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Science behind kissing

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Why do we kiss? Why is it such an exciting thing to do? And why does everyone tilt their head to the right when they kiss? Find the answers here.

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26 Comments

  1. Kleiner says:

    Are these really the answers to these questions? This is materialist reductionism at its worst! Anyone who thinks that this counts as an adequate explanation of the thrill of kissing does not really know what it means to kiss someone!

    This made me think of something the Thomist philosopher Josef Pieper said in “Only the Lover Sings”:
    “Man’s ability to see is in decline. We do not mean here, of course, the physiological sensitivity of the human eye. We mean the spiritual capacity to perceive the visible reality as it truly is.”

    Can’t you “see” that there is more to the kiss than the pheronomes, cerebral function, or residue of childhood eating movements?! Pity the lover who cannot see more!

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  2. Huenemann says:

    You’re right, there’s also all that other stuff about encountering the Other. Luckily, none of that stuff is needed in order to explain what we do; it’s only needed to explain what kissing “really means.”

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  3. Kleiner says:

    I think that “other stuff” (about encountering the Other) is needed to explain “what we do” (rather than just “what it means”) – since the question of “what we do” already contains within it a question about the purpose/function (telos) of the act. As Machuga argued (I think persuasively), you cannot rid yourself of teleological significations. You can try, but they sneak in the back door.
    Treating the meaning and doing as two radically separate things makes it seem as if the meaning is tied on, almost accidentally and as something of an afterthought, to the doing. But this does not accord in any way at all with the way the kissing is actually experienced.

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  4. Huenemann says:

    But take somebody in a casino and consider the difference between what they would say is the meaning or intention of their actions and what the pit bosses would say is the meaning or intention. The whole place is rigged so as to make optimal use of our tendency to get suckered into wishful or superstitious thinking. We think we know what we are doing, which is just exactly what the pit bosses (or their bosses) want us to think, while we engage in self-destructive behavior to fatten their wallets!

    Evolution is a supreme pit boss. Or our genes are. They reward any behavior, and any thinking associated with it, that gets our body to do just what allows them to out-reproduce their competitors. That’s what gets us to say, “Your eyes flash like tigers, baby,” instead of “Wait, let me check our genetic compatibility.”

    I’m still not convinced by Machuga/Aristotle/Kleiner/Adler. At one time it would have seemed a miracle to encounter a stupid machine that could play an intelligent game of chess. Now we know that intelligent strategies can result from zillions of stupid algorithms clunking along. I think the same could be true of apparently purposeful human action — no matter how it seems!

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  5. Kleiner says:

    You said: “[Evolution] rewards any behavior … that … allows them to out-reproduce their competitors.”

    Oops! Teleology snuck in! There is a “for the sake of” lurking in the shadows there (evolution or our genes are constantly remaking us for the sake of making us more competitive).

    Is “evolution” the new pseudo-intelligent designer? You almost ascribe a kind of intentional (teleological) agency to “evolution” or our genes in your post!

    But here is our real rub: Why be so intent on explaining things in terms of the lower rather than the higher? Do you think you can produce a decent defense of reductionism as a philosophical strategy? One of the virtues of my non-reductionist way of doing philosophy is that I do not have to swim upstream of how things seem (that is, Aristotle seems to confirm common sense, your reductionism forces you to deny it).

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  6. Kleiner says:

    By the way, I don’t think any computer can play an intelligent game of chess because I don’t think any computers are intelligent. You think they are/could be, but only because you already stacked the deck with your reductionistic definition of “intelligence” as meaning something like “sophisticated calculator”. I follow the Aristotelian tradition – intelligence is the capacity to know the essence of things – to know the “why” of the world.

    Let me elaborate. There are 3 acts of the mind:
    (a) Apprehension (b) Judging (c) Reasoning

    (a) By “apprehension” (intellectus) I mean something like “understanding” or “comprehending” a term (like ‘man’ or ‘circle’). Computers cannot do this. To use Kreeft’s analogy in my Intro course packet, “a computer no more understands what you program into it than a library building understands the information in the books you put into it”.

    (b) By “judging” I mean moving beyond the simple apprehension of one concept, and the linking or relating of two concepts (‘Man is mortal’) by predicating one of the other.

    (c) We tend to reduce intelligence to the 3rd act – reasoning or calculating (ratio). In reasoning we take multiple judgments as premises and move toward conclusions. Computers can certainly mimic this. I say “mimic” because we should think of these three acts as building on one another. While computers can calculate, they do not understand the content of the terms (apprehension/intellectus) nor the truth of the propositions (judgment) that it manipulates according to the principles of its program (its “logic”).

    In short, computers might possess (or mimic) one act of the mind, but not all three. Huenemann has reduced the mind to only the third act.
    I might add that, in order to make sense of how we can do apprehend (the first act of the mind), we must posit the existence of an immaterial mind – for what the mind apprehends is immaterial (essence, form). You can put sardines in a sardine can, but not in the mind. You put sardineness in the mind.

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  7. Huenemann says:

    Sardineness! Ha!

    OK, two things. First – no, teleology has not sneaked in, though the way I put it did sound teleologicial. Genes of course don’t know what they are doing, and don’t try to achieve anything. They do what they do blindly. The ones that happen upon successful behaviors out-reproduce the others. Here’s a ghastly illustration. There are a bunch of dogs in a pen. I walk out and slaughter all but the black ones. The black ones have puppies. I go out and slaughter the ones with long ears. They have puppies. I slaughter the ones with long tails. They have puppies. Now all the dogs are black, short-eared, and short-tailed. Would it be correct to say that the genes in the dog population worked toward the goal of producing such creatures? You could say that, from a lofty perspective, but it wouldn’t be literally true. And that’s evolution for you, including the practice of human kissing! The other possible behaviors that might be seen as ‘kissinglike’ got slaughtered away generations ago.

    Second, why should I think the apprehension/judging/reasoning model is the right one? I agree you can look at things that way, and it may be helpful for sorting out certain puzzles, but that’s no guarantee that the human mind really is organized along those lines.

    Or — sorry, here’s a third point — even if I do accept that model — I don’t see why a machine couldn’t do these things (though doing them might consist in something different than you suppose). Take spam filters — they are recognizing certain kinds of messages, making judgments (some of them erroneously) and acting on the basis of those judgments. Pretty low level, I’ll agree, but why shouldn’t it count? (I wonder if anyone has performed a ‘Turing test’ on the Kasparov/IBM games — meaning, had chess experts review the games, mixed in with human/human games, and see if they can tell which ones involved machine play.)

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  8. Kleiner says:

    My point is that you cannot help but have your explanations “sound teleological” because the world is teleologically organized!
    In your ghastly example above, there is teleology at work. In this case, of course, the “evolutionary process” is not accidental. You are intentionally selecting certain features for the sake of, I suppose, bringing about black, short-eared, and short-tailed animals.
    Now I won’t deny (and neither does Aristotle) that there is “spontaneity” in the world – events with only apparent purposiveness (like a bird flying above me in order to shit on my head). But that is the exception, not the rule. If it were the rule, we could not account for the regularity of nature.

    On computers: I don’t really do the philosophy of mind (I think it is mostly fiddling around with the consequences of a false cartesian starting point). So I am not an expert on the Turing test. But I don’t think it is a good test because I reject behaviorism, and the Turing test is essentially a behaviorist or functionalist test. It cannot test for intentionality. In other words, the Turing test already stacks the deck against an intention understanding of intelligence!
    Now nothing is more obvious to me than that my actions are intentional. Really intentional, not just apparently so. Do you want to deny that Huenemann? When you deny it, won’t you be doing something intentional?!

    I am open to suggestions for other models of intelligence. You are right that there is no “guarantee” that this is the way the human mind works, it is not an analytic a priori judgment that it does. But I think the apprehension/judging/reasoning model has the most explanatory power and seems to best fit with experience. Watching little children gives some confirmation of it. First they apprehend in an intentional way, then they judge, then they reason about their judgments. (Madeline says “materialist” and points to the Huenemann since language is intentional. Later she will say “Materialists are silly”. Still later she will be able to say, “Materialists are silly. Huenemann is a materialist. Therefore Huenemann is silly.”)

    Finally, there is a difference between “recognizing” (when the computer fishes for words in spam emails) and “apprehending”. I don’t just recognize triangles when I come across them. I know/understand/apprehend ‘what it is to be” a triangle!

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  9. Huenemann says:

    Some assorted responses:

    a). The matter at stake is whether the world is teleologically organized — so we shouldn’t begin by presuming it is! The reductionist’s challenge is to show how we can get the appearance of teleology without there really being any. Can (apparent) teleology = spontaneity + inheritable traits?

    b. I’ll agree that it really seems to us like our actions are intentional. But maybe our apparent intentionality can be the result of stupid, mechanical, nonintentional algorithms.

    c. And this is where behavioral tests come in. The whole materialist strategy is to “ramp up” what machines can do and “ramp down” the specialness that seems to belong to mentality. If we can get a complex assortment of stupid algorithms to do some of the amazing things we can do, as well as we can do them, then we have some reason to think we have figured out how we do it.

    By the way, how do you know that you know what it is to be a triangle? And how do you know that this consists in anything more than being able to recognize triangles?

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  10. Kleiner says:

    a) In fairness, I think there are presumptions on both sides. I seem to presume that the world is teleological, you seem to presume that it isn’t. My only point is that my position has a more immediate accordance with our experience of ourselves and the world. I think that makes your presumption worse. Why? Because I presume ordinary common sense/experience and try to explain it. You presume something extraordinary that swims upstream of common experience, and try to prove it. In other words, your position makes a bigger “leap”, as it were.

    b) and c) Again I would ask for a defense of reductionism as a philosophical strategy. Why begin by explaining the higher in terms of the lower, as a matter of method? It won’t necessarily give you the simplest explanation.

    c) I do think I know what it is to be a triangle. A triangle is a three sided enclosed figure with interior angles that add up to 180 degrees. That is ‘what it is to be’ a triangle, is it not?
    I think I have some understanding/apprehension of other things, like dogs and moose. Probably not a definition of the essence in the most robust socratic sense, but I think it counts as “understanding” of a sort. This because I do not think that “absolute indubitability” is the criterion for knowledge. The “what if” questions are useful for testing hypotheses, but I do not think they are good starting points. Like Aquinas and Heidegger (who are similar in at least this respect), I begin with a “hermeneutics of the ordinary and everyday”.

    At the end of the day, Huenemann, I think one of our principles differences is “pre-philosophical” in the sense of being an “affective” difference. I am epistemically optimistic, you are epistemically pessimistic.
    So I am not nearly as hung up on the “how do you know that you know” questions. I don’t mean that I am loosey-goosey and uncritical. Just that I am not really in with the whole Descartes Meditation One paranoia. I side with Aquinas, who ultimately justifies his epistemic optimism by claiming that “no natural desire can be in vain” and that “nature never fails in what is necessary” (see Summa 75.6 and 76.5). I think a defense could be made of these assertions, they are not simply bald assertions. But to the point here, we have a natural desire for knowledge, so that desire cannot be in vain and nature will provide what is necessary (a mind and a body) for us to satisfy that desire.

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  11. Kleiner says:

    By the way, what a great discussion! This is what is so great about philosophy and philosophers. I’ve been telling Amy about it, and she always wonders if we are “still getting along”.
    And sure, we both think the other person is just dead wrong. We’ll battle it out, push each other, work hard to persuade, but probably end up disagreeing. But unlike folks in other disciplines, we’ll give each other a backslap when it is all said and done.

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  12. Huenemann says:

    Agreed! But let’s not kiss just yet!

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  13. Kleiner says:

    Well, on your materialist view, we’ll kiss whenever we are determined to do so (based on our genes, pheromones, or whatever else)!

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  14. Mike says:

    I’m a common sense realist more than a scientific realist but my common sense realism doesn’t seem to get me nearly as far as Kleiner’s does. Maybe because I have some sort of wimpy Wittgensteinian form.

    I think explaining of any sort is weak sauce compared to the act itself.

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  15. Mike says:

    Pascal’s wager isn’t relevant because there are infinite metaphysical possibilities. Not just God and NoGod. So everyone should explore the possibilities and not be pacified by a false dichotomy. I think you should keep as many options as live as possible for a sort of check to your character and to see the world in more complex ways. I also don’t see any need to settle except at this moment, then this one, etc.

    If you can’t do this more broadly at least heed a plurality of views within some sort of self defined range (e.g. pluralism inside Christianity).

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  16. Mike says:

    I’m not sure how Heidegger means “metaphysics” I guess. I like the warning of deepest error though, that’s great.

    I don’t call that Schleiermacher view unification btw, I call that reduction.

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  17. Mike says:

    I’m not a materialist, if that’s the core issue I think we’re on the same side. :)

    Well, i’m also not an immaterialist. I like to keep that question alive as well.

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  18. Mike says:

    What sort of entity is enforcing that a decision be made here?

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  19. Kleiner says:

    Excellent analysis and contributions, Vince! I was perhaps being too rigidly “scholastic” in my posts, and it helps to “existentialize” the points. You have done an excellent job of that. We are “betweens” or “relations” (the self is a relation on Kierkegaard’s view, and also Heidegger’s I think) – both ontologically and in terms of our existential experience.
    So much to speak on, but I will limit myself to this:
    Mike asked “what sort of entity is enforcing that a decision be made”? Vince opts for the self. I am not so sure. Heidegger always speaks of the “call” as coming from “everywhere and nowhere”, from coming “both from the self and not the self”. The “entity” that enforces such a decision cannot be fixed.
    Is it the “face” (Levinas)? Is it the “neighbor” (Kierkegaard in ‘Works of Love)? Is it art, boredom, anxeity, etc (Heidegger)? … …
    Whatever we say, I resist simply saying “the self” because I am not so sure that we have the kind of control over the choice that Vince suggests. The encounter does the work, we don’t.

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  20. Mike says:

    I’d prefer not to be called an agnostic because it’s not that I don’t know the answer to the question. Instead, I question the question for “accurate description of how humans work” reasons. So I think I should just be labeled a Humanist, or an honest humanist since I think honesty is a higher value (provides more meaning) than faith or hope. Even faith or hope in science or progress!

    I don’t think the kinds of beliefs that can have that sort of flux should be considered foundational or central or core. Which leaves me with really minimalist and boring beliefs that I think are inescapable. For me, if it’s something you can choose then it’s not a core belief.

    I don’t want to describe away meaning using any sort of view of the world, I just want people to get a handle on what their own view of the world really is. Not what you believe you believe but what your actions dictate you believe. Not what you think you know but what your actions dictate you know. Not what you think you desire but what your actions dictate you desire. Once you can start to identify correctly what the contents of your brain represent I think a lot easily falls away — you start to untie a knotted understanding. The best way to do that is to take a bunch of philosophical journeys. Taking some literal journeys probably helps as well, meet some “other” people (who really aren’t anything like you), that sort of thing has tangible results. Unfortunately (fortunately?) there isn’t an exact prescription.

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  21. Mike says:

    funny :) i seem to be doing a lot of editing after the fact. A lot of what I’m saying is pseudo Wittgenstein but it’s also pseudo Nietzsche and pseudo pragmatism.

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  22. Kleiner says:

    Well, I might be misunderstanding what Mike was asking for in his question about what enforces the decision.
    I think Heidegger gives us a non-answer answer. The “call” comes from “nowhere”. It is not from me and not from the other. It is from “nothing”, which is oddly “something” without being a “thing”.

    This leads to the postmodern fascination with that which is “beyond being” (this is, of course, also a recovery of Plato since the Good is “beyond being” in the Republic).
    So where does the call come from? I have the same suggestions:
    God beyond being (Marion)?
    The “face” of the “Other” (Levinas)?
    Art (Heidegger)?

    But if you have Mike’s point right – could one say no to the other’s “face”?
    Well, yes and no. No, the face holds you hostage and holds you responsible. Yes, you don’t have to take up the responsibility, but your are still “hostaged” by the face (Levinas’ language).
    You are always already responsible and “in debt” to the other, a “passivity that is beyond all passivity” or – to use Heidegger – “between the passive and the active”. We are cutting through the usual subject-object distinctions here (do I act and choose or does the other determine me). Our language is too metaphysical (it inherits the S-O split) to really say it.
    Again, that can be taken up or not taken up – but that is the project of self-hood (Kierkegaard). Insofar as one does not take up the call, one fails to relate oneself to oneself as related to the other and so fails to be a self at all!

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  23. Mike says:

    I like Vince’s interpretation of me :). I think I’m going to take that as a motto “just go out and be useful!”

    I think Wittgenstein would say meaning is much more contextual than analysis can account for and language is part of that game.

    I take Kleiner’s post as a multiple choice question and I choose B — the ‘face’ of the ‘other’ as the phenomena and C — Art as the appropriate response. But taking an “ought” from an “is the case” is still a bit of a jump for me, I’m still playing with that. Or I should say at that point we get into the realm of “personal” philosophy for me which is a bit different than my core philosophy.

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  24. Kleiner says:

    Art can be a response (see Nz, and Foucault), but Heidegger means that art might be a location for “thinking” (with all that Heidegger packs into that). I don’t see it as multiple choice, I am inclined to say “all of the above and more”. I don’t want to get into the business of immediately limiting the possible locations of transcendence (the icon as opposed to the idol, in Marion’s terminology).
    I think Levinas would deny that there is an “ought from an is” problem here. Why? Because the face is “beyond being”. Ethics is ‘first philosophy’ on his view – it precedes metaphysics (in fact, metaphysics seems to cover over the face). Before there is an “is” (essence, metaphysically understood) there is always already the face that hostages you and calls you out of your egological self (which covers over your responsibility).
    So this is not ethics traditionally understood. Again, Kierkegaard anticipated so much of this in his teleological suspension of the “ethical” (by which he means something metaphysical, the “universal”). It is, I think, an ethics of LISTENING first and foremost. The task of selfhood involves shutting up and listening.

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  25. Mike says:

    Some of that starts to seem too extreme to me, creating a new game instead of discovery. Listening first and foremost I like, I think that’s a similar sentiment to “pay attention” first and foremost.

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  26. Mike says:

    Obviously, it is a game of words, but words are the only game in town with respect to human discussion. We must categorize to understand.

    Try this explanation of Wittgenstein’s use of language and meaning (it’s short I promise).

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