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

Keith Henson hkhenson at rogers.com
Fri Mar 10 16:52:48 UTC 2006

At 01:31 AM 3/10/2006 -0800, samantha wrote:

>On Mar 9, 2006, at 7:28 AM, Keith Henson wrote:
> >
> > The unexplained freakin' out of the Libertarians over "Memes,
> > MetaMemes and
> > Politics" is perhaps due to these paragraphs being seen as an
> > attack on the
> > fundamental Libertarian belief that people are (or at least should be)
> > objective and rational
>What freakin' out was that?


Hal was the only one to respond directly.

>I find such rather irrelevant myself
>besides the annoyance of a contrived debunking using dubious

Whoh!  This is not debunking Libertarians, this is at the meta level trying 
to understand something about partisan behavior.  We have an observed fact: 
two groups of Libertarians had what can be considered a memetic "allergic" 
reaction, one that was still influential at Reason when Aaron Lynch's work 
came out ten years later.

>Libertarians as a group  have no fundamental belief that
>people are or should be objective and rational.  That is not a
>definitive belief of libertarians.  What made you think that it is?

You need to distinguish between upper and lower case libertarians.  I was 
not speculating about lower case libertarians, I am one myself and *I* 
didn't get an allergic reaction to the article.   Don't know of any who did.

As to "objective and rational" being a underpinning world view for upper 
case Libertarian, that's the result of knowing a bunch of Libertarians and 
their less social memetic neighbors Objectivists.  It isn't stated, just 

I vividly remember (by name) a person who was somewhere toward the 
Objectivist end of the Libertarian spectrum telling me in 1985 that if it 
came to a choice between saving his ass and the rest of the world, the 
rational thing would be for everyone else to die.

This seemed wrong at the time, but I didn't have an argument against 
it.  Only after I got deeply into evolutionary psychology did I understand 
why it was wrong.

But, hey, I am far from welded to this explanation--there could be a better 
one.  You might note that the person who asked me to send it to Liberty 
(Andre Marrou I think) didn't have this reaction.  (Or perhaps that makes 
the case he wasn't enough of a upper case Libertarian.)

> > "But a good fraction of the memes that make up human culture fall
> > into the
> > categories of political, philosophical, or religious. A rationale
> > for the
> > spread and persistence for these memes is a much deeper problem.
> > The spread
> > of some memes of these classes at the expense of others is of intense
> > concern to many readers of Reason. If we are to be effective at
> > judging
> > ideas and promoting the spread of ones we think are more rational,
> > it would
> > be useful to understand how memes come about, how they use people to
> > spread, and why the self-interest of the people who spread a meme
> > and the
> > meme's "interest" are not always the same.
> >
>We need a better way to speak about this than to impute an "interest"
>to either a meme or a gene.  I know what you mean but the wording
>bogs down the discussion imho.
> > "Study of these concepts may provide insight into why some ideas
> > are more
> > attractive than others and into what "rational" and "objective"
> > mean. Much
> > of the recent progress in understanding evolution came from a
> > viewpoint
> > shift:biologists started looking at the world from the viewpoint of
> > genes.
>This seems a bit over the top.  EP for instance is about a lot more
>than "the viewpoint of the genes".
> > Because genes influence their own survival (via causal loops) the
> > ones we
> > observe seem as if they were "striving" to be represented by more
> > copies in
> > the next generation. Memes too seem to "strive." Of course, this is
> > metaphor, since neither genes nor memes are conscious. In the
> > process of
> > making more copies of themselves in human minds memes sometimes
> > work at
> > cross purposes with human genes.
> >
> > "At least three different and conflicting viewpoints for
> > determining"rational" and "objective" exist: from the viewpoint of the
> > genes a person carries, from the viewpoint of the memes they carry
> > (or are
> > infected with) and from their conscious mind, shaped by both genes
> > and memes."
>You first say that genes and memes are not conscious and these
>"viewpoints" etc. are metaphorical then you purport to redefine
>rational and even objective in terms of these metaphors.  I don't
>derive much real meaning from this.  Care to try again?  We already
>know humans and any evolved intelligent creature is subject to genes
>and memes.  How does this change what is and isn't objectively
>real?   How does it change what is and isn't the best choice in a
>particular situation for the benefit of the person or persons?

As I told Lee, I am not going to defend 20 year old writings of mine, 
especially when they are somewhat out of date to my own understanding of 
the subject.  This was quoted just to try to understand the "allergic" 
reaction Libertarians had to it many years go.

> > If any of you can put yourself in the Libertarian mind mode--do you
> > think
> > this is the part of the article that invoked the response to this
> > article
> > that persisted for at least ten years?
>You are asking people to guess at something you purport to be the
>case from ten years ago and say whether they think it is "explained"
>by this dubious attribution of a shared common belief of all/most
>libertarians?   Why?

Because I am trying to understand something that persisted as a mystery to 
me for nearly two decades.  I *think* my understanding it makes sense, but 
want to subject it to the analysis of others.

After reading about Drew Weston's work, I no longer trust myself in such 
matters.  Now if I had a fMRI scan of my brain while reacting to critical 
statements about this understanding and could attach it . . . my 
understanding could *still* be wrong, but at least you would know I had the 
rational parts of my brain engaged and was not just defending a fixed, 
partisan set of memes.

If you want a deeper level . . . no I won't go there.  :-)

> > ""My contention, simply put, is that the evolutionary approach is
> > the only
> > approach in the social and behavioural sciences that deals with
> > why, in an
> > ultimate sense, people behave as they do. As such, it often unmasks
> > the
> > universal hypocrisies of our species, peering behind self-serving
> > notions
> > about our moral and social values to reveal the darker side of human
> > nature." (Silverman 2003)
> > It may be to late to do anything about the hundreds of millions or
> > billions
> > of deaths event(s) even if everybody understood the EP reasons
> > behind it.
>Do you have any positive tools from your study of EP beyond dark
>understanding of the seeming inevitability of it all?

Yes.  The situation is analogous to being in a truck hurtling toward a 
cliff.  Apply the brakes!

In my war paper I connect the fading out of the IRA to the *Irish women* 
who a generation ago cut the population growth to where economic growth got 
ahead of population growth.  It is my clam based on EP that this damped 
down the gain on memes supporting the IRA.

Of course this happened long before anyone had a clue about EP.

The problem with the situation in much of the Islamic world is like being 
in a truck doing 70 mph and only 50 feet from the brink.  Even if you 
understand the problem, can you do anything about it?

>How can we
>unprogram, reprogram or channel our programming into less disastrous

I don't know.

I am not even certain that my EP based analysis is accurate.  More critical 
thought in this area would sure help.  Formal simulation models would also 
be of great value.  If someone would like to collaborate on a model let me 

If this EP based model is correct, and you want to save the current 
population from a huge die back, then economic growth faster than 
population growth is the only way I can see to raise the income per capita 
and shut off war mode.

Nanotechnology in the self replicating mode would do that.

Can it happen in time?

Can we do anything to make it happen faster?

Good questions!   Thanks,

Keith Henson

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