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Arnav Bansal @itsarnavb
, 69 tweets, 11 min read Read on Twitter
Inspired by @z3nblack's megathread on @EricRWeinstein, I'm making one about a talk delivered by @BretWeinstein called 'The Fourth Frontier'
In the talk 'The Fourth Frontier', @BretWeinstein provides an explanation for political chaos unlike any that I've seen. He grounds it in evolutionary biology, and the results are somewhat terrifying.
I've attempted to combine the central theme of 'The Fourth Frontier' with other content I've found on @BretWeinstein's YouTube channel . Here it goes.
INTRO: We're headed towards a dangerous phase of history—we're addicted to growth, and constantly looking for newer sources. When we feel austerity coming along, we get more tribal.
The two sided argument about policy is archaic; the left and right are both out of answers, and should team up to build a vision of a functional society
But @BretWeinstein isn't arguing for centrism, but rather suggesting that potential solutions lie off the political axes that we're used to.
CULTURE: Humans are highly unusual among evolved creatures. A tremendous amount of what we are is not housed in genomes, but in culture. Culture is elastic, and evolves faster than genes. This plasticity is why culture evolved in humans
Complex human behaviour may be housed partially in the genome, and partially in culture. An example is human language. The capacity for human language is genetically encoded, but individual languages are not.
If we understand that the cultural and the genomic aspects of language serve a united interest, we can begin to understand the significance of language in adaptive terms.
MEMES AND THE GENOME: The theory of memes tells us that culture is shaped by a process similar to the one at work in the genomic layer. The cultural layer is not free of the genomic layer; rather, it is downstream.
If culture was evolving to do things not in the genome's interest they would effectively be wasting the time and resources. The fact that we are culturally informed tells us that culture serves the genetic interests almost all of the time.
Long standing cultural traits tend to pay for themselves in terms of genetic fitness. Even though some of them seem absolutely paradoxical to the function of serving the genome...
...that is the conclusion we must reach when we realize that the genome is not only tolerating the existence of that culture but it is facilitating its acquisition.
RELIGIOUS BELIEF: The idea that religious belief structures are paraphrasing humans is a misunderstanding of evolution. A more reasonable interpretation: these belief systems have flourished because they have facilitated the interests of the creatures involved.
.@BretWeinstein argues there's a simple way of reconciling the correct understanding that religious belief often describes truths that in many cases fly in the face of scientific knowledge with the idea that these beliefs are adaptive.
Evolutionarily, a person behaving so as to get into heaven has genetic interests: those genetic interests are represented in the narrow sense by descendants and relatives, and in the larger sense by the entire population to which the individual belongs.
By acting so as to get into heaven, the number of copies of those genes that continue to flourish in the aftermath of that person's death will go up. The belief in heaven is literally false (there is no such place) but metaphorically true (it results in an increase in fitness)
ABUNDANCE AND SCARCITY: People who grow up in a period of abundance don't anticipate how people change in the face of austerity.
We're seeing a reemergence of messages we've agreed are unacceptable, because of the signals that we've reached the end of the boom times. People are moving into a phase they don't even know they have.
Despite the fact that human beings think that they have escaped the evolutionary paradigm, they've done nothing of the kind.
FRONTIERS: There are 2 modes of competition: Exploitative competition and Interference competition. Exploitative competition is non-zero-sum, creating value by exploiting a new opportunity. Interference competition involves disrupting existing competitors in a zero sum scenario
Humans are a niche switching creature: the human niche is to discover new things to do when the ancestral waves have petered out, and are no longer useful innovating new ways to be.
When human beings adopt an opportunity their population grows in proportion to the size of that opportunity, and that opportunity essentially should be thought of as a frontier. There are many kinds of frontiers that humans have discovered.
GEOGRAPHIC FRONTIER: When a population discovers an uninhabited island or in an extreme case they discover a continent that has no people on it, that is a tremendous opportunity. A tiny population can grow to gigantic size given such good fortune.
TECHNOLOGICAL FRONTIER: When people discover a mechanism for doing more with the territory they have. A new technology functions just like having discovered a new land mass as the population on the current landmass goes up due to increased productivity of existing land.
TRANSFER FRONTIER: A transfer frontier is zero-sum; somebody has to lose in order for somebody else to win, but from the point of view of a given population, another population that cannot defend the resources that it holds is an opportunity for growth.
Frontiers of opportunity eventually run out. There is simply a limit to the number of geographical locations that can be inhabited...
...There may always be a next technology, but the discovery of new technologies comes in fits and starts, and there can be long dry periods where you have exceeded reached or exceeded the limits of a technological opportunity and the next one is nowhere on the horizon
Many of the worst chapters in human history involve a population targeting another population that can't defend the resources that it owns.
For the population doing the targeting, capturing those resources functions like having discovered a new land mass or a new technology that allows productivity to go up
Humans, addicted to growth, constantly look for sources. When geo/tech frontiers run out, humans might look within their own population and figure out who can't defend their resources, and they manufacture reasons that they are not entitled to keep them.
When the feeling of austerity arrives, humans tend to become more tribal. This is a very dangerous pattern of history—for example, what took place during the Holocaust.
What we're seeing is a circumstance where we have reached the end of a boom and human beings are becoming tribal because that is the natural transition at the end of a growth period. We are naturally inspired to look for something to replace the growth that has run out.
This is why many abhorrent messages have become resonant in the present. Many people are waiting to hear somebody explain what population is incapable of defending its resources, and explain what justification will be used to pursue those resources and transfer them.
Many are optimistic that technological breakthroughs will continue to provide access to growth. This is an unfortunate perspective because it leads us into a false sense of security.
Being evolutionary creatures, we are not programmed to preserve that state of growth and make it last a long time. What we are wired to do is to capture the benefits, and bring them into use.
ENGINEERED STABLE ABUNDANCE: Tyranny sets in when populations find a non-zero-sum circumstance and captures all resources. As austerity sets in, people go after each other with tribalism.
A system that would resolve this would perhaps stabilize the sensation of abundance. It would make sure to provide for the people in a way that abundance is widely felt.
Therefore, the fourth frontier involves engineering a stable abundance that brings out the best in human beings.
The FERMI PARADOX refers to the apparent absence of life from the universe despite the high probability of its existence. Is the universe quiet because most civilizations don't make it?
The Intergalactic 1%: A small number of civilizations probably do get to survive, as they begin the conversation about the danger they pose to themselves early enough.
Evolution doesn't prepare creatures for their environment, but to their ancestors' environment. In the case of human beings, the new environment is a moving target.
Novel complexity: Evolution cannot keep up with new challenges that we introduce as we design systems. A solar flare would be a non-event to the paleolithic human, but a catastrophe to modern civilization as it would cause great destruction to our electrical systems.
THROUGHPUT SOCIETY: We have a dynamic in which are our economic theories actually define economic health (growth) as the conversion of useful energy into useless heat and the conversion of useful materials into useless waste.
A microwave oven just as useful as the one you have but lasts 10 times as long would seem like a good thing, but with our current economic metrics, it will result in a reduction in growth because fewer microwave ovens will be sold
By defining our economic terms such that they lead us to correct for efficiency improvements, and cause us to capture and consume resources, we create a situation where no matter how good an opportunity we discover, it is inherently temporary
ETHICS evolved to limit self-destructive behavior internal to a population. Unfortunately, at present, we have handed over so many functions to an anonymous marketplace. People that learn where on the ethical landscape there are unpoliced opportunities actually come out ahead.
Imagine two firms: one perfectly amoral and will do absolutely anything that generates a profit, and the other ethically constrained, preventing it from availing itself of certain economic opportunities. The amoral corporation or firm always has an advantage.
Google famously began with the prime directive 'Don't be evil', and many have recognized that Google has become more ruthless than it was at the start.
This is actually a perfectly predictable phenomenon. At first Google existed in an immature market where having ethical restraints did not put it at a competitive disadvantage
As a market matures, tolerance for firms with restraint is much reduced, and a perfectly efficient market has effectively no tolerance for self-restraint. As a result of this firms evolve to become more ruthless, or they perish
We don't want to tinker in a way that is overly disruptive of innovation but we do want to tinker enough that the evolutionary tendency produces the kind of firms that we wish to see rather than ones that behave in a way that horrifies us.
We should be very careful that whatever solution making we engage in is evolutionarily aware
The founders did not know anything about evolution. Those who constructed our markets did not know anything about evolution, and what they did is accidentally set up an evolutionary system in which adaptation begins to take place without anybody's awareness.
What that tends to do is it tends to take the best intentions of those who set up these systems and overrun them with things that simply function.
It results in dangerous patterns like regulatory capture where entities that tinker with parts of the governance apparatus that are supposed to regulate them outcompete those that don't.
Evolving systems pose existential risks. When an evolving system is set up, it often begins to objectives its makers do not detect. An example of this would be the creators of social media who've had to adopt measures to avoid its addictive effects.
Bret's argument is not an argument for centrism. The answers that we are looking for are not actually on the map of possibilities that we are familiar with.
We are effectively living in flatland and what we have to do is learn to detect the z-axis so that we can seek solutions of a type that will at first be unfamiliar to us
There's a great danger in doing this: UTOPIANISM. Utopianism is probably the worst idea that humans have ever had. If anyone doubts that, look at the history of Utopian ideas across the 20th century, and the pile of bodies that stacked up as a result of Utopian ideas run amok
The first error utopians make is they prioritize a single value. By narrowly prioritizing things like liberty or equality you can't help but generate a dystopian result as all of the other values that people might hold are effectively destroyed in the process.
The other mistake that utopians make: they tend to imagine that they know what the future state should look like. They miss what every inventor knows: your grandest ideas are crude to begin with; prototype help figure out what you don't understand.
So @BretWeinstein argues we cannot describe the future we should be seeking, but we can say what direction it probably is in. If we claim to know what the state that we are trying to construct looks like, we suffer the same fate as an inventor that bypasses prototyping.
There are two kinds of conflict that people can find themselves in. They can be in conflict when interests fundamentally differ. But very frequently we find ourselves in conflict with somebody with whom we are aligned but differ about what to pursue or in what manner to do so
The politicized and polarized atmosphere has caused us to look at arguments as always tactical
One thing that you find when you interact with people who are very adept intellectually is that they often put aside suspicions about the motives of the people with whom they are arguing, and they will argue not to win, but to discover what is true
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