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RE: [biopoet] Norman N. Holland, Literature and the Brain

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  • Carroll, Joseph C.
    Thanks, Maya. Yes, I mean regulate in just the way you do: mitigate, stimulate, control, augment and synthesize the body s more immediate thoughts and
    Message 1 of 15 , Sep 19, 2009

      Thanks, Maya.  Yes, I mean “regulate” in just the way you do: “mitigate, stimulate, control, augment and synthesize the body's more immediate thoughts and experiences.”


                  Slogging along here—just turned in the manuscript for the first volume of The Evolutionary Review, going over the copyediting for the anthology Brian, Jon, and I edited, doing the daily work for classes and committees, reading tenure and promotion dossiers and writing reports on them—the usual sort of thing.  My hard drive (60 gigs) filled up yesterday and refused to budge.  I had to go buy an external hard drive and move a bunch of stuff over to it.  Now, if I could just buy an external hard drive for my own brain, I’d be in good shape.  Instead, I’ve started turning down requests for articles.  Just too damned much to do.  Eventually, maybe next summer (once the current queue of backlogged tasks is cleared off), I’ll start another book.  Meanwhile, though, I’d like to spend at least three of four months just catching up on reading.  Haven’t had time to do any reading for over a year now.  Starting to feel a little like Greta Garbo.  (“I only want to be left alone.”)  Of course, if people had really left her alone, she might have begun feeling neglected.




      From: biopoet@yahoogroups.com [mailto: biopoet@yahoogroups.com ] On Behalf Of maya lessov
      Sent: Saturday, September 19, 2009 3:06 PM
      To: biopoet@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: Re: [biopoet] Norman N. Holland , Literature and the Brain



      Joe, I really like the first two paragraphs below.   The first two long paragraphs.   I didn't quite think of the imaginative functions as there to regulate the primal.  Although they certainly do, I think sometimes they can stimulate  primitive behavior.  That is, if we mean by "regulate" to subdue and constructively control for the benefit of a conformed society, I don't think imagination always obliges.  But still, I do see it now as a layer, there to mitigate, stimulate, control, augment and synthesize the body's more immediate thoughts and experiences.  Very succinctly put.

      No news with me.
      Just hanging out, working. 




      ----- Original Message -----

      Sent: Wednesday, September 16, 2009 9:24 AM

      Subject: RE: [biopoet] Norman N. Holland , Literature and the Brain



      Is the Wilson/Carroll argument that humans no longer have instincts, or that we no longer rely on them at all, or that we no longer rely on them exclusively? 

                      Option three is of course the correct answer.

      As indicated in the paragraphs on the adaptive function of agonistic structure, I envision human nature as an array of conserved “dispositions,” strong tendencies to act in species-typical ways.  All animals have evolved conserved dispositions, but the “higher” animals (dolphins, crows, chimpanzees, etc.) have some flexibility in behavioral patterns. Humans obviously have vastly more behavioral flexibility than animals of other species.  They are driven by strongly conserved passions (sex, survival, parenting, social interaction, etc.), but they also have an exceptional capacity for suppressing impulse and for organizing their behavior in accordance with complex, long-term plans. Those complex, long-term plans are regulated by imaginative constructions— images we hold of our own identity, our social roles, and the whole complex of relations (natural, supernatural, and social) in which we are always embedded. When I speak of literature and the other arts producing “meaning,” it is to those complex imaginative constructions that I refer.

                  If you think about it, all this is just common sense.  People have common, species typical impulses derived from genetically encoded anatomical, physiological, and neurological structures.  But they also have a uniquely rich cognitive and imaginative life.  The “human condition” consists in the interaction between those two things—powerful animal passions, and the power of creating abstract imaginative structures that regulate our passions.  It is because we can regulate passions that human behavioral patterns are so much more variable than the behavioral patterns of other animals.

                  Here are a few paragraphs on that topic:

                  To solve the puzzle of adaptive function, we have to satisfy three criteria: (a) define art in a way that identifies what is peculiar and essential to it—thus isolating the behavioral disposition in question; (b) identify the adaptive problem this behavioral disposition would have solved in ancestral environments; and (c) identify design features that would efficiently have mediated this solution. Various writers have formulated propositions that collectively meet these three challenges. We can define art as the disposition for creating artifacts that are emotionally charged and aesthetically shaped in such a way that they evoke or depict subjective, qualitative sensations, images, or ideas. Literature, specifically, produces subjectively modulated images of the world and of our experience in the world. The disposition for creating such images would have solved an adaptive problem that, like art itself, is unique for the human species: organizing motivational systems disconnected from the immediate promptings of instinct. The design features that mediate this adaptive function are the capacities for producing artistic constructs such as narrative and verse and emotionally modulated musical and visual patterns.

      The core element in this hypothesis—the adaptive problem art is designed to solve—is formulated most clearly by E. O. Wilson in Consilience. Wilson directly poses the question also posed by Pinker:

      If the arts are steered by inborn rules of mental development, they are end products not just of conventional history but also of genetic evolution. The question remains: Were the genetic guides mere byproducts—epiphenom ena—of that evolution, or were they adaptations that directly improved survival and reproduction? And if adaptations, what exactly were the advantages conferred?

      Wilson ’s answer to this question draws a decisive line between the mental powers of humans and other animals. Other animals are “instinct-driven.” Humans are not. “The most distinctive qualities of the human species are extremely high intelligence, language, culture, and reliance on long-term contracts.” The adaptive value of high intelligence is that it provides the means for behavioral flexibility—for generating plans based on mental representations of complex relationships, engaging in collective enterprises requiring shared mental representations, and thus producing novel solutions to adaptive problems. Behavioral flexibility has made of the human species the most successful alpha predator of all time, but achieving dominance in this way has come with a cost. Wilson speaks of the “psychological exile” of the species. To the modern human mind, alone among all minds in the animal kingdom, the world does not present itself as a series of rigidly defined stimuli releasing a narrow repertory of stereotyped behaviors. It presents itself as a vast and potentially perplexing array of percepts, inferences, causal relations, contingent possibilities, analogies, contrasts, and hierarchical conceptual structures. The human mind is free to organize the elements of cognition in an infinitely diverse array of combinatorial possibilities. And most of those potential forms of organization, like most major mutations, would be fatal. Freedom is the key to human success, and it is also an invitation to disaster. This is the insight that governs Wilson ’s explanation for the adaptive function of the arts. “There was not enough time for human heredity to cope with the vastness of new contingent possibilities revealed by high intelligence. . . . The arts filled the gap.”[1] If instincts are defined as stereotyped programs of behavior released automatically by environmental stimuli, we can say that in humans the arts partially take the place of instinct. Along with religion, ideology, and other emotionally charged belief systems, the arts form an imaginative interface between complex mental structures, genetically transmitted behavioral dispositions, and behavior.

      High human intelligence is part of a larger, systemic structure of species-typical adaptations that include altricial birth, extended childhood, male-female bonding coupled with male coalitions, dual parenting, post-menopausal survival, longevity, the development of skills for the extraction of high-quality resources, an enlarged neocortex that enhances powers for suppressing impulses and engaging in long-term planning, symbolic capacities enabling identification with extended social groups (“tribal instincts”), egalitarian dispositions operating in tension with conserved dispositions for individual dominance, and the power to subordinate, in some degree, impulses of survival and reproduction to the formal dictates of imagined virtual worlds. . . . 

      “Human nature” means that humans share species-typical dispositions: basic motives tied closely to the needs of survival, mating, parenting, and social interaction. Cognitive and behavioral flexibility are part of human nature, but they have not eliminated the underlying regularities in basic motives. In different ecologies and different forms of social organization, the elements of human nature combine in distinctive ways, but “culture” cannot build structures out of nothing. It must work with the genetically transmitted dispositions of an evolved and adapted human nature. The arts give imaginative shape to the experiences possible within any given culture, reflecting its tensions, conflicts, and satisfactions. One chief aim for evolutionary studies in the humanities is to analyze the way any given culture organizes the elements of human nature, evaluate the aesthetic, emotional, and moral qualities inherent in that organization, and probe the way it influences—by conformist pressure or antagonistic stimulus—specific works of literature. . . .

      Consider the reality of our experience. We live in the imagination. For us, humans, no action or event is ever just itself. It is always a component in mental representations of the natural and social order, extending over time. All our actions take place within imaginative structures that include our vision of the world and our place in the world—our internal conflicts and concerns, our relations to other people, our relations to nature, and our relations to whatever spiritual forces we imagine might exist. We live in communities that consist not just of the people with whom we come directly into contact but with memories of the dead, traditions of our ancestors, our sense of connection with generations yet unborn, and with every person, living or dead, who joins with us in imaginative structures—social, ideological, religious, or philosophical— that subordinate our individual selves to some collective body. Our sense of our selves derives from our myths and artistic traditions, from the stories we tell, the songs we sing, and the visual images that surround us.

      We have all had moments in which some song, story, or play, some film, piece of music, or painting, has transfigured our vision of the world, broadened our minds, deepened our emotional understanding, or given us new insight into human experience. Working out from this common observation to a hypothesis about the adaptive function of literature requires no great speculative leap. Literature and the other arts help us live our lives. That is why the arts are human universals. In all known cultures, the arts enter profoundly into normal childhood development, connect individuals to their culture, and help people get oriented to the world, emotionally, morally, and conceptually.

      If it is true that the arts are adaptively functional, they would be motivated as emotionally driven needs. The need to produce and consume imaginative artifacts would be as real and distinct a need as hunger, sexual desire, maternal and filial bonding, or the desire for social contact. Like all such needs, it would bear within itself, as its motivating mechanism, the pleasure and satisfaction that attend upon the fulfilling of desire. That kind of fulfillment would not be a parasitic by-product of some other form of pleasure, nor merely a means for fulfilling some other kind of need—sexual, social, or practical. Like all forms of fulfillment, the need for art could be integrated with other needs in any number of ways. It could be used for sexual display or the gratifications of sexual hunger or social vanity, and it could be used as a medium for social bonding. Nonetheless, in itself it would be a primary and irreducible human need.

      From: biopoet@yahoogroups .com [mailto: biopoet@ yahoogroups. com ] On Behalf Of Jeff P. Turpin
      Sent: Wednesday, September 16, 2009 11:04 AM
      To: biopoet@yahoogroups .com
      Subject: Re: [biopoet] Norman N. Holland , Literature and the Brain


      Good.  A provocative spin.  But is the Wilson/Carroll argument that humans no longer have instincts, or that we no longer rely on them at all, or that we no longer rely on them exclusively?  The distinctions are important, I think

      Jeff P. Turpin, President
      Turpin and Sons Inc.
      Cultural Resource Management
      2047 Lakeshore, Canyon Lake , TX 78133
      (512) 922-7826

      ----- Original Message -----

      Sent: Wednesday, September 16, 2009 10:40 AM

      Subject: Re: [biopoet] Norman N. Holland , Literature and the Brain


      I’ve not read it but I’ve read early drafts of most of the chapters. Yes, it’s full of ideas.

      As for the adaptive function of literature, I doubt that Holland says much about it, that’s no where he’s coming from.

      I share Jeff’s skepticism about speculations on that score. Here’s a post in which I suggest that the Wilson/Carroll proposal is bad biology that seems to be based on Christian mythology.

      Paradise Lost, a Darwinian Dance to a Christian Tune
      http://www.thevalve .org/go/valve/ article/paradise _lost_a_darwinia n_dance_to_ a_christian_ tune/

      Bill B

      on 9/16/09 11:17 AM, Tim Horvath at horvathon@aol. com wrote:

      Holland's book looks like a trove of good ideas. I can't wait to get my hands on it, frankly, based on the table of contents. Has anyone read it?

      Jeff--Can you cite one or two of the books to which you're referring, or their theses? I'm just curious.

      Perhaps we are predisposed to come up with unitary explanations as individuals, and collectively, but as readers when we back and take a look at the array of evolutionary explanations, we get something more accurate--a multiplicity?



      -----Original Message-----
      From: Jeff P. Turpin <jpturpin@gvtc. com>
      To: biopoet@yahoogroups .com
      Sent: Wed, Sep 16, 2009 10:51 am
      Subject: Re: [biopoet] Norman N. Holland , Literature and the Brain

      Good deal.  I hope it is less monolithic than some of the recent "This is THE adaptive function of literature" texts that have popped out recently.  Stories are impressive tool kits, with multiple functions, and analyses that under-estimate this multiplicity are burdening my bookshelf.  Thanks. jt

      Jeff P. Turpin, President
      Turpin and Sons Inc.
      Cultural Resource Management
      2047 Lakeshore, Canyon Lake , TX 78133
      (512) 922-7826

      [1] E. Wilson , Consilience, 224-25. Also see Peter Swirski, Of Literature and Knowledge: Explorations in Narrative thought Experiments, Evolution, and Game Theory ( London : Routledge, 2007), 68-95.

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