[extropy-chat] Superrationality, and the Seeking of Mutual Accomodations

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Tue Dec 19 23:43:24 UTC 2006

Keith writes

> Right.  Genes (for psychological traits) that evolved in a hunter gatherer 
> EEA were lethal to almost all of the Southwest corn farmers.

Although one must also admit that it was their genes that got them
into to that exalted (human) state in the first place. Groups of proto-
people not having such genes got extinguished long before.

> I very much doubt anyone at the time had the slightest insight into how 
> they were trapped.

I'm less certain. Sometimes even an individual at war with his own worst
personal enemy has an agent (an element of the society of mind) that can
look upon the situation with objectivity, and see the trap.  What is needed
at that point is nothing less than

                   S U P E R R A T I O N A L I T Y

Yes, our old friend.  The pairs of corn-farming tribes, or the squabbling
city-states of ancient Greece, or any battling groups that merely drive
themselves to exhaustion do need to rise to a higher level and mutually
evade the trap, or arms race, into which they've fallen.  (The Greeks
are a great example, because if they were not squabbling and divided
when facing the Macedonians, then they were squabbling and divided
when facing the Romans.  18th century Poland is another choice example
that exhibits a tribe who could not for the life of them unite against
common enemies.)

But attaining superrationality is easier said than done, however, which
was the point of my previous post!

Yet notice how glibly the following phrase slides off of 20th and 21st
century tongues:  "Why can some people from each side rise to the
level of sanity and reach an accomodation?".  It is a benign aspect of
our culture, I submit, which does provide memes that assist in this
very cause.  It is partly to this that the great peace which has descended
over North America and over Europe is due. [1]

Yet the game playing matrix still exists, and in some circumstances
even one who only *appears* to be capable of reconciliation or
compromise is thereby placed at a disadvantage and seen to be

(It may be that this is exactly the situation that the west finds itself
with regard to Muslim extremists, who themselves appear to be
very uncompromising.  Any overtures from their enemies are seen
---and I am very afraid, rightly so---as signs of weakness.)

After my initial enthusiasm in 1983 for Hofstadter's superrationality
wore off after a couple of years, it became obvious what the problem
was.  In the non-iterated prisoner's dilemma (NIPD), one can (should)
mathematically cooperate only with one's exact duplicate (or mirror
image). Any other strategy simply results in a lower payoff.  Period.
It's a fatal assumption to suppose that your adversary is like yourself.

Here it seems to me that sensible people (e.g. people on the Extropian
list) can see that neither extreme is optimal:   it is non-optimal to be so
resolute in your contests with the Other that negotiation and compromise
are impossible (e.g. Moslem extremists), and it is also non-optimal to
be naive enough to not see that sometimes battles must be fought to the
bitter end (e.g. the West).  


[1] Although the spreading of the memes like "mutual compromise" and
"let's negotiate a superrational solution" get some credit for the 
historically recent diminution of war, an actually greater cause, I
contend, is simply that it's no longer tempting for economic reasons
to go after your neighbor's wealth.

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