[ExI] What is Rational?

Keith Henson hkeithhenson at gmail.com
Tue Aug 10 16:06:27 UTC 2010

On Tue, Aug 10, 2010 at 5:00 AM,  BillK <pharos at gmail.com> wrote:
> On 8/10/10, Keith Henson  wrote:

> I think you might be approaching just playing with words here.  ;)

No.  I am deadly serious.  Each of us needs an accurate enough model
of physics to survive.  The same is true for the whole society's need
for an accurate model of human social interactions, especially the
extreme cases (such as Rwanda).

> You seem to be saying that you think that humans believe and do
> strange and irrational things (on the surface), but when considered
> from the viewpoint of reproductive success and genes they are really
> rational after all.

Essentially yes.  However, you must keep in mind that selection of the
mechanisms that detect bleak futures and hop a tribe's warriors up to
attack neighbors happened in the EEA.

> So how is the First World falling birth rates and aging populations
> rational from the point of view of the genes?

It isn't.

> It seems to me that the First World falling birth rates is more
> because women have been empowered and would rather have careers,
> comfort and material wealth. (Even if it means that in the longer term
> younger societies will grow and replace the aging societies).

Our genes have no history of selection in the conditions the modern
world has created.  Before birth control, women didn't have these

> But getting back to rationality-----
> The usual view of extreme rationality is Spock saying 'That does not
> compute' when faced with some strange 'human' behaviour.  I think we
> have to deal with human behaviour as it is demonstrated when
> discussing rational behaviour.
> I would say that the basic human drives tend to corrupt rational
> thinking. And this is often a good thing! Humans usually have to
> operate in an environment where they don't have sufficient information
> to make the 'best' decision. To avoid a collapse into helpless
> indecision, humans have evolved emotions which force a decision to be
> made.
> (That's the old business cliche - Any decision is better than no decision).
> It is double-think to say that painting your face blue and working
> yourself up into a religious fervour before attacking the neighbouring
> tribe is perfectly rational. When the basic drives takeover, rational
> thinking goes out the window.
> You can't have it both ways.

To some extent you are just paraphrasing my arguments, and you can
have it both ways.

One of the most important things _The Selfish Gene_ did was to
introduce "viewpoints."

>From an individual's viewpoint, rational is not walking off cliffs or
into fast traffic.  It is rational to acquire food and consume it.  It
is not rational from an individual viewpoint to take part in a war
where half will die.  But under recurring conditions, namely a
resource crisis, it can be more profitable *from the viewpoint of
genes* to make the attempt to kill neighbors and take their resources
even with the risk considered.

As a result of strong selection, the mechanisms are nearly universal in humans.

There are other psychological mechanisms that are rarely turned on
fully in First world conditions.  Capture-bonding for example.  That
mechanism is the root cause of a mess of otherwise hard to understand
human behaviors, hazing, basic training, battered wife, and BDSM to
name them.


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