[ExI] What is Rational? (BillK)

Keith Henson hkeithhenson at gmail.com
Wed Aug 11 18:06:21 UTC 2010

On Wed, Aug 11, 2010 at 5:00 AM,  BillK <pharos at gmail.com> wrote:

> On Tue, Aug 10, 2010 at 5:06 PM, Keith Henson  wrote:
>> On Tue, Aug 10, 2010 at 5:00 AM, ?BillK  wrote:
>>> 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.
> Good!  You agree that at least one human behaviour affecting gene
> reproduction is not driven by evolved gene behaviour.  Now to tackle
> the rest of human behaviour.   ;)

I don't think there is a lot less mating going on, it's just that the
consequences can be avoided.

>>> 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
>> options.
> That's the point, isn't it? Gene selection has no experience of any
> modern conditions, not just birth control.

I should modify this a bit.  Gregory Clark makes a strong case that
the English (where he can find probate records) and other western
European peoples who lived in a stable agrarian society were subjected
to very strong selection for certain personality characteristics over
at least 20 generations.  That's what it took for the Russian
investigators to make tame foxes out of wild ones.

But effective birth control has not been available that long.

>>> 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.
> OK. Prehistoric gene selection has produced a breed of crazy humans
> who can't cope with modern civilization and the conflict between gene
> drives and brain choices.

We are a remarkably adaptable species.  Most of the time we do OK.  It
is just useful to understand what turns on the psychological

For example, this theory states that the Chinese will not go to war
(unless attacked) as long as the future looks better than the present
for the bulk of the population.  This is in strong contrast to the
expectations of the "excess males" theory of why we have wars.

> It seems to me that you have left yourself no circumstances which you
> could say was 'irrational behaviour'.

Not at all.  The point is that the same behavior can be rational from
one view and irrational from another.

> Except perhaps the first world
> dwindling birth rate. You might call that irrational because it
> opposes evolved gene drives. Whereas most people would call that an
> example of supremely rational behaviour.

In humans I can't see how "evolved gene drives" could be feedback
coupled to the birth rate.  Genes have built humans who get maximum
pleasure from the mating act, and bonding mechanisms for the babies
that result.

In former times, the population just increased till a resource crisis
knocked it back, directly by famines and disease or indirectly by wars

Actually, the low first world birth rate is just exceptionally
lucky--especially as we rapidly approach the level of medicine where
people just quit dying or live very long times.

> You need to redefine your terms if you intend to claim that every
> crazy behaviour is really rational deep down. People will find it very
> difficult to follow your 'rational' reasoning.

I have not made a case that every crazy behavior is really rational.
Just wars between hunter gatherer groups facing a starvation crisis.
I admit EP is very hard for most people, even relatively smart ones.
Part of that may be that we have a bias against understanding our

> PS. When I say humans are basically irrational (with occasional
> moments of rational behaviour) I am not just referring to going to
> war. I am talking about almost every 'normal' day-to-day behaviour).

I don't believe you can make a case for this.  The majority of human
behavior is goal directed and in those terms, rational.


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