[extropy-chat] Name that system

Keith Henson hkhenson at rogers.com
Tue Dec 19 21:03:38 UTC 2006

At 10:54 AM 12/19/2006 -0800, Jef wrote:


>Therein lies the rub; how to sell people on the importance of
>broader-context decision-making (that deflates one's self-importance),
>broader-scope consideration of consequences (when human lifespan is so
>brief one can't expect direct personal benefit), and acting to benefit
>the group (when it's obvious that one's own individual efforts can't
>really make much difference [12].)
>Over our evolutionary past, the individual always focused on its
>individual needs, and cooperation emerged unintentionally and
>sporadically, but persisted due to synergetic advantage.

That's not exactly a correct model of the past.  Humans are intensely 
social, that's what allowed our remote ancestors to become the absolute top 
large predator on the planet.  Lions are social too, but we beat them with 
better coordination and sharp rocks.

The really critical thing about evolution is that the fleeting individual 
was important, but mainly as a vehicle to get his/her genes into the next 

The way we did that was by having offspring that survived and reproduced 
themselves and by helping relatives who carried some of the same genes we 
did.  The Wikipedia article on Inclusive Fitness 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inclusive_fitness is currently a mess.  This 
is to the point:

"The idea of inclusive fitness, or kin selection, is an important component 
of contemporary evolutionary theory. Haldane (1955) understood the process, 
as indicated by his remark that he would lay down his life for two brothers 
or eight cousins. However, the idea was mainly popularized by Hamilton 
(1964a, 1964b).

"The main theoretical yield of the concept of inclusive fitness is that it 
explains (or perhaps explains away) altruism. Genes are selfish, and a 
person is merely a gene's "survival machine" (Dawkins, 1989). However, a 
gene's fondest wish (to anthropomorphize a bit) is to be passed into the 
next generation. This can occur if the person carrying the gene survives to 
reproduce--but it can also occur if the person's relatives (who carry many 
of the same genes) survive to reproduce. Thus, a lapwing will fake injury 
to distract a hawk from its young, thereby acting altruistically toward its 
offspring (Maynard Smith, 1995).

"Sometimes the altruistic act benefits non-relatives. For example, members 
of many species will take care of youngsters, even if the youngsters are 
not their own. This may be because the evolved mechanism is not sensitive 
enough to make fine discriminations, opening the altruist up to 
exploitation. . . . ."



>It's about time
>for us to step up to the next level and *intentionally* exploit this
>principle of positive-sum interactions to our maximum benefit.  To do
>less would be immoral.

If you want to exploit positive sum interactions, understanding deeply 
wired in human motivation (such as the universal human psychological trait 
to seek higher status) is a good place to start.

Payment in status is all people get from working on the Wikipedia for 
example.  And it explains why so many people try to be actors or writers.

However, I must warn you that recognizing these motives may get you into 
deep trouble with others.

Recognizing this feature in my own motivations (if only in a theoretical 
way) and writing about it got me lambasted from the bench by a Federal Judge.

Which in away was very amusing--because there is no more obvious example 
than a federal judge for someone who has traded income for high 
status.  (Federal judges typically make less than half what they did as 
lawyers before being appointed.)

Keith Henson

PS.  People seek status without the least knowledge of why, but in the past 
high status in a hunter gatherer band was highly correlated with 
reproductive success, extra wives and "extra pair matings."  In earthy 
terms, successful hunters and leaders get a lot of nookie.  For the most 
part they are our ancestors.

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