darwinian   43

Reconsidering epistemological scepticism – Dividuals
I blogged before about how I consider an epistemological scepticism fully compatible with being conservative/reactionary. By epistemological scepticism I mean the worldview where concepts, categories, names, classes aren’t considered real, just useful ways to categorize phenomena, but entirely mental constructs, basically just tools. I think you can call this nominalism as well. The nominalism-realism debate was certainly about this. What follows is the pro-empirical worldview where logic and reasoning is considered highly fallible: hence you don’t think and don’t argue too much, you actually look and check things instead. You rely on experience, not reasoning.


Anyhow, the argument is that there are classes, which are indeed artificial, and there are kinds, which are products of natural forces, products of causality.


And the deeper – Darwinian – argument, unspoken but obvious, is that any being with a model of reality that does not conform to such real clumps, gets eaten by a grue.

This is impressive. It seems I have to extend my one-variable epistemology to a two-variable epistemology.

My former epistemology was that we generally categorize things according to their uses or dangers for us. So “chair” is – very roughly – defined as “anything we can sit on”. Similarly, we can categorize “predator” as “something that eats us or the animals that are useful for us”.

The unspoken argument against this is that the universe or the biosphere exists neither for us nor against us. A fox can eat your rabbits and a lion can eat you, but they don’t exist just for the sake of making your life difficult.

Hence, if you interpret phenomena only from the viewpoint of their uses or dangers for humans, you get only half the picture right. The other half is what it really is and where it came from.

Copying is everything: https://dividuals.wordpress.com/2015/12/14/copying-is-everything/
Philosophy professor Ruth Millikan’s insight that everything that gets copied from an ancestor has a proper function or teleofunction: it is whatever feature or function that made it and its ancestor selected for copying, in competition with all the other similar copiable things. This would mean Aristotelean teleology is correct within the field of copyable things, replicators, i.e. within biology, although in physics still obviously incorrect.

Darwinian Reactionary drew attention to it two years ago and I still don’t understand why didn’t it generate a bigger buzz. It is an extremely important insight.

I mean, this is what we were waiting for, a proper synthesis of science and philosophy, and a proper way to rescue Aristotelean teleology, which leads to so excellent common-sense predictions that intuitively it cannot be very wrong, yet modern philosophy always denied it.

The result from that is the briding of the fact-value gap and burying the naturalistic fallacy: we CAN derive values from facts: a thing is good if it is well suitable for its natural purpose, teleofunction or proper function, which is the purpose it was selected for and copied for, the purpose and the suitability for the purpose that made the ancestors of this thing selected for copying, instead of all the other potential, similar ancestors.


What was humankind selected for? I am afraid, the answer is kind of ugly.

Men were selected to compete between groups, the cooperate within groups largely for coordinating for the sake of this competition, and have a low-key competition inside the groups as well for status and leadership. I am afraid, intelligence is all about organizing elaborate tribal raids: “coalitionary arms races”. The most civilized case, least brutal but still expensive case is arms races in prestige status, not dominance status: when Ancient Athens buildt pretty buildings and modern France built the TGV and America sent a man to the Moon in order to gain “gloire” i.e. the prestige type respect and status amongst the nations, the larger groups of mankind. If you are the type who doesn’t like blood, you should probably focus on these kinds of civilized, prestige-project competitions.

Women were selected for bearing children, for having strong and intelligent sons therefore having these heritable traits themselves (HBD kind of contradicts the more radically anti-woman aspects of RedPillery: marry a weak and stupid but attractive silly-blondie type woman and your son’s won’t be that great either), for pleasuring men and in some rarer but existing cases, to be true companions and helpers of their husbands.

- Matter: a change or movement's material cause, is the aspect of the change or movement which is determined by the material that composes the moving or changing things. For a table, that might be wood; for a statue, that might be bronze or marble.
- Form: a change or movement's formal cause, is a change or movement caused by the arrangement, shape or appearance of the thing changing or moving. Aristotle says for example that the ratio 2:1, and number in general, is the cause of the octave.
- Agent: a change or movement's efficient or moving cause, consists of things apart from the thing being changed or moved, which interact so as to be an agency of the change or movement. For example, the efficient cause of a table is a carpenter, or a person working as one, and according to Aristotle the efficient cause of a boy is a father.
- End or purpose: a change or movement's final cause, is that for the sake of which a thing is what it is. For a seed, it might be an adult plant. For a sailboat, it might be sailing. For a ball at the top of a ramp, it might be coming to rest at the bottom.

A proximate cause is an event which is closest to, or immediately responsible for causing, some observed result. This exists in contrast to a higher-level ultimate cause (or distal cause) which is usually thought of as the "real" reason something occurred.


- Ultimate causation explains traits in terms of evolutionary forces acting on them.
- Proximate causation explains biological function in terms of immediate physiological or environmental factors.
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july 2018 by nhaliday
Jordan Peterson is Wrong About the Case for the Left
I suggest that the tension of which he speaks is fully formed and self-contained completely within conservatism. Balancing those two forces is, in fact, what conservatism is all about. Thomas Sowell, in A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles describes the conservative outlook as (paraphrasing): “There are no solutions, only tradeoffs.”

The real tension is between balance on the right and imbalance on the left.

In Towards a Cognitive Theory of Polics in the online magazine Quillette I make the case that left and right are best understood as psychological profiles consisting of 1) cognitive style, and 2) moral matrix.

There are two predominant cognitive styles and two predominant moral matrices.

The two cognitive styles are described by Arthur Herman in his book The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization, in which Plato and Aristotle serve as metaphors for them. These two quotes from the book summarize the two styles:

Despite their differences, Plato and Aristotle agreed on many things. They both stressed the importance of reason as our guide for understanding and shaping the world. Both believed that our physical world is shaped by certain eternal forms that are more real than matter. The difference was that Plato’s forms existed outside matter, whereas Aristotle’s forms were unrealizable without it. (p. 61)

The twentieth century’s greatest ideological conflicts do mark the violent unfolding of a Platonist versus Aristotelian view of what it means to be free and how reason and knowledge ultimately fit into our lives (p.539-540)

The Platonic cognitive style amounts to pure abstract reason, “unconstrained” by reality. It has no limiting principle. It is imbalanced. Aristotelian thinking also relies on reason, but it is “constrained” by empirical reality. It has a limiting principle. It is balanced.

The two moral matrices are described by Jonathan Haidt in his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Moral matrices are collections of moral foundations, which are psychological adaptations of social cognition created in us by hundreds of millions of years of natural selection as we evolved into the social animal. There are six moral foundations. They are:

The first three moral foundations are called the “individualizing” foundations because they’re focused on the autonomy and well being of the individual person. The second three foundations are called the “binding” foundations because they’re focused on helping individuals form into cooperative groups.

One of the two predominant moral matrices relies almost entirely on the individualizing foundations, and of those mostly just care. It is all individualizing all the time. No balance. The other moral matrix relies on all of the moral foundations relatively equally; individualizing and binding in tension. Balanced.

The leftist psychological profile is made from the imbalanced Platonic cognitive style in combination with the first, imbalanced, moral matrix.

The conservative psychological profile is made from the balanced Aristotelian cognitive style in combination with the balanced moral matrix.

It is not true that the tension between left and right is a balance between the defense of the dispossessed and the defense of hierarchies.

It is true that the tension between left and right is between an imbalanced worldview unconstrained by empirical reality and a balanced worldview constrained by it.

A Venn Diagram of the two psychological profiles looks like this:
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july 2018 by nhaliday
Baldwin effect - Wikipedia
If animals entered a new environment—or their old environment rapidly changed—those that could flexibly respond by learning new behaviors or by ontogenetically adapting would be naturally preserved. This saved remnant would, over several generations, have the opportunity to exhibit spontaneously congenital variations similar to their acquired traits and have these variations naturally selected. It would look as though the acquired traits had sunk into the hereditary substance in a Lamarckian fashion, but the process would really be neo-Darwinian.

Selected offspring would tend to have an increased capacity for learning new skills rather than being confined to genetically coded, relatively fixed abilities. In effect, it places emphasis on the fact that the sustained behavior of a species or group can shape the evolution of that species. The "Baldwin effect" is better understood in evolutionary developmental biology literature as a scenario in which a character or trait change occurring in an organism as a result of its interaction with its environment becomes gradually assimilated into its developmental genetic or epigenetic repertoire (Simpson, 1953; Newman, 2002). In the words of Daniel Dennett,[2]

Thanks to the Baldwin effect, species can be said to pretest the efficacy of particular different designs by phenotypic (individual) exploration of the space of nearby possibilities. If a particularly winning setting is thereby discovered, this discovery will create a new selection pressure: organisms that are closer in the adaptive landscape to that discovery will have a clear advantage over those more distant.

An update to the Baldwin Effect was developed by Jean Piaget, Paul Weiss, and Conrad Waddington in the 1960s–1970s. This new version included an explicit role for the social in shaping subsequent natural change in humans (both evolutionary and developmental), with reference to alterations of selection pressures.[3]


Suppose a species is threatened by a new predator and there is a behavior that makes it more difficult for the predator to kill individuals of the species. Individuals who learn the behavior more quickly will obviously be at an advantage. As time goes on, the ability to learn the behavior will improve (by genetic selection), and at some point it will seem to be an instinct.
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march 2018 by nhaliday
Lynn Margulis | West Hunter
Margulis went on to theorize that symbiotic relationships between organisms are the dominant driving force of evolution. There certainly are important examples of this: as far as I know, every complex organism that digests cellulose manages it thru a symbiosis with various prokaryotes. Many organisms with a restricted diet have symbiotic bacteria that provide essential nutrients – aphids, for example. Tall fescue, a popular turf grass on golf courses, carries an endosymbiotic fungus. And so on, and on on.

She went on to oppose neodarwinism, particularly rejecting inter-organismal competition (and population genetics itself). From Wiki: [ She also believed that proponents of the standard theory “wallow in their zoological, capitalistic, competitive, cost-benefit interpretation of Darwin – having mistaken him… Neo-Darwinism, which insists on [the slow accrual of mutations by gene-level natural selection], is in a complete funk.”[8] ‘


You might think that Lynn Margulis is an example of someone that could think outside the box because she’d never even been able to find it in the first place – but that’s more true of autistic types [like Dirac or Turing], which I doubt she was in any way. I’d say that some traditional prejudices [dislike of capitalism and individual competition], combined with the sort of general looniness that leaves one open to unconventional ideas, drove her in a direction that bore fruit, more or less by coincidence. A successful creative scientist does not have to be right about everything, or indeed about much of anything: they need to contribute at least one new, true, and interesting thing.

“A successful creative scientist does not have to be right about everything, or indeed about much of anything: they need to contribute at least one new, true, and interesting thing.” Yes – it’s like old bands. As long as they have just one song in heavy rotation on the classic rock stations, they can tour endlessly – it doesn’t matter that they have only one or even no original members performing. A scientific example of this phenomena is Kary Mullins. He’ll always have PCR, even if a glowing raccoon did greet him with the words, “Good evening, Doctor.”

Nobel Savage: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v21/n13/steven-shapin/nobel-savage
Dancing Naked in the Mind Field by Kary Mullis

jet fuel can't melt steel beams: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/11/25/lynn-margulis/#comment-98201
You have to understand a subject extremely well to make arguments why something couldn’t have happened. The easiest cases involve some purported explanation violating a conservation law of physics: that wasn’t the case here.

Do I think you’re a hotshot, deeply knowledgeable about structural engineering, properties of materials, using computer models, etc? A priori, pretty unlikely. What are the odds that you know as much simple mechanics as I do? a priori, still pretty unlikely. Most likely, you’re talking through your hat.

Next, the conspiracy itself is unlikely: quite a few people would be involved – unlikely that none of them would talk. It’s not that easy to find people that would go along with such a thing, believe it or not. The Communists were pretty good at conspiracy, but people defected, people talked: not just Whittaker Chambers, not just Igor Gouzenko.
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november 2017 by nhaliday
Darwinian medicine - Randolph Nesse
The Dawn of Darwinian Medicine: https://sci-hub.tw/https://www.jstor.org/stable/2830330
TABLE 1 Examples of the use of the theory of natural selection to predict the existence of phenomena otherwise unsuspected
TABLE 2 A classification of phenomena associated with infectious disease
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november 2017 by nhaliday
Logic | West Hunter
All the time I hear some public figure saying that if we ban or allow X, then logically we have to ban or allow Y, even though there are obvious practical reasons for X and obvious practical reasons against Y.

No, we don’t.


compare: https://pinboard.in/u:nhaliday/b:190b299cf04a

Small Change Good, Big Change Bad?: https://www.overcomingbias.com/2018/02/small-change-good-big-change-bad.html
And on reflection it occurs to me that this is actually THE standard debate about change: some see small changes and either like them or aren’t bothered enough to advocate what it would take to reverse them, while others imagine such trends continuing long enough to result in very large and disturbing changes, and then suggest stronger responses.

For example, on increased immigration some point to the many concrete benefits immigrants now provide. Others imagine that large cumulative immigration eventually results in big changes in culture and political equilibria. On fertility, some wonder if civilization can survive in the long run with declining population, while others point out that population should rise for many decades, and few endorse the policies needed to greatly increase fertility. On genetic modification of humans, some ask why not let doctors correct obvious defects, while others imagine parents eventually editing kid genes mainly to max kid career potential. On oil some say that we should start preparing for the fact that we will eventually run out, while others say that we keep finding new reserves to replace the ones we use.


If we consider any parameter, such as typical degree of mind wandering, we are unlikely to see the current value as exactly optimal. So if we give people the benefit of the doubt to make local changes in their interest, we may accept that this may result in a recent net total change we don’t like. We may figure this is the price we pay to get other things we value more, and we we know that it can be very expensive to limit choices severely.

But even though we don’t see the current value as optimal, we also usually see the optimal value as not terribly far from the current value. So if we can imagine current changes as part of a long term trend that eventually produces very large changes, we can become more alarmed and willing to restrict current changes. The key question is: when is that a reasonable response?

First, big concerns about big long term changes only make sense if one actually cares a lot about the long run. Given the usual high rates of return on investment, it is cheap to buy influence on the long term, compared to influence on the short term. Yet few actually devote much of their income to long term investments. This raises doubts about the sincerity of expressed long term concerns.

Second, in our simplest models of the world good local choices also produce good long term choices. So if we presume good local choices, bad long term outcomes require non-simple elements, such as coordination, commitment, or myopia problems. Of course many such problems do exist. Even so, someone who claims to see a long term problem should be expected to identify specifically which such complexities they see at play. It shouldn’t be sufficient to just point to the possibility of such problems.


Fourth, many more processes and factors limit big changes, compared to small changes. For example, in software small changes are often trivial, while larger changes are nearly impossible, at least without starting again from scratch. Similarly, modest changes in mind wandering can be accomplished with minor attitude and habit changes, while extreme changes may require big brain restructuring, which is much harder because brains are complex and opaque. Recent changes in market structure may reduce the number of firms in each industry, but that doesn’t make it remotely plausible that one firm will eventually take over the entire economy. Projections of small changes into large changes need to consider the possibility of many such factors limiting large changes.

Fifth, while it can be reasonably safe to identify short term changes empirically, the longer term a forecast the more one needs to rely on theory, and the more different areas of expertise one must consider when constructing a relevant model of the situation. Beware a mere empirical projection into the long run, or a theory-based projection that relies on theories in only one area.

We should very much be open to the possibility of big bad long term changes, even in areas where we are okay with short term changes, or at least reluctant to sufficiently resist them. But we should also try to hold those who argue for the existence of such problems to relatively high standards. Their analysis should be about future times that we actually care about, and can at least roughly foresee. It should be based on our best theories of relevant subjects, and it should consider the possibility of factors that limit larger changes.

And instead of suggesting big ways to counter short term changes that might lead to long term problems, it is often better to identify markers to warn of larger problems. Then instead of acting in big ways now, we can make sure to track these warning markers, and ready ourselves to act more strongly if they appear.

Growth Is Change. So Is Death.: https://www.overcomingbias.com/2018/03/growth-is-change-so-is-death.html
I see the same pattern when people consider long term futures. People can be quite philosophical about the extinction of humanity, as long as this is due to natural causes. Every species dies; why should humans be different? And few get bothered by humans making modest small-scale short-term modifications to their own lives or environment. We are mostly okay with people using umbrellas when it rains, moving to new towns to take new jobs, etc., digging a flood ditch after our yard floods, and so on. And the net social effect of many small changes is technological progress, economic growth, new fashions, and new social attitudes, all of which we tend to endorse in the short run.

Even regarding big human-caused changes, most don’t worry if changes happen far enough in the future. Few actually care much about the future past the lives of people they’ll meet in their own life. But for changes that happen within someone’s time horizon of caring, the bigger that changes get, and the longer they are expected to last, the more that people worry. And when we get to huge changes, such as taking apart the sun, a population of trillions, lifetimes of millennia, massive genetic modification of humans, robots replacing people, a complete loss of privacy, or revolutions in social attitudes, few are blasé, and most are quite wary.

This differing attitude regarding small local changes versus large global changes makes sense for parameters that tend to revert back to a mean. Extreme values then do justify extra caution, while changes within the usual range don’t merit much notice, and can be safely left to local choice. But many parameters of our world do not mostly revert back to a mean. They drift long distances over long times, in hard to predict ways that can be reasonably modeled as a basic trend plus a random walk.

This different attitude can also make sense for parameters that have two or more very different causes of change, one which creates frequent small changes, and another which creates rare huge changes. (Or perhaps a continuum between such extremes.) If larger sudden changes tend to cause more problems, it can make sense to be more wary of them. However, for most parameters most change results from many small changes, and even then many are quite wary of this accumulating into big change.

For people with a sharp time horizon of caring, they should be more wary of long-drifting parameters the larger the changes that would happen within their horizon time. This perspective predicts that the people who are most wary of big future changes are those with the longest time horizons, and who more expect lumpier change processes. This prediction doesn’t seem to fit well with my experience, however.

Those who most worry about big long term changes usually seem okay with small short term changes. Even when they accept that most change is small and that it accumulates into big change. This seems incoherent to me. It seems like many other near versus far incoherences, like expecting things to be simpler when you are far away from them, and more complex when you are closer. You should either become more wary of short term changes, knowing that this is how big longer term change happens, or you should be more okay with big long term change, seeing that as the legitimate result of the small short term changes you accept.

The point here is the gradual shifts of in-group beliefs are both natural and no big deal. Humans are built to readily do this, and forget they do this. But ultimately it is not a worry or concern.

But radical shifts that are big, whether near or far, portend strife and conflict. Either between groups or within them. If the shift is big enough, our intuition tells us our in-group will be in a fight. Alarms go off.
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may 2017 by nhaliday
Victorian naturalists | EVOLVING ECONOMICS
Being a naturalist in the Victorian era was a different exercise to today. From Darwin’s The Descent of Man:

Many kinds of monkeys have a strong taste for tea, coffee, and spiritous liquors: they will also, as I have myself seen, smoke tobacco with pleasure. (6. The same tastes are common to some animals much lower in the scale. Mr. A. Nichols informs me that he kept in Queensland, in Australia, three individuals of the Phaseolarctus cinereus [koalas]; and that, without having been taught in any way, they acquired a strong taste for rum, and for smoking tobacco.) Brehm asserts that the natives of north-eastern Africa catch the wild baboons by exposing vessels with strong beer, by which they are made drunk. He has seen some of these animals, which he kept in confinement, in this state; and he gives a laughable account of their behaviour and strange grimaces. On the following morning they were very cross and dismal; they held their aching heads with both hands, and wore a most pitiable expression: when beer or wine was offered them, they turned away with disgust, but relished the juice of lemons. An American monkey, an Ateles, after getting drunk on brandy, would never touch it again, and thus was wiser than many men. These trifling facts prove how similar the nerves of taste must be in monkeys and man, and how similarly their whole nervous system is affected.
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may 2017 by nhaliday

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