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  • The Human Condition

    I'm a recent thread I was discussing how humans are amongst a short list of eusocial species. Amount the most successful are social insects who make up as much as 30 percent of animal biomass in some ecological systems and 80 percent of insect biomass overall. E. O. Wilson the leading proponent of multilevel selection and the eusocial concept states that many social animals such as wolves and chimpanzees never crossed the threshold to be true eusocial species. Many social species are stuck in what could be called kin selection of you ignore the more technical description of kin selection. Judging from human instincts we would be stuck in this pre-euocial state with our closest relatives the chimpanzees in the absence of culture.

    E. O. Wilson famously said of socialism "great idea, wrong species". Many people have made the erroneous analogy between socialism and ant "culture". The assumption being if humans were more "ant like" socialism would be workable but since humans are not "ant like" It is unworkable . It is true that ants are not hierarchical, the entire ant system runs on pheromones, it is a system that resembles the new socialism of equity, diversity and inclusion. In an ant colony each individual goes about their work without any coercion from higher status individuals. It is from each according to their ability to the needs of the colony. The problem with the analogy is that humans are ant like in any "high" culture.The

    Substitute ideology for pheromones and human and ant cultures are very similar. The problem in human culture is that the function of any given individual is poorly defined. Human cultures function well when there are institutions that establish hierarchies of competence. Many people will argue but what about our chimpanzee biology? It is true that human instincts are incompatible with hierarchies of competence but we are not a biological species in a civilized society. To illustrate this point consider the "wild child". Children raised in isolation are not only socially undeveloped but are lacking in key physical development in areas of the brain related to communication. If you were raised in isolation you would not only have a permanent IQ under 70 but forget the jungle book and Tarzan you would be fairly helpless.

    More later if I'm motivated.
    We hunt the hunters

  • #2
    While you're motivating yourself, consider the concept of free will as it applies to humans but not to ants, whose behavior is genetically predetermined.

    Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Who is watching the watchers?

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Mountain Man View Post
      While you're motivating yourself, consider the concept of free will as it applies to humans but not to ants, whose behavior is genetically predetermined.

      I'm glad you brought up freewill because the denial there of is the greatest intellectual assault on civilization in today's world. The denial of freewill is fashionable for the same reason religion is unfashionable. That is that the fantastic success of science has made determinism fashionable. Although thousands of books have been written on the topic some simplification is called for owing to nature of this communication format.

      We should first acknowledge that no epistemological system has come close to science in providing proximate understanding of the universe and everything it contains. Science requires two a prior conditions, the phenomenon you are studying must be observable and your theory falsifiable. It works best where the environment in which the observations being made can be simplified. It's this control over variables that make all the answers science gives us proximate. Complex chaotic systems have proven difficult to address with traditional scientific methods because the variables cannot be restricted.

      When we discuss freewill there are two complex chaotic systems to deal with human biology and culture. Determinists tend to focus on evolutionary biology because that is where the variables are easiest to control. Culture on the other hand is amorphous by nature. As it turns out culture not biology is the source of "freewill".

      More later I have to run for now, my freewill has been compromised by my wife.
      We hunt the hunters

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      • #4
        It is interesting that the determinist hegemony that has grown out of the success of the scientific method has become so absolutist. From the scientific perspective absolute truths appear trivial. That is not to say that there have not been nontrivial truths uncovered such as evolution but that the devil is in the details. In this case the devilish detail is what do you mean by freewill. The traditional religious perspective makes freewill absolute as do the determinists in there opposition. There is however a more nuanced definition.

        If we define freewill as the ability to make choices then even the ants have freewill. It becomes a matter of degree not kind. That degree is measured by another poorly understood phenomenon we call intelligence. Eusocial insects intelligence is almost entirely of the swarm variety but that is the case with humans as well. Our intelligence is a cultural not a swarm phenomenon as demonstrated by the discussion of the wild child above. We study history as if it were the equivalent of the pheromone trail that ants use in decision making. All of the experience passed on to us is like the winding pheromone trails of the ant. Some are dead ends and some sustain us.

        Please carefully consider Daniel Dennett's arguments on freewill.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrCZYDm5D8M

        We hunt the hunters

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        • #5
          This topic unavoidably requires that intelligence be addressed. For our purposes I think we can define intelligence as the ability to solve problems. In general that means the ability to detect patterns and generate multiple responses.

          You could use a biological definition which traditionally defined intelligence as a property of life. From this perspective the ability to respond to stimulus in a manner that increases fitness is a property of all life firms.

          As it pertains to this discussion the key thing to understand is that stimulus and observation are interchangeable. From that we can conclude that the scientific method is embedded in biology. To put it another way knowing requires experience. How this relates to culture I will cover in another post.
          We hunt the hunters

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          • #6
            Originally posted by wolfhnd View Post
            This topic unavoidably requires that intelligence be addressed. For our purposes I think we can define intelligence as the ability to solve problems. In general that means the ability to detect patterns and generate multiple responses.

            You could use a biological definition which traditionally defined intelligence as a property of life. From this perspective the ability to respond to stimulus in a manner that increases fitness is a property of all life firms.

            As it pertains to this discussion the key thing to understand is that stimulus and observation are interchangeable. From that we can conclude that the scientific method is embedded in biology. To put it another way knowing requires experience. How this relates to culture I will cover in another post.
            I disagree with stimulus equaling observation. Observation is a simple act of seeing and recognizing something. Stimulus is the emotional/biological response to what is observed, highly subjective and determined almost entirely by culture, and by that portion hardwired into our lizard brains.

            A Western man seeing a beautiful woman in a bikini responds to her beauty and sexuality in a positive way. A Muslim man responds with anger and in many cases homicidal rage.

            OTH, both men, observing a madman with a machete running at them screaming at the top of his voice, will experience the same emotional stimulus, fight or flight. the choice will depend on background, training and how lucky they feel at that particular moment!

            Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Who is watching the watchers?

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Mountain Man View Post

              I disagree with stimulus equaling observation. Observation is a simple act of seeing and recognizing something. Stimulus is the emotional/biological response to what is observed, highly subjective and determined almost entirely by culture, and by that portion hardwired into our lizard brains.

              A Western man seeing a beautiful woman in a bikini responds to her beauty and sexuality in a positive way. A Muslim man responds with anger and in many cases homicidal rage.

              OTH, both men, observing a madman with a machete running at them screaming at the top of his voice, will experience the same emotional stimulus, fight or flight. the choice will depend on background, training and how lucky they feel at that particular moment!
              Of course humans are the deeply cultural animal.

              If course words have meaning and response to stimulus is not response to observation but within the limited biological context I outlined it's a matter of degree not kind.
              We hunt the hunters

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              • #8
                Why do I have this suspicion that you teach this stuff?
                Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Who is watching the watchers?

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Mountain Man View Post
                  Why do I have this suspicion that you teach this stuff?
                  Probably because I have spent a lot of time since I retired watching lectures. Many universities have free classes you can watch online. Lately I have spent less time watching lectures as the culture war heats up. Like all hobbies these activities could be considered a waste of time or worse but manual labor keeps my life balanced.
                  We hunt the hunters

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by wolfhnd View Post

                    Probably because I have spent a lot of time since I retired watching lectures. Many universities have free classes you can watch online. Lately I have spent less time watching lectures as the culture war heats up. Like all hobbies these activities could be considered a waste of time or worse but manual labor keeps my life balanced.
                    I understand. I watch the science shows a lot myself. (Not the ones featuring crazy Greek guys talking about aliens, either.) In between times, I'm always working on some project or other from the massive honey-do list.

                    Meanwhile:

                    If course words have meaning and response to stimulus is not response to observation but within the limited biological context I outlined it's a matter of degree not kind.
                    Depending on the type of stimuli, I would agree; however, fight-or-fight in one of the most basic reactions we possess. It takes discipline and training to decide what other responses one wishes to initiate. This is why large crowds panic and rush around like headless chickens; they cannot formulate a proportional response but instead react to the biggest stimulus, often without seeing the original observable trigger.
                    Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Who is watching the watchers?

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Mountain Man View Post
                      Depending on the type of stimuli, I would agree; however, fight-or-fight in one of the most basic reactions we possess. It takes discipline and training to decide what other responses one wishes to initiate. This is why large crowds panic and rush around like headless chickens; they cannot formulate a proportional response but instead react to the biggest stimulus, often without seeing the original observable trigger.
                      I compared ideology in humans to pheromones in ants but ideology is just one aspect of culture. The reason we are looking at ants is that they are one of the few other eusocial social animals. The difference between "kin" selection in non eusocial social animals and multilevel selection in eusocial animals is important. In multilevel selection selection takes place at both the group and individual levels. For simplicity kin selection operates at minimal levels of cooperation among extended family members. Although there have been theories such as the homosexual uncle that propose deeper complexity in kin selection they have not held up to scrutiny very well. I would argue that swarm intelligence is the key to understanding multilevel or group selection. In a way you could say that it's all about communication or networks.

                      Ants are of course entirely instinctual but we should not underestimate the complexity of instincts. Insects engage in complex mating behavior using a brain the size of a pin head. That said it isn't the complexity of the instincts that make ants relatively successfully but swarm intelligence. Similarly it isn't the power of the human brain that makes human so successful but culture. Stripped of culture humans would be no more numerous than other scavengers and stripped of social structure no more numerous than orangutans. To be eusocial you must be both highly cooperative and have a complex language.

                      The old behaviorist idea of simple instincts such as instincts being limited to simple behaviors such as fight or flight need to be dispensed with. Simple algorithms in the right environment produce highly complex behavior. Just as determinism does not mean predetermined predisposition does does not mean automation.
                      We hunt the hunters

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                      • #12
                        I think you are giving the ants far too much credit. Instinct does not compare to the type of complex planning engaged in by humans, who are capable of going beyond basic instinctual behavior.

                        As for life without a cultural matrix, your point is valid but not ironclad. Individuals can and do live quite well entirely outside of the surrounding culture, although not everyone is capable of it.
                        Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Who is watching the watchers?

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Mountain Man View Post

                          As for life without a cultural matrix, your point is valid but not ironclad. Individuals can and do live quite well entirely outside of the surrounding culture, although not everyone is capable of it.
                          Without the thinking tools and physical tools that culture provides?
                          We hunt the hunters

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                          • #14
                            Physical tools exist without culture, as does thinking. Man had tools and thought processes to solve problems long before he created cultures, and some of us are still capable of that.
                            Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Who is watching the watchers?

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                            • #15
                              Culture and tools are indistinguishable at any level of complexity above simple manipulations. More importantly it is the tools that culture provides that allowed the evolution of a large brain not the other way around. The Human species would not exist without culture.
                              We hunt the hunters

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