Civilization, Barbarism, and Development

     Bonald's post "What cultural diversity among the savages doesn't tell us" opens by discussing an objection posed by relativists to the idea that the organization of traditional Western society is natural.  In particular, that monogamy and the traditional roles of men and women in society is natural.  Relativists point to primitive societies which are arranged differently and conclude that since the values of traditional Western society are not universal, they must not be natural.  

        But in addition to the relativist argument that simply because different societies exist, they show that culture is relative, there is another challenge, which is that because societies that are organized differently are primitive, they are in some sense more fundamental than traditional Western culture.  This leads to a different kind of challenge, i.e. are that the values of traditional Western culture just an artifact of a particular kind of society or are they more fundamental than that?

        Bonald answers the first challenge with an intersting statement:  

    "As an Aristotelian, I believe that it's the complete, perfected state of a substance that most clearly manifests that substance's essence, its intelligible principle, rather than the immature states.  If you want to understand human nature, look first at civilized man."

    But this also relates to the second challenge as well.  If primitive societies are less realized versions of less primitive societies, then the social organization of the less primitive societies is better.  

    I think there's definitely something in Bonald's statement.  To the extent that societies come about because of spiritual impulses (and spiritual does not necessarily mean good, if we consider those societies that engaged in mass human sacrifice), then they are in touch with a more fundamental reality and are not just artifacts of an arbitary form of social organization.  

    Another way to consider this relates to the idea of the evolutionary development of consciousness and how it relates to society.  Rudolf Steiner had the idea that apes are devolved men.  Or, more precisely, the physical body of both human beings and apes originated as some kind of primate, which was neither man nor ape, but possessed the potentiality for either of them.  Those members of that species which developed spiritually humanlike qualities became more human, while those who became more bestial developed into apes.  

    So, there developed a further split between the two lineages.  And it is not just Steiner who said something like this.  William James Tychonievich brought a theory to my attention (in the comments of this post) that, rather than human beings evolving from a chimpanzee-like ancestor, gorillas and chimps may have degenerated from a more human-like ancestor.  This also relates to the idea of evolution having a spiritual characteristic.  In that evolutionary change partly comes about by the response of species to spiritual impulses.  Lamarck may have been onto something, in a spiritual sense.  

    Perhaps something similar might happen with societies.  At some point they reach a "fork in the road", where further continuation along the same lines is no longer possible.  Those who continue forward along the path evolve towards a different kind of society, while those who do not can only degenerate.  

    So, while some primitive societies may simply be more or less stable (like certain tribes in the Amazon) perhaps others are only primitive in the sense of their material circumstances, while they have in fact degenerated from a prior phase.  This might explain some strange behaviors like cannibalism and manifestations of non-biological sexuality; they were not there originally, but have come about after a period of degeneration.  Like Steiner's theory about apes and men, the prior phase would have been less sophisticated both in terms of cruelty and goodness.  

    For those that did successfully move to the new civilization that does not mean that the new social arrangement will be a paradise; they will have their own problems, with new possibilities for bad and good, but they will have evaded the fate of those who did not move forward.  

What lies behind the laws of nature?

     In his post Phantom arrivals, William James Tychonievich writes about the phenomenon of people experiencing other people or objects arriving at their house some time before they actually arrive.  Read that post before reading what follows to get the full context.  

    What I find interesting is that the phenomenon described in this post is that they seem to happen spontaneously.  No one is trying to make them happen; they just occur.  And also, while strange, they are not dramatic, but concern everyday events, such as ordering a book or a battery.  In some places, they even seem to be quite frequent; Tychonievich quotes the following from a book by Rupert Sheldrake: 

    "This hearning of sounds in advance is well known in northern Scandinavia, as I discussed in Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home. In Norway there is even a special name for the phenomenon, vardøger, which literally means 'warning soul.'  Typically, someone at home hears a person walking or driving up to the house, coming in, and hanging up his coat.  Yet nobody is there.  Some ten to thirty minutes later the person really arrives to similar sounds.  People get used to it.  Housewives put the kettle on as the vardøger arrives, knowing their husbands will arrive soon.

    Professor Georg Hygen, of Oslo University, investigated dozens of recent cases, and published an entire book on this subject.  He concluded that the phenomonon is not so much a pre-echo of what will happen in the future, but is related to a person's intentions.  For one thing, the sounds are not always identical to those heard in advance.  A person might be heard going up to the bedroom, whereas when he arrives he goes into the kitchen.  Moreover, the vardøger phenomenon can still occur when a person does not in fact arrive, having changed his mind."

    The line "people get used to it", particularly caught my attention.  Here we have an event that, while still paranormal, happens often enough that it becomes familiar. 

    I find the theory of telepathy in the second paragraph fairly convincing, but there may also be other things going on as well.  The vardøger could be precognitive if one believes (as I do) that the future can be partially forseen, but is not entirely predetermined.  I believe it is more like hearing someone's plans for the next day, rather than looking ahead in a book to what is already there.  So, the precognition is not an exact copy of the events that subsequently occur, but an indication of an intention.  And it may be that telepathy and precognition are also related on some level.  

    Another possibility, relates to the philosophical idea that when angels are present in a particular location, unless they take on a body, they are not present in the same sense as human beings are because they are not physical.  An angel's presence is more analogous to focusing one's mind on a location than being there physically.  A similar thing could be said of ghosts.  Based on reading and thinking about the matter, I believe that there are probably multiple kinds of ghosts: one might be a kind of energy that is sometimes left behind after death, another might be a projection from the thoughts or emotions of a person, and the last would be the soul of the individual detached from the body.  And the last kind could be present in a non-physical way related to the soul of the person thinking about or remembering some location.  

    Thus, the vardøger could be, in addition to telepathy, that the person traveling to a location is present there in some non-physical sense while they are thinking about returning home and focusing on the location.  

    In some ways paranormal events of this kind seem similar to rainbows, magnetism, or static electricity.  In the past these were probably thought of by some people are curios, interesting events that happened occasionally.  But now we know that there were glimpses of a broader understanding of nature.  Likewise, I believe that the vardøger and related phenomena provide glimses of laws that underlie the physical laws of nature but are themselves non-physical - more like mental.  Though I do not think they are the deepest level or that they are truly spiritual.  (William Wildblood has written some about this level of reality on his blog, referring to it as the psychic plane).

    I use the word laws because I think that these mental laws are regularities, that they are chaotic.  But, they are not regular in a sense that would make them easy to predict, i.e., they are not mechanical.  Also, I do not believe there will ever be a science of these laws, both because they are non-mechanical and difficult to discern and because fallen human beings are prohbited from fully understanding these matters for their own good and the good of others.  

The Influence of the Subliminal

     In C.S. Lewis's memoir Surprised by Joy, he writes: 

    "Then I read Chesterton's Everlasting Man and for the first time saw the whole Christian outline of history set out in a form that seemed to me to make sense.  Somehow I contrived not to be too badly shaken.  You will remember that I already thought Chesterton the most sensible man alive 'apart from his Christianity'.  Now, I veritably believe, I thought - I didn't of course say; words would have revealed the nonsense - that Christianity itself was very sensible 'apart from its Christianity'."

    This is a significant insight of Lewis's: that there are some beliefs which become ridiculous once articulated.  Another way to say this is that there are certain ideas that are not believed by argument but because they are propagated subliminally.  But, once stated, it is clear that these beliefs are false.  

    Many of the most powerful and pervasive ideas in the modern world are of this nature.  In his recent post "Do you want Heaven, or the other place, or nothing?  Childhood - Single Adulthood - Marriage/Parenthood", Bruce Charlton articulates what is held up as the goal of modern life: 

    "The potential of human existence is based-upon some version of an idealized young, single-adult life - involving some combination of wealth, power, freedom, high status, fame and attention, travel and leisure, excitement and comfort; lots of preferred-type sex with attractive others and without guilt, strings or recriminations ... 

Underpinned by our own beauty, sexuality, charm, intelligence, dominance, strength and fitness, perfect health and immunity to illness, disease and ageing."

    Of course, this goal is never actually stated explicitly by those who believe it.  No one believes this because they were argued into it; it is simply propagandized endlessly and the alternatives ignored, suppressed, attacked, and mocked.  The belief operates at a sub-rational, subliminal level.  What Charlton has articulated really is what people believe, but like Lewis admitted, if anyone was actually to admit this explicitly, it would be clear how pointless (not to mention impossible) it is as a life goal.  

    Another example relates to managerialism.  In the Middle Ages, theology was referred to as the Queen of the Sciences (science broadly conceived as any intellectual discipline).  By this, it was meant that theology was the central and primary intellectual discipline, the most fundamental and the most advanced, while the other subjects were the handmaidens of the Queen; their job was to serve theology by illuminating other areas of knowledge.  Over time, the science considered Queen of the sciences has changed.  In Ancient Greece (although they did not use that term), the Queen of the Sciences was philosophy; centuries later, the mathematician C.F. Gauss (1777-1855) famously said:

    "Mathematics is the queen of the sciences and number theory is the queen of mathematics.  She often condescends to render service to astronomy and other natural sciences, but in all relations she is entiteld to the first rank."

    while in the early to mid twentieth century, the Queen of the Sciences was considered by many to be theoretical physics.  In all of those cases, there was at least some justification for viewing these disciplines as the most fundamental and central disciplines (also taking into account that the meaning of science narrowed from intellectual disciplines in general to natural science from the Middle Ages to the modern era).  Currently however, the two candidates are either leftism ("studies", etc.), or managerialism.  

    Both of these are treated as if, to paraphrase Gauss, "they are entiteld to the first rank in all relations", i.e., as if these two subjects (I won't call them disciplines) have, by virtue of their superior position, the right and indeed the obligation to critique all other subjects.  To actually argue this would manifest its absurdity, since both of these subjects are obviously extremely light in intellectual content and it is also apparent that they are simply justifications for cultural subversion and bureaucratic takeover.  Thus, even though these two areas really are treated as the Queen of the Sciences, this is not because of any argument; the belief also operates on the subjective level.  

    Another example is the idea that if we just had the right bureaucratic procedures, then society would become a utopia.  And this is even taken further when it is assumed that not only can policies guarantee good, but anything bad that happens only happens either because a procedure was not in place or the procedure in place was flawed.  These assumptions are behind almost every media evaluation of any unfortunate circumstances and indeed, the entire birdemic response was based on these assuptions.  As with the other examples, if anyone was to actually try to argue this, it would be seen to be ridiculous, yet vast numbers of people speak and act as if they believe just that.  Once again the influence is below the rational level.  

    And people readily absorb beliefs in this form.  Large numbers of people are very adept at instictively taking up these assumptions, which underpin media and official communications where everything is always interpreted in light of these assumptions (although they are never spoken or argued for). 

    There are three ways out of this, corresponding to the division of human decision making into three parts: instinct, reasoning, and intuition.  One way is to have correct instincts and reject these assumptions and the actions based on them without any deliberation.  Pretty much everyone who lived before 1900 or so would fall into this category.  It's much harder now, for most of us, because we live in an environment where so much is built upon false and unnatural assumptions, so we have to consciously become aware of insticts which correspond to what is true and reject those which work with these false assumptions.  

    The second way is to explicitly articulate the assumptions and rationally perceive that they are untrue.  

    And the third way is to strengthen our intuition, by grounding our thinking in what is most good, true, and fundamental.  Although much of intuition operates unconsciously, it is not the same as instinct, because it is based on the spiritual truth about reality, rather than biology.  Both are natural, but one is higher than the other.  William Wildblood has written much about this topic, and has a good recent post on the intuition.  

    And these are not mutually exclusive; it is possible and good to use all three.  

Logic, intuition, and Motivation

    In an intellectual argument there are three factors to consider: logic, intuition, and motivation.  The logic is the actual reasoning employed in the argument itself.  The intuition is the deeper understanding of the principles involved in the argument, beyond the flow of the logic itself and the motivation is the reason for making the argument in the first place.  

    For example, in Bruce Charlton's article Reconceptualizing the metaphysical basis of biology, he writes: 

    "If Natural Selection is regarded as the bottom-line explanation - the fundamental metaphysical reality (as it is for biology, and often is with respect to the human condition) then this has radically nihilistic consequences.  And this is a paradox - if natural selection was the only mechanism by which consciousness and intelligene arose then we could have no confidenec that the human discovery of natural selection was anything more than a (currently, but contingently) fitness-enhancing delusion.


    In sum - Without teleology, there can be no possibility of knowledge. 

    (This is not some kind of a clever paradox - it is an unavoidable rational conclusion.)"

    In this argument, the logic is the first paragraph, pointing out that if we believe natural selection is the rock-bottom reality of the human mind, then we have no guarantee that our reasoning is accurate, only that it has been useful for survival and reproduction.  But then, the theory of natural selection itself, which was developed by the human mind, is also a product of natural selection.  Hence, we have no guarantee that the theory of natural selection is true.  

    As Charlton points out, this reasoning can seem to be just a clever trick, rather than a serious argument.  Partly this is the self-referential nature of the argument, but the other reason is that this paradox, taken by itself, leads us to a certain conclusion, but says no more about it once we arrive.  So, we now move to the intition.  

    The intuition is that the theory of natural selection only refers to traits which aid survival and reproduction, it says nothing about ensuring that beliefs are true.  It may be that true beliefs also aid in survival and reproduction or it may be that some false beliefs are better, but to make these kinds of considerations, we have to go outside of the theory of natural selection.  And in a broader sense, the intuition behind other paradoxes is similar.  By showing that a theory cannot account for itself, it is shown to be incomplete; it may be valid within a certain domain, but it is not a complete description outside of it.  

    As for the motivation, there are different motivations one could have.  One possibility is that the argument is one prong of a strategy to discredit natural selection altogether.  Another is to better understand natural selection by understanding its limitations.  A third is to show that naturalism, the belief that physical nature is all that exists, is false.  

    C.S. Lewis used this argument for the third motivation in his book Miracles.  Victor Reppert writes more about this in his book C.S. Lewis's Dangerous idea.  Interestingly enough, on his blog, Reppert quotes Charles Darwin himself, who wrote in a letter: 

    "the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.  Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?"

    I find this framework helpful in understanding not just intellectual arguments, but writing and indeed communication of all kinds.    

    The three each have their own benefits and drawbacks.  

    For instance, analyzing writing from a logical perspective allows one to temporarily ignore the motivations and just focus on the arguments themselves.  The difficulty is that the logic itself may not be spelled out or may take certain assumptions for granted, or may be satisfactory, but leave out the bigger picture.  Motivations are in a sense the quickest.  If one can determine that a communication is sent out with bad motivation, like mass media for example, then it can be ignored with no further thought.  But the difficulty is that for less obvious examples, the specific motivation may take some time to infer and since people think differently, motivations may be unusual.  

    For example, there are people who are atheists because they believe the evidence in favor of the existence of God is uncertain, but choose the possibility that they least favor.  They want to put forward the most powerful argument they can, so they can be proven wrong.  This usually goes along with a fairly pessimistic personality.  In fact, I think that Thomas the Apostle was this kind of person.  He watned to believe that Jesus had been raised, but would rather be disappointed once than have his hopes raised and then destroyed.  In his case, the fault was giving into disappointment rather than accepting the testimony of his fellow Apostles whom he had reason to trust.  

    The point is that this is a rare motivation, but it is real and so could be misunderstood if people do not take the time to think over it.  And there are many other examples of motivations being misunderstood. 

    Intuition is the best in terms of understanding because when one has the intuition, one understands without needing to memorize the logic of an argument.  In fact, having the inuition makes the argument easier to remember.  But intutition can sometimes be difficult to commuicate.

    In thinking about writing or speaking persuasively, it also helps to consider these elements and how an audience responds to each of them.  Arguing against a belief according to its own logic or showing that it contradicts itself is in one sense the strongest possible refutation.  But in practice, one finds that although it works well at shoring up the beliefs of those who already disbelieve or leading to doubts for those who are netural, this method is often unsuccessful in persuading those who already believe.  

    One reason is that refuting any particular statement is viewed as merely a fluke.  Yes, that one is wrong, but what about everything else?  Another reason is that it doesn't get to the underlying assumptions and understanding behind the belief.  

    By talking about the intuition, one can address these issues.  Bruce Charlton does this well in his posts on climate change.  When I first read some of these posts, I didn't "get it" right away.  But what Charlton is doing is, rather than addressing any particular study at a methodological level, addressing the assumptions underlying the whole climate change framework.  These assumptions are that we can not only predict what the climate is going to do, but control it, to an extraordinary degree of pecision.  And once one thinks about it, it becomes apparent that we can't do this.  

    If intuition doesn't work, then one has to consider the moviations of one's audience and address those motivations.  But there is no general method for this. 

Randomness isn't a valid explanation for modern life

     One often sees attempts to explain the modern world by undirected processes, such as randomness,  the wisdom of the crowds, etc.  Events and trends are not explained in terms of the aims of human beings, but rather in terms of many small incidents that add up or interact in some way.  Or inevitable structure that results from randomness.  Of course, just like polls and surveys all these explanations are meant to fool people and prevent them from noticing what is really going on.  

    That is not to say that these kinds of explanations have no validity whatsoever.  They do and they can be very useful within the proper domain.  But in practice what happens is that non-purposive explanations are used to explain everything, even what is actually caused by planning and purpose.  

    One example is with lotteries.  Some people win the lottery twice.  It's a rare event, but less rare than one might think at first.  The reason is that the chance of any specific person winning the lottery twice is astronomical, but if we consider all the lottery winners who still buy tickets, the chance of any one of them winning is greater, in particular when people buy multiple tickets.  

    One name for this kind of phenomenon is the Law of truly large numbers.  The encyclopedia article states in the intro:

    "The law of truly large numbers, attributed to Persi Diaconis and Frederick Mosteller, states that with a sample size large enough, any outrageous thing is likely to happen.  Because we never find it notable when likely events occur, we highlight unlikely events and notice them more.  The law seeks to debunk one element of supposed supernatural phenomenology.

    Notice that the introduction starts with a somewhat valid point, but then immediately jumps to an unjustified conclusion about supernatural events.  Forget the supernatural: lotteries aren't even a good analogy for unusual events in normal human life.   

    All possible outcomes of a lottery are proscribed in advance.  Even though the number of possible tickets is enormous, it is known ahead of time what outcomes can occur.  Furthermore, drawings occur regularly and there is no limit on the number of tickets that can be sold.  In addition, we can calculate precisely or at least get a good estimate of the possible outcomes.  

    This is far from ordinary life, where the unusual is often unexpected and where we have no good estimate, much less a precise calculation of the probability of any event.  Furthermore, we don't know how frequently an attempt to make an unusual event occur will happen (analogous to a lottery drawing).  

    Another example is the mathematical discipline of Ramsey theory, which studies under what circumstances certain structures inevitably occur.  The standard problem asks what is the smallest group of people necessary to ensure that at least one of the following two situations must occur: 

   1. At least three members of the group know each other 

    2. At least three members of the group do not know each other

    The answer turns out to be six.  In a group of six or more people, at least one of those situations will occur, regarless of how many fellow group members any particular person is acquainted with.  

    In every popular article on the subject, it seems to be obligatory to add a sentence like: "Ramsey theory shows that true disorder is impossible."  The implication being that if you see something strange, it's just an inevitable structure that must have occurred.  The problem is that, as with the lottery, we are taking an extremely restricted situation and applying it where it no longer applies.  

    In the example about the group of six people, the only thing we considered was whether two members knew each other or not.  There are only two possibilities.  By contrast, in a group in the real world, there are many more relationships and interactions that can take place.  So, while it is true that provided we do not have some undifferentiated mass, there will be inevitable structures, we have no way of knowing what they are or how to find them.  

    Taking these kinds of explanations too seriously is something of a clever silly behavior.  The best explanation for human behavior is the common sense explanation, that people do things because they want to.  

    But, explaining human life in terms of undirected processes has been very effective in preventing people from attempting to find the true explanations of what occurs.  The scientific or mathematical nature of the explanations dazzles some people and allows some to feel superior by believing an unintuitive explanation.  And for the scientists or mathematicians themselves, constantly refining a model that only works in special circumstances provides a powerful distraction.  In particular when the people who choose which explanations to promote and popularize do not care about the explanations themselves.  All they care about is using them to manipulate people.  

    In addition to the arguments above, there is another common sense reason not to put too much stock in undirected explanations: randomness and coordination don't look the same.  When the same thing happens in a sufficiently widespread area, or the same events happen time after time after time, then there is no reason to believe they are random.  Furthermore, when events are uncoordinated, even when they are largely similar, there are always small, though still significant differences.  

    Even when there is both coordination and independence, as frequently happens, there is a difference between an organic situation and when someone puts their thumb on the scales.  One way this happens is by setting up a situation where people can choose anything, but only within a predetermined range of choices.  Or when individuals are constantly steered in subtle ways to make certain choices or to avoid others.  And since this effect is often much more powerful than the individual choices, it is the most important factor to consider.

    And so, while non-purposive explanations are useful in certain situations, there is no reason to apply them to the world as a whole.

An idea about polygenic inheritance

    In Bruce Charlton's post, "How are highly intelligent people sometimes born to unintelligent parents (and ancestors)", he writes: 

    "This (assuming the phenomenon is real) seems hard to explain in the way that intelligence is normally considered - in terms of intelligence being a consequence of very large numbers (thousands?) of genes-for-intelligence.  With intelligence genes conceptualized as additive in effect, and in such large numberes, it is hard to understand how a very highly intelligent child could emerge by change from low intelligence parents.

But if a person's level of intelligence is also determined by the number of deleterious mutations they inherit from their parents, and these mutations are numbered in tens - then it is imaginable that, by chance, a child may be born with a very few deletrious mutations, despite his parents having a relatively heavy mutation load. 

This notion is perhaps testable, on the basis that a low mutation load should be associated with generally higher fitness - so the high intelligence child of low intelligence parents would be expected to be (on average) taller, healthier, more symmetrical, more long-lived than his low intelligence parents."

    This seems plausible.  

    Intelligence, height, and skin color are standard examples of polygenetic traits, where instead of a single gene, many genes each with a small effect contribute to the expression of the trait.  If an individual has more genes that contribute, then the expression of their trait will greater.  If the genes are inherited independently from one another, then their expression in the population follows a Bell Curve.  

    Related to this, I wonder if there is another way that two moderately intelligent parents may have an intelligent child or two moderately tall parents may have a tall child.  Suppose that they are both intelligent or tall "in two differents ways".  Here is a simple model of this: 

    Suppose that we have four genes that affect intelligence each with two alleles, one that has no effect, represented by a lowercase letter, and one that increases intelligence, represented by an uppercase letter.  

    Now, consider two people with equal intelligence but in different ways:

I: AA BB cc dd 

II: aa bb CC DD

    Now, person I and person II had a child (Person III), that child would inherit one allele of each gene from the parent, so that child's genotype would be as follows: 

III: Aa Bb Cc Dd

    The child would have equal intelligence to the parents since all three people have four intelligence-increassing alleles.  However, if Person III had a child with someone else either with a similar genotype to themselves or similar to either of their parents, they would have a chance of having a more intelligent child than themself.  

Consider person IV: AA BB cc dd

Then, there is a chance III and IV could have a child with the following genotype: 

    V: AA BB Cc Dd

    With six intelligence-increasing alleles, V would be more intellient than V's parents or grandparents.

   Or, if III had a child with someone with a similar genotype to themself: 

VI: Aa Bb Cd Dd

Then there is a chance they could have as a child: 


who with 8 intelligence-increasing alleles is significantly more intelligent than VII's parents or grandparents.  On the other hand, they could also have a child 

VIII: aa bb cc dd 

who is less intelligent than either VIII's parents or grandparents.

  Thus, according to this model is correct, after two people who are intelligent in two different ways have a child, there is a possibility for their grandchild to be more intelligent than either the parents or grandparents.  

    It is possible that different populations might have evolved different sets of genes that which code for intelligence.  The genes not used by a population might have alleles which, unlike deleterious mutations, don't decrease intelligene, they just have no effect.  For example, some inhabitants of the Solomon islands have blond hair, but the genes that code for this trait are different than the ones that cause blond hair in Euoropeans.  So, both traits express a similar phenotype, but with different underlying genes.  

    It is also not necessary for there to be no overlap at all amongst such genes.  For instance, consider the following individuals: 

1: AA BB CC DD ee ff

II: aa bb CC DD EE FF

    I and II both have intelligence increasing alleles on the "c" and "d" genes, but they don't overlap on the "a", "b", "e", and "f" genes.  In this case, we would also see a situation in the second generation where a child more intelligent than the parents or grandparents to be born.    

The real AI agenda

    On a post  by Wm Briggs, about artificial intelligence, a commenter with the monniker "ItsAllBullshit" writes:           "...