, Sartre, and Derrida), and my reasons for doing so are several.

First, it is the philosophical approach that dominates in both the United States and United Kingdom. So when American and British scientists opine regarding philosophy, this is the kind of philosophy they ought to be discussing. Don’t indict the field by quoting some provocation by Slavoj Žižek. To an analytic philosopher, that is as compelling as indicting modern medicine by citing the failure of homeopathy.

Second, analytic philosophy is the approach that is itself so receptive to science that its scientific orientation can well serve as its defining characteristic. So if the philosophy-jeerer wants to dismiss the entire field, he or she must produce an argument sufficiently strong to undermine the philosophical approach that defines itself in its sympathetic relationship toward science. One undermines a position only by undermining its strongest formulation.

Third, analytic philosophy is the only kind of philosophy I’m prepared to defend. Some of what goes by the name of philosophy degrades into nothing more than ideology, by which I mean a rigid system of ideas that so vehemently rejects any possibility of challenge as to transform conformity to itself into a veritable moral standard. Ideology, claiming for itself the last word, is always fatal to the progress of reason and thus to the progress of philosophy. For the remainder of this essay, when I say “philosophy” I shall therefore mean analytic philosophy. And now to its point.

First, let me say what its point is not: Whatever it is that philosophy is attempting to do with its distinctive set of techniques, it is not attempting to compete with what science accomplishes with its own distinctive set of techniques.

A few words about those scientific techniques, the so-called “scientific method”—although that term is, I think, rather misleading, suggesting that there is a numbered sequence of steps that a scientist goes through, methodically, in order to achieve scientific results. That hardly does justice to the creatively freewheeling character of science, the ways in which it utilizes intuitions and even aesthetic judgments; nor to the widely differing types of cognitive activities, and thus talents, that are required by the scientific enterprise, with variations depending on the kind of problem being pursued. Science is less a method and more a grab-bag utilizing a variety of cognitive capacities: data gathering and analysis, theorizing, modeling, mathematical deduction, and experimentation.

A geologist taking samples in order to determine the physical characteristics of soil and rocks to test for thermal resistance is engaging in quite different mental work from a cognitive scientist building a computer simulation of long-term memory, or a computational biologist sifting through Big Data in order to locate genomic polymorphisms, or a theoretical physicist developing the implications of the eleven dimensions of M theory, or an even more theoretical physicist developing the idea of a multiverse as a solution to the measurement problem in quantum mechanics.

And yet, amid the plurality of scientific activities there is a distinguishing aspect of the scientific enterprise, which has to do with the way in which science self-corrects and the way in which science implicates reality in the self-correction. Science is the enterprise that prods reality to answer us back when we’re getting it wrong.

One might disagree on how the scientific enterprise reacts in the face of reality’s pushback—whether science revises itself gleefully, as in Karl Popper’s depiction, in which all that scientists are really trying to do is falsify their own theories; or if rather the reaction is more in line with Thomas Kuhn’s account in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, with scientists clinging desperately to their cherished paradigms, willfully not seeing the contravening evidence. (Max Planck: “Science advances one funeral at a time.”) But that science does actively provoke reality itself into telling us whether we’re getting it wrong is its sine qua non.

Oh, so you think that simultaneity is absolute, do you? It seems intuitively obvious to you that two events are either simultaneous or not, irrespective of which coordinate systems, moving relative to each other, they happen to be measured in. We’ll just see about that! Relativity theory prodded reality to answer us back and thereby challenge our deep intuition of time flowing at an absolute rate.

It’s a real triumph for our species that we worked out such a grab-bag of techniques—observation, experimentation, theorizing, mathematical description, modeling—in order to modify and even discard some of our most profound intuitions about the nature of reality, about space and time and causality and teleology and individuation, by ingeniously provoking reality to answer us back. This grab-bag has proved powerful, allowing us progressively more insight into the laws of nature, though, of course, every progressive step is provisional; no result stands immune from a revision forced on us by further rebukes from reality that are elicited by those prods we deliberately inflict by way of controlled experiments.

We could even say that there is something ethically virtuous about this enterprise, a “collective virtue” that fortunately doesn’t require any virtue on the part of individual scientific practitioners. Science expresses a humility that is highly appropriate for a pack of evolved apes to cultivate in the face of a reality that wasn’t designed with our cognitive faculties and capacities in mind.

If philosophy set itself up as a competitor to science—if it fancied that its specific techniques could offer a challenge to the grab-bag of techniques that science brings to bear on describing what reality is like—then philosophy would be just as pathetically deluded as the scientific philosophy-jeerer thinks it is. His or her belief that philosophy must view itself as a rival to science is partly based on his or her not being able to conceive what useful intellectual work there can possibly be other than figuring out what exists. What else is human intelligence good for other than describing the nature of what is? Therefore, the philosophy-jeerer concludes, that must be what philosophy is up to—leading to the charge that it is a delusional enterprise.

And then there is a historical fact that also encourages this misinterpretation of what philosophy is up to, namely that philosophers have quite often posed questions that would turn out to be proto-scientific questions. They have speculated regarding questions that would eventually be taken up by scientists who would, using their grab-bag of techniques, make cumulative progress toward answers in which reality itself collaborates, rendering the previous philosophical speculations obsolete.

So it was that all of physics and cosmology and biology used to be contained within the province of philosophers, until the scientific enterprise matured sufficiently to be able to transform them into sciences. Then it was the turn of psychology, and then linguistics, to remove themselves from philosophy’s domain and reinvent themselves as sciences. And so it has gone: the scientific enterprise transforming philosophy’s airy-fairy speculations into a form that allows reality to tell us when we’re wrong—right down to our own scientifically explosive period, when the advancement of cognitive and affective neuroscience and evolutionary psychology have moved human nature itself firmly into the orbit of science.

This is an old story, oft told, sometimes in order to show how scientifically important philosophy is—after all, it poses those science-generating questions—but, in the hands of the contemporary philosophy-jeerer, to show how ultimately futile philosophy is. Philosophy lives only to be made obsolete by science. Philosophy’s role in the business of knowledge is to send up a signal reading Science desperately needed here. And when it makes any noises beyond sending up such a signal, then it’s embarrassing itself, as the advancing frontier of science will soon make clear.

However, preparing the way for science is not the point of philosophy. Philosophers don’t set out to opine prematurely regarding questions that will ultimately be transformed by the empirical sciences. Rather this historical fact is an artifact of what the real point of philosophy is: to maximize our coherence by discovering and resolving the inconsistencies we accrue as we go about trying to get our bearings in the world, which is our distinctively human project. We are the species concerned with getting, in a very broad sense, our bearings. We are concerned with getting a handle on where we are: the nature of the world in which we find ourselves; what we are and how it fits into the rest of the world; and what we are supposed to be about, if anything.

And in the course of this attempt to get our bearings, we ask, broadly speaking, two fundamental questions: What is? and What matters? Posing these questions in pursuit of our getting our bearings is, if not necessary for being human—after all, some are so deprived in their lives as to be concerned almost exclusively with the sustaining of them—at least sufficient. If and when computers start pondering these questions of what is and what matters, and especially if and when they start agonizing over whether they themselves matter, then what we’ll have in our world are non–carbon-based humans, and we’ll be morally obliged to regard them as such.3

By distinguishing between these two general questions I don’t mean to suggest that they can be neatly separated from one another. They are, on the contrary, intimately entwined in complicated ways, the sorting out of which typically falls within the sphere of philosophy. So, for example, what are the kinds of reasons that matter when we are making claims of what is? Epistemology is made from such entanglements. Other ways in which the questions of what isand what matters are entangled with one another should emerge in what I have to say below.

Let’s grant that we’ve got science to best answer what is. To grant this is to grant the truth of naturalism. A strong argument for naturalism falls out from the characterization of science given above. Science is, by definition, the methodology that enlists reality itself as collaborator, and what methodology could possibly compete with so successful a collaboration? And we are, demonstrably, in need of some such collaboration. Just because we have a distinctively human urge to get our bearings doesn’t mean that we’ve evolved brains designed for success in the project. There is ample evidence that we are riddled with innate tendencies to, as David Hume had wonderfully put it, “spread ourselves onto the world.” If we’re to reach justified true beliefs about what is, we’re seriously in need of reality to step in and give us a shove in the right direction—to separate what’s coming from the psychology within from what’s coming from the reality without.4

Are there any kind of similarly effective techniques that philosophy brings to bear on our human project of trying to get our bearings? What are its techniques good for eliciting and discovering?

Inconsistencies: that’s what philosophy’s techniques are good for eliciting and discovering, and so it has been ever since Socrates wandered the agora making such a supreme nuisance of himself that he was finally put to death by the good citizens of Athens. The point of philosophy is to maximize the coherence among the multiplicity of propositions and propositional attitudes that we generate in the course of trying to get our bearings, which is why thought-experiments, counterexamples, conceptual analysis, and formal arguments trying to force all suppressed premises out into the open are such essential techniques of the discipline. These are all techniques designed not to prod reality into answering us back but rather to probe our own internal inconsistencies. Compartmentalized creatures that we are, we cohabit happily with our contradictions. It’s philosophy’s goal to destroy that happiness.

Philosophy shares with science an acknowledgment of human limitations. Like science, there is a collective humility displayed in the enterprise, again, quite fortunately, requiring no humility on the part of individual practitioners. As science humbly recognizes that reality was not designed with our cognitive equipment in mind, so philosophy recognizes that we, who had the audacity to long ago define ourselves as the rational animal, display a remarkable facility for tolerating internal contradictions. For although it may be in our nature to seek to get our bearings, it isn’t in our nature to be coherent in our seeking. For that we require a discipline, a discipline that—just as science does—goes against some of our most natural inclinations and patiently works to undo the fallacies toward which we are so forcefully driven.

Interestingly, there is one recent advance in science that helps to explain why a discipline devoted to rigorously and systematically maximizing coherence is so necessary. I’m referring to evolutionary psychology.

Evolutionary psychology extends the explanatory apparatus of the “selfish gene” to explain many features of human nature, including our being predisposed toward certain propositional attitudes, with which our more deliberating selves might find themselves in conflict. As living organisms we are primed, unthinkingly, to do all we can to thrive; to be more precise, we are primed, unthinkingly, to do all we can to increase the probability that copies of our genes will be perpetuated into future generations.

But we have also evolved to be reason-giving creatures. We offer reasons for our beliefs, and we offer reasons for our actions, and the reasons we are prepared to give to ourselves and to one another in accounting for our beliefs and behavior make no mention of the machinations of the selfish gene. No wonder we evolved into compartmentalized creatures able to withstand incoherence, including moral incoherence, for such compartmentalization serves the purposes of those strategizing genes, which certainly have no stake in our being either rational or moral. But we do, and hence the necessity of a discipline devoted to making us so, which is precisely what philosophy is.

There is some irony in the fact that the very advances in our scientific knowledge of human nature explaining our wondrously elastic facility for faulty reasoning and self-deceptions—yes, even of the smartest among us—should coincide with the dismissal of the discipline devoted to maximizing our coherence. The new sciences of human nature offer enlightening explanations for why our brain, built to protect the self, produces beliefs that preserve our sense of self. I’ve often wondered, when hearing otherwise intelligent people embarrassing themselves while opining on philosophy, whether their own sense of self demands the delegitimizing of a discipline in which they suspect they may not excel.

When I was a graduate student, I was much disposed toward tormenting myself over why I was in a philosophy department rather than a physics department. One moment I was in a class in quantum mechanics, asking questions of my professor to which his answer was usually some variation on Richard Feynman’s “shut up and calculate,” and then the next, or so it sometimes seemed to me, I was a graduate student specializing in philosophy of science. Perhaps I’d been a bit too impetuous in swapping my areas of concentration. In the midst of my crisis, I came across Wilfrid Sellars’s article “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man.” The vision of philosophy Sellars proposed dulled my torment, and I’ve carried it with me ever since—not entirely in the same form in which I’d first encountered it but close enough.

Sellars agrees that the proper agenda of philosophy lies in mediating among simultaneously held points of view with the aim of integrating them into a coherent whole. For Sellars, the philosophical focus is trained on the border between what he calls the “scientific image of man-in-the-world” and the “manifest image of man-in-the-world”: “For the philosopher is confronted not by one complex many- dimensional picture, the unity of which, such as it is, he must come to appreciate; but by two pictures of essentially the same order of complexity, each of which purports to be a complete picture of man-in-the-world, and which, after separate scrutiny, he must fuse into one vision.”

The scientific image is the ever-expanding objective description of us that we derive from our self-correcting scientific theories. Updating to now, this would include a description of us in terms of cognitive and affective neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. Sellars explains the manifest image as the framework of concepts and assumptions and standards “in terms of which man came to be aware of himself as man-in-the-world. It is the framework in terms of which, to use an existentialist turn of phrase, man first encountered himself—which is, of course, when he came to be man. For it is no merely incidental feature of man that he has a conception of himself as man-in-the-world, just as it is obvious, on reflection, that if man had a radically different conception of himself, he would be a radically different kind of man.”

We come to our project of trying to get our bearings equipped with a framework, some core of which is so essential that it is necessary for us to possess in order to pursue recognizably human lives. Essential to this framework is our holding ourselves accountable, both to others and to ourselves, for our beliefs and actions. When challenged for why we’ve done A or believe P, we come up with some reason to offer in response—not necessarily a good reason but some reason. And if our reasons are themselves challenged, then we’ll offer reasons for our reasons, acknowledging that all of these aspects of ourselves—our actions, our beliefs, and our reasons for our actions and our beliefs—are subject to evaluation. This view of ourselves as reason-giving creatures, who are thus subject to evaluations, is so constitutive of our self-conception that, without it, we would be different kinds of creatures, “a radically different kind of man.”

Our having an ever-expanding scientific image of ourselves is itself an extension of this aspect of our image of ourselves as reason-giving creatures, applying evaluative standards to the reasons we give. We can’t give up on either of the two images of us-in-the-world without destroying the other, which again demonstrates how the questions of what is and what mattersare thoroughly enmeshed with each other.

But sometimes there is a clash between these two images of us-in-the-world, the scientific and the manifest, and then which is to prevail? This depends, must necessarily depend, on the particular case at hand, since both images are so intimately involved in our being the bearings-seeking, sense-making, reason-giving creatures that we are.

Resolving these tensions, with the goal of fusing them into a maximally coherent vision, cannot be accomplished through science. That is Sellars’s essential point. We cannot get reality to answer us back in regard to the issues that arise in reconciling the scientific and the manifest images of us. It’s in these clashes that the signal sent up doesn’t read, can’t possibly read, “Science desperately needed here.” but rather “Philosophy desperately needed here.”5

A whole class of such problems emerged in the seventeenth century, at precisely the time that both modern science and, not coincidentally, modern philosophy emerged. The new mathematical conception of matter forced a reckoning with our manifest intuition that “the external world” is exactly as it is presented to us in sensory experience. In fact, the very concept of “the external world,” as opposed to the internal world of our experiences, was of a piece with this philosophical reckoning, along with many other concepts and distinctions that became so accepted as to be considered part of the scientific image itself.6

And this new mathematical conception of matter also, for the first time, made consciousness—that internal world of our experiences—emerge as a philosophical problem so prominent that Arthur Schopenhauer dubbed it “the world-knot.” Nowadays we refer to it as “the hard problem of consciousness.” It is the quintessential problem of trying to reconcile the scientific and manifest images of us: What is the scientific description of our brains, whether in terms of its neurological hardware or computational software, that will be able to capture the internal world of conscious life awash with the qualitative details that constitute our most immediate sense of both the world and of ourselves?

And speaking of ourselves, does our most updated neuro-scientific image leave any room for such a thing as the self? There is of course that thing, the brain, consisting of a hundred billion neurons, connected by a hundred trillion synapses. But that brain hasn’t a clue as to what is going on in those trillions of neurons and synapses. The unifying diachronic perspective that we demand of the self, maintaining its identity over the course of a lifetime, seems excluded from the scientific image. Must we then rid ourselves of the notion of a unified self? Or is this commitment to a self so fundamental an aspect of the manifest image that excising it would render incoherent the entire idea of pursuing a human life? Whose life, after all, is one pursuing?

Does the neuro-scientific image of us likewise corrode the manifest sense we have that we are agents, deliberating among options and, for better or for worse, choosing? Does it leave any room for accountability, for not only our actions but also our beliefs? And if it doesn’t, well then doesn’t that in itself undermine the scientific image along with the manifest image? If there’s no accountability for our beliefs, no way of evaluating which are justified and, rationally, choosing to believe on this basis, then how can we even endorse the scientific image? Reason itself unravels at that point.

Such questions emerge from the tensions between the scientific and manifest image of us, and they demand that we try to reconcile these two images in such a way as to maximize our overall coherence. Science, with its nifty trick of enlisting reality as a collaborator, can’t help us out here, since there’s no way for reality to answer us back regarding how to reconcile these two images. These are prototypical philosophical problems, of just the kind Sellars identified, pressed upon us because of advances in the scientific image of us-in-the-world but not answerable by means of that image.

Sellars’s way of demonstrating the need for philosophy is particularly appealing to those among us who deem science the ontological arbiter. It satisfied me as a grad student. But I’ve come, over the years, to think of the class of philosophical problems that Sellars had identified as only a sub-class, not exhaustive of all the kinds of clashes that lay within philosophy’s domain. Philosophy isn’t confined to trying to reconcile the scientific and manifest images. There are tensions deriving from inconsistencies within the manifest image itself, some of them leading to our moral inconsistencies, which, precisely because they’re so self-serving, are particularly fugitive.

Moral philosophy has had a long history of chasing down such inconsistencies, which typically consist in our endorsing moral principles while simultaneously engaging in practices that violate them, most especially when those practices harm only those quite unlike ourselves, with whom we don’t identify sufficiently to release our empathetic response. (This suppression of empathy can also be explained by way of evolution.) From the sixteenth century’s Jean Bodin, a philosopher and jurist who formulated the first arguments against slavery,7 to the contemporary philosopher Peter Singer, whose “argument of the drowning child” spawned the effective altruism movement,8 philosophy’s techniques for detecting inconsistencies has nudged us in the direction of moral progress.

It is an aspect of our manifest image that our inconsistencies, once clearly seen, disturb us, and this is the aspect to which philosophy addresses itself. We may well hide from our contradictions when they serve our desires and interests. But if the arguments exposing these contradictions become sufficiently compelling—most especially if they gain traction with others in our community—the discomfort grows. Eventually a change in moral sensibilities emerges and will be viewed as “what all decent folks feel.” We look back on our slave-owning, wife-beating, witch-and-heretic–burning, gay-stoning ancestors and wonder how they could have lived with themselves. As with the philosophical conclusions that gradually become incorporated into the scientific image, these changes too obscure philosophy’s role in reason’s progress. And out of this obscurity arises the contemporary philosophy-jeerer’s charge that philosophy, unlike science, never makes any progress at all.

It was, of course, the Enlightenment that promoted reason as the only reliable means we have to pursue our distinctively human project of trying to get our bearings. The progress that the Enlightenment unleashed regarding the questions both of what is and what matters has carried us forward to this moment, when we can discourse knowledgably not only about the universal stochastic laws of quantum mechanics but also about universal human rights.

From its very beginning, the Enlightenment attracted vicious attacks—from religion, of course, whose authority over claims both of what is and what matters was being challenged, but also from various political thinkers on both the Right and the Left. These attacks continue into our own day.

A common claim against the Enlightenment has always been, and continues to be, that reason can provide no basis for morality. To anyone familiar with the long history of moral philosophy, this claim sounds as astoundingly uninformed as the assertion that science has provided us no basis for believing there are laws of nature. Unfortunately, the pro-Enlightenment philosophy-jeerer, with an impoverished grasp of the full resources of reason, is in no position to defend the Enlightenment against such absurdities. And when he or she climbs a soapbox as a celebrity scientist to demean philosophy, he or she weakens the very cause of reason the philosophy-jeerer seeks to defend.

We are, at this moment, facing newly invigorated forces of irrationality. Tribalism and authoritarianism are reasserting themselves across the globe. These, too, are means for trying to gain our bearings, which, being primitive, come to us far more naturally and forcefully than do scientific and philosophical reason. Tribalism and authoritarianism are where our species began, and, over the course of our long history, almost every variation of them has been tried. The outcomes, even when not disastrous, are never as conducive to human flourishing as the states of affairs to which reason has brought us. With so much to lose, we need to marshal the full resources of human reason.

The philosophy-jeerer’s denial of philosophy’s role, merely embarrassing in the recent past, now becomes something far more dangerous, allied with the most ominous recent developments threatening to reverse all the progress we have made. The scientists and the philosophers should be friends.




Notes
“I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today—and even professional scientists—seem to me like somebody who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is—in my opinion—the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth.” Albert Einstein to Robert A. Thornton, December 7, 1944, EA 61-574.
Consider the raucous debates among scientists regarding interpretations of quantum mechanics, exposing the differences between the “instrumentalists” who see the point of science in churning out predictions and “realists” who see the point of science in extending our knowledge of reality beyond what can be attained through sensory experiences. And these differences don’t confine themselves to the mission-statement level but yield differences of opinion regarding scientific practice as well.
Then again, it might very well be that these questions come to us so naturally because of our particular evolutionary history, and perhaps this is most particularly true in regard to our concerns with what matters and, even more particularly, in regard to our concerns with whether we ourselves matter. If that’s the case, we may not ever find computers becoming philosophical, no matter how computationally superior to us they become. Perhaps our being philosophical is due to a distinctive bug in our system implanted by the contingencies of evolution. As the philosopher Luciano Floridi recently put it, “... I suspect that AI will help us identify the irreproducible, strictly human elements of our existence, and make us realize that we are exceptional only insofar as we are successfully dysfunctional.” (“Charting Our AI Future,” Project Syndicate. https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/human-implications-of-artificial-intelligence-by-luciano-floridi-2017-01.)
Notice that this argument for naturalism, though it designates science as ontological arbiter, is itself philosophical. And naturalism introduces a multitude of further philosophical questions regarding which specific claims regarding what is are actually entailed by science. Besides the philosophical differences between scientific instrumentalism and scientific realism, there are, for example, the problems presented to us by mathematics, a discipline fundamental to science. Does mathematics commit us to an expansion of ontology—a realm of objectively existing numbers and sets, as mathematical realists assert? Or is mathematics ontologically empty, as formalists assert? The argument for naturalism by no means ends the philosophical discussion.
One need not be a professional philosopher to tackle these problems. Philosophically gifted scientists are in an ideal position to wrestle with philosophy. The first sign of having such gifts is to recognize the true nature of the problem and the kind of extra-scientific reasoning called for.
For example, the mathematical reconceptualization of matter prompted the distinction drawn between properties, such as position, motion, shape and size, which, being mathematically expressible, truly inherent in matter, and other properties, such as colors, smells, and odors, which, eluding mathematical expression, exist only in our experiences of matter, caused by the interactions between matter’s properties and our own sensory organs. So our experience of, for example, red, is the result of the interactions between the physiology of our eyes and the light waves reflected off of objects that are absorbing all but the longest light waves that our eyes can detect. It was such seventeenth-century thinkers as Boyle, Galileo, Descartes, and Locke who first drew the distinction between the so-called primary and secondary qualities.
See his Six Books of the Commonwealth, Book I, Chapter 5, published in 1576. Bodin sought to undermine the universally accepted claim that some are born with traits rendering them suitable to be slaves, while others’ traits render them suitable to be free. Bodin boldly argued that “We must not measure the laws of nature by men’s actions, be they ever so old and inveterate.”
Suppose you are wearing your very best suit and shoes and pass a pond in which a child is drowning. You don’t know this child and are very fond of your snazzy duds. Would you nevertheless wade into the pond and save the child? Nobody has to think twice to say yes. The argument then challenges you to formulate how this imagined situation is different from the real situation those of us who are well off enough to spend money on all kinds of luxuries find ourselves in, with impoverished children whom we might save from death and disease by forking over the money we spend on ourselves. Can the fact that we just don’t happen to see them dying before our eyes make any moral difference? And if not, then what does?

martes, 28 de noviembre de 2017

Could sex robots be good for us?

In defense of sex machines
Kate Devlin.


As the robots of the future march into the present, what are the ethical implications for relationships between humans and machines? Computer scientist and artificial sexuality expert Kate Devlin considers a future taboo.

Video:

https://iai.tv/video/forbidden-futures

sábado, 25 de noviembre de 2017

How Norway Proves Laissez-faire Economics Is Not Just Wrong, It’s Toxic.



A surprisingly simple solution to the conflict between self-interest and mutual benefits at all hierarchical levels


By David S. Wilson, Dag O. Hessen 

Life consists of units within units. In the biological world, we have genes, individuals, groups, species, and ecosystems – all nested within the biosphere. In the human world, we have genes, individuals, families, villages and cities, provinces, and nations – all nested within the global village. In both worlds, a problem lurks at every rung of the ladder: a potential conflict between the interests of the lower-level units and the welfare of the higher-level units. What’s good for me can be bad for my family. What’s good for my family can be bad for my village, and so on, all the way up to what’s good for my nation can be bad for the global village.

For most of human existence, until a scant 10 or 15 thousand years ago, the human ladder was truncated. All groups were small groups whose members knew each other as individuals. These groups were loosely organized into tribes of a few thousand people, but cities, provinces, and nations were unknown.

Today, over half the earth’s population resides in cities and the most populous nations teem with billions of people, but groups the size of villages still deserve a special status. They are the social units that we are genetically adapted to live within and they can provide a blueprint for larger social units, including the largest of them all – the global village of nations.

Groups into Organisms

The conflict between lower-level selfishness and higher-level welfare pervades the biological world. Cancer cells selfishly spread at the expense of other cells within the body, without contributing to the common good, ultimately resulting in the death of the whole organism. In many animal societies, the dominant individuals act more like tyrants than wise leaders, taking as much as they can for themselves until deposed by the next tyrant. Single species can ravage entire ecosystems for nobody’s benefit but their own.

But goodness has its own advantages, especially when those who behave for the good of their groups are able to band together and avoid the depredations of the selfish. Punishment is also a powerful weapon against selfishness, although it is often costly to wield. Every once in a great while, the good manage to decisively suppress selfishness within their ranks. Then something extraordinary happens. The group becomes a higher-level organism. Nucleated cells did not evolve by small mutational steps from bacterial cells but as groups of cooperating bacteria. Likewise, multi-cellular organisms are groups of highly cooperative cells, and the insects of social insect colonies, while physically separate, coordinate their activities so well that they qualify as super-organisms. Life itself might have originated as groups of cooperating molecular reactions.

Only recently have scientists begun to realize that human evolution represents a similar transition. In most primate species, members of groups cooperate to a degree but are also each other’s main rivals. Our ancestors evolved to suppress self-serving behaviors that are destructive for the group, at least for the most part, so that the main way to succeed was as a group. Teamwork became the signature adaptation of our species.

Extant hunter-gatherer societies still reflect the kind of teamwork that existed among our ancestors for thousands of generations. Individuals cannot achieve high status by throwing their weight around but only by cultivating a good reputation among their peers. Most of human moral psychology – including its other-oriented elements such as solidarity, love, trust, empathy, and sympathy, and its coercive elements such as social norms enforced by punishment – can be understood as products of genetic evolution operating among groups, favoring those that exhibited the greatest teamwork.

From Genes to Culture

Teamwork in our ancestors included physical activities such as childcare, hunting and gathering, and offense and defense against other groups. Human teamwork also acquired a mental dimension including an ability to transmit learned information across generations that surpasses any other species. This enabled our ancestors to adapt to their environments much more quickly than by the slow process of genetic evolution. They spread over the globe, occupying all climatic zones and hundreds of ecological niches. The diversity of human cultures is the cultural equivalent of the major genetic adaptive radiations in dinosaurs, birds, and mammals. The invention of agriculture initiated a positive feedback process between population size and the ability to produce food leading to the mega-societies of today.

Cultural evolution differs from genetic evolution in important respects but not in the problem that lurks at every rung of the social ladder. Just like genetic traits, cultural traits can spread by benefitting lower-level units at the expense of the higher-level good – or by contributing to the higher-level good. There can be cultural cancers, no less so than genetic cancers. And for teamwork to exist at any given rung of the social ladder, there must be mechanisms that hold the wolves of selfishness at bay. A nation or the global village is no different in this respect than a human village, a hunter-gatherer group, an ant colony, a multi-cellular organism, or a nucleated cell.

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Modern nations differ greatly in how well they function at the national scale. Some manage their affairs efficiently for the benefit of all their citizens. They qualify at least as crude superorganisms. Other nations are as dysfunctional as a cancer-ridden patient or an ecosystem ravaged by a single species. Whatever teamwork exists is at a smaller scale, such as a group of elites exploiting the nation for its own benefit. The nations that work have safeguards that prevent exploitation from within, like scaled-up villages. The nations that don’t work will probably never work unless similar safeguards are implemented.

Accomplishing teamwork at the level of a nation is hard enough, but it isn’t good enough because there is one more rung in the social ladder. Although many nations have a long way to go before they serve their own citizens well, a nation can be as good as gold to its own citizens and still be a selfish member of the global village. In fact, there are many examples in the international arena, where nations protect their own perceived interests at expense of the common global future. We will address some of these issues for Norway, which serves its own citizens well by most metrics and also has ambitions to serve the global village well, but still sometimes succumbs to selfishness at the highest rung of the social ladder.

The Norway Case

Norway functions exceptionally well as a nation. Although it is small in comparison with the largest nations, it is still many orders of magnitude larger than the village-sized groups of our ancestral past. Seen through the lens of evolutionary theory, the dividing line between function and dysfunction has been notched upward so that the whole nation functions like a single organism. This is an exaggeration, of course. Self-serving activities that are bad for the group can be found in Norway, but they are modest in comparison with the more dysfunctional nations of the world.

Norway’s success as a nation is already well known without requiring an evolutionary lens. Along with other Nordic countries, it scores high on any list of economic and life quality indicators. The success of the so-called “Nordic Model” is commonly attributed to factors such as income equality, a high level of trust, high willingness to pay tax, which is tightly coupled to strong social security (health, education), a blend of governmental regulations and capitalism, and cultural homogeneity. These and other factors are important, but we think that viewing them through an evolutionary lens is likely to shed light on why they are important. Our hypothesis is that Norway functions well as a nation because it has successfully managed to scale up the social control mechanisms that operate spontaneously in village-sized groups. Income equality, trust, and the other factors attributed to Norway’s success emanate from the social control mechanisms.

Our evolutionary lens also sheds light on Norway’s behavior as a member of the global village. Not without reason, Norway prides itself as a “nation of goodness.” Norwegian foreign policy no doubt plays a positive role in world affairs, also aiming for a “civilized capitalism,” and Norway is the country that has pressed the UN to accept guidelines that make not only states, but also multinational companies, liable for violation of human rights. Also, Norway is currently the world’s most active advocate of corporate social responsibility on all international arenas. Hence, in this context, Norway has done a great deal to behave as a solid citizen of the global village. On the other hand, for all its success and wisdom, the management of the state pension fund illustrates that even Norway is sometimes guilty of selfishly feathering its own nest at the expense of other nations, the planet, and, therefore, ultimately its own welfare over the long term.

The Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global is by far the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, currently exceeding 800 billion USD, and rapidly growing. The fund is owned by the state on explicit behalf of current and future generations. It is administrated by the Ministry of Finance, which gives guidelines to the investment branch of the Norwegian State Bank (Norwegian Bank Investment Management, NBIM). A separate Council of Ethics (appointed by the government) serves the role of advising the Ministry on which companies to divest from due to serious ethical misconduct (details in the structure and mandates can be found here).

The fund has two major ethical concerns: It should provide good returns to future generations, and it should not contribute to severe unethical acts. The major emphasis has been on the first goal. A core management issue is the rule of maximum spending (handlingsregelen), i.e., that no more than 4% of the annual income can enter the annual state budget for public spending. This ensures that the fund will be used for the long-term welfare of Norway, not just short-term welfare.

This is admirable management of common goods and can serve as an example of how natural resources can be managed for the benefit of an entire nation. At the opposite extreme, consider Equatorial Guinea, which allocates almost the entire income from its oil to the benefit of a single family (the president and his close relatives). For the rest of the population, the life expectancy is 51 years, and 77% have an income of less than 2 US dollars per day. Most other oil-producing nations direct at least some of their revenues to collective goods, but much of it is diverted to political and corporate elites and/or short-term spending. In this context, the Norwegian Pension Fund is quite unique with is long term investments.

However, if we go further and ask whether the investments are to the benefit of the long-term welfare of the global village, the answer is very close to a “No.” The main goal of the fund is maximum return, and although Norway has set up to 3 billion NOK aside for preservation of rainforests, it has also (at least up to now) invested heavily in logging companies replacing rainforest with palm oil. There are also heavy investments in mining industries, coal and oil companies, and other activities that do not contribute to a sustainable future. There is no overall “green,” sustainable, or ethical profile for evaluating investments. There is only an Ethical Council that advises the Ministry of Finance, which decides (often after considerable delay) whether or not the bank (NBIM) should divest in certain companies that perform major, unethical practices. Such divestments are made public, so at least they are open to the gaze of Norwegians and the rest of the world – no doubt increasing their impact. The problem is, however, that the investments per se are guided almost solely by the principle of maximum returns, not by principles of long term, sustainable (environmental as well as morally) investments that would benefit the global village – as well as Norway. So, if even Norway fails to recognize the long-term benefits of a strategy beyond narrow national self-interest, what kind of mechanisms can be invoked to the benefit of the global village?

Organizing the Global Village

Norway’s double standard at the highest rung of the social ladder is typical of most nations. Around the world, politicians talk unashamedly about pursuing the national interest as if it is their highest moral obligation. Double standards easily trigger a feeling of moral indignation. How could persons or nations be so hypocritical? But wagging fingers at nations is not going to solve the problem. A smarter approach is to understand why moral indignation works at the scale of a village, why it doesn’t work at the scale of the global village, and how it can be made to work with the implementation of the appropriate social controls.

Imagine living in a village and meeting someone who talks unabashedly about her own interests as if no one else matters. As far as she is concerned, the other villagers are merely tools for accomplishing her own ends. How would you react to such a person? Speaking for ourselves, we would be shocked to the point of questioning her sanity. We might entertain similar thoughts, but we wouldn’t be so open about it. Moreover, our selfish impulses are tempered by a genuine concern for others. Empathy, sympathy, solidarity, and love are as much a part of the human repertoire as greed. We would probably experience the same feeling of moral indignation welling up in us that we feel toward Norway’s questionable behavior. Even if we remained dispassionate, we would avoid her, warn others, and feel moved to punish her for her antisocial ways. As would most of the other villagers, so despite her intentions, she would probably not fare very well.

Moral indignation works at the scale of villages because it is backed up by an arsenal of social control mechanisms so spontaneous that we hardly know it is there. The most strongly regulated groups in the world are small groups, thanks to countless generations of genetic and cultural evolution that make us the trusting and cooperative species that we are.

The idea that trust requires social control is paradoxical because social control is not trusting. Nevertheless, social control creates an environment in which trust can flourish. When we know that others cannot harm us, thanks to a strong system of social controls, then we can express our positive emotions and actions toward others to their full extent: helping because we want to, not because we are forced to. When we feel threatened by those around us, due to a lack of social control, we withhold our positive emotions and actions like a snail withdrawing into its shell.

This is why people refrain from unethical acts – to the extent that they do – in village-sized groups and why cooperation is accompanied by positive emotions such as solidarity, empathy, and trust. The reason that nations and other large social entities such as corporations openly engage in unethical acts is because social controls are weaker and are not sufficient to hold the wolves of selfishness at bay. This is why politicians can talk openly about national self-interest as if nothing else matters – even though a villager who talked in a comparable fashion would be regarded as insane.

Understanding the nature of the problem enables us to sympathize with the plight of Norway when it chooses how to invest in the global market. Like a snail, it might want to emerge from its shell and support the most ethical enterprises. But to do so might be too costly in a market environment that rewards naked selfishness. Norway might be required to shrink into its shell and make selfish investments to survive. After all, snails have shells for a reason.

A third option is available to Norway and all other nations, which is to create the same kinds of social controls at a large scale that curtail selfishness in smaller groups. This is also costly, like investing in ethical enterprises that don’t yield the highest profits, but it has a more lasting benefit because once a social control infrastructure is in place, it is the ethical enterprises that yield the highest returns. Norway has come a long way to employ this principle in its official foreign policy, but it is clearly lagging behind on the global business scene when it comes to own investments.

There is evidence that village-like social controls are starting to form at larger scales without the help of governments. In the United States, a nonprofit organization called B-lab (B stands for benefit) provides a certification service for corporations. Those that apply for certification receive a score on the basis of a detailed examination. If the score exceeds a certain value, then the company is permitted to advertise itself as a B-Corporation. Xiujian Chen and Thomas F. Kelly at Binghamton University’s School of Management recently analyzed a sample of 130 B-corporations and compared them to a number of matched samples of other corporations. The samples were matched with respect to geographical location, business sector, corporation size, and other variables. In all cases, the B-corporations were either as profitable or more profitable (on average) than the corporations in the matched samples. Engaging in ethical practices did not hurt, and might even have helped, their bottom lines.

More analysis will be required to pinpoint why B-corporations do well by doing good. One possibility is that they have become like villages in their internal organization so there is less selfishness from within. Another possibility, which is not mutually exclusive, is that consumers are increasingly adopting a norm that causes them to prefer to do business with ethical companies and to shun unethical companies, exactly as they would prefer and avoid people in a village setting. Certification as a B-Corporation makes it easier for consumers to evaluate a company’s ethical reputation. Knowing someone’s reputation comes naturally in a village setting, but work is required to provide the same information at a larger scale. Adherence to other codes performs a similar function, such as the UK Stewardship Code (FRC 2012), the International Corporate Governance Network´s Code (ICGN) or the Singapore Code of Corporate Governance Statement on the Role of Shareholders (SCGC) to mention a few.

There are even indications that the corporate world is becoming more village-like without requiring formal certifications. As an example, Apple chief executive Tim Cook was recently criticized by the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) for failing to maximize profit for its shareholders by investing for the benefit of the climate and the environment. Cook became strikingly upset and advised those with such narrow self-centered goals to sell their stocks. He was behaving precisely as a good villager would behave – and if his reaction became the norm among large corporate entities, the global village would become more like a real village without the need for formal certifications.

It might seem too good to be true that consumers and the corporate world are spontaneously starting to hold the wolves of selfishness at bay by implementing the same kinds of social control that we take for granted at a village scale. If this did come to pass, then Norway would no longer be faced with difficult choices in how to invest its vast wealth in the global market, because the most ethical companies would also be the most profitable. But if this is happening at all, it is still in its initial stages. At present, it is still the case that some of the most profitable investments are of the cancerous variety.

Therefore, Norway is faced with a difficult moral choice similar to that of most investors. It can remain in its shell and make the most profitable investments to maximize short-term returns for its shareholders (in this case, the Norwegian population) without regard to worldwide ethical concerns, or it can emerge from its shell, live up to its ideal standards in domestic as well as foreign policy, and join with other right-minded individuals, corporations, and nations to help create the social control system that can make ethical practices most profitable. The crucial point is that this is a win-win situation in the long term because, ultimately, we are all in the same boat, and what is good for the world, in a long-term sustainability perspective, will also be good for Norwegians.

A New Narrative

In this essay, we have sketched a surprisingly simple solution to the apparent conflict between self-interest and mutual benefits at all hierarchical levels. We are suggesting that the social dynamics that take place naturally and spontaneously in villages can be scaled up to prevent the ethical transgressions that routinely take place at a large scale. Why is such a simple solution not more widely known and discussed? Although we immediately realize this solution when it comes to cell-organism relationships or individuals within villages, we do not realize that the same principles also hold for companies or nations. One reason is because of an alternative narrative that pretends that the only social responsibility of a company is to maximize its bottom line. Free markets will ensure that society benefits as a result. This narrative makes it seem reasonable to eliminate social controls – precisely the opposite of what needs to be done. Governments have been under the spell of this narrative for nearly 50 years despite a flimsy scientific foundation and ample evidence for its harmful effects. We can break the spell of the old narrative by noting something that will appear utterly obvious in retrospect: The unregulated pursuit of self-interest is cancerous at all scales. To create a global village, we must look to real villages.

Originally titled Blueprint for a Global Village.

24 October 2015

domingo, 12 de noviembre de 2017

4 Laws of Muscle

The protein and muscle guru Luc van Loon wants you to bulk up—and keep what you've got



At a conference in 2012, Luc van Loon was presenting some exciting data from a newly published study. After a heroic research effort that took 2.5 years and 500,000 euros, he and his colleagues had managed to shepherd a large group of frail, elderly subjects through a six-month strength-training program. Those who had taken a daily protein supplement managed to pack on an impressive 2.9 pounds of new muscle. Success! Old people could be strong!

But van Loon, an “extraordinary professor” (his actual title) of exercise physiology and nutrition at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, wasn’t celebrating. On his phone was a photo one of his students had just sent him of a large plate stacked high with bulging cubes of raw beef. In total, there were 3.1 pounds of beef—a graphic visualization of the muscle lost in just one week by subjects of a bed-rest study the student had just completed.

“I usually put this in more obscene language,” van Loon says, “but you can mess up a lot more in one week than you can improve in six months of training.”

Over the past decade and a half, van Loon has emerged as one of the world’s most rigorous and innovative researchers on the intricacies of how we build muscle. But he has now come to believe that, from a health perspective, how we lose muscle is at least as important. At a conference in Rhode Island last month, hosted by the New England chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine, van Loon laid out the key lessons he and other researchers in the field have gleaned. For anyone who seeks to push their limits, or who plans to get old, here are the highlights.
You Are What You Just Ate

If you really want to understand how protein contributes to new muscle, you need to be able to follow the individual components—amino acids—on their journey inside your body. Starting in 2009, van Loon and his colleagues developed a technique that involved infusing 40,000 euros’ worth of amino acids, specially “labeled” using a rare and trackable isotope, into a cow. Then they milked the cow and, 24 hours later, slaughtered it. The result: milk and beef that can be tracked with painstaking precision as it progresses from a person’s mouth to their biceps by taking frequent samples of blood and biopsied muscle tissue in the hours after a meal.

In one of the resulting studies, the researchers found that substantial amounts of the “glowing cow” protein was incorporated into muscles within just two hours of ingesting it. As the study’s title proclaims, you are, quite literally, what you just ate. Just over 50 percent of the protein made it into the subjects’ circulation within five hours, with the rest presumably taken up by tissues in the gut or not absorbed. During the same period, 11 percent of the ingested protein was incorporated into new muscle.

Overall, van Loon points out, we break down and rebuild 1 to 2 percent of our muscle each day, meaning that you completely rebuild yourself every two to three months. This is a message, van Loon hopes, that might persuade people to think a little more carefully about what they put in their mouths.
If You Exercise First, You’re More of What You Just Ate

We often think of amino acids as the “building blocks” of muscle. That’s true, but the amino acids derived from protein actually play a dual role in muscle growth: In addition to being a source of raw materials, protein acts as a signaling molecule, triggering the growth of new muscle. One amino acid in particular, leucine, seems to be the most potent anabolic signaler, but you need all the amino acids together to effectively build muscle.

There are a bunch of subtleties here, like the optimal dose of protein. In healthy adults, a dose of about 0.25 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight seems to max out the protein synthesis signal from a given meal. That’s about 20 grams of protein if you weigh 175 pounds. So it makes sense to hit that target three or four or even five times a day.

That’s why van Loon and his team decided to experiment with a pre-bedtime dose of protein to see if they could boost muscle synthesis as you sleep. Their initial proof-of-principle study involved snaking a tube down the nose and into the stomachs of their subjects and flushing in 40 grams of protein while they slept. It worked—and van Loon, to his bemusement, soon started getting calls from sports coaches asking where they could get nasogastric tubes. (You can just eat the protein before you go to sleep, he explained to them.)

But the best way to augment protein’s muscle-signaling capacity is simple: Exercise before you eat, and your muscles become more sensitive to protein’s signals. “You can’t study food without exercise, and you can’t study exercise without food,” van Loon says. “There’s a synergy between them.”
If You’re Inactive, You’re Less of What You Just Ate

Unfortunately, there are also factors that make your muscles less sensitive to protein signaling. Getting older is one of them, which is why older adults seem to need a larger dose of 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, rather than 0.25, to max out their rates of protein synthesis.

But is it really age that causes this “anabolic resistance”? Or is it simply a consequence of our unfortunate habit of becoming less physically active as we age? Van Loon’s bed-rest study piqued his interest in the rapid and devastating effects of inactivity, particularly in hospital settings, where people are often confined to bed for five to seven days. According to the “catabolic crisis” model of aging, we don’t lose our muscle mass at a steady and predictable rate. Instead, much of the loss takes place during short periods of time—a week in bed after a fall or a knee replacement, say—during which we lose massive amounts of muscle that we never fully get back.

Van Loon advocates some simple fixes—like never, ever feed someone in a hospital bed unless it’s absolutely necessary. Make them get up, and ideally make them shuffle down the hallway to get food. Same for watching TV. Even this tiny amount of muscle contraction, he says, will enhance muscle synthesis when the patient eats. Similarly, since you don’t eat as much when you’re in bed, the proportion of protein in the meal should be higher to ensure sufficient muscle synthesis signals.

Of course, some people really can’t get out of bed—so van Loon did some wild-sounding experiments. In one, he immobilized one leg of his volunteers with a cast for five days, then drilled a hole in the cast to apply neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) to half of those volunteers. The immobilization caused a 3.5 percent reduction in the cross-sectional area of the quadriceps; twice-daily electrical stimulation prevented this loss.

In another study, van Loon tried the technique on actual comatose patients in the intensive care unit of a hospital. Biopsies showed that these patients were seeing a 20 to 30 percent reduction in the size of their muscle fibers during their hospital stays. “Basically the people are melting in front of your face,” he says. So van Loon zapped one leg but not the other with NMES twice a day for a week—and again warded off atrophy. The approach is nowhere near as good as even the most basic exercise, he says, but it appears to be better than nothing.
Chew Your Food

Okay, this one doesn’t really rank up there as an Eternal Law of Muscle. But it’s cool. In one of the “glowing cow” studies, van Loon and his colleagues compared ground beef to steak. The ground beef was absorbed more quickly, with 61 percent of the tracer amino acid in the ground beef appearing in the bloodstream within six hours versus just 49 percent for the steak.

How significant this is remains a bit unclear (rates of muscle protein synthesis weren’t significantly different in the study), but it’s worth noting—particularly because we tend to get less good at chewing our food as we get older. In fact, van Loon says, studies in the 1960s found that people who retained more of their own teeth tended to have more muscle. Bizarrely, body position also matters: When you eat lying down, you slow down protein digestion and likely reduce the synthesis of new muscle protein.

So, as van Loon told the conference in Rhode Island, the overall body of research boils down to one simple message: Your mum was right. Eat three protein-rich meals a day, get plenty of exercise, and—I’m not going to warn you again!—sit up straight and chew your damn food. With your mouth closed.

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