Thursday, November 10, 2005

More about whether “happiness is really that achievable”

Blogger Greensmile asked me for evidence of my “lot of empirical research” claim in this post that we really can’t do too much changing of our own “emotional thermostats.”

I posted two responses in the comments myself, but the third had too many weblinks to be accepted. That's fine; a longer update on the main page is probably good anyway.

Short answer: I am talking about evolutionary psychology and its cousin focusing on human differences, behavioral genetics. Not meaning to stereotype, but many progressives (though not this one) look at ev psych with at least mock if not real horror.

Now, I take a fair amount of a, say, Steve Pinker with a grain of salt. I do that with basically anything Randy Tannehill says. But someone like a Matthew Ridley points out what is the "baby" of a reasonable evolutionary psychology after you throw out the bathwater.

Point is, if, to use crude shorthand and a hand-drawn syllogism, if:
A. The mind is the brain
B. Evolution is a scientifically demostrated theoy, then
C. Ergo, some version of ev psych must be true.

Now, on to the details of those links.

First, I’ve blogged about the difference between evolutionary psychology and Evolutionary Psychology.

Second, here’s some clear evidence of internal physiological constraint on emotional tendencies — this constraint being genetic. MAOA gene correlates with strong tendency to antisocial behavior.

Third, not all emotional “locking in” of an internal emotional thermostat is genetic. Though.. For example, look at the effects of brain trauma on psychopathy.

Fourth, Orwell aside, let’s remember that some identical twins are more identical than others. Nature and the womb environment can reinforce each other.

Let me get more explicit with this emotional thermostat metaphor.

Your home or office thermostat, if set at, for example, 70 degrees, will kick in between 68 and 72. So, that thermostat is not locked on a single point. But yours may be set at 70 and mine at 68. So, I run “cooler,” which in this case would be leaning toward the pessimistic rather than optimistic view of life. Where’s the “center point”? That’s subjective. My “realism” may be your “pessimism.”

Or, we may be both set at 70, but mine comes on between 68 and 72 and yours runs from 65 to 75. In other words, you are more emotional. I am talking here about whether you have a certain emotionaltiy and not whether you express the emotion outwardly or keep it constrained. That may be related, but it is not exactly the same thing.

Here, the question is, in medical terms, what’s “normal” and what’s “bipolar”? I have no problem with admitting the definitions are socially driven, while still saying the actual behavior is more inwardly driven.

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