Thursday, October 11, 2018

A New Model for Discussing Humans and Human Behaviors

The TOV Center created a science-based model for understanding humans and discussing the ways human behave toward each other:

Humans are genetically structured, realities guided,
social creatures that are dependent on other humans for survival.

Human behavior has been a subject of great interest throughout recorded history. Ancient myths, legends, wisdom literature and sacred texts provide insights into the ways humans interacted with other humans and gods. But, it wasn’t until the late 20th century that science discovered DNA and began to understand how the human brain functions. Becoming aware of the roles genes, memes and social structures play transformed the way we understand what human are and how they behave. Dr. Robert M. Sapolsky sums up what he has discovered through a lifetime of research in the comments below:

1. You can’t begin to understand things like aggression, competition, cooperation, and empathy without biology.

2. You’re just as much up the creek if you rely only on biology.

3. It actually makes no sense to distinguish between aspects of a behavior that are “biological” and those that would be described as, say, “psychological” or “cultural.” They are all utterly intertwined.1

Understanding the biology of human behaviors is obviously important, but unfortunately it is hellishly complicated. However, simply becoming aware of certain facts provides us with distinct advantages, beginning with how most people deal complex, multifaceted phenomena. We break down those separate facets into categories and create “buckets of explanations.”2  Putting facts into nice cleanly demarcated buckets of explanation has its advantages — for example it can help you remember facts better.

But this process can wreak havoc on your ability to think about those facts. The boundaries between different categories are often arbitrary, but once an arbitrary boundary exists we forget that it is arbitrary -- and get way too impressed with its importance. To put it another way, when you think categorically you have trouble seeing how similar or different two things are – boundaries become barriers that focus people’s attention on specific trees and prevents them from being able to see the forest.  If you pay lots of attention to where boundaries are, you pay less attention to complete pictures.3

Each behavior isn’t a stand-alone act of freewill. It is the end product of all the biological influences that came before it and will influence all the factors that follow it. Thus, it is impossible to conclude that a behavior is caused by a gene, a hormone, a childhood trauma, because the second you invoke one type of explanation, you are de facto invoking them all – you have to think complexly about complex things. Wow, what a revelation!4

Today, we hear a lot about how much we have in common with other animals. But, in order to really grasp our humanness, we need to consider “solely human things” -- the things humans do that are unique.

● While a few other species have regular nonreproductive sex – humans are the only ones that talk afterward about how it was.

● Humans construct cultures premised on memes (beliefs) concerning the nature of life and can transmit those beliefs multi-generationally -- even between two humans separated by millennia (consider a person reading the perennial best seller, the Bible).

● Humans can harm other humans by doing things as unprecedented as, and no more physically taxing than -- pulling a trigger, or nodding consent, or looking the other way.

● Humans can be passive-aggressive -- damn with faint praise, cut with scorn, express contempt with patronizing concern.

All species are unique, but humans are unique in some pretty unique ways – especially when it comes to harming or caring for another human.5 Learning how to incorporate the TOV Center model in discussions about human behavior changes the dynamics of how participants interact with those who are “like them” and “those in other groups.”

However, participating in discussion in which the TOV Center model is used allows all members of the group to engage in a new way of self-discovery. It doesn’t usually take long for people to recognizing the irrationalities of humans.

● Humans are not rational optimization machines.

● Humans are more generous in games than logic predicts -- we decide if someone is guilty based on reasoning but then decide their punishment based on emotion.

● Humans make strong moral decisions without being able to explain why.

● You can’t readily reason yourself out of a belief that you weren’t originally reasoned into.

The first benefit of incorporating the TOV Center model of humanness in discussions between members of “Us vs. Thempolitical, religious and economic groups is the creation of “opportunities for cooperation.” In a nation in which disagreement, hate, polarization and fragmentation have become the expected outcomes -- the possibility of “cooperation” is very appealing.

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1 Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert M. Sapolsky © 2017; Penguin Press, New York, NY; p. 4-5.
2 Behave; p. 5.
3 Behave; p. 6.
4 Behave; p. 7-8.
5 Behave; p. 11.
(Updated 10/14/18)

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