Thought? By Eric B. Baum, 2004
This book is about how the brains of all organisms, including humans, evolved over millions of years to design genetic code that is modular, compact, and that has captured the highly constrained physical world that it must decipher in order to engage it to survive. These mental modules, in a highly orchestrated manner between themselves, capture a representation of the world that is accurate enough for a seemingly single conscious organism to act upon the world. As humans, feeling like we are free agents, the mind "feeds" us filtered data—but keeps us unaware of how that information is captured, processed, and presented to us.
Jumping ahead, Baum concludes: "So, when we ask questions of ourselves, when we introspect, when we describe our thought processes to others, when we talk about what we are feeling—all of this is controlled by the upper-level code, the upper-level modules. These upper-level decisions and computations are what we report because the upper-level modules are doing the talking. Indeed, 'upper-level' may be a slight misnomer. Speech and action are controlled by modules specifically evolved for controlling speech and action, which may be deliberately fed disinformation by other modules, specifically to control what we say and do in a manner advantageous to our genes. What we are verbally aware of, then, is the disinformation, not the true information only known to the subconscious processes that direct the flow of information. So, it is not clear in what sense we can say that our verbal awareness is at the very top of some hierarchy."
The above statement should seem confusing, as it is counterintuitive. That is the reason What Is Thought? is much more than a book on how the mind works. It is also a book about science and knowledge itself. What I will attempt to do is review this book for its intended purpose, while also discussing human rejection of the scientific method in most areas of our lives where it impacts our "humanness."
Science is embraced by all in the pursuit of material well being alone: cars, television, food production, going to the moon, etc.—that is anything that most people want to have or achieve. It becomes highly volatile however, when it touches any of our cherished, but false belief systems. When science bumps up against race, intelligence, religion, eugenics, economics, politics, human worth, ….. (the list is endless) humans will rebel against science to pursue their own goals. I do not mean to say that science should tell us how to behave, only that science is the only system where knowledge can be gained without resorting to false beliefs.
Many people think that at least modern educated people are open to scientific methods, but I contend that this also is a false belief. Again, the list is long so this is just a sample:
—> Those who believe in one of the many religions that reject evolution;
—> Marxists who reject any economic system that does not put them in complete control;
—> Advocates for the poor, who blame the well-off for all of the poor's problems;
—> Postmodernists, who openly reject all science for a myriad of Leftist positions;
—> Multiculturalists and diversity advocates who claim it is good but provide no proof;
—> Educators who still believe in naïve environmentalism and reject any role for genes in intelligence and learning;
—> Environmentalists who want all humans to return to living in caves because the earth is alive and we may be killing it (literally);
—> Politicians, who ignore research on human nature then pass legislation that does more harm than good;
—> Anti-racists who reject any genetic differences between the races; Etc.
That leaves very few people left who are in a position to reach Stanovich's third level of insight, those who are capable of questioning their own beliefs (Stanovich, 2004).
As part of another project, I did a Questia search for articles dealing with "critical race theory (CRT), and I will use this new discipline as just one example how science is rejected by many of today's academics. (For political and economic systems see Darwinian Politics: The Evolutionary Origin of Freedom by Paul H. Rubin, 2002.)
Critical Race Theory (Jump to excerpts available on my web site).
The following quotes are a good introduction to CRT:
"Critical race theory (CRT) is an exciting, revolutionary intellectual movement that puts race at the center of critical analysis. Although no set of doctrines or methodologies defines critical race theory, scholars who write within the parameters of this intellectual movement share two very broad commitments. First, as a critical intervention into traditional civil rights scholarship, critical race theory describes the relationship between ostensibly race-neutral ideals, like 'the rule of law,' 'merit,' and 'equal protection,' and the structure of white supremacy and racism. Second, as a race-conscious and quasi-modernist intervention into critical legal scholarship, critical race theory proposes ways to use 'the vexed bond between law and racial power' to transform that social structure and to advance the political commitment of racial emancipation.
"More centrally, the use of critical race theory offers a way to understand how ostensibly race-neutral structures in education—knowledge, truth, merit, objectivity, and 'good education'—are in fact ways of forming and policing the racial boundaries of white supremacy and racism.
"A recent compilation of CRT key writings points out that there is no 'canonical set of doctrines or methodologies to which [CRT scholars] all subscribe.' However, these scholars are unified by two common interests—to understand how a 'regime of white supremacy and its subordination of people of color have been created and maintained in
Like religion, assumptions are made on faith alone. It is taken as a fact, not explored in any scientific way, that all racial problems flow from some sort of White conspiracy—normally called White supremacism or White privilege. Somehow, some unexplainable system was put in place by Whites in the past, which continues to oppress people of color, disabled people, all women, homosexuals, and other groups being added as needed to fill the anti-white-male ranks.
It's not the premise that is disturbing, because humans are capable of all kinds of misdeeds where one group harms another. It is that CRT denies any need for evidence, and concludes that any search for evidence in the traditional scientific sense is just more White supremacism at work.
The old Marxists have moved to this new position for a very good reason—they have lost every battle in which they tried to turn back neo-Darwinism and now genetics. Every obstacle that they put in its way is obliterated with new research from academics in virtually every field that is not on the Left fringe. Science has some very simple rules, these new neo-Marxists cannot win the debates using these simple rules, so they have gone back to religious faith to reinforce their position.
As Farber and Sherry note in The Radical Assault on Truth in American Law, 1997:
"We are not trying to play the victims' one-upmanship game or ask why some disadvantaged groups have succeeded where others have not. Nor are we accusing the radicals themselves of being personally racist or anti-Semitic. We are simply suggesting that their theory—which attributes all success to power—cannot account for groups that surpass white gentile America without resorting to racism and anti-Semitism. The radical theories inescapably imply that Jews and Asians enjoy an unfair share of wealth and status. Thus, the necessary normative implication of the radical theory is that steps should be taken to redress the balance more in favor of white gentiles. In addition, the radicals cannot easily explain Jewish and Asian success."
Like all religions then, the faithful must ignore science, but again they have no church to hole up in, so how do they rationalize their religion? By redefining the quest for knowledge through narrative, story telling, and most importantly never stooping to using the White man's scientific tools like computer modeling, brain imaging, statistical analysis, cognitive neuroscience, genetics, etc. Story telling is the only method that is viable because it allows the radicals to gain knowledge by sharing their "own unique ways of knowing." Therefore, they use just-so stories to express their own "ways of knowing" but make no effort to understand how humans come to know anything in the first place—ergo pure religion.
As John Fonte explains it in Policy Review:
"Gramsci's observation, is exercised by privileged groups or classes in two ways: through domination, force, or coercion; and through something called 'hegemony,' which means the ideological supremacy of a system of values that supports the class or group interests of the predominant classes or groups. Subordinate groups, he argued, are influenced to internalize the value systems and world views of the privileged groups and, thus, to consent to their own marginalization….
"The metaphysics, or lack thereof, behind this Gramscian worldview are familiar enough. Gramsci describes his position as 'absolute historicism,' meaning that morals, values, truths, standards and human nature itself are products of different historical epochs. There are no absolute moral standards that are universally true for all human beings outside of a particular historical context; rather, morality is 'socially constructed….'"
Funny how the radicals can often agree perfectly with the empirically minded neo-Darwinists, except for a minor point—human nature evolved. Both Darwinists and cultural relativists agree that much of what we value, adhere to, and believe in is a product of our culture. The difference is that science is able to separate those facets of humanity that reside in our genetic code, by accident, through cultural change (memes), or yet to be determined. Science therefore makes progress with regards to knowledge, while these religions just keep revolting against an unstoppable juggernaut—knowing reality as it really is by scientific means.
I used CRT to introduce the notion that most people reject science when it gets in the way of their false beliefs. President Reagan was noted for his metaphors and story telling, so there is nothing unique about most people naturally preferring just-so stories to communicate gossip and political policy alike. Everywhere one looks we see humans acting irrationally, preferring false beliefs to scientific explanations. These false beliefs however quite often turn out to be disastrous for humans, like the war in
Even our scientific societies have trouble with the reality of nature. "In a recent issue of Current Anthropologist, two Stanford biologists, Paul Ehrlich and Marcus Feldman, wrote that 'the concept of overall heritability should be restricted in its employment to plant and animal breeding. . . . [When it comes to humans] genes can control some general patterns ... but they cannot be controlling our individual behavioral choices (Marcus, 2004).'" Why not? It is just accepted that humans must be different, we have escaped our genes because that is just the way it is. No proof is provided other than endless just-so stories that mix metaphors with wishful thinking without scientific rigorous proofs.
Marcus goes on: "People don't want to accept that genes play an important role in our mental life because this notion challenges our sense of being able to shape our own destinies. But it is patently clear that genes do shape our mental lives. Although Ehrlich and Feldman are, strictly speaking, correct—genes certainly don't control our destinies—genes do contribute to our personalities, our temperaments, and the qualities that make each individual unique, as well as to the qualities that make the human species unique. Modern science has revealed dozens of ways in which genes have a demonstrable effect on mental life."
He goes on to explain how newborns can imitate facial gestures, how they know the difference in rhythms between different languages, how they know when someone is looking at them or at something else, etc. Study after study shows that newborns come into the world already knowing about the world and ready to learn specific things about the environment. At birth babies already know about "faces, words, and maybe even sentences." Studies on newborns and child development all point to an organism that enters the world with a genetic code made for this world, and ready to learn about it. It enters the world expecting the world to be as it is with language, objects, faces and other organisms expected to act as they do—babies are preprogrammed to learn about a known world, taught by evolution by the trillions of organisms that came before them.
It is also becoming abundantly clear that intelligence is genetic. There has been a great deal of debate on hard evidence connecting intelligence with differences in brains, and that evidence is rolling in as well. Recent studies are now showing that brain size versus intelligence is weakly correlated because there are specific areas of the brain—gray matter patches if you will—that are correlated with intelligence. The rest of the brain is devoted to tasks that are common among all animals. Human cognition or the ability to plan, see the future, and pass on knowledge from one person to another through language and symbols is very recent and located in definable areas of the brain.
As Marcus explains, "Now, here's the rub. Every genetic process is triggered by some sort of signal. From the perspective of a given cell, it doesn't matter where that signal comes from. The signal that launches the adjust-your-synapse cascade, for example, may come from within, or it may come from without. The same genes that are used to adjust synapses based on internal instruction can be reused by external instruction." That is, it is not just the genes that we have that is important, it is also the switches that activate the genes that are important, and they also are part of the DNA that makes us tick. These IF statements are activated by the DNA itself and by external events—like learning to speak by hearing others speak. Nevertheless, none of this learning is done without the aid of genes being activated. The naïve environmentalist position of humans being born as blank slates should finally be put to rest.
As much as we feel like we have total free will, that we think before we act, that we behave as rational agents in the world, all of the evidence indicates that we live a lie. In WHY WE LIE: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind by David Livingston Smith, 2004, he states, "Deceit is the Cinderella of human nature; essential to our humanity but disowned by its perpetrators at every turn. It is normal, natural, and pervasive. It is not, as popular opinion would have it, reducible to mental illness or moral failure. Human society is a 'network of lies and deceptions' that would collapse under the weight of too much honesty. From the fairy tales our parents told us to the propaganda our governments feed us, human beings spend their lives surrounded by pretense." So much for rational man.
So, do we have a problem here or not? We certainly don't want to be so open that we speak our minds in every situation. In dealing with others, deception is probably necessary. However, when deception and self-deception interferes with rational behavior that results in bad science, bad political decisions, bad crime control, bad economics, bad educational programs—then our irrational systems cause real harm. Smith states, "I don't for a minute believe that we can be taught not to deceive ourselves, and even if we could (by whom?), it would probably result in widespread unhappiness. We are all frail creatures who need something to get us through the night. But surely, we can get rid of some of our surplus self-deception. Tolerating a measure of self-deception is one thing, but actively promoting it is quite another. At a minimum, perhaps we can help each other to acknowledge that we are all natural-born liars."
Perhaps the war in
As Smith observes, "The most dangerous forms of self-deception are the collective ones. Patriotism, moral crusades, and religious fervor sweep across nations like plagues, slicing the world into good and evil, defender and aggressor, right and wrong." Collective self-deception is obviously the most dangerous—it is what politics, the media, government and national conflicts are all about. Collectives are also the solution to self-deception, IF the collective is free to challenge false beliefs. Moreover, this is where the zealots from politics, the Left, the religious, and the self-serving advocates promote false beliefs by condemning or just ignoring science.
The scientific method includes creating hypotheses that are falsifiable and therefore testable. It includes open debates using ALL available tools and disciplines to challenge the alternative hypotheses. This includes not attacking the messenger but challenging the hypotheses themselves. Note that this is not how the academic left, even those in the biological sciences, have conducted themselves. Ever since science started aggressively challenging Boasian naïve environmentalism in the 1960s, the academic left has used specious arguments, ignored research, maintained intellectual boundaries around protected disciplines like CRT and cultural anthropology (that is heavily Marxist), and most effectively, stifling the distribution of research by attacking the scientists themselves. That is, they attack the scientists motives rather than the data itself.
Another diversionary tactic in this "collective fraud" is to keep generating ever-new hypotheses or theories that are eventually overturned or refuted. With regards to the debate over intelligence testing and racial differences, we have seen numerous new excuses trying to refute the importance of intelligence and/or finding new environmental explanations for racial differences. Unfortunately, all of these attempts eventually end up as just-so stories. The charade however is continued by providing the media with new explanations that the media can report to the public, while refusing to even mention the mainstream research on intelligence. (Maybe if enough teachers get tired of being blamed for the No Child Left Behind failures, they will start to collectively challenge the false assumptions that it is based on.)
What Is Thought?
Baum begins, "My goal is to lay out a plausible picture of mind consistent with all we know, and in fact to lay out what I argue is the most straightforward, simplest picture of mind. I accept no mysticism; assume that we are just the result of mechanical processes explainable by physics; accept that we were created by evolution; accept some unproven hypotheses for which there is near-consensus among the computer science community on the basis of strong evidence (such as 'the Church-Turing thesis' and 'PNP,' both of which I explain); and bring to bear whatever seem like hard results from a variety of fields, including molecular biology, linguistics, ethology, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and computational experimentation."
In essence, Baum will argue his case based on the scientific method alone, without resorting to false-beliefs, or a personal agenda based on values rather than facts. As he proceeds to show how he views how the mind works, he also explains how science works. I don't think it was his intent, but nonetheless it is a good example of how a scientific book should be written. At no time, as far as I could tell, did he slip into some moral stance for the sake of political correctness or political viewpoint. This is rare even among some of the best researchers—they lapse into one or more of their own false beliefs buried deep in what is otherwise very respectable scientific hypothesis testing.
Baum uses the term semantics for what is real in the world. He wants to look at how the syntax of our language matches what has "real meaning in the world." He argues that evolution over millions of years, while interacting with the real world, has been able to capture the real world's highly constrained structure, and mold this information into highly compact genetic code. That is, as organisms interacted with the world, those that "captured" the real meaning of the world and evolved compact code that best represented the world lived on, while other organisms vanished.
Baum states, "Physics is a good analogy here. Physicists have written down a short list of laws that allow them to predict the outcomes of many experiments. Thus, they believe that the world really does have an underlying simplicity described by these simple laws. I argue here that mind is a complex but still compact program that captures and exploits the underlying compact structure of the world. I refer to this principle as Occam's razor."
Baum uses Occam's razor throughout the book, and it is another pillar of the scientific method (also spelled Ockham's razor and also known as the law of parsimony). It is defined as "A rule in science and philosophy stating that entities should not be multiplied needlessly. This rule is interpreted to mean that the simplest of two or more competing theories is preferable and that an explanation for unknown phenomena should first be attempted in terms of what is already known."
Using Occam's razor he contends that, "If we look for a compact description underlying mind, one stands out like Venus on a moonless night. With its myriad of neurons and connections the brain is huge, but its DNA program is much smaller—at first glance quite surprisingly small when one analyzes its function. So I argue that, counter to some of the folk wisdom in the computational and cognitive science communities, mind is essentially inherent in the DNA in some detail. There is no doubt that learning during life is important, but because the DNA is the compact program that is the core, learning during life is essentially guided and programmed by the DNA—a phenomenon called inductive bias. We learn extremely rapidly, much more rapidly than computer scientists have been able to explain, because our learning is entirely based on and guided by semantics. The reason we learn so fast, the reason our learning is guided by semantics, is that the compact DNA code has already extracted the semantics and constrains our reasoning and learning to deal only with meaningful quantities."
This is a profound statement, but it is in keeping with what numerous other researchers have been reporting. There is no separation between what any organism is in terms of their DNA and what we report to be a feeling of being in control of our past, present and future. The mind and the brain are one in the same, humans are not any different than other organisms, and any attempt to separate humans from the chain of evolution is just a false belief that we are somehow outside or stand aside from nature as some special type of being. Yet, that is exactly what cultural anthropologists (and many others) contend, that the laws of biology do not pertain to human behavior.
Baum explains, "Mind understands the world in terms of meaningful concepts and is able to reason so fast because it only searches through meaningful possibilities…. By producing a program with many subroutines corresponding to meaningful concepts, evolution produced a program that is compact because it reuses these subroutines in multiple different contexts."
When reading this I thought about how people deal with others while driving a car versus how they deal with each other walking on the street. In large urban areas like Chicago where I live, both walking and driving can be chaotic and rude. Yet, most of the symbolic anger shown by one person to another is when they are driving a car. While walking, people tend to be less confrontational. However, at a bar at night, fights do break out between people that know each other. This is a good example of the mind behaving according to rules laid down thousands of years ago, and how those rules sometimes have to be applied under new contexts like being separated from each other by encapsulating ourselves inside of moving vehicles. Our mental modules for social interaction were designed for hunter-gather communities, not millions of people on congested roadways.
Baum also exposes the fraud behind the argument that there are "ways of knowing" that are different between genders, races or ethnicities. There most certainly are differences, but they are not readily known by the mind. The differences consist of a dollop of difference in life experience, and significant differences between individuals and between races. Evolutionary psychology studies those older mental modules that are the same in most people, while behavior genetics studies the genetic differences between people[s]. Both approaches are valid and informative.
As Baum explains it, "Occam's razor is the well-known and intuitive prescription that, given any set of facts, the simplest explanation is the best. Occam's razor underlies all of science. It is, for example, the way in which physicists come to their small collection of simple laws that fundamentally explain all physical phenomena, how chemists arrive at the periodic table, why biologists believe in heredity. Newton's laws, for example, are simple in the sense that they can be written down on a single page, yet they explain a vast number of physical experiments and phenomena.
"Occam's razor further underlies all of human reasoning. It is why, for example, jurors do not reach for some Rube Goldberg hypothesis that is consistent with any evidence that could possibly be presented and also exonerates the accused. An explanation that is too complex is judged to be 'beyond reasonable doubt.'"
And yet, that is just the opposite approach taken by those who decry eugenics or deny racial differences in intelligence. What we know about breeding improved organisms and plants is opposed by complex arguments that go off in all kinds of directions, predicting various forms of doom if applied to humans. With the well-documented heritability of intelligence, the radical environmentalists conjure up complex causations that are endless and unfalsifiable, or just-so stories. They violate the fundamentals of scientific inquiry. If the heritability of intelligence is to overturned by another theory, it must be done with a similar simple model like that developed over the last hundred years—the theory of mental ability or g for general intelligence as defined by Jensen and others (Jensen, 1998).
Baum writes, "To recap the argument to this point, I have proposed that the mind is an evolutionary program. Because it has a very compact description, the syntax of the program corresponds to real semantics in the world. Because the world has structure, and because the program of mind has evolved to exploit that structure, it is able rapidly to compute and output algorithms for addressing problems in the world. Understanding comes from the compactness and the ability to exploit structure for computation. The program has a modular structure, with modules corresponding to concepts calling other such modules. I say concepts because they can be seen as having semantic meaning, which has arisen during the production of compact code capable of dealing with vast numbers of situations."
Underlying Baum's argument is that this evolutionary program occurred over millions of years, and the human mind is almost identical to other organism's minds. They must be born ready to know the world that they are entering. Because humans have children that are slower to fine-tune this knowing the world, it has been assumed we are different. We are not; we have all of the machinery found in other organisms, with just a larger volume of brain mass devoted to what is called general intelligence. And that general intelligence was also molded over thousands of years just like any other module.
Humans are like a society of bats who could also think, looking around at all other species, and thinking that because of the miraculous ability to use echolocation, they are unique. They might say, "yes, most of the lower level brain is like other organisms, but heredity has nothing to do with our miraculous flying abilities using our ears and our vocal chords to project sounds. We learn how to do that because our brains are so large and we are so malleable."
The miraculous inventions that humans likewise create are really built by a collective of specialized individuals, each one doing or knowing a small piece of the puzzle. Like Baum points out, no one person even knows how to make a pencil. The expertise and the parts come from distant places, then assembled. The greatness of humans is not that they have such incredible minds that are that unique or different, it comes from the fact that incremental advances by humans are passed along and built upon. Other organisms, even though some do acquire culture and pass on that culture to the offspring, they have no language to do it efficiently. We have evolved language modules, and that is what makes us so unique. Unique in language and the generation of knowledge because of language—but still very much a part of the genetic code that provides the semantic power for all organisms to exist.
As Baum puts it, "Adam Smith's 'invisible hand' organizes widely distributed knowledge to perform a computation, the mass production and distribution of pencils, that would be called cognitive if a human being were even capable of it…. To state this in a slightly different way, human thought is fast because we search only possibilities that make sense. That is, our thought is organized to search semantically meaningful possibilities only, as units. Semantics arises because the world is highly overconstrained, and by finding code that knows how to deal with the world but is extremely compact, evolution has captured and learned to exploit those constraints. Evolution built creatures that had to do the right thing and do it fast."
That is, the greatness of human achievement is due to many people individually doing their own thing well, because most of what we do we do naturally. We talk, we gossip, we size up dangerous animals and situations, we can throw a spear or drive a car, or become upset if it feels like we are being rejected by someone we thought liked us. This is all part of the primitive brain similar to how even our dogs react. When we get down to real difficult mental tasks, we rely on our serial processing mode to hold a few ideas in our head and manipulate them—a slow and pondering process.
This also addresses the conspiracy theories that humans are so inclined to believe in. The problem is that humans while quick to join coalitions and movements, are unable to coordinate their collective actions to actually really do anything. Most of what humans do they do for themselves, not as collectives. When people do form coalitions, they are not well adapted to think in terms of collective goals but rather are programmed to act as members of tribes practicing the same forms of alliance building, deception, intrigue, back biting, dominance maneuvers and counter maneuvers, censoring cheaters, and moral one-up-man-ship that still prevails today. To convince any group of people that if they all concentrated on doing X in a coordinated way, they could move mountains is often tried but seldom successful unless a real threat and present danger is making them take a fighting stance.
People however assume that whatever good happens to them is due to their own efforts, but whatever bad happens to them is other's fault. Often this other cannot be identified as an individual but other forces like racism, capitalist greed, out of control cops, etc. The reality is that humans are more like ants, doing what they do from the bottom up, form the modern ant hill, that seems so well coordinated by each one doing what they are programmed to do. No guiding hand is needed to coordinate each ant's activities. In fact, it is suspected that people join political parties or political movements more for the opportunity to meet others for their own sexual/social needs more than for some public good. And the mind is a lot like this social chaos. As Baum explains it:
"Looking at mind from this evolutionary point of view makes natural something that some authors defending strong AI seem skeptical about: the unity of self. Daniel Dennett and Marvin Minsky, for example, have emphasized that the mind is a huge, multi-module program with lots of stuff going on in parallel. They doubt there is any single individual, any single interest; rather, they see a cacophony of competing agents. But, as we found in our economic simulations, the coordination of agents is crucial in exploiting structure. The program of mind was designed for one end: to propagate the genome. The mind is indeed a complex parallel program for reinforcement learning, but it comes equipped with a single internal reward function: representing the interest of the genes. Thus, the mind is like a huge law office with hundreds of attorneys running around and filing briefs but with a single client, the self. Because we are designed for complex and long-range planning—representing our genes' interests over generations and in widely different circumstances—exactly what the interests of the self are differs from individual to individual and over time. Suicide bombers, mothers, and capitalists are all striving to advance the interests of their genes as their respective minds compute those interests. But for all the modules in the mind and all the many computations going on in parallel, there is one central self focusing all the computation—one central reward being optimized—the resultant of the interests of the genes."
In fact, much of behavioral science is all about rebelling against the interest of the genes, to take control away from the genes to serve the person. Unfortunately, in order to do so, humans have to continue to struggle against the myriad of false beliefs, irrational behavior, deception and self-deception that motivates us. The vast majority of people don't even understand that they serve a master other than themselves. Other organisms are ready to comply with the genes' directives, but humans have discovered (a few humans that is) that there is a raging battle between themselves and their genes. Our sensations of being autonomous are blind to the machinery of the mind that underpins that sensation—we have no conscious awareness of the mechanisms that produce our goal driven behaviors. They can only be observed through scientific investigations that are intuitively wrong from our human perspective, just like black holes, dark matter, anti-matter, and all the other scientific discoveries that could only be unraveled by collective efforts that build extensive networks of experimentation, testing, and research.
In fact, what separates science from politics, law, religion, social sciences, and other narratives about what is real from a human perspective, is that the artist's canvas portraying the world must actually map onto the world in science. If there is any deviation between the theory and its correlation with the real world, then the data has in some way been questioned or falsified, and the theory is altered. This can only happen when everyone in the scientific community can judge the data with additional experimentation. If the data stands up against numerous challenges, it is accepted at the time as the best explanation. If not, other hypotheses are considered and tested.
Most people just keep trying to get answers to their own and other's often strange behavior by telling endless stories based on anecdotal evidence or folk beliefs about human nature. Baum explains why this is so:
"Incidentally, if we are going to understand the mind as an interaction of many subprocesses, there is no reason to be surprised that we might have multiple personalities, and indeed there is some question about what it means to have one personality. In each of us, there might be multiple agents with different goals. At one time one wins, at another time another wins. The mediation process is then of some interest. I discuss why these different agents typically act in consort: they are programmed by genes for the benefit of the genes, and the genes' survival ultimately benefits from the interest of the one body they control. Therefore it makes sense that they compute some notion of 'self' and coordinate their actions so as to act in 'the self's' interest. Later I also discuss how these different agents are coordinated and how the hard computational problems are factored into such interacting modules and solved. For now I want to stress only that the picture muddies Searle's implicit assumption that there is one unique 'me' that can be isolated clearly."
Baum explains how humans are not very adept at statistical inferences in most cases (see others on heuristics and biases research). We need to make decisions that optimize our gains based on real probabilities, and yet our minds are biased for certain types of inferences that are irrational. A good example of this was the O.J. Simpson trial. The probability that the police could plant O.J.'s blood at the scene, without some elaborate plot ahead of time to obtain his blood, was not credible. Yet, the jury, suspect of the motivations of the police, saw a conspiracy that could not have taken place in all probability. A well-defined theory Baum explains, is one that has few parameters, because the fewer the parameters or complexities the greater the theory maps onto the real world. Complex (or conspiratorial) type theories do not reflect the real world, which is highly constrained by how humans behave in fact on a day-to-day basis. Our primitive brain biases direct us to behave in rather predictable manners.
Baum explains, "What is important to evolution, what affects an individual's chances of reproducing, is its behavior. Evolution created our minds for the purpose of having us behave well. What thought is ultimately about is behavior, taking actions."
Our primitive minds then often supercede what our rational minds tell us we should be doing. For example, pay attention to how we deal with food now that food is abundant. It would make rational sense for us to "downgrade" our obsession with food preparation, sharing reciprocity, attention, etc. What we find however is that we over emphasize providing food for relatives, friends and/or guests. At parties, there is far too much food usually. We still behave as if food was a valued commodity in short supply. It appears that even with regards to food, and the fact that most of us eat too much, even here we are unable to unlearn our past.
Baum: "As I have already mentioned and argue at some length later in the book, most of the compression, most of the learning, that goes into human understanding of the world was done at the level of evolution. Only a little bit of the work is done through what is generally regarded as learning, that is, the learning done during a lifetime."
Most people don't recognize the irrational games that humans play from the learning that took place thousands of years ago. Interaction with the world then is still based primarily on the emotions of the limbic rather than rational behavior. Even so, if Whites acted in such a way as to better themselves at the expense of other races, as CRT theorists contend, that action whether it came about because of a more primitive ethnocentrism rather than a rational decision at resource acquisition would make little difference. What CRT fails to provide is any reason whatsoever why any individual or group would voluntarily harm themselves to help others that they have little interest in. In fact, the real mystery with regards to human behavior and egalitarianism, is why would a person in country A send money to help some unknown person in country B? This behavior can only be explained by a combination of political indoctrination along with primitive innate tendencies that evolved in hunter-gatherer tribalism that included many modules for empathy, assistance of kin in need, sharing, controlling dominance, etc. That is, we are just beginning to understand why humans are as generous as they are.
As Baum clearly states, "Human beings plan. We look at the world and imagine transformations on it, and imagine paths to achieve various subgoals en route to an overall goal. Several comments are worth making regarding this. First, it is important to note that although human thought is sometimes reflective, the great bulk of it is in fact reactive. We can look at pictures of random objects: the
If this is so, that the primitive brain provides the immediacy of human emotion to act in certain ways to achieve "goals", it is hard to imagine whereby the White race has somehow conspired to oppress all people of color in the world? Humans still behave irrationally in most instances, unable to weigh decisions using a purely analytical methodology.
Baum continues, "There is some code in the human mind corresponding to objects in the world because such code evolved, because it is useful for earning rewards in the world. It automatically corresponds to real objects because otherwise it wouldn't exist in a compact encoding, just as the slope of a line that fits a lot of data in a classification problem really corresponds to something. This object code interacts with all kinds of modules for manipulating it that themselves reflect reality for the same reason." That is, humans do not individually learn new ways of behaving, as each new world is entered by a newborn. Children come into the world already knowing that world, and prepared only to learn the current state of a highly constrained world.
This picture of the brain as a highly modularized machine also begs to know how is it that the fact that some past humans were enslaved or colonized, now makes their offspring unable to act in the world in an efficient manner? This Lamarckian view of causation is nonsensical and yet it persists in rationalizing away human failure. The individual is discounted in terms of "knowing the world." They fail from some historical mechanism that no one can quite explain, but we are berated to believe or else we are accused of racism. It is a moral, not a rational argument.
If anything, some ethnic groups fail in the modern world because they evolved in a world that was less cognitively demanding. Baum explains that, "The program in your mind maintains a compact description of the world. The objects in the world are elements of that compact description, but they correspond to reality because of Occam's razor, because the program is a compact description reflecting training on vast amounts of data." But the training was different for different population groups because they evolved under different ecologies. If in fact Blacks or any other people of color fail in the present world, it is because they are adapted to a different world than Whites, East Asians or Jews. In fact, we are all different behaviorally and cognitively to some degree because we all evolved to varying degrees in different parts of the world under different environmental conditions—including cultural differences.
This is true especially when it comes to religion, politics, gossip, relationships, kinship, patriotism, morality, ethics, sociability, etc. As Baum explains, "We are equipped with an inductive bias, a predisposition to learn to divide the world up into objects, to study the interaction of those objects, and to apply a variety of computational modules to the representation of these objects. For example, we apply modules for counting, mentally rotating, manipulating, and so on, to our mental representations of objects. We expect to learn about categories of objects and how to use categories of objects in functional ways."
Humans evolved under tribal conditions, where tribal warfare was common so there had to be a great deal of hate for others while maintaining coalition building among tribal members. Individuals had to be willing to fight and die for the tribe. That is, humans have in them both modules for hate and aggression for warfare and modules for tribal cohesiveness, along with numerous other socializing modules to keep the tribal group alive as a group, along with another large number of modules for competition between members of the tribe. What we see being played out today is humans reacting to these modules in Bizarro World—Instead of tribes of about 50 people, we live now in a global-market world that is highly technical. These modules evolved for one purpose, to keep the genes' vehicle alive so that the genes could live on into perpetuity. The vehicles (all organisms) were expendable.
Baum states, "The picture here suggests the following. There is a physical world that behaves in an ordered fashion. The mind is an evolved program that reflects and exploits the structure of this world…. While the concepts in our minds reflect structure in the world, they need not reflect it perfectly. The program in our minds is merely the program that evolution has created, which is likely to be some kind of local optimal solution."
Baum goes on to explain how this does not make us rational, just because our evolved systems found a local optimal solution to survival. Religion for example is irrational, but it hitched a ride along with our evolving a language. In fact, we are irrational in many areas of our collective lives. We passionately take sides in sports, politics, religion, etc. As Baum points out:
"Now, it is true that the human mind is by no means rational, logical, or always right, even when it is completely convinced it is. Our errors come from at least two distinct sources. One source is that the evolution process that produced us does not select for rationality, it selects for survival and propagation. But logic and survival can actually work at counter-purposes. Sometimes you are more likely to survive and propagate if you believe a falsehood than if you believe the truth. I discuss the proposal of Trivers that we have been evolved to consciously believe as fact things that are not only untrue but which are known to be untrue at some level of mind, simply for the purpose of better lying to others. It is quite plausible that we have likewise evolved other counterfactual beliefs: there is some evidence for an evolved module for religious faith, which might well exist whether or not there is in actuality an anthropomorphic god. Evolution has, in many ways, selected precisely for nonobjectivity: our beliefs reflect what is good for us or our kin, not necessarily objective truth…."
"Our political reasoning is a particularly good example of our illogicality. It can't possibly be fully logical: half the people are on one side of any issue and half on the other, which implies that they are not all logically correct, and in fact there is no particular reason to believe that any of them are logically correct. People are simply not evolved to reason logically about politics. And yet, they often feel particularly strongly that their case is logically airtight and their opponents wrong, as Lakoff himself does. On rare occasions an individual may change her political views 180 degrees, and almost always has even stronger confidence then that she is infallible after the change—the conviction of the convert. The convert may wonder how she could have been so deluded for so many years, but still it rarely occurs to her to question whether she is deluded now. I suspect these phenomena occur partly because we are trapped in inappropriate metaphors, as Lakoff suggests, but also they reflect the specific evolution of political feelings: evolution of modules for teaming up, for example. In fact, people's discussion of political views often seems to me to have more an aspect of sexual display than of rational argument. (The sexual display aspect would explain why college students are so politically active, why people relatively rarely marry someone of opposite political persuasion, and why people often get involved with politics explicitly to find sexual partners—the old and often true excuse of those accused in the McCarthy trials of having attended Communist events.)"
The above also plays out I believe in many of the so-called humanist and environmental movements that keep cropping up. However, I will speculate from some anecdotal evidence that there is somewhat of a gender imbalance of purpose, at least for older people. I suspect that women tend towards activism based a bit more on the need to feel safe in the world (the egalitarian stance in case they need assistance) and men lean towards activism because they can persuade females that they are morally superior males and will obtain sexual favors for being "good" men. (This probably explains why there are so few females in current inegalitarian movements like libertarianism or eugenics. This can be overcome by establishing safety nets within the community.)
Baum explains, "We believe things strongly because we are evolved to, not necessarily because they are true…. So, we should be careful when reasoning—especially when reasoning about mind, or politics, or God, or about any subject where we have personal interests at stake—to take into account the possibility that we are mistaken. There is an objective world out there, and we can access it with experiments and predictions that can give us confidence we are not deluding ourselves. People do apparently have a capability for rationality, for logical reasoning, and we can sometimes work things out logically. But we have to proceed with care, recognizing that we are after all only a program, a program built to have confidence in its logical correctness far exceeding any guarantees that can be offered."
So how do we become more rational? I am convinced that many people are not interested in doing so. We come into this world already knowing how to behave and feel for the propagation of our genes. There is no module for "trying to be rational." The only reason we are able to counter false beliefs is through the collective—a coming together of scientists to test our belief systems against what we see under our collective microscopes. In search of counterintuitive systems of reality, science builds upon itself through rigorous hypotheses building and testing, then passing that knowledge onto the next generation of scientists for further refinement.
Who are these scientists capable of counterintuitive thinking? They are the (usually mathematical) geniuses that are capable of holding in their minds large chunks of data for serial processing that can overwhelm quick and biased modules from our more primitive brain. Without geniuses we probably would have continued to tinker with new tools, slowly bred new crops and livestock, and stumble upon folk remedies for curing some minor diseases. However, we would never have been able to conquer our false beliefs even if a few people could see them. The primitive modules would keep emerging and creating new gods for us to follow.
As Baum explains, "…learning is a computationally hard problem. It requires vast computational resources. But the overwhelming majority of the computational resources have been applied to evolving the DNA, not to learning during life. Most of what we learn, we learn rapidly with little computation." This also means we would have just kept passing on our false beliefs, like religion, to generation after generation, in an endless chain of irrationality. No doubt, we would have had art and music, poetry and warfare, but we would never have found out that the universe started with a big bang, and is about 15 billion years old, or that we are made up of a genetic code. This "counterintuitive" world would never have been revealed without the work of the scientific genius.
So packed into our DNA code, the human is born with "ways of knowing" about the world. Baum states, "Inductive bias is a predisposition to come up with one explanation rather than another. Any program that hopes to look at data, to interact with the world and come to understand it, learn about it, or be able to predict it essentially has to have built into it some expectation of what it is going to see. If it doesn't have any ordering of expected hypotheses, then all possible classifications of observed data are equally possible, and it can learn nothing.
"Say you have no inductive bias whatsoever. I show you a bunch of examples of some concept you are trying to learn, say, chairs. Here is a thing that I tell you is a chair. Here is another thing that I tell you is not a chair. And so on. Now I present a new object to you, an object that you haven't seen before, and I ask you whether it is a chair. If you don't have any bias, you have no basis to say whether it is a chair or not. Whatever hypothesis you may form about what is a chair from the data you've seen, there is another hypothesis that classifies everything in the world the same way as that one except that it classifies this particular object as not a chair. If you don't have any bias about which hypothesis is better than another, you have no way of judging which of those two is better, so there is no way you can ever learn. If you do have some way of arriving at a choice between these competing hypotheses, that is what we call an inductive bias."
What Baum means is that when a child is born, developmentally they are primed to learn certain things at certain times. The stages are programmed in such a way that language is acquired quickly not only because we have language acquisition modules, but we already have objects in our minds that we want to put labels on. We know the objects, all we need to do is put tags on them—the objects are known, they just need words attached to them.
This phenomenon is observed quite frequently by dog owners. Teaching a dog a very large vocabulary is difficult because there are few objects to tag. But let me give an example of how it does work. A cat strayed into my yard one day, I picked it up, and wanted to show it to my German Shepard so he wouldn't attack cats in general. While holding the cat, I said something like "this is a cat, a nice cat….etc." Then the cat got frightened, clawed at me, and I let go of it. Of course, my dog also went ballistic, and never forgot the tag "cat" for the animal. From that point on, and mention of the word "cat" from anyone in the dogs presence and there was stirrings for attack. Likewise for other words like "squirrel," "pigs ear," and "park."
Baum explains, "Again, such concepts predate language. It seems evident that dogs understand height to a reasonable degree. Dogs are, for example, very conscious of whether another dog is taller or shorter; this strongly affects their perception of the dominance relationship between them. Dogs also have a good understanding of the height of fences and tables, for example, of what they can and can't jump onto or over or safely off from." I guess this is a "dogs way of knowing."
We are just now starting to unravel these modules in our brains, trying to determine how old they are, why we and other animals have them, etc. Our consciousness then is made up of 99% ancient modules and 1% rational man (metaphorically). Baum states, "Consciousness has many aspects. We are aware of our world and our sensations. We have a sense of self. We have goals and aspirations. We seem to have free will and moral responsibility. Yet, as I've said, the mind is equivalent to a Turing machine. Moreover, we have arisen through evolution and are descended from microbes by a smooth chain of evolution, with more complex mental processes at each stage evolved from the processes at the one before. Where in this process did consciousness enter? Why are we conscious? What is consciousness?"
To be human then is to react to the world as a robot, unless we consciously try to overcome our irrational inner workings. "Thus, from the earliest creatures, the programs were constructed so that they focused on internally specified goals. I call this agency, making complex decisions to achieve or attempt to achieve internally specified goals. The simplest way to look at this is that the entity is conscious: it has wants and it is scheming how to achieve them…. An alternative way of saying this is that our notion of consciousness is a concept (some code in our minds) that we use to understand entities engaged in behavior guided by sophisticated computations toward internally generated goals. This concept is very useful. We interact daily with agents whose behavior can be predicted by assuming that they have wants and will scheme to achieve them. Predicting this behavior is crucial to understanding our environment and to our reproductive success."
Again, back to causes and activism. We can be pretty sure that much so-called benevolence on the part of humans is serving the vehicle, not some higher purpose. Whether terrorist or anti-globalist, the individual is scheming to achieve ends for themselves. One of the givens in universal Darwinism is that no organism is purely altruistic. Likewise, humans seeming to act altruistically are living a lie (Smith, 2004). Humans are mostly about deception and self-deception.
Robert Trivers solved the reciprocal altruism problem mathematically. The rest of the picture, thanks to numerous scientific disciplines triangulating on the subject, are coming to a strong consensus. Baum explains what is commonly known now, "Trivers's argument is that an individual can be most effective at deceiving others when he himself believes that what he is saying is true. At the same time, if the mind is to accurately calculate how best to pursue the individual's interest, it should not simply discard true and relevant information and believe disinformation. If Machiavelli were designing the mind best to achieve its genes' purposes, the mind should contain a portion where the true information is stored and another portion believing disinformation that it wishes to convey. Trivers suggests that this is exactly what has happened: our awareness module controls communication and believes disinformation in our favor for the purpose of conveying it to others, much as a method actor 'becomes' the character she is portraying. Meanwhile, deeper levels of the mind know the dark truth and decide what to pass on to the awareness module."
Humans then, like all organisms, want to influence and control others for the benefit of themselves. That may mean sending other people's sons to war or a male seducing a female by feigning a love for children. Humans are walking deceptions, and the only way to become more rational is through collectively putting this strange puzzle together. Perhaps it is no wonder that so many people embrace religion rather than accepting the harshness of this reality—we are not what we seem.
Baum observes that, "The conclusion that we do not really have free will, discussed earlier in the context of classical physics, quantum physics, and algorithmic information theory, is after all a very abstract conclusion, of interest only to philosophers and stoned college students late at night. Whether all my actions are completely predictable given the quantum state of my brain is of no practical interest to my genes or to any ordinary person. For all practical purposes, we have free will. There is no experiment I can propose that will show directly, and simply that we don't. The lack of free will only follows from lengthy, complex, abstract arguments. These arguments are almost surely correct: the physical arguments make a vast number of verified predictions along the way, the mathematical arguments have been scrutinized and seem airtight. But who really cares, for all practical purposes? It's much more reasonable and practical for my genes to build me believing in free will, and for me to act and think as if I have free will."
The question then becomes, are we going to be greedy capitalists, rock throwing anti-globalists, or just a die-hard soccer fan? It doesn't really matter if one succumbs to their genes' goals rather than rebelling against those genes. On a personal note, where it does pain me to see irrational behavior, is when it harms everyone and helps no one. I am sure that there are many happy people who are completely unaware of evolution or much of any science at all. However, for those who do feel trapped in a bizarre world of irrational people, people who prefer ignorance to understanding, it seems that escape is the only way out.
Perhaps the gulf is so wide between the scientific mind and the common man, so many more of them than of us, that if we don't break away from the masses they will only drive us mad. Maybe eugenicists need to form their communities not for lofty goals, but for survival. To finally be surrounded by others who want to understand the world as it is, not as our inner selves try to present it to us. Communities where coevolution takes place as we shrug off our primitive brains, and expand our executive brains to take over the decision-making from our genes.
Matt Nuenke, August 2004.