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« Mental Capacities of Leaders - What Should We Expect? | Main | What is a Smart Species Like Us Doing in a Predicament Like This? »

January 25, 2012


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Aboc Zed


Thanks for the link to the onion’s mock news reporting. You call this serious but I would disagree. I would call this uninformed emotional cry for help.

You see we all know that if you say to someone that he/she should not have been born they would never agree if they are healthy. If one thinks he can say that to other people he should first say it to himself. And if one thinks about himself that he should have never been born then he must be depressed and not mentally healthy.

This is precisely why talking about overpopulation in terms of “how many people need to be killed to bring the mass of humanity in line with carrying capacity of the planet” is not funny, not smart and not serious.

People do not choose to be born. Population grows because the genetic imperative to procreate is evolutionary much older (billions of years) and much stronger than cogitation in relationals in pro-anthropoids that eventually lead to deliberative capability of Homo Sapiens Sapiens (millions of years).

George introduced the term “Sapience” to refer to a specific region in neo-cortex that regulates mental processes in such a way as to modulate and even override when needed the immediate reactions produced by the older systems of the brain (limbic system - lizard brain, etc. ) The concept of sapience is also linked to experiential nature of existence and is ability of brain to “tap into tacit knowledge” - the knowledge that is acquired by individuals over lifetime of experience and often is not formulated explicitly and never makes into consciousness. One of the ways of thinking about sapience is to view it as the foundation of “wisdom”. In other words, if an individual is born with higher sapience it is very likely that at certain age he will end up “wiser” than someone who had less sapience.

George postulates that in average human “sapience” is not at the level required to deal with the complexity brought about by evolutionary success of the species.

Individuals of inadequate sapience are more numerous in the species and this gives rise to the government that is not “sapient enough” to deal with ever increasing complexity. To make the long story short, what we observe now and will live through over next 50 to 100 years can be called “population bottleneck event” in which the downward spiral of die-off will begin (by many accounts it has already began) and will continue for as long as the average sapience level of the species is not high enough to make “sapient government” possible (presumably the individuals with higher and highest level of sapience will find the way to identify each other , organize together and “survive” the bottle neck event; this will increase proportion of higher sapience individuals and bumps up the average sapience level of the species).

I have summarized George’s material in this comment and may have not done it adequately. George of course will correct me but you can always find the source material in the links to the right – go to index series.

I regard George’s presentation of the trajectory of evolution to be good. I may have phrased certain elements of the narrative differently and may have employed different language but the core message would be very similar.

The key points that I find of most importance are these:

1. The further speciation of genus Homo is under way. Eventually Homo Sapiens Sapiens will be superseded by evolutionary more fit species.

2. Science has progressed far enough to provide a narrative sufficient to understand the reality of the process in item 1.

3. If we apply ourselves to understanding the science we may find the way to identify those who are uniquely positioned to survive the population bottleneck event and be the link from Homo Sapiens Sapiens to the species that will live in line with carrying capacity of the planet manipulating itself in such a way as to keep going all the way to the point in time when our star Sun will go “POOF” and the basis for life on our planet cease to exist.


Hey AZ, two points.

First, I would reread the Onion article with this point in mind: the joke is that it's not funny. The Onion is notorious for writing some extremely blunt articles that are only funny on the existential absurdity level. We have known about overpopulation for centuries (half a century with our current technology) and yet instead of changing behavior peacefully we've gotten to a crisis point. So the joke is the concept that all of a sudden people would even accept the idea of carrying capacity or do anything about it on a personal level (including the people highlighting the issue).

And then of course there is a dig about post-Bottleneck civilization in the last bit, ""Hopefully, the people who remain on the planet will use the mass slaughter of their friends and loved ones as an incentive to be more responsible going forward," he added."

Which brings me to my second point and the undertone of the Onion article. I don't exactly buy George's hypothesis for a multitude of reasons, but the first and foremost is that I don't think there will be enough passivity in the reaction to the bottleneck event to allow it to occur.

If people really just all reacted individually and without any awareness, then sure, it could be selected like that. I think far more likely is mass war and destruction that will destroy enough population and infrastructure to make things "sustainable" again -- until it's not.

It won't be pitched in those terms of course, there will always be some political justification. But at the end of the day if it comes down to "we have to suffer or we can destroy enough others so we can take the resources" I'm pretty sure that'll happen. I'm not even saying it'll be successful all the time and a lot of major players will go down trying to do so.

I personally think it'll be much more like post-Roman Empire Europe where the geographic political structures are small, but the ideological ones remain strong as ever.


Two things I didn't make clear. One is that a lot of "serious" people in charge in the financial and military complexes do look at the world the way that the Onion is "joking" about.

The second is an anecdote.

I say Marvin Minsky give a talk a few years ago in which he said he thought that the reason AI hasn't progressed to true intelligence was because it didn't have any emotion. His theory is that rationality isn't enough to determine what to do in all cases because it can easily get stuck in loops and/or have lack of information. He thinks that humans use emotion to break these deadlocks/set value judgements that then allow for rational decision making.

He also went on what seemed like a rant about overpopulation, stating that billions of people needed to die and suggesting that we start with Africa and most of Asia. Of course this caused outrage over much of the room.

My summary doesn't do the talk justice because it in no way captures his meandering presentation and it wasn't until a year later that I was reflecting on it that I understood his true point.

I then realized why Carl Sagan said that Minsky was one of only two people he met whose intellectual surpassed his (the other being Asimov).

I look at the Onion article in that vein.

Aboc Zed


In my comment I mentioned downward _spiral_ of die-off.

In other words the die-off (killing each other in vilent uprising or quiet cleansing of lessers by elites)will continue for as long as science does not penetrates elites and the "average sapiens" does not rise.

How long will it continue? I don't know? Will it eradicate human race? Unlikely. When the system reaches dynamix stability? Impossible to predict.
How do I kow that the system will ever reach dynamix stability? Very simple: genetic imperative to survive that is a property of any life-form, human race included. At some point we will get tired of going thru the same cycle and learn by experience - the only way we learn.

Is it possible that we simply blow up the planet? Of course it is possible - say a nuclear war in wich all of the landmass is contaminated with radiation and there is not enough clean water and food stored away to carry tru the genetic material intact. But this scenario is not much different from what will happen to the planet 4 billion from now: without energy of the Sun life cannot continue. So if looked from a grand scheme of things this scenario is not interesting - we already know it will happen - now or 4 billion years in the future what's the difference?

What is interestring is what are the conditions of us being able to pass the bottle neck event and actually learn and give rise to the species that would achieve sustainability.

that is the exciting question worth spending one's free time. Of course if one has "free time". That is "free" as in "in access of the time necessary for fighting for survival". I think collectively we will always have such "free time" even as individuals most of us are thinking about how to put food on the table.

George Mobus


Methinks a good deal of sapience can be achieved by getting aware of and then transcending the psychotic powers of one's ego.

This may be palliative to some but I think it really works the other way around. Being more sapient allows one to naturally transcend the ego. Cause and effect.


I appreciate the fact that the Green Party has identified the proximal cause of many real (financial) problems that beset the 99%, but they still cling to a delusion that prevents them from seeing that there is a more distal cause and that such cause may preclude any real solution. Their belief in green energy and green jobs is still just another form of desire to keep the current system chugging along but with a different source of energy. With every passing week I am seeing more evidence that alternative energy technologies are simply not up to the task.

There is no political or economics-as-usual solution to what we face.


Saw that one. Didn't know, at first where it came from. The text was sent to me by someone. Did a double take after about the third paragraph - this couldn't be for real! Then I noticed the URL. As soon as I realized it was the Onion...

Oliver P,

So here's my question: Is psychopathic behaviour indicative of a sub-species of homo sapiens?

Hmm. Actually I know of no accepted definition of subspecies for human beings. The general rule for naming a subspecies is that you have more than one population of a species that have somewhat different phenotypes and that do not generally mate. This is thought to be the first step on a path toward full speciation. It is now thought that there have been several subspecies of Homo sapiens after the major dispersions out of Africa, but once humans started mass migrations and travel, the tendency toward separation was destroyed so that, today, we only have one subspecies, generally called Homo sapiens sapiens. The major racial groups may have represented the early tendency toward subspecies delineation, but with the amount of intermingling that has gone on for the last 20,000 years or more, that has been pretty well brought to a halt.

Since psychopaths can pretty much marry non-psychopaths I would not think they could represent any kind of subspecies. Rather they are in the normal distribution of psychological profiles having to do with empathy, etc. To become considered as a subspecies we would have to see them differentially choosing psychopathic mates and producing psychopathic children. The tough part is that psychopathic behavior doesn't emerge until one is at least a teen or later. It may have genetic roots, but only as anomalies. Being psychopathic is probably not a route to evolutionary fitness because psychopaths would act the same toward each other as well as non-psychopaths!


A reasonable summary!

RE: Mikkel's comment:

I don't exactly buy George's hypothesis for a multitude of reasons, but the first and foremost is that I don't think there will be enough passivity in the reaction to the bottleneck event to allow it to occur.

I don't think I hypothesized on the basis of "passivity". My 'hypothesis' is that sufficiently sapient people will recognize and understand this and prepare as needed. If the claim is that there is absolutely no possible preparation, then that would be a bit difficult to demonstrate.

I am not saying anything is guaranteed to work, only that something should be attempted to preserve some form of sapient sentience post-collapse.


Anywhere But Here Is Better

George, thank you so much for your thoughtful response to my enquiry about psychopaths.
Much food for thought for me, in my quest to understand my "fellow man" who appears intelligent but seemingly does not to act to propagate or promote homo sapiens sapiens in general, but merely to further his own narrow gene pool.
Then again, this would fit with your concept of psychopaths belonging within the "normal distribution of psychological profiles."
I remain astounded that one outcome of psychopathic behaviour results in prison or capital punishment for murder, while another outcome brings power and prestige to a great number of our "leaders".
In my lighter moments, I almost think I can spot them by the gleam in their eyes (as demonstrated to a worrying level by one of our previous Prime Ministers, who is now unaffectionately referred to as Tony B Liar.)
Best wishes from this side of the pond, Oliver P

George Mobus


Keep us posted with your thinking.


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