[extropy-chat] Rational thinking (2)

Keith Henson hkhenson at rogers.com
Mon Dec 4 18:54:56 UTC 2006

At 11:15 AM 11/30/2006 -0800, Chris Hibert wrote:


>This seems to be uncharitable to the motivations of the Japanese pilots,
>and I can't tell whether the intent is to include all uniformed
>soldiers, all those acting in the moment, or only conscripts.
>I won't try to argue that those pilots were acting rightly, or that they
>were fighting on behalf of a noble cause, but to say that they were
>irrational because their immediate motivations were due to training and
>group pressure doesn't give any credit to their feelings of patriotism
>and their desire to support a large cause.

"Rational" depends on the viewpoint being considered and with evolutionary 
psychology a person has at least two viewpoints to consider, himself or 
herself and that of his/her genes.

People do things considered irrational all the time.  But if you consider 
the viewpoint of genes, especially "inclusive fitness" where the copies of 
genes in relatives have a "vote" and then you note that human evolved in 
fairly closely related groups, most of the irrational acts turn out to be 
rational from a gene's viewpoint (or were rational in the stone age).

>When phrased that way, all soldiers in combat act for those motivations,
>but surely some of them have decided to  place themselves in that
>position.  That was what the founders of the US were doing when they
>made the aforementioned pledge.  Once having done so, they each often
>found themselves pressured by the force of later events and earlier
>commitments.  But you give them credit for the noble motivations behind
>the earlier pledge, rather than the situations the pledge let them into.
>Would you like to draw a finer or a different distinction?  How do you
>want to characterize the actions of an American in uniform, who
>voluntarily enlists, and later finds him or herself in a battlefield
>situation, falling on a grenade to save fellow soldiers?  Or soldiers in
>earlier wars who made attacks against daunting odds in service of a
>cause they chose to defend?

The interesting aspect is where these psychological traits came from, i.e., 
evolved in the stone age.

People commit to defend a group or make the ultimate sacrifice such as a 
suicide bomber because genes that caused people to behave that way did 
better than alternative genes when people lived in closely related hunter 
gather bands.

People no longer live in closely related groups so falling on a grenade 
does not save a mess of relatives.  But we are still wired up to treat 
people we are socially close to as if they were relatives.

This trait's a blessing and a curse.  Because of it, people can be induced 
into flying large aircraft into tall buildings.  Without it, neither the 
aircraft or the buildings would exist.

Keith Henson

PS.  I see that even this group has not yet fully integrated evolutionary 
psychology into our mental tools.  It's hard to do, but well worth it.

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list