Man Alive! Chapter 2: The nature of your nature

Here’s the post that kicked it all off. This is chapter 2 of 12, to give interested readers the chance to take on the free ebook chapter by chapter over the weekend, debate it amongst themselves, or even challenge the author who’s keeping tabs.


From: Man Alive! A survival manual for the human mind.

by Greg Swann

Chapter 2. The nature of your nature.

Everything I have to say about anything starts with carrying the claim back to the object. The essence of philosophical error, deliberate or not, is creative solipsism: “The nature of the thing under discussion is what I need it to be to make my argument work out.” This is useless, of course, since no amount of creative map-making will turn a mountain into a valley. The map is not the territory. If we want to make useful, cogent arguments about what humanity is, we must look to actual human beings, not to incomprehensible maunderings about what humanity “must” be – regardless of the facts.

This is ontology, the study of the nature of real things, irrespective of what anyone thinks about them. And as we will see repeatedly, as we go along, ontology really matters only when we are talking about human beings. There is no one who claims that there is anything controversial about the nature of rocks or trees or reptiles. Only human nature is deployed in one bogus argument after the next, each one devised to induce you to try to violate your own inviolable ontological nature.

There is another big word we need to deal with, so we might as well get it out of the way. Teleology is the branch of philosophy concerned with oughts – what real things should do. Again, it only matters with respect to human beings. A rock should sit around doing nothing until something else acts on it. A tree should grow toward the sun until it is felled by disease or collapses from its own weight. A reptile should eat, mate and moult until it is devoured by a starving bird. These are all non-controversial statements, ultimately of interest only to lab-coated academics.

But ontology and teleology matter a great deal as soon as the conversation turns to human beings. Recall that the most important question in philosophy is, “What (ontology) should (teleology) I (ontology) do (teleology)?” Accordingly, the sole topic of philosophical and theological writing, for all of human history, has been teleology: What should you do? As above, philosophers and theologians will insist that they are concerned with loftier issues, the big picture. This is false. The only thing that matters to human beings is humanity, and the sole purpose of any doctrine – including this one! – is to induce you to change your behavior.

Ontology is being and teleology is shoulding, and, practically speaking, shoulding only matters with respect to human behavior. You can’t “should” a rock into behaving like a reptile, nor a reptile a rock. But you sure can “should” a man into sacrificing everything he is, everything he has and everything he loves for some crack-pot theory – a religion or a philosophy or a political movement. Most of us don’t actually do the things we are “shoulded” about, thank heavens! We’ll give our favorite “thought-leader” – whom we never think to call a crack-pot – an hour or two a week, but then we go back to living a normal life that is largely appropriate to our true human nature – the human nature that our pet crack-pot insists in high dudgeon cannot possibly be what it actually is, and instead can only be what his doctrine commands it “must” be.

It’s funny in the abstract, and just about anyone can have great fun picking apart any ridiculous doctrine but his own. Your own dogma is holy writ, of course, and I don’t plan to take it away from you. If you cannot demonstrate the truth of your arguments by carrying them back to the object – by demonstrating them in reality – I don’t care what you say about human nature or why you behave the way you do. Your claims might actually be true, but if you are unable to defend them in ontology and teleology, they are just so much white noise to me. I accept that your dogma is sacred to you. I also regard it as being undefended – even if you disagree.

That’s your business, in any case. I plan to “should” humanity in the large – to talk about how human beings ought to behave in order to maximize the potential made possible by their ontological nature. But I don’t intend to “should” you – the individual person – too much at all. I don’t want to take from you the ideas you treasure now, I want to give to you the treasures you have never had – but always wanted. I want to show you how the human mind really works, so that you can take full command of it.

So start here: You are an organism. That might seem obvious to you, but a huge number of the critical arguments made against your mind turn on the idea that, since you have a rational, conceptual consciousness, any sort of behavior that reflects your origins as a biological entity is necessarily irrational. We can call this the Spock Fallacy. I think the portrayal of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock himself refutes this claim well enough, but it is one of a type of reductionist fallacies that are constantly being deployed against you: Not only are you damned as being less than the sum of your parts, typically some one part of your nature – blown out of all proportion and distorted out of all recognition – is declared to be a cipher for the whole.

The Determinist Fallacy is a reductionist dodge you will run into all the time, if you are able to identify it under its many thousands of masks. In its most basic form, it seeks to conflate living organisms with inanimate matter: Since atoms and rocks and planets are all governed in their “behavior” by inviolable physical causality, where each event is the unavoidable consequence of prior physical causes, the behavior of organisms must also be causally deterministic. No one knows why organisms are so different from inanimate matter – recall, the rock does nothing on its own – but they are obviously radically different, and conflating the two categories is clearly an error – a very common error. At the atomic or sub-atomic level, the causal events will be similar, but clearly that kind of predictable causal determinism does not scale in the linear fashion the determinists want it to. If you doubt this, push a boulder around for a while. Then go push a mountain lion around in the same way. Your peer-reviewed academic paper on your results just might win a prize – and your picture in the newspaper will be a sight to behold!

You are a particular type of organism, a mammal, and, in consequence, you share many characteristics in common with other mammals. Fish swim, birds fly and snakes slither, but only mammals exhibit the kinds of behaviors we would associate with emotions in human beings. We will talk more about this when we get to the subject of Mothertongue, but it is our mammalian heritage that leads Mr. Spock to so much consternation: It is irrational, goes this argument, that we should spend so much of our time engaging in behaviors – like cuddling or consoling each other or making love – that are both non-conceptual and intellectually or economically unproductive.

Are you sensing a common thread here? Every criticism of human nature consists of the derision of you and your mind for being what they are. As a matter of ontology, you are an organism, and you behave like an organism, not like a rock and not like a robot. You are a mammal, and so you behave like a mammal and not like a reptile or a tree. If any statement I make about your nature as a type of entity does not take into account everything you are as that type of entity, I am making a gross conceptual error: I am conflating the single aspect of your nature that I am focused on with the whole. If the statements I make on that basis are at least factually true – and don’t contradict anything else I know about human nature – I may qualify for a hugely redundant doctorate degree. But if my claims are not true, or if they contradict other aspects of human nature, I am committing the Reductionist Fallacy.

But you are much more than a mammal – and this is why we are having this discussion in the first place. You are capable of conceptual consciousness – sorting the evidence you apprehend with your senses into mental categories – where no other organism is. You are capable of rationality – reasoning in proportion about those categories – where no other organism is. And you are capable of governing your behavior accordingly by informed discretion – by free will – where no other organism is.

You are not bound by nature or physics or the gods to do any of this. In the first place, each one of those capacities had to be cultivated within you – and not by you. And in the second place, there is nothing in the laws of nature that prevents you from devising specious conceptual categories, conflating those categories out of all rational proportion and then resolving to do things you know in advance are contrary to your true nature as an entity. And if you get good enough at documenting that kind of deliberate nonsense, someone might just give you a doctorate degree – in philosophy, no less!

You are a being of rationally-conceptual volitionality – a free moral agent – and in this you are sui generis – a category unto your own. There is nothing like you in mere inanimate matter, and therefore it is a logical fallacy to describe your behavior as nothing more than the manifestation of inviolable physical laws.

Note in this context that all of philosophy assumes the idea of human free will. The stars cannot be persuaded by rhetoric to move in other orbits, and the sands on the beach cannot be wheedled, threatened or flattered into rearranging their distribution. If you are attempting to persuade me of the “truth” of inviolable physical causality as an explanation of human behavior, you are necessarily insisting, simultaneously, that I both can and cannot change my mind by an act of will. Both propositions cannot be true, and your own efforts at persuading me are proof that you yourself do not accept determinism – not the physical determinism addressed above, nor similar claims of a psychological, behavioral, genetic or neuro-chemical determinism – as the cause of human behavior.

That same argument applies to every sort of “must” argument of human nature. Human beings are physical objects, like all organisms, and so they “must” obey laws of nature like the law of gravitation. But to say that any sort of purposive, consciously-chosen human behavior “must” conform to this or that arbitrary law – defended in physics or biology or psychology or philosophy or theology or pure fantasy – is simply false to fact. No one who has raised a child can doubt this proposition. Human will is free of external constraints of all sorts, and just about any teenager will be happy to prove this to you with any act of defiance you choose to induce by forbidding it.

Similarly, because you are a being of rationally-conceptual volitionality, most arguments conflating human behavior with that of other animals are also fallacious. I call the most common form of these claims the Dancing Bear Fallacy: “See the bear dancing to the music! It’s just like us!” No, it is not. A trained animal does what it is trained to do – it knows not what or why – in anticipation of getting a treat. (A clever graduate student might jump up just now to observe that doing tricks for treats is just like having a job – and, no, it is not.) Human beings dance vertically in order to find out if they might want to continue the dance horizontally, later on, in private. The two types of events are nothing alike, and it is a gross error to conflate them.

The general form of the specious appeal – this seems to have certain traits in common with that, therefore this is that – is a comically obvious error when you state it plainly. The people who make these sorts of arguments can’t state anything plainly, of course, so you need to train your mind to unpack their claims. If there are significant differences in kind between the “this” and the “that” – regardless of their seemingly “uncanny” similarities – the argument is most probably deploying the Specious Analogy Fallacy.

As a sort of pocket-reference to the kinds of bogus arguments made about your mind – claims you will see everywhere if you look for them – take note of these three general categories:

1. “We now know we know nothing!” Either your mind is inherently unreliable or the world outside your mind is fundamentally incomprehensible.

2. “Your good behavior is not to your credit, but at least your bad behavior is not your fault!” The actions you think of as being morally good or evil are either causally unavoidable or are caused by something other than your free will – hormones, brain chemistry, genes, brian defects, drugs, diseases, your upbringing, your environment, your wealth or poverty, memes, etc.

3. “Dancing bears are just like us!” Either animals such as apes or dolphins (or even “artificially intelligent” computer programs) are just as smart as you, or you are just as flailingly ignorant as an animal.

Note that all three of these categories are self-consuming: To uphold them, necessarily, is to deny them. If we know we know nothing, then we must know at least that one something – begging the question of how we can know even that little bit of nonsense. If the human will is not free, I cannot will myself to persuade you of this claim – nor even simply to make it – and you cannot will yourself either to accept or reject it. And if your mind works “just like” an animal’s brain, then you cannot discover anything at all about how your mind works, nor record or communicate your findings. Do you doubt me? If so, please have your pet or your software project write a peer-reviewed paper denouncing my egregious intellectual arrogance. No one believes this hogwash. They just want for you to believe it – or at least not dare to challenge it.

But what about denigrations of your mind that are factually true? For example, can adrenaline in your bloodstream temporarily induce you to act out of proportion to your circumstances? Yes. Can pheromones goad you to dance horizontally with someone you should never even have danced with vertically? Yes. Can you make an error of perception in your apprehension of sense evidence, or can you make an error of knowledge in your reasoning about that evidence? Yes. Can you choose unwisely? Oh, yes! – especially when it comes to choosing whom to listen to about the nature of human nature.

You are most fundamentally a being of rationally-conceptual volitionality, but you are everything you are. Your thinking can be influenced by any number of external and internal factors. And your thinking, no matter how carefully you undertake the responsibility of thinking, can be in error. And, worst news of all, you can deliberately induce errors in your thinking, or pretend to, in order to rationalize saying or doing things that you know in advance are wrong – rationally unjustifiable according to your own standard of morality.

Does any of that make you fundamentally wrong? Impotent? Incompetent? Inept? Clumsy and chaotic? Diabolical? Corrupt? A dancing bear cannot actually dance, but it is beyond all doubt perfect in its expression of bearness. Why is so much of modern philosophy devoted to denouncing you for being so perfect, most of the time, in your expression of your humanity? Why is it always you who is flawed, deformed, bungled and botched? Why is your every glory portrayed as an ugly stain? Why would anyone ever create an artifact of the mind insisting that the universe would be a better place without any artifacts of the mind?

I can answer those questions, but I’m not going to. Not here. Not now. The only benefit to be realized from the study of errors is to learn how to correct them and how not to repeat them. Any sort of argument about what the human mind is not is most likely aimed away from your values, not toward them. Your mind is your sole means of survival, and you achieve your values by training your mind to work better and better, not by devising specious rationales for spitting at your mind, your self and your nature as a human being.


OK, let the debate begin if you’re interested.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. Sean on June 3, 2012 at 08:29

    Wow, posted fifteen hours ago and no comments. While I don’t agree so much with Greg’s first principles approach, and somewhat over-the-top rhetoric, I think he does a great job of explaining philosophical principles, his knowledge of philosophy is obviously quite deep (or at least way deeper than mine).

  2. marie on June 3, 2012 at 08:37

    I can see most of the examples to the human nature arguments, except ;
    “Human beings dance vertically in order to find out if they might want to continue the dance horizontally, later on, in private.”
    Wrong in so many ways, especially since it was countering the dancing bear fallacy, an Individual animal dancing without awareness vs. with. Human nature includes art, at a very fundamental level all the way back to the caves, that we know. Is all art really about sex? Someone could (some have) made that argument. I don’t see it.

    • Kate Ground on June 3, 2012 at 10:38

      I agree with both the over-the-top rhetoric. This whole entire chapter can really be summed up in paragraphs 11 and 12. With some minor tid bits here and there.

      Marie, as a once upon a long time ago dancer, I agree with art and sex…..I didn’t dance to have sex.

      ” Why is so much of modern philosophy devoted to denouncing you for being so perfect, most of the time, in your expression of your humanity”. I still don’t agree with this. I have always found the opposite.

    • Greg Swann on June 3, 2012 at 12:40

      > Is all art really about sex?

      Dancing is sex in pantomime. Obviously this is not the only reason human beings dance, but the point is that every purposive human action is taken for some reason, where the motivation behind the actions of a trained animal is never the animal’s reason but always and only the trainer’s reason. The point is to establish the bright-line distinction between human behavior and the actions of all other organisms.

      > Is all art really about sex?

      A lot of it is, but, FWIW, I would argue that art is about Fathertongue first. I make that case in Chapter 8.

      • Kate Ground on June 3, 2012 at 13:19

        Well, for most men, tiddly winks is sex in pantomime.

        Isn’t the reason behind a trained animal ‘s dancing reward or punishment? That would make it a “reason” for the animal. And, if dancing for sex is a human’s reason, wouldn’t that be simply a reward response? (or punishment if denied). Bears dancing, men playing tiddly winks….hmmm,

      • Greg Swann on June 3, 2012 at 15:46

        > That would make it a “reason” for the animal. And, if dancing for sex is a human’s reason, wouldn’t that be simply a reward response?

        This is precisely the conflation of unlike things that results in the Dancing Bear Fallacy:

        Similarly, because you are a being of rationally-conceptual volitionality, most arguments conflating human behavior with that of other animals are also fallacious. I call the most common form of these claims the Dancing Bear Fallacy: “See the bear dancing to the music! It’s just like us!” No, it is not. A trained animal does what it is trained to do – it knows not what or why – in anticipation of getting a treat. (A clever graduate student might jump up just now to observe that doing tricks for treats is just like having a job – and, no, it is not.) Human beings dance vertically in order to find out if they might want to continue the dance horizontally, later on, in private. The two types of events are nothing alike, and it is a gross error to conflate them.

        A reason is conceptual. Animals do not think in concepts — in Fathertongue. Because they don’t, the conflation of animal behavior with human free will is always an error.

      • Kate Ground on June 3, 2012 at 17:53

        That’s what I was hinting at. Dancing for a reward (sex) equates to the dancing bear. Is sex a concept? Or a reproductive need. Or a way for horny males to release angst and “pressure”. So what you are saying, IMO is that dancing for the bear is not a conditioned response and neither is a male dancing to be rewarded but sex. I am saying TNT, yes, some males do the peacock strut to attract females….but most males I know …and many are gay, dance to just dance.

  3. marie on June 3, 2012 at 08:41

    Oh, and the no comments part is the good weather,I think -a trend in weekends lately. It’s now easier to do this on weekdays in work breaks than on glorious weekends. For example: I think I made all of one comment yesterday all day and I’m on my out again now.

  4. rob on June 3, 2012 at 11:17

    Generally the only reason that men dance is to win/maintain a woman’s favor. Most of us don’t like to dance because we are capable of recognizing that we suck at it, and men hate doing stuff that they suck at.

    It’s like the shot put. You gave it a try in 10th grade gym class, you quickly recognized that you suck at the shot put, so you never did it again.

    For some inexplicable reason many women like to dance, even though most of them suck at it. The ones that are really good at it often wind up in strip joints. Men like strip joints, but we do not dance in them.

    • Kate Ground on June 3, 2012 at 13:23

      I must live in some seventeenth dimension where philosophers compliment the brain and men dance because they enjoy movement…women don’t suck at dancing and they, too, enjoy movement. I’m feeling left out

      • rob on June 3, 2012 at 13:46

        I didn’t say that women suck at dancing, if that were the case then dancing would not exist, I said most women suck at dancing, as do virtually all men, we dance like injured ducks.

        “What’s wrong with that duck?”
        “Nothing, it’s just dancing.”
        “Are you sure? I think it may have gotten shot.”

        If people liked to dance they wouldn’t have to drink so much before they do it.

      • LeonRover on June 4, 2012 at 08:22

        “virtually all men” ??

        No, only “all virtual men”.

        “If people liked to dance they wouldn’t have to drink so much before they do it.”
        Such a generalisation it can only be a back assward projection.

        Some women are Arabesque.

        But I’d guess that Marie would vouch for Greek men being Zorbaesque.


      • marie on June 4, 2012 at 09:01

        ooooh, bad reference LeonRover, very bad, watching men dance like Zorba is exciting…now I’ll have to cede Greg’s point, see what you did?
        Oh no, wait, it’s exciting for me, not necessarily the dancers -phew, I’m safe.
        Carry on.

      • LeonRover on June 4, 2012 at 09:08

        Never on a Sunday.

      • marie on June 4, 2012 at 09:17

        ! Sentimental again, she was beautiful and so was that time and place.

      • LeonRover on June 4, 2012 at 10:19

        Today is Monday – thus:

        “The dance along the artery
        The circulation of the lymph
        Are figured in the drift of stars
        . . .
        Below the boarhound and the boar
        Pursue their pattern as before.”

        “The houses are all gone under the hill.

        The dancers are all gone under the hill.”

        Amen. So be it.

      • marie on June 4, 2012 at 18:01

        Same, earlier, later :
        “What might have been is an abstraction
        Remaining a perpetual possibility
        Only in a world of speculation.
        . . .
        Desire itself is movement
        Not in itself desirable;
        Love is itself unmoving,
        Only the cause and end of movement.”

      • LeonRover on June 5, 2012 at 14:49

        “What might have been is an abstraction . . .”
        Most favourite.

        This close:

        “Words strain,
        Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
        Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
        Decay with imprecision. . . . . .”

      • marie on June 5, 2012 at 16:12

        “….will not stay in place.
        Will not stay still.”

        “…. words echo
        Thus, in your mind.”

        And so from your homonymous poet :

        “My page was too white
        My ink was too thin
        The day wouldn’t write
        What the night pencilled in”.

      • Richard Nikoley on June 5, 2012 at 16:32

        I have never, to my knowledge, taken a single wit of value or meaning from verse, at least not with a snappy tune behind it.

        But that’s fine, I suppose. I suppose I’ve just always wondered what the mystery is on written verse when one can actually write paragraphs.

        Seems awfully primitive, as though because that was about the best people could do circa the Illiad and Oddesy, we attempt to emulate it?

        I loath “poetry”. And, I’m pretty much sure it’s just as scammy as the dog shit spread on canvass that passes for “art.”

      • Kate Ground on June 5, 2012 at 18:17

        I loath, I loath
        I am sure it is as
        as the canvassed dog shit
        they call art.

      • marie on June 5, 2012 at 19:22


      • Richard Nikoley on June 5, 2012 at 20:57

        Crap, Kate.

        Write a fucking sentence.

        I’m serious. I’m tired of this shit on all counts. This is not really your club. It’s my place, you’re irritating me, and boring the fucking shit out of _MY_ readers.

        That goes for you, Leon Rover, and Marie.

      • marie on June 5, 2012 at 21:06

        WTF? Add some ice to your tub. In the last week you’ve thanked me twice for comments on different posts and your highlighted author on this one is blessing me below. What club? if other readers are bored, they’ll jump into threads and say so.
        But o.k., boring you. Forgot monkeys are supposed to be amusing. Stopping free now.

      • Richard Nikoley on June 5, 2012 at 21:13

        I generally like all yuour comments.

        But it has become, for me, tiresome.

        Sorry. I don’t generally police off topic stuff’, but c’mon, ‘man.’ This has been going on for a while, a number of posts.

      • marie on June 5, 2012 at 21:36

        Yes, but notice the timeline, this sort of thing happens Usually only after the ‘good debates’ are getting mature. There’s a type of agile mind that doesn’t stop making connections just because it’s moved out of the original framework -that’s stifling. And obviously those types are among the many that find each other here. That’s to your huge credit.
        So this makes me sad, and I don’t like sad, it’s not poetic, it’s just miserable.

        And yes, did note monkey irritation the first time… and you should have noted that there’s no comment at all for next couple of posts – avoiding instigating, at least by me.

      • Richard Nikoley on June 5, 2012 at 22:07


        For what it’s worth, I vented and now I’m done. It happens sometimes.

      • marie on June 5, 2012 at 22:24

        Me too.

      • Kate Ground on June 6, 2012 at 02:18

        Richard, I AM one of your readers. As are Marie, Leon Rover. And one of very few commenters on this particular post. And you chew us out? I just read your long tirade about Krieger, et al, and, well, it’s boring.. More of the same. But I read it.

        If some humor is frowned on in this “club” then “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”

        But I’m an adult and have free will. You haven’t scared me off yet, but, Richard, grow up.

        There, now I’ve vented.

      • LeonRover on June 6, 2012 at 06:10

        Ok, Rich

        Do Limericks, Doggeral or Clerihews count as Poetry?

        They do for me, as they are expressions in non-prose, as are some of the “song-words”, verses which are available on music stations – even Rap.

        Here are a couple that tickle my funnybone:

        “A politician is an ass that everyone has sat on, except a man.”

        “People who live in Chataeux
        Shoudn’t throw tomateaux.”

        “Here lies a cannibal who, now and then,
        Forgetting the advice of his Physician,
        Absorbed the deadliest poison known to man,
        And died of politician.”
        Ogden Nash

        “A woman is a book and often found
        To prove far better in the Sheets than Bound,
        Why marvel then that men take such delight
        Above all things to Study in the night.”
        Anon. 19th Century printer.

        These may be scammy, but are funny and pithy.


      • Richard Nikoley on June 6, 2012 at 07:52

        Ok, Kate. I can dish it out and I can take it.

      • Richard Nikoley on June 6, 2012 at 07:54


        Yea, I do tend to chuckle at a lot of limericks.

      • Kate Ground on June 6, 2012 at 08:05

        Me too

      • marie on June 6, 2012 at 08:12

        🙂 🙂

  5. Jscott on June 3, 2012 at 12:43

    This chapter needs work. Hey, style is choice and there is no accounting for taste. I like Eminem, bone-in rib-eyes, and girls that moan. So, add salt. Please.

    Philosophy cuts a path. Sometimes the path leads to the Holy Grail. Sometimes not.

    This chapter needs updates with paths paved.

    • C-man on June 4, 2012 at 05:25

      You sir are a man of fine taste. I too like bone-in rib-eyes and girls that moan.

  6. Greg Swann on June 3, 2012 at 12:49

    > For some inexplicable reason many women like to dance

    It’s sexual display behavior, both as competition for male attention and as a pecking-order competition among women. To this I can but say, “Hey, Macarena!”

    Here is text from an essay I wrote a while ago about animal and human communication:

    Animals are perfect the way they are. They are not somehow “better” if they master what are, to them, ontologically-useless parlor tricks. Moreover, human beings are exalted, not diminished, by dancing bears: The vast chasm between emulating human behavior and actually living it is only made more obvious when we see how pitiable that emulation actually is.

    And let’s think about dancing again, just to illustrate how pitiable is that dancing bear. When you dance with someone you love — or hope to love — the mothertongue and fathertongue expressions are perfectly aligned: The words you are murmuring, mouth to ear, are expressed bodily in the ways you and your dance partner are touching each other. There is so much more going on here than merely moving your body in rhythm to the music: Ardor, the thrill of sexual contact, anticipation, a kind of focused attention that would do you a world of good at work, etc. The mothertongue can extend beyond the two dancers, as well. He might be engaged in display behavior, to show the other guys that he got the hot chick. She might be showing off her clothes to the other girls. There is no limit to how much communication can be going on, and yet all a bear can do is affect to dance — badly — in the hope of earning a treat.

    • Jscott on June 3, 2012 at 13:13

      “Dancing is sex in pantomime. ” Sometimes.

      Dancing can certainly be sexual. I would say dancing can be sex in pantomime.

      This road, interestingly, leads to my house of issue: Experience. Clearly, wide range dance has not been experienced by the author. Unless, of course, we boil down everything to fucking or posturing to fuck. Then, hell, sure.

    • Jscott on June 3, 2012 at 13:28

      To be direct:

      If you are gonna be sterile be fucking accurate and exact. The problem is, Sterile makes for a bad fuck. There is a reason that the Bible, Bhagavad Gita, and Qur’an have so many worshipers: story.

      You are surrounded by friends here. Thus why there are so few commenters. FTA people believe in taking care of their own world. So, instead of a debate from this space, perhaps criticism is your token to anti-fragility?

      Or not.

      Be gentle. I am a guy trying to fall in love.

    • marie on June 4, 2012 at 04:00

      Me thinks someone’s spent too much time in bars :-). It’s what struck me about the analogy in the first place, the assumption of Two people dancing or one in that environment, even though you were contrasting to an Individual animal dancing. Sure, there is no comparison between our dance and the bear, but not because we have a conscious or a sub-concious goal of sex, simply because our mind, our whole being, is engaged. People dance alone and in groups more than in pairs.
      When you dance in the warm rain on the beach, there may or may not be anyone around to watch. The sensual pleasure of the sand, the rain, the sound of the surf, the space, the horizon over the water, these things are All that matter in that perfect instant.
      When you link hands in a circle and give-over to the pattern of a traditional dance, the rhythm, the sway, the tribe, the long line leading from the past, these things are All that matter.
      When you stand on a stage, you may or may not be aware of the audience. Yes, of course you can make love to it, but they can see when they fade in the background for you, when you become the expression of the music, enamored solely of the movement, not of anyone else, entranced by the flutter of a hand, the arc of a sculpted arm, your own breeze you create as you turn.
      And sometimes, just sometimes, some fearless woman may do that in a bar too, and you get to watch. That, yes, is a turn-on, but for you, not her.
      Context matters.

      • marie on June 4, 2012 at 04:04

        Greg, I’m not sure what happened to nesting there, above is in reply to you.

      • marie on June 4, 2012 at 04:14

        Though come to think of it, my comment follows-on from Jscott’s “wide range dance has not been experienced by the the author”. It must have been at some point of course :-), so I’m curious, why the focus on the pair or displays in pairing forums? It’s dissonance for many people throws the argument, which of itself is perfectly valid.

      • Greg Swann on June 4, 2012 at 10:37

        > Context matters.

        I agree.

        > I’m curious, why the focus on the pair or displays in pairing forums?

        Y’all got a popcorn hull stuck between molars, and you’ve been worrying at it ever since. All I was doing was distinguishing rationally-conceptual volitionality — the motivation of all purposive human behavior — from the actions of trained animals.

      • Greg Swann on June 4, 2012 at 10:42

        If you want to see a genetic Homo sapiens dancing in the same way that a Dancing Bear does — mimicking motions that the dancer does not understand conceptually — check out the two-year-old girlchild at the next wedding reception you go to. Before they acquire Fathertongue (next chapter), toddlers are essentially very talented Dancing Bears: They perform amazing feats — reaping both internal and external rewards — but they don’t what they are doing nor why.

      • Richard Nikoley on June 4, 2012 at 10:44

        I agree, Greg. With the very first comment on the dancing thing I decided not to engage because I just felt it badly missed the point of the _metaphor_ and juxtaposition of same in total.

        For the life of me, I don’t understand how some things get taken so cognitively literal when not really intended to be taken that way.

      • marie on June 4, 2012 at 10:49

        I know. See my comment further down as well – examples, form, expression matter too.
        Your example was out of your own context. Your further quote in explanation made it worse. Bad examples are a distraction.
        Others have commented the same general idea to you. I think folks are trying to help, eh?
        And yah, exactly, popcorn is tasty, but the hull’s an sob.

      • marie on June 4, 2012 at 11:17

        Ya, my bad Richard, I didn’t expect it to take on a life of it’s own, then again, I never do.
        Still, that makes my point about the distracting property. The metaphor doesn’t work because it’s not true, it’s not a matter of literal or not.

      • Richard Nikoley on June 4, 2012 at 11:58

        We’ll, see, I took it to mean right off the bat dancing in bars with alcohol in you, as to me, that was clearly the intent.

        I hate literalism and nit-picking for the sake of nit-picking as much in common discourse as in religion.

        So, just so you know, I loathed every stupid comment on that whole dancing thread. It was as to me, monkeys screeching at one another in the jungle.

        My opinion, FWIW.

      • Kate Ground on June 4, 2012 at 16:30

        Oh, Not. My 2 yo grand child knows what she is doing. She is awkward, funny looking, not graceful, but she is moving to her own choreography. She hears the Music and just moves. She mimics no one. He auntie La La has shown her things, but that’s not what she does. It’s her own joy in movement. She knows. Auntie La La did teach her to beat box, but that’s anther story

      • Kate Ground on June 4, 2012 at 16:37

        You took my words again, Marie. When using examples, and references, we all know that one has to be careful to be accurate. The dancing besr example was just a point made that was distracting us from the whole. Sorry to say. The total verbosity of the entire chapter was also distracting.

        And Richard, you know better than all others what rabbit trails come from your postings.

      • Kate Ground on June 4, 2012 at 16:44

        Blah. I think our point was it was a bad example of the Dancing Bear Fallacy. It isn’t a good one. There are reasons a bear dances for its trainer. Reward and punishment. Reasons enough. Dancing bears ARE just like us. And like I said, your commenters like to “run with it”.

      • marie on June 4, 2012 at 17:06

        Ya Kate, for those not used to hanging in bars, a broad statement about dancing gets taken at face value, fancy that, and it gets highlighted to point out that it’s throwing a monkey wrench into the flow of the reasoning.
        These commenters do run with it, but I guess that must be when they are not too busy Purposely picking nits off the bears and hanging from trees, taunting their circus trainers with the monkey wrenches they grabbed from them.

      • Kate Ground on June 4, 2012 at 17:41


  7. Kate Ground on June 3, 2012 at 13:29

    My sweetie, who I have not had the pleasure of dancing with yet, claims he dances like Elaine from Sienfeld. Funny, it is he with whom I sleep with. It’s science.

    • Jscott on June 3, 2012 at 13:47

      LOVES! Ah ha! Seinfeld always gets props. You are lovely Kate.

  8. Kate Ground on June 3, 2012 at 13:37

    “We dance for laughter, we dance for tears, we dance for madness, we dance for fears, we dance for hopes, we dance for screams, we are the dancers, we create the dreams.”

    • marie on June 4, 2012 at 04:02

      Yes, that 🙂

  9. Greg Swann on June 3, 2012 at 15:54

    In close connection with this chapter of the book, in today’s Movie of the week, I take up the idea of ontologically-consonant teleology — conforming your moral philosophy to reality as it actually exists — contrasting that idea with teleologically useless ontological ideas propounded by some academics.

    • marie on June 4, 2012 at 04:33

      Greg, I have to say this and please take it the right way, enough with the academics already. A Canadian academic pointed me to your site/book first, a month before Richard (Richard’s Canadian at heart, he’s just in denial :-)) but besides that…
      yes, there’s a fundamental difference in your approach to anything that’s likely to be produced in the academic environment, however, your contrasting to authority (or to people’s perception of authority as ‘academia’) simply distracts from the beautiful and deeply thought-out reasoning.
      I don’t think anyone who tries to understand the reasoning needs a bogey-man, quite the contrary, don’t you think that insidiously creates a mind-set similar to fire and brimstone? -the opposite of “the take charge of your own mind” mentality. Not to mention that for many people, some commenting here, their experience with philosophy often comes from a spiritual angle and hasn’t been at all negative for them. Again, dissonance.
      Please understand, I like what you say and appreciate the effort you’re making, but I find your way of saying it sometimes jarring -and that can be distracting and detracting from the arguments.

      • Greg Swann on June 4, 2012 at 10:46

        Bless you, Marie. Thank you. I’ll take this under advisement. I’m very definitely interested in being as inclusive and non-confrontational as I can be, so this is a potent criticism.

        > A Canadian academic pointed me to your site/book first

        You’ve said this before. Might I ask who the Canadian academic is?

      • marie on June 4, 2012 at 11:01

        Sure, though the only significance was that just being an academic doesn’t make you close-minded or of one mind for that matter. He’s young and mostly teaches, Kostas Belegris, in Ontario. He came across it one day and let me know because of a discussion we’d been having on free will (and, o.k., a sometimes ‘american’ view of it cf. various others….).

      • Greg Swann on June 4, 2012 at 12:43

        > the only significance was that just being an academic doesn’t make you close-minded or of one mind for that matter

        Yes, that’s understood. I accept the possibility that Man Alive! may only find its audience in a world very different from the one we live in now: Either a totalitarian America or one where the Federal government has collapsed under the weight of its contradictions and armed thugs are competing for control. In that scenario, how will ordinary people win their way back to a classically-liberal civilization? One necessary intellectual weapon will be to acknowledge that many so-called “thought leaders” are advocates and agents of tyranny.

        I work very hard to condemn academic nonsense — among all other varieties — because the purpose of that nonsense is to undermine human sovereignty. The book is what it says it is, a survival manual for the human mind. If you think about the contexts where survival manuals are most needed, the approach I have taken may be clearer to you. At some point I may write a fuller defense of the idea of self-adoration as the appropriate cardinal virtue of the uniquely human life. For now, what I wanted was an argument stripped to the essence, a defense of the idea of Splendor that is both compelling and as brief as I could make it.

      • marie on June 4, 2012 at 13:56

        I can see it now, thank you.

  10. C-man on June 4, 2012 at 05:27


    • marie on June 4, 2012 at 08:04

      The sad state of the texting generation! Try this: Practice. Your attention span might grow…if nothing else, at least it’ll grow long enough to make those girls moan (see, practice with benefits :-))

      • LeonRover on June 4, 2012 at 08:56


        A suggested ad campaign for Nokia in the late ’90s :

        “Come alive – – – -You’re in the texting generation”

        “girls moan”, yeah, they do and “Girls Talk”

        One of the best songs written by Elvis Costello – birthname Declan McManus:

        Another I lurve is Oliver’s Army:



        “She look’d at me as she did love,
        And made sweet moan.”

        from La Belle Dame sans Merci (some girls just do not say Thank You)

      • marie on June 4, 2012 at 09:41

        The first song’s words loaded the imagination, the video made vision clearer. The second one tilted the world to correct it, while I’m sleepwalking….which is what happens if you talk all night.

      • LeonRover on June 4, 2012 at 12:59

        Je t’en prie.

    • jofjltncb6 on June 4, 2012 at 08:42

      This made me LOL…and I’m not even sure why.

      • marie on June 4, 2012 at 08:52

        Look further up the comments for his other one. And, you laugh because you have a happily dirty mind -keep that up, it has health benefits…er, or so I’m told, what would I know 🙂

      • LeonRover on June 4, 2012 at 09:11

        Happy Dirty Minds are Gooooooood.

      • marie on June 4, 2012 at 09:23

        There, see. Other men vouch for this.
        My work here is done.

      • LeonRover on June 4, 2012 at 10:05

        There is a corollary:

        Unhappy Dirty Minds are Baaaad.

      • Richard Nikoley on June 4, 2012 at 10:07

        For every larry, there’s a corollary.

      • LeonRover on June 4, 2012 at 11:19


        Ah never corrals mah Larry.

      • jofjltncb6 on June 4, 2012 at 11:42

        I will neither confirm nor deny that general accusation…

        …but it was not something dirty that made me laugh about his comment. It was the contrast between this deep, heavily philosophical discourse and his response of “Eh, too long…did not read.”

        That kind of thing makes me laugh…and cry.

      • Richard Nikoley on June 4, 2012 at 12:16

        TL;DR comments have always stricken me as coming from imbeciles. Either it’s shit or it’s not, and if you’re in a place where shit is commonplace, that says more about you that you’d probably like said. If not, you’re just a shallow wanker who only reads the easy stuff.

        Either way, a TL;DR comment is about the most pathetic, self deprecating sort of comment I’ve every seen. In short, it sends the message: I’m a shallow, stupid moron, so moronic, in fact, that with 4 caps and a punctuation mark, I seek to elevate myself above the one who put in some effort to write the thing.


        I’ve never checked, but I wonder how many of such “comments” get a thumbs up. I never check because, I’d never check, and because I don’t care.

      • jofjltncb6 on June 5, 2012 at 13:59

        Normally, I’d agree…but when the subject is a deep as this, I guess it’s just the contrast between heavy, essence-of-life stuff and someone admitting that they just can’t be arsed with reading it.

        It’s ironically funny…and sad…and that’s my favorite form of comedy.

      • Richard Nikoley on June 5, 2012 at 16:11


        Welcome to my fucking blog, where I try my hardest to make it hard, sometimes.

  11. pfw on June 4, 2012 at 12:39

    His rejection of determinism is a bit odd. It doesn’t answer the basic challenge of a determinist: if things AREN’T determined from physical first causes, what are they determined by? He seems to agree that all things follow from physical first causes, but then goes on to argue that we actually do have free will because pushing a mountain lion is different from pushing a rock. Well, yes, rocks are far less complicated than lions, but where in that complexity does the switch flip from physically determined to magic free will?

    I wish he had simply ignored the free-will problem, since the experience of decisions is as if they were free regardless of whether it’s truly “free” or determined. In the end that’s all that matters to a pragmatic philosophy. And maybe that’s what he’s trying to say here (that complexity at the scale of “human” is pragmatically irreducible, so determinism can shove it) but if so his argument could use some editing.

    Anyway, still a good post.

    • Richard Nikoley on June 4, 2012 at 12:52

      “since the experience of decisions is as if they were free regardless of whether it’s truly “free” or determined.”

      I’ve been saying it for years: believing you have free will is tantamount to free will.

      But, no, it’s an important Q that must be addressed.

      Here’s why: there is free will. Also, there is determinism. Both are inviolable and amazingly strong. You can’t will yourself to stop breathing. You can’t will your heart to stop beating. You can’t even will yourself to not get a woody, or even to not fantasize about some person or situation that pops into your mind.

      You can decide what you’re going to have for dinner. You can decide not to berate your wife even though you feel like it because of something she said or did.

      There’s a million things you have no choice in, and a million things you absolutely have a choice it.

      As with so many other things in philosophy and discourse, it’s a false alternative. It’s not either/or, it’s both and it’s hugely both.

      • Greg Swann on June 4, 2012 at 14:04

        Here are three vitally important words we never hear often enough from professional “thought leaders” — “I don’t know.” Not only is free will — as you note, in those matters that are subject to human choice — introspectively obvious to all of us, not even those people who are paid to deny free will in the classroom actually deny it in their real lives.

        If you doubt that this is the case, take your Official Manual Noriega Boombox over to one of their houses and stand outside blasting rap music until your pet professor comes out and pleads with you to control your behavior by an act of self-initiated volition by shouting, “Turn that damn thing off!!”

        Man Alive! upholds free will in human beings (and will itself in higher organisms) because it actually exists, and, not coincidentally, no one actually doubts that it exists.

        I got into this at some length in this week’s videocast at

      • pfw on June 4, 2012 at 19:03

        But that’s not the argument made by physical determinists. A physical determinist would simply argue that everything emerges from physical causes, so even me mistyping some words just now and deciding to go back to change them was foredained by some random collision during the big bang. The experience of free will, the outcome of introspection, any thought you have, any experiment you run – all outcomes emerging from physical reality, and thus, deterministic. Without a coherent explanation for how a bag of chemicals physically similar to a rock or a car or a computer manages to acquire a “free will” that the rock doesn’t have, you’re just saying, “it’s magic! trust me.”

        Your example does not address this narrative. Me bringing my boombox over is as determined as the professors reaction. “Self-initiated volition” is an experience; arguing that the experience of free will proves free will *in principle* is something Agrippa would take issue with and which just isn’t convincing.

        Which is why I wonder why you’re making a big deal out of it in your argument. You devote an inordinate chunk of your otherwise stellar article addressing what seems to me to be a non-issue. If you experience free will, you might as well act like you have it, simply because you have no alternative. It doesn’t *prove* anything one way or the other (since that experience itself may well be determined; you can’t tell the difference), and the futile exercise of trying to torture a principled proof out of phenomenology is just going to make nitpicky assholes like me get distracted.

        If there’s one thing reading philosophers has taught me, it’s that pragmatic utility trumps idealized “right”ness. Admitting you don’t know and probably can’t know some things frees you to focus on the stuff that actually matters without getting bogged down in fruitless debate over first principles. Your argument seems to be making exactly this point, but then you veer off into “but that proves it!” territory.

        But, whatever. I enjoy your writing and aside from this half-disagreement like what you’re saying.

      • Greg Swann on June 5, 2012 at 13:42

        > I wonder why you’re making a big deal out of it in your argument.

        Operating from ontologically-consonant teleology — acting upon your self as it actually exists — will result in Splendor — illimitable human joy — while insisting that your self is something other than you you know without any doubt that it actually is is the path the Squalor — unbounded misery. I don’t know why human beings have free will, why other organisms have a more limited kind of will or why all organisms resist the law of entropy while they are alive. But I know that all of these phenomena exist, and I know that responding to reality as it really is is my best strategy for attaining the most and the best of my values.

        That’s a pocket summary of the whole book, with the first six chapters outlining the ontology, while the last six detail the teleology.

        I talk quite a lot about various determinist theories in the two videos I lined to here, highlighting why I think they are useless as teleology:

        In any case: Why am I leaning all over the idea of free will in Man Alive? I’m doing it as a matter of ontological accuracy: Free will — free moral agency — rationally-conceptual volitionality — is the essential characteristic of human identity.

  12. LeonRover on June 4, 2012 at 15:17

    Quite, Greg.

    The existential response trumps effete intellectual discourse.

    I particularly rejoice when the intellectual in question is a Social Scientist in the throes of some ironic Post Modern narrative.


    • Greg Swann on June 5, 2012 at 13:24

      > The existential response trumps effete intellectual discourse.

      Guerrilla theater of the mind! 😉

      Holding ideologues accountable to their theories seems to me to be a potent form of debate. If you have luggage tags or if you house-trained your dog — you believe the behavior of other organisms can be influenced by your own voluntary actions.

  13. Greg Swann on June 5, 2012 at 13:20

    More from me on ontologically-consonant teleology, as contrasted with various determinist arguments, in the form of a monologue at

  14. […] an argument from Man Alive!, specifically from Chapter 2, which is currently under discussion at 1. “We now know we know nothing!” Either your mind is inherently unreliable or the world […]

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