When “Gage Is Not Gage”: Neuroscience And The Law’s Assumption of Free Will

Submitted by Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

The bedrock of modern Western jurisprudence is the supposition that we are free to choose our actions from a range of choices. Some of these choices are socially acceptable and we deem them “legal.” Other choices made in specified contexts are socially unacceptable, and we deem these “illegal.” For those extremely unacceptable actions denominated as “crimes” we reserve progressive punishments to deter their occurrence. Gratuitous violence is one of the most important of these condemned actions, and we have striven for centuries to overcome this endemic feature of our nature. The basic assumption being that we can deter conduct that is the product of free will by imposing undesirable consequences on the actor. How have we done? I suppose the obvious answer is that despite a multitude of approaches ranging from severe punishment to compassionate rehabilitation, we haven’t yet mastered a way to banish senseless violence from our midst. Perhaps it is time to question that basic assumption that violence  is purely volitional conduct.

The philosophical roots of  free will stretch back at least to ancient times. Greco-Roman thinkers like Epicurus believed in causal determinism but allowed for an element of chance in the physical world by assuming that the atoms sometimes swerve in unpredictable ways, thus providing a physical basis for a belief in free will. Others like Cicero had doubts about the purity of free will observing:

“By ‘fate’, I mean what the Greeks call heimarmenê – an ordering and sequence of causes, since it is the connexion of cause to cause which out of itself produces anything. … Consequently nothing has happened which was not going to be, and likewise nothing is going to be of which nature does not contain causes working to bring that very thing about. This makes it intelligible that fate should be, not the ‘fate’ of superstition, but that of physics, an everlasting cause of things – why past things happened, why present things are now happening, and why future things will be.

Later, Christianity postulated  free will as one of its basic tenets, arguing that grace is bestowed by acting in accordance with the Creator’s will and rejecting contrary temptations. In City of God, Augustine explained that, “For the first freedom of will which man received when he was created upright consisted in an ability not to sin, but also in an ability to sin; whereas this last freedom of will shall be superior, inasmuch as it shall not be able to sin. This, indeed, shall not be a natural ability, but the gift of God.” To depart voluntarily from God was then  the foundation of sin.

For two centuries Western law has adopted this basis for meting out punishments as a means of modifying behaviors. Enter then the discipline of neuroscience and the strange case of  Phineas P. Gage. Gage was a railroad worker living a peaceful life in late 19th Century New England.  In 1848, Gage had the curious fate to suffer an iron crowbar being thrust squarely thorugh his left frontal lobe. He survived but  changes to his demeanor and personality were so pronounced that his family and friends began to remark that “Gage was no longer Gage.” Damage to his prefrontal cortex had rendered a once courteous and diligent 25 year-old man unalterably and explicitly anti-social.

His physician John Harlow noted that:

He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operations, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible. A child in his intellectual capacity and manifestations, he has the animal passions of a strong man. Previous to his injury, although untrained in the schools, he possessed a well-balanced mind, and was looked upon by those who knew him as a shrewd, smart businessman, very energetic and persistent in executing all his plans of operation.

What are the implications then for free will in the context of obvious cases of impaired thinking like that suffered by Gage? The law has sought to address “crimes” committed by those without sufficient faculty to appreciate the moral character of their actions or those persons who act through irresistible impulse. The first attempts were the British M’Naghten rule which excused conduct, though volitionally done, which was the product of a diseased or impaired mind and which rendered the perpetrator so impaired as to extinguish his ability to divine right from wrong. The corollary irresistible impulse test sought to mitigate criminal responsibility for one who would have acted through the effects of mental disease or defect even though a constable was at his side at the time of the conduct. Both of these tests have proven unworkable and prison statistics continue to show that the psychologically impaired are statistically more likely to be incarcerated than “normal” persons.

The new challenge for the law is just how to handle the logical implication of Gage’s case. What if  all human actions were not simply the product of free will but a resulting phenomena of a host of organic and genetic markers causing conduct that is inevitable?  And what if these behaviors are not the product of diease or defect but of predictable stimuli or dysfunction not rising to the level of that required by M’Naghten? Sort of an organic determinism free from the control of human “will,” but flowing not from a diseased mind but a substantially normal one. Not really such a radical position. Albert Einstein considered the question and posed the classic regressive conundrum:

Honestly, I cannot understand what people mean when they talk about the freedom of the human will. I have a feeling, for instance, that I will something or other; but what relation this has with freedom I cannot understand at all. I feel that I will to light my pipe and I do it; but how can I connect this up with the idea of freedom? What is behind the act of willing to light the pipe? Another act of willing? Schopenhauer once said: Der Mensch kann was er will; er kann aber nicht wollen was er will (Man can do what he will but he cannot will what he wills).

Sound far-fetched and too esoteric? Consider then the studies of Benjamin Libet who “showed that brain activity associated with deliberate decisions can be detected shortly before we are conscious of making the decision. In these studies, participants reported when they first felt the intention to make a spontaneous movement by noting the position of a dot moving on computer screen. They apparently first became aware of their intentions about 200 milliseconds before action execution, which is later than the onset of the so-called readiness potential (or “bereitschaftspotential”) recorded from the scalp prior to movement.” While the studies are controversial they point up a fascinating possibility — that human conduct originates organically from a host of chemical and electrical sources independent of any notion of mind/brain divergence. The mind then is the brain and functions according to incalculable threads of physical causation which we can neither differentiate nor completely understand.

The prefrontal cortex is not the only area of inquiry into brain physiology as neuroscience attempts to understand and explain human aggressiveness. “It has long been known that ablation of the monkey temporal lobe, including the amygdala, results in blunted emotional responses. In humans, brain-imaging and lesion studies have suggested a role of the amygdala in theory of mind, aggression, and the ability to register fear and sadness in faces. According to the violence inhibition model, both sad and fearful facial cues act as important inhibitors if we are violent towards others. In support of this model, recent investigations have shown that individuals with a history of aggressive behaviour have poorer recognition of facial expressions, which might be due to amygdala dysfunction. Others have recently demonstrated how the low expression of X-linked monoamine oxidase A (MAOA)—which is an important enzyme in the catabolism of monoamines, most notably serotonin (5-HT), and has been associated with an increased propensity towards reactive violence in abused children—is associated with volume changes and hyperactivity in the amygdala.”

These studies bring up an interesting derivative question: Are all murderers equal in terms of brain function? The answer is decidely  “no.” “Professor Adrian Raine and colleagues reanalysed positron emission tomography data to tease apart functional differences between premeditated psychopaths and impulsive affective murderers. Compared to controls, the impulsive murderers had reduced activation in the bilateral PFC, while activity in the limbic structures was enhanced. Conversely, the predatory psychopaths had relatively normal prefrontal functioning, but increased right subcortical activity, which included the amygdala and hippocampus. These results suggest that predatory psychopaths are able to regulate their impulses, in contrast to impulsive murderers, who lack the prefrontal “inhibitory” machinery that stop them from committing violent transgressions.” For Raine then, free will should be viewed along a “dimension rather than a dichotomy”

An even more intriguing question revolves around whether we can predict anti-social behavior from an analysis of brain dysfunction. If so, would this not dispel notions of pure free will as the moral governor of our actions? “A systematic review of studies examining mental illness in 23,000 prisoners showed that these prisoners were several times more likely to have some form of psychosis or major depression, and ten times more likely to exhibit  Anti-social personality Disorder (APD)  than the general population. The authors suggest that, worldwide, several million prisoners have serious mental illness. Several studies also show levels of head injury to be higher in violent and death-row criminals, while birth complications, which can often result in neurological damage (e.g., hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy) and parental mental illness, are higher in anti-social populations. More often than not, people with APD and violent behaviour have a history of childhood maltreatment or trauma; having such a history has been linked to anomalous development of regions associated with anti-social behaviour, including the PFC, hippocampus, amygdala, corpus callosum, and hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis. Early damage to the orbitofrontal cortex in particular appears to result in poor acquisition of moral and social rules, thus showing the importance of the interaction between environment and brain development.”

All of these studies raise serious ethical questions for the justice system. Is the basic premise of pure free will suspect as a producing cause of aberrant conduct? Can we say with certainty that actions are in any meaningful sense volitional if they are the  product of immutable laws of science which manifests themselves in a predictable, albeit undesirable, results? Are we punishing for poor conduct choices by individuals or for organic brain function over which the individual has only limited control?

Valid questions that may need answering and soon. In 1995, “Stephen Mobley, 25 with a long and violent criminal record, admitted shooting a pizza store manager in the back of the head during a failed robbery four years before. His lawyers argued he should be spared the death penalty because of a defect in his genetic make-up. Mobley’s family tree is littered with incidents of criminal and violent behaviour. His mitigation focused on a direct chain of antisocial behaviour that could be traced from his great- grandfather.

His lawyers tried to adduce expert evidence to show that a gene mutation had been passed along this line and was ultimately responsible for the disastrous events on 17 February 1991 at the pizza parlour in County Hall, Georgia. As long ago as 1969, genetic evidence was first admitted in a New York court. Lawyers then put forward a genetic-defect defence concerning the XYY chromosome syndrome. They argued that the extra Y chromosome indicated greater “maleness” or aggression. However, it failed to gain widespread judicial acceptance.

Mobley’s lawyers introduced evidence of a recent Dutch study, which associated this sort of family aggression with chemical imbalance caused by a mutating gene. Nevertheless, the Georgia Supreme Court held this evidence to be inadmissible on the basis that the theory of ‘genetic connection is not at a level of scientific acceptance that would justify its admission.'”

Now 16 years later science is grappling with proofs that might impress a court with the idea that certain human predispositions exist which bear directly on anti-social conduct. If  neuroscience can answer this proposition affrimatively, the larger question will be how will we deal with this knowledge and how then will we deal with the perpetrators.

Sources: The Independent; Plos Biology; Wired; Neurophilosophy; and SamHarris.org

~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

155 thoughts on “When “Gage Is Not Gage”: Neuroscience And The Law’s Assumption of Free Will”

  1. No, I have not obeyed the admonition to cease and desist here, if indeed there ever was such an admonition.

    Within what I understand to be fair use, from “Social Psychology, Sixth Edition” Aronson, Wilson, & Akert, Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007-2005, p. 109:

    “The pervasive, fundamental theory or schema most of us have about human behavior is that people do what they do because of the kind of people they are, not because of the situation they are in. When thinking this way, we are more like personality psychologists, who see behavior as stemming from internal dispositions and traits, than like social psychologists, who focus on the impact of social situations on behavior. This tendency to infer that people’s behavior corresponds to, or matches, their dispositions and personality has been called the correspondence bias (Fisk & Taylor, 1991; Gilbert, 1998b; Gilbert & Jones, 1986; Gilbert & Malone, 1995; Jones, 1979, 1990). The correspondence bias is so pervasive that many social psychologists call it the fundamental attribution error (Heider, 1958; Jones, 1990; Ross, 1977; Ross & Nisbett, 1991).”

    I find the name, “fundamental attribution error” more intelligible from a neurological structure/function view; this error may, methinks, be usefully described as assigning “personal responsibility” for events, or aspects of events, outside the locus of control of the person being assigned responsibility.

    What would be an in-principle-refutable, useful personal and social psychological neurologically-grounded model of the biophysics of the process of an individual person making a particular decision?

    Absent such a tested and not-refuted biophysical model, is the question of free will and choice plausibly other than an exercise of superstitious whimsey, millennia of avowed social-indoctrination certitude to the contrary notwithstanding?

    If that question is not sufficiently intolerable, how about accurately testing whether disposition and personality are themselves anything other than of situational form and function?

    Jonathan Edwards, “Freedom of the Will,” Part I, Sect. I, paragraph 2:

    “And therefore I observe that the Will (without any metaphysical refining) is, That by which the mind chooses any thing. The faculty of the Will, is that power or principle of mind, by which it is capable of choosing: an act of the Will is the same as an act of choosing or choice.

    Perhaps in my ignorance, I find that Edwards description of the Will makes very good neurological-biophysical sense to me, even within a quantum-mechanical interpretation of the biology of choosing or choice.

    I wonder whether a description of a biophysical model of choice would have merit:

    Consider a model of the making of a choice, a choice which is observable through the overt conduct of the one making the choice. Such overt conduct is the result of muscle activity which results from efferent (motor neuron) activity.

    Motor neurons which are activated by consciously sentient choice, being part of the somatic nervous system, are activated by central nervous system neurons, that is, in the spine (including spinal ganglia) and the brain.

    For the purpose of this over-simplified model, consciously sentient choice happens within the brain, not the spine or spinal ganglia. Also, the brain may be modeled as a network of neurons, and individual neurons modeled as having the properties of the all-or-none law of synaptic transmission and associated propagating neuron action potentials (i.e., post-synaptic membrane, axon, cell body, and dendritic depolariation, refractory interval, and repolarization) involving time-delay. Post-synaptic membrane depolarization is a function of the electro-bio-chemistry of the synaptic cleft, which is a function, in part, of the neurochemicals (excitatory or inhibitory neurotransmitters) which dendrites of other neurons have released into the synaptic cleft. Whether a neurotransmitter chemical is excitatory or inhibitory is a function of each particular post-synaptic membrane receptor. Depolarization of a synaptic post-synaptic membrane is a threshold process, which is the basis of the all-or-none law.

    It is my observation that the process of synapse depolarizations which lead to an overt-conduct-observable choice is strongly influenced by the indeterminacy described by Werner Heisenberg. No, not the position or velocity of neurotransmitter molecules, they move rather slowly, and Heisenberg’s indeterminacy may be of little overall effect in terms of molecular motion. Where indeterminacy becomes significant is in terms of the overall timing of an aggregate sequence of neuron depolarizations sufficient to result in efferent activation of skeletal muscle such that there is overtly observable conduct.

    Whether or not a given neuron depolarizes within a given time interval is what constitutes choice at the cellular level. An overt choice is comprised of an aggregation of cellular-level choices, each of which is subject to the indeterminacy of Heisenberg. As the cellular-level choices have indeterminacy, so the aggregate choices, being comprised of choices having indeterminacy, are also indeterminate.

    Indeterminacy (I hold that uncertainty is a really poor choice of English-language word) is that which is neither totally determinate nor totally random-chaotic.In a totally determinate (or pre-determined) system, choices do not exist because all choices have been predetermined such that no choices remain to be made. In a totally random-chaotic system, choices made are immediately lost in the noise of the random chaos. Learning is therefore possible only in indeterminate systems

    More than 50 years ago, Fritz Heider developed aspects of attribution theory.psychology. The puzzlement of overt conduct attribution has been a focus of some psychologists for most of my life. It is hardly a new notion. Connecting such psychology research to neurology research (including such as happened to Phineas Gage or Zazetsky or people whose corpus callosum was transected to control seizures or people who survived serious brain strokes) is a work in progress, as best I can tell.

    Connecting neurophysiology modeling to optimal social structures is a work scarcely begun, particularly when the optimization is a mini-max problem wherein personal and social safety is to be maximized while minimizing personal and social risk of harm.

    Because neural function indeterminacy allows learning while pure determinacy and purely random chaos disallow learning, is that not a hint that the process of learning is itself situational, the situation including indeterminacy as necessary for learning to be possible?

    The model here is much over-simplified and is at best a mere hint of the biophysics which, if the physical world really exists, is an inescapable aspect of the reality of the relationship(s) between “responsibilities” and “response abilities”?

  2. Mike,

    It certainly is a spectrum. Before the last accident, she used to joke that at least she doesn’t have Alien Hand Syndrome, but since then and the worsening of her condition, she doesn’t joke much any more. Her quality of life has definitely and noticeably deteriorated over time. When I first met her, she was 16 and a bubbly, outgoing, happy, flirt of a girl – we even went out on a couple of dates a lifetime ago – but the OCD was much milder then. Practically a quirk rather than the full blown pathology it has become. As the condition has worsened, she’s become withdrawn, bitter, hostile and prone to engage in self-harming behaviors. Her moments of happiness are much fewer and far between and she often displaces her frustration and anger on to her brother and parents. She’s driven away many of her long time friends. It’s really a heartbreaking situation.

  3. “Enlightened self-interest, deferred gratification, assisting others (even when generalized through groups too large to establish personal and personally reciprocal ties) would all seem to be a choice we and other creatures organized into cooperative groups need to be able to make to survive collectively and progress.”


    Thank you for your follow up to CEJ’s pertinent baboon posting. Where it led me mentally was to the realization that almost all religions have at their base some form of the “Golden Rule,” or as Rabbi Hillel states it regarding explaining the “Torah”:

    “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

    Whether it was Confucius, The Buddha, Hillel, Jesus and Mohammed, it
    seems that great human prophets all preach this formulation. Most of the great Philosophers also make this a central precept. Since we see in the baboon studies that it also works in the animal world, perhaps it is a genetic characteristic for long term survival. Just as the head rests uneasily on the shoulders of the King/Queen, so too isn’t it so for the Type A types that seem to rise to prominence through their aggressiveness, unmediated by empathy and/or compassion?

  4. Roco,

    Yeah, and I’ve seen what happens too. She has ever increasing anxiety until she has a panic attack. I’ve seen her hyperventilate and pass out they get so bad. As to training, that’s what the CBT is for – to help her deal with the anxiety and resist the compulsion proper – but her condition is like the weather, occasionally she can deal with it but sometimes it’s simply overwhelming. Even when she’s able to stop, although she’s glad when she can, it still causes her distress. And it’s real panic too, not “I’m having the vapors” faux panic. She’s just as upset as you would be if you walked out of your house with a bonfire burning unattended in the living room. What’s worse is since the second car wreck, she’s prone to get angry about it. Angry to the point of becoming confrontational, which she was never was before. I truly feel sorry for her.

  5. OS,

    BTW, I forgot to credit you for your again mention of Hoffer. Indeed weeks ago you urged me to read him. All the quotes that Frank provided here and you have provided over many threads have impelled me to use my Father’s Day gift card to obtain a representative collection of his writings.
    Thank you for the enlightenment.

  6. “Even with CBT and medication she only gets partial control and at this point she’s out of drugs to try unless they come up with something new. What’s even worse, is her condition has been exacerbated by head injuries from not just one, but two, nearly fatal automobile accidents (one her fault, the other not). If you can resist an impulse by willpower alone, it is by definition not a compulsion, but merely a desire or predilection. To be conscious of one’s compulsion as she is though must be a particular form of living Hell, but I think she’d be the first one to tell you that not all exercises of free will are equally free.”


    So poignant and so on point. When it comes to Obsessive Compulsive behavior I think that there is a spectrum that runs from the non-organic
    clinical disorder, to environmentally learned behavior, to brain injury and to genetic factors. At base in all is the creation of excessively irrational apprehension fixated on certain things or situations. For the first two conditions CBT is indeed the best method available and I’ve personally have seen marvelous results in its’ application. Failing that and failing mitigation pharmacologically, it is a living hell, which perhaps no one afflicted can exercise free will and must always be taunted by behavior they understand but can’t control.

    In re: our pet trolls, Buddha forgive them for they know not what they do. They may indeed have some free will within them, but their options are so limited by their cultism that they need to relieve their tension by projecting that rigidity of mindset onto others. You, who are among the most iconoclastic here, are accused by them of acting in a manner that typifies their behavior. As straitjacketed cultists of extreme selfishness, they are unable to discern their mental limitations, or the inherent dichotomy of their
    false beliefs. They are to be pitied. However, I understand that you like my cat must play with the reptiles (my equivalent of mice) and unlike my cat who can’t understand when they stop moving, your enjoyment of the play is a gift that keeps giving.

  7. “When we had a competency hearing, the judge was outraged at our findings the woman was incompetent with an IQ of 44.”


    OMG! Not only was this judge an idiot deserving (though probably never getting) removal from the bench. I think it is a good indicator of what Frank has been discussing about the applications of the various “incompetency”
    rules. While they’re on the books and there are many precedents, in practical usage and in many localities the compliance is perfunctory by Judges and Prosecutors.

  8. “Mike Spindell : There is something very calming about your posts. I sincerely appreciate your remarks and your wisdom. Maybe, it’s in part, because I am entering my 7th decade on the planet earth.”

    Frank M.,

    Your kind comments mean much to me. Anyone who is a friend of Jonathan and Mark automatically has my respect because I so value both their intelligence and humanity. Your various comments have been filled with insight, wit and are obviously the work of a good human beings. I am the “Old Fart” here, fast approaching my eighth decade and in my dotage I began to realize I was approaching wisdom when I also realized how much there was that I didn’t know. There is much in what you’ve said that I’d like to comment on, since I left here early to catch up on and to watch the season premiere of HBO’s “True Blood,” whose “leitmotif” is whether or not Vampires should be accorded civil rights and so is a proper topic for discussion here.

    “It is easier to love humanity than to love your neighbor.”

    The Hoffer quotes you provided are heavy lifting since each one is a jewel, crafted in a way that causes one to spend infinitely more time in thought about them, compared with their brevity. The one above resonates with me
    and reminds me of one of my Idols, (as an iconoclast I have few) Clarence
    Darrow. His partner for a time was Edgar Lee Masters (Spoon River Anthology). Irving Stone in his Darrow biography stated (close but possibly a paraphrase) “Clarence Darrow loved people and hated humanity, while
    E.L. Masters loved humanity and hated people.” I read that in my formative years and I must admit I share Darrow’s predilection. Human history is one of cruelty and horror inflicted upon those merely trying to live their all too human lives. I personally relate to the struggles of individuals just trying to do their best and helping those they love and/or have affection for.

    “most would respond like the article I posted earlier from the USA Today: just keep him locked up to protect society because we watched the news and clearly he committed the crime.”

    Humanity has always responded in a coarsened manner towards juridical punishment, that assumes injustices could never happen to them.
    The person who had one too many drinks at an Office Christmas Party, only to drive into another car on the way home, will find themselves charged criminally. That same person prior to their own fall, observing a case reported on TV, may well have been of the opinion that the defendant should suffer maximum penalties. Imperfect as it is, which you again know far better than I, our legal system with all of its rules, is an attempt to protect us all from not only crime, but from intemperate use of criminal penalties Somehow, those in greatest favor of a Draconian legal system are those least able to realize they may be next in line.

    “There is no easy answer, but I’d rather he be there, than in jail without his medication and daily mental health monitoring.”

    Having spent much time professionally in locked mental wards and on occasion having visited prisons, this is so true. While some mental facilities were broadly, though correctly depicted in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” (The Kesey book more than the Nicholson movie), compared to prison it is a far better and humane quality of life. However, like so, so much else in our society, the Psychiatric Facility system needs fixing to make it more humane.

  9. Buddha is Laughing:

    interesting story. Hopefully she will eventually be helped by science. If I had to wash my hands or do some other ritual 30 times a day, it would drive me mad.

    Have you ever asked her what it feels like to try to not do the compulsive behavior? Could she train herself to focus on something else during her compulsive episode?

  10. WOW, great thread! I got here late but the posting by CEJ of the Baboon troop that suffered an epidemic of Tuberculosis was interesting. It reminded me of another study where there were no outside pressures and it too reinforced the notion that nice guys do well.

    Below is another article by Robert Sapolsky discussing baboon behaviour among some alpha males in a troop as they age and leave the troop rather than suffer the harassment and violence that comes with the dissipation of their status due to age. He refers to a study done by Barbara Smuts that reinforces the notion that ‘nice guys’ do better, at least in old age and possibly in dispersing his genetic material, than males that adhere to the behavioural strictures of a hierarchical society.

    This isn’t actually the article I was looking for but I can’t find that one. It dealt specifically with troop leaders that had been deposed. Troop leaders that had been relatively kind to females and their babies including grooming and some food sharing as well as chasing off lower status males that used physical violence against them, would, in their forced retirement receive most of the benefits from females that are listed below. It was often a matter of a greatly shortened and brutal life or a relatively happy ‘retirement’ for the deposed leaders.

    I was talking to the better half two nights ago about something we had watched on TV and ended up relating some of the war stories (WWII) my dad told, to illustrate a point in the TV show. Dad said that people dealt with the vagaries of war in many different ways and being distrustful/closed off, being a suck-up to the officers, and being ‘a son-of-a-b**** (a user) was well in the mix. He deliberately chose being a good friend and nice guy to as many people as possible because you never knew when you would need a friend, it was relatively easy as well as being more fun. This played itself out in some funny and strange ways and the stories were always interesting and illustrative of deeper group dynamics which were not at all lost on my dad, even though he had only a primary school education. It was a successful strategy for him too.

    The notion of free will for making choices seems to point to a facility that is pro-survival both for baboons and people. Enlightened self-interest, deferred gratification, assisting others (even when generalized through groups too large to establish personal and personally reciprocal ties) would all seem to be a choice we and other creatures organized into cooperative groups need to be able to make to survive collectively and progress. Without this biological tool could there be a basis for a social structure? Is the impulse to war and violence natures way of selecting out defective social organism’s? In the absence of sophisticated weapons one would think that the creatures leading the charge would be most likely to be killed, or at least kept in check as a class?

    “The Graying of the Troops
    Baboons who live to a ripe old age are the ones who know what friends are for.

    by Robert Sapolsky
    From the March 1996”

    “Primatologist Barbara Smuts, of the University of Michigan, published a superb monograph a decade ago analyzing the rewards and heartbreaks of baboon friendships, trying to make sense of which males are capable of such stability. She documented something that I know many baboonologists have observed in their animals: males who develop friendships are ones who have placed a high priority on them throughout their prime adult years. These are males who would put more effort into forming friendly affiliations with females than into making strategic fighting coalitions with other males. These are the baboons who maximize reproductive success through covert matings with females who prefer them, rather than through the overt matings that are the rewards of successful male-male conflict. These males, in the prime of life, might even have walked away from high rank, voluntarily relinquishing dominant positions, to avoid being decisively defeated (and possibly crippled) when they came to their Waterloo.

    Work by Smuts and others has shown that male baboons become more likely to form such affiliations with females as they mellow into old age. But, to infest the world of baboons with some psychobabble, the males with the highest rates of these affiliative behaviors are the ones who made their distinctive life-style choices early on, and this establishing of priorities is what differentiates them in their old age. When I compared males who remained in the same troop in their later years with those who left, the former were the ones with the long-standing female friendships– still mating, grooming, being groomed, sitting in contact with females, interacting with infants. These are the males who have worked to become part of a community. ”


  11. Buddha Is Laughing : Your last post really hits the nail on the head as to the inital topic of discussion! Good job!

    Now it’s time for all you boys to come inside, wash your hands and get ready for supper. Daddy is on the way home. After supper, do your homework and get ready for bed. “Nite-nite” as my Mama use to say.

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