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Popper the New Leftist

Popper
OSE p174-5
There are many people living in a modern society who have no, or extremely few, intimate personal contacts, who live in anonymity and isolation, and consequently in unhappiness. For although society has become abstract, the biological makeup of man has not changed much; men have social needs which they cannot satisfy in an abstract society.
It is unfortunate that Popper has swallowed this propaganda. This sort of biological fatalism is a way of denying that people bear responsibility for their personality traits. There are no arguments that biology determines personality or needs. There never have been. No one has ever invented a quality explanation of how it could be the case. So why did Popper adopt the idea?

Calling these things "needs" is used for the purpose of advocating violence. If I want something, I am not justified to take it. If I need it, and declare that you do not need it, then I have a case to force you to give it to me (not a good case, but one that the new left will find convincing). If all people have a particular "need" then that is used as a justification that the Government provide it, in order that it be guaranteed to everyone. And if I don't want it, and don't want to pay for it, that's my tough luck (which is a euphemism for my turn to be forced to sacrifice what I wanted). And if I need something which my society does not provide for (including providing ways it can be attained) then I am doomed to unhappiness, so I will ask my society to change, and if it does not I am justified in starting a violent revoultion to change it. If two people need contradictory things, and cannot talk the other person into conceding, then there is nothing let for them to do but fight it out. Why has Popper used the language of the violent new left?

Elliot Temple on October 28, 2008

Comments (48)

"There are no arguments that biology determines personality or needs."

You go too far. How do you explain the results of studies of twins and other siblings and unrelated individuals who are reared together or apart? See, for example, "The Blank Slate":

(1) All human behavioural traits are heritable
(2) The effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of the genes
(3) A substantial portion of the variation is not accounted for by families or genes

A crude summary: genes 50%; shared environment 0%; unique environment 50%

krp

Anonymous at 10:42 PM on October 29, 2008 | #1604
Such studies do not study whether traits are controlled by genes or culture. They only try to look at what correlates with *differences* between people, which is a different issue.

The word "heritable" in (1) does not having the meaning a lay person would expect. So please elaborate on just what it means.

Regardless, correlation is not causation. To have a case, they need an explanation of how genes could control/cause personality.

- Elliot

Anonymous at 1:50 PM on October 31, 2008 | #1609
"... which is a different issue"

Sort of, but not really. It must be explained why the genes correlate with these differences.... I wonder how that could be....

"... heritable"

Sure, the context is statistical. Still, this term is used for a sensible reason. It's more apt than "aptoflugelinger" or "xyz".

"... correlation is not causation"

Of course it isn't. Presumably, according to your view, you don't think that cigarettes cause cancer, or that the activities of the brain cause consciousness, since no-one has ever connected the dots all the way from A to Z, if I can put it that way.

"... an explanation of how genes could control/cause personality"

Do you really doubt that this is possible, even though the dots have not been connected from A to Z? Do you know, for example, that quite unknowingly women prefer square-jawed "masculine men" at one point of their cycle, and more "feminine men" at another point? In any event, a possible explanation, in broad outline, is rather obvious, given what we know about the brain/mind: The activities of the brain involve molecules; our genes play a role in the production of these molecules (certainly, without them, they would be no such molecules). Or are we disembodied minds? I might add that the fact that genes do matter does not automatically absolve any of us of responsibility for our actions.

krp

Anonymous at 4:15 PM on October 31, 2008 | #1610
There are good explanations of how cigarettes cause cancer. That doesn't mean they are 100% complete final explanations. It mostly means they stand up to criticism.

> Do you know, for example, that quite unknowingly women prefer square-jawed "masculine men" at one point of their cycle, and more "feminine men" at another point?

That could easily be under the control of culture. You haven't given any argument one way or another.

> Do you really doubt that this is possible

Yes. Really.

In very short, your proposed explanation ignores universality. Which hardware a universal computer runs on does not influence the results of calculations it does. Which hardware a universal knowledge creation device (human brain) runs on does not influence what knowledge it creates.

Your explanation also doesn't address this criticism: there was no such thing as human personality until humans gained intelligence. That's exactly the same time they gained memes. Genes thus did not have a head start over memes on evolving knowledge to control personality. Memes evolve faster than genes. Therefore memes outcompeted genes and control personality.

Also: if a gene exerts an influence, what is to prevent someone shifting their personality the exact amount of the influence but in the opposite direction, so there is no effect? If there is nothing to prevent that, then why should we expect people have not done this and thus gained full control of themselves?

The universality argument is the most important.

- Elliot

Anonymous at 4:42 PM on October 31, 2008 | #1611
"... good explanations of how cigarettes cause cancer ... It mostly means they stand up to criticism.
"

What, if anything, prevents an individual from driving off the cancerous changes by an act of will or by developing a relevant theory?

"your proposed explanation ignores universality"

I must say I was expecting this move. I do agree that the brain is a universal computer.

"there was no such thing as human personality until humans gained intelligence"

This is a large claim. How do you know this? So then non-human animals do not have personalities? Have you ever had pets, or lived on a farm?

"could easily be under the control of culture"

The best available explanation invokes fluctuating hormone levels in the brain to explain differences within individuals and between individuals. What cultural factors do you propose as an alternative, that fluctuate appropriately each fortnight or whatnot?

"if a gene exerts an influence, what is to prevent someone shifting their personality the exact amount of the influence but in the opposite direction, so there is no effect?"

Do you know of any examples? Can you give an example of this, of what it would "look like"? What would we observe in such an individual before and after this act of will or self-reprogramming? What would his own experience of this be?

krp

Anonymous at 5:27 PM on October 31, 2008 | #1612
Too many things at once. Let's go into more depth with this one:

> > "your proposed explanation ignores universality"

> I must say I was expecting this move. I do agree that the brain is a universal computer.

So, do you agree with my whole argument about universality? If not, where do you disagree?

- Elliot

Anonymous at 5:35 PM on October 31, 2008 | #1613
The issue is one of what is practicable.

Here are some possible problems:

(1) At any instant the brain is a universal computer, but the hardware changes with time as the genes that control protein manufacture mutate, are damaged by one thing or another, are affected by viruses, etc. So any individual in "control of himself" must in at least some respects constantly alter his "programming" in order to keep pace with these hardware changes---a non-trivial and never-ending task, I would say, that might easily fail.

(2) Even if the hardware remained constant, there is limited and imperfect recall, affecting the choice and efficacy of whatever software we might wish to run. Sure, if some "project" is particularly dear to you, you can "shift resources" to that project, but you'll start recalling other things more slowly or perhaps not at all.

(3) Limited and imperfect self-knowledge, giving the ever-present possibility of unintended consequences, e.g., you shift your personality by a force of will, but too late you discover that (for perfectly sensible reasons of which you are unaware) you are now a sociopath, and before you can run some tests and shift your personality elsewhere someone is dead (okay, I'm being playfully melodramatic here, but the basic point is real enough).

(4) Fatigue. You shift your personality to counteract the high level of some neurotransmitter, but the effort is immense, leaving you tired and as a consequence the "shift" very often cannot be maintained for hours at a time due to fatigue.

In summary, the issue would seem to be one of realising the control one might aspire to have.

krp

Anonymous at 6:02 PM on October 31, 2008 | #1614
Do you think any of those could turn a Republican into a Democrat or have some other complex, coherent affects on a person's personality?

Sure I get tired, and I choose to do different actions that I would if I wasn't tired, but that doesn't mean my personality is changed or controlled. Being tired is just a thing I factor into decisions which I make according to my personality.

For example, being tired does not change my attitude towards criticism, or change the style of approach I use to try to solve problems. It never makes communism seem tempting.

If none of the 4 things you describe affect these things, then in what sense are they in control of personality? In what way are they more influential than height?

- Elliot

Anonymous at 6:11 PM on October 31, 2008 | #1615
I don't feel that you really addressed those issues.

Communism is not really part of personality, perhaps. In psychology personality generally refers to certain measurable dimensions such as extraversion/introversion, neuroticism, openness, and a few others I can't recall. The heritability of these requires explanation.

Actually, a bump on the head can, for example, change a pious church-goer into a sex maniac, so why not a democrat into a republican, or an inductivist into a Popperian---but perhaps this is not really the same thing as what we are discussing. Or perhaps it is.

Another issue: your self-assessments about what you do and when you do it are quite possibly at odds with reality. It would be useful to have some data from objective observers.

Again, I don't feel that you really addressed those issues (and others too in previous posts). As I said, I think it's possible that universality (of the brain of the individual) may well stumble before practical matters when it comes to attempts to assert control.

krp

Anonymous at 6:40 PM on October 31, 2008 | #1616
> Actually, a bump on the head can, for example, change a pious church-goer into a sex maniac, so why not a democrat into a republican, or an inductivist into a Popperian

Are you suggesting the bump on the head created the sex maniac theories, or do you think they were already present?

> As I said, I think it's possible that universality (of the brain of the individual) may well stumble

Universality requires a small number of simple ingredients. Human brains exceed the minimum requirements by a huge margin. So why should we worry that stumbling brings people anywhere near the border?

Do you have any examples of behaviors by people that you think indicates non-universality? For example, if they can still hold a simple conversation then they are well beyond the universality bar.

I know I didn't address everything. I think conversations work better with a limited number of simultaneous issues.

- Elliot

Anonymous at 6:49 PM on October 31, 2008 | #1617
"So why should we worry that stumbling brings people anywhere near the border?"

No, that's not what I said. The universality is constant. The practical difficulty for anyone wanting to be "in control of himself" is one of controlling one's software---of ensuring the software is appropriate to one's subtly changing universal computer hardware. It's a case of staying on top of rewriting one's software. (See a previous post for a different statement of this.)

krp

Anonymous at 7:07 PM on October 31, 2008 | #1618
I agree that self-awareness and "being in control of ourselves" is difficult. But the issue I'm addressing is whether it is *genes* we are struggling against. Our genes are static; any changing software issues are not a matter of struggling against personality-control genes.

- Elliot

Anonymous at 7:10 PM on October 31, 2008 | #1619
"Our genes are static"

Not so far as I know. They mutate, they get switched on or off.

Okay then, how about this: what then do genes do, what is their role, if any?

krp

Anonymous at 7:23 PM on October 31, 2008 | #1620
Genes code for our hardware, including features like the immune system.

I think it would help if you use more precise terms. Genes are sequences of DNA. Are you saying that DNA turns on and off, or that features created by genes turn on and off? And similarly your comment about mutation isn't clear.

- Elliot

Anonymous at 10:28 AM on November 1, 2008 | #1623
Proteins do work, do stuff, make stuff, get the job done---whatever. I'm saying that the production of proteins is not constant/fixed throughout the span of an organism: the quantity of some given protein being produced may vary with time; the set of proteins being produced may vary too. This will occur for a number of reasons, including: changes to the sequences of A's, T's, C's and G's that code for a protein; changes to the sequences of A's, T's, C's and G's that regulate the sequences of A's, T's, C's and G's that code for a protein. And there are other mechanisms at work too that do not involve alterations to the sequences of nucleotides. In any event, you end with a different mix of proteins in the body, so different things will happen in (for example) the brain.

So, DNA is not fixed; and even when it is constant, its "output" is not necessarily fixed. No aspect of any of this is absolutely fixed. Our genes (however you wish to define the term; I don't mind) may not be assumed to be static---in themselves or in their effects.

krp

Anonymous at 4:44 PM on November 1, 2008 | #1624
DNA can vary due to damage (but that is not designed to influence people in a certain way, e.g. to like sex more).

I agree that protein produced vary for various reasons. Though if you want to say genes influence people's personality, you'll have to connect a way protein production varies to some kind of influence you think it causes. If there is no method or design or knowledge to the variance, then it won't influence people in a concerted and complex way, it'll just be random noise.

There is a way in which genes are static. It's like if you install Microsoft Word and *never upgrade*. Once they finalize the code and burn it to the master CD and send it to the factory then after that it's static. Genetic code never receives an upgrade. If it's buggy, too bad. If it lacks a certain way of influencing people, it's not going to be added in later. If it's missing a feature, you're out of luck. It's not going to change. If the genetic code contains knowledge of how to influence people for one personality or another, it would have to be there at birth.

- Elliot

Anonymous at 4:53 PM on November 1, 2008 | #1625
"If there is no method or design or knowledge to the variance"

So we return to the observed heritability of the robust behavioural traits that psychologists have been able to identify. How do you explain this? If the genes do not matter in any instance at all in regards to the observed correlations (correlations with genes), then what do you propose as the hidden/underlying factor(s) that are the real cause---that cause personality and which presumably "cause" the genes too?

krp

Anonymous at 5:21 PM on November 1, 2008 | #1626
http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/weblog/520.html

The link discusses issues with heritability, in particular ways it can mean useless or misleading things, and complications about what it should mean.

Please read link, then cite a study (that I can access the full text of) and give a summary of how it addresses/overcomes the issues raised at the link, and say clearly what they mean by 'heritable' in the study, and what they do and don't control for and how. Also, if you can think of any ways the results of the study could be explained without genes controlling (part of) personality, please mention those.

Then I'll know what you mean when you say "the observed heritability of the robust behavioural traits"

- Elliot

Anonymous at 5:46 PM on November 1, 2008 | #1627
Here are summary points from the link:

The most common formulae used to estimate heritability are wrong, either for trivial mathematical reasons (such as the upward bias in the difference between monozygotic and dizygotic twins' correlations), or for substantive ones (the covariance of monozygotic twins raised apart neglects shared environments other than the family, such as maternal and community effects).

The best estimate I can find puts the narrow heritability of IQ at around 0.34 and the broad heritability at 0.48.

Even this estimate neglected heteroskedasticity, gene-environment interactions, gene-environment covariance, the existence of shared environment beyond the family, and the possibility that the samples being used are not representative of the broader population.

Now that people are finally beginning to model gene-environment interactions, even in very crude ways, they find it matters a lot. Recall that Turkheimer et al. found a heritability which rose monotonically with socioeconomic status, starting around zero at low status and going up to around 0.8 at high status. Even this is probably an over-estimate, since it neglected maternal effects and other shared non-familial environment, correlations between variance components, etc. Under such circumstances, talking about "the" heritability of IQ is nonsense. Actual geneticists have been saying as much since Dobzhansky at least.

Applying the usual heritability estimators to traits which are shaped at least in part by cultural transmission, a.k.a. traditions, is very apt to confuse tradition with genetics. The usual twin studies do not solve this problem. Studies which could don't seem to have been done.

Heritability is completely irrelevant to malleability or plasticity; every possible combination of high and low heritability, and high and low malleability, is not only logically possible but also observed.

Randomized experiments, natural experiments and the Flynn Effect all show what competent regressions also suggest, namely that IQ is, indeed, responsive to purely environmental interventions.

Anonymous at 5:57 PM on November 1, 2008 | #1628
To be honest, I'm not sure that, given my other responsibilities, I would be able to read and digest such a long link between now and when the Sun goes out. I also rather suspect that it is irrelevant to the matter at hand (see below).

To quote "The Blank Slate", written by an expert in this area:

A behavioural trait is a stable measurable property of a person, e.g., IQ, openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism.

Heritability is the part of the variance in a trait that correlates with genetic differences, e.g., identical twins reared apart share all their genes and none of their environment (relative to the environments in the sample), so that any correlation must be an effect of the genes.

No-one is claiming that heritability is black and white, that understanding traits is simple, that there are 1:1 relationships between genes and traits, or anything simple-minded. There are, and always will be, scientific controversies, and any heritability estimate may be revised up or down: this happens all the time. However, there is a vast literature on this subject, and an extremely active scientific debate (in which controlling one's experiments is well-understood and in which not everyone is a mathematical dunce or some other kind of idiot), and all in all things look pretty bleak for anyone wishing to argue that the genes are utterly irrelevant to behavioural traits.

krp

P.S.: I rather suspect that the fact that the human brain is a universal computer lacks the leverage you require, for some of the reasons I've given in brief outline. I think universality is a bad starting point in this instance; still, if you wish to try to use it to sweep utterly away the vast literature I mentioned above, then I wish you all the best.

Anonymous at 7:33 PM on November 1, 2008 | #1633
fyi

1. Gene FOXP2: a difference of one nucleotide causes a speech and language disorder.

2. Gene LIMkinase1: if inactive, then the protein it codes for is absent, and the individual has normal intelligence but cannot assemble objects, arrange blocks, or copy shapes. Such an individual might be the most fervent critical rationalist of all time, furiously generating knowledge in an open-ended fashion, yet certain attainments can be expected to be forever beyond their reach.

Admittedly, such straightforward examples as these are the exception.

krp

Anonymous at 9:13 PM on November 1, 2008 | #1634
> identical twins reared apart share all their genes and none of their environment (relative to the environments in the sample), so that any correlation must be an effect of the genes.

Or a gene-environment interaction, possibly one where the gene has only a small role.

Let's use an example. Do you think being girly or feminine is under the control of biology?

I think being female is under the control of biology, and getting from female to feminine has pretty much nothing to do with biology.

- Elliot

Anonymous at 9:33 PM on November 1, 2008 | #1635
FOXP2 and LIMkinase1:

How do they cause these things? How do you know they aren't (for example) genes for ugly facial features, which results in parental mistreatment?

You seem to suggest those genes break universality, while leaving intelligence intact. Isn't that like claiming you can design a computer that can run Microsoft Word and Photoshop but not Starcraft, just by removing an instruction from X86 assembly language?

- Elliot

Anonymous at 9:48 PM on November 1, 2008 | #1636
"How do they cause these things?"

The mind arises from the activities of the brain.

"How do you know they aren't (for example) genes for ugly facial features, which results in parental mistreatment?"

That theory would require (1) that in all instances without exception ugliness resulted in mistreatment *and* (2) that all the varieties of mistreatment specifically targetted spatial skills.

But this is getting nowhere?...

You believe that human personalities are infinitely malleable, right? But this is at odds with what is observed. For example:

Why do psychologists find that the various dimensions of personality are stable properties of a given individual through time? You may counter by saying that specific acts of will are required for an individual to reprogram himself. Yet the rather pathetic self-help movement seems a failure, and in any event we might expect significant reprogramming to occur by chance, but this also is not seen.

Why are there not more Richard Feynmans? Or to state it another way, why do we not observe an arms race in IQ, with some subset of people hitting upon the unappreciated fact of infinite human plasticity and with each driving his own IQ skyward in response to the obvious rewards and to his rivals?

Why do identical twins reared apart have political views that correlate at 0.62?

Why does religious fervour correlate with a conviction that taxes should be lowered?

This list could be greatly extended. It is all consistent with the view that human behaviours are influenced by all of genes *and* environment *and* learning. The items listed above are intended to be rhetorical.... Each item might be criticised, of course, but I suspect the criticism would be ad hoc in nature, and that these various criticisms would not all be consistent with an overarching rival theory to the theory that genes (among other things) matter. Incidentally, as you must be aware, the view that we are malleable (blank slates) is that embraced by Marxists, while free-marketeers tend to believe that human nature is real.

krp

Anonymous at 4:18 PM on November 3, 2008 | #1640
I imagine you've seen this:

"Suppose you identified a gene G, and a human behaviour B, and you undertook a study with 1000 randomly chosen people, and the result was that of the 500 people who had G in their genome, 499 did B, while of the 500 who lacked G, 499 failed to do B. You'd conclude, wouldn't you, that G is the predominant cause of B? Obviously there must be other mechanisms involved, but they have little influence on whether a person does B or not. You'd inform the press that all those once-trendy theories that tried to explain B through people's upbringing or culture, or attributed it to the exercise of free will or the logic of the situation or any combination of such factors — were just wrong. You've proved that when people choose to do B, they are at the very least responding to a powerful influence from their genes. And if someone points out that your results are perfectly consistent with B being 100% caused by something other than G (or any other gene), or with G exerting an influence in the direction of not doing B, you will shrug momentarily, and then forget that possibility. Won't you?"--David Deutsch

Anonymous at 4:48 PM on November 3, 2008 | #1641
I've seen that David Deutsch quote. He seems to agree with me :)

> The mind arises from the activities of the brain.

That seems like saying that the output of my computer arises from the activities of the hardware. But the hardware is universal, and therefore not interesting, and the real explanation lies in the software.

> That theory would require (1) that in all instances without exception ugliness resulted in mistreatment *and* (2) that all the varieties of mistreatment specifically targetted spatial skills.

No, it would only require that one type of ugliness causes one type of mistreatment that results in spatial skill problems, when done within our culture.

> Why do identical twins reared apart have political views that correlate at 0.62?

Source? I can't answer claims like this properly without reading what they actually did.

> Why does religious fervour correlate with a conviction that taxes should be lowered?

Traditions are complicated and there are many factors involved, but I think the primary reason is that American Christianity helps people resist socialist propaganda/arguments.

> This list could be greatly extended. It is all consistent with the view that human behaviours are influenced by all of genes *and* environment *and* learning.

It's also consistent with the view that genes don't have a significant role.

> The items listed above are intended to be rhetorical.... Each item might be criticised, of course, but I suspect the criticism would be ad hoc in nature

But I've had this position for many years and find it helps unify my worldview. None of what I'm saying is ad hoc.

> the view that we are malleable (blank slates) is that embraced by Marxists, while free-marketeers tend to believe that human nature is real.

It's not that simple. For example, Marx was not optimistic about the ability of capitalists to change themselves to be less greedy, nor about prospects of people becoming moral enough to make the right things happen via voluntary charity. Many free-marketeers are optimistic about the ability of non-libertarians to change themselves to be more libertarian.


> You believe that human personalities are infinitely malleable, right?

There are three limits. Physics (some personalities we could imagine may be physically impossible to exist), knowledge of how to make a given change, and wanting to make a given change. In most cases, it's the knowledge limit that matters.


> But this is at odds with what is observed. For example:
>
> Why do psychologists find that the various dimensions of personality are stable properties of a given individual through time? You may counter by saying that specific acts of will are required for an individual to reprogram himself. Yet the rather pathetic self-help movement seems a failure, and in any event we might expect significant reprogramming to occur by chance, but this also is not seen.
>
> Why are there not more Richard Feynmans? Or to state it another way, why do we not observe an arms race in IQ, with some subset of people hitting upon the unappreciated fact of infinite human plasticity and with each driving his own IQ skyward in response to the obvious rewards and to his rivals?


My answer has two main components. One is the knowledge limit mentioned above: people don't know how to be like Richard Feynman (and probably won't figure it out in significant numbers until they adopt Popperian approaches to learning, and also TCS parenting so that young children are not hurt). I explain the lack of success of the self-help movement via their lack of knowledge.

We do see 'significant reprogramming' frequently. Not by *chance*, because personalities contain knowledge of how to remain stable against chance (which is a very good trait). Rather, by persuasion and learning. Adults do change political parties, change their mind about whether they want to be part of their family, change careers, change from generally downbeat to upbeat or vice versa, and all sorts of other changes.

The second part of my answer is that our culture contains mechanisms to prevent these things. In particular, most facets of 'human nature' really do exist, only they are memes rather than genes. Apart from that they basically function as advertised, and changing them is not easy (though it does happen, e.g. racism used to be 'human nature', and has become a minority view in America). Note that many memes destroy or sabotage human creativity as a mechanism to prevent themselves from being changed, sometimes in a subtle way that only prevents thinking of alternative ideas in a small category (its a replication strategy).

Behind this statement about memes, and many of my other statements, are more detailed explanations. If you're who I suspect, and email me, I can probably get permission to show you an unpublished paper about memes. Otherwise I can explain more about them here, if it will play an important role in the conversation.

- Elliot

Anonymous at 4:09 PM on November 3, 2008 | #1642
"I've seen that David Deutsch quote. He seems to agree with me :) "

Yes, it does seem so. But he may just be saying: "correlation is not causation, so how about looking for explanations."

"No, it would only require that one type of ugliness causes one type of mistreatment that results in spatial skill problems, when done within our culture."

Recall that these individuals cannot assemble objects, arrange blocks, or copy shapes---very dire handicaps indeed, of a similar magnitude to being born without limbs. Caused by aspects of their environment on account of their ugliness? Why then do individuals lacking the "bad gene" never suffer these dire deficits (short of accidents causing brain damage and the like)? Would the necessary mistreatment not sometimes happen by chance in some individuals with the "good gene", leading to the specific deficits in question? But it doesn't. And how does the mistreatment achieve its end? Note that we must exclude blows to the head, sewing eyes shut, confinement in dark cupboards, and other possibilities too.

"We do see 'significant reprogramming' frequently."

The examples given are consistent with the view that each of us ends up not with a fixed specific outcome but rather with propensities--that we get plonked down in and navigate about in *regions* of phase space, you might say.

"people don't know how to be like Richard Feynman (and probably won't figure it out in significant numbers until they adopt Popperian approaches to learning, and also TCS parenting so that young children are not hurt)"

I'm a Popperian and I'm persuaded that I may be wrong about anything/everything, but I can't take seriously the idea that I could ever replicate Feynman's capabilities. Brilliant people are not really all that different from the non-brilliant: they just have more efficient brain-chemistry that affords them superior recall, scan-rates, and the like. They show all the same failings and foibles and varieties of behaviour that are observed among the non-brilliant, and it's pretty clear to me that they don't have any "special knowledge". Mostly they are just as dumb as the rest of us.

"If you're who I suspect"

I have no idea how you could tell this. Anyway, I'll send an email regarding that meme paper.

krp

Anonymous at 5:07 PM on November 3, 2008 | #1643
Guessing who a poster might be is surprisingly easy :)

> Recall that these individuals cannot assemble objects, arrange blocks, or copy shapes

Source, please. It's possible the handicap has been misinterpreted, or that you've left out a fact I would consider important; I could reply better if I understood it more.

> > We do see 'significant reprogramming' frequently.

> The examples given are consistent with the view that each of us ends up not with a fixed specific outcome but rather with propensities--that we get plonked down in and navigate about in *regions* of phase space, you might say.

Yes, those examples are consistent with both of the following theories:

- genes partially contorl human personalities

- genes do not partially control human personalities

One of the claims at stake is that science (as well as common sense) proves the first of those is correct. I consider pointing out that science and common sense are consistent with either theory to be an important step.

> Brilliant people are not really all that different from the non-brilliant: they just have more efficient brain-chemistry that affords them superior recall, scan-rates, and the like.

That is one of your intended conclusions, not an argument for said conclusion.

> They show all the same failings and foibles and varieties of behaviour that are observed among the non-brilliant

Yes, usually. This is consistent with either genetic or memetic causes of foibles.

> it's pretty clear to me that they don't have any "special knowledge". Mostly they are just as dumb as the rest of us.

Knowledge can be about a single area, it doesn't have to make them good at everything.

- Elliot

Anonymous at 8:02 PM on November 3, 2008 | #1644
"That is one of your intended conclusions, not an argument for said conclusion.
"

No, the remarks about brain chemistry are a conjecture. I might add that I also conjecture that genes influence brain chemistry. I also conjecture that chance events in early brain development influence brain chemistry. I also conjecture that all these factors are beyond the reach of memes.

Another interesting observation, as I see it, is that brilliant people seem to have no inkling as to how they do what they do. Their explanations/descriptions rather resemble the activities we all commonly engage in. "I decided to think about X. It looked interesting. I had idea Y, but that seemed no good, so I considered idea Z...." Or: "I induced scientific theory T from the observations O, then confirmed it by carrying out experiments E, and thereby proved the truth of T (where T is some prevailing scientific theory)". Their special knowledge, if it exists, seems to be subconscious/unconscious.

krp

Anonymous at 9:08 PM on November 3, 2008 | #1645
> Another interesting observation, as I see it, is that brilliant people seem to have no inkling as to how they do what they do.

I agree it's interesting. Do you think that has relevance to our debate? If so, what?

> Their special knowledge, if it exists, seems to be subconscious/unconscious.

Yes of course, just like *most* memes are.

BTW I think a more accurate term is 'inexplicit' (by which I mean not in *language*. Sometimes we have a vague conscious sense of such things, but can't get it into words.)

The induction example is especially telling because induction is mythical, but the person who says they did induction sometimes really did figure something out. Their theory of how they did it is just dramatically mistaken.

Perhaps this will make it seem more plausible to you that people have lots of powerful memes without noticing that they do.

-----

Are there any human personality traits that you think *couldn't* be due to memes?

- Elliot

Anonymous at 9:18 PM on November 3, 2008 | #1646
"I agree it's interesting. Do you think that has relevance to our debate? If so, what? "

It goes to the issue of exercising deliberate conscious control over one's attributes. It we are indeed 100% plastic, then everyone will want the best for himself (as he sees it), for example a high IQ, but since the relevant theories are apparently "hidden" in the mind somewhere, each person will be stuck with the problem of refuting subconcious conjectures he is unaware of and forming critical preferences for subconscious rival conjectures he is unaware of. Or is this not how the process goes?

krp

Anonymous at 9:50 PM on November 3, 2008 | #1647
> exercising deliberate conscious control over one's attributes

The way in which personalities have infinite plasticity is: we create knowledge of how to change our personality, then do that (what to do varies by person and situation and isn't predictable). You don't just decide and it happens like magic.

One thing Popper (and others) pointed out about politics is that political institutions and policies frequently do not have their desired results. What results we should aim for is one problem, but how to actually achieve what we aim for is also a very major problem.

It is the same with personalities. What to aim for is one question, and how to achieve that intention is also a difficult issue.

> each person will be stuck with the problem of refuting subconcious conjectures

Yes. Becoming more self-aware, and criticizing one's theories that previously dodged criticism by hiding are important. But also we will need to create new knowledge. Just identifying and removing one's flaws does not create all the merits one might wish for.

- Elliot

Anonymous at 10:14 PM on November 3, 2008 | #1648
"Are there any human personality traits that you think *couldn't* be due to memes? "

Let's try this on for size: how about this human behaviour: the "rooting" behaviour of a newborn searching for a nipple of which he has had no previous experience.

krp

Anonymous at 12:46 AM on November 4, 2008 | #1649
And what do you make of autism?

krp

Anonymous at 1:28 AM on November 4, 2008 | #1650
> the "rooting" behaviour of a newborn

Yes, not a meme. (Also not well understood how it works.)

> what do you make of autism?

http://www.settingtheworldtorights.com/node/269

http://www.settingtheworldtorights.com/node/438

- Elliot

Anonymous at 8:26 AM on November 4, 2008 | #1651
The least that can be said, I think, is that all the criticisms of the "gene theory" are shared by the "meme theory".

So it could be said, to edit a quote from David Deutsch:

"the idea that a behaviour is “due to [memes]” has essentially no content in the absence of some theory about ... mechanism through which the behaviour in question is “due to [memes]”."

So I take it that my previous interpretation of some of his remarks is to the point, i.e., "correlation is not causation, so how about looking for explanations." No argument here.

The "gene theory" has the benefit that genes code for brain proteins, and that altering brain chemistry is known to alter our minds, e.g., pharmaceuticals, drugs. Of course, other things can alter minds too, such as the placebo effect.

I am persuaded that there is a multiverse (for example), but I predict that this genes-are-utterly-irrelevant-to-behaviour theory will prove to be a blunder.

krp

P.S.: Even if in some instance genes are irrelevant, there is always the possibility of the behaviour being biologically determined by (for example) chemical events during early brain development. Such a case would be an example of the environment working to produce a situation from which the individual cannot escape by (for example) becoming a Popperian.

Anonymous at 12:54 PM on November 4, 2008 | #1652
> altering brain chemistry is known to alter our minds, e.g., pharmaceuticals, drugs.

No drugs are known to alter personality. The ability of simple things (i.e. things with little or no knowledge) to control people's personality is one of the issues under dispute, so you shouldn't assume that I agree with you.


> The least that can be said, I think, is that all the criticisms of the "gene theory" are shared by the "meme theory".

The gene theory wrongly claims the definitive backing of science, whereas the meme theory doesn't. This scientism, which is pervasive in the mainstream media, is a very bad force in the world. Even if the gene theory is correct, it's still bad for scientism to be popular. Also, see next section.


> "the idea that a behaviour is “due to [memes]” has essentially no content in the absence of some theory about ... mechanism through which the behaviour in question is “due to [memes]”."

That is correct, but in the meme case we do have an explanation. Let's put it like this:

No static set of controls can be effective on a person indefinitely, because people can learn new things including how to circumvent or defeat a given set of obstacles. Controlling a human personality requires knowledge exceeding that of the person (in a particular area; it's ok if he has more knowledge about irrelevant things). To control people for long, either the people have to be prevented from learning much, or the controls have to be continuously improved.

Memes do both of these, and genes do neither.

Memes quickly evolve new knowledge and adapt to changes in society. They do this orders of magnitude faster than genes. Genes are left in the dust both by the knowledge creation ability of memes and of people.

The genes for human brains were created under selection pressure to *increase* and *allow* human creativity/ability-to-learn. This is the opposite of what is needed for controlling people. Meanwhile an entire class of memes is under selection pressure to disable and reduce human creativity/ability-to-learn, which is exactly what is needed to be able to control people.

A good example of genetic influence is hunger or sex drive. The genes for these things are reliable in animals, but it is well known that people can resist and ignore either influence if they want to. That's how weak genes are even in areas so critical to their replication; people often choose to "listen" but are not controlled.

Good examples of memetic influence are religion and the use of flowers as gifts during courtship. Both of these are effective at spreading through populations of humans and resisting attempts by their holders to change them.

There are also a lot of effective memes that control parenting and educational behavior (for example). However there is a difficulty with giving examples of pervasive irrational memes: most people *have* pervasive memes and will consequently disagree about those being irrational memes (a meme wouldn't be much good at controlling people if it let them recognize the problem, and react rationally to it, just because I pointed it out).

- Elliot

Anonymous at 1:31 PM on November 4, 2008 | #1653
"The gene theory wrongly claims the definitive backing of science"

No, it doesn't. Or if anyone says it has "definitive" backing, they are wrong. What is the case is that the gene theory gets lots of "favourable" or insufficiently critical press. Sure, but that's not a scientific issue, although it's true that funding may be affected.

"No static set of controls"

Genes are not static. The activity of genes is regulated by feedback.

The meme explanation provided in outline is not, I think, persuasive for its intended purpose. Of course there is more to a human mind than genes and chance events in early brain development and parental conduct. Of course learning can occur. An issue, however, is how far learning can reach, and the practical matter of whether learning can keep up with changes and unintended consequences. I rather doubt that for some problem it's a matter of solving it once, after which it remains solved. I rather suspect that the best case would be one of focusing one's limited resources on some problem seen as important, and solving it again and again, with there always being a set of neglected problems. The aim of 100% control is, I think, elusive.

krp

Anonymous at 2:27 PM on November 4, 2008 | #1654
I read some posts from the links provided. I can see now far more clearly what claims are being made. I don't think that David Deutsch and his "allies" acquitted themselves all that well in the face of some rather impressive critical fire. To be sure, they made a number of reasonable unobjectionable points---but my sense of it all was of an underlying "hidden agenda": think of how Stephen Jay Gould's scientific writings are permeated by and perverted by his political views, which are strictly irrelevant to the biology he's discussing: attempting to juggle these two irreconcilables led Gould down some strange irrational paths.

krp

Anonymous at 8:02 PM on November 4, 2008 | #1656
One more thing: I think this is a case of getting led astray by (1) the fact that he brain is a universal computer and (2) the notion of substrate neutrality: the genes just provide the hardware and the hardware does not matter in the end. These may be true, but they may also be irrelevant in that they are never able to assist us in solving any actual problems. One obvious objection is the one I just came across about the required software upgrade quite possibly taking 1,000,000 years to run. Or: the software upgrade might run in 0.25 seconds, but some event in real time may require a more speedy response than this.

krp

Anonymous at 8:50 PM on November 4, 2008 | #1657
What do you think is the best criticism(s) from the Setting the World to Rights thread that we didn't answer?

Do you think genes make people feminine? In other words, some girls are not very feminine. Do you think that's not due to their choice and actually it's because they happened to get different genes than normal girls?

- Elliot

Anonymous at 11:45 AM on November 5, 2008 | #1659
Is "being forgetful" a personality trait?

Do you think that the extent to which we are forgetful is entirely independent of our memory "hardware," controlled by our genes?

Why do old people become more forgetful, even in subject areas that they used to know well? Is it not due to hardware degradation?

- Richard

Anonymous at 3:02 AM on May 24, 2009 | #1769
Richard,

Do you have some theory, point, criticism, or conclusion in mind?

- Elliot

Anonymous at 11:35 PM on May 24, 2009 | #1771
I'm exploring a potential criticism of:

"There are no arguments that biology determines personality or needs."

I'm envisioning a chain of dependencies: Personality -> Forgetfulness -> Memory hardware -> Genes (biology).

If you think that forgetfulness is not a part of personality, or that it is not affected by the biology of our memories, then the chain doesn't hold. But if it does, it would seem to be an argument that biology can affect personality.

- Richard

Anonymous at 12:31 PM on May 25, 2009 | #1772
Personality -> basketball player -> height -> genes

True or false?

Different from your argument or the same?

- Elliot

Anonymous at 12:38 PM on May 25, 2009 | #1773
My comment adapted to your chain:

"If you think that [being a basketball player] is not a part of personality, or that it is not affected by [height], then the chain doesn't hold. But if it does, it would seem to be an argument that biology can affect personality."

When cast like this, a flaw in my wording is exposed - I said "affected by" when I should have said "determined by." The arrows are supposed to be more causal links than dependencies. Being a basketball player will depend on how tall you are, but being tall will not cause you to be a basketball player in any significant way.

If we take "personality" to mean the psychological definition krp alluded to - "extraversion/introversion, neuroticism, openness" etc - then I think being a basketball player does not have a causal effect on personality. If we take it to mean the values and principles a person holds - Democrat/Republican, churchgoer/sex-maniac, etc - then I think it does, though not very much.

Height is part of the factors that will cause one to be a basketball player - it is one of a set of factors that cause you to have the opportunity to be good at basketball, which when coupled with factors like whether you want to be one, can cause you to be one. However it is an extremely small factor.

Using the first definition for 'personality,' the chain doesn't hold. Using the second, it does, but it's very, very weak: by that argument, genes very weakly determine personality, i.e. they are a weak factor compared to the other ones.

The difference between your chain and mine is that the strength of the causal links are different; I think they are much stronger in mine. Our genes are almost entirely responsible for the development of our memory hardware, and the state of our memory hardware is mostly responsible for how forgetful we are (though not entirely, as I think there exist techniques - memes - for improving one's memory). I also think that our forgetfulness has a large effect on our personality, regardless of which definition you take: if the former, forgetfulness will cause a person to do things like not hold grudges as much; if the latter, it will have a negative affect on their independence, which will make them more socialist (at least until technology can help them compensate).

Two other things I've thought of:

"There are no arguments that biology determines personality or needs."

What about our need to breathe air? Do you deny that this need exists? If not, what determines it?

"Which hardware a universal computer runs on does not influence the results of calculations it does."

This reminded me of the Pentium FDIV bug. Though the chip was *capable* of any computation, if you used the hardware implementation of floating-point division instead of implementing it in software, your computation would have an incorrect result. So, if you didn't implement your floating point divisions in the software, the hardware would influence the results of your computation.

A universal computer *can* be implemented in such a way that the hardware it runs on does not influence the results of the calculations it does, but it can also be implemented in such a way that the hardware it runs on *does* influence the results of the calculations it does; the difference is in what level of 'hardware acceleration' you employ. The more hardware acceleration humans employ, the more our hardware (genetics) will affect our computations (thoughts).

- Richard

Anonymous at 7:19 PM on May 31, 2009 | #1774
being a basketball player means having certain ideas. enjoying basketball, knowing how to shoot the ball, etc

'personality' includes one's ideas.

forgetfulness is ambiguous. it can be due to brain damage/malfunction, or one's way of thinking.

Anonymous at 9:44 PM on May 31, 2009 | #1777
(I'm assuming that comment is from you, Elliot - apologies if I'm wrong)

OK. In that case, yes, I'd say the argument is weakly true (because your height doesn't determine your basketball-player status very strongly; it's much more strongly determined by whether you like basketball, whether there's a team you can play with in your area, etc).

I also agree that forgetfulness *can* be due to one's way of thinking. Given that there are allegedly ways of thinking that can improve one's memory, any way of thinking that is not one of those will mean one is more forgetful than one could be.

I'm uncomfortable saying that the only other option is brain 'damage' or 'malfunction' though. What about natural limits on bandwidth, latency, etc? There are physical limits to the rate of information transfer in our brains, limits determined by our hardware design, which is determined by our genes.

What do you think of the other two things I mentioned?

- Richard

Anonymous at 3:11 AM on June 1, 2009 | #1778

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)