Monday, January 13, 2014

Feminism and Behavioral Determinism

Before continuing to write on the subject of the biological influences on the behavior of men and women (and other genders), I wanted to write a follow-up post to my 1st post (link) about the role of the unconscious in influencing seemingly conscious behavior, decisions, and actions. (These are somewhat superfluous terms, since “behavioral science” encompasses each of these, but many people do not know this).  This is SO important, because this is a BIG subject area that seems totally absent from any dialogue about feminism.  Yet, it has HUGE implications.  We are, after all, talking about the brain, and every human has one!

Speaking of behavioral science, a category including psychology, psychobiology, and cognitive science (and by correlation, neuroscience), scientists now widely consider all human consciousness and unconsciousness to be governed entirely by neurochemistry. (Why this relates to theorizing masculinity or other genders, I will get to shortly).

This fact is probably surprising and troubling to you.  You may be thinking: 1) Does this mean I don’t have any free will?  2) Does this mean that gendered behavior has nothing to do with individual choice? 3) What does it mean to discuss feminist theories and how does activism play a role if neurochemistry is ultimately responsible? 

The short answer to the first questions is that, “No, you do not have free will, but you do have deliberation.”  The preponderance of evidence shows that the idea of dualism, the mind-body connection, where mind and body are separate (commonly known as Cartesian Dualism, though other forms of dualism exist), is false.  

 Some modern day thinkers have attempted to rescue the idea of free will, by proposing theories of “quantum consciousness.”  However, quantum consciousness fails on 2 counts: 1) Neurochemistry is too cold (low energy states) for quantum effects to occur; and 2) Even if quantum indeterminacy were to somehow take place in the brain, it is irrational to think that probabilities beyond our control give us any control over our thoughts.  However, even though behavior is thereby deterministic, there is still merit in “considering our decisions.”  In other words, even though consciousness is ultimately governed by physical processes alone, choosing to do nothing is a causally determined choice with different effects (except in rare cases of “local fatalism”).  There is no way to escape determinism.

In the debate between “nature vs. nurture,” behavioral determinism is not solely on the side of “nature.”  In fact, a necessary implication of a determined nature is a determined nurture.  The environment has every bit as much of a role to play in behavioral influences as does biology alone.  In other words, as our interaction is mediated by our biology, it influences the responses of others.  An interrelated field is the sociological theory of social constructivism (link).  (I would further argue that social constructivism intersects with Judith Butler’s theorizing about gender).

So, to answer the second question, “Yes, it is still meaningful to talk about gendered behavior and individual choice.”  However, while there are physical explanations for all behavior, scientists do not claim to know the causes of all behavior; merely that they do not originate from a self-made will.  The fact that you are not in reality the controller of your thoughts and actions does have some very interesting implications in culpability, in general, and legal culpability in specific.  If anyone is interested in this, I wrote a paper entitled: “Behavioral Determinism and Implications for Criminal Law.”  (The “deterrent” effect of the law is also related to social constructivism, mentioned prior).

Getting to the third question, “What does it mean to discuss feminist theories and how does activism play a role if neurochemistry is ultimately responsible?”  This is a huge question with huge implications that seems to me to be overlooked by all major feminist thinkers (of which I’m aware).  1) It means that disagreements between competing ideologies, while biologically determined, are not individually valid.  Morals have a biological basis, as evidenced in other species, called “evolutionary altruism.”  (Also absent from the usual feminist discourse is the entire field of epistemology – theory of knowledge).  (Sometimes I’m just really shocked about how “experts” seem to overlook such giant gaps in their theorizing.  In fact, this often leads to wildly crazy assertions to describe things – such as feminist author Elizabeth Grosz’s “Volatile Bodies.”) Note*** 2) Biological and social constructivist understandings have direct bearing on gendered social behavior and identification.  3) Activism is integral to change, as it is an instrument of social causality.      

There’s probably some other implications, but I fear I have already written too much and probably no one is going to have the patience to read this.  Still, it was necessary to write so much simply to allay criticism.

Note*** I suppose I shouldn’t be totally surprised that other authors do not have such extensive knowledge of other subject areas, despite feminist studies fundamentally being an interdisciplinary field.  Admittedly (and as my sources show), feminist scholars would require functional knowledge of the following subject areas: psychology, evolutionary psychology, psychobiology, cognitive science, sociology, neuroscience, quantum mechanics, philosophy, and legal theory.

>Becker, E. (1997). The denial of death. New York, NY: The Free Press.
>Dennett, D. C. (1984). Elbow room: The varieties of free will worth wanting. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
>Don, K. (2010, Oct. 17). “The moral landscape:” Why science should shape morality. Salon. Retrieved from
>Hameroff, S. R. (1998). Quantum computation in brain microtubules? The Penrose-Hameroff “Orch OR” model of consciousness. Philosophical Transactions Royal Society London (A), 356, 1869-1896. doi: 10.1098/rsta.1998.0254   
>Ruse, M. (1993). The significance of evolution. In P. Singer (Ed.), A companion to ethics (pp. 500-510). Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.
>Tegmark, M. (2000). The importance of quantum decoherence in brain processes. Physical Review E, 6, 4194-4206. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevE.61.4194
>Wade, N. (2007, March 20). Scientist finds the beginnings of morality in primate behavior. The New York Times. Retrieved from