WHERE DO MORALS COME FROM? (why humans are constantly judging and evaluating?)


The social sciences have an ethics problem. No, I am not referring to the recent scandals about flawed and fudged data in psychology and political science.1 I’m talking about the failure of the social sciences to develop a satisfactory theory of ethical life. A theory that could explain why humans are constantly judging and evaluating, and why we care about other people and what they think of us. A theory that could explain something so trivial as the fact that social scientists care about data fudging.

This is not to say that we have no theories. It’s just that they’re bad theories. Consider evolutionary game theory.2 It says that ethical life results from individual rationality. How so? Assume a population of self-interested actors. (A big assumption!) Have them play a one-on-one, zero-sum game with each other, over and over again. (Prisoner’s dilemma, anyone?) The winning strategy will be something called “tit-for-tat.” The rules of TFT are as follows: 1) be nice in the first round; 2) copy your partner on all subsequent rounds. In other words, if they are mean, you should be mean back; if they act nice, you should, too. In the long run, individuals who follow the TFT strategy will be better off than people who follow a mean strategy. Or so the computer simulations tell us.

This theory is morally satisfying. Nice guys don’t finish last after all! But it is not intellectually satisfying. Human evolution didn’t really work this way. Earlyhomo sapiens was not modern homo economicus. Our ancestors were not isolated monads. They lived in small groups. They were social animals. A good theory would start with good assumptions—realistic ones. Ethical life just doesn’t feel like game theory. Often, it’s hot emotion, not cool calculation. It’s filled with anger and sorrow, love and joy, not minimizing and maximizing. Finally, a good theory would have to account for why we have moral emotions in the first place. In particular, it would have to account for “niceness” itself.

Of course, evolutionary game theory never got much traction outside economics. In anthropology and sociology, the usual response to the question of ethical life has been a blend of cultural relativism and social constructionism.3 The standard account goes something like this: Once upon a time, we thought there were moral universals. (“We” meaning our poor, un-enlightened predecessors.) Then, we discovered cultural diversity. (“We” here meaning clever social scientists.) We saw that what is forbidden in one culture may be enjoined in another. (Cannibalism, anyone?) We realized that there is no moral law within us, much less in the starry skies above us. (Take that, Immanuel!) We concluded that all laws are ultimately arbitrary. They are the product of power, not reason, be it human or divine. We understood that human beings are just blank slates on which cultural systems inscribe their moral codes. Or so Nietzsche and his acolytes tell us.


posted by f. sheikh

Is Reproductive Drive responsible for shaping our cultures, society and even religions, including Islam?

Book Review by F. Sheikh

Book “Conflicts Of Fitness” Islam, America and Evolutionary Psychology.

Author: A. S. Amin

It is a fascinating read that postulates how the reproductive drive to maximize fitness influences evolution of different cultures, societies and even religions.  It also provokes intriguing questions and thinking.

Author lays the ground work of the rest of the book in Polygamy Chapter. It explains animals’ reproductive biology and how polygamy works in a society in different scenarios. It explains polygamy in Islam. It introduces us to terms of Paternity Confidence, short-term reproductive strategies, long-term reproductive strategies and how these effect our attitudes and decision-making from casual sex to traditional marriage, from interpreting religious edits to human rights motives, from dressing flashy to wear Hijab, from conservatism to modernization and from peaceful stability to terrorism. The book also touches upon helpful hints to find a better suit by employing reproductive instincts.

It familiarized us to the term ‘conflicts of fitness’ which is also the title of the book, and how it creates conflict in the society when one’s pursue of short-term reproductive strategy conflicts with the other’s goal of long-term commitment. This conflict of fitness influences from individuals to society at large and from Western countries, where casual sex and short-term commitment is prevalent to conservative Muslim countries, which mostly practice long-term commitment. Is this causing clash of civilization?

The book looks at some practices in Islam, like polygamy, Hijab and interpretation and selection of Hadiths, through the lens of evolutionary psychology and how the short and long-term reproductive strategies play a role in these practices. The author touches upon terrorism and its association with long-term reproductive strategy, but this relationship seems very tenuous and incidental.

As I mentioned the book provokes some intriguing thinking and questions, and the one question that repeatedly keep creeping up in my mind, while reading the book, is the question of cause or effect. For example, do short-term reproductive strategies or commitment  emerge as incidental consequence of modernization, education, women independence  and sexual  liberation or it is the short-term reproductive drive that pursues the policies of modernization, education, women independence and sexual liberation to achieve short-term reproductive strategies? Or both perpetuate each other?

After reading the book, it allures you to know more about the subject and I can relate to the author when he describes how he got hooked to the topic and spent many years in writing this book. It is obvious from the reference section why he spent so much time. I congratulate the young author for doing a wonderful job in writing this book and would highly recommend for everyone, especially young generation, to read it. It is also available in Kindle Edition and makes it easy to get it in few minutes from Amazon.

The promising young author, Dr. A.S. Amin will be our guest speaker at TFUSA monthly meeting in April or May, and it will be a great session to hear the author’s views and his response to questions which naturally emerge while reading the book on such a complex topic. In order to enjoy the discussion, please read the book before coming to session.


Nergis Mavalvala: The Karachiite who went on to detect Einstein’s gravitational waves

The article rightly lauds the achievements and key role of the Karachi native Nergis Mavalvala in providing validation for a key aspect of Einstein's theory of relativity.  
Regretably there are so many talented people floundering in Pakistan  because of the failing educational system.    

Nasik Elahi


“Muslims, Jews & Presidential Politics” Brief Thought By F. Sheikh

During 2000 Presidential elections, Al Gore and Lieberman were on the Democratic ticket. The American Jewish population was thrilled to see one of their own at the ticket for vice President. But many conservative Muslims were worried about the possibility of Jewish politician only a heartbeat away from becoming the President of United States. It was a hard to swallow scenario so they voted for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. But eight years of Bush and Cheney turned out to be worst nightmare for Muslims.

As the things stand now in Presidential Primaries, there is a strong possibility that Bernie Sanders, competing for Democratic nomination, and Donald Trump, competing for Republican nomination, will emerge as nominees of their respective parties. The Jewish reaction to Bernie Sanders, a non-practicing Jew, is low key as compared to enthusiasm for Joseph Lieberman in 2000. Mr. Nicholas Confessore writes in NYT:

“Did Bernie Sanders Just Grab Jewish Crown in New Hampshire?” asked a headline in The Forward. An essay published by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency questioned why Mr. Sanders’s victory received less attention as an emblem of acceptance and accomplishment than the selection of Joseph I. Lieberman as the Democrats’ vice-presidential nominee in 2000.”

Despite the low key reaction, one can still expect overwhelming Jewish support for Bernie Sanders. But how the conservative Muslims will choose between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders?   

And how Mr. Trump, who has offended every minority, will react to a Jewish opponent with overwhelming Jewish support? Mr. Donald is already upset about his cancelling of Israeli visit  and he may turn ugly against Jewish minority as he has done with other minorities. Mr. Dana Millbank writes in Washington Post:

“This year’s Holocaust remembrance comes at a time when Donald Trump, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, retweets to his nearly 6 million followers a message from @WhiteGenocideTM based in “Jewmerica,” and a time when his nearest challenger, Ted Cruz, brandishes the endorsement of a minister who says Hitler was a “hunter” sent after the Jews by God. There has never been a more important time for Americans to heed the moral authority of the Holocaust survivors still among us.”

Mr. Dana Milbank further writes:

“I am exceptionally concerned about demagogues,” the 85-year-old Weiss told me at Wednesday’s commemoration at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. “They touch me in a place that I remember. I know their influence and, unfortunately, I know how receptive audiences are to demagogues and what it leads to.”

“It has echoes, and maybe more so to me than to native-born Americans,” she said after lighting a candle for Hitler’s victims. “I’m scared. I don’t like the trend. I don’t like how many people are applauding when they hear these demagogues. It can turn.”

Mr. Dana Milbank continues;

“Munzer, who lost two sisters and his father to the Nazis, said he never thought such things could happen in America, but now he’s not so sure. “Thinking that Germany was somehow unique is wrong,” he said.

If the choice is between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, I hope Muslims has the wisdom to join Jewish friends to support Bernie Sanders and stop a bigot who may turn out to be worse than Bush and Cheney.

F. Sheikh