My Brain Hurts
|Cloud cuckoo land, where all the happy people go to play (source: Paul Harrop).|
Sometimes it seems to me that people are detached from reality, living in cloud cuckoo land. Some people, especially politicians, even seem to have made a permanent home in cloud cuckoo land with no idea how the real world works.
When people are so out of touch with reality they make stupid decisions. I was wondering why people make stupid decisions, as in decision that are obviously stupid. So, I investigated a little. Psychologist, fortunately, have done quite a bit of work into stupidity and the first book I found on the subject is “Understanding Stupidity” by James F Welles, Ph.D , which was a good starting point and well worth the read. There are, of course, many other books on stupidity and related phenomena such as group think.
1. Too much informationAs he says “thinking is hard”. Part of why thinking is hard perhaps has to do with the way that our brain evolved. If we view intelligence as grounded in the real world, we can think of (or define) intelligence as an augmented reactive system.
2. Not enough meaning
3. Not enough time
4. Not enough memory.
On the Evolution of Intelligence
If we start with a simple reactive system embedded in the real world with sensors and actuators we can see some simple “intelligent” behaviour. Say, for example, if we had a mobile robot with a bump sensor. As it went its merry way around a room and bumped into something the bump sensor could trigger a “reverse – rotate random angle – forward” behaviour.
If we added another sensor we could get a little bit more complex, and, therefore, a little bit more intelligent behaviour from our robot. As it wondered around its world and bumped into something it could have different behaviour depending on whether or not it was the left, right or both sensors that were activated. So, we could have, for example, left sensor activated triggering a “reverse – rotate random angle to the right – forward” behaviour. And then the opposite direction for the random angle for the right sensor and the original behaviour for when both are activated.
We could add more sensors such as a light sensor or sound sensors and then produce even more “intelligent” behaviours but the system would still exemplify a purely reactive system.
What if we augmented the system with memory? Now instead of reacting purely to sensor input it could also react to memory of sensor inputs. So, for example, if the robot bumps into an object and its left sensor triggers the left sensor behaviour it could remember its actions. When it wonders around the room and ends up back where it bumped into an object instead of waiting for the left bumper to be activated it reacts to its past memory of bumping into the object before. So, it triggers the left sensor behaviour before its left sensor is triggered. It would then appear to anticipate the object and act more intelligently.
What if we argument the system even more. Say with the ability to take memories and produce expected encounters? Then the robot would not just react to sensor input nor memories of past sensor inputs but also expected out comes of what it was doing.
We can add more augmentation such as learning and real world modelling. Now the robot could react to events that it didn’t experience itself but learnt from others. Or react to models of the world that it created (sort of fantasies).
Layers of augmentation evolve and become more and more complex, creating (or allowing for) more complex, intelligent behaviours.
I expect that intelligence in humans evolved something like the above (although I presented the idea very simplistically). Thus, our ability to think about things that don’t involve past experiences is a later augmentation to our brains. As such it is the more complex and more difficult to run part of our intelligence and takes more effort. Far easier to bump into an object and react than to think about the long term consequences of our actions.
But I was wondering if there was more to it than that? As intelligence is embedded in the real world, perhaps we also have to experience the world in order to develop our intelligence? Our ability to think?
Common Sense Not So Common?
|A cute cuddly cat (source: Dantheman9758)|
I’m wondering if the easy life we lead is not our friend? We live in nice warm houses that keeps use safe and out of the rain. We eat well, never having to kill to survive. We live in a world so easy when we look back and compare ourselves with the world of our ancestors. We become so separated from the consequences of our actions. If our hunter gatherer ancestors had though a sabre tooth tiger was just a misunderstood cute cuddly cat, the consequences of such are error would be realised quickly and our hunter gatherer ancestors probably would not have got to breed. But today. If we made such an error we are protected from the consequences of our actions, thus we don’t learn nor develop as a result. It is like our easy life results in breaking the feedback loop that regulates our stupidity. The feedback loop that stops us from being so stupid that it becomes dangerous.
Like gold needs fire to purify it, perhaps we need adversity to fully develop as a human being? Through hardship we learn about the world, we develop our common sense and we develop our thinking ability?
“Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.”
I think that is over simplifying the situation but could well contain a core of truth. Have a look, for example, at the Strauss–Howe generational theory. Strauss and Howe theorise that societies go through four phases:
1. High, which starts at the end of a crisis and is characterised by cooperation with strong institutions and low individualism.
2. Awakening, which is characterised by “self-awareness” and questioning of institutions.
3. Unravelling, which is characterised with weak institutions, strong individualism, and relatively low cooperation.
4. Crisis, which results from the unravelling and is characterised by destruction but also sows the seeds for the next high.
It takes about 20 years to go through each of the four phases. And as we cycle through each phase, they each have similarities to previous phases but each phase has its own characteristics; history repeats like a fractal. A crisis, for example, in one phase may not be as bad as a crisis in another phase but the crisis still occurs.
But it is this idea that it takes a crisis to produce a generation that is willing to cooperate and build a better world and then those who live the easy life that results are the ones to cause the next crisis that interests me.
People living the good life never full achieve what they could be. As Seneca once said:
"I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune, you have passed through life without an opponent—no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you."
So, what would all these mean for a future technocratic state? Isn’t the idea to build a sustainable monyless society where everyone has access to a high standard of living? Doesn’t that mean we aim to build the good life? An easy life for people? If so, would we not, as Marx perhaps would say, sow the seeds of our own self destruction?