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.)

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staffan vs. steven

pinker, that is. staffan wins, of course! (^_^)

if you haven’t read staffan’s latest post, you really should! it’s terrific!: The Myth of the Expanding Circle or You Can’t Learn How to Be an English Vegetarian.

here’s a short excerpt:

“[Goldstien] argues that it was Enlightenment (aka the Age of Reason), beginning from late 1600s, that expanded the circle of empathy, a process driven by the thinkers of that era,

“‘…if you look at the history of moral progress, you can trace a direct pathway from reasoned arguments to changes in the way that we actually feel. Time and again, a thinker would lay out an argument as to why some practice was indefensible, irrational, inconsistent with values already held.’

“We wouldn’t like to be kept as slaves, we wouldn’t like this for our family or friends either, so why would we like it for foreigners? Reason compels us to widen our circle of empathy.

“She then proceeds to illustrate her point with some humanitarians like Bentham, Erasmus, John Locke, Mary Astell etc. Pinker concedes and they both reflect on how this reason-driven process will make our grandchildren think of us as barbarians given how much further their circle of empathy will reach. End of story.

“And yet at the beginning of the dialogue Pinker stated,

“‘My fellow psychologists have shown that we’re led by our bodies and our emotions and use our puny powers of reason merely to rationalize our gut feelings after the fact.’

“This of course refers to Jonathan Haidt and others whose research makes a good case for such post hoc rationalization being an important aspect of human nature. To illustrate this behavior he likens our emotions with an elephant and our reason with the rider. The elephant, being much stronger, walks about as he pleases while the helpless rider pretends that he is in complete control.

“Given this statement, it’s a bit disconcerting how easily Pinker ignores the obvious risk that their conclusion might also be post hoc rationalization. After all, two top notch academics agreeing that all you need is reason sounds a bit like two hippies agreeing that all you need is love. So is it post hoc? It definitely has some conspicuous flaws that suggest so.

“As Pinker himself pointed out back in 2002 in his book The Blank Slate, all behavioral traits are highly inheritable and change very little over the lifespan and, most importantly, they are unaffected by shared environment, such as schools, education – and humanitarian essays. But width of empathy must, by any reasonable definition, be a behavioral trait. But by their logic it would be a trait like no other, strongly affected by shared environment, even though all other traits, thus including very similar traits like ingroup loyalty and identification, aren’t. So either width of empathy isn’t a behavioral trait – which is crazy – or it is somehow a completely unique trait affected by shared environment. Either way Pinker and Goldstein have some serious splaining to do.”

(~_^) read the whole post @staffan’s — it’s definitely NOT to be missed!

(note: comments do not require an email. The Blank Slate.)

linkfest – 05/08/11

The Reason We Reason << read this!

Ug! Neanderthals were mostly right-handed … and may have had a proper language too

Better brain wiring linked to family genes – via roissy

The eternal infant“[H]umans are different. We never grow up. As adults, we retain this infant-like mental plasticity…. Geneticists are now a step closer to understanding this evolutionary change. A team led by David Kingsley of Stanford has shown that ancestral humans lost a key piece of DNA that switches on GADD45G, a gene that stifles growth of brain tissue.” @evo and proud via diversity is chaos.

Who knows you best? Not you, say psychologists

Combination of ADHD and poor emotional control runs in families. see also: Stress in pregnancy ‘makes child unruly’: Mother’s anxiety can raise baby’s risk of ADHD

More than 20 percent of atheist scientists are spiritual – spiritual atheists. wait. what?

Female-to-male transsexual people have more autistic traits“Simon Baron-Cohen interpreted the results as follows: ‘Girls with a higher than average number level of autistic traits tend to have male-typical interests, showing a preference for systems over emotions. They prefer not to socialise with typical girls because they have different interests, and because typical girls on average have more advanced social skills. Both of these factors may lead girls with a higher number of autistic traits to socialize with boys, to believe they have a boy’s mind in a girl’s body, and to attribute their unhappiness to being a girl.'”

Hearts Beat as One in a Daring Ritual – cool!

Does Revenge Serve an Evolutionary Purpose?

(note: comments do not require an email.)

“man is not a rational animal…

…he is a rationalizing animal.” [source]

ed yong wrote about some neat self-deception research the other day (People don’t know when they’re lying to themselves.)

in his post, he highlighted a couple of high-profile (probable) self-deceivers, gaddafi and sheen, as examples of self-deceivers. which seems to illustrate that ed missed the point entirely: we’re aaaaaaaaaaaallllllllllllllllll self-deceving self-deceivers! if not 24/7, then pretty d*mn close to it.

we’re rationalizers.

take religious belief, for example. if you ask them, most believers will tell you their reasons for believing. and most non-believers will tell you their reasons for not believing.

but religious belief is heritable! there’s probably very little rational thinking involved in “deciding” to be religious or not! the “reasons” given by these two groups are just after-the-fact rationalizations — people trying to explain to themselves, and others, why the h*ck they believe or not. the reasons might feel really real, but that’s the beauty of self-deception.

i remember when i became a non-believer (i’m an agnostic). it suddenly just dawned on me one day when i was a young teenager that we can’t possibly know for sure if there’s a god or not. i wasn’t thinking about the question. i hadn’t even been pondering about the issue beforehand. it just came to me — an epiphany. (or, a reverse epiphany, i guess.) there was no reasoning involved. it just sorta happened.

looking back on it now, i can see that my “moment of clarity” prolly had something to do with how my brain was developing at a time. it was on a trajectory that was, no doubt, mostly outlined by my genes. i grew up in an affluent western world, so most environmental factors, like poor nutrition, can be ruled out as having had any strong influence on my development. my genes were probably allowed to express themselves to their fullest, agnotic little selves. i even grew up in a typical religious household! not overly religious, but the family attended regular sunday services.

but, there was just something in my genome that made me think: hmmmmmm? (my a-religious tendencies come, i think, from one of my grandfathers who, reportedly, wasn’t much of a church-goer. he died when i was very small, so he couldn’t have been much influence on me.)

so, i never give anyone a reason for why i’m agnostic. when they ask why, i tell them that i just am. sometimes i throw in that my genes made me this way. (~_^)

humans are not rational creatures. far from it! a few of us try real hard to be, and on occasion maybe we sometimes succeed. most of the time we don’t. ’cause it ain’t easy to overcome nature!

a helluva lot (most?) of the reasons we consciously give to explain our actions do not reflect the reality of the situation. that is why reductionism works: all of the “causes and ideals” that people say they have are not truly explanatory, but merely after-the-fact rationalizations.

previously: “know thyself” and word iv

(note: comments do not require an email.)