Our science has done wonderful things. Thanks to the internal combustion engine, vaccines, digital computers, germ theory, and plastics, we have a comfortable life here in modernity, perhaps too comfortable, because then we overlook its defects.
However, science requires a “laboratory” perspective where we can distill life down to identical objects behaving in isolation from surrounding conditions. Our linear thinking relies on testing beginning and end states of a process to see what consistent change occurs, but that assumption in turn requires us to see context, continuity over time, polycausality, and detail as error and not part of the equation, calculation, or theorem.
Even worse, science merged with our egalitarian assumptions arising from The Enlightenment™ which told us that each human had the capacity for “reason,” and therefore that we could share “universal” ideas which were true for every human being.
This led us to see humans worldwide as all the same creature, with only slightly different appearance. As it turns out, this is not only wrong, but led to us projecting us onto them. This came about through W.E.I.R.D. science:
Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior in the world’s top journals based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. Researchers – often implicitly – assume that either there is little variation across human populations, or that these “standard subjects” are as representative of the species as any other population.
The domains reviewed include visual perception, fairness, cooperation, spatial reasoning, categorization and inferential induction, moral reasoning, reasoning styles, self-concepts and related motivations, and the heritability of IQ. The findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies, including young children, are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans.
Many of these findings involve domains that are associated with fundamental aspects of psychology, motivation, and behavior – hence, there are no obvious a priori grounds for claiming that a particular behavioral phenomenon is universal based on sampling from a single subpopulation. Overall, these empirical patterns suggests that we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin, and rather unusual, slice of humanity.
This causes us to see W.E.I.R.D. traits as universally good despite them being rare and niche:
A recent survey by Arnett (2008) of the top journals in six sub-disciplines of psychology revealed that 68% of subjects were from the US and fully 96% from ‘Western’ industrialized nations (European, North American, Australian or Israeli). That works out to a 96% concentration on 12% of the world’s population (Henrich et al. 2010: 63). Or, to put it another way, you’re 4000 times more likely to be studied by a psychologist if you’re a university undergraduate at a Western university than a randomly selected individual strolling around outside the ivory tower.
I worry that W.E.I.R.D. classification flatters the WEIRD, focusing on traits that Westerners typically highlight to describe themselves in ways that are, however inadvertently, pretty self-congratulatory.
That in turn causes us to assume that the rest of the world is like us, when in fact, reality differs as understood in different areas and among different populations. We live in a bubble world created by our participation in our own moral, intellectual, and social systems that does not apply to others:
The WEIRDer you are, the more you perceive a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships, and the more you use an analytical thinking style, focusing on categories and laws, rather than a holistic style, focusing on patterns and contexts.
Morality is like The Matrix, from the movie “The Matrix.” Morality is a consensual hallucination, and when you read the WEIRD people article, it’s like taking the red pill. You see, oh my God, I am in one particular matrix. But there are lots and lots of other matrices out there.
He cites The Matrix, but he is quoting William Gibson:
He’d operated on an almost permanent adrenaline high, a byproduct of youth and proficiency, jacked into a custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix. Neuromancer (1984)
Gibson, in turn, is citing Burroughs:
In the City Market is the Meet Cafe. Followers of obsolete, unthinkable trades doodling in Etruscan, addicts of drugs not yet synthesized, pushers of souped-up Harmaline, junk reduced topure habit offering precarious vegetable serenity, liquids to induce Latah, Tithonian longevity serums, black marketeers of World War III, excisors of telepathic sensitivity, osteopaths of the spirit, investigators of infractions denounced by bland paranoid chess players, servers of fragmentary warrants taken down in hebephrenic shorthand charging unspeakable mutilations of the spirit, bureaucrats of spectral departments, officials of unconstituted police states, a Lesbian dwarf who has perfected operation Bang-utot, the lung erection that strangles a sleeping enemy, sellers of orgone tanks and relaxing machines, brokers of exquisite dreams and memories tested on the sensitized cells of junk sickness and bartered for raw materials of the will, doctors skilled in the treatment of diseases dormant in the black dust of ruined cities, gathering virulence in the white blood of eyeless worms feeling slowly to the surface and the human host, maladies of the ocean floor and the stratosphere, maladies of the laboratory and atomic war…. A place where the unknown past and the emergent future meet in a vibrating soundless hum… Larval entities waiting for a Live One… Naked Lunch (1959)
The bigger point is this: Fred Nietzsche says “there are no truths, only interpretations” and Plato points out that the interpretations rely on the interpreter, or, in other words, different people see the world differently because of different abilities.
Those abilities include specialized evolution, in the form that might occur within an isolated or self-isolating population.
This matches what we know as the Dunning-Kruger Effect, or the notion that we can only understand what we are genetically/biologically capable of understanding, and anything above that is gibberish.
Each of us has a Dunning-Kruger point. A genius human, speaking to a genius AI, may write off certain things as error that are simply too complex for him to understand, or too complex for him to understand yet, since the most interesting concepts take years for the mind to correlate detail to structure and from it, derive a sense of how they work, sort of like a snippet of computer code: a main loop, data tests with branches, if-then conditions, error handling, and data structures in which output is rendered.
When we consider universal humans, we deny the variation between human groups — regions, races, cultures, ethnic groups, social classes, families, individuals — that allows us to see the world differently:
But Benjamin has remained committed to genes, and in 2007, as genome data became cheaper and more plentiful, a new method for connecting genes to outcomes emerged: genome-wide association studies (G.W.A.S.). With the candidate-gene method, you had to essentially guess which genes might be involved, and usually got it wrong. “With G.W.A.S., you look at the whole genome and let the data tell you where there’s variation,” Benjamin says.
He went into his program believing that our social environment is largely the cause of our outcomes, and that biology is usually the dependent variable. By the end of his time, he says, the causal arrow in his mind had pretty much flipped the other way: “I tried to show for a range of outcomes that the genetic models were overstating the impact of genetics because of their crazy assumptions.” He sighs. “But I ended up showing that they’re right.”
“When we start testing out how to deliver a transit project, we’ll put it in a white neighborhood first, because we’re going to make sure that it works. Does it meet the needs of a minority neighborhood? Hell no. But we’re going to put it there anyway, because it worked in this neighborhood. This is our thinking, and this kind of thinking perpetuates the scientific view, which is ‘Science is pure!’”
Science has misled us from the awareness that different groups not only have different “values” (an amorphous term even at its best) but literally live in different realities based on what their minds can process.
This takes us back to Germanic Idealism, or the notion from Kant through Schopenhauer that our brains construct a world from a raw data feed based on what they know to recognize. To a society in which there is no word for “blue,” all of what we call blues are shades of indigo.
Unfortunately for us, The Enlightenment™ (spit) led us to deny the differences between human beings in its quest for individualism, or the ability to say that because all people have equal reason, the highest yardstick should be the human individual, and not wisdom handed down over the ages that creates a social, intellectual, moral, and divine order in which we live.
If anything, The Enlightenment™ shows us what happens when you have a society in which merchants are rising in wealth, influence, and power. In such a society, marketing/advertising becomes the norm, and it functions exclusively on the individualist principle. The question for someone trying to sell stuff is not whether it belongs or is a good use, but whether you want it right now (and have the sweaty cash in your clenched fist to pay for it).
All of our internal dialogue in the West since this time has consisted of a brave few trying to recapture the idea of order, or a pattern of organization larger than the individual, from the ravening herd created by individualism, which when collectivized becomes egalitarianism, or the demand that everyone can do whatever they want and society will soak up the costs.
This crushes our minds by forcing us into thinking that is based the illusory assumption that all humans are basically the same, have the same reason, and respond to the same tokens the same way.
Nihilists like myself reject this by embracing the idea that no universal perception exists, which is phrased as a rejection of a rejection of human universals:
Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.
Reading this in a broader sense, nihilism means a rejection of universal values, universal truths, and universal communication. You cannot say “blue” across cultures and achieve the same effect in the minds of each.
As a means for the preserving of the individual, the intellect unfolds its principle powers in dissimulation, which is the means by which weaker, less robust individuals preserve themselves-since they have been denied the chance to wage the battle for existence with horns or with the sharp teeth of beasts of prey, This art of dissimulation reaches its peak in man. Deception, flattering, lying, deluding, talking behind the back, putting up a false front, living in borrowed splendor, wearing a mask, hiding behind convention, playing a role for others and for oneself-in short, a continuous fluttering around the solitary flame of vanity-is so much the rule and the law among men that there is almost nothing which is less comprehensible than how an honest and pure drive for truth could have arisen among them. They are deeply immersed in illusions and in dream images; their eyes merely glide over the surface of things and see “forms.” Their senses nowhere lead to truth; on the contrary, they are content to receive stimuli and, as it were, to engage in a groping game on the backs of things.
The liar is a person who uses the valid designations, the words, in order to make something which is unreal appear to be real. He says, for example, “I am rich,” when the proper designation for his condition would be “poor.” He misuses fixed conventions by means of arbitrary substitutions or even reversals of names.
What is a word? It is the copy in sound of a nerve stimulus. But the further inference from the nerve stimulus to a cause outside of us is already the result of a false and unjustifiable application of the principle of sufficient reason. If truth alone had been the deciding factor in the genesis of language, and if the standpoint of certainty had been decisive for designations, then how could we still dare to say “the stone is hard,” as if “hard” were something otherwise familiar to us, and not merely a totally subjective stimulation! “On Truth And Lies In A Non-Moral Sense” (1873)
Words are tokens, and tokens depend on both parties having roughly the same perception of what the token means. However, since we differ, we understand different degrees of complexity to these terms, with some seeing more implication, structure, and context requirements than others.
The root of our egalitarian delusion lies in class warfare, which is what destroys all successful societies. When societies succeed, they produce an excess of people in the lower echelons, commonly called “workers,” who are defined by their inability to be leaders.
Instead of admitting that a natural hierarchy exists within our own groups, we denied the inequality of life and asserted equality as a religion, which led us to incorporate other groups within our W.E.I.R.D. sphere.
All of our problems come back to the struggle between haves and have nots, and by choosing equality, we have chosen the have nots, which in turn means that we are selecting against the ability for leadership. We can see this in the liberal myth as expressed in science:
The failed replication of the marshmallow test does more than just debunk the earlier notion; it suggests other possible explanations for why poorer kids would be less motivated to wait for that second marshmallow. For them, daily life holds fewer guarantees: There might be food in the pantry today, but there might not be tomorrow, so there is a risk that comes with waiting. And even if their parents promise to buy more of a certain food, sometimes that promise gets broken out of financial necessity.
Meanwhile, for kids who come from households headed by parents who are better educated and earn more money, it’s typically easier to delay gratification: Experience tends to tell them that adults have the resources and financial stability to keep the pantry well stocked. And even if these children don’t delay gratification, they can trust that things will all work out in the end—that even if they don’t get the second marshmallow, they can probably count on their parents to take them out for ice cream instead.
Some more-qualitative sociological research also can provide insight here. For example, Ranita Ray, a sociologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, recently wrote a book describing how many teenagers growing up in poverty work long hours in poorly paid jobs to support themselves and their families. Yet, despite sometimes not being able to afford food, the teens still splurge on payday, buying things like McDonald’s or new clothes or hair dye. Similarly, in my own research with Brea Perry, a sociologist (and colleague of mine) at Indiana University, we found that low-income parents are more likely than more-affluent parents to give in to their kids’ requests for sweet treats.
Notice that there is no hard data here, only “suggests other possible explanations” as a way of claiming that those explanations are equally valid and true.
In reality, the original study showed that within relatively affluent groups, the kids who were headed upward were the ones with low time preference, meaning that they preferred two marshmallows later to one now.
That is the type of mentality upon which one can build a great civilization.
Other civilizations have different values. When we look at this situation through the filter of science, which demands roughly identical laboratory rats on which to run its tests, we are misled into thinking that the scientific laboratory can be projected onto reality.
That is part of the “consensual hallucination” of the “bubble world” in which we live here in W.E.I.R.D. societies, which are those which advanced enough to encounter the problem of individualism. No one else has made it this far, or faces this problem.
Genetics show us instead that people and groups have different abilities, including different specializations, which means that we see the world entirely differently, including what we do and do not notice.
Science — of the type we have known up until now — will be overthrown by genetics. Instead of a world of universals, we will see one of particular, localized, and highly unequal and varied, even eccentric, ways of understanding.
From that comes the basis of traditional society, which includes nationalism or the idea that one ethnic group defines each civilization.
With that in mind, we can get away from the model of trying to force everyone to behave according to a universal standard of truth, values, and communication, and can instead look toward accepting difference, hierarchy, and a constant drive upward for more accurate perceptions within our group.