Have a Nice Day

This year’s Edge Question is what people should worry about. John Tooby answers,

The average G-type star shows a variability in energy output of around 4%. Our sun is a typical G-type star, yet its observed variability in our brief historical sample is only 1/40th of this. When or if the Sun returns to more typical variation in energy output, this will dwarf any other climate concerns.

Tooby has these observations:

The mind is designed to balance these two functions: coordinating with reality, and coordinating with others. The larger the payoffs to social coordination, and the less commonly beliefs are tested against reality, then the more social demands will determine belief—that is, network fixation of belief will predominate…

Because intellectuals are densely networked in self-selecting groups whose members’ prestige is linked (for example, in disciplines, departments, theoretical schools, universities, foundations, media, political/moral movements, and other guilds), we incubate endless, self-serving elite superstitions, with baleful effects: Biofuel initiatives starve millions of the planet’s poorest. Economies around the world still apply epically costly Keynesian remedies despite the decisive falsification of Keynesian theory by the post-war boom (government spending was cut by 2/3, 10 million veterans dumped into the labor force, while Samuelson predicted “the greatest period of unemployment and industrial dislocation which any economy has ever faced”). I personally have been astonished over the last four decades by the fierce resistance of the social sciences to abandoning the blank slate model in the face of overwhelming evidence that it is false. As Feynman pithily put it, “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

Geoffrey Miller is worried about our potential reaction to what he sees as a successful eugenics program in China. Robert Kurzban worries that a main side-effect of this policy, an excess of males in China, will result in increased violence. (Separately, a study looks at possible adverse psychological consequences of widespread absence of sibling.s) Douglas T. Kenrick worries that meanwhile, back at home, we are on the way toward Idiocracy. [UPDATE: Jason Collins comments.]

Thomas Metzinger worries about a sudden expansion of synthetic illegal drugs. I was struck by this response, because it was both unexpected and well supported by evidence.

Dylan Evans worries that democracy may be too stable.

there may be better forms of political organization that we can aspire to. But the spread of democracy may actually make it harder to discover these alternatives. The mechanism of voting tends to anchor society in the political middle ground. The resulting social stability has obvious advantages, in that it helps guard against political extremism. But it has less understood disadvantages too. In particular, it hinders the development of better political systems.

He sounds like he is making a plug for Thousand Nations.

Overall, I thought that the ratio of cute, trying-to-sound clever answers, as opposed to interesting answers, was much higher than in previous years.

3 thoughts on “Have a Nice Day

  1. Memory says that Greg Clark (A FAREWELL TO ALMS) has argued that England went through a eugenic revolution of the sort that concerns Geoffrey Miller back in the post Medieval period. Wealthier, healthier upper class families had more offspring; peasants had fewer. Over time, thanks to primogeniture, the aristocracy’s excess offspring dropped to commoner status and supplanted less able, less fertile individuals, who presumably died out with no or few children of their own.

    Observation indicates that eugenics of a sort is actually alive and well in the USA and other societies, in that abortions to remove fetuses with recognized defects (Tay-Sachs, Down syndrome, spinal bifida, etc) are generally accepted. Effectively, we’re culling 1% or so of our young children while they’re still in the womb — an extremely high selection rate for the human species. A certain amount of logic suggests well-to-do parents in western societies will continue to select out such damaged fetuses in happy defiance of conservative objections for many long years to come, probably with additional scrutiny to ensure that their offspring are especially endowed with traits for superior intelligence and longivity and disease resistence. Some amount of deliberate tinkering (“gene therapy”) to promote better children is probably in the cards — expect liberals and conservatives to find grounds for lots of fightiing. Contrary to Kendrick’s speculations, I suspect Westerners will breed a Master Race as fast as the Orientals.

    • There’s a difference between a relatively disease free population and a high IQ population. Miller is primarily talking about global dominance resulting from the latter.

  2. I kid you not, a high school lunch-time friend of mine (I graduated in 2010) and his friend somehow had a fake chemical company so they could import these weird compounds from China. The compounds had weird names too, with random numbers and letters just like “25I-NBOMe.” These guys learned this stuff and how to do it from the internet; my lunch-time friend in particular was something of a computer nerd. One drug he claimed caused only your vision to become distorted, but other than that you felt completely normal. He said he didn’t care that they were untested compounds. I could say was that it sounded real shady and sketchy.