know thyself

you will never understand human biodiversity without first turning an hbd-eye on yourself.

before i elaborate on that, a small exercise. indulge me.

at the end of this sentence, when i ask you to, i want you to raise your eyes from your monitor (or smartphone or tablet or whatever device you’re using), glance around for a few seconds, and then come back here. okay: go!

back? great.

now, i don’t know exactly what you saw during your brief adventure away, but what i do know is that when you looked around your room or office or the coffee shop or your own private tropical island (d*mn you!), you experienced seeing a smooth, undisturbed, flowing picture of your surroundings — it was a video-like experience (hopefully not a shaky cam-like one! if so, get to a doctor, quick!). that experience is a false one, created by your brain to make life easier for you. what happens, in fact, is that each and every time we move our gaze from one object or scene to another, in the intervening nanoseconds, we are effectively blind. we don’t “see” anything for those split seconds. the reason we don’t experience what would presumably be a very disturbing and confusing one — the lights going off and on all day long! — is because our brains fool us. the brain interpolates the visual data captured via eyeballs, etc., and presents it all to its owner (user?) in a nice, even — but unreal — picture of what that individual “sees.”

cool, huh? yeah.

the reason i bring this up is just to illustrate how our brains are not really to be trusted. fantastic, wonderful, unfathomable organ! — but one that fools us. a lot! it deceives us so that we don’t go around bumping into things all day long (the saccadic masking mentioned above). it deceives us (deceives itself!) so that we can decieve others. it probably fools each of us into believing that we are discrete individuals — that we are or have “selves.” h*ck! it even looks like our consciousness is not a stream but more like rhythmic pulses. all for good evolutionary reasons, of course. but, still, there it is: the brain is a trickster.

once you realize this about the human brain — that it’s an indispensible but untrustworthy organ — all of the cognitive biases and dissonances that we suffer from start to make sense. humans are not rational creatures. we are capable of some amount of logic and rational thought (some more than others), but more often than not, our “reason” serves as an excuse generator for our innate drives, desires, and proclivities.

the next thing you need to know — and you really have to internalize this — is that all of those drives and desires and proclivities are innate. all behavioral traits are heritable to some degree or another, which means that genes are behind them, and which means that there’s not much any of us can do to change our natures. for instance, there prolly aren’t specific genes that will make a person a christian versus a muslim, but there are definitely genes “for” religiosity. which religion a person with “genes for” religious belief follows will obviously depend to a large degree on the culture in which he is immersed, but persons with “genes for” religious belief will tend to be religious or spiritual somehow.

all behavioral traits are heritable. and, so, you cannot change people or peoples — not fundamentally. people are what they are. you are what you are, and so most of your thoughts and conclusions and feelings about life and the world around you are expressions of your innate traits. mine, too. (don’t worry. i’ll get to that.) and let’s be honest: innate traits and a deceiving brain are no foundations for uncovering the truth. we cannot rely on our gut instincts in trying to uncover the facts about reality or to (consciously) understand how the world works. the only way around this problem of our lyin’, cheatin’, no-good brains is to rely on science and its finding. of course, since science is conducted by humans, we run into all those cognitive biases, etc., again. but with enough effort, i think we can eventually discover some truths. either that or space stations will some day start falling out of the sky, and we’ll know we’re doing it wrong.

now back to my initial point: you will never understand human biodiversity without first turning an hbd-eye on yourself. first, learn this about yourself — that your thoughts and feeling and behaviors are heritable and largely out of your control — and then try to apply this knowledge to your understanding of other individuals and groups. examine your ideas and your feelings. your gut instincts (be especially suspicious of those!). your beliefs. you may think you have thought through the important questions rationally, but chances are you haven’t. not really. be honest with yourself. and be hard on yourself. but remember to have a laugh about it all, too — how absurd it all is really at the end of the day! (~_^)

remember my three laws of human biodiversity. and don’t ever forget that there are exceptions to the rules — and that you might be one of them — or your neighbor might. always — always! — keep in the forefront of your mind the concept of AVERAGE when you think about the human biodiversity between groups — and that not every member of a group will fit the average. do NOT pick and choose the areas of human biodiversity that suit your tastes and disregard the rest. you won’t get any dessert if you do.

most importantly — and i can’t emphasize this enough — do NOT project your innate feeling and thoughts and inclinations onto others! you might think and feel one way, but the other person sitting next to you might not. and he might really think and feel very differently from you, and have a completely different perspective on the world — different in a fundamental way — that neither he nor you can change, because he was born this way. (or maybe experienced a developmental insult that affected his biology in a similarly permanent sort of fashion.)

do not project your preferences onto other individuals or groups. just because you like to keep a super tidy house (you ocd person) doesn’t mean others do. and just because you and your people feel that living in nuclear families and having loose (or nonexistent) extended family ties is a nice way to live doesn’t mean that other peoples want that. and just because democracy happens to work well in your population — or autocracy, depending on where you’re from — doesn’t mean either of them would transfer well to other populations having different average innate characteristics from your own.

so, below are some aspects of human biodiversity you might want to run through when you’re getting to know thyself. there’s lots more. these are just some things i thought of off the top of my head. (if i were really organized, which i am not, i would’ve linked to how heritable each of these different traits is. maybe i’ll go back and fill those in one of these days. for now, you’re on your own — google ’em. or check jayman’s blog. he’s probably got a lot of the heritability figures over there! (^_^) ) try and see if identifying and recognizing any or all of your innate traits helps you to understand why you think and feel and behave in the ways that you do.

i’ll start.

– are you male or female? men and women on average think and feel differently about an awful lot of things. don’t blame me. i’m just the messenger.

– are you heterosexual or homosexual? or some other sort of sexual? heterosexual men and women on average think and feel differently about quite a lot of things compared to gay men and lesbian women et al. and i don’t just mean about preferred sexual partners. remember that there are always exceptions to these rules. and remember not to PROJECT your thinking/feelings onto other subgroups here (yes, i am looking at you butch lesbian feminists!).

– what is your racial and, to my mind more interesting and important, ethnic background? what other sort of population or subpopulation might you belong to (eg. siberian peoples or sicilians)? are you a person of mixed heritage? plenty of average differences in all sorts of directions here.

– how intelligent are you? what’s your iq? try to remember that people of much lower intelligence than you will have a very hard time understanding a lot of the things that you do, and that you will find it difficult, if not impossible, to grasp the ideas and concepts that people more intelligent than you can. be humble (if you’re able).

– what personality traits characterize you? both big 5 and hexaco. are you open to experiences? people who score low on openness are generally conservative. are you conscientious? in other words, are you efficient and organized or more easy going and (*ahem*) disorderly? are you an extravert or an introvert? if you’re an extravert, you’re probably not enjoying this exercise at all. sorry. (in my experience, extraverts are not very introspective.) are you agreeable? kind, sympathetic, warm. or are you angry all the time? are you neurotic or emotional? or are you more stable? and from the hexaco scale, where do you rank when it comes to honesty-humility?

– how old are you? if you’re under, say, 24, keep in mind that your brain hasn’t finished developing yet. your frontal lobes are incomplete, so you’ve got very little sense. (~_^) if you’re a young male, between say 16 and 24, you might be quite aggressive (although not necessarily violent) and risk tasking. be careful out there! if you’re (*ahem*) older, remember that everything slows down with age. (sorry to remind you of that!) it does get harder to teach old dogs new tricks. and everybody, remember that, in general, each of us becomes more like our true selves as we get older, because we get to choose our preferred environments once we grow up.

– are you religious or areligious — or even irreligious? remember that religiosity/spirituality is highly heritable.

– are you conservative or liberal or something in between? or something more extreme? or apolitical? remember than political orientation is also highly heritable.

– are you an optimist or a pessimist? is the glass half full or half empty? are you a depressive, emo kid or are you one of those always-chipper people? again, all highly heritable.

– are you a follower or a contrarian? i haven’t seen much research on this (i know there is some, but i wish there was more), but i’d bet a ton of $$$ that these traits are highly heritable, too. prolly tie in with all the personality traits above.

– are you on the autism spectrum somewhere? one of simon baron-cohen’s systemizers or empathizers? do you have adhd? ocd? a touch of paranoid schizophrenia? (just because you’re paranoid….) all of these conditions can — and do! — obviously strongly affect the way individuals think and feel about the world around them.

– what about your personality and the dark triad? are you a psychopath? narcissist? machiavellian in your nature? again, all of these relate back to the personality traits above. are you histrionic?

– what’s your 2d:4d ratio? no one’s sure what’s behind the differences of these, but the ratio does correlate with all sorts of traits and behaviors.

– are you from what i call a “clannish” population or not? from a population that historically was located behind the hajnal line or not? you may disagree with me on why i think “clannishness” exists as a set of behavioral traits in different populations, but there’s not much disagreement on the fact that the behaviors do exist (and are measurable): individualism/collectivism vs. familism/non-collectivism; universalism vs. particularism; civic-minded/commonweal oriented vs. not civic-minded/not commonweal oriented; low corruption vs. high corruption; etc. again, you might be an exception to your population’s rule. then again, you may not be.

– do you think like a westerner?

– and, a special shout-out to one super-group: are you eastern european? if so, you might prefer authoritarianism (especially left-wing authoritarianism). keep in mind that others of us don’t.

that’s it! that’s all i’ve got for now. (^_^)

see also: me, myself, and i

previously: what is human biodiversity (hbd)? and hbd chick’s three laws of human biodiversity and you and me and hbd

(note: comments do not require an email. know thyself.)

linkfest – 03/10/13

Low-hanging fruit?“We need to go beyond intelligence and look at genetic differences that may underlie variation in personality traits, regulation of emotions, time orientation, and so forth. There is more to being human than just intelligence. – yes!! (^_^) – from peter frost.

this is kinda old (from jan) but i just came across it: Variants at serotonin transporter and 2A receptor genes predict cooperative behavior differentially according to presence of punishment“We show that variants at the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4) and serotonin 2A receptor gene (HTR2A) predict contributions to the public good in economic games, dependent upon whether contribution behavior can be punished.”

Genetic Influences on the Overlap Between Low IQ and Antisocial Behavior in Young Children“Genetic influences common to both phenotypes explained 100% of the low IQ–antisocial behavior relation in boys.” – via race/history/evolution notes.

Monkeys Stay Away from Mean People“Capuchin monkeys show biases against humans who deny help to others.”

Genetic study of house dust mites demonstrates reversible evolution

Do species exist? – from steve sailer.

Fungus, Get Off My Lawn!“Virginia wildrye, common on U.S. prairies and rangelands, often plays host to a fungus that helps this grass grow. But the plant pays a price. Researchers have discovered that infected plants produce less pollen than their noninfected counterparts. Instead, the fungus causes the rye grass to make extra seeds, which transmit the fungus to the next generation and new locations. This is the first time a fungus has proven capable of manipulating plant reproduction.” – manipulator!

E. O. Wilson vs. Jerry Coyne: The Group Selection Wars Continue – from helian.

Pathogens: Cause or Effect of Social Variation?

Can People’s Personalities Change?“[P]ersonality was the strongest predictor of satisfaction with life. This is well-established and helps explain why some people have everything and are never satisfied and some people have next-to-nothing and seem quite happy with life. It’s not just what you have that makes you satisfied (or not), it’s how you think about it. And those habits of thought are heavily influenced by personality.”

Difficult Thoughts“It’s depressing to see how irrational we are so much of the time, but there it is.” – from malcolm pollack.

The Shape of History“Ian Morris, historian on a grand scale.”

bonus: Mystery bug found in Antarctica’s Lake Vostok“There is something alive in Lake Vostok, deep beneath the East Antarctic ice sheet, and we don’t know what it is. Water samples from the lake contain a bacterium that does not seem to belong to any known bacterial groups….”

bonus bonus: The Dark Enlightenment and the Eco Fringe – paleo retiree goes all hippie on us. (~_^) (i’ll confess right now to being a tree hugger myself.)

bonus bonus bonus: foseti’s drunken rant – i love drunken rants! (~_^) (this one actually makes sense!)

bonus bonus bonus bonus: Only the toughest would survive on Tatooine worlds – h/t hbd bibliography!

bonus bonus bonus bonus bonus: Butt munchers“[S]ea cucumbers can eat through their anuses.”

(note: comments do not require an email. sea cucumber – i don’t know if that’s the front end or the back….)

linkfest – 03/04/12

European Neanderthals Were On the Verge of Extinction Even Before the Arrival of Modern Humans“New findings from an international team of researchers show that most Neanderthals in Europe died off around 50,000 years ago.”

New evidence suggests Stone Age hunters from Europe discovered America“New archaeological evidence suggests that America was first discovered by Stone Age people from Europe – 10,000 years before the Siberian-originating ancestors of the American Indians set foot in the New World.” – who was here first? see also: Radical theory of first Americans places Stone Age Europeans in Delmarva 20,000 years ago

Firing My Own Bu-cannon – good one from john derbyshire!

Wealthy More Likely to Lie, Cheat: Researchers – tell us something we don’t know. (~_^)

Different bodies, different minds“[P]eople tend to prefer the things that they encounter on the same side as their dominant hand.”

Experts ‘taste wine differently from others’“A study has found that specialist oenophiles have a much more acute sense of taste than the rest of us – and it may even be in the genes.” – the wine experts found propylthiouracil to be really bitter.

Are Emotions Prophetic? – the “emotional oracle effect.”

The Greater Your Fear, the Larger the Spider“People who are afraid of spiders see the arachnids as bigger than they actually are, recent experiments have shown.” – or maybe they’re more afraid of spiders because they perceive them as larger?

Nearby chimpanzee populations show much greater genetic diversity than distant human populations“Surprisingly, even though all the chimpanzee populations lived in relatively close proximity, with the habitats of two groups separated only by a river, chimpanzees from different populations were substantially more different genetically than humans living on different continents.” – original paper: Genomic Tools for Evolution and Conservation in the Chimpanzee: Pan troglodytes ellioti Is a Genetically Distinct Population.

bonus: Plants have a memory of pests that spans generations – epigentic stuff!

(note: comments do not require an email. in vino veritas.)

ghost in the machine

there was a little discussion (starting here) in the recent linkfest comments about whether or not the brain runs on autopilot and what that means for concepts like responsibility and free will and all that.

benjamin libet was the first guy to experimentally document that the subconscious brain seems to decide upon an action before the conscious mind “decides” to do it. his experiment has been successfully repeated many times, most recently using a different methodology (but winding up with the same, or a similar, result — i.e. subconscious decides what to do first). the wikipedia page on the neuroscience of free will has some excellent descriptions of the experiments. from that page:

“One significant finding of modern studies is that a person’s brain seems to commit to certain decisions before the person becomes aware of having made them. Researchers have found delays of about half a second. With contemporary brain scanning technology, scientists in 2008 were able to predict with 60% accuracy whether subjects would press a button with their left or right hand up to 10 seconds before the subject became aware of having made that choice…. It may be possible, then, that our intuitions about the role of our conscious ‘intentions’ have led us astray; it may be the case that we have confused correlation with causation by believing that conscious awareness necessarily causes the body’s movement. This possibility is bolstered by findings in neurostimulation, brain damage, but also research into introspection illusions.”

exactly.

given what we also know about all the cognitive biases that we humans have, along with the heritability of certain traits like religiosity and political persuasion — aspects of ourselves and our lives that we all just feel that we’ve really thought about and independently made up our minds about, even though … heh … the truth is that we’ve prolly just inherited a certain package of genes from our parents — all of these things make me distrust what our conscious minds tell us. the conscious mind, pardon the antropomorphism, wants us to feel that we’re making all the decisions, but that’s probably just a useful adaptation — an illusion of our neocortex, a more recently developed brain structure which has been jerry-rigged on top of more ancient brain structures.

as an hbd-ist, i would guess that probably some individuals have more “free will” than others — some people can probably use their conscious minds as more of a veto on automatic behaviors, for instance, although that that happens at all is by no means certain either. i would also guess that some populations have more “free will” than others, too.

see also: youarenotsosmart.com and Neuroscience, free will and determinism: ‘I’m just a machine’ and The human brain: turning our minds to the law and The uncomfortable truth about mind control: Is free will simply a myth?

(note: comments do not require an email. responsibility?)

i am not biased

after a lengthy session of introspection, i have determined that i am not biased. or, rather, i am a LOT less biased than those around me.

just like everybody else (~_^):

heh. our brains are really not to be trusted.

see also: Objectivity in the Eye of the Beholder: Divergent Perceptions of Bias in Self Versus Others and Peering Into the Bias Blind Spot: People’s Assessments of Bias in Themselves and Others

(note: comments do not require an email. or any introspection whatsoever.)