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Links With Your Coffee - Monday

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From casual violence to genocide, acts of cruelty can be traced back to how the perpetrator identifies with other people, argues psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen. Is he right?

(tip to Daniel)

Scientists have long wondered why the sherpas of the Tibetan Highlands can negotiate with ease elevations that cause some humans to become life-threateningly ill. Tibetans live at altitudes of 13,000 feet, breathing air that has 40 percent less oxygen than is available at sea level, yet suffer very little mountain sickness. The reason, according to a team of biologists in China, is human evolution, in what may be the most recent and fastest instance detected so far.



Well this is something novel in the field of terminological confusion. Normally I'd say, no the term he's looking for is 'sympathy' which used by writers from Hume to RJR Blair names the faculty by which people (non-psychopaths) experience an emotional response to the emotional reactions of others, as opposed to 'empathy' as used by... er... Simon Baron Cohen and other autism researchers for the faculty of Theory of Mind. Seriously? I mean I knew I had misgivings about his work (I had him for a lecturer for a while so got a chance to quiz him. Elementary stuff like the differences in cognitive deficits between autists and people with asperger's has received no experimentation) but I didn't think he'd miss a fairly obvious double dissociation: people with asperger's have internalised moral norms (albeit weird in various ways) but impaired theory of mind; psychopaths by and large have great theory of mind (though interestingly with impaired ability to identify emotions) and an inability to internalise moral norms.

There is a growing convention to name for the deficit in the former a deficit in 'empathising' and the deficit in the latter case a deficit in 'sympathising' - and it's disappointing to see Baron Cohen fucking it up.

*I'm using the term 'theory of mind' to denote a faculty in a way which is neutral between theory theory and simulation theory (and whatever beasts may dwell in the waters between).

What a shame that some men are so weak,

They can’t handle so much as a peek

Of a Hillary pic.

Seems they fear that their dick

Can’t withstand her alluring physique.

What fun! Let me try:

This little stink

Was not based on pink

But a bearded man up in the sky.

And the liberal elite

Still wants to compete

While the rest just turn a blind eye.

One day there'll be an occasion on which I /don't/ think something from Dan Dennett's work can explain something but....

I think something from Dan Dennett's work explains a mystery here; the mentality of the kind of person who believe women to be superior, and ill-suited to positions of power, but must manage the kind of double-think required to expunge pictures of women in power from images before 'exposing' their readership to them; these people believe in belief more than they believe (the thing they have the belief in). They are so sure that the belief in the inferiority of women is so vital to life the universe and everything, peace, tranquility, dogs and cats not living together and so on that they are willing to hide their 'flocks' from recalcitrant 'data' which might confuse them.

I wonder if I can try that in an academic context: "I have a theory: P" "But look, here is this data which clearly shows cases of not-P" "LA LA LA! I CAN'T HEAR YOU! LA LA LA!" (To be fair, I'm told you sometimes hear worse arguments at the APA).


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