Monday, August 01, 2005

(***) Nonzero: The logic of human destiny by Robert Wright (2000)

This is a followon work to the Moral Animal by the same author. It expands the notion that is brought up in the Moral Animal about nonzero interactions leading to a myriad of human behaviors and adaptations. This books follows the theme in detail and examines the implications for our species. It is thought provoking, but lacks the visceral impact of the previous book. Never the less, it offers a unique and interesting lens with which to view our species history and destiny.

"In zero sum games, the fortunes of the players are inversely related. In tennis, chess, boxing, one contestant's gain is the other's loss. In nonzero sum games, one player's gain needn't be bad news for the others... to the extent that their interests overlap, their relationship is nonzero sum; the outcome may be win-win or lose-lose, depending on how they play." The prisoner's dilemma is a classic example of a non-zero sum game. p5

"You can capture history's basic trajectory by reference to a core pattern: new technologies arise that permit or encourage new richer forms of non-zero sum interaction; then social structures evolve that realize this rich potential. Thus does social complexity grow in scope and depth."p6

"One chronicler of Eskimo life has observed, 'The best place for an Eskimo to store his surplus is in someone else's stomach." p20

"A successful Shoshone rabbit hunt would culminate in a 'fandango'. Sounds like a spontaneous and carefree celebration... scholars have noted that it was eminently utilitarian. First it distributed fresh meat among the rabbit hunt's various workers. Second, it was an occasion for trading valuables... Third, it was a chance to build a network of friends. Fourth, an opportunity to trade information... All of these are non zero sum functions." p22

"When you buy a car, the transaction is, broadly speaking non zero sum: you and the dealer both profit, which is why you both agree to the deal. But there is more than one price at which you both profit - the whole range between the highest you would rationally pay and the lowest price the dealer would rationally accept. And within that range, you and the dealer are playing a zero sum game... That's the reason why bargaining takes place at car dealerships." p25 Or haggling in any market situation.

"The number of possible technologies is infinite, and only a few pass this test of affinity (usefulness) with human nature. One could invent, say, a battery powered, helmet mounted device that at random intervals jabs a sharp stick into the face of the helmet wearer. But a robust market for such a device is unlikely to materialize. So a battery powered face jabber is unlikely to affect human history as profoundly as, say, the telephone. Or even the rabbit net." p27

"Altruism among the !Kung (and most other primitive hunter gatherer societies) is a veneer; future reciprocation is de rigueur. Like insurance policy holders but long before economists were drawing graphs showing how diversified portfolios could serve the human aversion to risk, cultures were evolving by the same logic." p31

"The 'Potlatch', the famously ridiculous ritual in which local (Northwest indian) chiefs indulged in fierce duels of generosity. It got to the point where they prove their wealth by heaping prized possessions not just on one another, but on bonfires. "p32

"There was the incomparable candlefish - so oily that supposedly you can stick a wick in it and use it to light a room." p32 NW Indian reference

"The NW indians solved the problem (of the tragedy of the commons) by deciding when fishing would begin and end, much as governments today enforce a hunting season... There was even a specialist, a kind of fishing warden, who would go around from trap to trap, inspecting the haul to decide when the fishing must end."p34

"NW indian government also blunted misfortune. Goods that Big Men gathered as tax were in times of scarcity traded for food with another region's Big Man, and the food divvied up among followers."p34

"Given the absence of money, these native americans had a remarkable economy, with great specialization, large capital investment, and disaster insurance."p34

“Why are a large majority of of known hunter gatherer societies labeled by anthropologists as ‘egalitarian’? Maybe that’s all that was left by the time the anthropologists showed up. What about hunter gatherers that lived on choice land? Well, by the time anthropologists happened on the scene, most of those societies were gone. Their cultures had either evolved to a higher level, or been overwhelmed by a culture that had.” P39

“Every society in the Americas, by the time the Europeans arrived, had reached or surpassed the Mesolithic level… If there was a single continent that didn’t reflect this trend [evolution from simple to complex social structure], then the skeptics of cultural evolution would have ground to stand on. But the once standard example of cultural stagnation – Australia – has now been swept from under their feet. Archaeologists have found a trend in Australian hunter gatherer culture toward more subtle subsistence, featuring fishhooks and a neat trick of harvesting eels by digging dead end ditches. (And when was the last you invented anything as clever as the boomerang?)” p41

“Again and again we find technology that goes beyond the demands of subsistence. The Ainu of Japan made ‘mustache lifters’ to keep their soup facial-hair free.” P42

“Archaeologist Brian Hayden, having lived with indigenous peoples in Australia, North America, Near and Far East had this to report: ‘I can say categorically that the people of ALL cultures I have come in contact with exhibit a strong desire to have the beliefs of industrial goods that are available. I am convinced that the non-materialistic culture is a myth… We are all materialistic.’”p43

“Earlier this [20th] century, anthropologists thought it easy to explain such arduously crafted wealth as the indirect outgrowth of a fertile homeland. The key was ‘surplus’… You could meet your daily needs in an hour or two and have plenty of time left over to weave robes and build homes. After all, such industriousness comes naturally to people no? Apparently not… Anthropologists have found various hunter-gatherer societies that similarily had time left over after their daily food gathering. And as one scholar tartly put it, they ‘rarely spend this time designing cathedrals or in general improving their lot.’” P46

“Back before communications and transportation were sufficiently high tech to catalyze markets, the stimulus came instead from a habitat that would tolerate large, close populations. And conveniently such habitats were often close to water, which could give technologies an added boost. Goods and data sometimes travel better by boat than by foot.” P47

“Jean Jacques Rosseau considered evidence that humans were ‘noble savages’, peaceful and benign before their corruption by civilization… Roseau relied for this conclusion on reports of Tahiti that omitted relevant parts of history. For example: the custom in which a victorious warrior would ‘pound his vanquished foe’s corpse flat with his heavy war club, cut a slit through the well-crushed victim, and don him as a trophy poncho.” P54 But what to wear with this stylish poncho?

“Even if individual wars are often essentially zero-sum, featuring a clear winner and a clear loser, warfare – endless intermittent back and forth battling – can be, in the long haul very bad for both side. And such persistent negative-sumness is indeed grounds for waging peace.” P61

“An authority on human behavior once remarked that if two people stare at each other for more than a few seconds, it means they are about to either make love or fight. Something similar might be said about human societies. If two nearby societies are in contact for any length of time, they will either trade or fight.” P64

“Some scholars now say that, paradoxically, early farmers would actually have had to work longer and harder to grow food than to just get it the old fashioned way, by hunting and gathering… If farming was such an unappetizing prospect, how could humanity have been virtually certain to take it up eventually?” p66 [The answer’s coming up soon. Keep reading.]

“And the problem isn’t just that primitive agriculture may have been a regression in terms of sheer efficiency [in acquiring calories]. The more populous villages that farming ushered in would presumably foment disease; and the low-protein, high starch content of staple crops might be unhealthy. Studying the bones of early farmers, some archaeologists have concluded that they had shorter lives, and more rotten teeth, than hunter-gatherers.” P67

“The question isn’t why hunter gatherers chose farming, but why they chose the long series of tiny steps leading imperceptibly to it… People are innately curious. They fiddle around with nature and try to bend it to their will… Consider the Kumeyaay of Southern California. They were a hunter-gatherer people. But when encountered by the Spanish in the 18th century, they had transfigured the landscape. At high latitudes they planted groves of oak and pines, whose nuts they harvested. Elsewhere they planted yucca and wild grapes. Near villages they planted cactus for liquid refreshment. They burned off unwanted plants to pave the way for their favorites. None of the plants they cultivated were domesticated. So this massive intervention doesn’t qualify as farming. Still is it likely that the Kumeyaay could have gone another 1000 years without breeding juicier grapes?” p67

“The answer is that hunter-gatherers are in truth just like us. They’re competitive, they’re status hungry, and above all, they are individuals. In those hunter-gatherer societies that are proto-agricultural, the clusters of cultivated wild foods aren’t typically community property… Once you start thinking of hunter-gatherers as driven by physical and psychic needs of themselves and their families, there is no shortage of reasons why they might cultivate plants in their spare time.” P69

“It’s a good bet that if gardening were more practical, they [hunter gatherers] would find that cultivating extra food was a good way to win wives and influence people… Social climbing [in this manner] would have been the cause of the farming, not the result.” P71

“The more widespread the urge to impress, the stronger the force that drives cultural evolution. If everyone is always striving for social status [you who don’t have or want the Lexus, BMW, Mercedes, Rolex, etc. please seek help], then every increment in the evolution of agriculture, from the tiniest, scruffiest garden on up, is easy to explain; there’s a kind of arms race with food as the weapon.” P73

“Once you realize that man doesn’t live by bread alone – that status and sex are nice, too – the claim that hunthing and gathering beats primitive farming begins to lose relevance.” P73

“The seminal calculations of the Bushmen workday – 2 to 3 hours, then party time – have been put to skeptical scrutiny and found wanting. The calculators forgot to include the time spent processing the food, making spears, and so on. It now appears that these hunter gatherers work roughly as hard as horticulturalists.” P73

“The Natchez people, who vied for proximity ot the chief’s divine aura so much so that upon his death, some would swallow enough tobacco to lose consciousness and then be ritually strangled.” P78

“Polynesian chiefs have force-fed their wives into obesity, creating vivid testament to their affluence.” P79 The original trophy wife.

“Archaeologist have found a clear pattern: After agriculture first spreads across a region, chiefdoms tend to follow. This doesn’t mean that farming is a pre-req for a chiefdom. Natural abundance, and attendant population density will occasionally do the trick. NorthWest Inidans and the Calusa of Florida were almost full fledged chiefdoms [without agriculture].” P79

“Chiefs actually didn’t serve the public; they duped the public into serving them and religion was part of the duping. As one archaeologist puts it ‘Chiefs co-opt the religious authority of the community for themselves. [This system still works because] a chiefdom’s division of labor and its public works did yield positive sums – more output than the same people could produced alone – but the chiefs appropriated the gains rather than returning them to the people… Chiefs in short were parasites.” P81 So by analogy today's polictians are what exactly?

“There are 2 main sources of chiefly demise. One is losing a war to another chief or power… The second source is popular discontent. One of the greatest misconceptions about evolved human nature is that people are sheep; that because we evolved amid social hiearchy – [which is] true, that we are designed to slavishly accept low status and blindly follow the leader – [which is] false. People by nature seek the highest status they can attain, under the circumstances, and they accept leadership only so long as it seems to serve their interests. When it doesn’t, they start to grumble. The Tahitians had a phrase for chiefs who ‘eat the power of the government too much.” P 83 Louis XIV, the Shah of Iran, Czar Nicholas would all second this statement.

“Even a certain amount of Marx’s cynicism about religion is hard to argue with. Religion does sometimes function as the opiate of the masses, and elites do try to use their power shape ideas to their ends. Marx just went a bit a too far.” P87

“Human brains, having spent the last couple of million years of their biological evolution in a cultural milieu, are pretty good at selectively retaining memes that are good for them, while aggressively repelling memes that are bad for them. This is one problem with the idea of ruling elites whimsically imposing whole ideologies on brain-dead common folk… The philosopher Daniel Dennett writes of ‘the religious memes [memes are from Richad Dawkin’s Selfish Gene – if you haven’t read it yet go do that soon] themselves, in effect, parasitically exploiting proclivities they have discovered in the human cognitive immune system.’ Dawkins has compared belief in God to a virus.” P89

“Religious doctrines have indeed often entrenched themselves in people’s brains notwithstanding the fact that they are probably false. Heaven and hell, for example. But being false is not the same as being bad for the believer… Consider again the heaven and hell memes. Almost all religions have the functional equivalent: good and bad consequences that are said to result from good or bad behavior. And almost invariably, the bad behavior includes cheating in one sense or another: stealing your neighbor’s property, lying about your contributions to the communal effort. By discouraging such parasitism, these religious memes help realize non-zero sumness.” P90

“When langauges evolve over millenia from a single, common source, linguists can reconstruct the vocabulary of that mother tongue by comparing living descendants. For example, we know from studying languages in Europe and India that the ancient speakers of proto-Indo-European had horses, harvested grain, and mined metal.” P91

“People, remember, were not designed to live in close proximity to many other people. Homo Sapiens evolved in small groups on sparsely settled land. When a hunter gatherer band exceeds critical mass, tensions typically force a fission in two separate residential groups.” P91

“The more dramatic effect of writing may have been to overcome.. the trust barrier… If you doubt the value of such peace of mind, consider how hard people in nonliterate societies work to etch financial obligations in the public memory. The ostentatious Potlatch seems less absurd when viewed as a way to assemble a large audience to witness the incurring of a large debt.” P99

“And when the [public] work[‘s project] was done, the government, like governments today, took conspicuous credit. In the Babylon of Hammurabi’s day, one canal was named ‘Hammurabi is the Prosperity of the People’. Your tax dollars at work.” P100

“One time honored wariness reducer was to use the bonds of kinship; potentates sealed alliances with intermarriage of daughters and sons. Yet another approach was to use the vocabulary of kinship, along with lavish professions of devotion. 5000 years ago, the king of Elba in the Middle East wrote to the king of Hamazi ‘You are my brother and I am your brother, fellow man, whatever desire comes from your mouth I will grant, just as you will grant the desire that comes from my mouth.’” P101

“Money in truly convenient form – coins, portable and widely respected – didn’t show up until the 7th century BC courtesy of the Lydians. If you don’t think coins were a major advance consider Homer’s description, centuries earlier, of the value of Glaucus’ armor: it was worth a 100 oxen, compared to 9 oxen for Diomedes’ shoddy stuff. Imagine the armor store during the holiday shopping season.” P106

“In the Near East, more names had come and gone, and the regions they represented had continued to get bigger and bigger, if fitfully: the Assyrian empire dwarfed the Akkadian (the one that had covered the 4 quarters of the world), and was in turn dwarfed by the Persian empire (with its king of this great earth far and wide) which was then overcome by Alexander the Great (the son of God and general governor and reconciler of the world), whose Macedonian empire would soon be overshadowed by the Roman Empire (its emperor being the Savior of all Mankind).” p 117 And now 2000 years later, we have George W Bush. Seems like the pattern broke somewhere along the way.

Nagging questions: “This sort of simple summary tends to inspire objections. Such as:
Complaint #1: What about the quirks?
Complaint #2: What about the Greeks?
Complaint #3: Where’s the chaos?
Complaint #4: You’ve missed the point of complaint #3!”
Please read pages 118-123 if you are curious to see R. Wright’s answers.

“The existence of barbarians, far from impeding cultural advance, may have, on balance, promoted it. This fact is illustrated by the most famously devasting barbarian triumph: the fall of Roman Empire.” P125

“When a society keeps people in chains, and confiscates the fruit of their labor, it is trying to play a non-zero sum game in utterly parasitic fashion – a strategy that I’ve argued has its pitfalls. 1st it takes time and energy; Rome more than once had to put down slave revolts and vigilance was constant. 2nd, slavery rather weakens a workers incentive to work, thus making close oversight a prerequisite – and oversight is costly. 3rd keeping labor artificially cheap, slavery dampens society’s incentive to develop more productive technologies.” P133

“Roman principals of law and administration were lasting paragons… Still once these principles were on paper, and Roman engineering had left its mark, the Romans had little else to give posterity. Whether you are a champion of moral improvement or just of cultural evolution, you might defensibly conclude that, by the time the barbarians descended on the Western Roman Empire en masse, it deserved to die.” P134

Dark Ages
"Serfs are often depicted as virtual slaves, and they certainly weren't free in the modern sense. But more than the slaves of the Roman Empire, they could expect protection... in exchange for their subservience. 'Serfs, obey your temporal lords with fear and trembling,' one French cleric advised 'Lords, treat your serfs according to justice and equity.'" p141 To modernise this last quote simply edit/replace the word 'Serf' with 'Employee' and 'Lord' with 'Manager'. Sound familiar now?

"With feudalism, the story [of chiefs reporting to other higher chiefs] often went much further... sometimes the hierarchy went 10 levels deep." p 142 And today's government workers fail to see the point of this statement.

"Making each lord a governor of his immediate subordinates made for a decentralized government - a handy thing in a time of poor roads, low literacy rates, and other barriers to distant administration... When kingdoms collapsed, they broke up into regional or local polities, not into anarchy... subsequent reassembly could proceed readily." p142

"Adam Smith's invisible hand depends on an invisible brain. And invisible brains depend on information technology. Not just conspicuous IT, like the abacus or writing or money. At least as crucial was IT in a subtler sense; what you might call information metatechnologies - social algorithms guiding the use of such IT as money. In particular what made the middle ages a bridge between ancient times and the industrial revolution was the rudimentary metatechnology of capitalism." p 148

"Displays of capitalism inchoate might were impressive. Merchants in various German cities formed the Hanseatic League to subdue pirates, build lighthouses, and otherwise lubricate their livelihood. The league wound up defeating the King of Denmark in war... In Italy, cities that had fast become city-states felt their freedom threatened by the Holy Roman Empire. The cities put aside their differences, formed the Lombard League, and fought Emperor Frederick I until he gave in." p151 Today we call such 'Leagues' lobbyists, who control the government for the benefit of the capitalists. Have we really come that far?

"Commerce changed rural a money economy came to the countryside; rather than working for their land, the [serfs] paid rent for it, and some turned a profit by filling urban stomachs. Slavery had faded during the Middle Ages, and now serfdom, the next worst thing to slavery, was fading too." p151 14th century German slogan 'Town air makes one free' to attract serfs to migrate to towns.

"The Mughal empire of India expired in the 18th century and Ottoman Empire in the 20th. Why did they fail to thrive? Theories abound, but obviously we see some familiar culprits: parasitic governance and oppression that left much non-zero sumness untapped. India, with its caste system is a famously vivid example... When regimes that ban the printing presses, and mandate bias are given the thumbs down, we can only compliment history on its judgement." p171

"The real story behind the centralization of national rule in the 15th and 16th centuries: commerce demanded nationwide harmony, and subsidized the extinction of impediments to it. The particular instruments of extinction - the cannons - are largely besides the point. If they hadn't existed, the merchants' money would have gone to buy some other form of military might that would have spelled equally certain doom for the pesky nobles... What a second - why couldn't the nobles have just bought enough cannons to blow away the king's castle? A large part of the answer is that the king had commerce on his side, and the nobles didn't. In the great non-zero sum games of history, if you're part of the problem, you'll likely be a victim of the solution" p180

Our future destiny
"In 1500 BC, there were around 600,000 polities on the planet. Today, after many mergers and acquisitions, there are 193 polities. At this rate, the planet should have a single government any day now." p 208 And now the President of Earth, Mr Sam Walton Jr.

"In fact, that massive decline in the number of polities on earth - from 600,000 to 193 - masks a recent reversal. Over the past century, the number has grown [and this trend has not stopped yet with the dissolution of the Soviet bloc, Yugoslavia's fracturing, and separtist movements in places like Quebec, Basque, Scotland, etc.] p210

"The EU banned Britain in 1996 from exporting beef - not just to the other nations in the Union, but to the whole world! Among other things the EU has done matter of factly: prohibit member states from importing Iranian pistachios; and tell member states that they must permit the sale of the impotency drug Viagra. If a nation-state can't decide where to export its beef, which pistachio nuts are acceptable, and what remedies are available to impotent citizens, then it is not fully sovereign in the old fashioned sense of the word." p 214

"How did the European Coal and Steel Community morph into the European Community and then into the European Union? Actually, the transition is surprisingly logical: one non-zero game leads to another, which leads to another, and so on. The World Trade Organization shows signs of following in some of the EU's footsteps." p214

"As technology continues to shorten economic distance, logical scope of supranational governance could conceivably become the whole planet. This may be hard to imagine now, given the cultural and linguistic diversity of the world and simmering hostility among some of its peoples.. But remember: If 90, even 60 years ago, you had predicted that the someday France and Germany would have the same currency, the reply would have been: 'Oh, really? Which nation will have conquered which?'" p216

“There was no chance in 1942 that whole American cities would be decimated without warning. Once this threat becomes real [through terrorism and biological weapons], appreciable sacrifices of sovereignty are among the less extreme solutions that will get trotted out. And among the more benign, persecuting particular groups such as Muslims, may seem far-fetched now, but recall the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII.” P218 This was written BEFORE Sept. 11 2001. I can’t say that the R. Wright would be at all surprised by the Patriot Act, Abh Ghraib Prison, Guantanmo Bay, Invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, etc.

“The question is never whether you can keep all of your sovereignty; history says you can’t; all along it has been the fate of humankind to have its fate increasingly shared. The question is in what form you want to lose your sovereignty.” P228

“As the world comes to resemble a giant superorganism, with a fiber-optic nervous system, we could come to identify with Winston Smith, who, in Orwell’s 1984, is asked by a totalitarian goon: ‘Can you not understand, Winston, that the individual is only a cell?’ But unlike Winston, we’ll have chosen the life of a cell.” P235

Cosmic Context
“Is life defying the 2nd law of thermodynamics? No. The process of living, like all other processes, raises the total amount of entropy in the universe, destroying order and structure. Ever compare a 5 course meal with the ensuing excrement? Something has been lost.” P244

“Since mitochondrion’s DNA is passed down only via mothers, its Darwinian interests might be served by biasing reproduction in favor of females, so that daughters were the norm and sons the exception. Even if this sexual imbalance cut down a bit on the reproductive success of the overall organism, the trade-off could still be worthwhile from the mitochondrion’s point of view. But the nucleus [of the organism] would take a different point of view, since it gains nothing by a surplus of daughters. Hypothetical as this sounds, it has actually found incarnation – in plants as least. In various plant species, mitochondria have genes that cause the male pollen to abort, biasing reproduction in favor of female seeds. That this works against the nuclear DNA’s interests is evident in the countermeasures it takes. In some cases, nuclear restorer genes have evolved to neutralize the bias by boosting the supply of pollen.” P256

“Consider a real life example of altruism at the cellular level: the cellular slime mold. Its cells spend lots of time on their own, scooting along the forest floor looking for nutrients, occasionally reproducing by splitting into two. But when food grows scarce, the first cells to feel the shortage emit a kind of alarm call in the form of a chemical called acrasin. Other cells respond to the call, and a transformation ensues. The cells bunch up together, form a tiny slug, and start crawling as one. Finally, having reached a propitious spot, they set about to create a new generation of slime mold cells. The slug stands up on end and turns into a fruiting body that features a sharp division of cellular labor. While some cells – depending on where they happen to be – become bricks in a sturdy stalk, other cells become spores, designated for reproduction. The spores rise to the top and are launched into space to carry the slime mold legacy into posterity. The stalk cells, having spent their last full measure of devotion, now die. They have ‘sacrificed’ their own reproductive prospects for those of their neighbors. But the sacrifice isn’t real. The stalk cells stand a very good chance of being genetically identical to their next-door neighbors, so they have a strong Darwinian stake in the dispersion of the spores.” P259 True altruism rarely exists.

“Suppose that, while your cells are dividing after birth, a mutation happens. A new, genetically distinct type of cell is born. Rather than focusing on serving the needs of the larger organism, it replicates itself manically. By the time you are old enough to reproduce, there are so many of these mutant cells that they stand a much better than average chance of getting their DNA into the next generation. But in real life, this sort of parasitism couldn’t happen. The reason is that back when you were very, very, very young, your ‘germ’ line was sequestered. That is the cells that will form your egg or sperm were put aside for safekeeping; try as some mutant skin cell might, it will never get into the next generation, no matter how prolific it is.” P260

“Flight and sight are 2 technologies so amazing that they are commonly cited by creationists for their implausibility. Yet flight has arisen through evolution on at least 3 separate occasions, and eyes have been independently invented dozens of times.” P274

“As zoologists have noted, it may be no coincidence that the human skull gets thicker around the time that the hand axe is invented.” P285

“A Machivellian Intelligence needn’t include deception, but it can. The evolutionary psychologist Stephen Pinker describes a chimp who was shown several boxes containing food and one containing a snake; he led other chimps over the snake and, ‘after they fled screaming, feasted in peace.’” P290

“Some zoologists suspect that chimps and bonobos have long been ‘held back’ by the presence of humans – kept moving out of the jungle onto grasslands and, more generally, from generally, from filling the human niche. Obviously, if humans went extinct, that would no longer be a problem.” P292

“In stripping the stalks of leaves, pandas use something that mainstream bears don’t have – a thumb that works strikingly like a human thumb, letting the hand grasp finely. But there’s one difference: whereas a human thumb has 4 fingers to work with, a panda thumb has 5; the panda’s ‘thumb’ is the hand’s 6th digit! Natural selection fashioned it by reshaping a small wrist bone and rerouting muscles. Why didn’t natural selection just do what it did in our lineage – turn the 5th digit into a thumb? Because, writes Gould, ‘the panda’s true thumb is committed to another role, too specialized for a different function to become an opposable, manipulating digit.” P293

“One population of dolphins in Hawaii has invented a new form of creative expression: air art. Various dolphins, and for that matter some beluga whales, can send circles of air out of their blowholes, rising upward like smoke rings. But these Hawaiian dolphins take a whole new approach. They start by creating big underwater swirls with their fins, then turn around and blow air into the swirls. The resulting rings are big, limid, and beautiful. Some dolphins swim through their rings. Some dolphins make 2 little rings and coax them towards fusion, creating one big ring. Each artist has his own style. And no artist was trained by humans... and have never been rewarded for their work… The most amazing meme comes from a dolphin named Tinkerbell. She swims along on a sinous path, releasing a string of little bubbles, anda then brushing with her dorsal fin, joins them together into a corkscrew pattern or.. a helix.” P295

From Here to Eternity
“As a rule, genes are assigned to eggs in an even-handed way, so that a given gene, whether male or female, has 50/50 chance of winding up in a given intergenerational boat. But if a gene could find a way to bias the assignment process, placing itself in most or all of the boats, it might proliferate by natural selection. This has actually happened – in mice and fruit flies, and, no doubt, other less studied species. A type of gene called ‘segregation distorter’ has only one apparent function: distorting segregration – slanting the sorting process so that it can sneak onto the intergenerational ship time and time again. It is a professional stowaway.” P304

“There is also a bigger stowaway – a whole chromosome called B chromosome that appears in lots of organisms, including people… B chromosome is a parasite; it can hurt the organism’s chances of reproduction, delaying the onset of fertility in females. But from the point of view of genes on the B chromosome, that’s OK; if they slightly reduce the number of ships that set sail, but manage to sneak onto all of them, they will do better than genes play by the rules, getting exluded from ½ the ships.” P304

“Sure you may feel as if you feelings do things. Isn’t it the sensation of heat, after all, that causes you to withdraw your hand from the surprisingly hot stove? The answer from presupposed modern science is: no. Corresponding to the subjective sensation of heat is an objective, physical flow of biological information. Physical impulses signifying heat travel up your arm and are processed by your equally physical brain. The output is a physical signal that coerces your muscles into withdrawing your hand… Your sensation of pain bears roughly the relation to the real action that your shadow bears to you. In technical terms: consciousness, subjective experience is ‘epiphenomenal’ – it is always an effect, never a cause.” P306

“If subjective experience is superfluous to the day to day business of living and eating and getting our genes into the next generation, they why would it have ever arisen in the course of natural selection? Why would life acquire a major property that has no function?... The question of consciousness – as I’m defining it here – isn’t the question of subjective experience in general, ranging from pain to anxiety to epiphany; it is the question of sentience… But in any event our question here isn’t about how brains generate consciousness, but why…” pp 306-8 Sorry, no life shattering answers here.

“If evolution indeed has a purpose, that purpose may, for all we know, be imbued not by a divinity, but by some amoral creative process.” P317

“Consider those nostalgic reveries about wartime. Soldiers talk about the indelible devotion to their comrades in arms, and civilians recall the sense of brotherhood that suffused a whole nation. Sounds great. But as amity thus reached national scope, the petty enmities of daily life weren’t so much erased, as displaced – piled up, sky high, along the nation’s border: a mass of hatred between peoples. It almost seems as if one of the basic laws of the universe, right next to the conservation of energy is conservation of antipathy.” P 325

Appendix 1 Notes
“If self-interested entities are to realize mutual profit in a non-zero sum situation, two problems must be solved: communication and trust.” P338 The prisoner’s dilemma makes this clear.

Notes on his Notes
“[The] New World lagged behind Eurasia in population by several millenia… In 1500, when Old World population was around 400M, the New World’s population was 14M. In 3000BC, the whole world’s population had been 14M – and almost all of that, no doubt, was in the Old World.” P358

“Even if a hunter-gatherer and horticultural society are equally efficient in meeting their basic needs, when it comes time to create a surplus, the horticulturalists will often be more efficient. The reason is that the hunter-gatherers exploit the nearest food sources first, so they are walking farther to obtain ecah additional increment of food. For horticulturalists, creating a surplus is often just a matter of clearing more nearby land, anad clearing land is no more time consuming for the last crop as it is for the first crop.” P364

“Why are people so averse to bad bargains that they’ll turn down even when turning it down leads to an even worse outcome? The answer favored by most evolutionary psychologists is that during human evolution, getting a reputation as someone who would tolerate exploitation could lead to repeated exploitation, even to the point of diminishing your prospects of survival and procreation. Thus genes for pride could in the long run, do better than alternative genes that permit exploitation.” P366

“In assessing economic progress due to trade and technological change, it is easy to confuse two issues. Some people, minimizing progress, argue that there’s little evidence that the standard of living – per capita economic output – rose before modern era. True, that doesn’t mean that productivity – economic output per worker – wasn’t rising. When population is growing rapidly, as it has for the past several millenia, the productivity of individual workers can grow significantly without the standard of living rising, since the average worker has a growing number of mouths to feed… Also population growth can force people to farm on less desirable land, so that merely keeping productivity from falling could signify improved technology.” P371

“[Karl] Marx may have suffered from an underappreciation of information technology, grounded in an underappreciation of information generally. His ‘labor theory of value’ seems to ignore the fact that various people – investors, wholesalers, retailers – process information about the demand and supply of goods and raw materials, a service that saves consumers time and effort and is thus worthy of recompense.” P376

“After the American Revolution, peole noticed something: England kept trading with America even though it was no longer a colony. You could do regular, reliable business with a country without dominating it. In fact, given the costs of domination, maybe this was a better way of doing things!” p384

“Other examples of moral superiority of the present to the past: Of all known agrarian societies: 45% have practiced slavery. Of all known advanced horticultural societies, 83% have practiced slavery. In the 16th century, when the Portuguese, one of the most advanced civilizations of the day, subdued India for commercial purposes, they severed the hands, ears, and noses of recalcitrant natives. Torture went out of use about 1800, even in illiberal European states; and legalized caste and slavery in the course of the 19th century.” P386

“Remember that odd reproductive fact about your mitochondria – that the DNA is always passed on by the mother? Some biologists think this ‘uniparental’ inheritance is a way of preventing conflict among mitochondria. Conventional biparental inheritance might mean that various mitochondria in each cell were not genetically identical. And this lack of complete kinship could lead to conflict among them over whose genes get into the next generation. Such conflict might be so bad for the organism that natural selection weighed against it – and this in favor of conflict avoidance mechanisms, such as uniparental inheritance.” P391

“Natural selection has invented lots of different kinds of antifreeze for the sake of animals in chilly climes. In one case, it even happened on the same antifreeze formula on 2 separate occasions. It invented the stuff for fish in the Anartic more than 7MYA, and then millions of years later for Cod in the Arctic.” P394

“The segregation distorter gene stacks the deck by destroying sperm that don’t contain a copy of it.” P397

“The biblical phrase ‘God Almighty’ is a Greek mistranslation of a Hebrew phrase that meant something closer to ‘God of the mountain’. P401


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