• Strange Notions Strange Notions Strange Notions

Why Aren’t You Naked?

Cavemen

I’m curious as to why man is in the habit of wearing clothes, when no other animal has been spotted with even the smallest, most insignificant of socks.

We could say it’s the fault of the cold, but humans wear clothes at the Equator.

We could take a Darwinian tactic and argue that clothes are hygienic—and thus the people who wore clothes outlived and out-reproduced those who ran young, wild and free—but this assumes too much. A soiled rag around the crotch seems far less healthy than a lifetime in a birthday suit. Even if dressing was significantly life-saving back in our lol-what-is-a-hygiene days, an appeal to hygiene still doesn’t answer why clothe-wearing began. It can only describe how it succeeded after its genesis. (And we’re after a genesis, not an exodus. (Somebody, please, laugh.))

We could argue that going around naked makes a man vulnerable and ashamed, which is experientially true, but veers from science and into religion, claiming man as animal-embarrassed-of-his-genitals, he-who-covers-what-every-chimp-and-dolphin-flaunts, putting dead animal skin between him and his primary drive to reproduce, and bringing to center stage one of the most terrifying existential question we can ask: What is wrong with human nature, that we feel an obligation to cover it?

We could make an argument from necessity, something like “thanks to natural disasters, human beings had to move to new climates, and the wearing of clothes allowed them to do so”, but this will only ever be a decent guess, in that it could be equally true that humans first wore clothes, and wearing them allowed for movement to new climates.

All any explanation after the few we’ve mentioned can hope for is mystery and guesswork, for we find ourselves wearing clothes, ashamed to take them off, having done so as far as we can look back. We can’t even point to where the absurdity began. As G.K. Chesterton noted:
 

"The other day a scientific summary of the state of a prehistoric tribe began confidently with the words ‘They wore no clothes!” Not one reader in a hundred probably stopped to ask himself how we should come to know whether clothes had once been worn by people of whom everything has perished except a few chips of bone and stone. It was doubtless hoped that we should find a stone hat as well as a stone hatchet. It was evidently anticipated that we might discover an everlasting pair of trousers of the same substance as the everlasting rock. But to persons of a less sanguine temperament it will be immediately apparent that people might wear simple garments, or even highly ornamental garments, without leaving any more traces of them than these people have left."

 
You see the conundrum. So in the face of the question of why we’re so embarrassed to be naked—regularly dreaming of the situation occurring to us at our old high-school—two answers diverge in the woods.

The first goes a little like this: Science tells us that the human being is merely an animal. Presented with the fact that he acts strikingly unlike other animals, we must explain this difference as merely quantitative. So what is the difference between man and the other beasts? Man is simply more intelligent.

In his intelligence, he chose—well not chose, that implies free will, a thing no animal exhibits, and thus a silly opening to an argument that holds man as no more than a smart animal—man happened to wear clothes out of necessity, driven by his own survival instinct, in response to migration, climate, disaster, or some other, unknown agent. First he lay under a dead animal for warmth, then he tried to take the animal with him, then he cut its skin, and thus forth. Perhaps, over time, this “happening” became a taboo. The idea that “it is good to wear clothes, it is bad not to” was enforced by a herd mentality, which sought the survival of the species, and “knew”—in that fur-wearers survived longer to pass on their genes—that fur-wearing aided the species survival. The shame we experience in nakedness today was born, a product of evolution, and has remained with us ever since.

It’s not bad, and I’m certain my pitiful attempt could be polished by some one versed in the language of anthropology and speculative darwinism. The problem is that it will always be a guess.

Another guess, one that has the value of being experienced every day, is that man is not just quantitatively different from the beasts, but qualitatively. Because clothes are a uniquely human phenomenon, man can be described as an animal who wears clothes. It’s not that he happens to wear clothes, which, as discussed, is only ever a guess. He is a creature who wears clothes, as a pelican is a creature that flies. If this is the case, it tells us something rather remarkable: Innate to the experience of human existence is the experience of shame, expressed by the fact that man is ashamed to be exactly as he is born—naked.

Now shame is something no human being desires to experience. At the very heart of human existence then, there is a thorn: Something-that-should-not-be-but-is. This is all rather odd, for a something-that-should-not-be implies desire for a something-that-should-be, namely, a world without shame. And if we contain within ourselves a desire for a world without shame, while living in a world of shame, then the simple fact of pulling on a pair of pants in the morning expresses a truth illustrated in the creation myths of every religion the world has ever put up with: The Fall, that bold and obvious proclamation that things are not as they should be, and that there is a better world to be attained.
 

"When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
 
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
 
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
 
And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

 
At times, the religious impulse seems frightfully natural.
 
 
Originally posted at Bad Catholic. Used with permission.
(Image credit: Black Sheep)

Marc Barnes

Written by

Marc Barnes is an English major at The Franciscan University of Steubenville. He writes at Patheos.com for the Catholic Channel, focusing on bringing Catholicism to secular culture through natural law, humor, and ADD-powered philosophical outbursts. He recently created and released the website 1flesh.org with some friends, a grassroots movement in opposition to artificial contraception, promoting natural methods of family planning. He has also written for Crisis Magazine, LiveAction.org, LifeSiteNews, and his work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal. He loves blowing things up, and has a man-crush on Soren Kierkegaard. Follow Marc's blog at Bad Catholic.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • What does it look like to exhibit free will? My dog seems to have as free will if I do.

    • Vasco Gama

      To exhibit free will consists in being able to act according to reason (about your dog I really can’t say much, sorry).

      • My dog seems to make decisions based on reason. Orangutans and dolphins more so. It's true that I can probably beat any Orangutan at chess, but that seems to be more a difference of degree than of kind. I would imagine that someone could train an orangutan or dolphin in sorting games, pit them against certain people with low IQ, and the orangutan or dolphin would win. Again, it's a matter of degree.

        • Vasco Gama

          It seems to me that you understand very well what is to exhibit free will. I am not disputing if the difference in in kind or in degree, anyway one thing is clear the difference is immense.

          • I don't know if it is. One way to cash this out in terms of moral intuition is with the question of eating animals. I happily eat cows. I'd be very uncomfortable about eating dolphins or apes. I think that some of them might be people.

          • Vasco Gama

            Clearly, neither dolphins or apes are people, anyway I guess that is uncomfortable to consider eating some creature that in some way we may identify with (or that is affectively related to us).

          • I don't know. Maybe some animals besides humans are also people. Not all people are humans. Aliens, angels, the Holy Spirit, insofar as they exist they would be people and not humans. Maybe some apes and some dolphins are people too.

          • Vasco Gama

            That is not my understanding of people, I would use the term "person". I see what you mean.

    • wayne stahre

      You are conflating being free to act with being free to make moral choices.

      • Is wearing clothing a moral choice or a social one? Some animals, I'm told, seem to have social behavior. Whether any animal makes moral decisions is, as far as I know, an unanswered question. But I'm not a biologist.

        • wayne stahre

          For most human being wearing clothes is a physical necessity while not wearing them is a moral choice or was the result of one albeit in the past.

          • I can imagine some (entertaining) situations in which not wearing clothes would be a moral choice. In many cases, such as with nudist colonies, it seems to be more a social choice. At least, I'd imagine most nudists wouldn't think it immoral to wear clothes. And I imagine (maybe wrongly?) that most people who wear clothes don't think that nudist colonies are immoral for abstaining. Even if they do, I think that they would be making a mistake.

      • And to take Augustine's position, not just free to make moral choices, but responsible for making the right moral choices. Freedom is not license.

        • Dogs are held responsible for their behavior. Dogs that bite people might be put down.

          • People whose dogs bite people are held responsible, that's why owners get sued. A dog gets put down if it's shown to be dangerous to people. It's more like killing a man-eating lion than executing a serial killer.

          • The man-eating lion is also held responsible for its actions. There may not be a well-placed sense of blame (although maybe blame is never well-placed). But it is the case that some lions choose to eat men, others are less sexist and choose to eat men and women, and some don't eat people at all. The lions that make these decisions (whether freely or not) face different consequences.

          • You don't blame the lion though. You recognize it's a threat. You don't think it's behaving badly, you think it's behaving like a lion. A dangerous lion, but lions kill things and eat them. That's what they do. Humans do it to, but they don't kill other humans and eat them. If they did, they'd be seen as evil. Meanwhile, killing and eating a cow or a vegetable. is not seen (by most) as intrinsically evil.

          • People blame other people for all sorts of things. People blame dogs for biting them. People blame furniture when they stub their toes (at least I do). I'm not sure blame is ever well-placed.

            Even if we didn't blame the lions, the fact remains that lions, as with dogs and wasps, monkeys and dolphins, face consequences for their (possibly free) actions. The consequence of dogs that bite people, lions that eat people, wasps that sting people, is often quite severe.

            Moral responsibility possibly naturally results from being able to anticipate consequences. Admittedly, dogs and lions are not so good at that. But people, and maybe some apes and dolphins, are.

          • Facing physical consequences is not the same as facing moral judgement, which I think is what the issue is about.

          • I'm not sure that the issue is moral judgement, because I'm not sure that the decision to wear clothes is a moral one. The physical consequences of my going to work without any clothes on might result from the social decisions of others, and have nothing to do with morality. It may be equivalent, more or less, to the case of the biting dog getting put down.

            If moral judgement is the issue (and this seems to require more than freedom of choice, as was discussed above), then I'm not sure all animals should be free from moral judgement. I think that possibly some apes and dolphins are people (responsible moral agents). It's speculative; I'm not sure.

          • Geena Safire

            Social animals care about other members of the group. That's kind of the definition. A species can only become social if it cares about that. So a social animal cares about hurting another that it is attached to, because that one's pain is felt as one's own pain.

            Humans tend to extend a certain modicum of care (and 'feel' responsible to extend it) to all others that are 'like me,' more broadly than other animals. But it is a difference of degree, not kind.

          • josh

            Humans kill and eat other people and aren't seen as evil. The killing part happens in any society which has gone to war, which is basically all of them. The eating happens in a number of cultures you didn't happen to be born in.

          • You're right, there are cultural differences. That doesn't mean aspects of a culture can't be morally "false", or wrong.

          • josh

            Well, it brings us back to the question of what it could mean to be morally false and then if that question has a coherent answer, whether any particular action is so. But you can't argue for either of those positions while ignoring cultural differences as obviously evil.

          • Geena Safire

            Lions are punished by other lions for behaviors that are not acceptable among lions -- immoral lion behavior.

          • Only if the actions are not acceptable by moral standards would it be immoral behavior.

          • Geena Safire

            Social animals have attachment/moral behavior standards. Violating them is immoral. For more immoral transgressions, there is greater punishment. In some cases, infants are not considered to be fully responsible for violations -- not moral actors.

          • In that definition of moral. But the common intellectual tradition is that morality is something higher, something that is not wrong because of consequences, even, but because of an intrinsic quality of goodness that it violates or falls short of.

          • Octavo

            That's just one of many ethical frameworks.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • You're right, but this is a Catholic-atheist site, so it's a relevant position to bring up.

          • Geena Safire

            You're right, but this is a Catholic site...

            That is true, Daniel. But then you should have said "the Catholic intellectual tradition" instead of "the common intellectual tradition."

          • Perhaps. Though the Catholic intellectual tradition draws on the traditions of Plato, Aristotle, and many people since then. So for about 2000 years, the Catholic intellectual tradition was (see that, Geena?) the common intellectual tradition.

          • Octavo

            The common western intellectual tradition. Chinese philosophy is just as old, if not older, and didn't draw on the Greek philosophers.

          • Geena Safire

            No, Daniel. It is the bits that the Catholic Church drew from the ancient plus its own special sauce that makes up the Catholic intellectual tradition. Plato and Aristotle stand on their own.

          • Draws on, means takes from, not supports.

          • Geena Safire

            I think we're in agreement on what's in the Catholic pile. I disagree that the Catholic pile is the common pile. The Platonic and Aristotelian piles were separate piles.

          • Unless they're all part of the "Truth" pile.

          • Geena Safire

            Isn't that what the Catholic's call their pile?

          • Right. So they're in our pile.

          • Geena Safire

            I didn't ask whether the Catholic pile is the Truth pile, but whether y'all call it that. Some of the Catholic pile is also in the Truth pile, IMHO, and some of the Platonic pile, and some of the Zoroastrian pile...

          • Those crazy dualists? Not a chance.

            Edit: This is a joke.

          • Geena Safire

            Ahriman will get you for that!

          • Argon

            "Right. So they're in our pile."

            *grin*

    • David Nickol

      What does it look like to exhibit free will?

      While I think we should stay on topic and discuss nudity—and not just discuss, but provide pictures and links to videos—I will say that if a freely chosen act is to reflect the character and thoughts of the person who commits it, then it must be in some sense determined, otherwise it must be random. The things we choose to do must be determined by something. The fact that I won't eat chocolate-covered ants (or sushi, for that matter) is not because I make a free, rational choice not to. If our choices do not spring from who we are, it would not make any sense to hold people responsible for their choices.

      • While I think we should stay on topic and discuss nudity—and not just discuss, but provide pictures and links to videos...

        I'm sorry, what were you saying? My mind wandered.

    • I know I'm resurrecting an old thread, but here's some chum for the waters. To understand free will is to understand informed, choice, and informed choice can be understood via "dual rationality":

          Finally, consider the libertarian notion of dual rationality, a requirement whose importance to the libertarian I did not appreciate until I read Robert Kane's Free Will and Values. As with dual control, the libertarian needs to claim that when agents make free choices, it would have been rational (reasonable, sensible) for them to have made a contradictory choice (e.g. chosen not A rather than A) under precisely the conditions that actually obtain. Otherwise, categorical freedom simply gives us the freedom to choose irrationally had we chosen otherwise, a less-than-entirely desirable state. Kane (1985) spends a great deal of effort in trying to show how libertarian choices can be dually rational, and I examine his efforts in Chapter 8. (The Non-Reality of Free Will, 16)

      I might throw in theoretical biologist Robert Rosen's Anticipatory Systems; Philosophical, Mathematical, and Methodological Foundations. To anticipate is to have a model of the future. Well, if there are 2+ models of the future from which to choose, then under certain circumstances there might be a choice between them.

      Now, what makes the choice non-random? Well, if many such choices can be clustered in a non-random way. This is a non-atomistic, non-reductionist way of thinking; to see an example of it in physics, see a bit from Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine:

          Is this difficulty merely a practical one? Yes, if we consider that trajectories have now become uncomputable. But there is more: Probability distribution permits us to incorporate within the framework of the dynamical description the complex microstructure of the phase space. It therefore contains additional information that is lacking at the level of individual trajectories. As we shall see in Chapter 4, this has fundamental consequences. At the level of distribution functions ρ, we obtain a new dynamical description that permits us to predict the future evolution of the ensemble, including characteristic time scales. (The End of Certainty, 37)

  • Sqrat

    Innate to the experience of human existence is the experience of shame, expressed by the fact that man is ashamed to be exactly as he is
    born—naked.

    The Garden of Eden myth has it that the sense of shame that accompanies nakedness was not initially innate to the experience of human existence but was an acquired characteristic -- acquired as the result of eating a magic fruit.

    Modern-day nudists do not, of course, experience a sense of shame over nakedness. Given that, I'd say that a sense of shame over nudity probably isn't innate at all. It's a learned behavior, and can be unlearned.

    Perhaps the ability to learn to be ashamed of something is somehow innate in humans, but I'm not sure how much I'd want to go beyond that.

    • But, if you were to say the shame is innate to a postlapsarian humanity, then you get around your first objection.

      Secondly, you could condition yourself to rid yourself of something innate, as tortured prisoners have been rid by their captors of a desire for life in certain cases, and you could say this is what the nudists do.

      • Sqrat

        As to your first point, I wasn't really raising an objection, simply pointing out that, in the Eden myth, the "innate" sense of shame over nudity certainly wasn't innate before the Fall.

        The myth doesn't say so in so many words, but certainly implies that the effects of the magic fruit were hereditary: you experience shame over nudity because, way back when, Adam and Eve ate a certain magic fruit. It "explains" how a sense of shame came to innate. I suppose we could go on to say that another lesson of the Eden myth was that experiencing shame over nudity (or anything else) wasn't part of God's divine plan -- unless the Fall itself was part of that plan.

        As to your second point, I continue to question whether a sense of shame over, say, nudity is at all innate rather than a learned behavior.

        • That's fine, I wasn't saying these were definitive proofs, merely responses to your objections, to continue this conversation while standing in, as it were, Mark's place.

      • David Nickol

        But, if you were to say the shame is innate to a postlapsarian humanity, then you get around your first objection.

        It does not appear to be the case, however, that shame in being naked is innate, as I argue here.

      • Octavo

        As another commenter pointed out, not all cultures wear clothing. To imagine that an aspect of Western culture is innate to the nature of our species is ethnocentric at best, racist at worst.

        ~Jesse Webster

        • Of course.

          In Love and Responsibility, JPII talked about the cultural relativity of standards of modesty. Modesty here would be the moral good, while standards of modesty are relative.

          However, going by this, the "argument from clothes" would have to be adapted or understood figuratively to be able to fit in with the Pope's writings.

          • Modesty is a moral good? So I guess God wad being modest when he responded to Job's enquiry as to why he was tortured?

      • But just isn't innate. Have you not met toddlers who have to constantly told to put clothes on? That always want to be naked? I certainly feel no shame when with my girlfriend, in a change room.

  • wayne stahre

    My understanding is that before the fall Adam and Eve wore no clothes but were enrobed by the glory of God. Once they sinned, that glory went away immediately leaving their naked state exposed.

  • Andre Boillot

    This has to win best-titled article at SN so far, right? It's not even close.

    • Andre, please try to keep on topic.

      • This is perfectly on topic :D

      • Ok, whoever voted me down, nice sense of humor you got there.

        • That was me Daniel -- sorry, I'm going to the doctor today for my annual physical and am not allowed to have food or caffeine until afterward. Humor is in short supply around the household this morning.

  • David Nickol

    First, there are any number of reasons why it doesn't make sense to look to the theory of evolution for an explanation of why human beings wear clothes. For one thing, it is too recent a phenomenon. Wearing clothes is cultural, not genetic.

    Second, anyone who has ever watched documentaries about African or South American indigenous peoples knows that not all women cover their breasts. (When I was in fifth grade, our teacher—a nun whose name I do not remember—caught some girls giggling at pictures of African tribespeople in the encyclopedia, and she want through it page by page pasting white paper over any photos she considered "immodest.")

    Third, in some cultures, people go naked without shame.

    Tribes of primitive people still exist in places like the Pacific island of New Guinea and-especially-in the Amazon region of South America. Some of these tribes' members have never met modern men and women and know nothing about the industrial world. These native, or indigenous, people live much like people did in prehistoric times, eating what grows naturally in their jungle homes and hunting with bows and arrows. In the warm, humid climates in which they live, they have no need for protective clothing (and in some cases don't have the skills or tools to make cloth). Because of their lack of contact with people from other places, they are not familiar with the idea of modesty or the practice of covering the body with clothes, which is a behavior that most people learn quickly when they are growing up. Being naked is as natural to these primitive peoples as wearing clothing is to us.

    Here is another source. Also, Wikipedia says: "Some cultures equate nudity with sexuality, but that is not always the case. Historically, nudity has been practiced in some cultures without any necessary association with sexuality. Nudity can exist in non-sexual social contexts, such as naturism and figure drawing; it can be sensual through non-sexual contexts, such as erotic performance art and striptease; or in overt sexualized contexts, as in the case of pornography."

    Fourth, is it typical for spouses to be embarrassed or ashamed to see each other naked or to be seen naked? I certainly don't think so.

    Why should it be shameful or embarrassing to be seen naked? I see no reason at all. Shame at being naked is a matter of what culture you live in. It is almost certainly learned, not an inborn aspect of human nature.

    • Abe Rosenzweig

      I was thinking along the same lines. Basically, it's dangerous to talk about shame at nakedness as innate to humanity, when humanity exhibits too much cultural diversity to allow for anyone to back up such a claim. Since cultures approach nakedness differently--what counts for being naked isn't the same across the board, and even the situations/times that call for being clothed aren't universally observed--it seems difficult to claim that all humans share shame at nakedness. What does it even mean, for humans, to be naked? Not all cultures would answer in the same way. And do we actually know that it is shame that drives the impulse to be dressed? If it's okay to be exposed in one context, but not another, then it isn't nakedness that is the issue--rather, it is nakedness plus some other factor(s) that matters.

      • Sqrat

        Basically, it's dangerous to talk about shame at nakedness as innate to humanity, when humanity exhibits too much cultural diversity to allow for anyone to back up such a claim.

        Within my own culture, many people experience shame because, while they are wearing clothes, the clothes they are wearing are not fashionable, or are the wrong ones for the occasion.

    • Kurtis Wiedenfeld

      Yet, even the most nudist of cultures have principles of modesty; taboos by which they seek the respect what may be disrespected. Even nudists speak of proper behavior at a nudist beach. The reason there is shame is because there is danger of violation, physical or emotional. As the article stated, it is not what we desire; we know something is out of order, and the ideal that we would strive for would be a relationship with each other where there would be no danger of violation. In such an ideal world, the question becomes mute, whether you have cloths on or not. We might make the connection with locking our doors or not locking our doors. In some cultures there is no need to lock the doors, because either personal property is so fluid or there is no danger of violation; but there is always a protection of property by the culture, either done individually or communally.

      • josh

        "Yet, even the most nudist of cultures have principles of modesty"

        But then, various other animals have standards of behavior, as has been discussed before. Feelings of pride and shame are part of the evolutionary mechanism for navigating a complex social structure. Physical pain isn't something we desire either but it has a pretty clear evolutionary purpose.

        The exact form social taboos take is extremely plastic, although there are some obvious generalities without which a society wouldn't survive to propagate its taboos. 'Don't wantonly kill other members of the tribe' and such. Sexual standards are also very common, but vary greatly, as might be expected for something so directly related to evolution and society.

      • David Nickol

        The reason there is shame is because there is danger of violation, physical or emotional.

        The appropriate response to danger of violation would be fear, not shame.

        As the article stated, it is not what we desire; we know something is out of order, and the ideal that we would strive for would be a relationship with each other where there would be no danger of violation.

        Why do we need to posit some primordial (allegedly) perfect situation that was lost in order to explain that the world is not now as we would wish it to be? (Answer: We don't.) To feel that human society is somehow imperfect in no way implies that it once was and we are longing for it to be so again.

        We might make the connection with locking our doors or not locking our doors.

        As a New Yorker, what would I feel if I left my door unlocked? Certainly not shame.

        • Geena Safire

          The reason there is shame is because there is danger of violation, physical or emotional.

          The appropriate response to danger of violation would be fear, not shame.

          I would feel fear upon thinking about doing something that I know would cause shame. I feel the fear (motivational emotion) in order to avoid shame (emotional pain at social disapproval).

      • Geena Safire

        the question becomes mute

        moot. not mute.

    • Lobi

      The "some cultures do it" response needs to be fleshed out a bit more before being particularly convincing: there are all sorts of things which some small community does somewhere which goes against something we consider to be obvious - be they cannibal countries or something less dramatic.

      Edit: I would probably find it convincing if you did, mind you. Or perhaps not.

      • David Nickol

        The "some cultures do it" response needs to be fleshed out a bit more before being particularly convincing . . . .

        Well, of course, it depends on how much convincing is necessary to get people to abandon the idea that human beings wear clothes because the first parents of the human race were naked and didn't realize it, committed some offense, and realized they were naked, consequently we are all ashamed to be naked, and this is why human beings wear clothes—although some of them don't!

        If the argument is that all humans wear clothes, it seems to me that finding only one culture that doesn't refutes the argument logically. "All swans are white" is refuted by one black swan. Isn't it pretty remarkable that some cultures (and "primitive" ones, too) are apparently exempt from one of the effects of the Fall?

      • Andre Boillot

        Lobi,

        This isn't something that's limited to the primitive island natives of far-off lands. Significant segments of the "modern" world have no (or significantly less) taboo associated with the exposed female breast (I trust I won't need to expand on this). While it might be true that cultures where full nudity is not taboo represent a much smaller sample size, I think that the key thing in many of these instances is what we can draw from their having been isolated (in many cases) from the rest of the world - representing, to a certain degree, a look back in time.

        • Lobi

          Oh, I agree with that point - I vaguely remember Marc had a post about how the Virgin Mary was comfortably portrayed as breastfeeding, even breastfeeding a grown man, without it being particularly sexual.
          My point was more about the "should we feel ashamed" question being answered, at least in part, by reference to what could be anomalies.

  • In his intelligence, he chose—well not chose, that implies free will, a thing no animal exhibits, and thus a silly opening to an argument that holds man as no more than a smart animal...

    A straw man, and a snarky one, to boot.

  • Andre Boillot

    "Because clothes are a uniquely human phenomenon"

    How are we defining "clothes"?

    http://www.costaricajourneys.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/hermit-crab-at-Cahuita-National-Park-Costa-Rica.gif

  • Why does Barnes rule out a qualitative difference in our intelligence? (That's another straw man.) You don't have to be religious to recognize that humankind's intelligence has advanced to the point where we experience metacognition, the ability to think about -- and evaluate -- our thinking. It a huge step forward in our ability to learn and correct our own mistakes, and it also creates the capacity for things like pride, shame, embarrassment, and other self-evaluations.

    • Hey Rob - I think that's exactly Marc's point - that there is a qualitative difference in our intelligence, metacognition, and experiences of shame and embarrassment.

      • Matthew, the problem is that according to Barnes, "science" says there is no qualitative difference. And that's the straw man. I should have phrased my opening sentence, "Why does Barnes say 'science' rules out a qualitative difference in our intelligence?"

        • Ah, I see. Maybe the phrasing he uses ("science") is inappropriate - it's not science that tells us these things but metaphysical Darwinism. But I do think he's right. People with a materialist neo-Darwinian view of nature are constantly trying to bridge the chasm between humans and animals by showing how human-like animals are in their intelligence and emotion and how animal-like humans are in their behaviors and urges. You see this all the time in the culture on the popular level too. So I think what Marc is talking about is the difference between two "histories" of man, one as an ensouled animal, one as simply a more intelligent animal.

          • David Nickol

            People with a materialist neo-Darwinian view of nature are constantly trying to bridge the chasm between humans and animals by showing how human-like animals are in their intelligence and emotion and how animal-like humans are in their behaviors and urges.

            I don't think materialist neo-Darwinians try to "bridge" the "chasm" between, say, humans and chimpanzees. We are all aware that chimpanzees don't write novels or solve equations or build space shuttles. The "chasm" is real. But I think materialist neo-Darwinians would all say that if you were able to use a time machine and go back and visit your father, then your grandfather, then your great grandfather, then your great great grandfather, and so on, for a million years, you would find that the "chasm" was bridged by successive generations if you looked at the process again going forward. But you would find no great leaps from one generation to the next, and no point where you would say, "His father was not a human, but he is."

          • Geena Safire

            People with t a materialist neo-Darwinian view of nature are constantly trying to bridge the chasm between humans and animals by showing how human-like animals are in their intelligence and emotion and how animal-like humans are in their behaviors and urges.

            No, Matthew. Scientists are not trying to bridge the chasm. They are reporting on evidence. Their agenda is knowledge, increasing and better knowledge.

            After they report the evidence --- the factual, actual, real observed or measured data --- then they further describe the data. They also discuss lots of related existing, published data from other researchers. Then they make some observations based on the data.

            Example: A is what humans do. B is what certain animals do. J, F, and K researchers have reported for a hundred years about this behavior, with hundreds of thousands of hours of observations and experiments and brain scans and autopsies, etc., and they proposed Q, R and S interpretations. A and B are similar because of X, Y, and Z features, and different because of M, N, and O features. These seem to support Q and R interpretations and conflict with S interpretation.

          • Hey Geena - I think you misread, or we are conflating terms. I didn't say scientists try to bridge the chasm between humans and animals, but that those with a materialist neo-Darwinian view of nature (explicitly or implicitly) do.

            Not to belabor the point, but Rob's bone of contention was that it shouldn't be assumed that a "quantitative" view of man (man is only different from animals by matter of degree) is a necessary condition for science. That's absolutely true. But I do think that the "quantitative" view of man is intimately related to both metaphysical materialism and to a neo-Darwinian view of history which denies the addition of something like a "spiritual soul" which distinguishes humans from animals qualitatively. Would you yourself cleave to all three, or no?

          • I wonder at the size of this group of materialist neo-Darwinians who deny that humans have the qualitative difference of being capable of metacognition. I imagine you can round up a few extreme Skinnerians, but I doubt this view is widespread.

          • Geena Safire

            What I don't do is try to reinterpret data in order to make sure that there's no chance of a pesky soul slipping in there somehow. That's what you seem to be implying.

          • Argon

            "So I think what Marc is talking about is the difference between two "histories" of man, one as an ensouled animal, one as simply a more intelligent animal."

            It can't be both? Isn't it possible that ensoulment and intelligence are orthogonal conditions along the lines of "non-overlapping Magisteria"?

          • Hey Argon - That's an interesting thought, but I think ultimately we would have to ask about what being a) an ensouled animal or b) solely an animal means metaphysically. Man can't be both hylomorphic matter-and-soul on one hand and completely reducible to matter on the other - no? Insofar as man as an ensouled animal has and exercises intelligence, yes, I could certainly conceive of man as both.

            To your second point, I think Marc's article is pointing to that constitutive problem of man's being in light of the evolutionary paradigm, something Thomas Nagel also discusses at length in his book "Mind & Cosmos." It's not just that we have consciousness or cognition - it's that we have an unfettered power of rational abstraction (tied intimately to language), freedom, and self-consciousness. This makes all the difference, the qualitative "chasm" between man and animal - it allows for uniquely human experiences like shame, pride, despair, adoration and love.

          • Geena Safire

            uniquely human experiences of shame, pride, despair, adoration and love

            Nope. Not uniquely human.

            Although humans have taken 'adoration' way, way out there.

          • Here on the subject of man against the backdrop of the other animals I always think of Walker Percy:

            Unlike an organism in an environment, man in a world has the unique capacity for being delighted with the world and himself and his place in the world, or being bored with it, anxious about it, or depressed about it. He, of all creatures, is capable of feeling good during hurricanes and sad on ordinary Wednesday afternoons.

            Or, as he wrote elsewhere: under the conditions of satiety in which a man gets bored, a dog goes to sleep.

          • Geena Safire

            I agree with that...

            ...except for the human in a world being in contrast to an organism in an environment. A human being in a world is an organism in its environment. Perhaps if Percy had written 'unlike all other organisms in their environments...'

            ...and, again, other animals do get delighted and bored and anxious and depressed. We humans just also can feel these about a wider variety of stuff, like contemplation. Cool in some ways, surely, but it also drives some of us over the edge. No free lunch.)

    • Geena Safire

      ...shame, embarrassment...

      Shame and embarrassment are social emotional pain just as feeling stupid for doing something that is known to cause pain is a solo emotional pain. They are the same process, mediated mainly in the insula (insular cortex).

      Social mammals developed the ability for attachment, to experience the same emotions with respect to attached others as toward the self. Care for others works by the same brain processes as self-care. The brain generates the same motivational emotions and emotional rewards and punishments related to attached others and the self. Without these features, we couldn't be social.

      All social mammals feel emotional pain when they are shunned, such as when they do something not socially acceptable. The brain learns to generate a negative motivation regarding that behavior (shame, embarrassment) in order to avoid that emotional pain.

      Associating shame with nakedness likely emerged long after clothing was used for functional purposes, and long, long, long after the Catholic Church's reputed ensoulment by God of one or two of our hominin ancestors.

      • Vasco Gama

        Really?

        Is it that

        «Shame and embarrassment are social emotional pain»

        but then

        «The brain learns to generate a negative motivation regarding that behavior (shame, embarrassment) in order to avoid that emotional pain.»

        is there any hiden sense in this , or is it methaphoric?

        • Geena Safire

          You're right, I slightly misworded. I'll fix it.

          • Vasco Gama

            I have an ackward feeling that you might be denying that humans are rational (or capable of producing coherent and logical thoughts).

          • Geena Safire

            What, in what I said, could have possibly given you that idea?

            On the other hand, our capacity for rational thought is just a tiny contributor to our overall brain functioning with regard to detecting, evaluating, and responding to our environment.

          • Vasco Gama

            It is a general idea that I get from you’re your approach to reality (not really something particularly related with this issue), I think that you try to oversimplify everything, but perhaps it is better to address this issue on an more appropriate occasion. I guess my comment was too spontaneous (it just occurred to me and I couldn’t help myself and wrote it down. I shouldn’t have done it), as we had a variety of discussions here at Strange Notions.

          • Geena Safire

            No worries, Vasco. I wasn't offended, just confused. And I, by the way, think that you tend to overcomplicate things. I'm sure we'll have future opportunities to discuss whatever is of concern or interest to you. (p.s. spelling: awkward)

    • Argon

      Good point.

      I think we can make the case that there are other species that are capable of understanding 'other minds' and perhaps maintaining internal models of what others think. It might not be a huge step to turn that inward. Perhaps some other animals already manage that but to a far lesser degree.

  • David Nickol

    Why Aren’t You Naked?

    You know the famous cartoon of the dog at a PC saying, "The great thing about the Internet is that nobody knows you're a dog"?

  • hillclimber

    I suppose these two roads of explanation can diverge, but I don't think they need to.

    If there was indeed some DNA mutation that shaped our survival instinct and directed it towards the idea of wearing clothes, that DNA mutation DOES constitute a qualitative, and not merely quantitative, difference between humans and other animals. Perhaps the two roads only diverge in the narrative of the DNA mutation: in one perspective it is a "truly random" event (whatever that is), and in another perspective (mine) every DNA mutation is a deliberate choice of a Creator.

    • Geena Safire

      There is no "clothes wearing" gene. Our brain is a problem-solving machine. Sparks from a fire while cooking hurt. Walking by thorns and branches while walking hurts. Being cold hurts. Getting sunburned hurts.

      There is also no "wooden-boat building" gene. But all cultures where there is water and there are trees build wooden boats. Why? Because there is a problem: Wanting fish that are hard to catch enough of near the shore or while swimming. Because there is knowledge: Wood floats. You know the rest.

      [E]very DNA mutation is a deliberate choice of a Creator

      So the deity concerns itself with shooting ultraviolet rays and gamma rays so they hit, in one human being, exactly one DNA nucleotide base out of six billion that is in a gamete (egg in the ovaries or sperm in the testicles) in one human that will survive and will mate and that specific gamete will be the one (out of millions (eggs) or billions (sperm) that forms the zygote that will become a human that will survive to reproduce, with another zap during meiosis so that the DNA makes a specific replication error in a gamete which is known that it will become part of a zygote and so on and so on so that a specific set of mutations emerges that allows a single tiny change in function that will be more adaptive and... Are you serious?

      • hillclimber

        I hope I made it clear that my "clothes-wearing gene" is speculative, but I don't think it's as crazy as you are making it sound. Our genes shape our instincts, our emotions, and our perceptions, including the perception of pain that you mention. The genes that affect our perception of pain are shared with other animals, and the genes that shape our intelligence at least somewhat shared with other animals, but we don't share the practice of wearing clothes, so I don't see why it is so implausible to think that there is a distinct mutation that directs us toward this practice.

        As to your other question, yes, I was being serious. All of those one-in-a-million things that led to your existence and mine were and are in the mind of God. I didn't mean to suggest that God is dictatorial in making those choices, but I think He coaxes and encourages Creation back toward him with every seemingly random event. Randomness is in the eye of the beholder. In my metaphysical view there is no true randomness (you are free to disagree, but I can't see why my view is in any way unscientific or unreasonable).

        P.S. You can see how long I lasted in my attempt to quit this site :)

        • Geena Safire

          You can see how long I lasted in my attempt to quit this site

          I wasn't quite sure whether to welcome you back or to e-wag my e-finger at you. :-)

        • Geena Safire

          I hope I made it clear that my "clothes-wearing gene" is speculative, but I don't think it's as crazy as you are making it sound.

          Um, yeah, sorry. It's as crazy as I made it sound, biologically speaking. Fun idea, I suppose. But it has nothing to do with reality.

          • hillclimber

            What about genes that allow us to form elaborate mental models for the experiences of other animals? I hope you would agree that there is nothing unreasonable about that. Wouldn't such a genes enable us to have thoughts like, "I bet that animal is warm because of his skin. I bet if I were in that skin I would have the same experience." This is the type of gene-shaped predisposition that I am talking about, not something where man woke up one day and started looking for Brooks Brothers.

          • Geena Safire

            What about genes that allow us to form elaborate mental models for the experiences of other animals?

            Absolutely. That's what I meant when I said, "Our brain is a problem-solving machine" when I talked about wooden boat building. It's not a gene, though, or even a group of genes. It's all the genes that build our brain and build and regulate the elements that make it work.

            Problem solving emerges from the survival instinct and the ability to learn (which requires memory).

            For example, the brain detects hunger and motivates food-seeking behavior -- bringing to mind the pleasure of good food and being full, images of food, and decreasing interest in other tasks than food-seeking. The brain also remembers that cactus is hurt-y on the tongue (so needs lots of careful preparation) and rotted meat leads to vomiting and apples are tasty. Does this new thing nearby, when I'm hungry, seem more like cactus or rotted meat or apples? Where was I yesterday when I saw apples but wasn't hungry? etc. This is a very complicated process involving several areas of the brain.

            ...not something where man woke up one day and started looking for Brooks Brothers

            You made me snort my drink.

          • hillclimber

            Yeah, so I don't think we have any fundamental disagreement about how evolution works, at least at the physical level.

            This all went a bit astray of the main point I was initially trying to make, which is simply that 1. qualitative differences between species are explicable in terms of DNA mutations (and that DNA mutations themselves are inherently qualitative) and 2. explanations in terms of DNA mutations do not in any way preclude God's involvement in the process.

          • Geena Safire

            Pretty much everything is "compatible" with the existence of a supernatural, non-material, invisible entity, so little would "preclude" it. But that doesn't mean that is it more "likely" that this entity exists or is doing stuff.

          • hillclimber

            I agree, actually. It is not, strictly speaking, "more likely" that God exists. God is rather what I need to compute any likelihood in the first place.

            Or, to phrase things in terms of conditional probabilities, it makes no sense (to me) to talk about the conditional probability that God exists, given the data. It would be like computing the probability that Bayes Theorem applies to reality, given the data. It makes no sense. I need to start with the belief that Bayes Theorem applies to reality before I can compute any conditional probabilities.

          • Geena Safire

            Ah, presupposition...

            No, the conditional probability thing doesn't work anything like that.

            I need to start with wanting or needing something that isn't at hand. Then I am motivated to search for it. If I can learn (that is, if I'm at least as complex as a roundworm with 959 cells), then I check my memory for where I have and have not found it before. No deity-belief required.

            If I'm more complex, and I've found the desired item in more than one location, then I might crosscheck with other info related to the item, such as the season or whether on location has predators I'd prefer to avoid. No deity-belief required

            Lots more levels of complexity later, getting to me being a human, and I want something. I do automatic conditional probability as a matter of course throughout every day. Given that I'm in the closet, how likely is it that food is at hand? Not very likely. So if I am hungry and in the closet, then I'll likely move. No deity-belief required.

            Then someone tells me about Bayes Theorem. Being smart, I try it out on some simple problems that I usually solve more intuitively. Based on experience, I discover that it may work better for some of my decision-making situations. No deity-belief required.

            But if you find a belief in a deity helps you cope with reality better, hillclimber, for whatever reason, more power to you.

          • hillclimber

            "But if you find a belief in a deity helps you cope with reality better, hillclimber, for whatever reason, more power to you."

            I gladly concede that that my only honest defense of my religion is that it helps me to cope with reality better. I cannot state with any certainty that my religion is true, because to claim that absolute knowledge would be to claim the mind of God. I would note however that you have used the same justification to defend Bayes Theorem. You are not claiming to know that it is true, only that it helps you cope better with reality (since survival is an essential part of your strategy for coping with reality).

          • Geena Safire

            [Y]ou have used the same justification to defend Bayes Theorem.

            However I can prove objectively that Bayes' Theorem works, and that it exists.

          • hillclimber

            I guess I am curious to understand better what kind of proof you are talking about.

            I am familiar with proofs of its validity in the strictly mathematical sense. I have derived it myself from first principles of measure theory, conditioning on sigma fields and so forth (really, I did ... long time ago though). It doesn't sound like you are talking about that sort of proof, which is a relief because I have no special desire to revisit that part of my mind. (If that is the type of proof you are talking about, then I'm sure you realize that proof begins with first principles, i.e. presuppositions).

            I agree that the theorem exists, but the important aspect of that existence is not any sort of material existence. Or do you disagree? And if you agree that it exists but that it is not material, in what way would you go about proving its existence?

            Also, I wonder in what sense you might empirically "prove" that it works in the real world. By any chance would this proof involve the calculation of conditional probabilities?

          • Geena Safire

            Oh, hillclimber, now you're just being silly. Take your 'give-it-a-rest' medicine. :-)

          • hillclimber

            Geena, you are totally right that I need to give it a rest, and yet [cursing my weak will as I admit this] I cannot. Actually, I will give our most recent thread a rest, but I need to respond to this part of your explanation:

            "I need to start with wanting or needing something that isn't at hand. Then I am motivated to search for it."

            Yes! This desire is where it all starts. Even the roundworm exhibits a desire for God in its "desire" to go on, to metabolize, to continue its existence. Even virus DNA exhibits a "desire" for God in its propensity to express itself though self-replication. *Even atoms* express a desire for God in their inherent "desire" to express their potentiality, some of them by combining into DNA.

            Now, as you said, fast forward to humans. We no longer simply have a desire to express our chemical potentiality, and self-replicate, and survive. We have these complex, multi-component brains that are at war with themselves. One part of my brain intuits that the universe is ultimately beautiful, while another part reports data that good people suffer awful fates. I start with the desire to have coherence between these different parts of my brain, just as the roundworm started with its "desire" to continue its existence.

            This religious impulse, this desire for coherence is nothing more, and nothing less, than the continuing evolving dynamic of DNA's propensity to replicate.

          • Geena Safire

            Your "desire to have coherence" has nothing to do with whether such coherence actually exists, in the same way that my "desire for a billion dollars in my bank account" has nothing to do with its current balance.

            You can certainly contribute during your life to increasing the amount of coherence in your life and the lives of those you love and those whom you serve, just as I can contribute during my life to save adequately for retirement.

            You can also adopt the idea of a larger reality in which there is coherence at some level despite the incoherence of the reality that you experience. This belief can reduce your apparent anxiety about that incoherence, or can allow you to enjoy your joy despite the fact that people suffer, or can give you courage to act, or can avoid your heading into depression or other mental illness. It can be a comforting idea.

            For me, on the other hand, I am not able to impute "desire" or "purpose" or "will" to the amino acid cysteine's tendency to form disulfide bonds or roundworms having an appetite for bacteria found on damp rot due to its survival instinct or my brain having evolved with adaptive problem-solving skills and having the need to constantly perform constraint-satisfaction analyses.

            The laws of physics, which we currently best understand by the Standard Model and quantum field theory, are few, simple, and amazing, and they are indifferent to my existence. Yet, here I am as is all this -- also amazing.

          • hillclimber

            I guess I would propose that we just use "desire" to refer to a complex kind of "tendency". You might have to be "willing" to use words like "will" and "desire" in reference to your own complex needs, otherwise it is a bit difficult to communicate.

            I do appreciate (and maybe this is what you were getting at?) that the relatively simple "desires" of amino acids are different than the desires that we feel (I would say that our desires are simply more evolved and complex). Nonetheless, I don't know if there is really a better word for what amino acids "feel" (again, I put "feel" in quotes, because it is less complex / less evolved than the feelings that we feel).

            Here is a clip of a pretty smart guy who is also struggling with the same language difficulties that you and I are. Like you, he doesn't want to use the words "God" and "will" and "sentience" when talking about cosmology and quantum physics. I understand this hesitancy, but on the other hand he is unable to propose any other existing words in our language for what he is referring to. http://meaningoflife.tv/video.php?speaker=swimme&topic=whatsgod

  • Octavo

    This post brings to mind a certain ICP song about how scientific explanations are disappointing when compared to the more satisfying mysteries of miracles.

    I could comment about archaeological findings regarding ancient sewing needles made from bone, or I could dig up papers that discuss when the body louse first emerged, but I don't think that would address the complaint Barnes gives. He prefers his own stories and speculations because they line up with his beliefs about the specialness of man over any other.

    I do have one question, though. How does Barnes know that non-human animals lack the same kind of volition, or free will, that he thinks humans have?

    ~Jesse Webster

    • Magnets. How do they work?

      • Octavo

        That's the one. ...Scientists pissing me off, and so on.

        • Geena Safire

          Physicist Sean Carroll on Insane Clown Posse and their song 'Miracles.'

          "So rather than pointing out Fermi or Democritus, my touchstone in the intellectual tradition for dealing with the real world is the Insane Clown Posse. ... " Three minutes of hilarity ensue.

          (Click on the link rather than the video below, so you'll be taken to 14:39 minutes into the talk where his exposition on "our plucky duo" and "their musical stylings" begins.)

  • Geena Safire

    All any explanation after the few we’ve mentioned can hope for is mystery and guesswork...

    Or, perhaps, I don't know, maybe ... SCIENCE!

    Could somebody let Barnes know about this cool resource called Wikipedia?

    There, he could have found an entry for Clothing. That entry has information regarding scientific findings regarding the origins of clothing.

    For example, although clothing doesn't tend to survive too long, needles do. Sewing needles have been found dating back to 30,000 BCE. Also, certain tough plant fibers used for clothing tend to survive for long periods, such as flax fibers, which have been found dated back to 36,000 BP.

    Going further back, the secret may be in lice, our constant companion for millions and millions of years. Since hominins became hairless on our bodies, lice were no longer able to successfully latch on except to our hair. But some eventually [either from our head lice (called human lice) or other primate lice] developed an ability to hang out close to our skin by latching onto the clothing we wore -- they are called body lice*. Genetic studies can analyze differences in certain parts of DNA (that are known to mutate at a reliable rate) and estimate how long since two species split off from a common ancestor. This is called the molecular clock approach. Estimates are in the range of when we left Africa northward (and cold-ward), ~100K years ago.

    (On a related note, the estimate of when we became hairless is related to the branching of head lice and pubic lice which, for obvious reasons became 'ecologically isolated' so their evolutionary paths diverged. But I digress...)

    The Wikipedia Clothing entry discusses several reasons for wearing clothing that emerge from archaeological and anthropological research. You know, science.

    Even if dressing was significantly life-saving back in our lol-what-is-a-hygiene days...

    How do you feel after a few days without a bath? Guess what! Our ancestor homo sapiens were exactly like us in that. And so are all of our primate cousins. Do you ever see dirt-caked baboons or marmosets or chimpanzees? No! They like being clean! All over! So they spend a lot of time grooming, and so did our ancestors.

    In his intelligence, he chose—well not chose, that implies free will, a
    thing no animal exhibits, and thus a silly opening to an argument that holds man as no more than a smart animal—man happened to wear clothes out of necessity, driven by his own survival instinct, in response to migration, climate, disaster, or some other, unknown agent. First he lay under a dead animal for warmth, then he tried to take the animal with him, then he cut its skin, and thus forth. Perhaps, over time, this “happening” became a taboo. The idea that “it is good to wear clothes, it is bad not to” was enforced by a herd mentality, which sought the survival of the species, and “knew”—in that fur-wearers survived longer to pass on their genes—that fur-wearing aided the species survival. The shame we experience in nakedness today was born, a product of evolution, and has remained with us ever since.

    So much wrong. No way to even know where to begin. So I'll give it up here.

    Except to say: Marc, I know that folks who focus on deity-related thinking -- which deity is non-material, invisible, supernatural, mysterious and so forth -- are relegated to making stuff up about it because they haven't got anything real to go on (except stuff other people made up before). But with respect to humans, who are material and natural and physical and do have history and remains and data and behaviors and brain scans, we can actually know stuff because, you know, science. Switch hats, Marc, when you go from pondering God to talking about people.

    As a closing note, going back to lice for a moment, the Silk Road trade actually did involve a lot of silk, which was popular not only because the material was so lightweight, but because body lice cannot latch onto it.

    (*They could also be called clothing lice, except they don't feed on the clothing, and ectoparasites are always named for their favored cuisine.)

  • The article here seems to be suffering a bit from a sophomoric or disconnected understanding of the Genesis concept of 'shame' (Heb. Boosh), which is closer to 'disappointed' than our modern understanding of shame. It would be a more profound question to ask why was it that Adam and Eve saw each other and they wanted to put clothes ON. If some of us would see our wife naked our response is not to put clothes ON. Check out lectures 11, 12, and 13 of JPII's Catechesis of Human Love.

  • Methodological Naturalist

    Unsubscribed.

  • gwen saul

    hey, April Fool's Day isn't here yet. Please tell me this is a piece of joke writing?

    • Hey gwen. Your previous post at least had critiques in it. Can you give some more concrete ones below?

      (I'm not challenging you on the fact that you have a problem with this. But this is a forum for discussion! Lay out the grievances)

      • gwen saul

        Philosophical musings about mankind and religion that make use of the less popular definition of anthropology (found in abundance here on Strange Notions) is one thing, but making naive speculations about a topic archaeology and anthropology have much to say about and ignoring those sources in favor of a quote by Chesterton and a little Scripture? Are you kidding me? I don't expect an academic paper here but not even using one archaeological source? That's beyond lazy.

  • Firstly, humans are not the only animals who wear clothes, within 20 seconds Google turns up Caddis flies, termites, hermit crabs and naked mole rats.

    Secondly there is nothing innately shameful about human nakedness, not all humans feel any shame about being naked, nor do very young children. There are huge evolutionary benefits to the ability to feel shame and shame others.

    Humans wear clothes in a very complex way for a variety of reasons. What distinguishes us from animals in this sense? Well we have both the physical need and mental ability to create and gain great benefits from attire. These are the ability to live and be comfortable in many climates, protection and cultural significance.

  • David Nickol

    Speaking of how Catholics interpret the Bible (yesterday's topic, from which there were many digressions in the thread), I would be interested to know how Catholic interpret the story of Adam and Eve. Here is a proposed multiple choice, but those who wish can answer with an "essay."

    A. Adam and Eve were the first true (ensouled) humans on earth. They ate fruit from a tree that they had been commanded not to. They had been naked and had not realized it, but upon eating the fruit, they realized they were naked, and this made them ashamed. [Adam and Eve committed original sin.]

    B. There were not two first humans named Adam and Eve who ate forbidden fruit, but there were two first humans who did not know they were naked and who committed some act about which we can only speculate, and that act caused, among other things, a realization that they were naked and ashamed of it. [The two unnamed parents of the human race committed original sin.]

    C. Never in the history of life on earth did there exist a man and a woman—the only two true (ensouled) humans on earth from which we are all descended—but the story of Adam and Eve nevertheless tells us that early in human history (or perhaps even before true humans existed), there was something that made it a fact that men are in some way estranged from God and need to be reconciled. [Early in human history, humans became estranged from God by acts committed of their own free will.]

    D. The story of Adam and Eve is completely figurative, and tells some general truth about the imperfection of human beings and the gap between them and God that is difficult to bridge. [There is a gap between God and man, but it did not come about because of a freely chosen sinful human act.]

    • Well, according to Catholics, it can't be D.

      JPII seems to indicate that at some point there must have been 2 first parents, but I'm not familiar enough with the whole paper to be able to comment on what level of theological certainty that has. But it's probably not C.

      A would be... a not un-Catholic choice, but seems unlikely given the nature of the Genesis account leading up to that as seen as metaphor. Most likely not A.

      Which leaves B. Maybe.

      • Is monogenism still a thing among Catholics? (Google finds results that are ambiguous to me. Doctrinal status is often a bit complicated.)

  • Argon

    Marc writes:

    The first goes a little like this: Science tells us that the human being is merely an animal.

    Science tells us that humans are animals. Not 'merely' animals. 'Merely' is a bit of a value judgement in this context and out of the realm of proper scientific description.

    Are humans as a species qualitatively different from other species? I think so. There are combinations of traits that others don't share. Then again, I think, chimps are qualitatively different from gorillas or bottlenose dolphins.

    In topics where biological evolution and religion are discussed, I find that many use 'qualitatively different' in the sense that something is unbridgeably distinct. So yes, I think humans (as a class) have capabilities that others don't share and which in combination create qualitative distinctions. But I don't think the differences between humans and other species are necessary unbridgeable from an evolutionary perspective.

    To put it another way... There are some mental calculations that perhaps cannot be economically managed without the ability to maintain several concepts in memory simultaneously. Perhaps a memory that is capable of storing two things at once can only access certain capabilities. But with an incremental, bridgeable increase in memory capacity, say 3, 4 or 5 items in short-term memory, suddenly many other capabilities fall within reach. The analogy I'd use (flawed, but bear with me), is that of a step change or exponential expansion. Differences in intelligence may vary on a linear scale but the small changes in base intelligence can allow exponential increases in capability.

  • Andre Boillot

    "If this is the case, it tells us something rather remarkable: Innate to the experience of human existence is the experience of shame, expressed by the fact that man is ashamed to be exactly as he is born—naked."

    Speaking of assuming too much...

    How does this square with children running around naked in the house, or on the beach, displaying complete lack of self-consciousness with regards to what they aren't wearing, let alone "shame"? Are there not entire tribes who, perhaps due to their isolation from shame-conscious folk, display remarkably similar attitudes towards nudity? My good man, this is not even limited to the uncivilized; one need only walk up and down the beaches of "civilized" Europe, and one will find many examples of humans not demonstrating any shame at all about nudity.

    • Octavo

      Hell, in Germany, people sunbathe on their porches and balconies. From what relatives there say, Germans think Americans are seriously weird prudes. Can't say they're wrong, honestly.

    • This gets to the point of what JPII wrote in Love and Responsibility, as well as my comment below (see, Geena?)

      • Andre Boillot

        Could you be more specific? I'm not sure I'm finding the right comment, or understand how the reference to JPII you link to fits in.

        • The idea that the standards of modesty are relative to a culture, but the fact that modesty is a virtue is not relative.

          For example, in Wisconsin it may be immodest to wear shorts (I don't know if it is. It may be, though). However, in Florida, it is not immodest to wear shorts, due to weather and the culture in general.

          On a small island in the South Pacific, it may not be immodest to wear nothing. The naked form does nothing to arouse lust because that's just the way things are. So now modesty walks a fine line of cultural tradition and intention.

          Someone who is defying the "norms" of the culture in order to be seen sexually would be immodest.

          Honestly, it's a very nuanced position, for a very nuanced virtue, and in other posts, Marc has dealt much better with the topic of modesty, esp. in relation to the pope's writings.

          This post was originally posted in January of this year. this post was posted in June, six months later, and deals more with modesty itself than the "argument from clothes".

          • Andre Boillot

            Maybe it's too nuanced for me at the moment...though if I'm being honest I gave up one paragraph into the other link. Stylistic concerns, hope you understand. You seem to be decoupling modesty and nudity. Can't argue with that.

            However, as I've been reminded several times of late, we're dealing with the topic at hand :) . Marc is pretty explicitly saying that it's a 'fact' that we are all 'innately' ashamed of being naked. Hogwash.

          • As I said, I'm not convinced by the "argument from clothes." I do wonder about what the first piece of clothing was, and why. I'm inclined to believe it was shoes.

          • Andre Boillot

            The research says otherwise: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Flintstone

          • Andre Boillot

            Keep in mind, I badly wanted this article to succeed in making a good point, given its status as "Best-titled SN Article Evah".

        • Geena Safire

          Andre, click on the link. It will take you to the specific comment of which Daniel speaks.

          • Andre Boillot

            Hi Geena,

            I did click the link. I was initially confused by "(see, Geena?)" as the link was a response to Octavo. Now I realize that he was showing off the skills you taught us. :)

  • Andre Boillot

    "I’m curious as to why man is in the habit of wearing clothes, when no other animal has been spotted with even the smallest, most insignificant of socks."

    I dunno, maybe evolution is speeding up, they've moved beyond just wearing socks, and are wearing shoes now too.

    http://zachsangandthegang.linkedupradio.com/assets/images/tumblr_mv2mj4vPbN1sm1kcto2_r1_1280.jpg

    • Geena Safire

      Perhaps because most animals live in environments to which they have already adapted over time. It's only humans that have bucked this trend.

  • Drawde12

    Marc, have you heard about men belonging to a tribe in the pacific that wears koteka? How about the Zo'é tribe in the Amazon? Do your research.

  • Zxenia Cvenka

    Parents, especially religious ones, spend a lot of time teaching their children to be ashamed of their bodies and to feel guilty about wanting to have sex. Then you set all sneary, smarmy and ask why we're not naked.

    I'm naked. Why aren't you?

    • WhiteRock

      Are you really going to pick up the "let's paint all religious people with vastly different religious views" brush? I'd heed caution.
      I was raised in a traditional Catholic household. Modesty was always encouraged and I was never made to feel that I should be ashamed for my natural impulses, or my body. Being modest is one thing. Feeling shame is something completely different.
      My body, as I was taught by my parents and the Church, is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and must be cared for and respected. Interesting...I see no traces of "shame" in there.
      The difference comes in the intellect - we have the urges, we can't prevent that. But, what makes us different from the "other animals" is our choice to either give in or not. That's what being aware and having will power is.
      On the other hand, I know of many Protestant parents who did raise their kids that way. Regardless, your comment is a broad-sweeping generalization and is clearly intending to provoke.

  • Geena Safire

    It’s not bad, and I’m certain my pitiful attempt could be polished by
    some one versed in the language of anthropology

    Yes, it is, Marc. And yes, it could, but by anyone using a search engine.

    The problem is that it will always be a guess.

    Kinda sorta, in the same way that a candle is hot and the sun is hot, so they're both hot. There's a world of difference between the "guess" of a anthropologist -- with years of experience in the field in different cultures related to human clothing and with deep familiarity with the relevant research over years by thousands in the field -- and your "guess," Marc.

    Do you really think that anthropologists just sit around making stuff up?

    First he lay under a dead animal for warmth, then he tried to take the
    animal with him, then he cut its skin, and thus forth.

    No, Marc. First, she removed the skin and cooked and ate the animal. At some point, someone figured out that if you scrape and dry the pelt, it can be useful for clothing or bedding without stinking badly, and will last longer.

    The shame we experience in nakedness today was born, a product of evolution, and has remained with us ever since.

    What a cute story!

    Except it is well known that people aren't born ashamed of nakedness. And it is very well known that many peoples never wore clothing or, like Drawde12 noted, wore the koteka or just jewelry.

    The capacity for shame is hardwired, but what is shameful in a given society differs widely and is taught as part of socialization.

    At the very heart of human existence then, there is a thorn: Something-that-should-not-be-but-is. This is all rather odd, for a something-that-should-not-be implies desire for a something-that-should-be, namely, a world without shame.

    That's actually quite a stretch. There is behavior that is acceptable to the group and behavior that isn't. Being social creatures, we feel positive emotions when our acceptable behavior is acknowledged by the group, and we feel negative emotions when not, such as shame if we have done something that would elicit scorn from the group. (Plus we usually feel fear before engaging in a behavior that will lead to shame. But sometimes a conflict leads to an offending behavior that seems to have a sufficiently compensatory reward -- at least at the time.)

    That doesn't imply that there was a time that humans didn't feel shame, or that there could be a time when humans won't feel it. However, as people mature, they usually become more confident in their choices and have made peace with the realities of managing conflicting desires, so shame no longer accompanies those behaviors.

    • cminca

      Geena--
      Great answer, but I feel like you left one thing out.
      Status.
      People use clothing as a means of displaying both membership of a group or to indicate elevated position within the group.
      Which was one of the points of the fairy tale.

      • Geena Safire

        True, cminca! There are many reasons people wear clothes. Also for art & beauty, for seduction, for transporting stuff (pockets!), for fitting in or status, as you said --- for lots of reasons.

        With regard to clothing and status, you might be interested in sumptuary laws.

  • David Nickol

    Unfortunately, Genesis 3 does not explain why women seem to care about shoes so much more than men.

  • Howard

    Actually, we have good reason to believe that humans first started to wear clothes around 170,000 years ago, based on the divergence between the different species of lice that afflict humans. As for why we first started to wear clothes, a reasonable speculation might be that it's for the same reason that we wear ornaments or make-up, at least at times and in different situations: they signal the class and allegiance of the wearer. A wedding band indicates that someone is "off the market"; a uniform indicates for what country a soldier will fight; businesses assume that someone with no shirt or no shoes is not a serious customer. I suspect this is also why we have retained long hair on our heads: it allows for a variety of hairdos. How did clothes get started? We'll never know, of course, but one possibility is hinted at by Hercules, who wore a lion's skin, but not exactly to cover his nakedness.

  • Meena_B

    "We could argue that going around naked makes a man vulnerable and ashamed,
    which is experientially true.."

    Speak for yourself. Additionally there ARE naturalists.
    You may feel ashamed but clothes also do protect, from armour even of a primitive to simple protection from insect bites.

    In most parts of the world it gets cold, at least at times.
    It's also a way of decorating yourself.
    And we all know it is part of the human game of one-upmanship (clothes and fashion).
    And fashion has been an industry for some time.
    And it can be fun.
    And no end of other reasons.

  • Meena_B

    "Science tells us that the human being is merely an animal. "
    No, it doesn't.

    "Presented with the fact that he acts strikingly unlike other animals"

    He acts like a human being. This in many ways is the same of similar to other animals, and in other ways quite characteristic of his species.

    (You have made your mind up before you start.)

  • Michael Mikhael

    this is very interesting because before Adam eat the fruit he didn't realize that he was naked but after eating it he knew that he was naked and God knew that Adam ate from the fruit when Adam told God "I was naked", maybe the fruit changed Adam's mind physically it's like the difference between a baby and a mature.And the snake wanted Adam to eat from the tree of knowing good and evil, specially this tree, why it didn't ask him to eat from the tree of life instead of the tree of knowing?