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

Lee Corbin lcorbin at tsoft.com
Fri Mar 10 11:05:04 UTC 2006

Keith H. writes

> [Lee wrote]
> > 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?

Oh, I concede that point entirely. Who *I* am has been greatly
shaped by my genes. Nonetheless, here I am, and I'm ready to
cause destruction of all those genetic sources. Memes are harder:

> > 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...
> >
> > Step 3: we take this history back in time to before the meme
> >         onslaught, and [get a judgment about it from the person]
> 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,

Yes, but so what? Frankenstein destroyed its creator too. What I am
is a set of dispositions, preferences, values, beliefs, and attitudes.
Change enough of those things and I'm someone else. Genes just want to
make more copies of themselves; I'm a trial balloon for doing so.

> not to mention that we don't have a way to rewind lives like video tape.

The above steps establish only that there is a definite ideal truth
to the matter, and that we're not chasing shadows. Suppose a middle-
aged man moves from a secure job in Nebraska to a novel environment
in California. He *can* cogently discuss, later on, whether that was
a good idea or not. Likewise, to take a relatively black and white
case, if an adult becomes suddenly intoxicated by the memes of your
favorite cult, his friends and family *can* cogently discuss whether
this change for him was good in the light of his prior values.

But that is a relatively simple black and white case; we have the
person "before" and a possibly different person "after". The hard
cases are those in which an individual would meet the approval of
former selves (to the degree that they were able to understand him).
In those cases, isn't the person and his meme-set largely to be
identified as the same entity?

> 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.

By what lights do we say that they weren't doing the right thing?
My answer is to inquire what would be the expected outcome of a
debate across time between the devotee and his later skeptical self.
In the usual case, I gather, no agreement would be reached. Can we
say that they're different people?  I'd say so!

Anyway, when the person prior to any involvement is hypothetically
brought into the debate, whose side would he end up on? If with the
later skeptic, we may say that the infusion of cult memes was bad
for the original person, i.e., counter to his values.

> 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.

Your guess is better than mine!  My guess would be that this person
had a genetic propensity to become involved in cults and another
genetic tendency to be too open to memes in the first place. This
latter openness both helped him break out as well as permitted him
to fall victim in the first place. Prediction: identical twin
studies will back up my (hardly original) claim.

> 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.

It *is* too bad that candor and honesty were so rarely selected for in the EEA.
Probably the people on this list go out of their way to praise them.


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