WΔZ: Evolutionary Equations on the Big Screen

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According to Rotten Tomatoes, the movie WΔZ starts showing today in the UK. The movie is a psychological thriller/horror movie and has been compared to Se7en. What makes this movie interesting is the fact that the screenplay was inspired by Price’s Equation:

Price’s Equation is a broader version of Fisher’s Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection. It describes how the change in trait with phenotypes is related to the phenotypes’ fitnesses, . Note that the genetics of the trait (mutation, ploidy, etc.) is contained in the second term. See Wikipedia for more details.

Now according to the Rotten Tomatoes exclusive on WΔZ:

The script comes from City of Vice scribe Clive Bradley, who claims to have come up with the movie’s premise after flicking through a book on Darwinism. “It featured a mathematical equation—W Delta Z—formulated by American population geneticist George R. Price,” he explains. “It supposedly shows that there’s no real altruism in nature; no such thing as selflessness. Price was so upset by his findings that he ended up giving away all his possessions to the poor and, eventually homeless himself, committed suicide with a pair of nail scissors in a filthy London squat.”

The study of the evolution of altruism goes beyond the description above, and I hope moviegoers won’t be seduced by this fictional account of evolutionary theory. (I’m waiting to see what demagoguery that AiG, DI, and the Expelled frauds come up with about this movie.) Now, it is true that according to Price’s Equation, altruistic behavior that benefits a species at the cost of individual fitness is selected against. (Note that a deleterious phenotype can still exist in a population through mutation-selection balance or genetic drift.) However, if the altruism only benefits certain members of the species (e.g. relatives), then altruism can be selected for.

This is represented by Hamilton’s rule: . This describes under what conditions an altruistic allele will invade a population. is the cost of the allele to the “actor”, is the relatedness of the receiver to the actor, and is the benefit that the receiver receives by the actor being altruistic. The consequence of Hamilton’s rule is that selfish genes can still be altruistic. There is a lot of interesting literature about the evolution of altruism, including how punishment can reinforce altruism. I recommend Sean Rice’s Evolutionary Theory, Chapter 10, as a good starting point.

So if anyone in the UK goes to see this movie this weekend, please send us an overview/review.

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The movie WΔZ was apparently inspired by Price’s equation: Reed A. Cartwright goes into it here. It describes how the change in trait with phenotypes is related to the phenotypes’ fitnesses, . Note that the genetics of the trait (mutation,... Read More

56 Comments

“Committed suicide with a pair of nail scissors”

There’s got to be a more efficient way.

This looks related to PvM’s article http://pandasthumb.org/archives/200[…]of-al-1.html “Evolution of altruistic cooperation and communication in robot societies”.

Henry

I am so watching this just to spite Ben Stein! ;-D

actually, reading WD Hamilton’s own commentary on the history (social and scientific) of his own papers and what was going on before and after their release is fascinating reading.

I would highly suggest perusing the volumes of the series:

Narrow Roads of Gene Land

a bit of an overview here:

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/[…]/ai_n8750182

and the books themselves are easily found on Amazon and elsewhere.

even high school students should find them interesting and readable, even if they don’t grasp some of the more complicated presentations in the papers themselves.

Hamilton does an excellent job of explaining how he came up with the idea of inclusive fitness, for example, and how he went about testing it once he had his first rudimentary models developed.

seriously great stuff.

Reciprical altruism Tit for Tat and game theory Handicap Principle Hiarchical posturing and wealth/resource demonstration The sliding yet unrefined scale of Kin/clan/country selection

All sorts of reasons why we help each other. “Nature, red in tooth and claw” hasn’t been a dominant theme for 35 years.

Crap, where’d all my paragraph spacings go? Sorry folks, ignore my last post. Bottom line…there’s no need to be related to help a Joe out. All sorts of evolutionary motives for “altruism”. J

All sorts of evolutionary motives for “altruism”.

all sorts of evolutionary motives for cheaters, too.

it’s not quite as simple as you think; there are very few well documented cases of altruism that are not kin-selected.

I can only think of a handful off the top of my head, and half of those are still controversial.

Ichthyic:

All sorts of evolutionary motives for “altruism”.

all sorts of evolutionary motives for cheaters, too.

it’s not quite as simple as you think; there are very few well documented cases of altruism that are not kin-selected.

I can only think of a handful off the top of my head, and half of those are still controversial.

I remember in Evolutionary Biology class, where the professor told the class about how a bird will enter into the territory of an unrelated, mated pair, and integrate itself by bringing food to aid in raising the mated pair’s chicks. The helper bird makes itself useful apparently in the hopes that, should the mate of its own gender die, it will then be immediately accepted as the new mate of the survivor.

Copernic: Crap, where’d all my paragraph spacings go?

Two carriage returns (one blank line) demarcates the paragraph.

Always use preview.

I have an article on George Price and his equation, in press at Current Biology, which may be of interest:

http://www.biology.ed.ac.uk/researc[…]ner_2008.pdf

This includes a photo of George Price.

Cheers,

Andy

I hope moviegoers won’t be seduced by this fictional account of evolutionary theory

Well, at least the movie’s own site seems to claim nothing along the lines of the Rotten Tomatoes’ quote.

There is a long text taken from Wikipedia on Dawkins titled “the selfish gene”, AFAIU discussing this as a basis for kin selection and altruism. (With some notes that some non-gene centric view proponents think this is a property that a gene-centric model can’t explain but that they can.)

And then another Wikipedia quote on Price, where the reason given for helping the homeless is that Price had psychological and/or religious problems:

A troubled man, Price converted to Christianity from atheism, and after giving all his possessions to the poor, committed suicide.

Personal observations of my own behavior: (1) Driving down a block towards a red light. A man is trying to get out of a driveway. If I continue and stop for the red light I will block him. Instead I stop short and let him out. He is no kin of mine. I don’t feel good having done this. It just makes “sense” to do it.

(2) Driving down a block towards a red light. A man is trying to force his way out of a driveway by backing further and further into the street. I purposely pull up in line and stop for the red light. I am amused by his frustration.….. I don’t feel good about this but I ain’t gonna let him push me around!

lol humans.

Oldfart:

Personal observations of my own behavior: (1) Driving down a block towards a red light. A man is trying to get out of a driveway. If I continue and stop for the red light I will block him. Instead I stop short and let him out. He is no kin of mine. I don’t feel good having done this. It just makes “sense” to do it.

(2) Driving down a block towards a red light. A man is trying to force his way out of a driveway by backing further and further into the street. I purposely pull up in line and stop for the red light. I am amused by his frustration.….. I don’t feel good about this but I ain’t gonna let him push me around!

lol humans.

Well, do realize that humans are a species of social animal, and non-kin altruism appears exponentially more frequently in social species than in non-social species (if we disregard observations of mother raccoons adopting abandoned raccoon pups). Granted, altruistic individuals sometimes are selected against, but, in many cases, the same altruistic behavior will be remembered and duplicated throughout generations (like the food-washing and hotsprings bathing rituals Japanese macaques have been observed to do)

For example, a vampire bat will feed both ill neighbors and relatives that beg, and this same individual will be fed by these same neighbors and relatives when it, itself is unable to feed.

Also, fossil remains of Smilodon with numerous healed bone injuries, as well as signs of arthritis suggest that sabertoothed tigers lived in large packs or prides where elderly and infirm individuals were fed by other ‘tigers, or at least allowed to feed unmolested.

And then there are the numerous observations of baboons caring for each other, and Louis Leakey once witnessed a baboon break its leg when it fell off a cliff, whereupon a trio of the largest troopmembers came and spirited away the injured baboon before Dr Leakey could come and tend to it.

Your example of blocking that driver isn’t an example of selfish behavior, it is negatively reinforcing appropriate social (driving etiquette) behavior through a demonstrative example.

The script comes from City of Vice scribe Clive Bradley, who claims to have come up with the movie’s premise after flicking through a book on Darwinism. “It featured a mathematical equation—W Delta Z—formulated by American population geneticist George R. Price,” he explains. “It supposedly shows that there’s no real altruism in nature; no such thing as selflessness. Price was so upset by his findings that he ended up giving away all his possessions to the poor and, eventually homeless himself, committed suicide with a pair of nail scissors in a filthy London squat.”

Surprise! Surprise! Evolutionists are upset about the effect of their religion in the lives of its believers who come to terms with the rancid faith’s true implications. The evolutionists’ emphasis on “liberation” from the constraints of sexual morality seems to be a way of averting their eyes to the darkness of their worldview!

Price’s Equation:

Does this equation tell us when rocks will randomly evolve into living things such as trees and monkeys?

Vis-a-vis blocking the aggressive driver’s driveway: punishing perceived cheaters is also common social behaviour, innit?

fnxtr:

Vis-a-vis blocking the aggressive driver’s driveway: punishing perceived cheaters is also common social behaviour, innit?

Yes, social behaviors that reinforce the social norms of the species are common.

Memo: Not WTF, WΔZ (Double-u Delta Zee or Double-u Delta Zed). Some say it could become as famous as E=Mc². But, Googling WAZ still gets you near the IMdb site.

Others might prefer a simple non-mathematical explanation of evolution such as that provided by Michael Behe in an interview for a magazine.

May/June 2005

A Good News Interview With Michael Behe, Ph.D.

What Do DNA Discoveries Mean for Evolution?

Interview by Mario Seiglie

Excerpt:

GN: Are Darwin’s ideas bad science?

MB: ……I think Darwin’s idea was a good idea. It looked like it might have a chance when he proposed it. But even when he proposed it in 1859 there were problems with it, as he admitted.

The assumption when he published his idea was that the foundation of life was simple. Cells were simple little things like jelly and protoplasm. Maybe as he knew more and more about this simpler foundation of life, he would see how the simplicity would give rise to the complexity that we saw in organisms such as legs, eyes and ears.

It was a good idea, but it turned out to be incorrect. As science progressed and we learned more about life, we saw inexorably that it was not complexity at the top and simplicity underneath, but it was complexity at the top, and more complexity underneath.

We learned the cell is not a simple blob of jelly. It has these molecular machines in it. It has a sophisticated mechanism that man has not been able to reproduce. And much of it is what I call irreducibly complex, so that if you take one part away from the machine, the machine will break down, just as you can take a couple of spark plugs from a car and it will not work. Things will break down in the cell as well.

These things haven’t been explained by Darwinian theory in any journal article, and there’s good reason to think that, in principle, they can’t be explained by Darwinian theory.

So Darwin’s idea, now viewed in retrospect, has a much more limited range of application. Darwinian evolution can really explain when an organism has a slight change that might favor it—natural selection can explain that. For example, how a polar bear might have arisen from a brown bear. It can explain insecticide resistance in insects and so on. So it can explain little changes, but it’s the big things in life that it has trouble explaining.

http://www.gnmagazine.org/issues/gn58/dna.htm

Ah, Pole Greaser, I see that you brought up the social conservative myth that liberals have loose sexual morals as compared to conservatives. Go talk about it to Bob Dole, Newt Gingerich, Clarence Thomas, Jim Baker, Jimmy Swaggert, Strom Thermon, and assorted Republican Congressmen who run their hands along the bottom of men’s bathroom stalls. Many supporters of evolution would bristle at the implication that they were liberal, and all would wonder what sexual morals has to do with scientific theories. I would suggest making your posts a little more coherent.

Vis-a-vis blocking the aggressive driver’s driveway: punishing perceived cheaters is also common social behaviour, innit?

yes, and similar behavior is often classified as “spiteful” behavior, which you could include under the umbrella of “punishment” in the circumstance where it is used to punish cheaters.

again, I refer you to Hamilton:

http://beheco.oxfordjournals.org/cg[…]l/12/3/261-a

I think the original 1964 paper might be public domain at this point, but I would still recommend reading it in the context of Hamilton’s own explanations in volume 1 of Narrow Roads of Gene Land.

prisoner’s dilemma:

http://www.wwnorton.com/college/ant[…]h8/chap8.htm

and there was an entire volume of the Journal of Evolutionary Biology devoted to the subject of altruism/cooperation/spite not that long ago; many of the papers are available without a subscription:

http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/to[…]?cookieSet=1

Having spent several years looking at this specific issue, I can’t recommend reading Hamilton’s compilation highly enough as a starting point, then try checking out the JEB compilation to help bring one up to date on some of the latest work.

Others might prefer a simple non-mathematical explanation of evolution such as that provided by Michael Behe in an interview for a magazine.

what you meant to say was:

“Others might prefer a simplistic, non-scientific, non-reality based strawman of evolution provided by Michael (lying sack) Behe…”

there now, that’s far more accurate.

Oldfart said, am amused by his frustration…… I don’t feel good about this but I ain’t gonna let him push me around!

Actually “Safe and Courtious Driving” is selfish. The safe and courtious driver is less likely to cause an accident, and less likely to stimulate road rage in other drivers, making the safe driver safer. Reckless driving has a terrible cost benefit ratio.

Frank B:

Reckless driving has a terrible cost benefit ratio.

Especially for 18–24 year old males.

The human brain (and not only the human brain) is well known to produce, in most people, involuntary empathy with other people and with members of other species. There is a large body of research on some of the probable biological substrates which relate to this trait, such as mirror neurons. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_neurons

This capacity, which may have evolved because it greatly facilitates social cooperation (including with other species), may not be possessed by everyone, and can obviously be severely impaired by environmental influences. Nevertheless it is also a powerful part of the motivation mix for many if not most people.

Empathy is essentially involuntary.

I think it’s silly to deny the role that involuntary empathy, which often takes the form of an uncomfortable emotional awareness of how another individual (human or animal) may be feeling, or will feel if a certain action is taken, plays in human behavior.

Certainly, we could say that every behavior is calculated in the sense that we may be calculating to relieve the discomfort that our empathy with others may produce in certain situations. And on and on we could go in circles, but I’ll leave that for the philosophers.

But the bottom line is that some human behaviors are provoked largely to deal with this essentially involuntary sensation. This certainly helps to explain part of the “mystery” of some altruistic behaviors, in humans and other highly cephalized animals.

Of interest, we might expect a lack of empathy to enable all sorts of “guilt-free” self-serving behaviors, but its lack does not seem to be associated with any clear cut benefits.

harold:

Incidentally, after posting, I stepped away. I came back to find an old-fashioned “404” message screen, but I see that my comment did post. Odd.

The comments now (almost) always post. The 404 arises when attempting to provide a Panda’s Thumb comments screen. I suspect server software is buggy.

If I continue and stop for the red light I will block him. Instead I stop short and let him out. He is no kin of mine. I don’t feel good having done this. It just makes “sense” to do it.

Uh, see, this is a biology blog, and there’s a particular equation being discussed. The altruism at issue here is in regard to passing on one’s genes, not about who gets to an arbitrary point on a roadway first. But you wouldn’t stop if it would endanger you or your child or if, say, it might make you miss a hot date. OTOH, social cooperation generally increases reproductive success. Duh.

Price was so upset by his findings that he ended up giving away all his possessions to the poor and, eventually homeless himself, committed suicide with a pair of nail scissors in a filthy London squat.”

This is BS which looks a lot like those creationist attacks on “soulless materialism”. Price’s downfall resulted from his becoming a Christian, after having been a militant atheist. After this psychotic break, he became a student of the bible and took up helping the homeless. He had rented, not owned, a home, which he had to leave because of construction. He apparently committed suicide because he no longer had an “inn” to offer to the needy and thus couldn’t discharge his Christian duty.

Others might prefer a simple non-mathematical explanation of evolution such as that provided by Michael Behe in an interview for a magazine.

Are you completely retarded? Behe doesn’t offer an “explanation of evolution” of any sort in that interview.

If I remember correctly what Dawkins said about altruism in humans, he drew attention to the fact that the way we’re living (in big cities, surrounded by thousands other people) is a relatively new invention. For most of our history we lived in small groups where anyone you met in your daily life WAS very likely your relative, and where various other reasons for altruism (reciprocal, social standing etc.) had a good chance to appear as well. The situation has now changed in so short time that we still have “universal altruism”, although there are no longer evolutionary reasons to have it (i.e. if we didn’t possess it, it wouldn’t probably evolve in these conditions, on the other hand, maybe we could never get INTO these condtions if we didn’t have it).

There is a long text taken from Wikipedia

Come to think of it, they have used Wikipedia’s GFDL copyleft license. The web rocks!

Does this equation tell us when rocks will randomly evolve into living things such as trees and monkeys?

I will try to avoid troll bait, but as someone noted long before me, the best trolls provides such excellent opportunities for edification:

Yes it does; it tells us explicitly that evolution isn’t random, and that rocks won’t evolve. Even I, as a non-biologist, can easily derive that. Thanks for prompting me to do so.

Now, can you tell us why, in both cases? Or are all creationist children equally rock stupid?

[Oops, that wasn’t exactly a straight forward hint. Well, suck it up, it is creationists who thrive on confusion.]

Price was so upset by his findings that he ended up giving away all his possessions to the poor and, eventually homeless himself, committed suicide with a pair of nail scissors in a filthy London squat.”

This is BS which looks a lot like those creationist attacks on “soulless materialism”. Price’s downfall resulted from his becoming a Christian, after having been a militant atheist. After this psychotic break, he became a student of the bible and took up helping the homeless. He had rented, not owned, a home, which he had to leave because of construction. He apparently committed suicide because he no longer had an “inn” to offer to the needy and thus couldn’t discharge his Christian duty.

It is almost certainly the case that, although Price’s tragic illness may well have had some relation to his various states as a self-defined “atheist” or “Christian”, neither of these extremely common self-defined states, in isolation, “caused” his suicide.

There are almost certainly treatments available today that would have helped him. The treatments are more or less entirely the same, whether the patient is “Christian”, “Atheist”, “Hindu”, “Wiccan”, etc. I’ve capitalized “Atheist” because the rest are capitalized.

It is certainly true that many cases exist where untreated mental illness leads to the adoption of an unusual “religious” identity, and that such an identity is often discarded when treatment is successful (which does not at all mean that the successfully treated patient may not remain religious in some way). This could have been such a case.

However, legitimate treatment never focuses on intellectually convincing the patient to abandon their current claimed religious beliefs. Any hypothetical person who claimed to “treat” mentally ill atheists solely by convincing them to become Christians, or vice versa, would by definition a very dangerous quack.

Even a treatment plan that involved some legitimate therapy, but also focused on religious or philosophical proseletyzation, would most likely be regarded as profoundly unethical except under unusual circumstances. I can’ think of any valid reason for such a thing, regardless of the background or religion of patient or therapist. (Religious patients choosing same-religion therapists, or atheist patients choosing atheist therapists, is entirely different and obviously completely ethical.)

It is mildly interesting that Price’s scientific work involved altruism, albeit at a highly theoretical level, as did the expression of his mental illness. He may have been a very empathetic person. This would have been highly relevant in a treatment milieu.

“Any hypothetical person who claimed to “treat” mentally ill atheists solely by convincing them to become Christians, or vice versa, would by definition a very dangerous quack.”

I wonder if that’s necessarily true. I think Richard Dawkins would say that belief in god can have consequences that are dangerous to the believer (and to his society). If you accept his premise, then convincing a mentally ill Christian to jettison his beliefs in god would be a good thing; a thing which might help him along the road to recovery.

Of course, that would be if you agree with Dr. Dawkins’ attitude toward religion. However even if you didn’t, if you as a therapist concluded that your patient’s religious beliefs were contributing to his psychosis, then would you be a quack because you tried to alter his dangerous mind set?

I wrote,

“Any hypothetical person who claimed to “treat” mentally ill atheists solely by convincing them to become Christians, or vice versa, would by definition a very dangerous quack.”

And I very clearly said “SOLELY by”. So…

I wonder if that’s necessarily true.

is a ludicrous statement on the face of it.

I also noted that change in professed religious beliefs may indeed be part of the presentation of mental illness, but that such beliefs will probably change back to the premorbid belief system with treatment.

That pretty much finishes it, but I’d like to deal with the rest of your post.

I think Richard Dawkins would say that belief in god can have consequences that are dangerous to the believer (and to his society).

What does this grossly overgeneralized and vague declaration have to do with clinical treatment of mental illness? Even if we accept it at face value, as best we can, given its weasely vagueness, it is clear that many people who are not mentally ill have some sort of belief or habit, religious or otherwise, that is “dangerous to the believer and to his society”.

Please let’s understand that “mental illness” does not refer to the state of all the people in the world who happen to disagree with you on some issue, it refers to illnesses, defined in a clinically useful and reproducible way, which have predominantly psychological or emotional symptoms.

If you accept his premise, then convincing a mentally ill Christian to jettison his beliefs in god would be a good thing; a thing which might help him along the road to recovery.

This is an absolute non-sequitor. Whether it would be a “good thing” or not from some philosophical perspective has nothing whatsoever to do with whether it would “help him along the road to recovery”.

There is absolutely no reason to think that real mental illness could be impacted at all by philosophical harangues. The suggestion reveals your ignorance of the subject matter you choose to comment on.

If you feel an ethical compulsion to prozeltyze your own philosophical beliefs, by all means do so! I very strongly support your right to. But you won’t be treating mental illness.

Of course, that would be if you agree with Dr. Dawkins’ attitude toward religion. However even if you didn’t, if you as a therapist concluded that your patient’s religious beliefs were contributing to his psychosis, then would you be a quack because you tried to alter his dangerous mind set?

It isn’t clear if you are talking about beliefs that seem to have arisen out of the illness, or beliefs that predated the illness.

A case where a premorbid religious belief “contributed to” psychosis would be most unusual. Adherents of even very strict and socially distinct religions, for example Jewish Orthodox, usually do not become overtly, clinically mentally ill. People frequently change religions, become atheists or abandon atheism, and so on, without become clinically mentally ill.

I’ve stated a number of times now that declaration of new or odd religious beliefs may be part of the presentation of mental illness. But NO, of course a philosophical harangue aimed at a psychotic patient would not be useful.

I think you’re trying to argue that a person in the position of trust to treat extremely vulnerable mentally ill patients should declare that certain religious or philosophical preferences are “better” for the patient, and “supplement” therapy with proseletyzation. By the way - try preaching Dawkins to an untreated schizophrenic some time.

It is not even a reasonable hypothesis to suggest that trying to convert patients to the religion or philosophy of the therapist is beneficial in the treatment of mental illness. This is the sort of thing I would expect to hear from authoritarian fundamentalists.

Harrold,

I didn’t mean for my questions to be so threatening to your beliefs. I was just responding to your suggestion (as I perceived it) that a therapist who would try to change a behaviour that was, in the therapist’s professional opinion, contributing to mental illness was a quack. In the case we have before us, a scientist who becomes irrational and suicidal following a religious experience, I think it would be reasonable for the therapist to address the hypothesized cause of the mental illness, the religious behaviour.

I’m not saying that religious behaviour is by necessity abberant. I’m not saying that religion always is destructive to one’s mental health. BUT, I think it can be. When it is, as judged by the mental professional, I see nothing ‘quackish’ in trying to change that behaviour.

As Dawkin’s would I think say, religion shouldn’t get a free pass just because it is religion. That goes for therapy just the same as it goes for education or politics.

I didn’t mean for my questions to be so threatening to your beliefs.

It wasn’t. However, my reply was a bit strident, although correct, and I’ll explain why.

I actually don’t have any formal religious beliefs whatsoever. I don’t consider myself an atheist, but most of my friends do consider themselves atheists (although others are Muslim, Jewish, Christian, etc).

I’m inclined to see Buddhism and related Dharmic philosophy, in most forms, as a better philosophical fit with the world that science shows us, than western style atheism in the tradition of Hobbes, Neitzche, Russel, etc. I don’t personally believe in embellishments like reincarnation or Hindu gods, of course, but the ability to accept duality and unresolvable paradox at a certain level of analysis, among other things, is extremely prescient and insightful. Unfortunately, I have too many bad habits to be a good Buddhist.

On the internet, I’m often taken to be a member of an ethnic minority, gay, or a member of an unusual religion. I’m none of those things. I’m a straight male of pale “European” appearance and I was raised in a traditional Protestant church. (I have membership in some “oppressed” groups, since I was raised poor in a poor rural area by a single mother, but you wouldn’t know it to look at me.)

It’s often assumed that, when I defend the rights of members of a group that experiences potentially relevant bias, I must be a member of that group. But what I’m doing is expressing enlightened self-interest. When I defend the rights of others, naturally, I am indirectly defending my own.

As Dawkin’s would I think say, religion shouldn’t get a free pass just because it is religion.

I completely agree with this, and so would most of the Christians, Muslims, Jews, and atheists whom I know.

Naturally, by “free pass”, I take it to mean that they should have no special rights beyond those enjoyed by everyone else.

Surely Dawkins himself doesn’t want any “free passes”. He must know that, in order to guarantee his own freedom to express himself and live as he sees fit, he must respect the rights of others - including their right to overtly disagree with him, criticize him as harshly as he criticizes them, and so on.

Please note, by the way, that people who overtly display minority religious beliefs have historically been just as vulnerable to serious persecution as atheists.

Although I loathe the political views of Mitt Romney, I was personally intensely irritated that some people said that they would not vote for him because he is a Mormon. Although Mormonism incorporates beliefs that I find odd, I would personally be delighted to vote for either a Mormon or an atheist who advocated a pragmatic policy platform which I supported.

That goes for therapy just the same as it goes for education or politics.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, it does not “go for” therapy.

A mentally ill patient is suffering from a serious brain disorder which presents primarily (usually almost exclusively, by definition, at least for decades) with emotional and cognitive symptoms.

The role of therapist is exclusively to promote recovery from the illness, or if that is not possible, the best possible management of the illness, for the patient.

Mentally ill people are by definition extraordinarily vulnerable and impaired, while ill, in a variety of emotional and cognitive areas. They are often at an enormous risk of having their rights violated, while untreated, by members of the general population. It would be gross and inhumane malpractice for a therapist to try to exploit them, for the purposes of furthering his own religious or philosophical agenda. The pre-morbid and post-morbid philosophical beliefs of the patient, except in the rarest of instances, must be respected.

How would you feel if you became schizophrenic, and a therapist who believed that bringing you to Jesus was part of the solution preached Christianity at you while you were impaired?

Don’t you see that preaching Dawkins at a patient would be the same thing?

It doesn’t matter whether Jesus, Dawkins, or neither of them is “right” at a philosophical level.

On the street corner it is your right to howl for Jesus or Dawkins until your voice gives out, if you don’t break any laws, but as a therapist, you take on a special role, that of treating a vulnerable patient who comes to you in need.

That role precludes many behaviors that would be perfectly acceptable in other circumstances. Religious or philosophical proseletyzation, romantic or sexual advances, offers to manage the patient’s financial affairs, etc, etc, etc.

I have noticed that your posts focus almost exclusively on promoting atheism, here and on other threads, which is fine, but surely the above should be obvious.

“It would be gross and inhumane malpractice for a therapist to try to exploit them, for the purposes of furthering his own religious or philosophical agenda.”

For a therapist to do anything that promotes his own religious or philosophical agenda is indeed wrong. In the case of Dr. Price however, I feel a competent therapist might well believe a link exists between his recent religious conversion and his abnormal and self-destructive behaviour. Treating the problem, obsession with a religious idea, would not be ‘quackery’.

“I have noticed that your posts focus almost exclusively on promoting atheism, here and on other threads, which is fine, but surely the above should be obvious.”

I wonder if you have me confused with another poster? Until about 4 years ago I posted frequently on Pandas. Then I worked for a government agency that frowned on government employees accessing blogs on government computers. Then about 5 weeks ago I left government employ and returned to academia. Since then I have posted twice (I think) on Pandas. One of those posts was indeed on scientists being ‘atheistic’ when at the bench but the other was on a completely different topic.

Just to be clear. I am not particularly religious but I am also not anti-religious. I believe secularists (which I am) have common ground with moderate and liberal theists in the opposition to the political and social agenda of fundamentalist Christians, Muslims, or whatever. I don’t want to offend any potential ally. I also don’t believe they need to be treated with kid gloves. They’re big girls and boys and they can handle quite well my disagreement with their faith.

It is almost certainly the case that, although Price’s tragic illness may well have had some relation to his various states as a self-defined “atheist” or “Christian”, neither of these extremely common self-defined states, in isolation, “caused” his suicide.

Yes. It is sort of preposterous to isolate states that results from traits underlying both healthy and non-healthy behavior.

For example, AFAIU healthy and functional “agent detection” is proposed to be overactive as a cause for both mild religiosity and a component in such psychopathies which some have proposed founding groups of religions may have had as driving forces. [Um, can’t find a reference right now. But I’m mildly convinced I have seen such hypotheses.]

The pre-morbid and post-morbid philosophical beliefs of the patient, except in the rarest of instances, must be respected.

I’m not sure what this means.

Neither am I a trained psychologist. But I would imagine that if someone have problems with under- or overactive traits that CBT could help as well as psychoactive medication.

I’m not sure how that translates to “philosophical beliefs”. A psychotic patient would not see them as “philosophical”, and this is behavioral treatment, thus making this a reification fallacy. I guess this may be an extension of the principle “do no harm”. But as House shows us, the belief of a patient is not a medical concern. :-P

More seriously, a treatment is seldom without side effects. So I wouldn’t be unduly agitated if CBT happened to punctuate some dearly held beliefs of mine that happened to be involved (or not) with a serious disease.

Then again, not everything religious would be considered “philosophical beliefs” in such a case. For example, to point out to a patient that incessant prayer is both reinforcing a habit that blocks recovery and is meaningless could be correct. I believe the Templeton foundation has helped us to find the later out.

Please let’s understand that “mental illness” does not refer to the state of all the people in the world who happen to disagree with you on some issue, it refers to illnesses, defined in a clinically useful and reproducible way, which have predominantly psychological or emotional symptoms.

If you accept his premise, then convincing a mentally ill Christian to jettison his beliefs in god would be a good thing; a thing which might help him along the road to recovery.

This is an absolute non-sequitor. Whether it would be a “good thing” or not from some philosophical perspective has nothing whatsoever to do with whether it would “help him along the road to recovery”.

Psychotherapy was invented by the evolutionist Freud as a tool for seducing people away from Christianity. Freud wanted to eliminate Christianity through manipulation in contrast to Darwin’s other disciple Marx who aimed to achieve the same thing by brute force. The Satanically inspired subtle techniques of psychoanalysis always militates against the Gospel even if this is not the therapist’s explicit goal.

Is it my imagination, or would having Pole Greaser and William Wallace on the same thread be like having Clark Kent and Superman in the same room?

And I suspect the “404” I just saw (and will no doubt see again momentarily) was in lieu of the “post accepted returning to thread in five seconds” page I usually see.

And I suspect the “404” I just saw (and will no doubt see again momentarily) was in lieu of the “post accepted returning to thread in five seconds” page I usually see.

OK, I was wrong, I just saw the “post accepted” and then the 404.

Odd.

How about the person whose honest religious belief is that his children are being led astray by Satan, and that the only way to “save” them is to kill them now, before they’re damned for all eternity?

Or the person who regularly hears angels, or receives visitations from the Virgin Mary?

Or the one who sincerely believes the “God hates queers,” and it’s his duty to suppress or even kill them?

Or that “the Kikes killed Christ” and deserve anything that happens to them?

Or that the End Times are here and the prophesied Battle of Armgeddon = nuclear war, and I have been made President to see the prophesy fulfilled?

Some honest, sincere, deeply held, and scripturally justifiable religious beliefs are harmful to the individual and society as a whole. What does an ethical therapist do with a patient whose religion tells him to kill abortion providers or gays?

Just Bob, Pole Greaser is just a troll who imitates a frothing Christian fundamentalist troll.

I recommend ignoring him.

Stanton, I know that.

I still want to know what an ethical therapist does when faced with a patient with religious beliefs, which, if they didn’t have the “religious” component would be considered crazy, antisocial, or even murderous.

The movie website has info on Dawkins and “Selfish Gene.” Wonder how the hell they abuse THAT concept.

It is almost certainly the case that, although Price’s tragic illness may well have had some relation to his various states as a self-defined “atheist” or “Christian”, neither of these extremely common self-defined states, in isolation, “caused” his suicide.

Indeed, but I, who you quoted, never said they did. What I said is that he apparently committed suicide because he couldn’t discharge his Christian duties. Of course, that was his reason for taking the action he did, which is a causal matter at a quite different level of description than talking about “mental illness” that might explain his having the thought processes he did.

Talk of “mental illness” is tricky business, especially in the absence of any clinical diagnosis. The judgment seems to derive primarily in hindsight from the fact that he took his life. But if he took his life due to his interpretation of his Christian duty (derived from his intense study of the New Testament), then it may simply be an irrational interpretation of a particular text, rather than any “illness”, that best explains his action. As this says nothing about Christianity per se, there’s no need for a haroldian vigorous defense of same.

Psychotherapy was invented by the evolutionist Freud as a tool for seducing people away from Christianity. Freud wanted to eliminate Christianity through manipulation in contrast to Darwin’s other disciple Marx who aimed to achieve the same thing by brute force. The Satanically inspired subtle techniques of psychoanalysis always militates against the Gospel even if this is not the therapist’s explicit goal.

Parody can’t hold a candle to the rancid greaser’s secretions.

Popper’s Ghost -

Talk of “mental illness” is tricky business, especially in the absence of any clinical diagnosis. The judgment seems to derive primarily in hindsight from the fact that he took his life. But if he took his life due to his interpretation of his Christian duty (derived from his intense study of the New Testament), then it may simply be an irrational interpretation of a particular text, rather than any “illness”, that best explains his action. As this says nothing about Christianity per se, there’s no need for a haroldian vigorous defense of same.

I’m afraid we’ll have to somewhat disagree, except that talk of mental illness can be tricky business, with which I do agree.

Granted, I was trained as and practiced for 11 years as an allopathic physician (that is, a regular MD doctor). I was not a psychiatrist, but I very strongly accept the biomedical, “methodologically materialist” model of mental illness. Certain characteristic cognitive and emotional symptoms, which are very distinct and can be reproducibly recognized, are reliable indicators of brain diseases. Diseases which cause a breakdown in judgment, cognition, and/or emotional control are potentially very dangerous. These diseases can be treated, and a vast majority of patients prefer them to be treated.

Price almost certainly suffered from mental illness and would have benefited from therapy.

I support patients’ rights to choose to end their lives under some rare circumstances (the law does not agree with me on this in every jurisdiction), but the circumstances you describe are, in my book, by definition, mental illness.

Of course every mentally ill suicidal person advances an irrational justification for their suicidal thoughts or behavior, but they are mentally ill nevertheless.

Certainly someone who claims to conclude that they should commit suicide, means it, and claims that they base this idea on study of the New Testament, is almost always mentally ill.

I think it would have been a good thing if Price could have been treated and his suicide prevented.

Just Bob -

Fortunately, the “dilemmas” you describe are actually quite straightforward from a clinical perspective.

How about the person whose honest religious belief is that his children are being led astray by Satan, and that the only way to “save” them is to kill them now, before they’re damned for all eternity?

This “honest religious belief” is unacceptable in almost any society. Homicidal behavior is not an option. Assuming we know about it, here are our options - if there are symptoms that suggest an underlying mental illness, the patient must be restrained in a forensic mental health facility for treatment. If there are not, which is most unlikely, or if the patient is not in a clinical setting with forensic capacity, then law enforcement needs to apprehend this individual immediately, possibly for transport to a forensic mental health facility. Questions of his mental health will undoubtedly be raised at trial.

If the individual doesn’t vocalize or otherwise make explicit his threats to kill his children, we can’t read minds, so I assume you mean that the threats are open.

Or the person who regularly hears angels, or receives visitations from the Virgin Mary?

If these are private, or in appropriate settings, and don’t impact negatively on anyone in a relevant way, so what?

If the patient is disturbed by them and seeks treatment, then a mental health explanation should be sought.

If they occur in the context of an untreated mental illness, odds are they are part of it, and will go away if the illness is properly treated. (This is true whether or not the Virgin Mary makes visitations.)

Or the one who sincerely believes the “God hates queers,” and it’s his duty to suppress or even kill them?

Again, do I really have to explain that people who are known to be actively planning to commit homicide need to be restrained? Either by the criminal justice system or the health care system, depending on the circumstances.

Or that “the Kikes killed Christ” and deserve anything that happens to them?

If the person does not act on this belief, it is merely a deeply obnoxious social bias.

If he (or she) does, he belongs in prison, or a forensic mental health facility, depending on the rest of the story.

If he is troubled by feeling this way and seeks therapy, his prognosis is probably good.

Also, sadly, schizophrenic people often express delusions that are interpreted by others as “racist” or “bigoted”. Usually, before illness and when treated, the mentally ill person does not have these traits. They are often part of the illness. (Although I suppose a bigot might become schizophrenic and return to bigotry when treated; however, if you see a schizophrenic making “racist” remarks or the like, please understand that they are suffering from a severe brain disorder and cannot control their thoughts and actions.)

Or that the End Times are here and the prophesied Battle of Armgeddon = nuclear war, and I have been made President to see the prophesy fulfilled?

Almost any action that would remove such a person from power and prevent him from starting a nuclear war would be ethically justified.

I don’t think that George Bush holds this belief. I think you would be giving him way too much credit. He’s just a narcissistic sociopath (my subjective opinion); these deep crises of conscience and religion which some attribute to him are projections.

Some honest, sincere, deeply held, and scripturally justifiable religious beliefs are harmful to the individual and society as a whole.

Can you name one which isn’t already illegal?

What does an ethical therapist do with a patient whose religion tells him to kill abortion providers or gays?

I answered this above twice.

There seems to a false dichotomy implied here. You seem to be suggesting that if a therapist respects some or most of their patients’ religious or philosophical choices, or even merely fails to spend therapy time (which is paid for by either the tax payers or the patient themself) uselessly touting atheism at a patient, that the therapist is thus compelled to ignore the most psychotic or criminal behaviors, as long as a “religious” element is present.

In short, you seem to be implying that “either all religious behaviors must be prohibited, or else all behavior that is claimed to result from ‘religion’ must be allowed”.

That’s just silly. Some religious behaviors are commonly practiced by law-abiding people who do not have mental illness. Some mentally ill or criminal behaviors have “religious” overtones. It’s perfectly possible to separate these two categories most of the time.

There actually are some cases where it IS difficult to know where to draw the line between the patient’s rights and their medical needs (refusal of blood tranfusions for Jehovah’s Witnesses and so on, especially if it will merely increase the chances of survival). Your examples, however, are not dilemmas at all.

I was trained as and practiced […] as an allopathic physician

You and Bill Frist. At least he had a video tape to go by.

I very strongly accept the biomedical, “methodologically materialist” model of mental illness.

Me too, but what you’re doing here has nothing to do with it.

Certain characteristic cognitive and emotional symptoms, which are very distinct and can be reproducibly recognized, are reliable indicators of brain diseases.

That’s nice, but you lack any such reliable evidence.

Certainly someone who claims to conclude that they should commit suicide, means it, and claims that they base this idea on study of the New Testament, is almost always mentally ill.

Gotta love the question begging: Price committed suicide because he was mentally ill, which means he had a brain disease, which we know because he committed suicide, which is a “characteristic cognitive and emotional symptom” that reliably indicates brain disease – except when it doesn’t.

Also gotta love the strawman. I didn’t say that Price based his decision on study of the New Testament. What I said is he committed suicide because he was despondent over not being able to discharge his Christian duty – it was only his view of Christian duty that was based on the NT, not his decision to commit suicide. That harold thinks that a methodological materialist view implies that such acts entail “brain disease” indicates that he knows very little about psychology or the workings of the brain. It’s a bit like concluding that a computer running a buggy program has a hardware problem, and that to deny it would be to deny materialism.

Popper’s Ghost -

Certain characteristic cognitive and emotional symptoms, which are very distinct and can be reproducibly recognized, are reliable indicators of brain diseases.

That’s nice, but you lack any such reliable evidence.

I’m sorry that you’re completely ignorant of an entire vast field, and yet choose to make foolish comments on it.

I’ll answer the same way I do when some creationist claims that there is no evidence for evolution.

There is so much evidence that I can only suggest that you start at the beginning and acquire some knowledge, if you have an interest in the field.

Why don’t you start with some undergraduate level courses in basic psychology and work your way up to abnormal psychology? A good undergraduate course is an excellent grounding.

Be sure to study neuroanatomy, neurobiology, and biochemistry as well. Ideally pharmacology. Introductory courses in all of these are available at the undergraduate level. A partial substitute for actually taking graded courses would be to read the textbooks used for the courses.

I don’t know what your background is. I suspect that you’re a lawyer, philosopher, or computer programmer. You could possible be a mathematician or physical scientist, but I’d favor the first three. Unless you’re actually Richard Dawkins himself in disguise :-). Basic courses or books I mentioned above may require background work in general physics, general chemistry, statistical inference, and so on, depending on your background.

When you have some knowledge, should you choose to seek it, come back and we can debate whether “committing suicide with a pair of nail scissors” is or is not usually a product of mental illness.

I know that this will generate five or six furious, insult-laden “retorts”, all convoluted attempts to show some sort of trivial verbal logic error, with distortion of my meaning where necessary, and not one single reference to any relevant scientific literature whatsoever.

That’s fine. I’m answering in case there is a lurker around

I’m sorry that you’re completely ignorant of an entire vast field

I’m sorry that you’re such an intellectually dishonest ass and hypocrite.

and not one single reference to any relevant scientific literature whatsoever

I’m not the one making a diagnosis remote in time and space, yet you have provided not one single reference to any relevant scientific literature whatsoever. I don’t need to provide such references in order to note that you lack reliable evidence for your “almost certainly” claim. All you offer is ad hominem blather about my “background”.

we can debate whether “committing suicide with a pair of nail scissors” is or is not usually a product of mental illness.

Typical haroldian strawman. “not usually” is not a synonym for “almost certainly”. Even you can comprehend the difference. And I think the lurkers can understand why, when someone slits their wrists, they are often referred to as “mentally disturbed” but rarely as having a “brain disease”, and can grasp that making such distinctions is not a denial of methodological determinism.

“not usually” is not a synonym for “almost certainly”

Make that “usually” is not a synonym for “almost certainly”.

I’ll say it again, with emphasis for the stupid and patently dishonest:

it may simply be an irrational interpretation of a particular text, rather than any “illness”, that best explains his action.

It may. Or it may not. Without more detailed knowledge about Price, his circumstances and his actions, which are handed down to us nth hand, we can’t be certain or even “almost certain”. And since “may or may not” is tautological, I can’t possibly be wrong, so I won’t waste any more of my time here on his highness, hypocritical harold.

I feel a bit guilty about the tone of my comments in this thread.

Although I wasn’t a psychiatrist, I have dealt extensively with mentally ill people. They suffer from many stereotypes and misconceptions, and anything that hints at that tends to get me annoyed, perhaps unfairly so at times.

It also extremely correct that I cannot possibly really know whether Price was mentally ill, and can only surmise.

Let me explain my logic with regard to the Price case -

1) In western societies, studies show an extremely high association between reproducibly diagnosable mental illness and suicide.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide. There are certainly some cases of suicide which cannot be directly attributed to mental illness, but the association is very high. When there is no irreversible physical or emotional trauma (irreversible, such as loss of family in a tragedy) or disease present, the association is probably higher still.

2) The Wikipedia article on mental illness has a rather poor section on the “causes”. However, the evidence is overwhelming that mental illness is an expression of disorders primarily affecting the brain. Among other evidence, all known drugs that alleviate (or exacerbate) mental illness act primarily on the brain. Other effective treatments, like ECT (which is effective in very severe depression and is a treatment of last resort in some cases) also have their strongest effects on the brain. Gross injury to the brain does not often duplicate the precise symptomology of disorders like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia (a history of brain injury may be associated with an increased incidence of depression, however). But brain injury can and does produce emotional or cognitive disturbances. Changes in human cognition and emotions are linked to changes in the state of the brain, and pathologic changes in the state of the brain are often linked to pathologic changes in cognition, emotions, and behavior.

3) Therefore, if it’s reasonable to say that schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder and so on are illnesses, and I certainly think it is, then it is also reasonable to say that they are brain diseases. And indeed, they respond to brain treatments.

4) The history of Price is very incomplete but includes the statement that he was perceived as “troubled”, that he changed his behavior in a way that, although having some laudable features, was eccentric and may have had socially inappropriate features, and most importantly, that he committed suicide in a rather violent way. No history or post-mortem discovery of an advanced degenerative disease, terminal cancer, or any other such thing, is given.

My best guess, and it’s a guess I’m quite confident in, is that he had a mental illness. His interest in the Bible may very well have been related to his mental illness. Mentally ill people often express new religious, magical, superstitious, UFO-type beliefs. (But that doesn’t mean that holding a lot of culturally-condoned religious, magical or superstitious beliefs is necessarily a risk factor for mental illness.)

The film is of course a work of drama, not an academic account of Price’s theory - both the equation and the story of what happened to Price himself are the point of departure for a thriller.

A couple of people above seem to think that the film is somehow an endorsement of a Christian, anti-evolutionist point of view. That isn’t the point of it at all. It’s about whether or not human beings are relentlessly selfish, or capable of altruism. I don’t want to spoil the ending! But it isn’t a religious film.

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This page contains a single entry by Reed A. Cartwright published on February 22, 2008 3:34 PM.

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