[extropy-chat] C 101 Meta

Keith Henson hkhenson at rogers.com
Sun Mar 5 16:39:03 UTC 2006

At 09:30 AM 3/5/2006 -0500, Robert wrote:


>And though my current favorite premise was that Christ, if he did indeed 
>exist, was a product of an alien experiment in ID ("intelligent development"),

Tongue planted firmly in cheek I presume.  :-)


>But in ancient times these people presumably became outcasts ("different" 
>doesn't get handled well in many communities).  Some might have become 
>leaders and/or been put to death (Joan of Arc [12] comes to mind).  They 
>were several standard deviations away from the norm so in order to survive 
>one probably had to learn how to "game" the prevailing system.  That of 
>course can lead to the formation of "cults" (aka "religions").

Two points.  One of them is that while memetics does not entirely 
depreciate the person(s) involved in the formation of a ____ it makes the 
case that the times and near universal human psychological traits set off 
by environmental triggers are more important.  I.e., Hitler would have 
stayed a painter if Germany had been experiencing good economic times.

Second point, it has been my claim for almost 20 years that memes behind 
____s evolve into less harmful forms--typically over about 300 years.  (Or 
they die out--Shakers.)  Since delving into the origin of wars, I am no 
longer confident about this.  It might be just my narrow cultural 
view.  Some time ago Robin Hanson sent me a paper "World Peace, Thanks To 
Old Men?"  http://hanson.gmu.edu/worldpeace.html  There is an association 
noted between the ratio of old men to young men that seems to be associated 
with lower war deaths.

But how does a society get to a place where they have a lot of old me?  Low 
birth rate of course, and while low population growth is not a sure thing 
for rising income per capita, population growth in excess of economic 
growth is a mathematically sure route to lower income per capita.  If 
rising income per capita turns off "war mode," then while the percentage of 
old men is associated with fewer wars, it is not causal but a consequence 
of keeping war mode shut off.

>It does look like the Extropy Institute has avoided becoming a cult 
>(perhaps because Max extracted himself as the figurehead) but it remains 
>an open question in my mind as to whether "The Singularity Institute" will 
>be as successful.

Any time people are in a "save the world" mode they are in partisan mode, 
or ____ mode or war mode--which I have come to think are just 
manifestations of the same underlying psychology--which is rooted in our 
adaptation to periodic population limiting wars between hunter gatherer 
bands.  People in this mode " twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope" till they 
can rationalize away information that does not fit their emotional commitment.

>However observing the list for the last few months one must wonder whether 
>the selection of "The Canon" for the ExI participants is still quite an 
>active process and who might be burned at the stake as a heretic next week?

Sigh.  Extropians need to be rational thinkers *and* intensely committed 
people.  Unfortunately it looks like human nature is such that you can only 
get one at a time.  We need something to displace political parties and 
religions that is consistent with our evolutionary biology.  *And* I have 
this bridge to sell you.

>But getting back to Keith's perspective -- one is trying to overlay the 
>rational construction of future(s) on top of biological and cultural 
>systems that are ill-suited for it.  You have 2+ billion people belonging 
>to "cults" (a small fraction of which are extremely hard core believers) 
>and The Singularity is coming straight down the track putting "rational 
>thinking" into direct conflict with "self-direction" (even if its the 
>"wrong" direction).
>Sounds to me like ExI is turning into a bunch of "moderates" who, as Sam 
>Harris points out, refuse to confront the flaws in the foundations that 
>the world around them is built upon.  If we can't engage in "freedom of 
>communication" and accept both "innovation" ( e.g. "new" cults) which 
>promote "questioning" and subequent "learning" then what really is the 
>point of being here?

Extropians have a better chance than Libertarians.  Libertarians as we saw 
can't deal with the very concept of memes, I now understand they went into 
partisan mode as Drew Westen's fMRI work demonstrated.  I think Extropians 
can deal with the concept of memes, even to the point of recognizing *they* 
have a set of memes.

Now the question is can Extropians deal with the simply *awful* 
consequences of being evolved social primates whose psychological traits 
were shaped in the stone age?

I don't know that understanding this gruesome fact is going to help, but it 
might keep us from wasting effort where it clearly isn't going to have 
effect and best case, lots of rational thinking based on the reality of 
what we have to work with might come up with good ideas.

Just to toss one out, since external events eventually translate into brain 
chemistry, perhaps there are drugs that would raise the threshold on going 
into partisan-war-____ mode.

Keith Henson

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