2017 Maps of Meaning 06: Story and Metastory (Part 2)
[Introductory music] So I guess the case that I was making last time, at least in part, was that… You’re one of…- One way of conceptualizing the fundamental problem … that human beings face is… To conceptualize as an ongoing struggle with complexity. And… Complexity… … emerges as a consequence of… The, sort of, finite boundedness of individual consciousness, and the… … incredible excess of the unbounded everywhere else. Even including underneath that consciousness. Because, of course, your individual consciousness depends on the function… … or is related to the function of things that are so complex you can’t even understand it. So, there you are… Surrounded by some things that you understand… … in an ocean of things that you don’t understand at all. And, including things about yourself. And it’s not obvious at all how people solve that problem because… In some sense it’s not solvable: the fact that you don’t have the cognitive resources… … or the conceptual resources to understand everything that you need to understand, in order to properly orient yourself in the world. Now, obviously, partly the way we deal with that, is that we cooperate with other people… … and, so, that radically multiplies our resources … incredibly multiplies our resources. So… It’s something to consider, always when… …you know, so much of the political dialogue that surrounds us now… … consists of a critique of cooperative societies … and an analysis of their oppressive nature. And, of course that’s true, because any cooperative system… … that specifies a certain end point. … and produces a value hierarchy of some sort… … also simoultaneously… … forces things into that value system, and then rank orders… … people, according to the value structure …and so, there is an oppressive element to it, but… … compared to… … being naked in chaos… … generally, it’s better. Now, it doesn’t always have to be, because it can get murderous… …but generally speaking, well look, we’re social animals, it doesn’t matter. Our evolutionary pathway has already taken us here. So, we’re individuals, but we are unbelievably social. And so, that’s that. As far as I can tell, we’d have to be completely different creatures not to… … fall-… … not to take advantage of and fall prey to the problems with social being. Alright, so… I think the way that… … the problem of complexity has been solved — and this is the best argument I know of for… The truth of the Darwinian notion of evolution Now, I don’t think that our models of evolution are complete by any stretch of the imagination. I… I know they’re not, partly because of recent work done in epigenetics, which suggest that you can… …you can inherit acquired traits. And when I went to university –
When I started going to university in the 1980’s… …that was heresy, really, like… “No, you cannot inherit acquired traits” But actually, you can inherit acquired traits; that’s the field of epigenetics that studies that, and that… That’s a radical shift in perspective. Because we also don’t know exactly what that means across any length of time. When you’re thinking about evolutionary lengths of time, you’re thinking about three and a half billion years… … because that’s the span of time over which life evolved. So, even things that don’t have a… … overwhelmingly … … marked potency… … for one generation, can be unbelievably powerful across time. And then there’s also the issue of sexual selection, because… You know, you’ll hear Darwinists continually describe the world, and the evolutionary world, as a place of randomness. … and that’s not true! And I don’t know why they make that statement. The mutations are random, or quasi random. … because we don’t understand mutations that well yet either, and most mutations are deadly, right… Most mutations are deadly,
there’s a set of them that are harmful but not deadly, … and then there’s a tiny, tiny proportion… …that could, in principle, produce some benefit. .. to the next generation, assuming… …environmental shifts, say, in the direction of the mutation. So.. There’s a randomness element to that, we know that… I mean, part of the reason that… … you mutate… … or your cells mutate, your DNA mutates, is because… … of background levels of radioactivity. And a lot of that is a consequence of solar activity. So, cosmic rays come zipping through the atmosphere… … and they nail your DNA, and… … produce minor alterations, and that’s a mutation, and… … if you crank up the background radiation rate, like say around Chernobyl, then the mutation rate rises and… There’s definitely a random element to that! It’s necessary for there to be a random element because… As far as I can tell, the only way you can beat… … a random environment, is by producing random changes. …right, so.. You know the idea, basically, the… The environment isn’t some static place that’s selecting for higher and higher levels of fitness Or not in any-… It’s certainly not doing that in any static way. So, it’s shifting around randomly And then… You know, you have a structure that’s been-… Your species has a structure that’s a consequence of this immense evolutionary journey. … and it’s moderating itself randomly within certain parameters. The parameters being that most mutations will kill you. Alterations in your fundamental form generally tend to kill you, so they’re incremental. So the mutations are random, and they match
— hopefully — …they match the randomness in the environmental shift, so you can more or less keep up that way. But then there’s additional complicating factors, and they’re not trivial. … and one of them is what ever epigenetics does. We don’t know anything about that yet. But the second one is sexual selection. And sexual selection is no joke! It could be the primary thing- Certainly one of the primary things that has driven human evolution. And I think you can say that… You think about the environment…
Again, let’s think about the environment. So… You have a dominance hierarchy.
And that’s really an old structure, … the dominance hierarchy. …it’s three hundred million years old. Because it emerged, pretty much, whenever there was… Whenever there was an emergent nervous system … and whenever animals had occupied the same territory… …they automatically organized themselves into something approximating a dominance hierarchy. So… It’s a very, very, very, very old structure. It’s older than trees! It’s older than flowers! It’s OLD! And, as far as “real” goes, from a Darwinian sense: Permanent is real! You can say, you know, our arboreal ancestors adapted themselves to trees… So, the tree was around long enough to be a feature of the environment. But the dominance hierarchy has been around a lot longer than trees. And you can think of the dominance hierarchy both as an adaptation to the environment… – because you’d kinda of think about the dominance hierarchy as a cultural construct… … but if a cultural construct lasts long enough, then it becomes part of the environment. And, so… The dominance hierarchy is part of the environment. And what seems to happen… … roughly speaking… … and this is an over simplification, but we’ll go with it… Males have a dominance hierarchy And there’s a relatively small number of males that are relatively successful And those successful males have preferential access… … to female reproductive capacity. Either because the females actively choose the… … the more dominant males, which is very, very common… … or because the more dominant males chase all the less dominant males away, so that… … even if the females don’t exercise choice, which they often do, then the only… … males left around, that can serve as reasonable mating partners, are the more powerful ones. And so, you think, you’ve got two really radical… … determiners of evolution as a consequence of that; One is that… … each… I’m not talking about female dominance hierarchies at the moment. I can talk about them, but… That’s why this is an oversimplification, but… What happens is that… The males obviously are selected for their ability to move up dominance hierarchies. Obviously! Because the ones that are at the top of the dominance hierarchy reproduce preferentially… So that means the male dominance hierarchy becomes a method of selection. But then… Allied with that is the female proclivity for choice on whatever dimension… …the dominance hierarchy happens to be arranged. So then female sexual selection also becomes a radical… [ehm…] Non-random selector. … of… … of… … of… … what… … what genetic material is going to move into the next generation. So, I fail to see how any of that can be separated from the emergence … … of complex nervous systems and mind, over the course of evolution. Because people aren’t-…
Creatures aren’t making random choices. They’re not random at all! So… We even know such things like-… Imagine a peacocks tail. … you know… It’s covered with eyes, which is quite interesting… … because eyes, of course, attract attention.
And lot’s of animals have evolved eye-like markings. Like moths: There are moth’s that, when they unfold their wings, they have two big eyes on the back of them… … and that’s to keep birds from eating them, right. Because the birds don’t like being stared at. … so they stay away from the moths. A peacocks tail is nothing but eyes! So it’s very attractive, and it shimmers, and… … there’s something about it that’s beautiful, which is quite interesting too… The females have obviously been selecting the male peacocks for beauty; They have this insane tail! Well, so… The evolutionary biologists have thought: “Well, what possible utility could that tail be?” Is it just: maybe the females got fixated on tail,
so to speak, and.. You know, you’ve got a Baldwin effect loop going there… … and the male peacocks just got bigger and bigger tails … and it’s just like an evolutionary dead end. You know, it’s a positive feedback system that’s gone out of control But they have done things that look at… The symmetry and breadth, say, … Or the symmetry and size… … and the overall quality of the male peacocks tail… … as a marker for physical health. Reduce parasite load, for example And it does turn out that the healthier male peacocks have better tail display. and so what female seems to be doing is using some marker or some set of markers as a proxy indicator for for health. And I think, I think you could say with reasonable … You could say reasonable… … reasonably that female …human beings do the same to the male human beings. And there’s some of that vise versa, too. Like we evaluate each other for example, for symmetry, which is one of the element of beauty, because healthier people tend to be more symmetrical and lots of animals use symmetry: Butterflies. If- Butterflies won’t mate with another butterfly if it deviates from symmetry by the tiniest amounts. You can imagine. So symmetry is a marker. And … There’s other markers, like… …shoulder width to waist width is one, and… waist width to hip width is another. That’s usually what – Males use that to evaluate another females in part. So there’s a lot of markers of health. Um, but… It also looks to me that the… the data world wide seems to indicate that women – So imagine that- Women made across dominant hierarchy and up ,socioeconomically speaking, and on average across cultures women go for men who are four to five years older. You know, it varies. In the Scandinavian countries that shrunk a little bit… but not that much. And in other countries it’s bigger I would say that depends on some degree on… difficulty of establishing economic independence. Right, because in richer countries it’s easier to… have enough economic independence if you are a male, to be… to be a useful… … participant in the process of having children. Um But, it doesn’t matter cross culturally. It’s still across and up where men made it across and down They don’t care about socioeconomic status- doesn’t seem to be part of their… selection method… …generally speaking. So, So, I think that part of that is also that the ability of… …women to select for male health. It’s something like that, because- It is not only that… because if you are healthy and energetic you are more like to be successful. Because it’s hard to be successful if you are ill, obviously. I mean, so… Because the competition’s just too high. And both- both genders, both sexes… …select each other for attractiveness, …both selects for intelligence, …both selects for personality. Although there are differences there, … in terms of what’s stressed. but So, So, I think you can derive a couple of things out of this. And this is where I think people are different than… …than other animals. Importantly different, is that- So imagine that there’s tremendous selection pressure… …to… … towards the production, let’s say : of men who are good at climbing male dominance hierarchies, … or climbing the male dominance hierarchy. But the thing that so interesting about the people is that We’ve multiplied our dominace hierarchies. You know, if you take an animal that’s… …got a rather static behavioral pattern then there’s there is single hierarchy. Elephant seals are good example of that So, elephant seals, the males are absolutely massive. They are way, way bigger than females. And they basically have harems, roughly speaking. And they use physical prowess as their marker of… status, essentially. And obviously size, is a huge part of that… because otherwise male elephant seals wouldn’t be as- They’re massive these things. They’re absolutely enormous. And so, it’s just power. …/health, you know. maybe aggression, something like that. It’s whatever makes them more, um… … suitable, … for the kind of physical combat… …that elephant seals engage in. So, And, the degree to its power is associated with dominance status in those sorts of situations seems to be associated with the size differential between males and females. So, the more power is an issue with regards to male competence, the larger the males are compared to the females, and the more likely, the males are gonna have harem relationships with the females. And you see that a little bit in the human beings, because men are bigger than women. They’re not overwhelmingly bigger, that’s sexual dimorphism. And you know, there’s some men that are smaller than some women. But on average men are taller and… …they have more upper body strength, and so forth. So there is a power element to male competition. But it’s not as extended as it would be among animals… say, like elephant seals. So in the elephant seal, you see, maybe there is one… stable set of traits, that’s been selected for that makes the male more likely to reproduce. But human beings, we are very weird creatures, because we are so… conceptually flexible. And so what seem to have happened, Maybe- We started… Male started selecting each other for d… , in dominance competition for something like cognitive flexibility and and conscientiousness, something like that. So that would be… the ability to abstractly represent the world and then the ability to operate effectively within it, to represent yourself socially in a way and then to carry through with that, because that enables people to trust you. So it’s something like that. And so, that produced … cortical expansion and then women were selecting men who are good at that and that produces cortical expansion and then there’s arms race between women and men with regards to intelligence, so the women kept up or they certainly kept up with … with intelligence as the evolutionary cycle continued. But one of the consequences of … … selection for … … cortical expansion and increased cognitive flexibility was that … …the number of dominance hierarchies that… … human beings could produce started to multiply. Right? Because there’s all sorts of way that you can be successful. There’s- You think about how many ways you can be successful in modern culture. And you can be successful in dimensions that aren’t really even associated with each other. So you can be successful socially, that’s what an extrovert would do. You could be successful in terms of intimate relationships, that’s what an agreeable person would do, a disagreeable person would more successful with regard to competition, a person who’s high in neuroticism would be… … would be try to protect themselves to establish some sort of security, an open person would be looking for a flexible creative environment. And so there’s this multiplicity of … … of … … ways that you can establish a dominance hierarchy … … and be successful in it. And if you are creative, you can come up with your own damn dominance hierarchy. Which is exactly what you are doing if you are creative. Right? You spin up a game, that’s your game. And then you make the rules. And that’s hard, because if you make a new game with a new rules, it’s hard to monetize it. But you could be the best playing that game. So that’s huge advantage of being creative if you can pull it off. So then you think, well, what’s happened among human beings is… … the multiplication of the set … … of possible dominance hierarchies has become very broad, and then you can say, well what’s driving selection now is the ability to be successful across multiple set of dominance hierarchies. And that accounts at least in part for our cognitive flexibility. So that’s really what a human being is. A human being … … is a creature that has high potential for succeeding … … across a very wide range of potential human dominance hierarchies. And so that gives us our transformative phyche. That’s the niche that, That’s the niche that, we’ve both produced and occupy. And I think it’s out of that, that the hero mythology emerges, fundamentally. Because I think what the hero is, the mythological hero… …is a representation of that part of the phyche… …that’s particularly good at being successful across sets of dominance hierarchies. That’s very, very biological way of thinking about it. And I, I thought about this for a long time. I can’t see anyway that that just can’t be the case. And how else could it work? If we had a fixed behavioral pattern, like beavers, you know You are the most successful beaver if you build the best dam. It’s like, fine. Then, you know what’s going to be selected for. But, that isn’t what people are like. And it’s also why we’re so multi-purposed. You know. We have hands. What’s a hand for? What’s the evolutionary function of a hand? Well, you can’t specify that. You could say- It’s something like- Well a hand is useful for doing a whole bunch of different things with. well And mouth, tongue, same thing. What are words for? Well it’s the same thing. They’re for very, they’re for communicating a very wide range of information. It’s something like that. So we’re, we’re these weird general-purpose animals. You know, we’re not great at any one thing. But, we can swim better than most terrestrial animals, you know, we can run faster than most animals, and we can certainly run longer. Like, a human being can run a horse to death over the course of a week. If they’re in good shape. So, like we are really good at … … being multi-purpose entity. Like a rat, you know. They call rats weedy species because they can be… anywhere. They don’t have a specific niche like, you know, there’s animals down in, in a… …the amazon, they’re specialized for like, one tree. You know. Or one type of tree, in one tiny little area. That’s not what human beings like. We’re, We’re like cockroaches or rats. Which is a nasty comparison, but… we can go anywhere and thrive. And so, And so being particularly good at that, being particularly good at being able to go anywhere and thrive, also seems to me to be a canonical element of the hero mythology. So, So, okay, alright. Now, I started to introduce all those topics because I was trying to address the issue of how it is that we’ve come to deal with the fact that the things are so complex that we can’t deal with them. And so, a huge part of the answer to that is that Darwinian answer. So one is, well, you keep up with things you can’t keep up with by changing unpredictably. So, here’s an example. you know Sometimes if you are driving down the road and there’s a dear on the road. Maybe you run into it and it’ll, instead of jumping out of the way, it sort of jumps randomly. And then you run into it. You think: Well that’s a pretty stupid strategy, it’s like, … Natural selection at work there, but it turns out that deer jump randomly when wolves are chasing them. Well, why would you do that? Well, because you can’t predict it. Right? If, If something horrible is after you, acting unpredictably is actually pretty good strategy. And that’s basically what mutation does. Means: The horrible thing that’s after you, always is the rapid transformation of the environment. And the only thing you can possibly do in that case is capitalize on chance. Okay, so that’s one thing. So that’s probably why Darwinian story -I think- has to be right. Because the environment does move unpredictably. And the only way you can keep up with the unpredictable is to generate variance. And hope that one of them has drawn the lucky lottery card. But then there’s these additional issues, which … is that we also, we also seem to be tightly selected for… …the capacity to cooperate and compete, so that multiplies our cognitive ability, that’s a huge part of it. And then, we are also, We also seem to have constructed ourselves, so to speak, … … through sexual choice into this general problem- general purpose problem solving creatures. So we’ve internalized some of the Darwinian process. So, you think, well Most animals will produce a variance of themselves physically. And then most of those variance die. But human beings have Built a lands… built a mechanism, let’s say… that’s like a game engine. I think that’s a really good, you know how there are game engines now, that people have devised… their computational devises. And you can take a game engine and you can generate games with it. Like computer games. So… The game engine is a mechanism for producing games. That’s what our brains are like. Our brains are game engines for producing games. So, what happens is that … When you think, you produce an avatar of yourself, … …you produce a fictional world in that avatar inhabits, … and maybe you produce a multiple fictional worlds and multiple avatars, that’s the you that could be tomorrow, which is what you are doing when you are planning, and you walk the avatar through its potential routes, and those who look good you keep, and those who look bad you kill. And so, you can Then you can embody the ideas that you keep and act those out, and hopefully the idea is, when you embody them, you are successful and you don’t get killed. And so we’re select- … When we’ve been selecting each other for cognitive prowess, we’ve been selecting ourselves for the ability to generate avatars … … out of ourselves, and kill them instead of dying. Its unbeleivably brilliant And thats really akin to the human discovery of the future, right, the future is a place where variants of you could exist. Its something like that. And other Animals don’t seem to be able to do that. So, and we’re very sneaky. And it doesnt seem to be working to badly, although we havn’t been around for very long right. Human beings of our particular sub species, about 150 thousand years, something like that. Which is from an evolutionary time frame its like, its nothing, you know, its 2000 80 year old men. Its not very long, if you think about it that way. Ok, so What I want to do is draw a relationship between that developmental process, that evolutionary process and the emergence of these underlying motivational systems Its something like this, so, go back in time to the emergence of the development of nervous systems So, there’s cells that creatures use to to, produce motor output and there’s cells that creatures use to map the patterns around them onto themselves And so those… thats sensory, thats the sensory layer, so to speak. Imagine. Sensory Layer Nervous Layer Motor Layer In simpler animals you just have sensory motor cells. Then they diversify. Sensory Layer. Nervous Layer Motor Layer. In fact thats actually what you consist of when you are first developing in utero. After the blastocyte stage when the cells differentiate. Thats the differentiation, sensory layer, nervous layer, motor layer. So you think, theres a sensory layer Now what’s that sensory layer doing? Think about the world as consists, consisting of patterns. Of all sorts… like maybe theres an animal in the ocean and its being subjected to wave motion. And so, Its sensory systems map the wave motion onto the motor output so, if you look at a sponge for example, sponges are good examples cause they’re sort of half uni-cellular animals and half multi-cellular animals You can take a sponge and run it though a collander and seperate it out into cells In say, salt water, and it’ll assemble itself back into a sponge. So its sorta at the, yeah, amazing eh! Its kinda what you do in utero. The cells somehow know enough to communicate with one another to organise themselves into an organism. Its unbeleivable. We have no idea how people do that because When your in the initial form, the blastocyte form all those cells are identical, genetically and all of a sudden they differentiate and they move to the places they are suposed to go we have no idea how that how the hell can that happen? These cells are all identical except for their position so they are obviously communicating with one another in some unbeleivably complicated way and saying, well you’re this sort of cell and you’re going to differentiate that way god only knows but anyway, sponges can do this… now a sponge isnt complicated enough to have the sensory layer and the nervous layer and the motor layer its just sensory motor cells if I remember correctly, but what the sponge is trying to figure out is.. It wants to get water through its pores inside because that’s how it eats and so There’s wave motion constantly and so what’s happening is that the wave motion is a pattern and the sponge is reacting to that in a patterned way Nothing like an error to make you conscious Then you do a high resolution analysis of the space in which the error e merged. You rematch your motor output, your perceptions and all of that to make that error go away and away you go And so your consciousness is continually Your consciousness seems to continually building your unconscious Your procedural unconscious And so to some degree the purpose of consciousness is to make you functional unconsciously Right? Because that’s way better You don’t want to be conscious of most things because it’s just…what are you gonna do, be conscious of your digestive processes? It’s like, “no.” If your good at something you hardly have to be conscious of it at all So consciousness is something like an error detection and rectification system. Something like that. And so you could say, well you could practice being conscious because what that means in some sense is you’re always attending to your errors and that seems to be a really intelligent thing to do– if you don’t take it too far and collapse yourself because if you’re always attending to your errors you’re always improving your automated adaptability Something like that, right? Pay attention! See if things are working out the way that you want them to and if they’re not modify your approach, your perceptions so you conserve these systems and system emerges to solve the problems of emergent complexity and you end up at birth with all of these conserved systems so those would be proclavities that would enable you to.. manifest necessary realm of behaviours in social, natural human environment something like that… so you are basically prepared for that. and i told you…. ah.. we went through what those were last time and.. and you can break them down into self maintanence motivations and self propagation motivations.. something like that so now okay the question is how do those manifest themselves? and that’s where we get.. that’s where we can make a shift ..say from evolutionary ideas and biological ideas to narrative ideas. so i made the case for you that you exist within this thing.. I never figured out exactly what to call it because you can call it a game or you can call it a frame of reference it’s a pretty good one or you can call it a story or you can call it unitive perception and that’s not exactly right because it’s more than perception it’s really.. what it is a micro personality it’s your personality as it manifests itself at the highest possible resolutions. That’s what this is. and so.. if I am say I set myself to the task of moving those keys from there to here so my perceptual frame is it’s this thing.. i think well what’s the world everything else can be ignored I need to make an object out of my hand these keys that tiny spot on the table and my goal is to transform this pattern into that pattern