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August 06, 2013

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June Calender

I SO agree with you. Thanks for the post, I hope others feel the same.

Oliver

Sad anniversary marking the nadir of 20th century humankind. As far as I understand it, the rationale for the second bomb was to test its efficacy in the field against the first one. This compounded the evilest evil perpetrated by the button pressers.

In some parallel universe, scientists refused to cooperate with the Manhattan Project, and hundreds of thousands of civilians weren't sacrificed to the God of Mammon.

I wish I could retain a shred of hope about life now. However, thanks to your great work on QE, I do have faint optimism regarding the next evolutionary step beyond 'Homo sapiens fractus'. Thanks for that.

G Shannon

The dropping of those two bombs was a horrendous demonstration of the inhumanity of humanity. Ironically, however, it might just be the horror of that event that saved the human from nuclear war in the 20th century. Without that grim example of the destructiveness of atomic weapons we might have allowed ourselves to instigate a wider thermonuclear war with even greater loss of life.

I'm not saying that those two bombs were a good thing. Perish the thought. But there might, just might be a silver lining in there somewhere.

Paul Chefurka

Those sapients who refused to go along with the madness - like Oppenheimer and Wiener - were cast into the outer darkness. But Edward Teller stayed...

It makes me a little melancholy, yes it does.

Molly

When i taught high school social studies classes, I would show my students the film - "Hiroshima-Nagasaki - August 1945." The UW history prof, Jon Bridgman, put me onto the film, saying the US government had tried to prevent people from seeing it. It was shot in those two cities by Japanese camera- men shortly after those two blasts. It is VERY difficult to watch, and shows, to devastating effect, what nuclear weapons do to people. After seeing this film, few of my students continued to support the idea of nuclear weapons. I doubt that many - any(?) - US gov't officials have seen this film, and I suspect that only a VERY teeny percent of the general public have seen it. The use of nuclear weapons makes terrorist attacks look like not all that much, not I condone violence of ANY kind.

Tom

What's even more suspect is the fact that we then decided to use our giddy cleverness to build power plants using this "new tool" technology, and to top it off - place these facilities on geologic fault lines!!

WEEEEEE!

Way to GO "clever" humanity!

Strummer

"but as a window into the nature of humans as we are."

The same can be said about Nanking, Unit 371 and the 20 million (!!!) chinese slaughtered by the japanese. I usually agree with your articles 100%, but this one misses the mark. It was not the US who started the horrors, it was the japanese, and we should be forever thankful to the US for ending it without further millions of casualties on both sides. Not to mention the obvious fact that Hiroshima and Nagasaki most likely prevented World War III from happening later.

sorlaize

Well, what is sapience? What is intelligence? I could define intelligence as some general (abstract) force/function that sustains itself.

We haven't made it a major point of consideration to employ a check on ourselves (i.e. Christian God) within the globalized-capitalism economy.

"The problem" runs rings around the entire set of facets of human existence, which itself, which any of our narratives (validation/gratification/survival) fall flat on explaining in isolation.

To comment on or to critique human civilization or intelligence or sapience or "what is all this?" is to bring in every single one of those facets, impressions, sentiments .. the list is so long.

I am always adding to what I know to try to write about it all, and I seem to have made far more sense of it myself than anyone I've read.

I can't begin to talk about one issue. They are all interconnected and so my articles and thoughts jump around everywhere. I have some writings here: whatislife.ws

Bonce

I agree with most of this article except for the emphasis on sapience as the key factor in world events and global outcomes. I wouldn't wish to knock the idea that humans have insufficient sapience - that's something we should all bear in mind individually and collectively. And there is a broad logic that poor reasoning tends to lead to worse outcomes. But are wars and destructive policies a result of a lack of species sapience? What is the explanatory power of limited sapience when analysing world events? And what should our focus be if we want a better future?

We cannot vary species sapience, just make better use of it. Is it not defeatist to suggest that this weakness is a cause of our failure? And are we not components of a system (the level on which the outcome is judged)? In which case, can eusapience (new term to me) emerge at the organisational/societal level?

Taking Nagasaki as an example act of evil, how could we have avoided it? I don't think that increased species sapience would necessarily change the outcome (e.g. less naivety to propaganda). Collective harm can be framed as the result of agendas (which emanate from small groups/classes of people: elites, rulers, 1%). If Nagasaki is viewed in the context of a political struggle between minority warmongering interests and majority peaceful interests (collective good of the species), then the determining factor is political structure, not sapience.

Also, what is the validity of the collective 'we' when considering decision-making for global events which are guided by a minority group against the interests of the majority?

There is a mainstream orthodoxy of looking at terrible events as "mistakes" or to say that "we made mistakes along the way". Western policies on Iraq are commonly referred to as "mistaken" - the result of insufficient knowledge and/or intelligence - that just isn't credible. However, if one posits a set of agendas, then one can ask - did the decision-makers benefit (rational, clever) or not (irrational, mistaken)? Iraq is a good example - catastrophic for the collective world, but highly beneficial to those with the power to influence the decisions/events (oil, arms, markets, geopolitics, etc.). (Hopefully this is self-evident, I don't mean to start a political debate here.)

Despite the lack of species sapience (individually), the determining factor in the outcomes for the species (utopia vs dystopia vs extinction) is surely our sociopolitical structure - in loose terms, the struggle between good and evil. I suggest that solutions come via a focus on the sociopolitical processes (who decides what happens). Those with evil agendas - such as warmongers - spend a good deal of effort (focus their sapience) on targeting sociopolitical processes (propaganda and control of information, targeting opposition, framing culture, etc.). Though much is documented, I'm not saying this is always done in a conscious, delineated or coherent manner. It is a complex system, but the structures, components and processes are identifiable and might be addressed (there is a hope of doing so).

Sociopolitical processes have enabled cruel and destructive actions since societies began, but also engendered reaction and progress against such injustice. Those of us who want to do good (promote collective outcomes) should have the same focus as those who pursue harmful self-interest - to unravel and engage the sociopolitical processes to our collective advantage. For example, to question orthodox understandings of events - this is clearly necessary with Hiroshima/Nagasaki and Iraq, etc.

On the other hand, we (those of us who pursue collective outcomes) should be aware of the organisational difficulties (internal and external) caused by our limited species sapience. Therefore, we (the majority) need good organisational methods to be effective (forms of accountability, pluralism, scepticism, wikis, whatever).

George Mobus

@June C.

Thanks. As you can see, down-thread, Strummer might hold a different view. People in the US are extremely conflicted about the whole issue. I have a good friend who maintains that those bombs saved the life of his father who was suiting up for a land invasion of Japan. Perhaps they did.

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@Oliver, G. Shannon, Paul, Molly, and Tom,

Thanks for remembering and contemplating the larger meaning of such historical events.

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@Strummer,

That the Japanese started anything is still well in the argument re: lack of sapience in any population of humans.

I have a reading recommendation for you. Takaki, Ronald (1995). Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb, Little Brown, Boston MA. He was among the first people to get to examine Truman's papers when they were declassified. At least consider some alternative arguments.

Also consider this, my main point, while, yes, the act of destroying two cities did end the war, was that really the only alternative approach? Did it take killing civilians en masse to end the war? And as to whether the act prevented WWIII, well that is high conjecture is it not? I was a participant in the Cold War. I was privy to thinking about what really was behind the prevention of all-out nuclear war. The fear of nuclear annihilation wasn't based on seeing what it did to two Japanese cities. It was recognizing what it would do to the earth, using not atom bombs, but hydrogen bombs. The only thing that the bombings demonstrated is that humans are stupid enough to push the button on all-out destruction.

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@solarize,

Well, what is sapience? What is intelligence?

I've attempted to answer these questions in a relatively thorough way at:
Sapience Working Papers.

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@Bonce,

But are wars and destructive policies a result of a lack of species sapience? What is the explanatory power of limited sapience when analysing world events? And what should our focus be if we want a better future?

Broadly I claim that such things are a lack of wisdom and that the lack of wisdom (in both leaders and the led) is indeed the cause of these outcomes. That is the explanatory power!

As for a better world, I have written often that we, as the current species of Homo cannot look for a better world. We cannot undo what we have unwisely done. We can only go into extinction, but, hopefully, not before giving rise to a more sapient species of Homo. Read some of my other postings on the subject.

On your last point I completely agree that if we had "good" organizational methods (i.e. good governance) then our society would benefit. Unfortunately there is no one wise enough to invent and implement such methods (I have written about sapient governance). And even if there were someone able to do so, the masses and the bankers would reject it!

Ergo, evolution is the only real solution!

George

Bonce

Thanks for the clear outline George. You say that there is a lack of wisdom in leaders and the led. I am asking what is the evidence/reasoning that this is the case? (I get the broad logic but I'm questioning it's explanatory power.) I suggested an alternative paradigm: that leaders tend to follow minority agendas (that conflict with collective outcomes) and try to manage the masses.

You imply that bad collective outcomes (e.g. Nagasaki) provide evidence that leaders have poor wisdom. I argued that 'bad' leaders do have substantive wisdom if they achieved their own goals (while appearing to pursue collective goals). I suggested that this has better explanatory power for the recent history of Iraq (lack of sapience doesn't work for me with Iraq).

The pivotal question is: what proportion of leaders pursue the collective good (of their nation, or the species) versus other interests? If a proportion of leaders who pursue minority interests have a determining effect on policy, then the substantive wisdom of our leadership cannot be judged on collective outcomes.

This seems to be foundational. It is the crux of why I disagree with your further outline that: we cannot achieve a better world, nor good governance, without evolving as a species. In your Sapient Governance III, you judge state governments by their nations (collective) interest, similarly with the emerging global governance. I've read a few of your other articles, which I like (complexity, crises, the need for evolved solutions) except for this paradigm (sapience instead of sociopolitical structure).

From your Watching the Political System:

Corrupt, stupid, narcissistic, politicians are playing into the hands of corrupt, stupid, narcissistic capitalists everywhere and in every level of governments. These days even those few earnest and generally honest politicians who got into public service because they really believed they could help the system and people living under it find they have to play the game by the rules that have evolved which are mostly about money, power, and getting re-elected...

Does this not work just as well if the word "stupid" is taken out? The second sentence seems to set out that structure can negate good governance (instead of stupidity). You also raise corporate influence, and greed as a cultural norm.

You say the political process is a shambles and failing, but for whom? - the rich and powerful are getting richer and more powerful! Why is political structure (power-relations) not the determining factor?

Oliver

@Bonce - I may be missing the point, but I think the crux of your dissenting opinion rests on a confusion between 'sapience' and 'cleverness'. In my understanding, sapience is about making wise decisions on the basis of cooperation and the well-being of the group (i.e. the human race within a safeguarded biosphere), whereas cleverness is self-focused individual aggrandizement at any cost to the group or biosphere.

In our current guise as Homo sapiens (a poor label as it turns out), in general we lack sapience but favor cleverness as a mark of "success".

In this debate, there is little point in brandishing the term 'sapience' in connection with the behavior of the "rich and powerful", because to do so is in conflict with pretty clear definitions set out by Professor Mobus in his many essays.

Bonce

@Oliver. Hi and thanks for your input on my question, I am keen to avoid any terminology traps. Wikipedia suggests that 'sapience' generally means the combination of sufficient knowledge and good judgment - synonymous with 'wisdom'; or the ability to act with wisdom. I understand George follows the latter: the capacity for wisdom.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisdom

I've read some of George's Theory of Sapience. Trying not to paraphrase... George raises the issue of altruism being a necessary component of widsom. I see the connectedness, but whether we conflate or separate 'wisdom' and 'altruism' would depend on the question being addressed. I've made some notes but won't diffuse them into this article commentary.

Either way, I don't think this has any impact on the point I'm raising here. Your point about the 'rich and powerful' having no connection with 'sapience' might reinforce what I'm raising (their outcomes don't represent our capability).

The broad question is: do humans have sufficient sapience to overcome all the oncoming crises? To judge that we do not based on current outcomes, is to judge that the species is represented by the governance within the existing sociopolitical structures. I am arguing that it is the nature of these structures that is the determining factor, not the species capacity for collective wisdom - i.e., that we can overcome the crises if, and only if, we are critically aware of the sociopolitical structures.

George Mobus

@Bonce,
You raise some thought-provoking issues. I am furiously trying to complete a book project before school starts in the fall, so I am sorry to say I don't have a lot of time to cover some of the questions you raise comprehensively.

Thanks for the clear outline George. You say that there is a lack of wisdom in leaders and the led. I am asking what is the evidence/reasoning that this is the case? (I get the broad logic but I'm questioning it's explanatory power.)

There is a suprising amount of research in the psychology of wisdom. This research runs the gamut from categorizing and describing the attributes of wisdom, based on generally agreed upon accounts to experimental probes of judgments/intuitions based on tacit knowledge and moral motivation. I would refer you to that body of literature (esp. Sternberg) as that is where I have drawn the overall definition of wisdom from. My contribution (if it is worth anything at all) is to describe the neural basis of wisdom and how it is responsible for the development of wisdom over a lifetime of experiences.

There have been numerous deconstructions of government leaders' decisions and policy implementations long after they were made and the long-term consequences of those decisions with respect to the betterment (or homeostatic condition) of their societies. More often than not the acts of leaders led to diminishment of societies. If you look carefully at the periods of gain (in things such as education, income, health, etc.) you generally find that the majority were made during periods when leaders were more quiescent, allowing cultural evolution based on cheap energy to drive the society upward. Post-WWII development in the west being a reasonable example. For an example of the pure foolishness of leaders leading to detriment I will provide just one name, someone who stands out as one of the least wise leaders of all times (IMO) - George W. Bush (or Dick Chaney!) It would take a very long time to enumerate his missteps. But in my opinion he is the antithesis of wisdom.

I suggested an alternative paradigm: that leaders tend to follow minority agendas (that conflict with collective outcomes) and try to manage the masses.

That may be so. I don't see how it is an alternative paradigm and I don't see it as more explanatory, only more superficially obvious as a mechanism. You still have to deal with why they would attend to minority agendas vs. the collective good. And you have to explain where those minority agendas come from. I assert both are attributable to very weak levels of sapience.

You imply that bad collective outcomes (e.g. Nagasaki) provide evidence that leaders have poor wisdom. I argued that 'bad' leaders do have substantive wisdom if they achieved their own goals (while appearing to pursue collective goals). I suggested that this has better explanatory power for the recent history of Iraq (lack of sapience doesn't work for me with Iraq).

That would be contrary to the above mentioned psychological treatments of the wisdom construct. Just because an individual achieves their own goals has nothing to do with wisdom, and thus sapience. Achieving a goal for the collective good, not just for a nation but for all people and the environment, that is what wisdom is all about. I do not understand the reference to Iraq or why lack of sapience doesn't work(!) for you.

The pivotal question is: what proportion of leaders pursue the collective good (of their nation, or the species) versus other interests? If a proportion of leaders who pursue minority interests have a determining effect on policy [it seems they do], then the substantive wisdom of our leadership cannot be judged on collective outcomes [how does this conclusion follow?].

I'm not sure what kind of logic you are applying here. It isn't deductive. I assert that the proportion of leaders who are pursuing the collective good is close to zero. And, again, the evidence is the very outcomes we are witnessing. I will admit that there may be many who enter the leadership role believing that they are doing so for the collective good, but they are too soon caught up in the corrupted (partisan, money-driven) system. If they were truly wise, I suspect they wouldn't get into that system in the first place!

This seems to be foundational. It is the crux of why I disagree with your further outline that: we cannot achieve a better world, nor good governance, without evolving as a species.

Again I don't see how the conclusion follows. We have, essentially, an existence proof that humans have not achieved an ability to construct and maintain a more unifying governance system. Our representative democracy, tripartite governance, and capitalistic-based economic structures are failing completely. So, while our "system" may have been the best so far when the world was less full and we had energy expansion ahead of us, under the current circumstances it fails miserably. The wickedness of our wicked problems has grown exponentially so that it is clear that mere cleverness is not going to save our system. My argument is for a "reset" followed by the evolution of greater eusociality and eusapience. My conclusion is that that is the only way that a better system of governance will emerge.

In your Sapient Governance III, you judge state governments by their nations (collective) interest, similarly with the emerging global governance. I've read a few of your other articles, which I like (complexity, crises, the need for evolved solutions) except for this paradigm (sapience instead of sociopolitical structure).

But the argument is precisely that you cannot have an effective sociopolitical structure until there is adequate sapience/wisdom in the agents (people) who construct it. In our species current state of affairs (our brain structures and genes) I do not see how a better sociopolitical structure could be created. Do you have a solution?

From your Watching the Political System: Corrupt, stupid, narcissistic, politicians are playing into the hands of corrupt, stupid, narcissistic capitalists everywhere and in every level of governments. These days even those few earnest and generally honest politicians who got into public service because they really believed they could help the system and people living under it find they have to play the game by the rules that have evolved which are mostly about money, power, and getting re-elected... Does this not work just as well if the word "stupid" is taken out? The second sentence seems to set out that structure can negate good governance (instead of stupidity). You also raise corporate influence, and greed as a cultural norm. You say the political process is a shambles and failing, but for whom? - the rich and powerful are getting richer and more powerful!

"Stupid", as I used it there, does not mean lack of sapience per se. I really meant stupid. Everytime I read about a senator on the Science and Technology Committee calling global warming a hoax I have to simply hang my head and cry. That is a leader who is stupid (and possibly because his paycheck depends on it). And extraordinarily ignorant as a result.

As for the rich and powerful - these are the least sapient of all. Humanity has been down this path many times before and it has always led to the same tragic outcomes. You would think that we would have learned some lessons. Part of wisdom is learning from mistakes and not making the same ones over and over again.

Why is political structure (power-relations) not the determining factor?

They are the mechanisms at work. But they are created by foolish people who are only looking out for themselves and must truly believe that somehow things will be different this time and they will succeed in accumulating wealth and power forever.

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@Oliver,

Good response! Better than mine because it was succinct!

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@Bonce (again),

BTW: it isn't just altruism, which is a product of sapience and its evolution. "Cooperativity" is a more general construct which goes beyond altruism since it does not depend on the cooperator's fitness being diminished (as is the case with so-called altruistic behaviors). It comes down to selflessness as a prime social organizing force. Eusociality is much more than altruism based.

...that we can overcome the crises if, and only if, we are critically aware of the sociopolitical structures. [emphasis added]

How shall this be accomplished? Perhaps with wisdom?

Of course I dispute that the "crises" can be overcome at all. It isn't a question of merely solving our big problems. These are wicked problems, predicaments. They are in the class of non-solvable by cleverness alone.

As I mentioned above, the sociopolitical structures you speak of are constructs emerging from us. They do not exist in some Platonic form and are imposed on us. That they are imperfect is a reflection on our own poor judgments. Perhaps if we collectively made better judgments about social governance...

Collective wisdom emerges from a society of individually wise people. As I mentioned above about psychological research, the people doing the probing and measuring are finding that there are damn few people who measure up to the tag "wise".


George

Bonce

George, thanks for the detailed reply which has clarified a few things for me. Sorry for the slow response, maybe that suits if we are busy. I'll try not to expand things in this post, just a few questions, saving the main area for a further post.

As Oliver suggested, I have tripped on a terminological hurdle - a different usage of 'wisdom'. I was interpreting your use of the term 'wisdom' to mean, essentially, knowledge and judgment - without any attached or derived cooperativity. So when you said leaders were not wise, I thought you were saying they were mistaken on their own terms. I understand your usage now (in this context at least) and this clears up some of the questions I was raising (and develops the other questions).

I like the term 'cooperativity'. I could say 'cooperative wisdom' when it's useful to clarify, or is there a better qualifier? ('eusocial' sounds a bit bio-specific)

To differentiate the dimensions of self-interest/cooperativity versus intelligence/stupidity, I need a term which refers to effective knowledge and judgment generally, without the cooperative framework - do you use 'cleverness' for this? or does 'clever' imply 'unwise' or selfish? Likewise, does 'foolish' imply a lack of cooperative wisdom (possibly due to self-interest)? or just somewhat stupid/illogical?

As a side note, I do agree with the necessary connections between intelligent thinking and cooperativity and I don't mean to question your definition of wisdom (or Sternberg's) but I do find the word tricky because of my existing understanding and more general/limited use of the term (like the Wikipedia page on wisdom/sapience). For example: as I would judge them, Kissinger, Brzezinski and Rumsfeld are extremely knowledgeable and clever and also extremely 'unwise' - I can follow this but it's still a bit dissonant for me. As with my initial misinterpretation, I think 'lack of wisdom' can sometimes imply 'lack of cleverness' (whether that's intended or not).

So, I generally agree with what you're saying. Which makes our disagreement interesting - it seems to centre on what is an adequate level of sapience:

But the argument is precisely that you cannot have an effective sociopolitical structure until there is adequate sapience/wisdom in the agents (people) who construct it.
...
My argument is for a "reset" followed by the evolution of greater eusociality and eusapience. My conclusion is that that is the only way that a better system of governance will emerge.
Whereas I think there is a fair chance of stable solutions without bio evolution, but this requires a certain approach. I think our difference is on the question of how sociopolitical systems work and how they can change (and so what is adequate sapience). I'll have a go at this in my next post.

George Mobus

@Bonce,

I have tried to further clarify the role of sapience and connection with eusociality in my latest post, Either profits go or we go. Hope it crystallizes better there.

George

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