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33448Fodor on Pinker

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  • Joseph Carroll
    Dec 1, 2004
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      When you say this Joseph,


      (b) that the human mind is “modular” in character—consisting of discrete bits of dedicated neural circuitry automatically activated by environmental releasers;


      Are you saying that EP says this dedicated neural circuitry "must" be activated by environmental factors? Or that it has been so?




                  That's an interesting question.  I've thought about it particularly in relation to the debate over proximal mechanisms vs. "ultimate" cause--over the question as to just how strictly motives are confined to proximal mechanisms.  It is probably true that people for the most part don't consciously organize their lives around the purpose of maximizing reproductive success, but it is also true that some conscious awareness of the desire for progeny and the desire for successful kin are part of the human motivational repertory.  Men don't just want sex, and women don't just want men with status and resources.  People have built-in potentials for the major motivational structures, and those potentials do not simply lie dormant until some releaser activates them.


                  I talked about this some in an essay, and I'll quote a passage from that here:



      Each behavioral system consists in a complex of motives that have a distinct object or set goal—to sustain life, find a mate, rear children, sustain kin networks, and function in a social order. Goals of this magnitude present themselves as fundamental motivating concerns in the organization of individual lives, and they thus also form the building blocks through which individual lives are organized within a cultural order. A motivational complex is not itself a simple “proximal” mechanism—the direct physiological trigger of a specific behavior; it is rather a cluster of interdependent and closely related mechanisms mediated by higher-order thinking lodged in the cerebral cortex. Animals mate by instinct, through the direct action of proximal mechanisms. Human mating involves plans and long-term goals in which proximal mechanisms are integrated into functional sequences sustained over time. The symbolic dimension of culture—ritual, ceremony, narrative, and art—provides conscious and public images for these basic motivational complexes.13

      By combining the idea of life-history analysis with the idea of behavioral systems, we can formulate an alternative to the opposing notions of fitness maximization and adaptation execution. Despite the evidence of a few great Sultans, humans are not typically motivated, in any very direct or active way, to maximize the number of their progeny. But neither are they merely puppets adequately fulfilled by the pushing of their pleasure buttons. People are neither fitness maximizers nor adaptation executors. They are highly integrated sets of behavioral systems that have been organized and directed by the logic of the human life-history cycle. Human nature is organized in structured sets of behavioral systems, and these systems subserve the goals that are distributed into the basic functions of somatic and reproductive life effort. Fitness maximization is not itself an active motive, but the fundamental somatic impulses (surviving and acquiring resources, both physical and social) and the fundamental reproductive impulses (acquiring mates, having sex, producing and tending children, helping kin) are in fact direct and active motives.

      The behavioral systems identified by McGuire and Troisi and by the textbook writers—survival, mating, parenting, kin relations, and social interaction—are built into the human organism. They are mediated by innate structures in the genetically conditioned features of anatomy, physiology, hormones, and neurochemistry. All of these mediating forces manifest themselves psychologically as the “basic” emotions identified by Ekman and others as universal motivating forces in human psychology (joy, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, contempt, and surprise).14 The main behavioral systems that subserve the largest life-history goals are sensitive to the appropriate stimuli, but they are latent in all conditions of life. Male sexual desire, for example, is activated by the sight of nubile females, but even a male raised in total isolation by machines would presumably have stirrings of confused sexual interest or sensation—a sense of vague, frustrated longing, accompanied by spontaneous erections and emissions, and I think it safe to predict that the first time any such hypothetically deprived male saw a nubile female, he would have a sudden and instantaneous conviction that THAT was what he had been wanting, had he only known. A woman raised in similar isolation would presumably not think to herself, “I wish to be inseminated, grow an embryo in my uterus, and produce a child, which I shall then suckle and nurture,” but whatever her thoughts or longings might be, she would still grow breasts and undergo a menstrual cycle, and if she were inseminated by machines in her sleep, the growth and birth of a child, however terrifying to her ignorance, would have in it a certain natural, physical logic, and the effects would carry with them instinctive impulses and sensations. Language is an instinct, but feral children can never gain fluency in speech.15 Maternity is an instinct, but female monkeys raised in isolation perform badly as mothers. Normal human development requires socialization, but socialization itself is channeled by innate dispositions. The behavior of a female raised in isolation is disorganized and dysfunctional, but it is not simply blank.

      The anatomical and hormonal organization of women gives evidence of massive adaptive adjustments to the functional requirements of bearing and raising children. In the modern world, people can choose whether or not to reproduce, but the overwhelming majority do choose to reproduce. Many couples who for physical reasons cannot have children go to astonishing lengths, in expense and effort, to adopt children. Evolutionary psychologists emphasizing the activation of proximal mechanisms point to the fact that not everybody wants to have children. True enough, but most people are equipped by nature with the physical and psychological attributes that are necessary to the bearing and raising of children, and the majority of people feel at some point a powerful need to activate those attributes and to fulfill the behavioral capacities they feel latent within them. If this were not the case, we would have a hard time explaining adoption and the nearly universal human practice of treating pet animals as surrogate children.

      Child-bearing and child-rearing is only an instance, though an important one. The larger principle is that in most cases people accede to the psychological force of the total set of motivational systems that have been implanted in them by the logic of human life history. More often than not, people have a compelling need to give full and integrated play to the whole suite of their behavioral systems. Exceptions and special cases abound, but it is a broad general truth about human nature that people have a need to activate the latent capacities of the behavioral systems that have shaped the largest features of their bodies and their minds. For most people, achieving satisfaction in life depends on the fulfillment of the emotional needs built into those systems.


      From "Human Nature and Literary Meaning: A Theoretical Model Illustrated with a Critique of Pride and Prejudice," in Jonathan Gottschall and David Sloan Wilson (eds.), The Human Animal (Northwestern University Press, forthcoming); previously published in Joseph Carroll, Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literary Meaning.

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