[extropy-chat] Humans--non-rational mode

Keith Henson hkhenson at rogers.com
Fri Mar 10 07:58:44 UTC 2006

At 08:15 PM 3/9/2006 -0800, Lee Corbin wrote:
>Keith H. writes
> > [Lee writes]
> >
> > >  It seems to me that the *concept* of "us", for example, is clear.
> >
> > It sure isn't for me.
> >
> > >  It merely [sic] needs to be internalized that what is good
> > >  for us is not necessarily the same thing as what is good for
> > >  our genes or memes.
> >
> > I can't even set up a hierarchy.  Our hardware was shaped by genes.  We
> > don't yet and may never appreciate how deeply this influences us.  What
> > would we be without memes?  Not even as well off the chimpanzees.
>So far as *genes* go, here is what I submit "us" means: "we" are
>defined by our most carefully articulated wishes. Example: our
>New Year's Resolutions are about *our* goals; what we really end
>up doing, of course, can easily be what the genes want. Thus I
>am able to clearly distinguish between me and my genes. (Hey, that
>was easy!)

And to what extent is what you want shaped by your genes?  Just because you 
fail to carry out a New Year's Resolution doesn't mean that making it is 
not the outcome of genes.  I can't *think* of a likely resolution that does 
not make sense in genetic terms.

>So far as *memes* go, I concede the question to be VASTLY more
>difficult. But let me take a swipe as follows.
>The point boils down to this: can we meaningfully say that a given
>person was harmed when he contracted a certain meme or set of memes?
>Operationally---although we might require a time-machine to determine
>it with any certainty---I think that it *is* meaningful:
>Step 1: we identify the person *with* the state he or she was in
>         just prior to the meme infestation.
>Step 2: we record the change in circumstances and state of the
>         person that follows (in other words, we record a history
>         of the person during an appropriate time interval
>         following the infestation)
>Step 3: we take this history back in time to before the meme
>         onslaught, and compel the person to spend a great deal
>         of time evaluating the transformation, and get him or
>         her to make a careful assessment of its value.
>If the person's verdict is that this was good for him/her, then
>that's what we must go with.

I hate to throw cold water on this scheme, but the machine (brain) you are 
using to are using to make the measurement was constructed by genes, not to 
mention that we don't have a way to rewind lives like video tape.

This reminds me of the event ten years ago at one of Howard Davidson's 
parties that started me down the EP pathway.  (Apologies to Natasha)

A woman, dark hair, mid 30s or so, knew that I was tangling with the 
scientology cult.  She was out of it by that time, but her mystified 
comment to me was that while she knew now that scientology was bs, her time 
in the cult had been the peak experience of her life.  I now know several 
people who bailed out after 30 years in the cult!  For a *long* time they 
thought they were doing the right thing.    (Drug addicts are usually more 
honest than cult addicts.)

>Inapplicable example: a person is raised on a certain set of memes,
>and so in principle there is no "prior person" to consult, at least
>without doing great violence to the notion of the person's identity.
>Thus, for instance, a fifty-year-old Hare Krishna who came down with
>those memes in his early teens cannot be distinguished from them.

Even people raised all their lives in some cult or religion sometimes get 
out.  How much is both getting in and getting out dependant on genes?   I 
can't say but drug addiction which uses the same brain circuits is known to 
be very much controlled by genes.

>Thanks for the very thought-provoking way you've put the question.

Glad you like it.
On another thread you mentioned modesty.  That is tied into the same EP 
model as cult addiction and drug addiction in that people are set up by 
their evolved brain modules to seek status.  Status is more or less the 
integral of attention.  In the EEA social status was highly correlated with 
reproductive success so it is easy to account for the brain mechanisms 
being selected.

But the problem is you can't be *seen* as by the other social primates as 
blatantly seeking social status.  Robert Wright goes into considerable 
detail using Darwin as an example in Moral Animal.

I don't entirely understand why this evolved, but it is a powerful 
mechanism designed to punish those who are too blatant about seeking social 

You will get punished in a lot of social situations if you just admit that 
you *are* a  typical social primate and thus seeking social status is
on your agenda just like every one else--even if you and other people are 
not consciously aware of the motivation.

Back when the cults/drugs/attention/status EP model was first dawning on me 
I put this observation in some Usenet postings.  They were used by the cult 
attacking me in court and later cited by the judge.

There is no more spectacular example I can think of for status seeking than 
a federal judge.  Given what they could make as a partner in a big law 
firm, the status of being a federal judge is typically costing them 
$500,000 a year in lost income.

There would be more humor in this if it had not cost me at least $250,000 
and made me a refugee/fugitive.



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