Capable of Greatness

I’ve been slowly going through the NPR Tiny Desk Concerts. Most of the musicians and groups are unknown to me (it’s been decades since I even attempted to keep up with music). Truth is, most of the acts are interesting, but don’t really grab me. Maybe one in ten engages; none have made me a new fan.

Which is a whole other story. I mention it because many of these music makers are sweet, gentle, loving people who just want everyone else to be sweet, gentle, and loving. It’s a common sentiment. Banish the bad forever!

But balance is required. There is a Yin-Yang aspect to life.

Humans are capable of greatness — that’s kind of the thing about humans. In a very short span of time we’ve gone from being little more than another animal to exploring nearly every corner of Earth (and even some of nearby space). We happily inhabit a variety of ecological niches.

Someone once equated our greatness with the greatness of cyanobacteria on the basis that the bacteria had (very usefully) altered the Earth in creating the oxygen atmosphere current life thrives in. But it took them many hundreds of millions of years to do it, they are restricted to their ecological niche, and they never did anything else, so I don’t see that much greatness.

Humans, in a mere 10,000 years or so, haven’t just expanded to fill the planet. We have altered it significantly. (Possibly to our own peril. Certainly to our peril in small ways in toxins and plastics.) We make ourselves at home from the equator to both poles.

We sail above and under all the seas, we’ve choked near Earth orbit with techno-junk, and we’ve sent robots flying off into space to explore our Solar System (and beyond). We dream of colonies on Mars. We wonder about living under the light of a distant star.

We’ve also created a vast body of art, literature, music, mathematics, and science.

(So, a bit greater than cyanobacteria, is my point. 🙂 )

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It’s our great minds that give us this great power we wield, and that power can go in a great many directions.

The gentle wish for a world in which power only works in good directions, but who sets that standard, and more importantly what kind of imbalance does that create?

Is it even possible to constrain our power for greatness?

Just think about all our chances to be great:

  • Great Good ⇔ Great Evil
  • Great Beauty ⇔ Great Ugliness
  • Great Understanding ⇔ Great Ignorance
  • Great Pleasure ⇔ Great Pain
  • Great Peace ⇔ Great War
  • Great Healing ⇔ Great Harm
  • Great Love ⇔ Great Hate
  • Great Gain ⇔ Great Loss
  • Great Joy ⇔ Great Sadness

I just don’t believe we can have the Yang without the Yin. It’s our capacity for greatness that gives us access to the wonderful, but which also opens the door to the terrible.

While it might seem great to only have the highs, I’m not sure that’s possible. When one has coin to spend, one can spend it on anything. Our capacity for greatness is our coin.

If you’ve ever known someone who is bipolar and on medication, a common complaint is how the meds “flatten out” the world and “turn everything grey.” The bipolar don’t get the extreme highs and lows, which is good, but they often don’t experience any variation from the middle.

I think the alternatives are either experiencing all life has to offer, good and bad, or experiencing little or nothing at all.

§

And, as Stan Lee taught us in Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

In fact, that’s a message to all humans, because we all have great power for good or ill.

Stay great, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

49 responses to “Capable of Greatness

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Gee, I wonder who made that remark about cyanobacteria. What a nihilistic miscreant. 😉

    Greatness, it seems to me, lies in the eye of the beholder. But I’m with you on the yin and yang part!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’ve never thought “nihilist” or “miscreant” but “stubborn” has occurred to me. 😀

      First, to be clear on definitions, there is “great” that just means “big” (as in a great ocean or great expanse of space) and there is “great” that refers to accomplishments and abilities (as in the “Great Alexander” or a great athlete or musician). I do mean the latter here.

      I agree our evaluation of greatness — what we think and feel about it — absolutely is in the eye of the beholder.

      I also think there are objective criteria. In the post I gave examples pointing to the underlying “set function” of greatness. It has a lot to do with operating in lots of different ecological niches, the complexity of what is created, the information processed, and the time-spans involved.

      Brains turn out to be real game-changers!

  • Deal

    These days, there’s not just ying/yang, but also one’s and zeroes. On NPR, check out the group (Alt-J) who wrote a song with lyrics in binary. The e tune is rather catchy. I ended up singing to myself, “Zero, zero, one, one, one, zero, zero, one, one….” And more seriously, on You-tube check out their songs Taro and also Tessellate.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    [This is a continuation of this thread.]

    Me: “American never developed a culture of intellectual rigor”

    “First off, is it really as cut and dry as that?”

    Agreed. I’m not saying it is. I am saying it’s a general truth.

    “Some pretty amazing feats have originated from America”

    Absolutely! We’re pretty awesome when it comes to science and technology. But how many people do you know who can describe how their phone works? Or their TV, car, computer, washing machine, or home furnace, for that matter?

    As you later ask:

    “…maybe you are arguing that there are too many pockets of anti-intellectual micro-cultures in America.”

    The opposite: There are too few pockets of intellectual micro-cultures in America.

    “Secondly, is it really descriptive enough to use a blanket statement like ‘American culture’ or ‘European culture’?”

    I think so. When one considers the broad swath of American music, American literature, and (at least until recently) American politics, there is a general identity, a sense of what we mean by “American culture.”

    That said, absolutely one must then go on to be more specific (which I have and am 😉 ).

    “My current worldview these days tends to focus on the idea […] that human behavior is driven/motivated towards actions that facilitate survival…”

    That is certainly where it begins. The same is essentially true of animals. My worldview points to the human mind as taking us beyond being just Pavlov’s Dogs. Maslow puts mere survival at the bottom. Self-actualization is our greatest goal.

    Note that the Dawkins “selfish gene” view is entirely animal and includes everything from us down to viruses. Maslow builds on that in terms of human intellect. Note how he speaks of creativity and full potential.

    “In terms of video games, the reason why they are so compelling is that they fulfill a good number of needs while playing.”

    The main reason they are compelling is that they are designed to activate your dopamine system and — essentially — addict you. They are very carefully crafted to suck you in. Never forget: the income for the company depends on you buying more. No one makes video games just for fun.

    I should point out that I have nothing innately against video games. I used to play them plenty. It has more to do with how pervasive gaming and fantasy have become in the adult population. Note that one plays video games. They are a form of — usually fairly mindless — entertainment.

    Which is fine. It’s like fast food. Nothing wrong with fast food. Just don’t make it your only diet.

    “If playing a single player game, the self-actualizing need is often met as we level up or gain some new ability or learn something new about the game that we didn’t know before. […] Mastering a game mechanic can build self-esteem, and so on.”

    Imagine applying that to learning to fix an engine, write code, or build a house. In the end, what is the practical value of what you get from the game? Does it give you real-world skills you can apply in life?

    How does it develop your mind, your intellect? As you say, most games aren’t educational. Not that it hasn’t been tried; it’s just not what people will buy. Have you noticed how, over the last decade, those educational channels (Discover, TLC, etc.) now mostly push reality TV shows?

    American culture does not — at all — lean into self-education. If anything, it tends to resist it.

    “If playing a multi-player game, an additional dose of the social needs are often met as we can work together with others towards a common goal,”

    This is the one place I give modern video games some points. Yes, they can build a form of online community without geographic constraints. That’s a fine thing.

    “It’s sort of like the difference between a healthy food and an unhealthy snack.”

    Yes, I agree. I’ve used that analogy many times. Unfortunately, as I use it, the video games are the junk food. The healthy food is learning a practical skill, self-educating, and expanding one’s mind.

    “They both satisfy the hunger need, but one is more damaging to the body in the long run.”

    Yep! Video games will rot your mind! 😀 😀

    “Another point I had is that one doesn’t need intellectual rigor in all aspects of their life.”

    Not in all aspects, but one absolutely needs to be able to apply it when necessary. That’s the real point here. Intellectual rigor just isn’t a tool most people have in their toolkit.

    As with any tool, you don’t use it all the time. Different tools for different tasks. The problem is not having the tool when you do need it.

    “Where intellectual rigor is needed is when we are devising well thought out cultural norms and societal frameworks, as well as in scientific endeavors etc.”

    How about when trying to decide the truth of the corvid19 crisis?

    How about when trying to decide if DJT should be POTUS?

    How about when deciding your kid doesn’t need a vaccine?

    How about when deciding if FoxNews or MSNBC is telling the truth?

    In general, intellectual rigor is what helps us determine fact from false. It helps us pick better paths in life. It helps us avoid being fooled by scammers, spammers, and con artists.

    This whole thread began with my observation that we’re in the mess we’re in right now because American culture not only currently lacks intellectual rigor, but never developed it in the first place.

    “I think games of all sorts can be a healthy way to feel fulfilled in life.”

    Play, of all kinds, is indeed critical to mental health. Play has a necessary role in any well-lived life.

    But try not to forget that it’s just play, just fun junk food. Be sure to eat a healthy mental meal once in a while.

  • Astronomer Eric

    I’m having trouble posting a comment. Let’s see if this works.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      First-time comments require moderation. Once [Approved], further comments should show up fine.

      I see your long comment. I’ll be back when I have time to read it and respond.

  • Astronomer Eric

    Thank you, Wyrd, for taking the time to discuss this with me!
    Before responding to your latest reply, I realized that I hadn’t yet mentioned how much I agree with the following snippet from your original comment, particularly in terms of how it relates to public education.

    —“Americans never developed a culture of intellectual rigor (such as seen in Europe and places in Asia). Abstract thinking was never our thing. The author attributed much of that to capitalism, which sees learning only in terms of granting ability, and thus buying power. It’s an entirely practical and utilitarian worldview that doesn’t really admit to fine arts or intellectualism, and both those things in American culture are not at all mainstream (but generally confined to limping PBS stations).”

    I’ve felt for a long time now that the education system in the US (for this discussion I’m referring to pre-college public education, but that’s not to say that the college/university system isn’t in need of a major overhaul as well) is very flawed. In contrast to the author you discussed, I’ve always attributed it to the influence of the Industrial Revolution, but I suppose capitalism and the Industrial Revolution go hand in hand. My understanding is that order for someone to genuinely want to be interested in learning something, they have to first come to value that thing they are learning about. Otherwise, their body just won’t produce the reward chemicals that make learning about that thing pleasurable. The current education system could care less about whether anyone enjoys what they are learning. That’s why there needs to be so many negative motivating factors (ex. grades, standardized tests, teaching that survival depends on income earned from a job, etc.) set up in the system that essentially try to scare people into learning what is deemed necessary to be qualified to get a job (or as you stated, necessary to “grant ability, and thus buying power.”).

    —“Absolutely! We’re pretty awesome when it comes to science and technology. How many people do you know who can describe how their phone works? Or their TV, car, computer, washing machine, or home furnace, for that matter?”

    I know very few people with the desire to know these things. As I think we agree, society is set up so that so much effort is required just to be able to provide for the lower needs, that this snuffs out the much weaker displeasure people may feel at not having the time or energy to be able to learn how these things work.

    —““…maybe you are arguing that there are too many pockets of anti-intellectual micro-cultures in America.”
    The opposite: There are too few pockets of intellectual micro-cultures in America.”

    Or both? 😉

    —“That is certainly where it begins. The same is essentially true of animals. My worldview points to the human mind as taking us beyond being just Pavlov’s Dogs. Maslow puts mere survival at the bottom. Self-actualization is our greatest goal.”

    I’m not sure if you’re following Ed Gibney’s blog or not. He’s been blogging recently about consciousness (this is how I learned about Mike’s blog). Ed wrote an intriguing paper awhile ago (this is how I found out about Ed) about expanding Maslow’s hierarchy to encompass not just all animals, but also E.O. Wilson’s “Concilient View of All Life”: https://www.academia.edu/35089407/Replacing_Maslow_With_An_Evolutionary_Hierarchy_of_Needs
    It’s very intriguing.

    Actually, in terms of self-actualization, Maslow was actually working on an even higher level (sometimes called B-Thoery or transcendence) of needs. As I’ve more recently learned more deeply about evolution from “The Selfish Gene”, I found myself parting ways a bit from Maslow at these levels. I’m not sure yet that I see how transcendence would have played a role in increasing the survivability of ancestral Sapiens. In terms of self-actualization, I also feel that Maslow placed too much emphasis on it as a sort of “fate” level of striving (ex. a jazz musician must become a jazz musician to fulfill the need). To me, in an ancestral environment, the complex memes we have today wouldn’t have had a chance to develop yet, so self-actualization would have been centered around becoming proficient at any of the much fewer skills required to survive back then (ex. hunting, foraging, etc.). These days I usually call self-actualization “leveling up” to make it seem less fate-oriented and more about just improving at any skill that one happens to value at the time. So when one gets that dopamine hit when completing a level of the pay-to-play mobile game, Candy Crush, I see that as self-actualizing as well. And as you’ve noted, the developer of that game profits off this.

    —“The main reason they are compelling is that they are designed to activate your dopamine system and — essentially — addict you. They are very carefully crafted to suck you in. Never forget: the income for the company depends on you buying more. No one makes video games just for fun.”

    Totally agree. But I might also add that no one –in a capitalistic society– makes them for fun, or for educational purposes unless they can earn an income for the time spent developing the educational games. What you said is true, but in my opinion isn’t an issue with the games themselves. It’s an issue with the system the games are in. Just about everything one can buy in a capitalistic economy is crafted to persuade one to buy it. And since all the needs are linked to a reward system that includes pleasure chemicals such as dopamine, no need gratifier is safe from overuse, especially if one need gratifier is much more easily accessible than another.

    Maybe you can help me out with this, but my sense is that there is more to addiction than is currently thought (or at least that I am aware of). In the case where one need gratifier is much more easily accessible than another, I feel that the dopamine hit from an easily accessible need gratifier is often used replace the hard to get need gratifier. So as an example, food is quite easily accessible in the US for most people, especially cheap, sugary snacks. But other needs may not be as easily accessible depending on one’s situation. Some people may not feel socially valued, or safe, or able to self-actualize on something they value. The body constantly communicates the displeasure at not meeting those needs with adrenaline or other chemicals. Yet the dopamine hit from a candy bar temporarily masks the displeasure from lack of gratifying the other needs. Once the dopamine hit from the candy bar wears off, the other unmet needs quickly start calling again. If another candy bar is the only thing that can temporarily mask the displeasure, it’s easy to see how one can quickly get overweight. Are they addicted to food? Are they addicted to the dopamine hit from the food? Would they continue obsessively eating candy bars if they were able to enter (for a long period of time) an environment where those other needs become easier to meet? Organisms have also evolved satiation measures to communicate when one has fulfilled a need enough for the time being. Homo sapiens being as flexible as we are, are able to override these satiation mechanisms if required or else there would be, for example, no overweight people. But in an environment where all the needs are able to easily be fulfilled, would the satiation effects be enough to regulate people’s overuse of dopamine hits from certain activities? It’s hard to say because the ancestral environment was not one where all the needs would be easy to meet. Any thoughts on this? This is what my mind is currently often occupied with, and without the ability to collect actual data on it, I’m left to speculate with anecdotal data and thought experiments. ☹

    —“I should point out that I have nothing innately against video games. I used to play them plenty. It has more to do with how pervasive gaming and fantasy have become in the adult population. Note that one plays video games. They are a form of — usually fairly mindless — entertainment.”

    Like I said earlier, I feel that what is considered “play” in, say, a capitalistic society, may actually hold more survival importance in a different type of society. Survival is about fulfilling the needs, not about HOW one fulfills the needs (at least in organisms as flexible as we are…other simpler organisms may be forced to only be able to satisfy a need with a very particular source). The “how” will change depending on the type of society one is in and what that society values. What’s considered “playing” in one culture can hold much more importance in another culture to the point that the other culture comes to depend on the activity to fulfill it’s needs and no longer considers it merely playing.

    —“Imagine applying that to learning to fix an engine, write code, or build a house. In the end, what is the practical value of what you get from the game? Does it give you real-world skills you can apply in life?”

    Probably no need to repeat myself again, but yeah, I feel that what is of practical value is not a universal and greatly depends on the type of society one is in. If there is a great disconnect in a society about what is of practical value and what people in the society actually value themselves enough to want to learn about, something has to give eventually. Maybe these riots are an example of something giving???

    —“How does it develop your mind, your intellect? As you say, most games aren’t educational. Not that it hasn’t been tried; it’s just not what people will buy. Have you noticed how, over the last decade, those educational channels (Discover, TLC, etc.) now mostly push reality TV shows?”

    Yeah, too bad it’s too difficult in a society like America’s to make something like an educational game or a documentary that both easily triggers a dopamine dispersal and also doesn’t require a profit to be made from it. I think there was a quote from a movie once, “If you bring the dopamine, they will come.” That’s the key to increasing the desire to develop one’s intellect through self-learning on a society scale.

    —“Yep! Video games will rot your mind! 😀 😀”

    Again, I don’t think this is a universal given. 😉

    —“In general, intellectual rigor is what helps us determine fact from false. It helps us pick better paths in life. It helps us avoid being fooled by scammers, spammers, and con artists.”

    Agreed. And along with building up our defenses through such things as intellectual rigor, we should also use game theory to continually work to make an environment that lessens the incentive of cheats in the first place.

    Do you know how I could make your quote a blue color like you did? I copied text in from Word and it removed the blue text formatting I put on your quotes when I pasted it in here.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “Do you know how I could make your quote a blue color like you did?”

      Sorry, it requires being on the admin page. (You’ll notice I can’t do it on Mike’s blog.) WordPress strips out CSS style tags and all but the core HTML tags for everyone else. I can’t even do it in the Reader or webpage comment box; gotta be on the admin page.

      “In contrast to the author you discussed, I’ve always attributed it to the influence of the Industrial Revolution,…”

      What did (or do) you see as the connection between the Industrial Revolution and the problems of the education system?

      “…, but I suppose capitalism and the Industrial Revolution go hand in hand.”

      They almost have to. The whole deal was the ability to make lots of goods cheaply. When you do that, you need a market to buy those goods. It’s another place we’re victims of our own success.

      “My understanding is that order for someone to genuinely want to be interested in learning something, they have to first come to value that thing they are learning about.”

      Agreed. But I think we have fundamentally different views about what that value can be. I see the chemical system as just one aspect of humanity. I perceive that our intellect allows us to rise above our chemical and animal origins. It’s what makes us different from the animals.

      “The current education system could care less about whether anyone enjoys what they are learning.”

      On the one hand, education and training aren’t forms of play, and don’t have to be fun or enjoyable. Athletes and musicians are good examples of people who sweat bullets acquiring skills. So are writers, actors, lawyers, doctors, pilots, and just about every profession that requires serious dedication and effort.

      It’s called climbing a learning curve because it takes effort. There is an eventual payoff or reward, but getting there often isn’t much fun. (Think of climbing Everest. Huge struggle to get there, but a rush when you do. And the intellectual thrill of the view.)

      On the other hand, the education does a miserable job of inspiring students and in presenting the material in accessible ways. The limiting factor is that this requires excellent teachers, and our society doesn’t value, support, or particularly train, teachers.

      But good teachers inspire students to learn those core skills that everything else is built on. As is true of anything, when you have a good foundation, you can build lots of great stuff on it. (My foundation skills kept me relatively easily employed for 33 years. I never really worried about having a job.)

      What we have instead, as you acknowledge, is a system that first baby sits and then cranks young people through to become good consumers. All they really need to learn is some skill that lets them earn enough money to buy stuff, marry, and create more consumers.

      We are currently living the result of the last 50 years of America’s education system. People who grew up in it are now running the world. Scares the shit outta me.

      “I know very few people with the desire to know these things.”

      Indeed. Let me share my favorite Carl Sagan quote:

      We’ve arranged a global civilization in which the most crucial elements — transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting, profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.

      That was from 25 years ago. It is blowing up in our faces.

      I don’t think it’s a time problem. I think it’s a choice problem. Learning is hard. It’s not fun. It’s not immediately rewarding. Most people don’t have much appetite for hard. Most people want immediate reward.

      “…about expanding Maslow’s hierarchy to encompass not just all animals, but…”

      All life? Including plants? I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t find much value in that. To me Maslow is about human psychology. It doesn’t apply to animals, let alone all life.

      This, I think, highlights our different worldviews. To me a view based on our chemistry is too reductive. It makes us just Pavlov’s Dogs. I think our intellect rises us above that. I think we’re unique in the animal kingdom in that regard. (Which is why Maslow applies to us and not other forms of Earth life.)

      “I’m not sure yet that I see how transcendence would have played a role in increasing the survivability of ancestral Sapiens.”

      It doesn’t particularly. Maslow applies to modern humans. (By modern I mean last 10,000 years.) Maslow is about our human psychology.

      “These days I usually call self-actualization ‘leveling up’ to make it seem less fate-oriented and more about just improving at any skill that one happens to value at the time.”

      I’m fine with that definition. What I question is the words “skill” and “value” in the context of video games. Since video games is kind of a separate thread, I’ll skip it here and pick it up in another reply.

      The fate thing just applies to talents (as opposed to skills, which anyone can acquire). If one happens to be born with an innate talent for jazz, then one would be most fulfilled playing jazz. I know a lot of natural musicians (including myself), and it’s not “fate” so much as genetics.

      “Just about everything one can buy in a capitalistic economy is crafted to persuade one to buy it.”

      Yes, exactly. Which takes us back to my original point about capitalism being a key root in America’s lack of interest in intellectual rigor.

      “…something like an educational game or a documentary that both easily triggers a dopamine dispersal…”

      Dude, dopamine is associated with addiction. You’re talking about making education addictive. I do not think that is a productive approach. 😮 Even at a chemical level, there is way more to the human brain than the dopamine system.

      The key is to make education something people value. Think about people who have educated themselves to the max on baseball or cars. That requires years of paying attention, remembering, connecting dots. They do it because they value that knowledge. They want to know.

      There is also that, from a government point of view, too much education makes the population harder to control (for either side). Intellectual rigor is often seen as a threat to an oppressive administration (case in point: the current one).

      “…we should also use game theory…”

      I see game theory as a lot like Kant. Works great in theory and in specific (typically small scale) situations. But they often break down when applied to the real world. The problem is that theory reduces variables but real life has nearly an infinite number.

      The whole reason we have a judicial system is that the legal system, rule-based so game theory applies, can’t cover all the messy real life situations that arise. (It’s almost Gödelian that way.) So there’s a judicial system to figure out all the unexpected cases.

      There is also that game theory, AIUI, is like economics in assuming “rational actors” — which isn’t always the case in real life. People do a lot of irrational things!

      • Astronomer Eric

        —“Sorry, it requires being on the admin page.”

        No worries, I’ll just keep formatting it the way I have been. Seems good enough unless you have another suggestion.

        —“What did (or do) you see as the connection between the Industrial Revolution and the problems of the education system?”

        My main concern about public education is the assembly line efficiency of how it is implemented, which seems to fit the theme of the Industrial Revolution. 30 students to a class, kept to a strict schedule, all learning the same thing, classified into grades by age, needing to pass frequent inspections (tests and report cards, etc.) Not that it doesn’t work well for some. It worked well for me and sounds like it did for you as well. But it doesn’t work well for many, many more. If human labor is going to be the engine of a civilization, the current education system is probably about as good as it will get and is definitely a very efficient method for preparing humans for the labor market. But in my opinion, human labor is definitely not the best engine to have installed under the hood of a civilization. As you said later on in your latest reply when mentioning the judicial system, we’re seemingly very irrational. I think it’s more that we are just too complicated to fully understand ourselves at this point (but maybe that’s really what irrational means in the first place). Regardless, how can you build an effective engine if you don’t understand how all of its parts work? I like to think of us as sort of like the original steam engine. Linking back to Mike’s blog post topic, I think full automation will be a big upgrade. It will make us appear as a steam engine next to, I don’t know, maybe a jet engine, or a SpaceX rocket engine, or maybe just the current top of the line car combustion engines or electric vehicle engines. You get my point.

        —“Agreed. But I think we have fundamentally different views about what that value can be. I see the chemical system as just one aspect of humanity. I perceive that our intellect allows us to rise above our chemical and animal origins. It’s what makes us different from the animals.”

        Is that a compatible view with the evolutionary standpoint? A large number of animals (especially the more social ones) have the capabilities to make decisions that allow them to delay immediate need gratification for another reward further down the road. Unless you mean something else by “rising above our chemical and animal origins”. I think the reason why we seem so far ahead of other animals in terms of intellect is that all of the species between us and the currently remaining primates that would have displayed the step-wise evolutionary increase in intellectual functioning have gone extinct for one reason or another.

        I’m also not so sure we are as disconnected from our biology as we would like to believe. We can imagine that we are disconnected just as easily as we can imagine anything else. And we sure do try to live as if we are disconnected, especially since we live in environments of our own invention and haven’t lived in them long enough for evolution to have significantly altered us in ways that may better suit the civilizations we’ve created. Sure, our appendix is biologically vestigial. But the chemical homeostasis system isn’t biologically vestigial yet, even if some aspects of its biology make living in a civilization cumbersome. It also can’t be ignored that we fail so very often at ignoring our chemical signals. These days a good portion of my worldview is driven by the hypothesis that a significant majority of harmful actions done onto others come about out of desperation to fulfill a need (many harmful actions of which we now consider crimes and have laws against to TRY to protect people from such harm, but back in the ancestral days we probably just shunned/ousted from the tribe/beat the heck out of/killed those that disrupted the social order of the tribe). If we are so separated from our biology, my thought is that no matter how bad we are suffering, we could easily control ourselves better (be more civilized) and there would be less crime…we could intellectually rise above crime, so to speak. Evolutionarily speaking, if we were that disconnected, I’m not so sure we would have survived this long. In the same way that a person with congenital analgesia, who feels no pain, can injure themselves over and over to the point where they soon get life threatening injuries without even being aware of it, a species that is able to ignore and easily rise above the body’s homeostasis signals for long periods of time will likely not have many members survive long enough to reach reproductive age. Those signals of pleasure and suffering guide us through a lifelong journey that constantly threatens our survival. And evolutionarily speaking, the chemical signals of suffering and pleasure are pretty potent for good reason (those with more potent signals are more likely to listen to them and thus survive long enough to pass on their genes).

        In terms of the subjective sensations of suffering produced when needs are unmet, how long will one’s intellect allow them to fast, or to stay awake, or to be in a position where someone tortures them (physically or mentally) day after day, or to have absolutely no human contact, or to be in a room with no access to books to read or other things to learn or occupy one’s mind with? Sure some people may be successful for a while at denying one or two major needs, especially for the needs higher up the hierarchy since the suffering felt at denying those needs is much lower than for the more life or death needs like hunger, etc. It’s also easier if one makes the choice (in a monk-esque way) to deny a need instead of being forced to deny it by someone else or the environment. But even monks had better be monkish in well-manicured environments without distractions or temptations or else they will eventually fail as well. And also, the longer the needs are denied, the closer we approach death with respect to the material needs and the closer we approach psychological damage (Maslow’s actual purpose for laying out his theory) with respect to the safety needs, the higher social needs, and actualizing needs, etc..

        In terms of the subjective sensations of pleasure produced when a need is met, what other way do we have to signal value in ourselves? You mentioned that you and I have different views about what value can be. Can something’s value exist in an intellectual vacuum with no other way to be aware of the value besides just intellectually thinking something has value? I’m not so sure about this. I think we can’t separate ourselves from our biology here as well, and that the things we value are the things that reward us when pleasure chemicals are released. Is there anything you are aware of that you value that you are sure has never given you pleasure? My thought is that, if you are able to answer yes and give an example, we would be able to find a route from that example back to a pleasure signal eventually. But I may be wrong. I can’t think of anything as such for myself.

        —“On the one hand, education and training aren’t forms of play, and don’t have to be fun or enjoyable. Athletes and musicians are good examples of people who sweat bullets acquiring skills. So are writers, actors, lawyers, doctors, pilots, and just about every profession that requires serious dedication and effort. It’s called climbing a learning curve because it takes effort. There is an eventual payoff or reward but getting there often isn’t much fun.”

        The issue I have with the education system is that we are not training older people who have had lots of experiences to fall back on where they’ve been able to see how their effort has paid off and rewarded them, and which then gives them hope that their current efforts will also probably be worth it eventually. We are training young people who haven’t had many (or any) of these experiences yet, and so you get an endless stream of “Why do we have to learn this?” type questions and behaviors. Instead of trying to give them meaningful experiences early on that they can use to help sustain them during times when they aren’t very interested in what they are learning, we usually just say, “Suck it up and work hard and it will payoff later, just trust me”. Not only that, but a musician, for example, who climbs a musical learning curve at least knows what profession they are in and so can easily see the link between the effort they are putting in and where the reward will come from. In secondary education and earlier, many (if not most) students have no idea where the rewards will come from. The students who already have a profession in mind that they want to pursue are the ones who tend to be most successful in the education system. But the many, many students who have no idea what they want to do for a living have to rely on the hope that their efforts will at least get them a job someday, whatever that job may be. Mix that with a society where in many cases the rewards actually don’t really ever come and it’s no wonder the education system fails so many students. Many students also come from families in poverty, for example, where they see that hard work might actually not lead to many rewards and even may not reduce suffering.

        But we should also try to be specific about what we mean by “rewards of payoffs”. I’m primarily focused on intrinsic rewards in the form of subjective feelings (aka, the pleasure one feels when pleasure chemicals are released). Maybe you are more referring to extrinsic rewards/payoffs such as getting a job or earning a paycheck? To use one of your examples, an athlete may be working hard for a payoff in the form of making an NBA team, or even winning an NBA championship. That, to me is an extrinsic reward that comes after long years of hard work and dedication. This is what I feel you might be talking about. I’m talking about the intrinsic rewards all along the way that make the journey enjoyable. Every time a basketball goes through the hoop there is a little release of a pleasure chemical. In fact, usually a “swish” when the ball goes through the net without touching the rim elicits an even larger rush of pleasure since it’s valued as a more accurate shot and has a natural beauty and sound of its own. Every pickup game won, every steal made, every increase in shot percentage, the endorphins released after a workout, etc. etc. all are intrinsically pleasurable experiences. Someone spending years sweating bullets towards becoming an NBA player will have thousands upon thousands of little pleasures like these along the way. Now, take someone who isn’t very athletic and would rather spend their hours reading a book or playing a musical instrument. Force them to spend hours working hard to become a professional basketball player. Since they don’t value basketball as an activity, they are less likely to have as many of those subjective rewards.

        In terms of training not being considered play; if a basketball player enjoys it every time a basketball goes through the hoop, does that mean that the activity should be considered play? They are still working hard to develop skills that will have extrinsic payoffs later on. I think the work/play dichotomy is an unfortunate cultural trait that came about as a way to get people to be more compliant in performing the human labor tasks required of a civilization. Maybe it isn’t actually a dichotomy after all.

        And getting back to Mike’s original post, if automation has the impact that many think it will, this will leave much more room for us to climb learning curves that we actually individually value in the first place instead of being forced to struggle through the universal learning curves that are currently implemented by the public education system which facilitate the human labor force.

        —“Think of climbing Everest. Huge struggle to get there, but a rush when you do. And the intellectual thrill of the view.”

        Ahh, what do you mean by “intellectual thrill”? Are you saying that this thrill is only in the form of a thought and is not accompanied by a chemical release that is sensed subjectively by one’s body as pleasurable?

        —“On the other hand, the education does a miserable job of inspiring students and in presenting the material in accessible ways.”

        What is meant by accessible? Isn’t that another way of saying, “enjoyable”?

        —“The limiting factor is that this requires excellent teachers, and our society doesn’t value, support, or particularly train, teachers. But good teachers inspire students to learn those core skills that everything else is built on. As is true of anything, when you have a good foundation, you can build lots of great stuff on it. (My foundation skills kept me relatively easily employed for 33 years. I never really worried about having a job.)”

        This is true and if we want to continue using human labor as the engine of civilization, this may be the best way, as unpleasant as it can be.

        —“We are currently living the result of the last 50 years of America’s education system. People who grew up in it are now running the world. Scares the shit outta me.”

        You and me alike. ☹

        —“That was from 25 years ago. It is blowing up in our faces.”

        The optimist in me hopes that automation will help fix this. I think lower education levels and magical thinking make it easier for people to delude themselves into thinking an unpleasant situation is actually a good one. Much of the human labor required to run a civilization is very unpleasant. In order to get a majority of a population to accept this, it has probably been necessary to perpetuate lower levels of education and magical thinking. (I just realized that you mention this same idea a few quotes later when you say that too much education makes people too hard to control, and so I am obviously in agreement with you here 😊.) And also, once one is neck deep in the labor force, who has the time or energy to educate themselves? If we don’t have to convince people to enter the labor force because it’s all automated away, maybe this will free people up to become more intellectually fit.

        —“I don’t think it’s a time problem. I think it’s a choice problem. Learning is hard. It’s not fun. It’s not immediately rewarding. Most people don’t have much appetite for hard. Most people want immediate reward.”

        Haha, not to beat this topic to a pulp, but is that really accurate, or just something we have to tell ourselves so that we can endure living in a parasitic, human labor driven culture without losing our minds? Have you never felt pleasure at learning something?

        —“All life? Including plants? I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t find much value in that. To me Maslow is about human psychology. It doesn’t apply to animals, let alone all life.”

        Hmm… As someone who finds the current culture we are in to be very dysfunctional, I would think you would find value in checking out alternative possibilities of more stable cultures. I recommend at least taking a look at Ed’s blog to check out some ideas that have great potential at building a less fragile alternative to the culture we find ourselves in now. If we want to be a symbiotic species and not a parasitic one, shouldn’t we place more consideration on all of life and how we are all interconnected, and not be so gung ho about separating ourselves from other life forms? Maslow’s model was tailored for humans because he was trying to produce a theory that would both explain the cause of human pathologies and prescribe a remedy for them (aka, traumatic denial of needs fulfillment produces pathologies). But the hierarchical nature of the theory fits well with any other life form. All life forms have survival needs and methods of motivating behavior/actions to fulfill those needs. That’s Maslow’s theory in a nutshell. Not all organisms develop pathologies like we do when needs aren’t met; certainly plants and single celled organisms don’t. But humans aren’t the only animals to develop pathologies. If you beat a dog day after day, it will develop pathologies and act in ways that a healthy, well loved dog doesn’t.

        —“This, I think, highlights our different worldviews. To me a view based on our chemistry is too reductive. It makes us just Pavlov’s Dogs. I think our intellect rises us above that. I think we’re unique in the animal kingdom in that regard. (Which is why Maslow applies to us and not other forms of Earth life.)”

        I think that dogs have an intellect (even Pavlov’s dogs, 😉), just one that is no where near as capable as ours. Probably Neanderthals had an intellect that was much closer to ours capacity wise. I’m curious how you would argue that chimpanzees have no intellect. But the way you talk about it, it sounds like you think there were animals on earth and then suddenly we appear out of nowhere with this amazing intellect. My sense it that this is not how evolution works. It is iterative in nature and traits you see in one species can be traced back throughout evolutionary history, developing slowly over time.

        I’m not viewing our chemistry in a reductive sense. I’m viewing it in a holistic sense. To me, saying that our intellect can rise above our chemistry is like saying that our intellect can rise above our heart. Can our intellect stop our heart from pumping? Our chemical homeostatic system is just an organ like our heart in the sense that it is an essential piece of the biological puzzle that keeps us alive and functioning properly. Again, I don’t think we can separate our intellect from our biology as you suggest.

        —“It doesn’t particularly. Maslow applies to modern humans. (By modern I mean last 10,000 years.) Maslow is about our human psychology.”

        I think the main difference between modern humans and ancestral humans is how complex our memes have evolved. Sure we have genetically evolved some since then. But 10,000 years is not enough time for major genetic traits to change. Memes on the other hand evolve very quickly. Bring a Homo Sapiens into the future from 10,000 years ago and they will initially be shocked at how different the world is. But my current understanding is that they are so genetically close to us that they should be able to eventually integrate with some effort.

        —“The fate thing just applies to talents (as opposed to skills, which anyone can acquire). If one happens to be born with an innate talent for jazz, then one would be most fulfilled playing jazz. I know a lot of natural musicians (including myself), and it’s not “fate” so much as genetics.”

        Yes, I understand it from that point of view. But I’m not sure how much Maslow considered evolution when developing his theory. If you read any of Maslow’s works, when he starts talking about self-actualization or transcendence, he takes on a different tone that seems a bit less scientific. Again, I think it helps to try to apply Maslow’s theory to an ancestral human and the lifestyle they would have had back then, because an ancestral human is essentially genetically the same as we are while also having the benefit that they actually lived in the environment in which we evolved our genetic survival traits.

        —“Dude, dopamine is associated with addiction. You’re talking about making education addictive. I do not think that is a productive approach. 😮 Even at a chemical level, there is way more to the human brain than the dopamine system.”

        Ignoring your addiction idea for a second, wouldn’t learning something that causes you to release pleasure chemicals be more accessible than trying to learn something that elicits no response at all?

        Now, getting back to your point about addiction, I know that I’ve only mentioned adrenaline and dopamine (and endorphins once) as examples of discomfort and reward chemicals, but I just use those few to simplify the argument instead of getting bogged down with the details of the extremely complex system we have to regulate homeostasis. My intention in mentioning dopamine wasn’t to communicate that I think addicting people is the way to go. I mentioned it because I was too lazy too look up a different pleasure inducing chemical that would have served the same purpose in my argument. In this reply I’ve tried to just use the word “chemicals” to be more general in my argument.

        Having said that, as I discussed in my last reply, I’m not sure we fully understand addiction yet. Maybe we have a good handle on some of its mechanisms and such, but are we able to effectively explain why some people get addicted to something while someone else may not get addicted to that same thing (aside for just saying that they have different genetics)? Why can some people play Candy Crush for a few hours and then have no problem stopping for good while someone else is compelled to keep playing it over and over again. Why can some people stop eating when they are full while others are compelled to eat more and more even when not hungry? I won’t add any more examples, but there are plenty more to add. In my previous reply I gave the details of what I think is a plausible hypothesis for why some people may get addicted to something while others may not, but to summarize it again, I think that a well satisfied individual in all the needs areas is much less likely to become addicted to something than someone who is suffering because they are deprived of one or more needs.

        I think that using educational games filled with lots of pleasure inducing rewards for actions like leveling up, or collecting things, or social interactions, etc. can make it a better experience to learn a topic that one wouldn’t have naturally enjoyed in the first place. I don’t think that someone who is well satiated is likely to get addicted to such a game. Of course, the alternative is to use the current methods of punishment and fear.

        —“There is also that, from a government point of view, too much education makes the population harder to control (for either side). Intellectual rigor is often seen as a threat to an oppressive administration (case in point: the current one).”

        Exactly, as I mentioned earlier. 😉

        —“I see game theory as a lot like Kant. Works great in theory and in specific (typically small scale) situations. But they often break down when applied to the real world. The problem is that theory reduces variables but real life has nearly an infinite number.”

        I mean, when predicting the weather, we have to use some sort of model, right? At one extreme we could wait until we have simulations that can accurately predict atmospheric conditions down to the molecule (that’ll be a long wait, haha). Or at the other extreme we could just make a random guess at what the weather will be like. A good middle ground is to run a model that doesn’t take too long, is really good for today’s weather and is good enough for a few days in advance.

        Likewise, if we want to intelligently devise a stable, sustainable, symbiotic culture, we should probably apply the best models we are aware of to get it as right as possible, all the while realizing that we will never make a perfect culture (a Utopia).

        —“There is also that game theory, AIUI, is like economics in assuming “rational actors” — which isn’t always the case in real life. People do a lot of irrational things!”

        All the more reason to remove human labor as the engine of civilization. 😉
        Ok, on to your next reply, but I’ll send this one out first.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I’ll have to come back to this. Maybe my earlier replies answered some questions, but I see a couple here I can try to answer…

        “Is that a compatible view with the evolutionary standpoint?”

        Yes. Our brains are evolved organs. But there is an astonishing gap between homo sap sap and all other animals, yes, including our ancestors. Something switched on in sap sap that’s allowed us to take over the planet, survive far outside our natural habitats, and send robots off into space. We’ve harnessed fire, the electron, digital bits, and now the quantum.

        We are an evolved species, but that gap is fascinating.

        “Is there anything you are aware of that you value that you are sure has never given you pleasure?”

        There is a wide spectrum of “pleasure” from the immediate and visceral to the abstract and intellectual. I agree it’s all biology on a reductive level, but on a human level those are vastly different.

        More to the point, this isn’t about whether our activities have personal reward. I quite agree there is always some form of reward. It’s about the nature and content of the activities and the reward.

        Learning about quaternions was an intellectual pleasure. The reward was a better understanding of mathematics. I would tend to call that more satisfying than pleasurable. On the flip side, watching a baseball game, or listening to a favorite album, or watching a great sunset (or playing a video game) is a visceral pleasure. The difference is the emotional/intellectual balance.

        “Maybe you are more referring to extrinsic rewards/payoffs such as getting a job or earning a paycheck?”

        Well, yes, clearly! The extrinsic reward is far less chemical. It’s very much the difference between (long-term) satisfaction and (immediate) pleasure. As I said in my other reply, the road to that satisfaction is often far more grueling than immediately rewarding.

        Of course there are rewards along the way; they just make it all a bit easier. 🙂

        “if a basketball player enjoys it every time a basketball goes through the hoop, does that mean that the activity should be considered play?”

        No, not in my view. Just because something gives a moment of pleasure doesn’t make it play.

        “Are you saying that this thrill is only in the form of a thought and is not accompanied by a chemical release that is sensed subjectively by one’s body as pleasurable?”

        It’s the balance between the visceral and intellectual I’m talking about. In some cases, the chemical is a small part of the reward. In others, it’s most of it. (Compare the pleasure of balancing your checkbook or finishing washing the dishes with an orgasm. See what I mean about balance?)

        “What is meant by accessible? Isn’t that another way of saying, ‘enjoyable’?”

        Not to me. Accessible kind of translates to “easy” not “pleasurable”. (And, yes, of course you can reduce “easy” to some form of “pleasure” but reduction like that removes meaning in my view.)

        “Have you never felt pleasure at learning something?”

        Of course I do, but I’m an intellectual. I value learning. But it’s generally an extrinsic reward, whereas (my point is) most people lean towards immediate intrinsic reward. That’s our culture.

        “But I’m not sure how much Maslow considered evolution when developing his theory.”

        Not much at all, would be my guess, but I don’t agree he should have. We have a fundamental disagreement about Maslow that I’ll leave for another time.

        “I mean, when predicting the weather, we have to use some sort of model, right?”

        That’s a very good example. You know how horrible our best weather models are right? They’re generally accurate for a day or so at best. Very questionable after a week, and forget about a year from now. That is not a very good basis for predicting society.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      So ya wanna talk video games… 😀

      FWIW, I go back a long ways. I was already a computer programmer when games like Wolfenstein first came out, so I’ve watched the industry grow into what it is now. (I’m a retired software designer, so I also know games from the inside.)

      “These days I usually call self-actualization […] just improving at any skill that one happens to value at the time.” [I snipped out a bunch there. I hope I didn’t damage the point you’re making.]

      Which is a fine definition as far as it goes. I think there are other kinds of fulfillment that don’t involve new skills. That’s another topic. I have questions about the nature of the skill acquired.

      There’s no question one does acquire skills. Or that one values them. Or even that one feels fulfilled in the process. I agree all those things are true. I’m asking: It makes one feel good, but beyond that, what is the value?

      “So when one gets that dopamine hit when completing a level of the pay-to-play mobile game, Candy Crush, I see that as self-actualizing as well.”

      I’m not sure that’s what Maslow had in mind, but okay. What I see as important here is that it generated a visceral reaction, not an intellectual one.

      In fact, as a “dopamine hit” it compares exactly to what gamblers and other behavioral addicts experience. (Taking it further, cocaine directly, chemically, impacts the dopamine system, so that’s the kind of thing we’re talking about here.)

      Someone is making money off your high. There’s a word for that… 😮 😉

      But let me be clear: To each their own fun! Science fiction, video games, baseball, whatever!

      “I feel that what is considered ‘play’ in, say, a capitalistic society, may actually hold more survival importance in a different type of society.”

      I think, for humans, play and survival have a small intersection. Most things related to our individual survival aren’t play. And most play has nothing to do with our survival.

      That said, there are exceptions. I learned computer programming as a lark and took to it as a fun hobby. It was over a decade before it happened to transition into my career. For that matter, my earlier career in hardware came from my childhood interests in electronics. So the right kinds of interests can be very productive.

      But what survival ability does a video game confer? (I know some gamers can make money. Are there other ways video games help one survive? That is, one would die otherwise?)

      “Survival is about fulfilling the needs,”

      I quite agree, but our survival needs involve water, food, clothing, shelter, and not dying. Survival is the base of Maslow’s pyramid; the top is self-actualization. Survival and self-actualization are at opposite ends of Maslow’s human psychology.

      The “need” one fills playing video games is the need for play, not survival.

      And again, to each their own when it comes to play. Mathematics, knitting, biking, whatever!

      My main point is that the fulfillment is visceral, not intellectual. There is nothing about (nearly all) video games that requires or fosters intellectual rigor. They are a commodity that people consume like pants and pizzas, and for the same reason: enjoyment.

      That video games don’t grant many real world skills isn’t important. Lots of forms of play don’t. The value of play is mental health. But sometimes play and useful skills intersect, such as the child athlete who goes pro, likewise the child musician, or those kids who like to program.

      The further point is that this form of play as addictive behavior may have the exact opposite of survival skills if one doesn’t also develop real world interests and skills.

      • Astronomer Eric

        —“FWIW, I go back a long ways. I was already a computer programmer when games like Wolfenstein first came out, so I’ve watched the industry grow into what it is now. (I’m a retired software designer, so I also know games from the inside.)”

        That’s so cool! What do you think about the new Nvidia RTX and Unreal Engine 5?

        —“There’s no question one does acquire skills. Or that one values them. Or even that one feels fulfilled in the process. I agree all those things are true. I’m asking: It makes one feel good, but beyond that, what is the value?”

        Evolutionarily speaking, the ultimate value is survival. Organisms that felt pleasure when doing things that kept them alive until they could reproduce passed on the genes that caused them to feel pleasure when doing pro-survival things.

        —“I’m not sure that’s what Maslow had in mind, but okay. What I see as important here is that it generated a visceral reaction, not an intellectual one.”

        Yeah, like I mentioned in the last reply, I don’t think Maslow fully considered the evolutionary implications of his theory. Sort of like Newton didn’t consider the General Relativistic implications of his theory.

        I guess I’m still a bit shaky on what you mean by an intellectual reaction. Could you maybe give a specific example or explain that a bit more?

        —“I think, for humans, play and survival have a small intersection. Most things related to our individual survival aren’t play. And most play has nothing to do with our survival.”

        Again, I don’t see the dichotomy here.

        —“But what survival ability does a video game confer? (I know some gamers can make money. Are there other ways video games help one survive? That is, one would die otherwise?)”

        Yeah, this is why I try to view things through the ancestral environment lens. Video games weren’t around then, but they are around today. If we are going to invent complex memes and cultures based off those memes, then we’re going to use them in our lives, even if we may not be fully genetically suited for those thigs yet. In the current culture we live in, video games aren’t created to really offer survival abilities. But I can see a survival use for them in a different sort of culture. If you’re trying to educate someone to teach them a survival skill that they don’t currently see any value in learning, using video game mechanics to help motivate them to learn that skill can definitely increase their chances of survival.

        —“I quite agree, but our survival needs involve water, food, clothing, shelter, and not dying. Survival is the base of Maslow’s pyramid; the top is self-actualization. Survival and self-actualization are at opposite ends of Maslow’s human psychology.”

        I don’t believe traits evolve unless they have survival benefits. There is the tricky situation where some non-beneficial (and often harmful) traits that appear later in life past the average reproductive age are sort of carried along for the ride with the beneficial traits that do help us survive until we can reproduce. But I don’t think the need to self-actualize is one of those.

        Let’s go back to the ancestral environment again to see this more clearly. We have a tribe of 50 homo sapiens. They need the material needs to survive that you listed, water, food, clothing, shelter, etc. But then what about that pack of lions over there? The lions are much stronger than any one human. So if the humans are motivated to work together, 50 humans should easily be able to survive an attack from a lion pack and in fact may even be able to hunt them for food (vs 50 gazelles that just use their numbers to escape and can’t turn their superior numbers back against the lions as we could). So that’s how the social needs gave us a survival advantage over other species. Then the self-actualization needs. Well, we have the intellect to develop tools. We would increase our survival chances even more if we learned how to become more proficient with using those tools. So one who spends time getting better at throwing a spear increases their survival chances at either defending themselves or procuring food. One is more likely to be motivated to get better at such things if they are rewarded for doing so with a release of pleasure chemicals when they do “level-up” at spear throwing. Maybe they hit the most targets when target practicing and they feel good about that, etc. Thus, the self-actualizing need arises. Today, we can level up at sooooo many more things than we could back then, and many of these things today aren’t that impactful for our survival. But they still satisfy that need regardless.

        —“The “need” one fills playing video games is the need for play, not survival.”

        Hmmm. Again I’m not convinced yet about this dichotomy.

        —“My main point is that the fulfillment is visceral, not intellectual.”

        Intellectual fulfillment is communicated viscerally though, isn’t it?

        —“There is nothing about (nearly all) video games that requires or fosters intellectual rigor. They are a commodity that people consume like pants and pizzas, and for the same reason: enjoyment.”

        Yes, it’s probably clear by now that I am talking about video games created in a different culture for different educational purposes. 😉

        —“That video games don’t grant many real world skills isn’t important. Lots of forms of play don’t. The value of play is mental health. But sometimes play and useful skills intersect, such as the child athlete who goes pro, likewise the child musician, or those kids who like to program.”

        I think I see where we are viewing “play” differently now. You seem to be sort of putting it in Maslow’s hierarchy as its own need. I think I tend to group in into either a social need or a self-actualizing need depending on how the activity is performed.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “What do you think about the new Nvidia RTX and Unreal Engine 5?”

        I haven’t paid much attention to the game industry since the 1990s, so I don’t have any opinions on the latest and greatest advances. I don’t even follow the film industry CGI sector, which held my interest a bit longer than gaming. Last time I paid much attention was probably The Incredibles (which was incredible 🙂 ).

        I still watch the films, but in many regards, things haven’t advanced that much since the Final Fantasy movie back in 2001. Most of the advances have been in modeling — hair, smoke, fire; all really good now. (A lot of the “fires” you see in live-action TV and film aren’t real.) There are small advances in rendering, but we’ve known how to do good ray-tracing for a long time. It’s just a matter of hardware oomph.

        I asked, beyond making one feel good, what was the value of gaming, but I don’t see a reply here. It’s a key question on the topic of gaming. The main point being that gaming is play, which is fun and necessary for mental health, but which does not generally confer survival skills.

        “I don’t think Maslow fully considered the evolutionary implications of his theory. Sort of like Newton didn’t consider the General Relativistic implications of his theory.”

        I think it’s a mistake to suggest they should have. Maslow doesn’t need to consider the evolutionary implications because he’s addressing the psychological aspects of modern humans. It’s your interpretation of Maslow that expands him with more primitive systems. As we’ll get into, I disagree with that interpretation.

        “I guess I’m still a bit shaky on what you mean by an intellectual reaction.”

        Well, let me start with definitions:

        Visceral: 1. (anatomy) Of or relating to the viscera—internal organs of the body. 2. Having to do with the response of the body as opposed to the intellect, as in the distinction between feeling and thinking. 3. Having deep sensibility.

        Intellectual: 1. Belonging to, or performed by, the intellect; mental or cognitive. 2. Endowed with intellect;… 3. Suitable for exercising the intellect;… 4. Relating to the understanding; treating of the mind.

        We’ve long had the metaphor of the “heart and mind” — Freud gave us the metaphor of the id, ego, and superego. Even the ancient metaphor of a devil on one shoulder and angel on the other speaks to a divide between our immediate concrete pleasures and our more abstract remote ones. One might also call it the difference between pleasure and satisfaction.

        On a reductive level, of course this is all biology, so it can be said to be all chemical. I look at it on an emergent human level that distinguishes between “head” and “heart”.

        “I don’t believe traits evolve unless they have survival benefits.”

        Agreed. Our intellect evolved because it conferred amazing survival benefits. (Unfortunately, taking it back to where this started, we’re victims of our own success. We’re smart enough to be hugely successful, but not smart enough to sustain our progress.)

        “So one who spends time getting better at throwing a spear increases their survival chances at either defending themselves or procuring food. One is more likely to be motivated to get better at such things if they are rewarded for doing so with a release of pleasure chemicals when they do “level-up” at spear throwing.”

        This gets at the crux of it. It may be true that an immediate reward while learning a hunting or defensive skill may make the process more enjoyable. But make no mistake; the process of learning those skills is necessary. (Let’s try to avoid spear-throwing metaphors. “Spear-chucker” is a racist insult.)

        Better metaphors might be an MLB pitcher practicing, or a hunter target shooting, or a musician playing scales. These are, for the most part, boring, repetitive, and even grueling. There can well be sparks of pleasure on nailing that pitch, bullseye, or difficult scale. But it’s fleeting and not the point. There are days when it’s just grueling.

        For that matter, our tribal hunter is developing skills that have a direct impact on survival. It means the difference between starving and eating, or between living and dying if the lion attacks. Any momentary pleasure from practicing means very little in this picture.

        The bottom line being that the hunters, the pitcher, the musician, are working on developing skills with direct application to their lives. None of that is play.

        Video games are play. As when the pitcher “plays” baseball with his kids, or when the hunter pretends to stalk his kids, or when the musician “plays” music with fellow musicians (i.e. jamming together). These are all forms of play, of relaxation, of pleasure.

        “Intellectual fulfillment is communicated viscerally though, isn’t it?”

        Not compared to what most people think of as visceral.

        “I think I see where we are viewing ‘play’ differently now. You seem to be sort of putting it in Maslow’s hierarchy as its own need. I think I tend to group in into either a social need or a self-actualizing need depending on how the activity is performed.”

        Not at all. I’ve said repeatedly that play is necessary for mental health. It places in the middle of the pyramid under psychological needs. It’s part of our relationships with others, and it hugely engages with our esteem needs.

        Where we differ is that, from my point of view, you seem to conflate the top of the pyramid with the middle. I simply do not agree that what you call “leveling up” is self-actualization. The pleasure you describe there, to me, involves esteem, prestige, and accomplishment. All psychological needs.

        Just not an especially intellectual ones.

        My whole point is that [A] there’s nothing wrong with play — it’s necessary; [B] play is generally not productive, creative, or educational; so [C] too much play is like too much junk food.

        My complaint involves those who fill their lives with play and avoid creativity, curiosity, and expanding their horizons. That’s the lack of intellectual rigor I spoke of, and the result of that culture is currently on display, so the complaint seems justified.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “It’s hard to say because the ancestral environment was not one where all the needs would be easy to meet. Any thoughts on this?”

      I have some experience with addiction. Some of it seems to be generic, at least in predispositions. I think a great deal of it has to do with boredom, with being unfulfilled, with not feeling needed. A lot of it has to do with various forms of pain (emotional and physical; memories and regrets). Some of it is just habit. The reasons are as varied as people are.

      One of the issues is indeed that our ancestral background doesn’t prepare us for a lot of what we experience today. Sugar is a good example. Our biology comes from a time when food was uncertain, so we tend to naturally “load up” when we can. Refined sugar sends our system into a kind of ecstasy over the bonanza of calories. Our bodies want to store it up in case we go hungry next week.

      “If there is a great disconnect in a society about what is of practical value and what people in the society actually value themselves enough to want to learn about, something has to give eventually.”

      I’m saying there is and that it has been giving for years. The evidence is all around us.

      “Maybe these riots are an example of something giving???”

      In the sense that it’s fundamentally about humans not being valued. It’s a reaction to the pervasive systemic racism disease that’s still part of this country’s legacy.

      Black Lives Matter.

      • Astronomer Eric

        —“I have some experience with addiction.”

        Yes, I think we all do to one degree or another. Life is tough, especially in this dysfunctional culture. 😊

        —“Some of it seems to be generic, at least in predispositions. I think a great deal of it has to do with boredom, with being unfulfilled, with not feeling needed. A lot of it has to do with various forms of pain (emotional and physical; memories and regrets).”

        To me these sound very much like words used to describe the suffering one experiences when needs are deprived.

        —“One of the issues is indeed that our ancestral background doesn’t prepare us for a lot of what we experience today. Sugar is a good example. Our biology comes from a time when food was uncertain, so we tend to naturally “load up” when we can. Refined sugar sends our system into a kind of ecstasy over the bonanza of calories. Our bodies want to store it up in case we go hungry next week.”

        Definitely! 10,000 years isn’t enough time for genetic evolution to catch up to our quickly changing civilizations.

        —“Black Lives Matter.”

        So very, very, very true. ☹

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Some quick answers…

        “To me these sound very much like words used to describe the suffering one experiences when needs are deprived.”

        Addiction affects all walks of life, wealthy on down. Lots of addicts (of one kind or other) lack for little or nothing. It’s a complex problem with many root causes and no one solution.

        With regard to addiction, the point about dopamine is that it is explicitly implicated in addiction, directly with cocaine, but also with behavioral addictions like gambling or gaming. In terms of our evolutionary history, it’s a bit like sugar in being something of a holdover from our past.

        In the modern environment, with so many sources of stimulation, it’s easily triggered, and because it exists as a reward system it’s easy to get obsessed with obtaining that reward. (Many of the problems of addiction come from the constant need for that reward, or, worse, how the stimulation must be increased to produce the same reward.)

        So it’s not a system to deliberately mess with (as cocaine does), and it’s one to be careful of when it comes to behaviors. Other human brain chemical systems aren’t as potent in addiction, but they all obviously have a great deal to do with our behavior in general.

        As you point out, at a reductive level, they have everything to do with it.

        Where we differ is that I also look at emergent levels above the reductive view. You seem to be a functionalist (like Mike). Everything can be explained by functions of the machine, and — further — can be explained at a reductive level. In that view, the chemistry is all.

        While I can agree everything can be explained by functionality, I think some of it has sources in higher levels. Our intellect, in particular, is an emergent function that may technically supervene on biology (or quantum particles, actually), but is far too complex to understand at that low level.

        Human psychology, as practiced today, involves chemicals, but still mainly involves people. I don’t think “chemistry” comes close to being a full or reasonable description of a human. Especially with something as complex as addiction, there’s a lot more to it than chemistry.

      • Astronomer Eric

        —“I’m saying there is and that it has been giving for years. The evidence is all around us.”

        Woops, forgot this one! I wholeheartedly agree!

      • Astronomer Eric

        I don’t want to overwhelm this conversation with new responses before you’ve had a chance to finish up with my last response. So I’ll just ask a clarification question.

        —“Where we differ is that I also look at emergent levels above the reductive view. You seem to be a functionalist (like Mike).”

        I’m not familiar with the emergent concept and functionalism, etc. I looked up the dictionary definitions, but afterwards I still had trouble conceptualizing them in terms of our conversation. Have you ever had a discussion with Mike, or anyone else, about this emergent view, or functionalism, reductivism, etc. that you can refer me to which might help make it more clear for me after reading it?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        You can always start a new thread at the bottom. It provides a bit more elbow room and a fresh start to the conversation. It might be a few days before I get back to this.

        With regard to functionalism and emergence, the former is a point of view, so it underlies a lot of conversations. The view is reflected in a question he often asks: Is there something here that cannot be accounted for in the functioning of some mechanism?

        It’s a good question, because generally speaking the answer is always no. There is always some mechanism that accounts for anything we see. Put another way, there’s no magic, it’s always physics.

        Mike focuses on the topic of consciousness, so where the question gets interesting involves our subjective experience. We don’t know what mechanism accounts for it. Folks like Mike assume there must be one. Other folks wonder if there might be something unique or special going on, including some form of “magic” (e.g. those who believe in an immortal soul).

        FWIW, I see the brain as a very complex analog system (more akin to a radio than a computer) so, while I do believe in a functional mechanism, I think it’s holistic and depends on many subtle factors, such as myelin sheathing, activity of glial cells, extrasynaptic receptors, aggregate network effects, possibility EMF in the brain, and even possibly quantum effects of some kind.

        Which gets us to emergence. It’s the idea that collections of things have behaviors that are unexpected in terms of the parts. That’s not to say unaccounted for in terms of the parts. As far as we know, the laws of particle physics account for everything. It’s just that, for instance, you wouldn’t expect a bunch of red, green, and blue, dots to form a reasonably accurate “full color” image.

        I have a recent post you can read. I know Mike has written about it, too.

        The problem is that explaining even a tiny virus in terms of the laws of particle physics is extraordinarily hard — it’s currently beyond us; far beyond us. (We’re still struggling to fully explain just protons at the quark level.)

        But particles make atoms, and atoms have atomic laws we can discover. Atoms make molecules, and likewise, laws of chemistry. Then come laws of biology, physiology, and psychology. At very level there are laws we can discover that apply to behavior at that level.

        In the context of this discussion, emergence applies to human psychology, a high-level set of behaviors involving consciousness and free will. No doubt biology underlies it, and chemistry underlies the biology. But I feel that the reductive view that looks only at function at that level over-simplifies and misses a great deal.

        Human behavior is too complex and (like the weather) too seriously multi-variant to analyze at such a low level. The behaviors only make sense at the high emergent level.

  • Astronomer Eric

    No rush to finish the reply. 🙂

    —“The problem is that explaining even a tiny virus in terms of the laws of particle physics is extraordinarily hard — it’s currently beyond us; far beyond us. (We’re still struggling to fully explain just protons at the quark level.)”

    Seems to me that this is another good reason to replace humans as the engine of civilization so we can focus more of our energy on figuring this stuff out. Imagine if we had billions of people working on this instead of thousands….

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Science welcomes anyone who wants to participate! The problem hits exactly to what we’re talking about: Many, perhaps most, scientists get very little reward compared to the effort they spend (i.e. a life time career). Many barely make a living, or have another job that allows them to do science on their own (or depend on a spouse or other source of support). A lot of scientists suffer physically, in cold, hot, or whatever conditions. Some risk (and lose) their lives.

      The point is, the rewards for scientists are decidedly abstract and intellectual. The learning curve is long — even the smallest of rewards is years in the making. Real rewards, if any, require decades.

      In our culture, very few value the intellectual rewards of science compared to the large effort required. I don’t know about billions. In America we have roughly 100-million active adults who could participate in science. Most of them just aren’t interested. Most of them don’t want to put in the effort.

      • Astronomer Eric

        Sorry, my head is often in “future-land” when I say things like these. So I’m not really thinking about this in our current culture. I’m thinking of a possible future where machines automate all of the material needs for us, and a culture that values the intellectual rewards (many of which can then be implemented in technology). Instead of most jobs being retail, farming and manufacturing, most jobs might be in the intellectual field instead. I’m optimistic that healthy people in the Maslow-sense would definitely want to put the effort in more often than not. Our current culture just doesn’t have that many healthy people right now. And so to view human nature as we see it today as typical and what would be observed in any environment is something that Maslow felt very strongly opposed to.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “I’m thinking of a possible future where machines automate all of the material needs for us, and a culture that values the intellectual rewards.”

        The question is how do we get to “a culture that values the intellectual rewards”? Our culture certainly doesn’t value them now. I’m not sure more leisure time will change that.

        “…most jobs might be in the intellectual field instead.”

        Yeah, many of the jobs machines won’t be able to do for a long time are jobs that require intellectual, and especially creative, skills. Ultimately, those who pursue intellectual careers will be winners. (Which is why the current anti-intellectual trend is tragic.)

        As I said on Mike’s post, I think there will be jobs in the services and arts sector. Restaurants will brag about “All-Human Prep” (and charge more). There may also be a market for “All-Human Crafted” goods.

        BTW: I’ve answered the addiction and video game parts of this, so feel free to reply to those if you want. I’ll loop back for the Maslow and education parts.

      • Astronomer Eric

        Sounds good! I’ll start my replies to addiction and video games in a bit. But I’m sure you’ve noticed that pretty much my entire worldview on these matters centers around Maslow’s theory, so my responses might not be as impactful as they would if we made more progress on the Maslow front. Progress doesn’t have to be serial (vocab word from reading the comments on Mike’s last post) though. 🙂

        —“The question is how do we get to “a culture that values the intellectual rewards”?”

        My hunch is that we first have to raise the average level of psychological health in society. According to Maslow’s theory, psychologically unhealthy people make pathological decisions more often than healthy decisions. And given our history since the agricultural revolution, I’m not sure we’ve ever really had a very healthy overall culture. That’s a lot of pathological memes passed down from generation to generation. A lot of our assumptions about human behavior come from countless observations of unhealthy people, and so we assume things like how people will behave with lots of leisure time, for example. Healthy people don’t over eat as much as unhealthy people, and so I also don’t assume that healthy people will waste away their leisure time like unhealthy people would.

        The transition from lots of unhealthy people to lots of healthier people won’t be quick either, especially since people hold onto their pathologies pretty much their entire lives. The time-frame would definitely be multi-generational, and I think we would just need to be patient with people (in the “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” manner) during this transition as average psychological health slowly crept up.

        Andrew Yang was running a platform that I felt sounded like a great first baby-step towards higher average health. A poverty level UBI wouldn’t totally ruin current markets and might even supercharge them in what he called a “trickle up” economy. A person on their own would struggle with anything more than cheap shelter and just enough food on that level of UBI, but people could team up and share the expenses. Stay at home parents would essentially earn an income now for all their hard work. We wouldn’t feel as stuck in jobs we didn’t like, etc. We could take a bit more risk pursuing professions we were more passionate about without having to worry about where we would live or get food while first starting up.

        Like I said, it would just be a good first baby step, but I think it has many more positives than negatives that I could think of.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “My hunch is that we first have to raise the average level of psychological health in society.”

        That would be wonderful. Question: Who defines mental health? And how?

        Some think homosexuality, or some forms of heterosexuality, are deviant; others think any sex between consenting informed adults is normal. Some think pursuing money is normal; others find it deviant.

        So how do we agree on a definition of mentally healthy?

        “I’m not sure we’ve ever really had a very healthy overall culture.”

        I quite agree. I’m not sure one is ever possible. Human minds are complex things. As you know, even as healthy adults we can have experiences that impact us and affect us ever after. As children, even more so. PTSD is all about dealing with recovering from emotionally traumatic events.

        “That’s a lot of pathological memes passed down from generation to generation.”

        Very true. Breaking that cycle is very difficult, in part because it requires “interfering” between parent and child. (Or that’s how some will perceive it, and they’re often the ones we do most want to interfere with.)

        And if we’re not willing to require that children learn certain topics despite their protests, how do we interfere with the cycle?

        It’s the question I keep asking: How do we (or can we even) change the social view that leans into experience, emotion, opinion, assertion, hyperbole, and tribalism, and leans away from intellectualism, analysis, self-education, and critical thought?

        “Healthy people don’t over eat as much as unhealthy people,”

        Isn’t that a circular definition? People who don’t overeat are by definition healthy but those who do aren’t? It’s not that simple. Poverty plays a big role. Class plays a role. Education plays a role. People are complicated.

        “Andrew Yang was running a platform…”

        It’s too bad we don’t have good simulators for our civilization, because it would be very interesting to be able to program an Andrew Yang as President simulation to see what happens.

        I agree it sounded good. My posts this whole week have been about a design that looked great but which was ultimately too much of a mess to implement.

        Ironically, its also about a project of mine that was an intellectual exercise with very few moments of anything resembling direct reward. Given that the posts are a eulogy, the project ultimately was a failure, so no cigar, no reward. But it was play and I had fun.

      • Astronomer Eric

        —“That would be wonderful. Question: Who defines mental health? And how? Some think homosexuality, or some forms of heterosexuality, are deviant; others think any sex between consenting informed adults is normal. Some think pursuing money is normal; others find it deviant. So how do we agree on a definition of mentally healthy?”

        Maslow gave us a very good definition that has no cultural aspects (such as a culture’s view of sexuality, income, etc.) associated with it. It simply goes as follows: one who has acquired fewer pathologies/neuroses is mentally healthier. Then Maslow theorized where these pathologies/neuroses come from in the first place. He theorized that suffering from traumatic needs deprivation leads to such pathologies/neuroses. In order to have fewer of those, all one needs to do is to experience less suffering/traumatic experiences from needs deprivation. Since all humans genetically share the same sets of human needs, this removes any cultural biases from the definition (both homosexuals and heterosexuals have a sexual need, for example). The question then just becomes, what is the best way to culturally minimize suffering from traumatic needs deprivation. I use the word “minimize” because I don’t believe in utopias and I think it would be impossible to remove all suffering from a society.

        As an aside – I know that you don’t like me applying evolutionary theory to Maslow’s theory, but it makes sense to me that the trait of developing pathologies/neuroses from traumatic needs deprivation had survival benefits in an ancestral environment. If an organism that experiences a threat to its survival (and hasn’t yet died from it) develops pathologies that cause it to react in a desperate manner in future related situations, it may increase the chances that the previously threatened need becomes met in the future, which then increases the chance that genes are passed on.

        —“I’m not sure one is ever possible. Human minds are complex things. As you know, even as healthy adults we can have experiences that impact us and affect us ever after. As children, even more so. PTSD is all about dealing with recovering from emotionally traumatic events.”

        Agreed; as I just stated I also don’t believe in utopias. That said, I think you commented on Mike’s Automation post about anti-vaxxers. My assumption from that is that you feel that people should use vaccines, (i.e. if we have a medical fix, let’s use it). If we can devise a psychological “medical fix” to decrease the amount of PTSD running rampant in society, shouldn’t we implement that medicine?

        —“Very true. Breaking that cycle is very difficult, in part because it requires “interfering” between parent and child. (Or that’s how some will perceive it, and they’re often the ones we do most want to interfere with.) And if we’re not willing to require that children learn certain topics despite their protests, how do we interfere with the cycle? It’s the question I keep asking: How do we (or can we even) change the social view that leans into experience, emotion, opinion, assertion, hyperbole, and tribalism, and leans away from intellectualism, analysis, self-education, and critical thought?”

        Yeah, like I said before, I think it will be a multi-generational process and that we have to be patient as the culture slowly adapts to higher psychological health. Forcing people along will probably just have the opposite effect of decreasing health. I think, on average (not in every case obviously), that psychologically healthier people will tend to make more rational decisions and less reactive, survival decisions. So, over time it becomes a positive feedback loop where a little bit more average societal health leads to a bit more rational decision making and so on. Like I said before, I think the best way to start is not to come up with specific policies that try to micromanage a decrease in suffering. I think that VERY simple, universal policies are the way to go initially, which is why I like an unconditional UBI (yes, even the billionaires get it). Just let that sit in society for awhile and see if it has a small impact on increasing average public health (i.e. deceasing average public suffering). If it doesn’t work, try something else. If it works, after a while also try something else, something that a slightly healthier society might be able to manage to increase average health even more effectively that a UBI might.

        —“Isn’t that a circular definition? People who don’t overeat are by definition healthy but those who do aren’t? It’s not that simple.”

        I don’t think that it’s circular in the manner that I am looking at it. I feel that in order for a person to be healthy (in the modern, Maslowian sense), they need to have all the needs met on a consistent basis. I understand that, according to this definition, it’s impossible for any organism out in nature/the ancestral environment to be “healthy” because it’s very difficult to meet all one’s needs on a regular basis out in nature. But that’s not why the needs evolved in nature in the first place. They didn’t evolve so that organisms could be “healthy”. They evolved to motivate an organism to fulfill the needs in order to increase the chances for survival. But we don’t live in the ancestral world anymore. We live in very artificial environments that are getting better and better at protecting us from nature. Yet our cultures still make it very difficult for many people to meet some of their needs, which is ironic, and a very long discussion for another time.

        Anyway, getting back to overeating and health, the key to me not seeing it as circular is the understanding that people will frequently compensate a missing, hard to fulfill need with an available, easier to meet need. This is because all needs fulfillments are followed by a reward, and all needs denials are followed by suffering. So, if one is lonely (which is very easy to feel in our current civilization but probably a very infrequent feeling in the ancestral world where our tribe members were always around, or else that lion would get us) and is stuck in an environment where it’s hard to bond with people, the suffering from that loneliness will always present to some degree. But just down the block is a convenient store with lots of cheap sugary snacks. And every time a snack is eaten, it gives the usual pleasure that eating does. This pleasure can temporarily mask (or lessen) the suffering from loneliness, but not for long. If food is the easiest temporary remedy (often it is alcohol, or sex, or drugs, or gambling, or gaming, etc.), then the effects caused when one overeats will eventually show themselves. The unhealthiness originated from loneliness, not from overeating. Overeating is an attempt to lessen the suffering, and as such is a good clue at the level of unhealthiness one is currently at. Essentially the template is: the suffering from the chronic denial of [insert one need here] is compensated by the pleasure from the chronic over-satisfaction of [insert another need here]. Just to add – it was probably difficult to see this happening in the ancestral world because it was probably rare that one of the needs gratifiers was easy to obtain for long periods of time….that is until the agricultural revolution…….

        I should add that this compensation behavior isn’t the only way unhealthy people act. Instead of trying to compensate one need with another, often times people go directly for the missing need that is causing the suffering. And they often go after it in a pathological/neurotic way, which in many cases leads to them breaking a law set up to protect others from such actions.

        Finally, a healthy individual (in the Maslowian sense) is fulfilled in all the needs areas (and has relatively few pathologies/neuroses accumulated in their life so far). They are less likely (not guaranteed, nothing ever is) to overuse one need satisfaction to compensate for another need debt because they don’t have a drastic need debt to compensate for. They are also less likely to commit a crime by stealing a material need or forcing someone else to satisfy a social need without their approval, etc..

        —“Poverty plays a big role. Class plays a role. Education plays a role. People are complicated.”

        Exactly! That’s why I think a UBI is a good first step. It should be able to effectively reduce the poverty levels on a societal scale. That in itself should drastically increase the average level of psychological health throughout a society. At least that’s the hope. 😊

        —“It’s too bad we don’t have good simulators for our civilization, because it would be very interesting to be able to program an Andrew Yang as President simulation to see what happens.”

        I know!! That would be amazing! But….as I asked when mentioning weather simulations: do we wait until we can model the weather down to the molecule, or model a civilization down to the person? Do we do nothing and hope that works out? Or do we use what intellectual capabilities we do have and try to reason out the best path forward, realizing that there are bound to be flaws. The leaders in the US at the time of the drafting of the Constitution couldn’t have predicted the effects of the Industrial Revolution that was just starting around the same time. So, while their model of democracy had many great features that advanced civilization in many good ways, it also had some fatal flaws that we are able to witness from hind-sight’s point of view. Should they not have implemented the structures they did? If not, then we ought to just try to go back to the ancestral age (which I think is also impossible, but the sentiment is still valid).

        —“I agree it sounded good. My posts this whole week have been about a design that looked great but which was ultimately too much of a mess to implement. Ironically, its also about a project of mine that was an intellectual exercise with very few moments of anything resembling direct reward. Given that the posts are a eulogy, the project ultimately was a failure, so no cigar, no reward. But it was play and I had fun.”

        At least you tried! You never would have known if you didn’t try. And maybe someone might come later on down the road and see an aspect of it that you weren’t able to that makes it work. That’s the BOOL language? I’m planning on checking it out at some point.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “…one who has acquired fewer pathologies/neuroses is mentally healthier.”

        But again, who defines “pathologies/neuroses”? For some homosexuality is a pathology.

        When we talk about meeting the “needs” of people, we get into utilitarianism and all its inherent contradictions. The basic problem being that needs often conflict, and utilitarianism offers little help in resolving those conflicts.

        “If an organism that experiences a threat to its survival (and hasn’t yet died from it) develops pathologies that cause it to react in a desperate manner in future related situations, it may increase the chances that the previously threatened need becomes met in the future, which then increases the chance that genes are passed on.”

        I’m sorry, but this is false in two regards. Generally speaking, pathologies are, almost by definition, the opposite of survival traits. Pathologies generally get one hurt or killed.

        Secondly, pathologies are not genetic. They cannot be passed on. That’s not at all how evolution works.

        “My assumption from that is that you feel that people should use vaccines, (i.e. if we have a medical fix, let’s use it). If we can devise a psychological ‘medical fix’ to decrease the amount of PTSD running rampant in society, shouldn’t we implement that medicine?”

        One reason anti-vaxxers exist is that vaccines are complicated and there is some risk. There is a small percentage of people who do experience problems. We are, after all, often introducing the very disease we’re trying to vaccinate against.

        And that’s just biochemistry, which we have a fairly good handle on.

        The brain is far more complicated and holistic. Messing with one part often affects others. We’re still learning our way through how best to deal with it.

        That said, we’re already using chemistry to good effect. If my ex-wife had gotten on anti-depressants before the divorce, I might still be married. They made a huge change for her. And I’ve known people who, without medication, would have to be locked up for everyone’s good.

        “Forcing people along will probably just have the opposite effect of decreasing health.”

        Yep, and therein lies the condundrum. We have to lead, not push, but people are notoriously resistant to being led.

        The government, a while back, made a concerted effort to put out the message “Smoking is bad, m’kay?” It was mainly directed at white American, and it worked. Smoking among white people went down. (The cigarette companies focused on non-whites then, of course.)

        Then the campaign stopped, and smoking went back up. It’s really hard to change society. People seem to find a natural level, and shifting that is a challenge.

        One might think we’d dealt with the racism problem, or at least made some progress, back in the 1960s. But the election of Barack Obama showed that we’ve either backslid or never made that much progress to begin with.

        I do hope today’s young will do better, but I’m old enough to have thought us hippies would do better. Never happened, and things have again swung back.

        I’m a huge believer in education. Broadening the mind is the only way society ever moves forward. I quite agree it starts with the young. But we do need to require their education. As I said, STFU and study! 😀

        “If it doesn’t work, try something else.”

        I’ve said the same, but it’s a hard sell. Lives get crushed during “doesn’t work.”

        “Finally, a healthy individual (in the Maslowian sense) is fulfilled in all the needs areas.”

        Life isn’t about meeting all our needs. That’s not possible because needs conflict.

        “So, while their model of democracy had many great features that advanced civilization in many good ways, it also had some fatal flaws…”

        Yes, it’s often called “the least worst” political solution. One thing about it is that, as Leon Wieseltier so brilliantly said:

        “A democratic society, an open society, places an extraordinary intellectual responsibility on ordinary men and women, because we are governed by what we think, we are governed by our opinions. So the content of our opinions, and the quality of our opinions, and the quality of the formation of our opinions, basically determines the character of our society.”

        Which brings us back to the need for education and intellectual rigor.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    This is in reply to your comment above:

    Okay, so Maslow…

    “If we want to be a symbiotic species and not a parasitic one, shouldn’t we place more consideration on all of life and how we are all interconnected, and not be so gung ho about separating ourselves from other life forms?”

    We don’t need to think we are trees to honor trees. Quite to the contrary, it is by embracing our intellect that we can fully understand how to honor trees.

    “Maslow’s model was tailored for humans because he was trying to produce a theory that would both explain the cause of human pathologies and prescribe a remedy for them (aka, traumatic denial of needs fulfillment produces pathologies).”

    Yes, exactly. As I’ve insisted, Maslow applies to modern human psychology.

    “All life forms have survival needs and methods of motivating behavior/actions to fulfill those needs.”

    Which is the lowest part of Maslow’s pyramid. Animals, and maybe plants, fit there fine. The higher animals, dogs, crows, others, also have needs higher up because they have psychological needs.

    Only humans have self-actualization needs.

    “That’s Maslow’s theory in a nutshell.”

    To me, his theory in a nutshell is that the highest level of human achievement is self-actualization. It’s the capstone of the pyramid; it’s what the pyramid is about.

    “If you beat a dog day after day, it will develop pathologies and act in ways that a healthy, well loved dog doesn’t.”

    Absolutely. That applies to Maslow’s second or third levels, dealing with safety and pack relationships, respectively. It doesn’t get into esteem, let alone self-actualization.

    Speaking of dogs (and chimps):

    “I think that dogs have an intellect (even Pavlov’s dogs),”

    They have intelligence, not intellect.

    “I’m curious how you would argue that chimpanzees have no intellect.”

    They don’t have science, art, literature, or even sculpture. They have intelligence, not intellect. Look at it this way: Would you suggest any chimp is an intellectual? (Even most people aren’t intellectuals. 🙂 )

    “Bring a Homo Sapiens into the future from 10,000 years ago and they will initially be shocked at how different the world is. But my current understanding is that they are so genetically close to us that they should be able to eventually integrate with some effort.”

    Yeah, I think, with effort, they might learn to cope, but an adult has fixed ways of thinking that can’t entirely change. Bring a newborn from that time and raise them and that child would likely grow up to be pretty normal.

    Although, that said, we may have significant cognitive changes over that time. It’s hard to separate it from our environment. Children today grow up in an extremely information-dense environment.

    As far as applying Maslow, self-actualization is hard when survival takes all your time, so 10,000 years ago I wouldn’t expect much self-actualization. There was some art by then, a few minds might even have begun to think about the world they lived in.

    But we have Sumara around 5000 BC, and Greek philosophy around 600 BC. So somewhere in there human intellect kicks into gear. Maslow’s full pyramid would certainly apply by 500 BC, if not earlier, but go back too far and the upper parts of the pyramid fade out as you get into our more primitive past.

    • Astronomer Eric

      —“We don’t need to think we are trees to honor trees. Quite to the contrary, it is by embracing our intellect that we can fully understand how to honor trees.”

      Haha! That’s not what I was suggesting, silly. 😉 But I think maybe I deserved that based off what I was suggesting you were implying? Maybe, after all this discussion, you will feel more curiosity at checking out the very intellectual proposal Ed made in this regard.

      —“Only humans have self-actualization needs.”

      AH! I think you gave me an aha moment! Are you saying that you think the self-actualizing need is the need to intellectualize?! If that’s what Maslow was saying as well, I’m really curious why I didn’t pick up on that when reading his “Motivation and Personality”. I’m going to have to go back and see what I missed. Why wouldn’t he just name it as the “need to intellectualize”? What’s your opinion on the connotation that the name “self-actualization” gives to the need? Anyway, I feel that progress might have been made!

      —“They don’t have science, art, literature, or even sculpture. They have intelligence, not intellect. Look at it this way: Would you suggest any chimp is an intellectual? (Even most people aren’t intellectuals. 🙂 )”

      Maybe I’m a bit fuzzy on the difference between the definitions of intelligence and intellect. What are your thoughts on the way this study handles the word “intellect”?
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5451826/

      —“Yeah, I think, with effort, they might learn to cope, but an adult has fixed ways of thinking that can’t entirely change. Bring a newborn from that time and raise them and that child would likely grow up to be pretty normal.”

      Haha, I actually mentioned something about younger children being able to learn the language better than an adult, but deleted it because I thought I was being too wordy.

      —“As far as applying Maslow, self-actualization is hard when survival takes all your time, so 10,000 years ago I wouldn’t expect much self-actualization. There was some art by then, a few minds might even have begun to think about the world they lived in.”

      Again, maybe my understanding of the different between intelligence and intellect is shaky. But wouldn’t intellect have been needed to invent agriculture? What about planning to trap a mammoth against a cliff in order to more effectively hunt it?, etc. If those are intellect, I can see how intellect would have been present in ancestral times but slow to develop intellectual advancements because the amount of available time to intellectualize was, as you mentioned, probably less.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “Are you saying that you think the self-actualizing need is the need to intellectualize?!”

        No. I’ve used the word fulfillment many times. We’ve talked about the jazz musician. Self-actualization, per Maslow, is about reaching your full potential as a human being — a part of which is intellectual.

        “Maybe I’m a bit fuzzy on the difference between the definitions of intelligence and intellect.”

        Intelligence is being clever. We can program machines to be clever (“intelligent”). Many animals are clever (crows, many species of apes, elephants, cetaceans, cephalopods, etc).

        Intellect, as I’m using the term, is what’s behind art, literature, mathematics, and science. It’s curiosity, meta-thinking, and philosophy. It’s “standing on the shoulders of giants.” It’s uniquely human. (So far. 😉 )

        Farming and hunting are products of a high intelligence. They are not intellectual until the people who do them start studying, writing, and philosophizing about them.

      • Astronomer Eric

        —“No. I’ve used the word fulfillment many times. We’ve talked about the jazz musician. Self-actualization, per Maslow, is about reaching your full potential as a human being — a part of which is intellectual.”

        Shucks. Haha! Now I’m back to struggling with the fuzzy, non-scientific “reaching one’s full potential” business. I strongly resist the notion that a need (complete with reward and suffering signals) wouldn’t have an evolutionary survival benefit attached to it. If a trait is “emergent”, then why the heck would the rewards and sufferings emerge with it as well.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “Now I’m back to struggling with the fuzzy, non-scientific ‘reaching one’s full potential’ business.”

        What makes “the need to intellectualize” any less fuzzy? Humans are complicated. If you’re going to think about human behavior, you’ll need to accept the fuzziness. There are good reasons philosophy is an ancient but almost entirely unresolved field, and that sociology, economics, and politics, are so messy and hard to predict.

        “I strongly resist the notion that a need (complete with reward and suffering signals) wouldn’t have an evolutionary survival benefit attached to it.”

        Maslow’s entire point is that humans have needs beyond survival. Our happiness and mental health depend on more than just surviving.

        Prisoners survive just fine. You could survive just fine on the same tasteless gruel and being doped to the gills most of the time so you just hang out. A giant hamster wheel for exercise. That meets every survival need you have.

        You could live in a cave in the wilderness and eat bugs and survive (people have).

        But a rich human life has a great deal more than survival. Again, that’s Maslow’s pyramid. I’ve said repeatedly, survival is just the bottom layer. Our needs go far beyond that.

        “If a trait is ’emergent’, then why the heck would the rewards and sufferings emerge with it as well.”

        Pros and cons are a fundamental Yin-Yang of life. Pretty much all situations come with pros and cons.

      • Astronomer Eric

        —“Maslow’s entire point is that humans have needs beyond survival. Our happiness and mental health depend on more than just surviving.”

        Interesting take. What purpose do these higher needs serve then? If not evolutionary, there must be some other reason why they arose as traits.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        You really need to stop looking at humans strictly in terms of evolution. It explains our animal origins, but our intellect takes us beyond those at this point.

        Again: Maslow’s whole point is that humans transcend mere survival. We need fulfillment to be completely happy. It’s not about satisfying our bodies, but satisfying our minds.

      • Astronomer Eric

        I get your point and have nothing else to counter with. I’m going to have to let this stew in my brain for a bit as it’s quite counter to my current worldview. But I’m open to growth in my worldview. 🙂 I’ll continue responding to earlier stuff in a bit.

        Thanks for having this discussion with me! It’s really fun, and challenging!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        You’re quite welcome. As Mike can tell you, I love a good debate. 😉

    • Astronomer Eric

      Is elephant painting an intellectual activity?

    • Astronomer Eric

      My hunch at what separates us from other animals isn’t necessarily our intellectual abilities, even if they are quite more advanced. It’s our complex language abilities that allow us to efficiently, and with high fidelity, transfer the memes we’ve developed from our intellectual abilities.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “… we’ve developed from our intellectual abilities.”

        Which contradicts the assertion it isn’t our intellectual abilities. 😉

        Where do you think our “complex language abilities” came from, if not our intellectual abilities? There are theories that our ability to vocalize led to language, and that having a language led to intellectual development. (I’ve also seen it attributed to our need to tell jokes and our need to remember lots of names in larger social groups. Lots of theories. (They used to blame it on our thumbs!))

        The important point now is that there’s a huge gap between our minds and those of all animals. Robots on Mars!

      • Astronomer Eric

        —“Which contradicts the assertion it isn’t our intellectual abilities. 😉”

        Hmm, I thought I was just saying that we can send robots to Mars now because we have been able to pass on the more and more complex memes down the line (shoulders of giants idea). Primates have been shown to be able to teach things like how to collect ants with various tools, and that not all tribes of the same species utilize that method. Maybe if those primates had the language capabilities we had, they would be able to more effectively transfer various memes and develop more complex behaviors because of it (maybe not placing robots on Mars behaviors).

      • Astronomer Eric

        But yeah, placing robots on Mars and collecting ants with tools isn’t meta-thinking or philosophy. So I can see the differentiation there in terms of intellect (I’m not so sure about curiosity though).

      • Astronomer Eric

        Interesting article. Maybe it’s not so cut and dry that humans are the only ones capable of intellect:

        https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13423-015-0985-2

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “But yeah, placing robots on Mars and collecting ants with tools isn’t meta-thinking or philosophy.”

        The latter isn’t, but the former most certainly is. Several times I’ve said that mathematics and science are intellectual.

        The business of chimps passing on ant-collecting skills is a perfect example. A key difference between animals and humans is that animals do not stand on the shoulders of giants — they stand next to them.

        Say a particularly smart chimp learns to use a stick to collect ants. Monkey see, monkey do, and old cliche for a reason. Monkeys (and other animals) can learn skills. What they cannot do is improve upon what they learn, they cannot stand on another chimp’s shoulders and reach further than that chimp. They can only do the same thing.

        Humans do stand on shoulders. They take what one human came up with and improve it. Consider the entire history of human flight that lies behind robots on Mars. And the history of astronomy, our observing and thinking about those moving “stars” in the sky. And our history of exploring and curiosity. We build on what we learn from each other.

        It is much more than passing on memes. We think about them and build on them. And we create new memes as readily as we do pizzas. We’re creative.

        “Maybe it’s not so cut and dry that humans are the only ones capable of intellect:”

        Suffice to say I’m not a fan of Church’s approach. We’ll talk when animals start using mathematics, science, or art. I think it’s pretty cut and dry. 🙂

        Consciousness absolutely is a spectrum, but there’s a striking gap between humans and all other animals (including ancestors). We are significantly different, as illustrated by robots on Mars.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Another reply to your comment:

    “But in my opinion, human labor is definitely not the best engine to have installed under the hood of a civilization. As you said later on in your latest reply when mentioning the judicial system, we’re seemingly very irrational.”

    Humans! OTOH, our creativity comes from our irrationality. The latter leads to problems, but I wouldn’t trade it for our creativity.

    “Regardless, how can you build an effective engine if you don’t understand how all of its parts work?”

    Agreed. One truth science has revealed about reality is that some systems are too complicated to ever fully understand, even in principle. Human behavior or consciousness may be one of them.

    “A large number of animals (especially the more social ones) have the capabilities to make decisions that allow them to delay immediate need gratification for another reward further down the road.”

    If by “further down the road” you mean very short term. Like minutes in most cases. That’s about as far ahead as most animals can think. There are biological behaviors, such as storing fat before hibernating, that are long term, but those don’t reflect any conscious intent by the animal.

    Animals are all about immediate gratification. In Freudian terms, they’re all id, and no real ego, let alone superego.

    “I’m also not so sure we are as disconnected from our biology as we would like to believe.”

    I’m not saying we’re disconnected. I’m saying we’re more than just biology. The human brain gives us consciousness and free will. Those things are what rise us above the animals, let alone mere biology.

    “It also can’t be ignored that we fail so very often at ignoring our chemical signals.”

    Yes. And this is the central point: Because we live in a culture that places feelings and experiences over intellect and education. That’s the Pavlov’s Dogs view. It’s every dim-witted testosterone-fueled “going with my gut” hero in every action film. It’s the prevalent modern view that we can’t escape our biology.

    “If we are so separated from our biology, my thought is that no matter how bad we are suffering, we could easily control ourselves better (be more civilized) and there would be less crime…”

    Yes. Exactly. There is a great deal of truth to this. Poverty and systemic racism play the lion’s share of the role in this, but irrational emotional views on all sides are a huge problem. A more intellectual society would be more thoughtful.

    This is not to say we can entirely escape biology. But to the extent we can, it’s through our intellect.

    “But even monks had better be monkish in well-manicured environments without distractions or temptations or else they will eventually fail as well.”

    Monks, nuns, and clergy of all kinds, devote themselves to monastic lifestyles while interacting with the real world just fine. Certainly some fall to temptation, and some are corrupt, but the bulk of them pursue a respectable religious life.

    Again, it isn’t that we can ignore our biology. Of course not! But we can sometimes rise above it, that’s all.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    One last reply to your comment. This one’s about education:

    “We are training young people who haven’t had many (or any) of these experiences yet, and so you get an endless stream of ‘Why do we have to learn this?’ type questions and behaviors. Instead of trying to give them meaningful experiences early on that they can use to help sustain them during times when they aren’t very interested in what they are learning, we usually just say, ‘Suck it up and work hard and it will payoff later, just trust me’.”

    Okay. What kind of “meaningful experiences early on” would you suggest?

    Learning obviously is easier the younger one is. More importantly, learning is a skill like any other. Being able to learn late in life requires learning how to learn. What school really is supposed to do is teach kids to learn and, hopefully, instill a love of learning in them. It further should teach critical thinking.

    When I taught programming, I started with Four Primary Principles, the first of which is: Learn to learn.

    “In secondary education and earlier, many (if not most) students have no idea where the rewards will come from.”

    The rewards in this case are a successful life and a chance at self-actualization. What we teach in primary and secondary education are enabling skills. Lower education should give students the tools to, firstly, find their passions, and secondly, try to achieve them.

    OTOH, a musician (or athlete or scientist) is working for a specific goal. Higher education is more directed because by then one should have identified a passion to pursue.

    As I mentioned, my career turned out to depend on something I learned, for fun, at the very end of my higher education (last year of college). And it was a decade before it really kicked in professionally. It was general skills that got me to that point.

    Yeah, young people complain. It’s because they don’t get it, and nothing adults do will make them get it. Ultimately the only possible response is to tell them to STFU and study. Those who do turn out, not surprisingly, to have a far better chance at a self-actualizing life.

    “Many students also come from families in poverty, for example, where they see that hard work might actually not lead to many rewards and even may not reduce suffering.”

    Most people in poverty place a very high value on education because it’s rightfully perceived as a way out of poverty. The problem is that poverty is self-perpetuating. It’s the ugly side of the “it takes money to make money” coin.

    The problem is that education takes money and time. There is no money, and often people work two or three jobs, so there is no time. It’s a cycle that’s almost impossible to break out of, but one of the rare ways out is through education.

    “Of course, the alternative is to use the current methods of punishment and fear.”

    There is also reward and encouragement. (There’s very little punishment and fear left in any event. Kids can easily skate through lower education.)

    • Astronomer Eric

      Are you the author of “Transcend: a new science of self-actualization”? I keep reading things that are saying many of the same things you were saying. Haha!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Ha! 😀 It just means the author and I are standing on the same giant’s shoulders. These ideas aren’t arcane, but products of experience, insight, and understanding of how people are. Past literature and art is filled with them. What started our conversation here was my assertion on Mike’s blog that our culture has largely lost those views.

        Which is indeed a source of our social sickness and inability to achieve the highest levels of Maslow’s pyramid. It’s hard to climb a hill when you can’t see the top.

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