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Is Jodi Arias a Man-Eating Tiger? (A Darwinian Perspective)
Evolution News and Views ^ | May 9, 2013 | Joshua Youngkin

Posted on 05/10/2013 1:27:53 PM PDT by Heartlander

Is Jodi Arias a Man-Eating Tiger?
A Darwinian Perspective

Last month science evangelist Bill Nye the Science Guy weighed in from a Darwinian perspective on the problem of suicide. His advice? Give him your stuff then take the black capsule.

Last week evolutionary biologist and aspiring science evangelist Jerry Coyne weighed in on the intersection of free will, moral responsibility, crime and punishment, all from a Darwinian perspective. As fate would have it, yesterday this intersection was illustrated by some front-page news.

On Wednesday, an Arizona jury convicted Jodi Arias of first-degree murder, which puts the death penalty on the table. To arrive at this serious decision the jury first had to decide, under instruction by the court, what was going on in the mind of Ms. Arias.

Did she plan to kill victim Travis Alexander? Did she act with intent to kill Alexander? Or was her mind at this time unable to form such intent due to sudden provocation by Alexander -- did she briefly go nuts in the heat of the moment? Or was Alexander the aggressor all along, a domestic abuser who backed Arias into a corner leaving her little room but to defend herself using deadly force?

For four days the jury wrestled with questions of planning, knowledge, intent, rage and fear -- mental states -- in order to decide, in descending order of moral and legal seriousness, whether to convict Arias of murder one, murder two, manslaughter, or to acquit her altogether upon finding justifiable homicide in the evidence.

Because the jury settled on murder one, they found that (1) Arias planned in advance to kill Alexander and that (2) she intended her conduct at the time of the killing to result in Alexander's death. They decided her relevant mental states -- premeditating murder then acting with intent to kill -- were morally culpable.

She knew better, and could have done better, but chose a bad path. Or so the law presumes.

Now, is Arias justly held responsible for the morally deficient mental states that produced this tragedy? Or was her antisocial behavior caused by factors outside of her control? Doesn't neuroscience show that DNA sequence and environment determine conduct, rendering "choice" a hangover of pop psychology from a pre-scientific era? Jerry Coyne thinks so. He writes:

The idea of moral responsibility implies that a person had the ability to choose whether to act well or badly, and (in this case) took the bad choice. But I don't believe such alternative "choices" are open to people, so although they may be acting in an "immoral" way, depending on whether society decides to retain the concept of morality (this is something I'm open about), they are not morally responsible. That is, they can't be held responsible for making a choice with bad consequences on the grounds that they could have chosen otherwise.

Does that mean Coyne would let Arias go free? Not quite.

I favor the notion of holding people responsible for good and bad actions, but not morally responsible. That is, people are held accountable for, say, committing a crime, because punishing them simultaneously acts as a deterrent, a device for removing them from society, and a way to get them rehabilitated--if that's possible.

Coyne's point? Choice is out so retribution is out. But that's no big deal. We don't need a moral vocabulary filled with terms like right and wrong and retribution in order to punish people. There are plenty of non-moral reasons to do that. Consider an example.

We cage a tiger because it is dangerous, not because it did wrong. We don't inquire into tigerly mental states to determine moral culpability, whether the tiger could have and should have chosen otherwise. Would Coyne jail Arias? Yes. But not because she did wrong. She just happens to be dangerous, like a tiger.

Of course, I don't know what it is like to be a tiger, but I have no reason to think it is anything like what it is like to be human. And neither do you. Science hype aside, no one can ever know whether some stretch of DNA caused Jodi Arias to do what she did. Morality we know. The penal code and jury instructions are in no need of a complete rewrite.

To take the science evangelism of Coyne seriously would be to replace judges and juries -- people like you and me -- with a panel staffed by men and women in lab coats who would determine whether those brought before them endanger society. Darwinian thinking is nothing if not counterintuitive and dystopian.

Any system of justice that would not meaningfully distinguish between man and beast is not worthy of the name. And any "science" that leads to this odd result should be viewed with suspicion.

TOPICS: Education; Miscellaneous; Science
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See also --- Jerry Coyne: “we have no choice but to pretend”
1 posted on 05/10/2013 1:27:53 PM PDT by Heartlander
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To: Heartlander

Why’d she do what she do?
Sheebeebatshitcrazy, that’s what.

2 posted on 05/10/2013 1:29:36 PM PDT by MrB (The difference between a Humanist and a Satanist - the latter admits whom he's working for)
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To: Heartlander

Some people are innately prone to being violent and aggressive. It’s in their hard-wiring.

3 posted on 05/10/2013 1:35:45 PM PDT by James C. Bennett (An Australian.)
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To: Heartlander

Per Napoleon Dynamite: A liger. 1. Bred for skills in magic. 2. Pretty much his favorite animal.

(Emphasis on the first syllable.)

4 posted on 05/10/2013 1:36:22 PM PDT by newheart (The worst thing the Left ever did was to convince the world it was not a religion.)
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To: Heartlander

She was someone always looking for the next sexual highlands her violent act if murder was just that.

A deviant evil mind constantly, desperately in need of stimulation if her loins. luckily, she will never have the chance to kill again, in pursuit of her orgasmic desires.

5 posted on 05/10/2013 1:37:19 PM PDT by Vendome (Don't take life so seriously, you won't live through it anyway)
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To: Heartlander


6 posted on 05/10/2013 1:38:23 PM PDT by Vendome (Don't take life so seriously, you won't live through it anyway)
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To: Vendome

But Laz would still hit it; albeit very carefully..

7 posted on 05/10/2013 1:38:59 PM PDT by ken5050 (Not every Muslim is a terrorist, but just about every terrorist is a Muslim..)
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To: Heartlander

She might as well have told Travis, “I’ll let you take nude photos of my most private parts if you’ll agree to let me take nude photos of you in the shower where you’re most vulnerable, then kill you” because that’s exactly what she did.

8 posted on 05/10/2013 1:41:34 PM PDT by GeorgeWashingtonsGhost
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To: James C. Bennett
They still choose whether or not to act on those tendencies...
9 posted on 05/10/2013 2:56:30 PM PDT by Heartlander (Practice makes perfect if you mess up a few letters)
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To: Heartlander

Decision-making in the brain is chemically alterable.

10 posted on 05/10/2013 3:02:02 PM PDT by James C. Bennett (An Australian.)
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To: James C. Bennett

Is that how you describe free-will?

11 posted on 05/10/2013 3:06:08 PM PDT by Heartlander (Practice makes perfect if you mess up a few letters)
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To: Heartlander

Free will is not totally free if physical / chemical agents can alter its outcome. This is why antidepressants come with a suicide risk warning.

12 posted on 05/10/2013 3:15:09 PM PDT by James C. Bennett (An Australian.)
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To: James C. Bennett
...if all actions are predetermined then you cannot act as if you have choices. Acting is a volitional process of the very type you are denying. In your model there is no acting, there is only a differential equation of the universe cranking out its next time step.

He is so close! He admits that in his world-view everything is predetermined, but in the next breath he obfuscates that unsavory factoid by claiming that he can “act” as though he has free choices. He can freely chose, he believes, to pretend that he can freely choose.
-Nuclear physicist Dave Heddle

13 posted on 05/10/2013 3:24:07 PM PDT by Heartlander (Practice makes perfect if you mess up a few letters)
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To: Heartlander

Free will is an illusion, biologist says

Three different models explain the causal mechanism of free will and the flow of information between unconscious neural activity and conscious thought (GES = genes, environment, stochasticism). In A, the intuitive model, there is no causal component for will. Will influences conscious thought, which in turn influences unconscious neural activity to direct behavior. In B, a causal component of will is introduced: unconscious neural activity and GES. But now will loses its “freedom.” In C, the model that Cashmore advocates, will is dispensed with. Conscious thought is simply a reflection of, rather than an influence on, unconscious neural activity, which directs behavior. The dotted arrow 2 in C indicates a subservient role of conscious thought in directing behavior. Credit: Anthony Cashmore.

( — When biologist Anthony Cashmore claims that the concept of free will is an illusion, he’s not breaking any new ground. At least as far back as the ancient Greeks, people have wondered how humans seem to have the ability to make their own personal decisions in a manner lacking any causal component other than their desire to “will” something. But Cashmore, Professor of Biology at the University of Pennsylvania, says that many biologists today still cling to the idea of free will, and reject the idea that we are simply conscious machines, completely controlled by a combination of our chemistry and external environmental forces.
In a recent study, Cashmore has argued that a belief in free will is akin to religious beliefs, since neither complies with the laws of the physical world. One of the basic premises of biology and biochemistry is that biological systems are nothing more than a bag of chemicals that obey chemical and physical laws. Generally, we have no problem with the “bag of chemicals” notion when it comes to bacteria, plants, and similar entities. So why is it so difficult to say the same about humans or other “higher level” species, when we’re all governed by the same laws?

No causal mechanism

As Cashmore explains, the human brain acts at both the conscious level as well as the unconscious. It’s our consciousness that makes us aware of our actions, giving us the sense that we control them, as well. But even without this awareness, our brains can still induce our bodies to act, and studies have indicated that consciousness is something that follows unconscious neural activity. Just because we are often aware of multiple paths to take, that doesn’t mean we actually get to choose one of them based on our own free will. As the ancient Greeks asked, by what mechanism would we be choosing? The physical world is made of causes and effects - “nothing comes from nothing” - but free will, by its very definition, has no physical cause. The Roman philosopher and poet Lucretius, in reference to this problem of free will, noted that the Greek philosophers concluded that atoms “randomly swerve” - the likely source of this movement being the numerous Greek gods.

Today, as researchers gain a better understanding of the molecular details underlying consciousness, some people think that we may discover a molecular mechanism responsible for free will - but Cashmore doesn’t think so. Such a discovery, he says, would require a new physical law that breaks the causal laws of nature. As it is, the only “wild card” that allows any room for maneuvering outside of genetics and one’s environment is the inherent uncertainty of the physical properties of matter, and even this stochastic element is beyond our conscious control. (However, it can help explain why identical twins growing up in the same environment are unique individuals.)

To put it simply, free will just doesn’t fit with how the physical world works. Cashmore compares a belief in free will to an earlier belief in vitalism - the belief that there are forces governing the biological world that are distinct from those governing the physical world. Vitalism was discarded more than 100 years ago, being replaced with evidence that biological systems obey the laws of chemistry and physics, not special biological laws for living things.

“I would like to convince biologists that a belief in free will is nothing other than a continuing belief in vitalism (or, as I say, a belief in magic),” Cashmore told

Conscious Deception

It all seems quite rational, so why is our lack of free will so difficult to accept for many people? Cashmore explains that there are several compelling reasons that people have for believing in free will, not the least of which is that we have a constant awareness of making decisions that seem to be driven by our own volition. In addition, free will is a very useful concept when it comes to the justice system; we take responsibility for our criminal actions and accordingly, are eligible for personal punishment, which is deemed to be necessary for protecting society.

However, Cashmore argues that there are deeper explanations for why we think we have free will. He thinks that there must be a genetic basis for consciousness and the associated belief in free will. Consciousness has an evolutionary selective advantage: it provides us with the illusion of responsibility, which is beneficial for society, if not for individuals as well. In this sense, consciousness is our “preview function” that comforts us into thinking that we are in control of what we will (or at least may) do ahead of time. As Cashmore notes, the irony is that the very existence of these “free will genes” is predicated on their ability to con us into believing in free will and responsibility. However, in reality, all behavioral decisions are nothing more than a reflection of our genetic and environmental history.

“Whereas the impressions are that we are making ‘free’ conscious decisions, the reality is that consciousness is simply a state of awareness that reflects the input signals, and these are an unavoidable consequence of GES [genes, environment, and stochasticism],” Cashmore explained.

“Few neurobiologists would argue with the notion that consciousness influences behavior by acting through unconscious neural activity,” he said. “More controversial is the notion that consciousness plays a relatively minor role in governing our behavior. The conscious mind is conceivably more a mechanism of following unconscious neural activity than it is one of directing such activity. I find it interesting to compare this line of thinking with that of Freud, who created a controversy by suggesting that the unconscious mind played a role in our behavior. The way of thinking regarding these matters now has moved to the extent that some are questioning what role, if any, the conscious mind plays in directing behavior. Namely, Freud was right to an extent that was much greater than he realized.”

To summarize, Cashmore’s argument is that free will is an illusion derived from consciousness, but consciousness has an evolutionary advantage of conferring the illusion of responsibility. So what is the point of publicizing the fact that we have no free will, and letting everyone off the hook of individual responsibility? Cashmore says that, as researchers deepen their understanding of the molecular basis of human behavior, it will become increasingly difficult to entertain the fallacy of free will.

Can’t Be Held Responsible

Perhaps the most obvious impact of this paradigm shift will be on our judicial system, in which the notions of free will and responsibility form an integral component. Currently, in order to be found guilty, a criminal must be considered responsible for his actions; otherwise, he can be found not guilty by reason of insanity. Cashmore disagrees with these rules, noting that psychiatric research is finding its way more and more into the courts and causing time-wasting debates. (For example, is alcoholism a disease? Are sex crimes an addiction?)

“Where is the logic in debating an individual’s level of responsibility, when the reality is that none of us are biologically responsible for our actions?” he said.

Cashmore proposes a change, based on “the elimination of the illogical concept that individuals are in control of their behavior in a manner that is something other than a reflection of their genetic makeup and their environmental history.”

He says that psychiatrists and other experts on human behavior should not be involved in initial judicial proceedings. The jury should simply determine whether or not a defendant is guilty of committing a crime, and not be concerned with mental issues. Then, if the defendant is found guilty, a court-appointed panel of experts would advise on the most appropriate punishment and treatment. Cashmore argues that, even though individuals are not biologically responsible for their actions, in order to minimize criminal activity, people should still be held accountable, and be punished when necessary. Such punishment is rationalized on the grounds that it will serve as an incentive (an environmental influence) not to participate in criminal behavior.

“Here I introduce the practice of ‘I am sorry about this but I am going to have to beat you,’” Cashmore said. “This punishment is rationalized in the sense that it serves as a lesson to individuals not to break the law. So people would be held accountable for their actions, even though they are not ‘biologically responsible’ for such actions. This punishment may involve fines or placing people in prison. Such punishment should not reflect any sense of retribution, and given this I do not personally see how one could continue to impose the death penalty - the alleged effectiveness of such a penalty presumably being far outweighed by its unfairness. The exact way in which one balances the presumptive requirement for punishment, and the lack of biological responsibility, would indeed be difficult, and would require much discussion within the legal system and society as a whole.”

He said that tailoring punishment on an individual basis is presently done, at least to some extent.

“Why is it important to make a change? Because increasingly the legal system is being forced to confront the reality that people’s behavior is governed by nothing other than their biological history: their genes, their environment and a degree of stochasticism (if you wish, a degree of chance). The legal system is increasingly seen to be a farce, with lawyers spending endless time and money debating this nonsensical question of how responsible or not their clients are. Why nonsensical? Because no one is biologically responsible for their actions. As Francis Crick said, ‘Dream as we may, reality knocks relentlessly at the door.’ And as a result of the rapid and ongoing progress in neuroscience, the reality that individual behavior is governed by one’s genetic and environmental history is becoming increasingly apparent.”

14 posted on 05/10/2013 3:35:11 PM PDT by James C. Bennett (An Australian.)
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To: Heartlander

Who cares......

15 posted on 05/10/2013 3:38:17 PM PDT by Hot Tabasco (This space for rent)
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To: James C. Bennett

And this is what ‘you’ believe - there is no free will?

16 posted on 05/10/2013 3:47:31 PM PDT by Heartlander (Practice makes perfect if you mess up a few letters)
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To: Heartlander

Preying Mantis.

17 posted on 05/10/2013 3:50:41 PM PDT by Stentor
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To: Heartlander
Is Jodi Arias a Man Eating Tiger?

No, she is a squirrel.

18 posted on 05/10/2013 3:51:04 PM PDT by sportutegrl (MSM Bengazi distraction.)
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To: Hot Tabasco


19 posted on 05/10/2013 3:53:56 PM PDT by Heartlander (Practice makes perfect if you mess up a few letters)
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To: Heartlander

evolution is a stupid lie and any conclusion based on its princplies will be correct only by accident.

20 posted on 05/10/2013 5:08:33 PM PDT by Psiman (PS I am not a crackpot)
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