Friday, April 18, 2014
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人类变得更好了吗?

发自墨尔本——看着每天充斥着战争,恐怖主义以及残暴政府滥权行为的报纸头条,听着那些宗教领袖们哀叹公共和私人生活的行为标准正不断下滑,这很容易给人以一种我们正生活在道德崩溃时代的印象。但笔者却觉得有理由对我们的未来保持乐观。

30年前笔者曾写过一本名为《不断扩大的圈》的书,书中写道,从历史角度看,被我们纳入道德考量的事物圈子一直在扩大,先是从部落到国家,接着是种族或是族群,再到全人类,最后延伸到非人类生物。而这肯定是种道德上的进步。

我们或许会认为进化导致那些只为自身利益考虑的个体——以及他们的亲族——才能被筛选留存下来,因为携带这类特性的基因更可能开枝散叶。但笔者当时则在书中指出,理性的发展将使我们走上一条不同的道路。

一方面,拥有理性思考的能力赋予了我们一项明显的进化优势。它使我们可以解决问题并做好计划规避风险,因此也提高了生存下来的可能性。但在另一方面,理性可不仅仅是一个中性的问题解决工具,而更像一个自动扶梯般的东西:一旦拥有了它,我们就能被送到一个过去从未触及的地方。特别是理性可以使我们发现,那些原本处于自身道德观之外的其他事物其实在相关方面与我们非常相似。于是将它们排除在我们应当进行道德考虑的领域之外会被认定是蛮横固执,或者简直就是错的。

史蒂文·平克(Steven Pinker)最近出版的《我们本性中的好天使》一书对这一观点提供了极大支持。这位哈佛大学心理学教授借鉴了在历史,心理学,认知科学,经济和社会学方面的新近研究成果,证明我们的时代其实已经比人类出现以来的任何时代都更少暴力,更不残忍,也更平和。

在家庭,邻里,部族和国家中的暴力行为都有所减少。基本上当今的人们比他们过往的祖先更少机会被暴力杀害,或者遭受他人施加的暴力或残酷行为。

许多人会对这个观点有所怀疑。有些人认为从前那种男打猎女采果的生活更简单也似乎更平和,也与自己当前的生活相近。但通过检测那些从考古遗址发掘出来的骨骼,我们发现有15%的史前人类是死于他人的暴力打击之下的(相比之下在20世纪上半叶,两次世界大战在欧洲导致的死亡率还不足3%。)

甚至连那些被考古学家称赞为尤其“温和”的部族族群——比如马来西亚的瑟买人(Semai),非洲卡拉哈里(Kalahari)沙漠地区的坤族人(Kung)以及生活在北极圈中部地区的因纽特人——其谋杀数量相对于人口总量的比率来说都可以跟底特律——美国谋杀率最高的城市之一——不相上下。

平克同意理性是支撑他所阐述的趋势的一项重要因素。为了支撑这一观点,他引用了“弗林效应”——哲学家詹姆斯·弗林(James Flynn)的一项重大发现:自从智商(IQ)首次进行测试以来,人们的得分取得了相当大的提升。在定义上平均智商值应该是100,但为了取得这一结果,原始的测试数据必须进行标准化。而如果今天一个拥有平均智商的青少年被送回1910年接受测试的话,他/她将能得到130分,高于当时98%的受测者。

我们不能轻易地把分数的提升归因于教育水平的提高,因为该项测试中分数提升最多的部分并不需要对词汇量的良好掌握或甚至是数学能力,而是抽象思维中的评估能力。

另一个解释我们更高的智商分数的理论认为这是因为我们处于一个符号更加密集的环境之中。而弗林自己则认为科学推理模式的广泛传播也扮演了其中一个角色。

平克认为推理能力的提升给予了我们把自身与当前经验以及个人狭隘观点分离开来的能力,并将我们的理念以一种更加抽象而普遍适用的方式勾勒出来。这也转而催生了一个更美好的道德承诺,包括避免使用暴力。而在20世纪中也正是这种推理能力得到了提高。

因此有理由相信是得到提升的推理能力使我们得以避免受到自己本性中更冲动因素的影响,而也正是这些因素引发了暴力。这或许可以解释自1945年以来战争死亡人口大幅减少的事实——在过去20年间下滑得更厉害。如果是这样的话,无可否认我们将继续面对诸多严峻问题,其中当然包括灾难性气候变化的威胁。但即便如此,也有理由去期望更多的道德进步。

翻译:邹痴成

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  1. CommentedSergio Mayorga

    1. Even though reason makes it possible to solve problems and to plan to avoid dangers, it is a fact that stupid people reproduce at far higher rates. I witness this starkly as I live in a developing country.

    2. Humans may have been getting smarter since 1910. This trend has surely stopped since the surge of Facebook, and is in reverse now. More and more people trifle away their time and their talent perusing banalities and making meta-meta-...-meta-comments.

  2. Portrait of Peter Singer

    CommentedPeter Singer

    Correction by the author:
    The column states that the Semai people of Malaysia have a murder rate comparable, in proportion to population, to that of Detroit.
    I have since been contacted by Professor Robert Dentan, an anthropologist who has carried out extensive research on the Semai, and whose information was used by Bruce Knauft in an article that in turn is referenced in Steven Pinker's book. On the basis of the information supplied by Professor Dentan, and after consulting Professor Knauft, I withdraw the comment about the Semai. The evidence of homicide among the Semai is anecdotal and insufficient to support the conclusion that they have a murder rate comparable to that of Detroit, or anywhere else, for that matter.

  3. CommentedNijaz Deleut Kemo

    Yes, if you are representative of 1% of the worlds population, for sure you are living - getting better. But, what if you do represent 99% of the population (cca. 7 billion). Therefore, OCCUPY MOVEMENT in Spain, U.S.A. and around the globe have made good point, and answered on your wrong thesis, my dear prof. Singer. After all, long time ago Marx said:"The task is not just to understand the world (i.e. neo-colonialism/imperialism) but to change it", and John Cage said:"We can't change our minds (the collective consciousness) without changing the world." So, two dangerous developments in the world still overshadow everything else: first, there are real threats to "Getting Better" for homo sapiens - since 1945 we do have nuclear weapons, and second is, of course, environmental catastrophe (lost habitats, species, natural resources, all since 1850). Simply, our question is not "Are Humans Getting Better?" Why? We do know that science is all about establishing cause and effect. This is why there is a "scientific method" at all. Because it is so easy to fool ourselves (that we are getting better) regarding what causes what to happen in the real world today (i.e. unemployment rate in the Mediterranean countries - cradle of the civilization). Therefore, many problems in the physical world are not amenable to laboratory investigation, or theoretical lamenting. Global warming is only one of them, my dear professor.

  4. CommentedNijaz Deleut Kemo

    NO, MY DEAR PROF. DO NOT USE STATISTIC, OR CONSIDER THIS ONE ONLY ON POPULATION RISE:
    1850................................................ 1 BILLION
    2012................................................ 7 BILLION
    NEXT ONE ON GEOGRAPHICAL REPRESENTATION
    ASIA, AFRICA................................20TH CENTURY AND TODAY (BEGINNING OF 21ST), AND
    EUROPE...........................................19/20TH CENTURY.
    SO MY QUESTION IS: HOW MUCH INDIVIDUALS (PER CAPITA) SUFFERED ON A 1% RATE FOR BOTH PERIODS AND TERRITORIES.
    MY ANSWER IS THAT OUR WAY OF LIVING AND WORKING; I.E. BARBARIANISM, SLAVERY AND COLONIALISM DID THAT. NEO-COLONIALISM IS DOING THAT ONLY 40 YEARS, SO FAR. SO, WE MUST WAIT AND SEE WHAT WILL BE, OUR NEW-NEXT STATISTIC !?

  5. Commentedjohn scanlon

    It is not clear you if stipulate improved individual reasoning for such causes or improved cultural reasoning. The article seems like a case for the former as having a major bearing of our improved outcomes as opposed to the wonderous cultural evolution over time being inherent now in both our institutions (e.g. law & order, concepts of democracy, education), or just plan society & language. It is our advancing cultural progress and conventions which may in large lead to many of our progressive outcomes. Where is the split if any on culture vs individual leading to such outcomes ? Can we go in different directions ('backwards', 'sideways'), and what cultural pressures would lead us there ? Enjoyed the article - thank you.

  6. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    Kropotkin’s book ‘Mutual Aid’ had huge number of evidences that proved the theory that societies from ancient times including in the case of animals, both for the wild and the timid to have prospered with one helping the other to face adversities; it is not reason alone that has mattered for people to come together for survival, it is something beyond reason. The survival of the fittest theory and natural selection on the other hand stands the testimony of times that genetic patterns have helped the stronger, farer or more beautiful and attractive to progress than the less endowed ones; truth perhaps lies somewhere in between.
    In today’s world with so many stimuli around us, we have the challenge of rational attention to these stimuli and perhaps due to paucity of time and interest to so many we take the route of rational inattention. This has an impact to our decision making every day. The ability to reason may have improved, but we have other influences that could make us vulnerable and we must be aware that a plethora of information that we are fed with, only a small percentage would end up with a testing of hypothesis with a high probability of success.

    In a world that has to survive and sustain millions of products, services and ideas to which consumers must be attracted to, it is again more than what reason can deliver.

    Whether we are getting better of or worse, again time will tell as yardsticks would keep changing.

    Procyon Mukherjee

  7. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    Interesting article.
    And I share the writer's optimism about the future, as we truly have a cognitive function that we can use for our benefit.
    But we are not doing this consciously yet.
    We can consider human evolution as the development of the Ego.
    We were separated from other animals with the appearance of our Ego, that introduced self awareness, feeling of unique individuality, and the desire for self fulfillment, even at the expense of others beyond necessities.
    This "maximum pleasure/minimum pain" software drove us up to the present moment, where this egoistic development seems to have run into a dead end.
    We evolved into a closed, integral, totally interconnected and interdependent human system, where our egoistic software turned us into cancer cells, suddenly destroying ourselves and the environment.
    We cannot measure this through murder statistics, we need to look at the total picture with the breakdown of almost all human institutions starting from the family unit up to national and international levels.
    And outside of human society we have devoured our environment and now threaten to cause irreversible damage that can seriously threaten even our survival.
    We have a very unique cognitive function, our ability of self analysis and self critique, but we have never used it before. So far we followed our inherent egoistic desires and instincts automatically like robots.
    Today we are at crossroads. The deepening and unsolvable global crisis, and environmental crisis that is the result of our unsustainable, excessive, exploitative lifestyle is pushing us into a corner, where we cannot avoid self scrutiny any longer.
    Now we can activate our mental powers, our human cognition in order to analyze our new global human system, how we relate to nature's laws around us always thriving for homeostasis, and then work out how we, the only truly active element in this system can contribute in such way that we return the whole system into harmony.
    The only question today is if we can do this proactively, wisely, using our mental powers and free choice before we are forced by suffering, or we wait like we have done so far, until the present state becomes so unbearable that we have to change against our will.

  8. CommentedJohn-Albert Eadie

    These are MY ideas, Mr. Singer %^) What I maintain, however is that the "brain software" must have a great leap forward right now, or we won't avoid incineration from climate change.

  9. CommentedJosué Machaca

    Mr. Singer, you said that the world is better now becouse the percentage of deaths decreased. But you did not consider that there are more people in the world. For example, you said "in the first half of the twentieth century, the two world wars caused a death rate in Europe of not much more than 3%". Everybody knows that the two world wars caused millions of deaths. In the past wars caused thousends of deaths only. So, ¿Does the world get better? Your points of view are well, but when we talk of deaths we consider amount, not percentage. (Sorry for the vocabulary, I speak Spanish)

  10. CommentedBoris Krumov

    Hopefully, evolution is not just the physical aspect of itself.
    Making your way around with claws, jaws and biceps might be working for some, but in the longer term choosing the opposite approach is a show of a greater force, the one that really dominates - the force of good.
    Yes, humans are becoming better, but this is a slow and hard process.
    Thanks for the great article !
    Makes you not lose hope :)

    "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."

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