Tag Archives: Value

Why Be Romantic

Romantic Beliefs Scale … [from] four beliefs: … Love Finds a Way, One & Only, Idealization, & Love at First Sight. Men were generally more romantic than women, & femininity was a stronger predictor of romanticism than was masculinity. (more)

Classical understanding is rational, scientific, unemotional, cerebral, and technologically savvy. … A romantic, oppositely, is intuitive, emotional, creative, and artistically inclined. He is more concerned with immediate appearances than underlying forms—he values aesthetics over utility. (more)

Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism, idealization of nature, suspicion of science and industrialization, and glorification of the past with a strong preference for the medieval rather than the classical. It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature—all components of modernity. It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature, … emphasized intense emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as fear, horror and terror, and awe — especially that experienced in confronting the new aesthetic categories of the sublime and beauty of nature. It elevated folk art and ancient custom to something noble, but also spontaneity as a desirable characteristic. (more)

Regarding mating, a romantic embraces their immediate strong hopeful feelings re particular partners and the mating process. A realist might warn against such embraces, suggesting that the guy you are with might not be so great for you, or care so much about you, and warning against future consequences of excess trust. But the romantic is less willing to embrace abstract thought or analysis regarding the consequences of following their feelings.

Outside of mating relations, a romantic tends to embrace immediate strong feelings regarding other things, and resists abstract analysis contrary to such feelings. So, for example, if their immediate feelings say that we help people via a min wage or rent control, or via their fav feel-good charity, they resist abstract analysis to the contrary. If their immediate feelings say that some human enhancement is an abomination against natural/God, or say either to trust, or not trust, foreigners, depending on the framing, then they are inclined to just stick with such initial judgments.

I can see three kinds of situations where this stance makes sense. First, when your priority is to show loyalty to associates who have limited ability or inclination to attend to abstract analysis, then you can want to stick with your initial feelings on topics to a similar extent as you expect from them. Hesitating or reasoning abstractly may be taken by them as an excuse to evade your initial feelings, or to hide the fact that they were other than they should have been.

Second, you might not be very good at abstract analysis, at least relative to distrusted parties who might try to trick you with misleading analysis, and you might not trust the systems of analysis they use. Wary of such misleading guidance, you might want to just stick with your initial feelings. Or you might see your initial feelings so reliable that there’s little point in considering more. Or you might think the topic of so little importance that it is worth little more consideration.

Third, you might want to hold fast to your motivations. Often the world is so eager to be and seem practical and reasonable that we suppress our contrary feelings and then lose track of what we care about. Even in areas of art where there might seem to be no reason not to fully embrace our feelings, we often find reasons to want our art to seem more reasonable. We can then go through the motions of doing stuff without really know how or if it matters to us. You might avoid this if you hold fast to your strong feelings and act on them. Overturning the inclinations of your feelings based on abstract analysis risks your suppressing and eventually losing your grip on those feelings.

One puzzle about romanticism is why the recent past tends to seem the most romantic. For example, objects and stories intended to evoke romantic feelings often try to evoke our few-generations-previous past. Perhaps this is because we naturally have strong feelings toward our “elders”, i.e., our parents, teachers, and mentors, and toward the worlds toward which they had strong feelings. Maybe we embrace our attachment to their worlds as a way hold and show loyalty to these elders.

Also, compared to the future and the more distant past, this few-gen-past has the most available detail on which we can become attached and anchor. So the romanticism puzzle is really limited to comparing that few-gen-past past to the present and its more recent past.

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How Plastic Are Values?

I thought I understood cultural evolution. But in his new book, The Secret Of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter, Joseph Henrich schooled me. I felt like I learned more from his book than from the last dozen books I’ve read. For example, on the cultural plasticity of pleasure and pain:

Chili peppers were the primary spice of New World cuisines prior to the arrival of Europeans and are now routinely consumed by about a quarter of all adults globally. Chili peppers have evolved chemical defenses, based on capsaicin, that make them aversive to mammals and rodents but desirable to birds. In mammals, capsicum directly activates a pain channel (TrpV1), which creates a burning sensation in response to various specific stimuli, including aside, high temperatures, and allyl isothiocyanate (which is found in mustard and wasabi). These chemical weapons aid chili pepper plants .. because birds provide a better dispersal system for the plants’ seeds. .. People come to enjoy the experience of eating chili peppers mostly by reinterpreting the pain signals caused by capsicum as pleasure or excitement. .. Children acquire this preference gradually, without being pressured or compelled. They want to learn to like chili peppers, to be like those they admire. .. Culture can overpower our innate mammalian aversions when necessary and without us knowing it. ..

Runners like me enjoy running, but normal people think running is painful and something to be avoided. Similarly weight lifters love that muscle soreness they get after a good workout. .. Experimental work shows that believing a pain-inducing treatment “helps” one’s muscles activates our opioid and/or our cannabinoid systems, which suppress the pain and increase out pain tolerance. ..

Those who saw the tough model [who reported lower pain ratings] showed (1) .. bodies stopped reacting to the threat, (2) lower and more stable heart rates, and (3) lower stress ratings. Cultural learning from the tough model changed their physiological reactions to electric shocks.

Henrich’s basic story is that from a very early age we look to see who around us who other people are looking at, and we they try to copy everything about those high prestige folks, including their values and preferences. In his words:

Humans are adaptive cultural learners who acquire ideas, beliefs, values, social norms, motivations, and worldview from others in their communities. To focus our cultural learning, we use cues of prestige, success, sex, dialect, and ethnicity, among others, and especially attend to particular domains, such as those involving food, sex, danger, and norm violations. .. Humans are status seekers and aware strongly influence by prestige. But what’s highly flexible is which behaviors or actions lead to high prestige. …The social norms we acquire often come with internalized motivations and ways of viewing the world (guiding our attention and memory), as well as with standards for judging and punishing others. People’s preferences and motivations are not fixed.

The examples above show cultural influence can greatly change the intensity of pain and pleasure, and even flip pain into pleasure, and vice versa. Though the book doesn’t mention it, we see similar effects regarding sex – some people come to see pain as pleasure, and others see pleasure as pain.

All of this suggests that human preferences are surprisingly plastic. Not completely plastic mind you, but still, we have a big capacity to change what we see as pleasure or pain, as desirable or undesirable. Yes we usually can’t just individually will ourselves to love what we hated a few hours ago. But the net effect of all our experience over a lifetime is huge.

It seems that this should make us worry less that future folks will be happy. Even if it seems that future folks will have to do or experience things that we today would find unpleasant, future culture could change people so that they find these new things pleasant instead. Yes, if change happens very fast it might take culture time to adapt, and there could be a lot of unhappy people during the transition. And yes there are probably limits beyond which culture can’t make us like things. But within a wide range of actions and experiences, future folks can learn to like whatever it is that their world requires.

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