Saturday, February 21, 2015
Saturday, January 10, 2015
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Also, if you like, check out my recent work on my other, wordpress View From Hell blog on cultural evolution. (I have been progressively avoiding blogspot as it has become progressively unfriendly as a tool, and will likely migrate over to a wordpress blog in the future.)
Thanks to everyone for your support and patience!
Monday, November 3, 2014
Suppose an eight-year-old writes a story about being chased down a mouse-hole by a monstrous spider. It'll be perceived as 'childish' and no one will worry. If he writes the same story when he's fourteen it may be taken as a sign of mental abnormality. Creating a story, or painting a picture, or making up a poem lay an adolescent wide open to criticism. He therefore has to fake everything so that he appears 'sensitive' or 'witty' or 'tough' or 'intelligent' according to the image he's trying to establish in the eyes of other people. If he believed he was a transmitter, rather than a creator, then we'd be able to see what his talents really were.Keith Johnstone, Impro, pp. 78-79. One of the most important books that exists.
We have an idea that art is self-expression — which historically is weird. An artist used to be seen as a medium through which something else operated. He was a servant of the God. Maybe a mask-maker would have fasted and prayed for a week before he had a vision of the Mask he was to carve, because no one wanted to se his Mask, they wanted to see the God's. When Eskimos believed that each piece of bone only had one shape inside it, then the artist didn't have to 'think up' an idea. He had to wait until he knew what was in there — and this is crucial. When he'd finished carving his friends couldn't say 'I'm a bit worried about that Nanook at the third igloo', but only, 'He made a mess getting that out!' or 'There are some very odd bits of bone about these days.' These days of course the Eskimos get booklets giving illustrations of what will sell, but before we infected them, they were in contact with a source of inspiration that we are not. It's no wonder that our artists are aberrant characters. It's not surprising that great African sculptors end up carving coffee tables, or that the talent of our children dies the moment we expect them to become adult. Once we believe that art is self-expression, then the individual can be criticised not only for his skill or lack of skill, but simply for being what he is.
Schiller wrote of a 'watcher at the gates of the mind', who examines ideas too closely. He said that in the case of the creative mind 'the intellect has withdrawn its watcher from the gates, and the ideas rush in pell-mell, and only then does it review and inspect the multitude.' He said that uncreative people 'are ashamed of the momentary passing madness which is found in all real creators . . . regarded in isolation, an idea may be quite insignificant, and venturesome in the extreme, but it may acquire importance from an idea that follows it; perhaps in collation with other ideas which seem equally absurd, it may be capable of furnishing a very serviceable link.'
Saturday, October 4, 2014
Two Patterns, on the structure of public, intimate, and sacred space, and how this structure mirrors that of our conscious selves;
The Last of the Monsters with the Iron Teeth, on the destruction of children's culture; and
Socially Enforced Thought Boundaries, on the nature of community and mental boundaries.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
The first blow changes everything, he says - while the physical pain is surprisingly bearable, the dark realization that the torturer is allowed to do this changes one forever. Help is not coming; there is no help.
"Help" or "support" in this sense is not a function of present material circumstances, but of the community from whom the tortured person is presently cut off. It is a function of their standards, what they will and won't stand for. The idea of "help" in the tortured person's mind is also a function of the community's agency, its ability to miss him and to organize its forces to aid him. It is the community that supports the notion of "help" in his mind, through its sacredness and its actions, and the notion of "help" in his mind fundamentally changes the subjective experience of victimization.
This "help" is justice. It has a component of sacred law - the community's standard for the permissible ways to treat a human being. It has an element of the material, in the sense that the community must gather material force in order to do its duty for its member. It is an idea in each community member's mind, and it being held in common with other community members facilitates the coordination necessary to render material aid. Its sacredness allows it to transcend time, punishing the torturer long after the act of torture occurred, in order to enforce its standards.
The opposite of justice, in this sense of society's "help" existing materially as well as psychologically in victim's minds, transforming their experiences, is Rotherham, UK, police arresting an eleven-year-old girl for being drunk and allowing her rapists to go free.
No person by himself, estranged from a community, can experience justice. Justice is a function of the community, and the community does its duty both psychologically (by having sacred standards) and materially (by coordinating to enforce its sacred standards).
Sunday, September 21, 2014
The final moments of the show are a careful implementation of this advice. The very last two sentences of the finale, if interpreted according to the ordinary cultural connotations for "light" and "darkness," provide a note of hope at the end of a grisly but heroic adventure. The darkness seems to occupy a lot of territory, yes, but once the whole universe was all darkness and no light - and now the light seems to be winning!
However, relating his near-death experience just seconds earlier, Rust Cohle offers a different - and entirely reversed - set of meanings for "light" and "darkness." Darkness - a deeper, darker, warmer darkness than mere unconsciousness - seemed to enfold him peacefully, and he felt surrounded by the love of his deceased small daughter. He "let go," hoping to stay in this darkness, but then he woke up. Back to the light.
This speech and its proximity to the final sentences indicate a smart equivocation - with one voice, "light" and "darkness" have their everyday connotations; with another, they are flipped. The latter voice, consonant with Rust Cohle's earlier presentation of his philosophy, also seems consonant with having just visited the worst basement in literature since Cormac McCarthy's The Road, from which basement, like McCarthy's, no one was rescued.
(Originally published by me at http://pastebin.com/PAUBHAct)
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
One of the cognitive distortions identified by cognitive-behavioral therapists is catastrophizing - the tendency to worry about something uncertain, and then immediately update toward believing that the worst possible outcome is true. Rumination - an involuntary replaying of social memories viewed through a harshly self-critical filter - reliably produces worries for the mind to turn into catastrophes.
At first glance, catastrophizing seems silly and self-defeating. The catastrophes predicted rarely come to pass. So why do brains continue to do this even after years of evidence of their own poor predictive powers? Why would a person tend to instantly and without evidence believe the worst, over and over again?
It is my hypothesis that catastrophizing is a completely rational behavior when viewed from the perspective of a self involuntarily trapped in a mind, attempting to minimize pain inflicted on it by the mind. It is a literal "mind hack" - gaming the emotional and cognitive system, rather than meeting opponents in the external world.
First, the self obtains information about the pain-delivering algorithm of the mind. A major feature of this algorithm, descriptively speaking, is that the worst pain is generally delivered in response to a loss - a loss in resources, perhaps, but more importantly a loss of social status or social belonging. A change in social status or other resources appears to matter much more to the pain-delivery algorithm than absolute levels of either. The mind rewards the self when the level of external resources or social status increases, punishes the self when it falls, and does not do much when it is stable. Another major feature is that a loss has much more impact than an equivalent gain, in absolute terms. The self's best strategy is to minimize the likelihood of loss in the future, and it is motivated to do so by rumination and fear.
However, the self has another option to avoid being punished by the mind for losses over which it has limited or no control: the self can manipulate its own beliefs to avoid perceiving a loss as a loss. It accomplishes this by catastrophizing.
When the self catastrophizes, it updates toward believing that a loss has already happened. Since this epistemic manipulation is, first, imaginary, and second, under one's own control, the ordinary pain response to loss is not engaged. Meanwhile, one's internally-tracked "position" is made less precarious and vulnerable to uncontrollable factors; instead of risking a fall from a tightrope, one climbs down to the bottom by catastrophizing.
Should the catastrophe materialize, the self will not be punished by the mind (as much), since it did not subjectively experience a loss - it experienced the world being the same as it predicted. More commonly, should the catastrophe fail to materialize, the self will experience a reward, since from the self's perspective, its position just went from rock bottom to much improved.
In summary, catastrophizing is a strategy the self employs in order to "game" the reward and punishment system of the mind - in a manner that is likely totally at odds with the genetic interests of the organism hosting the self. Rumination, fear, and the infliction by the mind of intolerable levels of pain or shame are likely predictors of the catastrophizing "mind hack."
Monday, August 11, 2014
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
I post as Birgus latro (the coconut crab) - here are my two posts so far:
What is intelligence? - a brief model of the things we mean by intelligence, whether machine or human, and their relationship to consciousness.
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
If children produced nothing, Maya parents would have to work 2.5 times as hard as they do to maintain their children’s consumption between the 20th and 33rd years of the family life cycle. Were it not for the economic contributions of children, parents in their fourth and fifth decades would have to increase their work effort by 150%, each parent working more than 16.5 hours a day (real-time hours).
- hard working and helpful, especially at the work of raising a large family;
- self-sufficient at an early age;
- submissive to adults;
- the only path to adult status
Sunday, July 6, 2014
The nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been characterized by a massive decline in fertility, beginning in rich Western countries and spreading all over the world. It is a transformation that is still underway in poor countries today.
Technological advances have, over the same period, radically decreased child mortality and increased life span. Modern parents need not have many children to ensure that one or two survive; almost all children survive to reproductive age. But Darwinian genetic interests cannot explain the modern decline in fertility (if Darwinian interests dominated, fertility should increase with increased survival, as observed in many historical elites). Rather, the fertility decline to present levels is mostly an economic response to the changing value of children, and to the changing economic relationship of parents and children. The economic transformation is not spontaneous, but the product of cultural transformation through education.
The economic value of children has decreased, but this is not the most important cause of the fertility decline. The transformation of countries from predominantly agricultural to predominantly urban reduced the value of children, especially where the industrial employment of children was restricted. Each child's labor contributed positive value to a family farm or cottage industry, but in an urban setting, children began to have negative economic value. Indeed, the fertility decline correlates somewhat - though not perfectly - with the transformation from agrarian to city life.
But the fertility decline is not merely the product of a price effect - of people having fewer children because children are more costly. Children are not normal goods (or even inferior goods, as might be surmised from low fertility among the highest income groups): they become not goods at all, but rather bundles of claims on their parents. This transformation is a culturally-controlled change in direction of the flow of resources. Before the fertility decline, resources flowed from children to parents (and even up to grandparents and kin); after the transformation, resources flowed from parents to children. In Mass Education as a Determinant of the Timing of the Fertility Decline, John Caldwell argues that the vector of this cultural transformation has been mass education. He characterizes it as the replacement of "family morality," in which children are expected to "work hard, demand little, and respect the authority of the old," with "community morality," in which children are dependent on their parents to become future productive citizens (perhaps even upwardly mobile) for the good of the country.
Caldwell identifies five mechanisms by which education reduces fertility by reshaping the economic relationship of parents and children. First, education reduces the ability of a child to work inside and outside the home - not just because school and studying take up time, but also because the child's student status makes others reluctant to enforce traditional duties. Second, education increases the expense of raising a child, again not just because school is expensive, but because education increases a child's demands on his parents for non-school expenses in a manner Caldwell describes as unprecedented. Third, education increases the dependency of children, reframing a formerly hard-working, productive child as primarily a future producer and citizen. Fourth, schooling speeds up cultural change and creates new cultures. Finally, fifth, in the developing world education specifically transmits the values of the Western middle class, which is contemptuous of traditional "family morality" as described above.
In each country, before the demographic transition, children were essentially the property of their parents. Their labor could be used for the parents' good, and they were accustomed to strict and austere treatment. Parents had claims not only to their children's labor in childhood, but even to their wealth in adulthood. To put it crudely, marrying a wife meant buying a slave factory, and children were valuable slaves.
After the transition, mediated by mass education, children were transubstantiated into persons. Their individual status increased, and parents no longer had a culturally recognized claim on their labor. Children's culturally supported entitlements increased, including not only food and clothing, but also study and play time. Their relationship with their parents became more egalitarian and friendly, their treatment less strict.
But children do not exactly own themselves in the present situation: the government has claims on their future earnings, through taxation and other mandatory payments (and, increasingly, education loans). In essence, mass education is a communist transformation: individually-owned "goods" (children) are brought under national ownership, and returns from children flow to the country as a whole (through tax-based entitlement programs), rather than individually to their previous "owners." When farms are communally owned, production suffers and famine results; when children are communally "owned," fertility decline results. Social Security programs likely reflect this: the government provides (often poor quality) assistance to old people in place of their children, while undermining their direct claims on their children for assistance in old age.
There is another, related shift in the direction of resource flow during this time: resources (including labor) stop flowing from wives to husbands, and instead flow from husbands to wives, as a result of Western-style female liberation. This trend is also a result of education, and amplifies the trend toward low fertility. Since the emancipation of women frequently lags the child-parent economic transformation, it does not seem to be the first cause; Japan's fertility decline occurred in the post-war 1940s, tracking the forced implementation of Western-style mass education, but women's opportunities for education, professional employment, and political participation continue to be limited and were much more so in the 1940s, despite American-imposed female suffrage. Few would describe Japan in the 1940s as a hotbed of feminism and licentiousness, yet its fertility declined steeply and has not recovered since.
It does not seem that female emancipation was the primary cause of the fertility decline, although Caldwell details the many ways in which it amplifies the existing trend once established. It has long been noted by charitable organizations in poor countries that when resources are distributed directly to women, they are more likely to be spent on children's needs, and when distributed to men, more likely to be spent on the men's status and drug needs. Education and control of finances by women embrace and amplify the new flow of resources from parents to children, rather than children to parents. Educated children are expensive and demanding children, and an educated wife makes them more so. Higher education and labor force participation by women limits the time available for child bearing and rearing, especially during the more fertile periods of women's lives.
Caldwell reports that the transition in Ghana was underway in the 1960s, and in many cases families had both children who had been to school and children who had not. Children who had been to school were treated drastically differently from their "illiterate siblings," though they were often oblivious to this fact. That the transformation could be observed at this level - the treatment of children within the same family - suggests that changes in the status of children (expected to play, to devote time to studies, to be dependent on their parents) precede and underlie changes in gender roles.
Parental control of children's sexuality and marriage does not last long once children have been transformed into persons, and with it goes the right to collect bride price, formerly a compensation for the burden of raising a female child. Even in dowry societies, dowry is increasingly supplemented or replaced with education, Caldwell notes, as a wealthy but uneducated woman is not seen as marriageable by Westernized elites. But this is only one aspect of the fertility transformation, rather than the prime driver; in a few countries, parental control over children's marriage survived long after the fertility decline.
Industrialization negatively affected women's productivity earlier than men's productivity, usurping traditional female work from spinning and weaving to food production. The declining economic value of both women and children necessitated that they be granted symbolic value instead. The "cult of motherhood" beginning in the 1820s in England was a response to this - granting motherhood special status as a full-time occupation, and as a fulfilling life's work. Similarly, as the economic value of children fell, their sacred value increased. Both of these value transformations are not spontaneously occurring, but culturally transmitted; and the vector for their transmission is mass Western-style education. Literature for the masses, from pamphlets of the 1820s to television, also plays a major role.
For many decades prior to the 1970s, the value of an adult (in terms of his productivity and real wages) rose; but the economic value of even an adult person has fallen in recent decades, as real wages attest. Fertility trends do not track the economic value of a human, as they might be expected to do if parents could realize a portion of the value of their offspring. Fertility trends can only respond to that share of the value of a person that a "producer of children" can recover - and the memetic transformation occasioned by mass education has essentially eliminated this share. Governments, meanwhile, claim an ever-larger share of their citizens' resources. And accessing parental money by catering to (and creating, if necessary) the "needs" of children remains a profitable business plan. The producers of children have not benefitted from their children's adult productivity in a long time, just as farm workers in China during the Great Leap Forward did not benefit from their labor.
So why did people used to have children? It's hard for us even to imagine, but children used to be valuable - they used to be much more like slaves or farm animals, which are both very valuable. They were also treated much more like slaves, with patriarchs (at least) maintaining distance from children, as Caldwell notes. Consider the history of the study, compared to the lowly and shameful "man cave," for a sense of the old style of family relations. A wife was not only a valuable RealDoll, but also a valuable slave factory. Making a new "person" - on which the state has claims, but you do not, and toward whom you have (class-dependent) obligations - is a much less economically attractive proposition than making a new slave.
Please see Children, Education, and Status for a response to the argument that wealth never flowed from children to adults.