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Wednesday
Nov082017

Midweek update: teaching criminal law--voluntary manslaughter

I usually start class (sessions of which are 120 mins. this semester at Harvard Law) with a mini-lecture that synthesizes the material and discussion from the immediately preceding class. The one below recaps voluntary manslaughter":

Voluntary manslaughter.  Last time we looked at voluntary manslaughter.  There are two formulations.  The common law version mitigates murder to manslaughter when an offender who intentionally kills does so in the heat of passion brought on by adequate provocation and without “cooling time.”  The Model Penal Code, in contrast, mitigates when a homicide that would be murder is committed as a result of an extreme emotional or mental disturbance for which there is a “reasonable excuse.”

On the first day of this course, I made the point that disputes about what the law means are frequently disputes about two things: (1) what it ought to mean; and (2) who ought to say what it means.  Our discussion of the common law voluntary manslaughter yesterday nicely illustrated this.

What, for example, does “adequate provocation” mean?  Is adultery adequate provocation?  How about a same-sex overture?  The answer can’t be found in the plain meaning of the doctrine.  Rather, it must be constructed according to some theory about what the doctrine is all about.  And because it must be constructed someone must do the constructing.  So what ought the law mean and who ought to say?

We considered a number of specific theories about why the voluntary manslaughter doctrine exists.  I suggested that we call one the voluntarist view: impassioned killers are treated leniently, on this account, because passion compromises their volition, and thus reduces culpability for their acts.  The problem with this hypothesis, though, is that it can’t explain why there is a provocation requirement at all, much less why the provocation must be adequate.  As cases like Anderson illustrate, people don’t experience uncontrollable, homicidal impulses only when provoked.

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Reader Comments (93)

But if we mitigate his offense on that ground, aren’t we making it all the more likely that others who find themselves in this situation for the first time will respond by killing?

Is there evidence to support that conjecture? You wind up that paragraph with "hopelessly indeterminate," but don't explain why.

November 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"... , but I suggested a defense of it ¾ call it (for reasons that...

??

November 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua--

1. "Law & Economics" is primarily about coming up w/ a just-so efficiency story for any outcome & holding it forth as if it were as basic as the law that demand and price are inversely correlated. There are no empirics to speak of on most of the positions that deterrence theorists address.

2. replace the "3/4" with an m dash; does that help?

November 8, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Sounds like an interesting course, Dan.

November 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"Law & Economics" is primarily about coming up w/ a just-so efficiency story for any outcome & holding it forth as if it were as basic as the law that demand and price are inversely correlated. There are no empirics to speak of on most of the positions that deterrence theorists address.

I hope this was just another poor attempt at humor. But I fear otherwise.

November 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

I see these sorts of legal manoeuvres as a way of dealing with a basic underlying problem - that morality, like language, is a lot more complicated than it appears at first glance.

Morality is a human instinct that enables humans to live together in dense social groups without killing each other with rivalries and competition. It's like language, which evolved similarly to allow humans to work cooperatively, sharing plans and intentions. In humans, both are adaptive - the outline and methods are fixed, but the details are decided jointly by social interactions in the community. Every language has nouns and verbs, but their vocabulary differs, and mutates over time. Every moral system has rights and responsibilities and the concept of ownership and so on, but differs in the details. Being flexible has the advantage that it allows a language or morality to adapt to changing circumstances, but the disadvantage that different communities isolated from one another will develop different languages/moralities, and be unable to work or live together.

Not only do they both differ between times and communities, they are also both extremely complicated. The basic division of English grammar into nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. can be set out in a few dozen pages (the stuff that gets taught in school), but linguists who have studied it in depth have a more complete specification which exceeds a thousand pages, to cover all the combinations and exceptions and complexities. Morality is the same - a community's moral system cannot be concisely specified.

So we have a dual problem - on the one hand, there is an inherent uncertainty about what rules of justice will be applied (and a risk that those from a different community to one's own may be in force). This is addressed by attempting to agree and codify the rules in advance. But on the other hand we have the problem that the codification is inevitably approximate and incorrect in the fine details. So there is a danger of serious injustices being applied by taking the law too literally.

So to try to address this dilemma, the codified law and legal system contains "escape clauses" that allows the literal meaning to be overridden where the result would be sufficiently and significantly unjust (according to the full, evolved community standards of morality), but with a high barrier to prevent its application becoming arbitrary. It's a compromise, because we have two mutually incompatible goals. We desire both, but that's impossible, so we are stuck with something that's imperfect from either point of view.

We also often pretend that's not what we're doing, and say it's for a different reason, because to admit what we're doing would change people's behaviour in undesirable ways. We don't want people to rely on juries making exceptions, or for juries to do so routinely, because that defeats the object of codifying the law. It's an unspoken and unacknowledged understanding between the citizens and the legal system.

So I suggest the requirement for "adequate provocation" is about whether community morality (of the judge and jury, not necessarily the defendant) disagrees strongly with the codified law, and "without cooling time" is because with cool reflection we are supposed to understand that the written law has to supercede the evolved community morality, but this sometimes takes some time for us to realise when passions are inflamed. It's also an implicit significance barrier - if the offence was small enough that you didn't react immediately, it's probably not significant enough to justify overriding the codified law.

The question of "bad norms" is really about the conflict between communities with different norms. If the codified law differs from your community's morality on that point, you want to allow it to be overridden. If it agrees with your community's, but differs from that of the judge/jury, you're outraged that the written and agreed law should be overridden by the judge's personal bigotry or bias.

Given that in cases of morally conflicting communities one of the purposes of codifying the law by a process everyone agrees to is to prevent such conflicts, there's a strong argument that in the interests of social harmony people should not override the writen law when they know it is a matter of disagreement. They should only override when it's a matter of the law being over-simplified, and not capturing principles that are not generally disputed.

Conversely, we have the classic counterexample of whether you would give up Jews to the Gestapo if the law of the land said that's what you were required to do? Would you convict if someone got caught failing to do so? Can matters of individual conscience ever override the clear meaning of the law, even in cases of social conflict? Or are you perhaps supposed to follow your conscience but then take the consequences?

While conflict between communities with differing moralities is costly, the adaptive advantages of diversity and competitive evolution have to be considered as well. Individual societies and moral systems can go badly wrong (cf Gestapo example) and a diversity of viewpoints can correct that, even at the expense of conflict (i.e. WWII). Conflict, crime, and social rebellion are not always maladaptive.

November 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Morality is a human instinct that enables humans to live together in dense social groups without killing each other with rivalries and competition.

This seems to me to be unfalsifiable. I can think of many "moral" constructs (and instincts) that have lead to widespread violence, or arguably perpetuated existing violent structures.

It's like language, which evolved similarly to allow humans to work cooperatively, sharing plans and intentions.

Assuming this is a statement that morality "evolves," (not stated explicitly) the very notion of morality "evolving" (unlike language) also seems dubious to me, in the sense (it seems to me) that evolution implies some overall directionality or trends or recognizable flow of change (not excluding a secular trend or direction or flow).

November 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Jonathan -

But I fear otherwise.

Why? I get that from one angle, that description seems rather absurd - a complete inversion of the scientific method, perhaps. But what's wrong with such a process as a creative and exploratory process to ultimately inform and fill out a more evidence-based follow-on process?

November 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua,

Why? - because "...holding it forth as if it were as basic as the law..." sounds like an attempt to bypass empiricism completely. Maybe I took that too harshly? I mean, I did once take a course called "Philosophy of Law" that discussed similar matters, but it professed no claim to such normative powers.

Claims about what does and does not deter do not seem to me to be correctly answerable any other way besides empirically. A better lesson to teach (also empirically) is how terrible humans are at intuitively guessing human motivations. We seriously suck at many aspects of metacognition. One of those aspects is that we continue to feel we're very good at it. It would be a disservice to encourage that.

November 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Jonathan -

Thanks. I guess that I think that in law, people (judges and juries) will (and in fact do) inevitably run up against decisions (even those of a life and death variety) that will have to be made with a sub-optimal amount of empirical evidence. In such cases, we should guard against making assumptions of infallibility, and indeed we should arecognize our metacognitive shortcomings, but that exploring alternative scenarios based on law-like assumptions and hypotheticals can inform the preparation for making those decisions?

November 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua,

I've got no problem with your version. My problem is just with "...holding it forth as if it were as basic as the law..." - if that was intended seriously, even if only satirically so. I'm hoping it was just bad hyperbole, or a tongue-in-cheek diss of the stereotypical ivy-league student ego.

November 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

"This seems to me to be unfalsifiable."

Why?

Put fifty amoral psychopaths in the same village. If they get along fine, the hypothesis is falsified.

"I can think of many "moral" constructs (and instincts) that have lead to widespread violence, or arguably perpetuated existing violent structures."

Yes. The default is for the community morality to be enforced by violence. You avoid the violence by conforming. Conflicts only arise when subgroups rebel, or when different communities meet.

This is like objecting to the statement that "the purpose of language is communication" by pointing out that there are many examples of language being used to perpetuate miscommunication and understanding. The latter observation is true, but does it falsify the former?

"(it seems to me) that evolution implies some overall directionality or trends or recognizable flow of change (not excluding a secular trend or direction or flow)."

That's a common misunderstanding of evolution.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orthogenesis#Status

November 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

"as if it were as basic as the law that demand and price are inversely correlated"

"Why? - because "...holding it forth as if it were as basic as the law..." sounds like an attempt to bypass empiricism completely."

It's an empirical law, and not necessarily true (in theory at least, see "Giffen goods"). It's simply observed by nearly everybody that in virtually all circumstances, almost all the time, and for obvious and easily understood reasons, fewer people are generally able and willing to buy goods the more expensive they get.

How do you define a "basic law", if that isn't one?

November 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV,

My interpretation of Dan's (hopefully flippant) comment was that he was comparing belief in arm-chair intuition on deterrence to belief in the law of supply and demand. In other words, he expected his audience to accept that the law of supply and demand is firmly established, and was pointing out that his students may very well be led to believe the same about their own deterrence intuitions.

Of course, that premise could be part of his jest as well...

November 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

link drop:
https://theconversation.com/sciences-credibility-crisis-why-it-will-get-worse-before-it-can-get-better-86865

November 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

You appear to have misunderstood that I was saying. I didn't suggest that evolution has a direction towards a "goal," or "improvement," or "progress."

"... Stephen Jay Gould's suggestion of "replacing the idea of progress with an operational notion of directionality"..."[14]

That is in line with what I was describing.

And I neither would I describe how language evolves as "progress," "improvement," or " towards a goal,"

November 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

More along the lines of what I was thinking of:

Dawkins can speak of "progressive rather than random ... trends in evolution".[77][78] Dawkins and John Krebs deny the "earlier [Darwinian] prejudice"[79] that there is anything "inherently progressive about evolution",[80][79] but the feeling of progress comes from evolutionary arms races which remain in Dawkins's words "by far the most satisfactory explanation for the existence of the advanced and complex machinery that animals and plants possess".[81][79]

I have to say that it's rather amusing that you think that I view evolution as progressing towards a goal, as if driven by some kind of supernatural governing mechanism.

November 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Which raises an interesting question. I wonder how many people who do view evolution that way feel similarly about how language evolves, i.e., they think that some governing mechamism controls how languages change towards a "goal" of "improvement." My guess is prolly quite a few would, if they were asked to consider the possibility. So evolution towards "cool," "like," and "that sucks," represents "improvement" or "progress," - yet they prolly tell kids not to use those terms.

November 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Orthogenesis... is the biological hypothesis that organisms have an innate tendency to evolve in a definite direction towards some goal (teleology) due to some internal mechanism or "driving force".[1]

Lessee. I don't think it has anything to do with the innate tendencies of organisms, let alone an innate tendency to "evolve in a definite direction, " let alone an innate tendency to evolve in a definite direction "towards a goal," let alone an innate tendency to evolve in a definite direction towards a goal "due to some internal mechanism or a driving force."

But other than that, yeah, my belief in Orthogenesis is just like that "common misunderstanding of evolution." lol. Imagine how much poorer off I'd be if I didn't have you around to 'splain stuff (in this case evolutionsplain) for me. I would be even more trapped in a world of "common misunderstandings" than I am now (as hard as that might be to conceive of).

November 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Hmmm. Didn't post for some reason. Let me try again.

Orthogenesis... is the biological hypothesis that organisms have an innate tendency to evolve in a definite direction towards some goal (teleology) due to some internal mechanism or "driving force".[1]

Lessee. I don't think it has anything to do with the innate tendencies of organisms, let alone an innate tendency to "evolve in a definite direction, " let alone an innate tendency to evolve in a definite direction "towards a goal," let alone an innate tendency to evolve in a definite direction towards a goal "due to some internal mechanism or a driving force."

But other than that, yeah, my belief in Orthogenesis is just like that "common misunderstanding of evolution." lol. Imagine how much poorer off I'd be if I didn't have you around to 'splain stuff (in this case evolutionsplain) for me. I would be even more trapped in a world of "common misunderstandings" than I am now (as hard as that might be to conceive of).

November 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

link drop:
https://phys.org/news/2017-11-smaller-media-outlets-wide-impact.html

November 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

We are going to see a fascinating case study of motivated reasoning/cultural cognition/identity protective cognition. Watch as evangelicals react to the accusations against Roy Moore.

Will some just call it "fake news,?" Will some find it unacceptable for a Bible thumping ten commandments crusader to have propositioned a 14 year old?

I would imagine some would fall into either category, and it would be fascinating to find out what factors associated with where evangelicals fall out in this. My guess is that the single factor that best would "explain" where how the react, would be the strength of their ideological/political identification (prior to hearing the news about Roy). Performance on cognitive reasoning tests? Scientific curiosity? My guess is that their influence would be much less in comparison.

November 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua,

Haven't we already seen this case study? I read somewhat recently that evangelicals were prior to Trump the least likely to dismiss personal indiscretions of politicians as unimportant, then post Trump they became most likely. So, this will just be Moore of the same.

November 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

WaPo agrees with me:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2017/11/09/why-evangelical-voters-are-unlikely-to-bail-on-roy-moore/

November 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Jonathan -

Yeah, good point. The problem is that I keep finding new best examples!

I even posted here on an article on that phenomenon where evangelicals changed in their views on the impact of indiscretions on politicians' viability. But that new best example is now so dated.

November 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

I suppose it could be possible that there would be a bigger impact on Moore because his religious identity was a big part of his appeal, whereas with Trump moral character was never really an important consideration and thus allows for more malleability because it was never really in play? Admittedly, that does seems like a reach.

November 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Follow on from last comment: when the evangelicals were responding to polls on putatively generic questions about impact of politicians' transgressions, they were probably really just responding with Trump in mind - someone they voted for irrespective of (in fact in spite of) his moral character/religious identity. Maybe they really weren't responding with a more general application in mind and were just reacting defensively to voting for Trump.

With Moore, they supported him over his primary opponent largely because of his religious identity. Still a reach, though.

November 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@all-- I agree w/ 85% or so of what @NiV said 500 posts ago

November 10, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan,

Thanks! I appreciate the feedback.

Want to talk about the 15%? There are a few aspects of what I wrote that I'm not sure even I agree with (it's a complex subject and over-simplification is inevitable), I'm curious whether they're the same as yours.

Joshua,

I have no idea what you're going on about, or why you're going on about it at such length. You said "(it seems to me) that evolution implies some overall directionality or trends or recognizable flow of change". But evolution has no overall directionality. It simply optimises things to current circumstances, whatever they may be. The link was simply to show the wide range of similar ideas that had previously assigned a directionality to evolution, and why they were rejected.

Since you didn't say why you thought "evolution implies some overall directionality or trends or recognizable flow of change", I obviously can't comment on your reasons for thinking so, and therefore didn't do so. You can pick something out of the prior literature for yourself (or not) as you choose.

Jonathan,

"My interpretation of Dan's (hopefully flippant) comment was that he was comparing belief in arm-chair intuition on deterrence to belief in the law of supply and demand. In other words, he expected his audience to accept that the law of supply and demand is firmly established, and was pointing out that his students may very well be led to believe the same about their own deterrence intuitions."

I'm not sure if you're complaining about some subtle point of the epistemology, or whether you're trying to suggest that the law of supply and demand isn't firmly established?!

I've got no problem with people saying so - no 'dogma' is beyond question. But it would be a controversial position to say the least, and if that's what you mean, it would be clearer if you said so, and why. Otherwise, I'm going to tend to assume you must have meant something else, and then get confused about what you did mean.

November 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV,

My issue with what Dan said would be no different if he had instead said "...as basic as the law of non-contradiction".

November 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

I have no idea what you're going on about

Passive-aggressive much?

Or maybe you really are confused and actually have "no idea'" what I was "going on about?" I mean yes, I sure thought it was pretty obvious what I was "going on about" - but maybe I was wrong?

So anyway, on the chance that you weren't being disingenuous....It seemed to me that you were labeling my conception as a "common misunderstanding" based on your own misunderstanding of what I was saying - as evidenced by your linking to the Wikipedia page about orthogenesis which is only indirectly related to what I was saying, at best .

Perhaps if you had clarified your understanding of what I was saying, I wouldn't have "gone on" to point out that you were in error in your labeling my conception as a "common misunderstanding" as exemplified or characterized by orthogenesis.

And perhaps afterwards, you might have simply said, "my bad, I didn't really understand what you were saying - perhaps you could have worded it better," rather than saying that you didn't know what I was "going on about" (when I suspect that you probably actually knew exactly what I was going on about).

But evolution has no overall directionality.

Well, I notice that you truncated what I said so as to address only component when I continued on to say OR trends OR recognizable flow of change. Perhaps I should also clarify what OR means?

It simply optimises things to current circumstances,

It seems to me that evolution doesn't "optimize" anything, or do anything for that matter - as evolution isn't an entity that can act in the world. It seems to me that one might say that organisms "optimize" to their current circumstances -
but maybe even that is an over-simplification. It seems to me that organisms adapt to their current circumstances, and sometimes they reproduce in such a way that the following organism is more optimized to their current circumstances (as a result of those adaptations or because of mutations). But that gets back to what I pointed out above - that I wasn't referencing what organisms do or don't do, but referencing attributes of evolution.

As to directionality, trends or recognizable flow as related to evolution...It certainly seems to me that if we look at early life (on this planet at least), we can see a directionality, AND trends AND recognizable flow as compared to life as it exists now. Of course, there is always subjectivity in such matters. I suppose (as one example of directionality, or trends or a recognizable flow) that a designation of directionality of a relatively higher prevalence of simple, single-celled organisms towards a relatively higher prevalence more relatively more complex, multi-celled organisms could also simple be described as chaos, with no directionality, or trends, or recognizable patterns. After all, to identify a directionality or a trend or a flow in anything, we have to assume a certain level of subjectivity. I suppose we could argue for the same subjectivity w/r/t characterizing the evolution of any particular species, like humans, as well. But I am comfortable with a certain degree of subjectivity, and as such I'm willing to hang my hat on directionality, trends, and recognizable flow as a general description, even if it certainly doesn't describe evolution as it pertains to any particular species or organism.

The link was simply to show the wide range of similar ideas that had previously assigned a directionality to evolution, and why they were rejected.

I suppose along the same line of thinking (everything is subjective, afterall, and we could find a "similarity" among any particular set of ideas), I think I offered an explanation for why drawing a line of "similarity" between orthogensis and what I was talking about is pretty tenuous. Perhaps if you don't think that it is, you could address the multiple ways that I presented an analysis that it is. Or, instead, you could offer any other random set of ideas about evolution that have been rejected and we could just go on our own merry ways and I won't assume that you're actually making a point that isn't a complete non sequitur?

You can pick something out of the prior literature for yourself (or not) as you choose.

Well, I already did that - which is why I referred to Gould and Dawkins from the link you provided, both of whom spoke of a directionality vis a vis evolution that actually ran pretty close to what I was describing. I just thought that you might find it interesting to note that they also spoke of a concept of directionality. Of course, they also are not necessarily immune to "common misunderstandings" related to evolution as well, right? You could, of course, write Dawkins to evolutionsplain to him that he's running with a "common misunderstanding," but it might be a little tough for you to get ahold of Gould.

November 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Jonathan -

Don't know if you're following the thread immediately downstairs, but with reference to our discussion here on how
evangelicals will react to the accusations against Moore, I offer two relevant analyses - that are rather contradictory:

this:

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/08/donald-trump-johnstown-pennsylvania-supporters-215800

and this:

http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-trump-election-voters-20171108-story.html

November 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

NiV,

I suspect one part of Dan's 15% disagreement with your manifesto is with "We also often pretend that's not what we're doing, and say it's for a different reason, because to admit what we're doing would change people's behaviour in undesirable ways." - which is quite Burkean, and which Dan has disagreed with previously.

November 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Joshua,

That contradiction, as well as the left's bemused view of it, adds fuel to an asymmetric theory I have about group identity. However, ironically, due to its asymmetry, I fear it will be attacked from all sides on this blog.

November 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

By interesting coincidence, I just learned a new word from a discussion on another blog (to add another level of irony, the discussion was mostly about Peterson's views such as there is a "moral truth"): teleological.

Perhaps I could have saved many electrons from a premature death had I merely said something like, it seems to me that evolution implies a non-teleological directionality or trends or recognizable flow.

November 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Jonathan -

adds fuel to an asymmetric theory I have about group identity.

Not surprisingly, it doesn't add to the likelihood of asymmetry in my view.

I guess my view is that in general, if not in every circumstance, the same basic pattern plays out on the left. For example, I often found myself asking why I wasn't more critical of Obama's hypocrisy, and why the left wasn't so more, in general. And while in some MSM outlets the puzzlement about why Trump voters aren't dismayed by his presidency is greater than what was found about Obama voters during his presidency, in other MSM outlets such as Fox News, right-wing talk radio generally, those questions (and related bemusement) about Obama voters was ubiquitous.

November 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

link drop:
http://www.people-press.org/2017/11/09/partisans-have-starkly-different-opinions-about-how-the-world-views-the-u-s/

November 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

another link drop:
https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3064811

November 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

"Passive-aggressive much?"

Are you accusing me of lying again?!

For someone who complains bitterly about being misunderstood, you're very ready to jump to conclusions about what I really mean!

"Or maybe you really are confused and actually have "no idea'" what I was "going on about?""

Yes.

" I mean yes, I sure thought it was pretty obvious what I was "going on about" - but maybe I was wrong?"

Yes, evidently. Because when I responded briefly to what I considered to be the "obvious" interpretation of your words, I got an extended multi-post diatribe on how I was totally wrong, had totally misunderstood you, had jumped to all sorts of unfounded conclusions about you (whih I hadn't), and my misunderstandings were "amusing". It's obviously a sensitive subject, but I have no idea why. And it's not clear how your objections were supposed to answer the main point I made, anyway.

You said "(it seems to me) that evolution implies some overall directionality or trends or recognizable flow of change (not excluding a secular trend or direction or flow)." I simply replied that the idea that evolution implies some overall directionality is a common misunderstanding, which it is. There's no more to what I was asserting than that.

And so far as I can tell, your reply didn't clearly contain either an argument that evolution *does* imply directionality and why you think so (which could be an interesting argument), or an acknowledgement that it doesn't imply directionality and you had misunderstood or mispoken, or were speaking approximately. It seemed to be some sort of mix of "no of course I didn't mean to say evolution has directionality when I said evolution has directionality" with "I was right all along". And a lot of complaining about specific theories of orthogenesis, which you seem to think I've accused you of.

No, I quoted the bit I was describing as a common misunderstanding; the link was just additional supporting evidence that it is, indeed, quite common. (And therefore you shouldn't necessarily feel bad about it.)

"It seemed to me that you were labeling my conception as a "common misunderstanding" based on your own misunderstanding of what I was saying - as evidenced by your linking to the Wikipedia page about orthogenesis which is only indirectly related to what I was saying, at best."

It was indeed only indirectly related. I thought that was obvious.

"Perhaps if you had clarified your understanding of what I was saying, I wouldn't have "gone on" to point out that you were in error in your labeling my conception as a "common misunderstanding" as exemplified or characterized by orthogenesis."

But I *was* clear about clarifying what I thought you was saying (i.e. I thought you were saying "(it seems to me) that evolution implies some overall directionality or trends or recognizable flow of change (not excluding a secular trend or direction or flow).") and I didn't label your conception as orthogenesis. I simply provided a link.

Does every link Jonathan drops mean he is accusing me of something described in the link? Should I be offended?

"And perhaps afterwards, you might have simply said, "my bad, I didn't really understand what you were saying - perhaps you could have worded it better,""

What, you mean like saying: "I have no idea what you're going on about"?

Is it "my bad" that I didn't realise that when you said "(it seems to me) that evolution implies some overall directionality or trends or recognizable flow of change (not excluding a secular trend or direction or flow)", you wasn't saying that evolution implies some overall directionality or trends or recognizable flow of change? Is that what you meant? Is that not what you meant? I have no idea!

"Well, I notice that you truncated what I said so as to address only component when I continued on to say OR trends OR recognizable flow of change. Perhaps I should also clarify what OR means?"

I assumed those were alternative ways of saying the same thing. What's the difference between "overall directionality" and "trend", then?

"It seems to me that evolution doesn't "optimize" anything, or do anything for that matter - as evolution isn't an entity that can act in the world."

Huh? Evolution is a process. The process optimises. Something doesn't have to be an agent with intentions to "do" something.

" It seems to me that one might say that organisms "optimize" to their current circumstances -"

Organisms don't optimise - each organism has a fixed and unchanging genetic code. The idea that organisms optimise is Lamarckism - (and before you start, no I'm not accusing you of that).

"but maybe even that is an over-simplification."

Agreed.

"It seems to me that organisms adapt to their current circumstances, and sometimes they reproduce in such a way that the following organism is more optimized to their current circumstances (as a result of those adaptations or because of mutations)."

Without accusing you of anything, that sounds a hell of a lot like Lamarckism!

Intelligent organisms can adapt their behaviour, but such adaptations are not inherited genetically. (This is where memes come in...) So following organisms cannot be more optimised genetically because of the adaptations a specific organism invents. The changes can only arise from mutations, which occur/take effect only in the transition from one organism to the next.

The only thing the organism itself contributes to the process is to reproduce or not. More optimal organisms (for their immediate environment) are more likely to reproduce. So the number of optimal organisms in the next generation increases.

"As to directionality, trends or recognizable flow as related to evolution...It certainly seems to me that if we look at early life (on this planet at least), we can see a directionality, AND trends AND recognizable flow as compared to life as it exists now."

Yes, agreed. But this is an illusion - it's like the illusion of intelligent design. It seems to everyone who looks at the intricate machinery of life that it could only have been ceated by a process of deliberate design, but it's a misunderstanding. Likewise with the illusion of directionality.

The problem is mainly pedagogical - the textbooks are trying to explain the bigger mystery of how complex life came into being, and so describe the chain from simple lifeforms to more complex ones - tracing a few threads through the tangled tree of life. All the dead ends, random wanderings, reversions and reversals are not so interesting, and are rarely mentioned. So people - perfectly reasonably - don't realise that this sort of thing is far more common.

When a drunkard staggers around randomly, there will occasionally be long sequences where he staggers in one direction. But each step is still random and independent, with no long-term bias or goal.

"I suppose (as one example of directionality, or trends or a recognizable flow) that a designation of directionality of a relatively higher prevalence of simple, single-celled organisms towards a relatively higher prevalence more relatively more complex, multi-celled organisms could also simple be described as chaos, with no directionality, or trends, or recognizable patterns."

That's the classic one everyone that notices. But by far the majority of sequences are from simple lifeforms to other simple lifeforms. (Most lifeforms are simple. We just don't notice because they're too small to see.) There are plenty of examples of complex lifeforms reverting to simpler ones too - this is particularly common in parasites, which often have to drop their bulky complexity to more easily fit into tight spaces inside other organisms. The creation of multicellular life only needed to happen once. (And probably did.) A single example is not a pattern. We're interested in the event for other reasons, not because it's typical.

"I suppose along the same line of thinking (everything is subjective, afterall, and we could find a "similarity" among any particular set of ideas), I think I offered an explanation for why drawing a line of "similarity" between orthogensis and what I was talking about is pretty tenuous."

You do in this latest comment (the second half of which is much better, by the way!). I don't think you did in any of your previous ones.

"Perhaps if you don't think that it is, you could address the multiple ways that I presented an analysis that it is."

Of course. I'd much rather be doing that than fighting, actually! :-)

"which is why I referred to Gould and Dawkins from the link you provided, both of whom spoke of a directionality vis a vis evolution that actually ran pretty close to what I was describing."

They're trying to put caveats on their more general rejection of the idea. People think of evolution as progressive. They're wrong in general. But there are a couple of cases (evolutionary arms races, for example) where the drunkard is more likely to stagger in the same direction for a longer time. However, these examples are not a feature of evolution in general, but a feature of particular solutions evolution sometimes finds to its problems. They're just trying to head of the "But what about..." objections if they simply said "directional trends in evolution don't happen". They do, but not usually.

"Of course, they also are not necessarily immune to "common misunderstandings" related to evolution as well, right?"

Of course they're not immune! (I don't subscribe to Arguments from Authority, as you know.) But I don't think they're wrong in this case. They're simply having their careful caveats quoted out of context.

"You could, of course, write Dawkins to evolutionsplain to him that he's running with a "common misunderstanding," but it might be a little tough for you to get ahold of Gould."

I'm sure they already know.

But while I probably wouldn't write to either specially, I'd have no problem at all with arguing with them if they turned up in a conversation and were saying something like that. As you're well aware, I'm perfectly happy to argue with climate scientists about climate science. Why would you think I'd be any more reverent to Dawkins or Gould? :-)

November 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

"I suspect one part of Dan's 15% disagreement with your manifesto is with "We also often pretend that's not what we're doing, and say it's for a different reason, because to admit what we're doing would change people's behaviour in undesirable ways." - which is quite Burkean, and which Dan has disagreed with previously."

Jonathan, thanks. Do you remember why he disagreed?

November 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV,

"Do you remember why he disagreed?" A search for "Burkean" on the blog:

http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2017/9/7/precis-for-clarendon-lectures-this-nov-at-oxford.html#comment21779025

November 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

NiV,

"Does every link Jonathan drops mean he is accusing me of something described in the link?"

In case this wasn't merely a rhetorical question: the answer is No. Unless you consider "possibly interested in" an accusation.

November 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

NiV and Joshua,

If I may interject into your debate - perhaps the disagreement is of the following type. Consider this link (very interesting on its own):
https://phys.org/news/2017-11-earliest-life-evolved-earth.html

Under one version of the semantics of "directionality" - this is clearly directional (due to the development of ubiquitous catalases), hence an example where "Evolution can be thought of as burning a succession of small bridges.".

Under an alternative version of the semantics of "directionality" - since there is no teleological intention to burn those bridges, it's still a "random" walk, albeit one taking place in an environment in which, depending on the direction taken, you often can't go home again. In other words, the driver is using a random algorithm, but the road taken may not show that.

I also agree that the public, even those who espouse belief in evolution, get this all wrong quite often. For example, by saying humans are "more evolved" than other species.

November 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Jonathan -

Related to evangelicals and Moore:

https://mobile.twitter.com/ddale8/status/928730814350811147?s=09

I have to admit surprise.

November 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Jonathan -

This is interesting, also:

"If they believe this man is predatory, they are guilty of allowing him to exist for 40 years," Henry said. "I think someone should prosecute and go after them. You can't be a victim 40 years later, in my opinion."

It would be interesting to know if he might have made the same argument if the accusations against Moore had never come up. Counterfactuals, of course, are tough.

I should note I just heard an interview with Henry, where he didn't say the "Hill" quote is inaccurate, but he said that the quote came out in a way that didn't reflect what he and the reporter were talking about... Not clear exactly what he meant by that.

http://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/359792-alabama-state-rep-roy-moores-accusers-should-be-prosecuted

https://heavy.com/news/2017/11/ed-henry-alabama-gop-roy-moore-sexual-assault/

State auditor, Jim Zeigler:

"Zechariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist," Zeigler said. "Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus."

"There's just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual."

I kind of think that maybe he might have said the same thing absent the specific context.

November 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Jonathan -

In other words, the driver is using a random algorithm, but the road taken may not show that.

It strikes me that the notion of a "driver" suggests something akin to teleology (and perhaps not random)? Anyway, just by way of further explanation, in case it seemed otherwise, I'm not suggesting that (at least at the granular level) the process isn't effectively random, merely that on a larger scale directionality or trends or recognizable flow (and I'll add or patterns) may be seen - whether those attributes of sequence are actually just subjective, I couldn't say. I don't understand philosophy well enough to offer a guess - bit it still works well enough for me to say that, for example, ...It certainly seems to me that if we look at early life (on this planet at least), we can see a directionality, AND trends AND recognizable flow as compared to life as it exists now. . Which, of course, doesn't rule out that there are many, many discrete evolutionary events that don't confirm to that directionality or trends or recognizable flow. And surely, if someone who understands math tells me that such attributes if sequences are incompatible with randomness (or chaotic processes), I'd have to try to take their word for it and rethink it.

November 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

On a more positive note than the Moore stuff, w/r/t the enduring and endless capacity of people to maintain knowing disbelief....

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday that he "misspoke" when he had previously said nobody in the middle class would get a tax increase under the new GOP plan, according to The New York Times.

"You can't guarantee that absolutely no one sees a tax increase, but what we are doing is targeting levels of income and looking at the average in those levels and the average will be tax relief for the average taxpayer in each of those segments," McConnell told the Times on Friday.

I have to give McConnell credit for admitting error (well, kind of) rather than working the gaslighting strategy, to convince people that what isn't, is. Maybe it's a positive sign that he doesn't think it sufficient to rely on people's "motivated reasoning" to dismiss a lack of accountability? Pretty rare in this age of partisanship, from a powerful politician, IMO.

November 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Scratching my own itch, I came across this:

https://evolutionnews.org/2015/10/is_evolution_ra/

It may be totally wrong, or course, but I can kind of understand it, so I'm sticking with it ☺️

November 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Pretty funny that I linked an article from the Discovery Institute. Prolly should go with something I don't understand instead.

November 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

So trying to cover my tracks I came across this...

https://youtu.be/qTHZxozpnm4

Which worked until I came across this...

https://www.livescience.com/48103-evolution-not-random.html

And this:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/predictable-evolution-trumps-randomness-of-mutations/

November 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

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