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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: June ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1194  Friday, 4 June 2004

[1]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Thursday, 3 Jun 2004 05:54:17 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1187 The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Thursday, 3 Jun 2004 14:09:16 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1187 The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Thursday, 3 Jun 2004 05:54:17 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1187 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1187 The Murder of Gonzago

Edmund Taft writes, "This discussion of fate vs. free will is
fascinating, but I wonder if it can be put into a Shakespearean context?
In _Hamlet_, I think the central issues near the end of the play involve
fate or, as Hamlet and Horatio call it, "providence." Is providence
helping Hamlet out as he moves toward revenge?"

OK: Why the *loaded* question about *revenge* when not all agree that
the motives of Prince Hamlet was toward revenge?  If you leave out that,
and deal with the question of fate, free will and providence, well then
you have a reasonable question.  But, of course, I have heard the most
far-ranging definitions of these terms so as to defy any dictionary I
have on my shelves.  Let me explain:

OK: it seems crystal clear to me that Will S.'s opening ACT ONE sets the
stage for *metaphysics* to play a role in the play *Hamlet* and the
spirit/ghost of his dead father brings the *Truth* as to his *fate* and
it appears that his fate was murder by his brother Claudius.  According
to Biblical law, murder was one of the ten commandments which man should
not commit.  Thus, Prince Hamlet can chose to exercise *free will* or
not exercise it in seeking *Justice* and bringing the murderer down, off
the throne which he usurped.  It is irrelevant to me how long it took
Prince Hamlet.  It is relevant that he chose to exercise his *free will*
and involve himself in an act of justice.  The end result was tragic,
but then the play, and we need to remind ourselves this was a play and
not so-called real life, was a tragedy.  And the end result was not only
provident but also providential, inasmuch as *Providence* communicated
through the character of the spirit/ghost details of events unbeknownst
to Prince Hamlet, except by intervention of *Divine Providence*.  A
synonym for D.P. is *God*!

Bill Arnold
http://www.cwru.edu/affil/edis/scholars/arnold.htm

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Thursday, 3 Jun 2004 14:09:16 -0500
Subject: 15.1187 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1187 The Murder of Gonzago

Edmund Taft <
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 >writes,

 >This discussion of fate vs. free will is fascinating, but I wonder if it
 >can be put into a Shakespearean context? For example, B.F. Skinner's
 >favorite Shakespeare play was _Othello_ because he thought it a perfect
 >example of "operant conditioning." Skinner was convinced that the play
 >demonstrated how Iago controlled Othello by means of positive and
 >negative reinforcement. Iago "shapes" Othello's behavior just as Skinner
 >could "shape" the behavior of a rat in a box, or so Skinner himself
 >thought. Skinner also used the play to illustrate that what we think
 >doesn't matter - only what we do. As a by-product of having been
 >"shaped" by Iago, Othello comes to think and believe whatever Iago wants
 >him to think and believe. Or so Skinner argued.

Then thinking (delusional) as well as behavior (homicidal) IS important.
  Iago induces both.  Frankly, I think we are better thinking about
Othello without the Skinnerian gloss.  I mean it seems trivial to say
that Iago was controlling the reinforcements, without considering in
what way Othello was receptive to those reinforcements.  The trouble
with Skinner was that, while he acknowledged biological preparedness
(inborn readiness, e.g., talent, or language ability, genetics), he
focused almost exclusively on external influences.  That is why he no
longer a force in psychology.

 >In _Hamlet_, I think the central issues near the end of the play involve
 >fate or, as Hamlet and Horatio call it, "providence."

Why call providence fate?  Your questions ("Is providence helping Hamlet
out as he moves toward revenge? ") suggest that providence can help (or
hinder) a person, i.e., that it is personal, that it cares.  Fate, at
least to me, is what is-in the tragic view, a remorseless playing out of
things, which cannot be altered.  Mixing the two terms seems to me at
least not to be helpful.

 >One word about identical twins. They can be very different from each
 >other. . . .

Let me offer many words, but hopefully not too many.  There is much
confusion about identical (MZ=monozygotic, or one-egg) twins. Yes, they
are in some sense, genetically identical (a few are not, but let that
pass for the nonce).  MZ means that the twins' DNA is the same, NOT that
their genes are necessarily expressed the same or at least at the same
time.  Thus, while MZ twins have the same DNA, they are, in this sense,
genetically different, and to the extent that this is so, they will be
psychologically different, despite what seems to be differences caused
by differences in the social environment.  Nor does it mean that their
prenatal environment is the same, for in this as all other influences
besides DNA, MZs are different.

There is another important fact about MZs: the time of "splitting." MZ
twins are the result of a clump of embryonic cells spitting to form two
clumps, each destined (fated) to become a twin.  The earlier the split,
the more similar the twins will be.  Twins originating in sufficiently
late splitting will become so-called mirror-image twins, i.e., their
hair whirls, for example, will go in opposite directions, any mole will
appear on the left side of one twin, the right on the other.  They will
tend to be more different in many traits, but again, for biological (not
mere genetic) reasons.  Conjoined ("Siamese") twins, e.g., craniopagus
(head-joined) twins, are the result of very late splitting, and they, if
anecdotal evidence is to be believed, are typically quite different
psychologically.

Yet another fact: for reasons of prenatal stress, one or both twins may
be asymmetrical in certain physical ways, e.g., the size and/or
placement of the ears; the number of ridges on the palm or fingers. Such
twins are much less similar on certain traits (e.g., anxiety proneness)
than are symmetrical twins, other things being equal. All these
biological factors-differences in gene expression, embryological
development, prenatal environmental stress-explain why MZ twins can be
quite different psychologically as well as physiologically, e.g., why
the brains of MZs are distinguishable (the convolutions of the parietal
lobe, for example), though, ON AVERAGE, they are as similar as any two
humans can be.   In sum, biological factors can explain much of  MZ-twin
differences as well as similarity, without need to invoke differences in
social environmental influences.

 >My friends in biology, who know a
 >lot more about this issue than I, say that the current thinking about
 >nature vs. nurture is that they are both extremely important: 50/50 -
 >that's their considered opinion.

"Extremely important" is an understatement.  There would be no life
without either, so I guess they ARE extremely important. Your friends,
if they are indeed knowledgeable, mean by 50/50, a generalization about
many statistical facts, facts that vary above or below that 50/50,
depending on the trait.  For example, assuming that the first number
refers to genetic influence, the second to social (I am
oversimplifying), and conservatively speaking, it is more like 70/30 for
adult IQ (versus about 50/50 for older children and adolescents, less
for children, all suggesting that the heritability of IQ increases with
age and experience).  It is indeed roughly 50/50 for many personality
traits.  But it is at least 70 percent for schizophrenia and bipolar
disorder, 30 percent for other depressions, 55 percent for alcoholism,
40-70 percent for antisocial behavior of various kinds,  80 percent for
severe hyperactivity, and 90+percent for autism.

A couple of things to note:  First, these statistical numbers refer to
the amount of the variation in a population that is explained by nature
and nurture (we can argue about whether the environmental influence of
the prenatal world is nurture or nature.)  These numbers do not refer to
an individual, for whom the question, "How important are genes versus
environment?" is as inappropriate as the question, "How important is the
width versus the length of a rectangle?"  It's the sound of one hand
clapping.  Second, the "nurture" part of the number, e.g., the second 50
in 50/50, includes what is called errors of measurement, which means
there is less social environmental influence than meets the eye.  (When
errors of measurement are reduced, heritability of a trait increases.)
So, for example, the heritability of adult IQ is about 70, which means
that 70 percent of the variation in IQ (in a given population) is due to
genetic variation, the rest to non-genetic variation, including errors
of measurement.  Of this remaining 30 percent, some part will be
prenatal variation involving embryological development and prenatal
environmental stress  (research on MZ twins tells us as much), and some
part will be errors of measurement, leaving, let's say, 10 percent for
differences in postnatal influences (parental, peer, etc).  That
differences in normal parenting account for virtually none of the
variation in these traits and liabilities is, when the facts are made
known,  perhaps of most interest to most people.

David Cohen

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