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July 31 2008

Joss Whedon tackles Darwin. 109.com catches up with Joss at Comic Con and asks his opinion on nature VS nurture.

Joss Whedon's new TV show, Dollhouse, is all about people whose minds are erased, allowing them to "become" anybody and have any skills. So does this mean Whedon is coming down on the "nurture" side of the nature/nurture debate? Are people purely shaped by their conditioning? Is your brain just a piece of hardware that you can run any software on?

Great question!

I wonder if he'll explore the different kinds of memory. I have read that there are people who, due to illness or injury, cannot remember anything that happened more than a few minutes ago, but they are capable of recognizing on sight who was kind to them and who was not. Apparently that gets stored in a different part of the brain. This would make it possible for Echo and Paul to develop a real relationship over time even if she has no memory of him -- she somehow knows what he has meant in her life.
The nature/nurture debate is pretty dead, and I don't see what it has to do with Darwin in any case, since he wasn't a psychologist.
And he also fully accepted that there was a mixture of both in us all, he was just more interested in one than the other. It's dead in the sense that the true answer is the one Joss already gave i.e. it's a mix. Where the balance lies could still make for pretty potent drama though I guess. And if not, he can always lie and pretend like it's still a question people seriously ask, like "Will we ever find the missing link ?" ;).

I have read that there are people who, due to illness or injury, cannot remember anything that happened more than a few minutes ago, but they are capable of recognizing on sight who was kind to them and who was not.

And people that don't recognise even their closest loved ones and people that think they recognise everyone. As i've said though, Joss is wrong about removing the nature part I think - the process wouldn't do that surely, it'd just remove the nurture - she's still left with her body chemistry and her build (which is partly nature and partly nurture) and how she looks (which will obviously affect how others treat her) and probably how well she lays down new memories and so on. Not that environment doesn't affect those things, just that in the absence of environmental effects, those stay the same.

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

Hee, Joss and Philip Larkin - they might get on better than you'd think ;).
Oh I kinda love the nature/nurture debate (which does still rage) and I am really pleased to see how Joss' own view changed 180 degrees when he had kids (they will do that to you, explode all your treasured theories). I am getting more and more excited about this show because it is clear that there are a lot of areas Joss wants to explore thematically.
It may be dead amongst people who actually know what they're talking about, Sunfire, but me and my mates still like to natter on about it . . . ;-)

In any case, this line by Joss

And then I had children, and they came out very much themselves. There are definitely things I can do to mess them up, and I'm doing my best, but they are who they are.


was so much my experience and that of every other parent I know. And I was surprised by the truth of that experience, which was contrary to what I expected. I think that gives the notion of Echo an even greater weight.

Heh, Saje, I quoted that Larkin poem in a university final once - did well for me too. :-)
It's a neat phenomenon (from the outside; from the inside, it must suck) that a patient knows he doesn't like the doctor who pokes him with needles, but doesn't remember the doctor or being poked with needles. Just knows he's got a bad feeling about that man in the white coat.



(Oh, everything's so much more intriguing when it's in Marcie-text ;-)
And as Oscar Hammerstein once wrote:

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

What an excellent description of Dollhouse. Now that I have a better understanding of the show I am way more excited to see it.
I'd agree that it's pretty much dead in the scientific sense, though psychologists will still argue over very qualitative things. I still find it pretty interesting just to talk about though. I'd personally like to believe in ultimate personal responsibility for your actions, in that I'm reluctant to blame things on a person's upbringing or their genes, except in extreme circumstances.

I also think it's interesting that in this debate we neglect ourselves, because we define "nurture" as basically our environment, and our surroundings. A lot of who we are is determined by what we think and what we ask ourselves growing up, and if you believe that we are free, independent thinking beings, then that has a lot to do with it. Some people might argue that our genes affect what we think, but there's only so far you can go with that. In that sense, I'd rather think we're just us, and the influence of nature and of nurture only extends so far.

I'm not sure I believe what I've just typed, I'm just thinking aloud here. I think in that rambling paragraph above, I was trying to ask "are the only two things that influence what we think our genes and our surroundings? or can thoughts just arise spontaneously?"
I edited this because on reading it back through, it didn't really make much sense. I tried to be a little more articulate in my comment below instead. :)

Anyway, as far as Joss and Dollhouse go, I think when Joss says "there is no nature" he's probably referring to her decision making processes, what goes on inside her head, rather than her looks or athletic abilities, which of course are inextricably tied to her genes. Still, very interesting questions asked by the interviewer, it makes a change.

[ edited by MattK on 2008-07-31 18:14 ]
I'll clarify, since I worded it so badly above:

-- This article has nothing to do with Darwin.

-- Nature vs. nurture is dead biologically. A more accurate term there is obligate vs. facultative and I often forget that most people who use the reference mean only human psychology and behavior. Biologically though, the world's more complex than either/or and not only is it really a continuous gradient of both, the two also interact. Squirrely variables. The biology part was a bigger debate and not a human psychology thing specifically. But it informs the psychological debate.

-- Psychology on the other hand does still have a lot of discussion room about this topic, as far as I recall. But I remember my psych professor in college showing a diagram of what they really think is going on in terms of genes vs. environment, and there were all kinds of arrows going in many different directions. Also not either/or. My family social environment and genes both influenced me, but I also influenced the family social environment by being there. So I think the psychologists have also arrived at a conclusion about there being lots of squirreliness involved.

(Squirrels = complex.)
Pfft, squirrels kid themselves they're complex. They're no Wallaby, that's fer sure.

I think when Joss says "there is no nature" he's probably referring to her decision making processes, what goes on inside her head, rather than her looks or athletic abilities, which of course are inextricably tied to her genes.

Maybe so but surely the way you make decisions is affected by your genes (e.g. how patient you are at figuring out solutions to problems, how positive you are temperamentally, how aggressive etc.) ? Just because it's inside your head doesn't mean it's not determined by genes, minds run on brains which are made of flesh - just like muscles and cheekbones.

A lot of who we are is determined by what we think and what we ask ourselves growing up, and if you believe that we are free, independent thinking beings, then that has a lot to do with it.

But none of that springs fully formed into the world (unless you believe in eternal souls) it's the product of our environment - even the words we have available to us to ask ourselves questions are determined by happenstance (i.e. where we happen to be born and what language we speak). So no, thoughts don't just arise because where would they come from ? But it certainly seems to be the case that the ultimate causes of thoughts might be so complicated and so far back "down the line" that they're impossible to trace (proximate causes are a bit easier but still not trivial).

To suppose that we're all solely responsible for everything we do would require that our past (which is partly made up of how others treat us) didn't affect us at all. In reality, we have to take responsibility for our actions in order to benefit from the rights accorded a "person" but there's no hard and fast line re: where our "fault" lies and others' ends IMO, not as far as chains of causality are concerned. We really are who we are because of everyone/thing. Ubuntu ! ;)
I just don't really like the possibility that we're all just one big complicated cause and effect engine, a deterministic mind or whatever you want to call it (a chaotic mind, in the technical sense). That's why I'd like to think there's something else too, an element of randomness and spontaneity that determines what you think and "who you are" instead of only nature and nurture. I've never studied psychology though, so I'm going to step away from this topic, and listen to what everyone else has to say instead. :)

[ edited by MattK on 2008-07-31 18:15 ]
To paraphrase The Operative, we're not simple cause and effect, we're not reavers, who simply attack and react. We're humans, and our ability to think, reason and innovate are what separates us from animals in the wild. I'll never stop fighting against those who say we're just like animals, or that we're all animals (in the sense that we're all mammals). That doesn't jive with me - that's a disservice to the human race. We're unique, there's no denying that and there's no reason to deny it.

The core of nature vs. nurture is the question of "do we make us who we are, or do outside forces make us who we are?" Are we born to be one way, or do the actions of others, the world around us, does that make us the way we are.

And ultimately, it's got to be both. No one can deny that society had a big hand in shaping murderers such as Seung-Hui Cho (Virginia Tech) or Ted Bundy, but we also cannot deny that these two men chose for themselves the paths they took. It can never be 100% society's fault, because then there is no responsibility in individual action. These individuals nurtured their own violent tendencies, and we can't simply reduce nature vs. nurture to "Yes" or "No" answers.
I've never studied psychology though, so I'm going to step away from this topic

Darn it, are you saying I should know what I'm talking about before I opine? :)

I'm just having a little trouble with this nature/nurture divide because they're messing with the dolls chemically, right? That's physiological change, not "nurture," (in the sense of giving them a new life story), but it's surely not nature either.

I do have to say that I can't believe no one has asked Joss this question before, and I loved his answer (that the show will be a question, not an answer).
CS: We are animals. To deny that is to ignore an important part of human nature. But maybe you mean, "not just animals".

MattK, since you mentioned "chaos"... Movie writers enjoy using the "butterfly effect" (small changes in input can result in drastic changes in output for a complex system). The flip side is chaotic systems can result in self-organization. (Your drive to work is along a different path every day, but you still start and end in the same local area.)

Or this might blow your mind more. Matter is constantly entering (food) and leaving (waste) your body. Your skin is constantly absorbing or emitting molecules to the air. I forget the exact number, but roughly every dozen years, effectively every part of your body is made up of new material. Yet "you" are still "you".
Squirrels have no souls.
OneTev, as I said:

I'll never stop fighting against those who say we're just like animals, or that we're all animals (in the sense that we're all mammals).


*emphasis by me.

Perhaps you meant to say that I meant that we are not all animals in the sense that we are nothing but animals.
CS: I'm going to Dollhouse mind-wipe you, so you remember me saying what you just said. (Because that is much simpler than hitting that edit button...)

UnpluggedCrazy: It's only a rumor (which I am starting), but Joss is going to write a new series about a squirrel who pisses off a tribe of gypsies, and they proceed to curse it with a soul. "Rocky, the Nut-Cracker". (To be followed a couple of years later with an albino squirrel who fights for a soul.)
Squirrels have no souls.

That's just what the Wallabies want you to think.

To paraphrase The Operative, we're not simple cause and effect, we're not reavers, who simply attack and react. We're humans, and our ability to think, reason and innovate are what separates us from animals in the wild.

Nobody's saying we're simple cause and effect but nevertheless, cause determines effect for us in exactly the same way it does for everything else in the physical universe. We're not "magic", we can't defy physics just because we want to believe we're special or because we can think and plan and imagine. And thoughts just "appearing" out of nowhere, without being preceded by a cause is magic. Our brains are state machines in which each state is preceded by and derived from a previous state, if there's ever a disconnect between one state and the next then sadly "you" fall through the gap between because "you" are the continuity of state after state (and that's something that 'Dollhouse' will surely look at - is Echo still Echo even after wiping ? Given the wiping can Echo even exist ?).

I just don't really like the possibility that we're all just one big complicated cause and effect engine, a deterministic mind or whatever you want to call it (a chaotic mind, in the technical sense). That's why I'd like to think there's something else too, an element of randomness and spontaneity that determines what you think and "who you are" instead of only nature and nurture.

Yeah scary isn't it ;). Nonetheless, something being scary doesn't make it untrue. And randomness doesn't help unfortunately - there's no volition there either, no free will - just, again, a yawning discontinuity for us to fall through. Personally I don't mind, as OneTev says, the way cause leads to effect with us may actually be non-linear (making it unpredictable in practice because of that darned Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions - the so-called "butterfly effect") but even if not it's so complex and entwined in so many positive and negative feedback loops and even elements of randomness (ever made a decision by tossing a coin ?) that we might as well treat it as if "we" - whatever "we" even are - choose (after all, it certainly feels like we do).
Saje -- You say that randomness doesn't help, but I'm still holding out hope that the genuine randomness that exists on a small scale provides a loophole for free will, e.g. the theories and speculations of Roger Penrose.
A yawning discontinuity for us to fall through??? I'm trying to give up coffee, and none of this is helping. I can't fall through yawning discontinuities like this.

Just because it's inside your head doesn't mean it's not determined by genes, minds run on brains which are made of flesh - just like muscles and cheekbones.
Yeah, Olivia Williams has awesome cheekbones.

Wait, what?
Who definitively declared the nature vs. nurture debate is over? By what authority has that declaration been made? In doing so, does this mean that there is no more need to reconsider, challenge, question, and debate that assertion?

ETA: That was one of the best questions I've ever heard Joss asked. His answer is great, though in the end, after having 5 kids of my own, while there are some minor behavioral characteristics in my kids that may have been determined by nature, most of what they are is a result of their environment (or nurture).

ETA: OK. I've now seen Sunfire's explanation. Many psychologists believe that most of what we are is biologically determined, but sociologists would believe that most of what we are is determined by our environment (both social and physical).

The debate certainly does rage on.

[ edited by Nebula1400 on 2008-07-31 19:58 ]
I, too, am shocked that this question was never asked. I know we started discussing it when the rumbles of Dollhouse were felt, and I'm glad we are continuing.

Sunfire, I'm glad you clarified. I thought I missed the memo and that the debate was settled. (Not that it's an actual debate, but I do run into it sometimes.) I think this show would benefit my friend. She asked me to take some sort of personality test that supposedly proves that "Nature is the Conquerer of the Debate". I totally disagree with her, 100%. There's no "Nature Triumphs!", and no "Nurture is the Victor!".

I think a lot of it has to do with randomness of the situation and how a person views that situation. I know I'm a completely different person than I was in high school... to the point where you may not believe that I am both persons. But there are also impressions of that person long ago, and the other persons I've become through my life. I would have to argue that in a sense we're all Echo in some fashion; she's just an exaggeration for the question.
As someone who has raised baby squirrels I can tell you that squirrels DO in fact equal complex. And as for souls, a squirrel is the purest soul amongst us.
In my caffeine-deprived state, I read that as As someone who was raised by baby squirrels. Which, if it were true, I think would prove a strong argument for nature over nurture, since here you are. Glad to have misread it though, for your sake and for the sake of the baby squirrels... too much responsibility too young!

ETA: um, I have nothing to contribute.

[ edited by catherine on 2008-07-31 20:14 ]
Nebula1400: "Many psychologists believe that most of what we are is biologically determined, but sociologists would believe that most of what we are is determined by our environment (both social and physical)."

You were asking who declared the debate null and void. The point is, it's not a debate anyway. There's no "vs." about it -- both contribute, as can be seen scientifically (i.e. genes determine brain structure, but brain structure also changes in response to external stimuli). I don't think it's really fair to say that psychologists would prefer nature over nurture just because they're psychologists... they'll go with whatever the evidence presents itself as.

Any further debate or discussion is very much in the realm of philosophy or sociology or metaphysics or whatever (depending how far down the rabbit hole you wish to go), but they're all somewhat detached from the purely scientific explanation, which has already been found.

Also, this squirrel conversation that's going on simultaneously is great. .. just wanted to say that.

eta: Perhaps it'd be a good idea to change the title of the article to "Joss Whedon tackles Nature vs. Nurture" because this really is nothing to do with Darwin as other people upthread have already said, and so it's misleading (to me at least, it seems like it's saying Joss has some gripe with, presumably, evolution). I appreciate it's the title of the io9 article, but it might be giving the wrong impression to people who're just reading the title.

[ edited by MattK on 2008-07-31 20:46 ]
Maybe Joss is a big fan of Lamarck?
To me everyone is born a certain way. Sort of like the default setting. From that moment on though your persona is constantly being tweaked from that original setup. These changes can be both minor and colossal depending on circumstances. The changes that can take place includes one's entire mental spectrum, including things like moral stance, sexuality, personality, mental stability, confidence and so on. Random chance is the thing that is the reason for most changes. The changes are therefore very unpredictable and it is very difficult for anyone to plan their own changes and probably almost impossible for an external party to do much about. Often times if you try to affect someone a certain way, the exact opposite might happen or possibly it might work but a lot of additional changes might happen as well. All in all, it's all very complicated. Point is, nothing about us is set in stone from the get go. Basically that's my view of things.
Most people in Hollywood seem to think Darwin was Lamarck (Tim Kring I'm looking at you). Joss (thankfully) has largely sidestepped the issue.
I like your take, Djungelurban. Probably because it says some of what I was trying to say.
"Point is, nothing about us is set in stone from the get go. "
The thing that complicates things is when we get into things like sexual preference: recently John Barrowman's The Making of Me presented certain 'evidence' (which seems designed to support an argument, but that doesn't mean the results are wrong). Or we could look at left handedness (there are still cultures that try to 'correct' that behavior). The question of 'free will' is obviously not true of our skin color or gender, but there are a lot of other things that fall into a great big gray area.
I like gray. I see Dollhouse as one big gray.
Grey can be boring too (think of a dreary rainy day). I think the best photographs have a mix of light and shadow, but not necessarily a blending.

As MattK points out, we can debate and speculate because both "sides" have examples. Some people turn out bad no matter how they are nutured (I'm thinking of "I Got You Under My Skin" from Angel S1). Then again, there was a study where half of a school class was told (randomly) that they were good, the other half bad. The kids ended up aiming at the bar set for them, so environment was a clear factor.

catherine, I like your reading better. After Joss is done writing about a squirrel with a soul, he can do a Tarzan spin-off called "Haunt the Squirrel Man", lord of the jungle suburban park.
Another potential story twist:


Thanks, Pointy. Now I'm depressed. Which will win out, I wonder?
Ultimately the first second (d'oh ;) one I think korkster since i'm reasonably sure that Joss will be perpetuating the idea that there is more to us than "just" flesh and physics, something indefinable and essential that sets us apart. It's what most people prefer to believe after all.

After Joss is done writing about a squirrel with a soul, he can do a Tarzan spin-off called "Haunt the Squirrel Man"...

"... and his arch nemesisisis Wallabastard !"

The point is, it's not a debate anyway.

Precisely. No-one seriously still asks "Nature or nurture ?" but "How much of each ?" is still a valid question on some topics.

Saje -- You say that randomness doesn't help, but I'm still holding out hope that the genuine randomness that exists on a small scale provides a loophole for free will, e.g. the theories and speculations of Roger Penrose.

I think Penrose raises a fair objection about our minds not being purely algorithmic (and puts it across very eloquently in 'The Emperor's New Mind') but I really don't think randomness helps WRT breaking ourselves out of the deterministic "trap" because it doesn't have anything to do with agency, it's still not a decision you make that leads you from one state to the next and without volition you can't have free-will as you want to see it MattK (what some call "strong free-will"), it's just pure randomness (and it's still at least possible that "pure randomness" i.e. quantum indeterminacy is actually a symptom of a deeper order anyway - i'm with Albert on that, just a bit less convinced than he was ;). You'd no more have free-will with quantum randomness than you would tossing a coin to make all your decisions for you (less so in one sense because coin tosses, being macro events, are predictable - in principle - using classical mechanics).

Daniel Dennett writes quite well on where determinism leaves us (his thinking is basically that we should act as if we're free since we're able to make uncoerced choices - and i'd add that from a purely practical stand-point, the legal system etc. is set up as if we're free to choose so it's really the only rational choice anyway).

On a slightly related note BTW (order vs chaos, free-will vs random chance), I saw 'The Dark Knight' again tonight and it's still really good. Just thought i'd let you all know ;-).

[ edited by Saje on 2008-08-01 00:54 ]
SoddingNancyTribe said you were actually at least four people, Saje, taking topics in turns and as it relates to their area of expertise, and I'm starting to believe it.
It's all in the conflict, Korkster, contradictory impulses battling it out.
Saje, I'm sorry, did we disagree on something? I didn't think we did. Maybe you mistakened me for someone else. Quit trying to confuse me.

Dark Knight good? Well, maybe some random happenstance will make me watch it, but will I also be influenced because I choose to be in love with Saje. What?

Precisely. No-one seriously still asks "Nature or nurture ?" but "How much of each ?" is still a valid question on some topics.


Maybe not here, but I swear my friend believes this "Nature Conquers All" concept. I find it hilarious because she still believes in God. Seems like a paradox to me. Unless she views God as an internal stimuli... but that's not the case because she seeks his influence externally. Hm.

Yep. Still baffled Saje on what you mean:
Ultimately the first one I think korkster since i'm reasonably sure that Joss will be perpetuating the idea that there is more to us than "just" flesh and physics, something indefinable and essential that sets us apart. It's what most people prefer to believe after all.


Were you referring to these?
Korkster:
There's no "Nature Triumphs!", and no "Nurture is the Victor!".


I think a lot of it has to do with randomness of the situation and how a person views that situation.


I would have to argue that in a sense we're all Echo in some fashion; she's just an exaggeration for the question.


I don't have a problem with "more to us than 'just' flesh and physics", because that's what I said, in worse words I guess. Her perception of the ordered-chaos that is thrust upon her would follow suit to my interpretations of the world, and how I am affected not only nature/nurture-wise but perhaps something we can't label. Not necessarily God (non-believer), but maybe the theories and laws we've shaped our world in are not the complete picture (hence theories & laws, not facts).

ETA: SAJE, I said quit confusing me. Now what are you talking about? Nevermind, Pointy, I get you now. QuoterGal, I think a conspiracy is afoot.

[ edited by korkster on 2008-08-01 01:08 ]

[ edited by korkster on 2008-08-01 01:13 ]
Pointy & korkster: This is Joss and other Mutant Enemy writers we are talking about. They'll find a way so that Paul is the way to him the most.

Saje: I missed the obvious "Dr. Horrible" connection to close the Wheeldon of Life.
As for Wallabastard... I just read "Spike: Asylum" for the first time, and what your namesake does to the fish is just wrong. :-)

Your "slightly related note" could have been more related-y by throwing in "Keith Szarabajka should guest-star on Dollhouse". (Which he should.)
Finally, someone I understand! OneTeV, I wouldn't have Paul's demise any other way. Until it happens and Joss makes me cry. But then I'll get over it not really.

Keith is in Dark Knight? Cool. :)
Keith Szarabajka was great in TDK. And once again I totally failed to read the credits to see if I recognised his character name. Ah well, trip no. 3 may be required ;).

I don't have a problem with "more to us than 'just' flesh and physics", because that's what I said ...

Yeah but that's what I think Joss will show korkster, that's totally NOT what i'm saying though, quite the opposite. Flesh and physics is plenty IMO.

(and I meant your second invisitexted option BTW i.e. the "right" choice, the one we want Echo to make because that's part of the story we tell ourselves about how special we are and how we have free-will and "souls" and so on)

SoddingNancyTribe said you were actually at least four people, Saje, taking topics in turns and as it relates to their area of expertise, and I'm starting to believe it.

Heh, wish I was "legion" QG (but not in the bad way ;). Kurt Vonnegut talks about writers having the chance to "edit themselves into something like intelligence" (he'd have said "blog posters" if he wasn't a self-confessed luddite) and that about sums it up I reckon. Oh and Google is my friend of course ;).

But some stuff does bug me to an extent it probably shouldn't and the whole free-will thing is one of those so for a while I was a bit like a dog with a bone - I just had to reach some kind of at least preliminary "conclusion" either way, even one that only satisfied me - and so read around it and thought about it a fair bit. And cos I don't like "mysterious ways" or (as House might say ;) the idea that this is all just some sort of test, I think i'm kinda left with determinism. Bit of a bummer really, free-will looks like way more fun ;).
I'm more fond of the theory that if I'm damned to hell, I might as well have fun now and if I'm down on the "Go to Heaven" list, I might as well have fun. That seems to give me as much free will as I need!
"Fun-will", it's the choice of a new generation !
Keith was great in TDK. There was one moment that hinted of Holtz: "I know you are going to enjoy this. I'll just have to try to enjoy it more."

As far as free will, there is a pretty good answer in Angel S4, when Gunn points out that there are many events where we don't have control, but we have to act as if every action can make a difference (because you never know what those moments are until they are over).
Exactly. In one sense it's the most important question we can ask, in another it's utterly meaningless because no-matter the answer, if we don't act as if we're free we're lost.

(so though in a fundamental sense I believe in determinism, in all the senses above the fundament I "believe" in free-will)
I knew he was a nurture guy!
I just figured one's nature influences how one reacts to or is affected by nurture. But nature is just an inclination and one can choose not to follow inclination for reasons that would have to do with nurture.

And humans are just animals with best hardware and software.
The thing that complicates things is when we get into things like sexual preference

Without having watched that documentary (the link wasn't working anymore) I just don't think that's true. I don't see why sexual orientation would be an exception. Sure, technically some people are born gay, I'd assume that the percentage is about same as the one that end up gay, however don't think it's necessarily the same group of people. Unlike something like "left handedness", which is partly a physical response involving brain-halves and such, sexuality is a mental trigger. Sub-conscious perhaps (which is probably why it's so hard to do anything about), but mentally rooted none the less. I think that the concept of sexuality being something that's unchangeable is an idea put forth by the gay community in order to stop people from trying to "straighten them out". Which I do get, it's definitely a good reason. If I were gay I'd probably say the same thing just to get people off my case. I just don't think that's so, I think in theory can be changed, it's just difficult to accomplish willingly. Personally though my stance to that is basically "Why bother"... Even if it's theoretically possible to "straighten someone out" or "gay them up" for that matter, I don't really see the point to it. I mean, I think most people are quite happy with their sexual orientation. I assume that the reason some gays do wish that they were straight is because of society being discriminating towards gays or complications in their family life and them fearing that they'll lose all their friends and things like that, social reasons basically. I don't think there are many that honestly go "Dammit, I wish I was turned on by the opposite sex cause that just seems so much more fun.". So as long as society manages to get more accepting, why bother really?

However I do want to point out that free will is not involved here. Whenever I mention something about that I don't think that sexuality is an absolute, people often interpreted it as if I'm saying that it's a choice. It's not a choice, and on the rare occasion when it may be, then you're most likely actually bi-sexual. You have virtually no choice regarding your sexuality, I'm just saying that it's not fixed. You can't do anything about it personally but instead random events, circumstances and such. And I'm not saying "having two gay parents being gayish makes you gay" or stupid things like that, that's way too simple. If anything at all that would probably just make you better prepared to handle the situation if you did come to the conclusion that you were gay, although that's far from a certain either. No, it's a confluence of events beyond anyone's control. But choice? No, no choice. People are always overstating one's conscious-self's power over the mind which is in fact very minor. We have considerable power over our physical body sure, but not over the mind. Can't choose your feelings.

Better stop there cause I feel I'm getting long winded.

[ edited by Djungelurban on 2008-08-01 01:56 ]
(and I meant your second invisitexted option BTW i.e. the "right" choice, the one we want Echo to make because that's part of the story we tell ourselves about how special we are and how we have free-will and "souls" and so on)


Well, Billy had free-will to an extent and that didn't necessarily end on a happy-ending.

Again, I think the overwhelming randomness of it all dwarfs free-will, and as everyone has mentioned that free-will is the white lie we tell ourselves so we don't lay down and die. Definitely enjoy the "fun-will" aspect, Lioness.

If we can't send a little crazy out into the chaos, what fun could there be had? None. Next topic: difference between fact, truth, and absolute truth (heard this one at CC). If there is an absolute truth to a matter (like the one we're discussing), but it's not quantifiable (or infinite), then how can one be happy? I don't get it, and it seems to fall in line with some of the debate here. Just thought I'd toss it out there.
Sure, Djungelurban, defend sexuality, but where's the love for left-handedness? :)

My brother and I were both born left-handed. My mother encouraged me, partially successful, into switching to being right-handed. I write with my right, but doe everything else with my left.

My brother though? Threw a fit. Is still left-handed, writing-wise. Why the change? We were treated the same, but one was inclined to stay a lefty; the other, a freak when it comes to writing. I would say our reactions to the scenario are more than just physical- our perception of it and the random luck of my mother has to count for something. Poor mom. :)
I thought this was neat:

My wife is an amazing example of somebody who should not be as cool as she is, but could not help herself.

Didn't even think left-handedness needed to be defended. Sure, it's kinda impractical at times but apart from that... I mean, just look at most professional team sports, being a left hander is usually an advantage.
Also, I'd say you're still left handed, it's just that you've honed your motor skills more when it comes to right-hand-writing. Skills are completely separate from the things I was talking about so I'm confused how it really applies to this argument.
Djungelurban, I originally brought up left-handedness because I had had a school friend who lived in Germany for a long time and have been forced to write right handed, which left me with the impression that there are cultures that look at the lefty thing as a 'bad choice' instead of accepting it as something you are born with. Like being a red head, or Gay. [last bit goes in sarcasm font]
That used to be done in the U.S., too. Left hand = sinister, oh logic. So yeah it's got a definite parallel to sexuality. If you just try hard enough, you can learn to be right-handed, is how the logic goes. Even if the natural inclination is to do everything with your left. Just like gay people can marry people of the opposite sex. Even though they're inclined to fall in love with people of the same sex.
Sorry, haven't time to read the thread, and I love you Professor Purple, more than life itself (well, not really), but I must officially declare you as, uh, not entirely clued (did I mention how much I love nearly everything about you?) on this issue.

Yes, how willfull one is IS ONE of the things we're born with. Not the ONLY one, oh light of my life and core of my existence (yes, everyone; that's how pathetic my existence currently is).

There are quite a few aspects of our selves, our personalities, who and what we are, that are the stuff of which we are. (Brains, and other aspects of physiology being, well, physical things, and all.) Temperment, sociality (or the not so much thing), our talents, energy level and how quickly we move from one to another state of energizednessosity, ways of processing (and ways we're not so inclined to process) things -- there's a gabunch of, somewhat odd, things that we each fall somewhere on the continuum of lotsa to not so much.

Darlin' a little reading of the non-fiction now and then (or watching of the documentaries or pertinent YouTube items) would not serve you amiss. As insightful and otherwise goodly as you are, in so many ways, it wouldn't hurt to be familiar with what people who study stuff have learned.

Mentioned how much I love and admire you?

A little learning now and then, not such a horrible (or even Horrible) thing.

Much love ....
So, wait. I'm gay? That explains everything! :) Sorry. Totally joking... probably shouldn't in this thread.

Seriously, though. Left-handed people had it rough when I was growing up. If you couldn't convert, you were usually put in "special" classes because people thought you were slow based on it being difficult to read your writing. But, right-handed desks, right-handed spirals, right-handed scissors... the deck was stacked against you. It wasn't until high school that left-handedness was considered "alright"; "at least you can draw", is what the stereo-type lead to in my town. That thought used to make me jealous; just because I converted, did that mean I couldn't draw?

Really, it was a great town to grow up in. Very nuturing... just severely backwards in some ways. :(
Well, there might similarities in how society deals with left handedness and homosexuality, but they are when you get down to it completely different things with completely different causality. Left handedness has to with physical aspects and writing is a skill gained through training and repetition and is therefore related to instincts and reflexes. All in all, not to relevant to the issue at hand which is whether your personality is shaped by biology or environment.
A forced skill versus instincts and reflexes. Sounds like environment vs. biology to me.
Writing has nothing to do with environment, it has to do with actions. With repetitions and training. The environment could be outer space or deep sea base, Outer Mongolia or New York City, part of a religious sect or guy living in a vegan collective. Doesn't matter in regards to whether a person is able to learn how to write with their bad hand.

[ edited by Djungelurban on 2008-08-01 04:20 ]
Argh. ARGH! Back in the 90's, when I was still reading science journals regularly, biologists who believed that human development is a dialectic (all development but especially human), were still allowed to write editorials. Does anybody else remember that?
Joss's comment was interesting because I'd expected him to side to a greater extent with nature. So perhaps I'll disagree less with the philosophy of the show than I thought I might
I had assumed Joss Whedon was a nurture guy, as his stories are huge on cause and effect -- characters who start out one way are impacted by things around them and wind up being another way. Also, I believe that squirrels have souls. If you try to make a left-pawed squirrel write with its right paw, does it become squirrellier? :)
I'd assumed he was more a nurture guy because he's a liberal and one of the fundamental tenets of liberalism is that people can be improved by changing their environment, that we all deserve equal opportunities because we're able to benefit from them. Being "born to greatness" is more usually a conservative view-point (even Buffy had to work-out, sometimes in montage ;).

Well, Billy had free-will to an extent and that didn't necessarily end on a happy-ending.

It's not about happy it's about the fundamental position the show takes korkster. If Echo doesn't feel for Paul then that's effectively saying that nothing of her survives the wipes whereas I think Joss' position (and from the trailer and premise, the show's) will be that something does.

Left-handed people had it rough when I was growing up.

A friend of mine was partly schooled in Nigeria (we met years afterwards but it turned out we were there at the same time, I just didn't go to school). He happens to be left-handed and whenever he raised his hand to answer a question in class, if he used the "wrong" hand THWACK ! the teacher would hit it (hard) with a stick, if he was ever caught writing with it, same deal, catching a ball, same etc. He's still a lefty though, it's just how he's wired.

[ edited by Saje on 2008-08-01 09:40 ]
I think Joss' position (and from the trailer and premise, the show's) will be that something does.

This might bother me in a different context, but in Joss' hands, I'm not really worried about it. Despite all of the nonsense about souls in the Buffyverse, Joss managed to tell a lot of truth with those stories, so hopefully it will be the same with Dollhouse. It has crossed my mind that the more realistic universe will make it harder to swallow things that don't jibe with reality, but as long as the story is compelling and the characters resonate, I don't mind some imaginary "human essence." [that's not good--sounds like a stinky cologne]
Humanessence. It works. Trademark it quick!
I don't know if some part of Echo carrying through in spite of the "wiping" process (there's a better name for it, right?) necessarily stands as an argument for Fundamental Nature or sweet-smelling Humanessence. It just means that whatever technology they have can only reach so deep into a person, right? And in some cases, it may not reach deep enough to wipe away... well, some stuff. Where that "stuff" comes from (formative years, bad high school experience, Soul of Echo or lots of dairy and green beans) is a question I'm sure they'll explore (whee!) but I don't think the premise itself gives any hints of where they'll go with it so much as just raises the question.
Well, he did use the word "soul" in relation to Dollhouse (at Comic-Con). In the the context of "what it's about." So the awesomely butch strict materialists may have to deal with some of that stankyness, if they want to watch.
Ha ha I wanna be an awesomely butch materialist! And I wanna watch.

I was not so into the way the "soul" question was used / talked about in Buffy... especially in Spike's case because I loved that he seemed to be journeying towards something, and that "ensoulment" could maybe be seen as a process over time, but then in the end it seemed like, no, either you've got one or you don't and there's no middle ground. But it was kind of a side issue in that show, one of many things that was just stuffed in there to fit the needs of the larger story, whereas I think it will be much more of a central issue in Dollhouse, which also sounds less campy (the silliness of Buffy meant they could get away with a lot more... well, silliness). I'm pretty excited to see a Joss show set in The World Kind Of As We Know It Except For The Freaky-Ass Mind-Wiping Technology. When is 2009 again? Not long after 2008, right?
That Buffy rant was a little OT, as I guess "soul" in Buffy was used as a shorthand for conscience or humanity, whereas "soul" as used (so far) in the Dollhouse trailer is presumably referring to a Deep Down Self that can't be tampered with. I just miss talking about Buffy ;)
awesomely butch materialist Oh my. I may need to make a button. :-)

I just miss talking about Buffy

You are Not Alone.
Are we assuming that Echo retains parts of her before she was wiped (and wiped and wiped again)? What if, by wiping away the person she was before, she becomes someone totally different- Echo. Echo, who comes to her own actuality, and starts to notice that things aren't what they seem to be.

That doesn't mean that the person she was before signing the contract and becoming Echo is still there.

BTW, thanks for the squirrels and left-handed stories/jokes. Made me laugh, then get quiet, because obviously I don't know what I'm talking about.
Newbies are making fun of me. They don't need to do that. We can all make more than enough fun with ourselves. Plus I can kill them with my brain.
Heh, awesomely butch strict materialist, cute. That'd presumably make non-ABSMs something like Pussyfooted Fence-sitters ? Ontological Ostriches ? ;)

So the awesomely butch strict materialists may have to deal with some of that stankyness, if they want to watch.

Well, I don't agree with Joss's apparent position on vampires either and yet still managed to watch Buffy and Angel, comes with the awesome (and with the whole "fiction" thing ;).
And the stankyness?
OK, I was trying just to gloss over that but *holds hands up*, totally busted, I don't have a clue what "stankyness" means. I am awesomely butch though, right ? I bet I can handle it ;).
Not making fun, dreamlogic, enjoying your wordsmithiness! Please don't kill me with your brain.
Hey dreamlogic, I like "awesomely butch strict materialist."
That's why I want the button!
Stankyness means what it would mean with an "i" rather than an "a", except worse. Nothing I said was complimentary. Do any of you know what dialectic means?
Eh, no. Want to teach me?
Nothing I said was complimentary.

Colour me amazed. Guess I still prefer to remember when you'd present counter-arguments and opportunities for discussion rather than mean spirited sniping. Happy days those.
Damn, every time I'm off-line for a while, I miss all the good stuff. Fortunately, it goes on and on and ...... oonnn).
And I did learn that Haunt was raised by soulless squirrels, so it wasn't a complete loss ;-)
Explains a lot, don't it?

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