Re: [OPE-L] marx's conception of labour

From: clyder@GN.APC.ORG
Date: Mon Nov 20 2006 - 07:49:42 EST

Quoting Rakesh Bhandari <bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU>:

> >Quoting Rakesh Bhandari <bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU>:
> >>  Can a non human animal distinguish between a movement which is also an
> >>  action and one which is not? If not, then how would a non human animal
> >>  know it has lost the capacity for action?
> >
> >I am not sure I understand what you mean, or what point
> >you are making here. Could you give an example that would
> >clarify it?
> If through electrical stimulation we could be made to point to a
> specific object, we would
> not think we had acted as if we had intentionally pointed to that
> object about whose location a friend
> had just asked, would we?

This is an intersting question and I dont really know
the answer to it. In the end, one would have to see if any
such experimentation had been done and what the experience
report by the subject was.

My first guess, is that the consious experience might depend upon which area of
the brain was stimulated. In some cases it might seem like the arm
moving autonomously, and in the other it might seem concious.

One has to take into account the degree of confabulation to which
the brain is capable, as revealed in experiments with 'blind sight'
patients in which the corpus calosum has been injured. In these
cases the two hemispheres loose their intercommunication. A written question
can be presented to one eye and that half of the brain can make the
hand press a button corresponding to the right answer. But when asked
if they saw the question the patient will deny it, and will confabulate
some story about why they conciously moved the hand.

The latest issue if New Scientist, is the 50th aniversary edition, and
contains articles by leading researchers in a number of areas on
what remain outstanding questions for the sciences. One of these
is by Patricia Churchland and is on consciousness, I only had a
chance to read half of it over the weekend, but she cites the example
of a respectable middle aged man who suddenly developed urges to
store pornography and started to abuse a grandchild. Taken into
the court system his behaviour became more bizare. He eventually collapsed
in court and a brain scan revealed a tumor. Removal of the tumor
led to his aberant sexual behaviour disappearing.

Later the behaviour re-occured, another scan revealed regrowth of tumor
that had been missed in the first operation. A second operation again
removed the pathological behaviour.

In this case, the area of the brain thought to be associated with
subconcious urges was being stimulated by pressure from a tumour, rather
than electricity, but the implications seem similar to those in your

> >
> >I gave the example of caging an animal as an example of depriving
> >the animal of its capacity for the actions of freely moving about
> >and seeking food, mates etc.
> There seems to be something implicit in the concept of action or at
> least certain kinds of it
> that only humans capable of it. This may not be true; this may be a
> more a semantic debate than an empirical one.

There may be something implicit in the commonplace notion of an
action to the effect that it must be human action, but that tells
us more about the ideological representation of action in society
than about the properties of action itself. As Jerry was implicityly
pointing out in his posting, one must beware of human conceit.
The advance of knowledge has tended to be a great humbler of our
conceits and pretensions, both about ourselves, our fellow animals,
and our place in the universe.

> >
> >I also dont understand why you see these points as germane to
> >Marx original distinction between architects and bees and spiders.
> Well this distinction raises the question of how and how we are not
> like other  non human animals. Is there a way in which we act
> uniquely, uniquely have a self or a world or culture or goals or
> intentions? As I said,  I wish I could think about these questions.
Well we are on strong grounds when we say that only humans on this
planet have advance to the point of industrial civilisation. If it were
just a question of cultures, well, it is now pretty clear that apes and
whales have cultures. If it were just a question of using tools we now
now several species of animals can do this. It it were question of using
tools for hunting, then we know that the spiders have long preceed us.
Even agriculture, salvery and animal husbandry are practiced by some species
or social insects. It is only in the most recent phases of civilisation
those dependent on written culture that we seem to have unique

> Here is one answer from Jonathan Marks.
> Yours, Rakesh
> Jonathan Marks
> Culture, Evolution, and Human Biology
> Theme:  Humans are uniquely bio-cultural animals.  Everything we do is
> rendered
> meaningful within a contextualizing environment of economy, social
> relations, and ideas.
> That environment changes rapidly, and not only do we change to fit
> it, but the practice of
> science, and especially of biological anthropology, changes with it as well.
> Adaptability and the Human Condition
> The hallmark of the human condition is not
> so much our particular adaptations, but the extent
> to which our intelligence and long periods of
> growth and immaturity allow us to be adaptable.
> Natural selection molds the gene pool of species
> to conform to the stresses of the environment;
> but the adaptations wrought by natural selection
> are long-term and largely irreversible.  That is
> what we generally mean by "adaptation" in an
> evolutionary sense.
> Human populations have adapted in this
> evolutionary sense mostly in fairly subtle ways.
> The least subtle is of course the depigmentation
> of human skin in non-tropical latitudes, allowing
> ultraviolet light to stimulate the production of
> Vitamin D and folic acid (Essay 13).  But those
> examples seem to be quite rare.  We find
> geographical regularities in body build across
> mammalian species, and these seem to hold as
> well for human populations.  Short, stocky
> bodies retain heat more efficiently than lean,
> lanky bodies, and consequently you tend to find
> lean animals in the tropics and fat ones in the
> arctic.  Interestingly, this generalization (known
> as Bergmann's Rule) also seems to hold for
> human populations, at least in the extremes.  One
> finds lean, lanky people in East Africa, and short,
> stocky people in Greenland.  (Obviously other
> factors are also at work, since the officially
> tallest population today is the Dutch.)  Similarly,
> Allen's Rule relates limb length to climate
> among vertebrates, with cold-adapted species
> having shorter limbs; and again we tend to find
> the longest-limbed peoples in hot areas, and the
> shortest-limbed in the coldest.
> Another well-known, but subtle, genetic
> adaptation is lactose tolerance, the ability to
> digest milk beyond childhood.  This ability does
> not exist in most people - at least 70% of the
> people in the world.  Far from being a "disease,"
> lactose intolerance is polymorphic everywhere,
> and is the majority condition among everybody
> except Europeans and other people with a history
> of cattle herding, like some East Africans.  The
> mutation permits people to metabolize lactose,
> the sugar in milk, and thus to derive sustenance
> from a food that would otherwise give them gas
> and diarrhea.  This mutation, then, seems to be
> an adaptation to the availability of an available
> source of nutrition - milk - that ordinarily
> requires fermentation into cheese or yogurt to be
> digestible.
> And even more subtle are the adaptations of
> the human gene pool to the environmental
> pressure of infectious disease.  The gene pools of
> peoples in malarial environments have developed
> elevated proportions of certain alleles that afford
> some measure of protection from that
> debilitating disease (Essay 5).  Other diseases
> have been suggested as pressures (such as
> cholera, bubonic plague, and tuberculosis),
> having corresponding effects on the gene pools
> of certain populations, but with far less
> convincing evidence.  Presumably the ravages of
> historical pandemics, like the bubonic plague in
> Europe from 1348-1350, have an effect on the
> gene pool at least in the genes governing
> immune responses or assisting in disease
> resistance, but the specifics are unknown; or
> even whether other alleles may have been
> "carried along" under the intense selection for
> disease resistance.  It is certainly not terribly
> difficult, however, to imagine the mutations that
> may confer resistance to AIDS infection having a
> subtle effect on the human gene pool over the
> next several generations.
> The diverse other ways in which humans
> come to respond to environmental pressures, and
> form a "fit" with their surroundings, comprise
> the study of adaptability.  After all, there is also
> genetic control of physiology, as first explored in
> depth by the biologist C. H. Waddington (Essay
> 6).  Human bodies are characterized by
> developmental plasticity, that is, they are
> sensitive to the conditions of growth, so the adult
> form of the body can be affected by long-term
> stresses quite strikingly and regularly, without
> being directly a consequence of the genetic
> program.  In this sense, the body is adapting to
> an environmental stress, but it is not doing so
> through the gene pool in geological time, but
> rather, over the course of a single lifetime by
> virtue of the body's reactive properties.  While
> these physical modifications are not passed on
> per se, the persistence of the stressor across
> generations causes the bodies of ancestors and
> descendants to develop in a consistent and
> similar fashion.
> In this category we can place the changes in
> head form and body that occur as a result of
> immigration, described in the last Essay.  A
> major environmental stressor is hypoxia, or
> reduced air: people who live at high altitudes, or
> whose mothers smoked heavily while pregnant,
> commonly have "stunted growth" - their bodies
> have physiologically adapted to the lower
> oxygen levels and have altered their growth
> trajectories accordingly.
> These physiological adaptations are non-
> genetic, since they are direct responses to
> specific environmental pressures.  But they are
> also permanent; once the bones grow in a certain
> way, over a certain period of time, they are stuck
> with that form within very narrow limits.  Thus,
> the practice of cradle-boarding (tying the infant's
> head to a cradle with a flat surface) results in a
> very flat rear of the head.  This is such a regular
> feature of some populations, that it had once
> been classified as a racial type - the "Dinaric"
> skull form.  But it is due simply to a cultural
> practice.
> Similarly, the binding of women's feet by
> traditional Chinese society, or the lifetime of
> repetitive motion by women grinding grain in
> agricultural societies, affect the skeleton in very
> characteristic ways.
> In addition to adapting genetically and
> developmentally, humans adapt facultatively to
> short-term stresses. These adaptive physiological
> responses are generally reversible, such as
> tanning, callousing, or increasing the blood flow
> to cold parts of the body.  Athletes preparing for
> competition at high altitudes will commonly
> train at high altitudes for precisely that reason, to
> acclimate their bodies to the new stressor.  These
> short term physiological responses are another
> aspect of the adaptability of the human
> condition.
> A third kind of non-genetic adaptation, also
> widely shared with other animal species, is
> behavioral adaptation.  Many animals -
> especially mammals - learn what to eat, how to
> hunt, how to hide from predators, how to act
> around other members of their social group, and
> even how to use tools to accomplish specific
> tasks.  The key element here is the transmission
> of information. (Ethologists sometimes refer to
> this as "cultural," but that reflects a different use
> of the term than in anthropology.)
> Obviously humans also learn things, and use
> objects to help them survive.  But in humans, as
> we noted in the last Essay, these objects take on
> an evolutionary trajectory of their own.  They
> comprise an extra-somatic (external to the body)
> adaptation and super-organic mode of evolution.
> There is certainly nothing mystical about this:
> after all, you use things, but how many of those
> things have you actually made yourself?  Mostly
> they were made by others, independently of your
> organic existence, and quite possibly before you
> were even born.  You read English, but you
> didn't invent it; you were born into it.
> To the extent that people invent new things
> or coin new words, those are minor
> perturbations, roughly analogous to mutations;
> cultures change through the large-scale social
> process of adoption, which is often difficult to
> predict.  Cellular phones and the internet, now
> impossible to imagine being without, were
> almost inconceivable a generation ago; so was an
> alliance with Russia in a global and domestic
> war against an enemy called terrorism.
> The point is that human culture is not merely
> a response to environmental problems, but
> comprises a complex environment in and of
> itself, which necessarily entails its own set of
> responses.  And those responses come partly
> from you as an individual - learning how to act
> appropriately in your own time and place - but
> also from us as a social collectivity.  I have
> "written" this book, for example, only in the very
> narrow sense of having composed it; but I didn't
> chop down the trees, make the pulp, press and
> cut the paper, blend the ink, cast and set the type,
> print it and bind it!  Clearly, even the most basic
> things we take for granted are formed and exist
> within a complex network of economic, political,
> and social forces; and are well beyond the
> capabilities of any individual person.
> This is what anthropologists mean by
> culture.  It is not the learned behaviors
> themselves, but the invisible matrix of social
> relations, meanings, technologies, and histories
> within which those behaviors are embedded, as
> well as their visible products.  That is the
> difference between a beaver dam and Hoover
> Dam; and it is presently the most powerful force
> in our own adaptation and survival, without
> precedent in the history of life.
> >
> >
> >
> >>  Are these even empirical
> >>  questions? If not, should we move them on positivist grounds?
> >>  I wish I knew more about the philosophy of action and Donald Davidson's
> >>  writings. I have also tried a couple of times to understand Husserl's
> and
> >>  Merleau Ponty's ideas about the special intentionality of human
> >>  consciousness but have never felt satisfied. Just marking these
> >>  ideas/questions which I just can't pursue now.But I read you, Dogan, Ian
> >>  and Howard with interest
> >>  Rakesh
> >>
> >>
> >>  >>  >
> >>  >> > So Bees and Spiders too, have goals for their labour, which goals
> >>  >> > they must presumably store in their heads.
> >>  >>
> >>  >> Are our goals stored in our head; is that where the self is, simply
> >>  >> localized as a neural object? I thought the integrative biologists
> had
> >>  >> provided good reasons for skepticism. See for example Denis Noble,
> The
> >>  >> Music of Life: Biology beyond the Genome.
> >>  >>
> >>  > Whether the intentions are stored in the head is not vital, the issue
> >>  > is whether they are internal to the organism or can be externalised
> >  > > in the form of spoken or written instructions. Internal intentions
> >>  > are commonplace among animals, written instructions, are as far as I
> >>  > know unique to civilised humanity.
> >>  >
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> >>
> >
> >
> >
> >
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