Saturday, 2 April 2011

Rejected Cartoons

Don Hertzfeldt

Sunday, 27 March 2011


mind blowing sketch from an unknown artist
insanely deep drawing from ben tolman

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Back to blog

Sorry to anyone who cares that i've been lazy with this blog recently. Have had a tonne of assignments to work on and this just got ignored.

Heres some things i've been giving some thought to, this is a video about Kevin Warwick, a mad scientist whos pioneering the cyborg 'revolution'. Hes a nutter, but maybe hes on to something?

Also some philosophy related dubstep, cause why not?

Friday, 11 March 2011


Odd future wolf gang kill them all. Was recently shown this new hip hop collective and their putting out some really fresh material, sick beats, mad rhymes and insane concepts. for more, you can also download all their stuff for free.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

What, if anything does it mean to say that a trait is 'innate'?

[A little more philosophy, a discussion of evolutionary biology and a look at the 'nature vs nurture' argument]

In recent times it has become commonplace to use the term innate to describe certain characteristics of an organism. In this essay I intend to explore what it means to use this word and why it is such an important topic of discussion. A large factor in this debate is the distinction between acquired and innate traits, better known as the nature versus nurture argument. In order to assess what it means to say that a trait is innate, I will look closely as this dichotomy exploring various different scholars with a view to understanding the use of the word innate in a scientific framework as well as the more colloquial context we frequently encounter. I shall then assess the ramifications of what it means when we say a trait is innate, looking at the consequences socially, culturally and morally, in order to understand just how important the term innate can be.
There has been much analysis of the term innate in philosophy during recent times, the main goal of which is to try and define what we mean when we use the word innate. The ideas that I intend to assess are firstly that of Stephen Stich’s concept of innateness as traits that are universal for a species[1]. Secondly I shall analyse the view of innateness as adaptation proposed by Konrad Lorenz[2] and also look at the similar work of Muhammad Ali Khalidi[3]. The third and most influential definition identifies innate traits as those created by patterns of interaction between genes and environment, known as canalisation put forth by Andre Ariew[4]. Furthermore, leading on from the idea of replacing the term innate, I will consider the sceptical tradition in which it is believed that the concept of innate is ultimately meaningless and a distinction between traits that are learned and those which are innate does not exist.
We often see the term innate being described as ‘in the genes’ or ‘in our DNA.’ However, our genes play a fundamental role in the production of every trait, therefore it is not correct to say that innate traits are ‘in the genes’ and traits that are acquired or learned are ‘caused by the environment’. We would expect to see a far more complex relationship between genes and traits then this simplistic view. This view has its origins in 1935 when Konrad Lorenz articulated that the object of ethology was to distinguish behaviours that were learned or acquired from those which are innate. Here we see the beginning of the dichotomy of innate and acquired traits which has since become a very popular school of thought and more importantly very widely misunderstood.
A major problem that has occurred from this separation of innate and acquired traits is that while we have a label and method of classifying learned traits which are traits that are caused by the environment of an organism, such as muscle mass or calluses on hands or paws. However, when we try to label traits we consider to be innate such as the ability to roll your tongue, we find that rather than applying a premise to innate characteristics we are just using the word innate to describe that which we are unable to label as a product of our environment. This crude usage of the term innate is what has made the word so unclear and troublesome for philosophers and scientists.
A large problem with trying to define the word innate is we come across a multitude of definitions. Innate is widely thought to mean present at birth, a product of genes, bound to develop no matter what, difficult or impossible to change, explained by biological evolution, biologically adaptive, typical of the species.[5] Furthermore, Matteo Mameli and Bateson have recently systematically reviewed the scientific use of the term innate and identified no less than twenty-six proposed definitions. They judge eight of these to be both genuinely independent definitions and potentially valuable scientific constructs.[6] This becomes problematic when you consider that there is little correlation between these definitions, which has led many towards the view that the term innate is confusing and unhelpful within a scientific context.
This confusion has lead thinkers such as Paul Griffiths to the view that the term is obsolete within precise science. Griffiths suggested that we should attempt to provide a revised, more precise definition to traits in order to accurately and specifically define the trait in question. As this essay progresses Griffiths view will become clearer when we look at the definitions proposed by other scholars and how they can fit into this way of seeing the problem with the term innate.
One attempt to try and define the term innate comes from the work of Stephen Stich. In his paper ‘The idea of innateness’, he defined an innate trait as a trait an organism will manifest in the normal course of development. For example Huntington Chorea, which is a disease that only appears 20 or more years into a person’s life. However Stich himself offered a counter example to this idea in universally held beliefs such as, that water quenches thirst. By this definition this would count as innate, which seems counter intuitive.[7] I believe that Stich's idea confuses evidence for innateness with innateness itself, which leaves me with the belief that little can be gained from this early attempt to define innateness.
Another effort was taken on by Muhammad Ali Khalidi, who elaborated on the work of Stich and Lorenz. To understand the ideas of Khalidi we must first look at Lorenz’s suggestion that a trait is innate if its development is guided by inherited information rather than environmental information.[8] This idea is similar to Stich’s independent analysis[9] Stich noted, it is important specify what is meant by ‘information’. Lorenz identified ‘information’ in this context with adaptive fit. Quintessentially his ‘inherited information’ analysis amounts to the claim that a trait is innate if its fit to the environment can only be explained by evolutionary adaptation.
Khalidi presents his analysis in terms of the ‘poverty of the stimulus’ argument, an example of this argument can be found in the work of linguist Noam Chomsky and the belief that language is innate.[10] His argument follows that the examples of speech to which children are exposed do not contain enough evidence to settle which remarks are grammatical in the language they are trying to attain. However, children consistently acquire the grammar of their native language. Therefore, Chomsky concluded, children must have innate knowledge about grammar which supplements the evidence to which they are exposed during development. If this argument is sound, every normal childhood is a deprivation experiment that confirms the innateness of grammar. Khalidi’s argument goes on to say that ‘…a belief (concept, idea, capacity) may be considered to be innate to the degree that it would emerge as the result of an impoverished stimulus’[11] He defines impoverishment as ‘informational impoverishment’ which is a gap between the information in the environment which an organism develops and the information manifested in the trait that develops in that environment.[12] However it is important to note that difficulties stand in the way of actually measuring the information content of an environment. Khalidi did suggest however that scientist’s do have a method of assessing the informational gap, using various forms of deprivation experiments.
According to Lorenz, a trait has more ‘information’ than its developmental environment if the functional adjustment of the trait to the environment cannot be explained by the environment. The deprivation experiment is designed to eliminate just those factors that could explain the trait's functional adjustment to the environment. However, a problem with this occurs when we consider the case of innate diseases in relation to Khalidi’s idea of an informational gap between innate traits and the developmental environment. Khalidi believes that innateness ought to apply to disease phenotypes as well as to functional phenotypes.[13] Is the typical developmental environment of a human child ‘informationally impoverished’ compared to the cognitive deficits seen in Down's syndrome? Without the resources presented by the idea of adaptation Khalidi's notion of ‘information’ would fall into a simple notion of covariance, and his investigation of innateness would be a version of the canalisation analysis which is to be discussed in the next section.
Andre Ariew published a series of influential papers (1996, 1999, 2006) which put forth the notion that innateness is canalisation.[14] Canalisation is a theory introduced by the embryologist and theoretical biologist Conrad H. Waddington.[15] Ariew uses canalisation to show the environmental stability of traits, meaning certain traits will develop in a variety of environmental conditions. Ariew illustrates his idea by using Waddington’s experiment on embryo tissues to show that when ectoderm tissues is at the stage at which it can become neural tissue it can be induced by a large variety of different compounds, therefore this appears as if the neural tissue will come into existence without requiring a specific set of environmental conditions.[16] One important aspect of canalisation which poses a potential problem to some, is the fact that Ariew moves away from the dichotomy of innate and acquired traits and suggests that innateness is rather a matter of degree difference that lies along a spectrum with highly canalized development outcomes on the one end and highly environmentally sensitive development outcomes on the other end. The degree to which a trait is innate is the degree to which its developmental outcome is canalized.[17] I believe that moving away from this dichotomy is an important step in understanding traits, while Lorenz’s popular distinction rested on the familiar Darwinian distinction between genes and environments. I feel that despite the best efforts of many scientists little is gained from thinking in this way. Perhaps Ariew is shifting the scientific paradigm away from the old dichotomy towards a new way of looking at the innate and acquired distinction.
Ariew’s method of defining innateness does not directly correlate to the common language usage of the word innate. Rather Ariew is attempting to explain a strategy of research used by scientists like Chomsky. When terms like innate and instinct are used they should be interpreted in a scientific context. Ariew calls this ‘biologicising the mind’[18] This attempt to make the term innate more scientific is one which in my opinion gives it more concrete meaning and a context in which it can be discussed. I feel this is a very important point because of the potential hazards that can arise when the term is misused.
What does it mean to say a trait is innate? What exactly are the potential outcomes of claiming that a certain trait is innate? For example it has become common within today’s society to hear that certain people are innately violent. Using the word innate in this way gives rise to the belief that certain individuals are genetically determined to be this way and in effect takes the blame away from the individual and onto genetics. While it is true that some people do have a predisposition towards aggressive behaviour this does not mean that they will necessarily commit violent acts. It is important to remember in this example that while we are a product of our genes we also have the capability to act in a manner that might contradict our genetic makeup. This example shows just how easily the term innate can be misused and often is. I consider this use of the word innate comparable to an idea of original sin but just for our modern scientific culture. What this point highlights to me is just how easily this problem can be avoided. By using terms with less connotations then innate then we will experience less confusion and false conclusions. For example saying that a person has a tendency to be violent is far less dangerous than saying that a person is innately violent.
This leads me to discuss the sceptical tradition regarding the innate acquired distinction. My point of using other terms to substitute the word innate is supported by Paul Griffiths and Ethologist Patrick Bateson. Bateson urges researchers to “Say what you mean (even if it uses a bit more space) rather than unintentionally confuse your readers by employing a word such as innate that carries so many different connotations”[19] I believe that innate is a word that within our society and culture has, due its widespread usage and multitude of meanings has been transformed into a pseudo-scientific term which carries too many associations for it to be valuable scientifically and colloquially.
In conclusion I believe that the more we have come to learn about genetics and the science of evolution, the more we have come to know that concepts like the innate and acquired traits dichotomy are far too simplistic and can cause dangerous modes of thinking. While I don’t believe that the term should be retired completely, I hold that it no longer has a place in scientific usage as it can be replaced with terms like canalisation which do not carry the same stigma that the term innate does.

[1] Stich, S. P. (1975). “The idea of innateness”, Innate Ideas, S. P. Stich. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
[2] Lorenz, K. Z. (1966). Evolution & the Modification of Behaviour, London: Methuen & Co.
[3] Khalidi, M. A. (2002). “Nature and Nurture in Cognition,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
[4] Ariew, A. (1996). “Innateness and Canalization,” Philosophy of Science, 63(3) (Supplement): S19-S27.
[5] Garvey, B. (2007) “Philosophy of Biology”, Acumen Publishing Ltd. p95
[6] Mameli, M. and P. P. G. Bateson (2006). “Innateness and the sciences,” Biology and Philosophy p177
[7] Stich, S. P. (1975).
[8] Lorenz, K. Z. (1966). 
[9] Stich, S. P. (1975). P13-16
[10] Chomsky, N. (1957). Syntactic Structures, The Hague: Morton.
[11] Khalidi, M. A. (2002). p269
[12] Khalidi, M. A. (2007). “Innate cognitive capacities,” Mind & Language, p100
[13] Khalidi, M. A. (2007). p97
[14] Ariew, A. (1999). “Innateness is Canalization: In Defense of a Developmental Account of Innateness,” Where Biology Meets Psychology: Philosophical Essays, V. G. Hardcastle (ed.), Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
[15] Waddington, C. H. (1942). “Canalisation of development and the inheritance of acquired characters,” Nature, 150: 563–565
[16] Garvey, B. (2007) p99
[17] Ariew, A. (1999).
[18] Ariew, A. (2006). Innateness. Handbook of the Philosophy of Science, M. Matthen and C. Stevens (eds.), Amsterdam: Elsevier. 3: 1–18.
[19] Bateson, P. P. G. (1991). “Are there principles of behavioural development?” The Development and Integration of Behaviour: Essays in honour of Robert Hinde, P. P. G. Bateson (ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p22

Thursday, 3 March 2011

What its all about..

This blogs aims are to provide a space for my thoughts on various topics of philosophy, art and music. The music and art work displayed on this blog are not of my own creation and I shall try to reference any work if at all possible.
All the philosophy shall be my own, unless stated otherwise. I hope that you enjoy...

Here's a beautiful track from Plastician to get things going...

The Kingdom of heaven is within

What kinds of Marriage should a liberal society allow?

In order to address this question of what kinds of marriage should a liberal society allow; I must focus on two main issues. Firstly, what is marriage? To investigate this subject I will consider what the legal status of marriage means as well as the social implications of marriage. The second issue that this question raises would be what is a liberal society? If a society is to be coined, ‘liberal’ then what must its agenda be in order to be considered for such a label.

Attempts to define marriage have been prominent within the field of anthropology for many years, and providing an exact definition which applies to all cultures has proved to be a very difficult task, due to the enormous amount of cultural differences in marriage across the world. For this reason my assessment of marriage will take what modern English society considers marriage to be. The reason that I will take the modern English perspective on this issue is primarily as an English citizen I have an advantageous position from which to assess the collective views on marriage and on what makes a liberal society. I have also chosen English society because it has been a place in which liberal ideas have been a prominent part of policy making for last 300 years of English history. Finally I am of the opinion that if I were to take the idea of a liberal society in an abstract manner and consider what the perfect liberal society might allow then I feel I will be missing out on the opportunity to address real issues surrounding marriage in an increasingly liberal world.

Marriage in the broadest terms is a social contract or union between people which creates kinship. However this serves little purpose as a definition and fails to provide insight as to what marriage means to us in English society. In order to understand what marriage is, I will initially look at how the institution of marriage works in English society. The legal status of marriage is an essential part of our understanding of the significance of the institution. Before looking closer at what exactly it means for people to be married in English society in legal terms, I will first consider the implications of marriage being a legal issue. The question that this raises is why people feel it is important to have their relationship regarded as official by their governing body. This has been a central issue of marriage throughout the histories of western society, for example in the early modern period marriage came under religious law, which at the time would have been considered the authoritative body on matters of matrimony. Today in our increasingly secular society in which the state is considered the only justified source of power marriage is therefore civil matter and so comes under civil law.

In order to understand why marriage works as a legal issue we have to consider the impact that it has on people’s lives and the why use of law can be necessary in establishing the legitimacy of the institution. The laws that dictate modern marriage have been implemented as a result of the importance of marriage to people in society, what I mean by this statement is that the civil laws which have been put in place which effect the institution of marriage have come about because of the importance of marriage to people within the society. So the social implications of this institution are such that it is recognised by the state. Furthermore the recognition of the state in these matters has value in itself. Being publically recognised as married and having this official status is an important factor in modern society and I believe is fundamental in our conception of marriage. Without this status there would be little need for the institution itself as the same rights and responsibilities which the law enforces could be achieved through private contracts.[1]

In this next section I shall analyse the social implications of marriage with the intent of developing a clear understanding of what marriage is, and why it is so important to people in English society. Marriage is necessarily a social institution and as such there is a web of common knowledge and assumptions about marriage that are shared throughout society.[2] One assumption that we see of marriage is the mutual intent at the time of getting married that married couples will share the necessities of life.[3] These necessities are things such as economic cooperation or the sharing of finances, sharing of housing and of taking care of the household and sharing of child rearing. While these examples are not a list of things which it is essential for married couples to do, it is some of the most important shared assumptions that make up the modern institution of marriage and without these shared assumptions there would be no notion of married life.

In English culture we place a heavy importance on the concept of love in marriage. However do we consider love to be an essential part of what makes marriage important. Love does not appear in any form in the legal side of marriage and there are many cases of marriage in which love plays no part. For example people will marry for financial security or social recognition and love can play no important role in the decision to get married. These are still however fully legitimate marriages. Raising children falls into a similar category as love, while it does serve as a fundamental reason for many couples to get married, it is not an essential feature of the institution of marriage itself; there are many married couples who have no intention of having children.

While love and child bearing are sufficient reasons why a couple may get married they are not necessary. The notion of consent however is an essential feature of marriage in English society. While this does raise the issue of arranged marriages which I shall discuss in more depth later on in this essay, arranged marriages still require consent from the families involved. A marriage in which one or more persons had not consented would not be considered valid both in the eyes of English law and of society as a whole.

Religion is another social issue which can affect marriage. While in modern society it would not be considered a necessary condition of marriage, it does still help to shape the way in which society views marriage. There is of course a problem with talking about religion as a single concept as it is home to many different and opposing views. The ways in which religion can affect the collective views of society are most prevalent in parts of American society, but do have an impact on English culture too. An argument from a conservative Christian perspective may regard homosexuality as immoral and it is believed that God created the institution of marriage for the purpose of child rearing. This short speech from Chief Justice Moore given at the Alabama Supreme Court shows the conviction to which these beliefs are held.

“Homosexual conduct is, and has been, considered abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature's God upon which this Nation and our laws are predicated. Such conduct violates both the criminal and civil laws of this State and is destructive to a basic building block of society -- the family....It is an inherent evil against which children must be protected.”[4]

The views expressed here by Chief Justice Moore are by no means the view of the Christian faith as a whole but do however have a surprisingly strong impact on English marital law. This is evident in Gordon Brown’s response to the question of why he did not allow gay marriage, he said that he could not legalise it because it was "intimately bound up with questions of religious freedom"[5] This clearly shows a much more tolerant view of homosexuality but is clear in illustrating that religion is still a major concern for policy makers in England with regards to the institution of marriage.

What is clear from the previous paragraphs is that there is a multitude of different views as to what should and should not affect the institution of marriage. What also becomes evident is that the essential features of marriage come down to three main issues. (1) A cluster of legal rights and responsibilities, (2) that there is value in having a publically recognised status and (3) that the marriage is between consenting adults.

Now that I have explored what the concept of marriage is to English society, I will now look at English society itself and comment as to why I would describe it as a generally liberal society. Liberalism (from the Latin liberalis, "of freedom") is the belief in the importance of liberty and equal rights; these are two notions which are more prevalent now than ever before in our politics. English politics has been pursuing a liberal agenda in some form ever since the glorious revolution of 1688. Initially the notions of free speech and democracy were the goal of liberal politics and as time passed we see many examples of the belief in the importance of liberty and equal rights at the forefront in English policy making. Examples include, the introductory of compulsory education in 1880, women’s rights in 1918, the foundation of the National Health Service in 1946, signing the universal declaration of human rights in 1948 and rather more topically, the sexual offences act of 1967 which decriminalised homosexual acts and paved the way for the gay rights movement.

I believe that the time line presented by these policies illuminates a very important point that must be considered in order to understand a functional liberal society. All of the liberal policies mentioned were met with great resistance at the time that they were passed, and now as we look upon them with hindsight it seems preposterous that we would need to fight for such basic human rights. However, I believe that the most important thing theses examples show us is a brute fact of liberal politics; we need to fight for basic human rights.

With my focus on English society I can review what policies have followed the sexual offences act. In particular I want to focus on the civil partnership act of 2004. This was an act which would give same sex couples the equivalent rights and responsibilities that a civil marriage would give to heterosexual couples, but not have the label of marriage. Before I give my opinions on what a policy like this implies about the notion of equal rights, I will first assess why the English government would have thought it necessary to create such a concept as civil partnership rather than grant homosexuals with equal rights straight away.

The history of the gay rights movement has been, like many other civil rights movements, a long and hard fight to try and attain equality; or as Oscar Wilde put it: ‘Yes, we shall win in the end; but the road will be long and red with monstrous martyrdoms.’ The reasons for this are the general public’s fear of change and things which they are unable to relate to, such as homosexuals. This point was highlighted by Lord Arran in his speech at the House of Lords in 1967 when the sexual offences act was passed. “Let me remind them that no amount of legislation will prevent homosexuals from being the subject of dislike and derision, or at best of pity. We shall always, I fear, resent the odd man out.”[6]

A further reason for why the gay rights movement has had trouble is due to the strong influence of religious people in modern society. While the influence of religion and religious ideals has diminished greatly in English policy making over the past 300 years, there still remains strong views as to who should be allowed to marry. And these views are taken into consideration by a government who wants to try and please all of its constituents. The result of these considerations is a policy like the 2004 civil partnership act.

I believe that this provides an interesting piece of social commentary about the agenda of the English government. The issue of civil partnerships shows us the fundamental problem that democratic governments face when trying to pursue a liberal agenda. A government must weigh up the importance of giving the majority of people what they want (which could be understood in terms of gaining votes) against the values they wish to promote, for example equal rights and liberty. This problem that governing bodies face is a result of the democratic system itself, the reason for this is that if a government party wished to change anything and promote any values at all, it must first gain power. And the only way in which to do such a thing is to have the majority of people in the society voting for your party.

With this point in mind, I can now analyse the civil partnership act of 2004. I believe that fundamentally the civil partnership act serves as token gesture toward the homosexual community. Some may see this gesture as a patronising compromise which does not equate to what society views as marriage since it does not grant homosexuals with the value of the publically recognisable status of marriage. While I am sympathetic to this opinion I do believe that this policy is evidence of the liberal intent of the government. As previously stated civil rights movements are a long and difficult battle and so while the civil partnership act is not an outright victory for equal rights, it is positive progression and a step in right direction.

I would attribute this progression in policy making to an evolution in public opinion about homosexuality. Whereas previous generations considered being gay to be a choice and furthermore an immoral choice, causing a great amount of animosity in society towards homosexuals which resulted in them to being discriminated against and ostracised from their communities. This view has changed over time as the general population has come to understand that homosexuality is no more a choice then the colour of your eyes and the result of this is a much greater understanding and acceptance of homosexuals. This shift in public opinion towards a much more liberal point of view is what causes me to draw the conclusion that the legalisation of homosexual marriage is now only a matter time in England before it is brought before the House of Lords and the belief in the importance of equal rights will once again be affirmed by the English government.

Homosexual marriage is of course not the only type of marriage that ought to be called into question. I feel that the issue of arranged marriages needs to be discussed. How should a liberal government treat the issue of arranged marriage? I am of the opinion that if the spouses to be, consent to being involved in an arranged marriage then there can be no further issues which need to be dealt with. A problem occurs when children are arranged to be married and so can give no consent or indication as to what they want. This type of marriage is however very rare in English society and furthermore English law states that people must be at the age of 16 before they can get married thus preventing young children from being taken advantage of.

Finally I would like to make a case against the allowing of polygamy in a liberal society. Although it is true that certain people and religious groups do desire to partake in polygamous marriages the overall demand in modern society is not very high. While I am unable to give polygamy the attention of a full critical analysis I do believe that the notion of one man with many wives is questionable to the idea of equality. It may be true of some small communities that polygamy appears perfectly functional; however it is not clear that there are no harmful effects of such an institution, especially towards women.[7] For this reason I believe that it would be inappropriate for a liberal society to allow polygamy, and I believe it would only be worth reconsidering if a substantial amount of support were to arise for it much like the case for homosexual marriage.

In conclusion, I believe that a liberal society ought to pursue an agenda which promotes the ideas of liberty and equality. I believe that all members of society, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation should be given the opportunity to partake in the institution of marriage, I would consider this a basic human right and believe that every argument which is contrary to this that I have discussed is fundamentally flawed and in no way is the reflection of the views and core beliefs of a liberal society.

[1] Leslie Green, The Authority of the State (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1990), p.206
[2] Ralph Wedgwood, ‘The Fundamental Argument for Same-Sex Marriage,’ The Journal of Political Philosophy 7(3) (1999) p229
[3] Richard Mohr, ‘the case for gay marriage’, Same-sex Marriage: The Moral and Legal Debate, ed. R. M. Baird and S. E. Rosembaum (Amherst, N.Y.:Prometheus Books, 1997), p91.
[4] Chief Justice Moore, "Supreme Court of Alabama, 1002045, Petition for Writ of Certiorari," at:
[5] Geen, Jessica (5 May 2010)
[6] The Earl of Arran, SEXUAL OFFENCES (No. 2) BILL HL Deb 21 July 1967 vol 285 cc523
[7] See Richard Posner, Sex and Reason (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992), pp253-60