Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Survival of the...moralest?

Let me start a little bit off topic:  I like communism.  Note that I said 'communism' with a lower case 'c', not Communism with a capital 'C', that is, the fundamental idea of a socialist state where people share equally in the resources, advancements, and profits, not the Marxism based attempts at implementation that have been used by various Communist Parties around the world that is commonly mistakenly thought as as canonical 'communism', especially by people in the United States (Cold War influences, probably?).

The main argument against communism is that human nature is inherently lazy, greedy, and selfish, and, like the horse(I believe it was?) in Animal Farm, most people would try to mooch off the work of others rather than putting the effort into contributing into the state as a whole if they don't see themselves as directly receiving a benefit from that effort.

I'm going to exercise some restrains and put aside the fact that things like Wikipedia and the plethora of open source projects online seem to suggest that there are other important factors at play for another discussion.  And I'll also put aside the difference between Marxism, which stressed the "working class", i.e. labor, and has ever decreasing relevance to our modern world which is becoming more and more technology, i.e. idea, information, driven, and the fundamental idea of communism, which can be applied to our current society, and actually can be argued to have increasing relevance as information sharing increases for a later discussion.  For now, let me just address the "it won't work b/c it's against human nature" argument.

I would argue that many things exist in societies, and even flourish, that seem to be against human nature.  Altruism, trust, generosity, things that are considered morally 'good' are more predominate in societies than they seem like they should be.

If everyone only acted in their own immediate self-interest, as the human nature argument implies, there would be chaos.  Chaos is not conducive to advancements in technology, scientific, and medical, etc.  It would be hard to contemplate concepts in science and math if you were afraid of being killed in your sleep or to experiment and design technologies if you were in constant fear of having your property stolen.  But "you should not steal your neighbor's livestock b/c it is detrimental to the advancement of our society as a whole" is not an easy argument for the masses to digest.

Enter 'morality', most effectively purveyed initially by some form of organized religion.  It is further propagated by laws that reflect these beliefs, societal pressures, and the conditioning of children by parents at a young age.  "You should not steal your neighbor's livestock b/c it is 'evil' and evil people go to Hell (or get karmic retribution, etc)" is a very effective argument on masses that believe in such religious constructs, and "you should not steal your neighbor's livestock b/c you will punished, both physically and socially" is effective even on those who do not have such beliefs.

Cultures which have moral codes that overcome human nature to create an orderly and 'safe' will advance the furthest, hence being able to keep their people healthier, as well as creating better weapons, and subjugating other cultures to them economically, and will further propagate their values (although over time, these may shift somewhat) and 'morality'.

So I assert that a similar dynamic, a moral code which 'rewards' putting in effort, hard work, diligence, 'being the best you can be' would be equally as effective in overcoming the human nature argument against communism.  As for the rest of the arguments, those will have to wait for future posts...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Illusion at First Sight

Alright, so xkcd has already documented fairly eloquently the scientific viewpoint on "true love" here.  I would like to expand the scientific outlook to the idea of "love at first sight".

As movies and songs try to tell us, it's that moment that you look across the room and meet some stranger's gaze, and then you just know...

...what?  What is it exactly that you "know"?  Are you suppose to "know" that this person is your soul mate?  Would you "know" the same thing if the situation were different, if, say, the attractive girl in a red dress with her hair and makeup all coiffed were instead dressed in a baggy sweatshirt and pants, with a runny nose and bed hair? And what if she doesn't "know" the same thing?  Then what happens?

Well then, it's not love at first sight, the true believers would tell you.  And you know what?  They're right.  It's not "love at first sight", it's never "love at first sight", I would argue, it's "illusion at first sight", that gets rewritten by memory (the malleability of which has been well studied and well documented, particularly due to its importance in, like, court cases) into "love" if the relationship ends up working out.

Unless you're Sherlock Holmes, you really can't know very much about a person from just a first glance.  What you can do (and do do) is form a mental image/judgement of the person based on the traits you observe and your previous experiences with people, real or fictional, with similar or comparable traits.

So the thing you're really falling in love with at that moment is the mental image you form.  If you end up actually getting to know the person and you end up actually falling in love with him/her, you can cite that first meeting as "love at first sight", even if the person ends up being totally different than what you originally thought.  But even if your initial image was fairly close, it's pretty much impossible for it to have been totally accurate and/or complete, so in truth, the 'person' you fell in love with at first sight and the person you end up spending the rest of your life with are not the same.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Ground State of Society

I'm a fan of science fiction, but one thing that confounds/irks me is how every time a society is presented that has some aspect that seems superior (i.e. utopia, technology, etc), there is always a 'dark side' that more than counter-balances it.  The message seems to be "the status quo is the best".

I suspect that this partially arises from a desire to, well, not be depressed that our world is the way it is, and there's not much we, as individuals, can do to change it.

The delusion "this is the way our society evolved, therefore it must be right," does gain some credence in the fact that 'right' and 'wrong' in a judgmental sense are defined by society itself.  It's a circular trap that we are stuck in, and cannot escape, because it is the 'ground state', and the 'energy' it would take to get out is more than any individual or easily organized group of individuals can provide.

Society, much like, say, genes, evolved in a way based on what traits (traditions, beliefs, etc.) were more conducive to survival (in a societal sense as well as a physical sense) at the time.  There were outside influences, such as climate, natural disasters, diseases, etc., that helped determined which traits won out.  But as medicine, technology, and the like improved, we've come to a point where the dominant controller of how society develops is society itself.

Of course, the rise of the internet has had some major impacts on society, and, as companies like Google have proven, those who ride the tide of change, who adapt themselves and innovate rather than fight against it are the ones who will come out on top.  (More on the economic topic in future posts...maybe)

The internet lowers the 'energy' cost of communicating, of organizing.  Although some parts seem to be governed by the uglier aspects of human nature, there are also parts governed by (what I think at least) are the 'good' parts, the parts that may allow for actual change to occur, like the desire to share information, to care about what's happening in the world as a whole.

My ultimate hope?  That we can live in a world where we can be the people we want to be, do the things that make use feel alive, and still live.  Maybe someday...