X-Message-Number: 21673
Date: Sat, 26 Apr 2003 11:55:04 -0400
From: Keith Henson <>
Subject: Comments to Ettinger and Donaldson


>  Perhaps I'm wrong, but I've
>never thought the machinations of religion serious enough to
>be bothered by.

Exposing/opposing a corrupting cult and being made into a political refugee 
as a result has given me an unusual interest in the subject.  My wife's 
long standing wish to understand how the Germans let the Nazis take over 
has been granted--to her dismay.

>In any case, at issue in what you say is the question of whether
>a change in our behavior requires a complete redesign of some
>part of our brain, or simply a new set of conditions which never
>existed before. The new set of conditions to which I refer when
>I talk about changes in ideas and behavior is immortality --- or
>at least vastly increased lifespan (not at all any humble 150

There is an unspoken but possibly justified assumption being made 
here:  Immortality will be accompanied by ever increasing wealth per capita.

We all know about the Stockholm Syndrome, more descriptively known as 
capture-bonding.  *That* almost universal psychological trait was selected 
by our long history of capturing people (mostly young women) from other 
tribes.  Our ancestors socially reoriented to their captors.  The ones who 
did not didn't become ancestors.

This psychological mechanism is activated by the trauma of capture and fear 
of being killed (among other things).  It is a powerful mechanism, but not 
widely understood because it is seldom fully activated in the modern 
world.  Thus our astonishment at Elizabeth Smart and previously Patty 
Hearst.  Our US ancestors who were familiar with Indian captives who were 
sometimes unwilling to return would have been less disturbed.

I propose there is another trait for which I am still seeking a descriptive 
name.  Times of privation (mapped today into declining income per capita) 
turn on an evolved psychological mechanism that makes some of us into 
killing machines.  This mechanism was an essential genetic survival tool 
every few generations as the population built up (populations always 
expanded to the limits of resources available) and a bad year came along 
where the population was going to be reduced one way or another.

Even if a weak tribe attacked a strong one and was wiped out, the victors 
usually incorporated some of the looser's young women into their 
tribe.  I.e., even losing a war was better (for genes) than starvation.

The privation induced psychological mechanism makes memes that dehumanize 
the neighboring tribe more likely to widely circulate and to change 
behavior.  The "inference engine" in human minds (demonstrated by Michael 
Gazzaniga) is susceptible to "explanations," particularly those that put 
blame for your inability to feed your kids on other people.

The results don't depend a whole lot on technology.  The Hutu/Tutsi 
genocidal spasm resulted in close to a million people being killed, most of 
them hacked to death with machetes.

It's a really old psychological mechanism--chimpanzees make war on 
neighboring groups for (most likely) the same genetically bases reasons.

How do you keep this mechanism from being turned on?  The population *must 
not* experience declining wealth per capita.  This means *all* 
communicating human populations.  Otherwise you get the current situation 
where declining wealth per capita turns on the psychological mechanism that 
allows fanatic and dehumanizing memes to spread well--leading to the 9/11 
attack.  Where did the leader and 17 of the 19 hijackers come from?  You 
might note that per capita income there has dropped from $28,000 to $7,000 
in a generation.

So if you want to keep existing (but rarely turned on) evolved human 
psychological traits, *and* you don't want massive social disruptions like 
war and related forms of civil unrest, you better be sure the conditions 
that turn them on don't happen.

Among other things, this means keeping the population increase to below the 
increase in wealth.

To apply this insight to the current situation in Iraq (and the rest of the 
Arab world), educating the women, improving their status and making birth 
control available is a good place to start.  Unfortunately that's about the 
*least* likely thing the current administration is likely to do.

>We are friends with those we think can benefit us,
>enemies of those we think can harm us. But if in 500 years you
>meet someone you knew as an enemy before, in different circumstances,
>then you may well want him as a friend. This simple fact that
>people will simply not go away so easily as now means that
>we'll be kinder to them when we deal with them NOW. Not from
>any mysterious psychological change, but because of the change
>of perspective that immortality would bring. Who wants to be
>an enemy of someone you will need as a friend tomorrow?

Sorry Thomas, but I really doubt that very many minds evolved to survive 
and reproduced in small tribes can deal with a 500 year perspectives.  I am 
sure they can't when facing a resource crunch.  I am also less concerned 
about small scale human interactions than I am with large scale ones.


>Keith Henson writes in part:
> > I suspect though that this trait [aggression] is going to be a feature of
> > any successful intelligent, top  predator species.

Although aggression is part of evolved human psychological traits, what I 
was talking about is privation induced warfare against other groups.

>Evolutionary psychology is interesting, but evolution is over. (Individual
>improvement will not be called evolution but bioengineering.)

I agree.  Even if complete control over genes were to be a thousand years 
in the future, there is not enough time for significant evolution by 
natural means to happen.  But for the next few decades we are stuck with 
what we have and we *really* need to understand what it is.  Evolutionary 
psychology is about as powerful a thinking tool as I know about to get that 

>The question going forward is not what helps the species, but what helps 
>the individual.

Modern "selfish gene" evolutionary theory doesn't pay much attention to the 
species.  It is gene centered.

>Needlesss to say, very few yet recognize this.

Humans are *social* primates.  We thrive or fail in groups.  Even our 
sanity depends on others--most people become disfunctional if isolated or 
in too small a group.

I remember a friend who with his mate spent 18 months completely out of 
contact with others in a remote place in Alaska.  Talking to him afterwards 
was an interesting though not pleasant experience.  His thinking had 
simplified to a remarkable degree and he had become opinionated in ways 
that bore little resemblance to reality.

It would be a real challenge to engineer a person into a permanently sane 

So upgrading the whole population is in your best interest.

Keith Henson

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