Systems Philosophy and Lab Babies

By Fred Frees

The Scientific Worldview [Borchardt, pg. xxv, 2007], states that “Systems Philosophy” is the Twentieth Century world view, which draws imaginary boundaries around portions of the universe and calls them “systems.” Systems Philosophy concentrates on these “systems” and ignores everything else.

And here in the 21st Century, it seems that Systems Philosophy is alive and well. In this case, the “system” is a human baby.

A recent segment on 60 Minutes asked the question:

Are human beings inherently good? Are we born with a sense of morality? Or, do we arrive blank slates, waiting for the world to teach us right from wrong? Or, could it be worse? Do we start off nasty, selfish devils, who need our parents, teachers, and religions to whip us into shape?

This topic was apparently so important to the producers of 60 Minutes, that they felt it necessary to air the segment twice (once this year, 2013, and once last year, 2012).

Enter the Baby Lab. Here, experimenters (alleged experts in behavior and psychology—one of them from Yale), put on puppet shows to see how babies as young as 3 months react.

In the first experiment, the babies watch as three puppets act before them. In the center is a box. The center puppet tries to open the box, without success. At times, the puppet on the right helps the center puppet successfully open the box. At other times, the puppet on the left, prevents the center puppet from opening the box by forcefully jumping on it.

After watching this, the baby is presented with the left and right puppets, and is encouraged to choose between them. The babies seem to prefer the “nice” puppet over the “mean” puppet. In the case of the 3-month olds, some of them would look at the “mean” puppet for a few seconds, then look at the “nice” puppet for an extended period of time. We should note, however, that babies continually develop a sense of purpose with their first cry for food. Screaming and shouting (considered bad behavior at times) gets you food; doing nothing gets you nothing.

In another experiment, three puppets attempt to play catch with a ball. But, one of the puppets refuses to play, and won’t let go of the ball. Later, when the same “selfish” puppet tries to retrieve the ball from a box, one of the other puppets helps him and the other prevents him. Of the babies tested, 67% of them showed a liking for the puppet that prevented the “selfish” puppet from getting the ball, supposedly because the “ball-thief” deserved to be punished.

In other words, babies have memory. They remembered what happened the last time he got it: the show was over. Babies (cats watching birds, too) love to watch things—it’s how they learn about the world. Stopping the show is like stopping the world (they are solipsists, after all). What is missing in all this is: What does the baby get out of making a particular choice? What does this say about the 33% who could not remember the show stopping or really were not interested in the show (sleepy? dimwitted? bad eyesight?).

In a third experiment, the babies were offered a bowl of Cheerios and a bowl of Graham Crackers.

Once the preference was made (it didn’t matter which one), two puppets were introduced, pretending to eat out of each bowl. The babies seemed to prefer the puppet that liked the same food choice, and rejected the puppet that made the opposite choice. This supposedly showed how humans are born with prejudices against those who are different, and prefer those who share similarities.

What is overlooked here, is the need for closure. To quote Dr. Glenn Borchardt from his blog:

“To make a decision, we need to have closure. Thus, once we have chosen an auto or a spouse, we must “close our minds” to other possibilities. Closure reduces cognitive dissonance and makes our lives simpler. For most of us, life would be impossibly inefficient if we had to choose an auto or a spouse each morning. Like Newton’s object once in motion, we favor least motion, which allows us to go humming down life’s track with least effort. We will still have millions of decisions to make, but the ones that have already experienced closure will not need to be among them.”

Their conclusion: Human beings are born with an innate sense of morality (right over wrong) and justice (the need for punishment). And, apparently, we are also born bigots.

The program ends with older children showing more signs of generosity (a learned behavior). And all this, they say, is attributed to biological evolution. At least we can be glad they kept religion out of the equation.

But, how do these experiments fare in the light of Univironmental Determinism? Can the assertion that “human beings are born with an innate sense of morality” be fallacious?

As far as the experiments are concerned, the results were not even close to 100%. That a majority of babies chose a certain way could be caused by various factors: Maybe they liked the color of a given puppet. Maybe their choices were arbitrary. Maybe their consensus was coincidental. Or, maybe, the conclusion that humans are born with these behaviors, is just wishful thinking.

Fortunately, we have Univironmental Determinism to guide us. We know that behavior isn’t something that can be passed biologically from generation to generation [Borchardt, TSW, pg. xxv, 2007]. So, how can babies be born with any sense of morality or justice?

Behavior is not a “thing.” It doesn’t have x,y,z dimensions, and doesn’t “exist.” Behavior is an interaction between things [Borchardt, TSW, pg. xxv, 2007]. When viewed univironmentally, we can surmise that babies react through learned behavior the minute they are born. The psychologists at the Baby Lab could stand to read The Scientific Worldview in order to release themselves from the shackles of Systems Philosophy. 

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