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  • Has It Ever Occurred To You That None Of Us Are Acting Rationally?

    Posted on March 12th, 2019 Helian 17 comments

    Do you imagine that you are acting for the good of all mankind? You are delusional. What is your actual goal when you imagine you are acting for the good of all mankind? Maximization of human happiness? Maximization of the rate at which our species as a whole reproduces? Complete elimination of our species? All of these mutually exclusive goals are deemed by some to be for the “good of all mankind.” How is that possible if there really is such a thing as “the good of all mankind?” The answer is that there is no such thing, for the simple reason that there is no such thing as good, unless one is speaking of a subjective impression.

    Look, just stop arguing with me in your mind for a moment and try a thought experiment. Imagine that what I’ve said above about good – that it is merely a subjective impression – is true. In that case, how can we account for the existence of this subjective impression, this overpowering belief that some things are good and other things are evil? It must exist for the same reason that all of our other behavioral predispositions and traits exist – by virtue of natural selection, the same process that accounts for our very existence to begin with. In that case, these subjective impressions, these overpowering beliefs, must exist because, in the environment in which they evolved, they enhanced the odds that the responsible genes would survive and reproduce. How, then, is it possible for us to imagine that our goal is “the good of all mankind.” Natural selection does not operate at the level of “all mankind.” It operates at the level of the individual and, perhaps, at the level of small groups. If our goal is to act for “the good of the species,” we can only conclude that the behavioral predispositions responsible for this desire have become “dysfunctional,” in the sense that they are no longer likely to promote the survival of the responsible genes. The most plausible reason they have become “dysfunctional” is the fact that they exist in the context of a radically changed environment.

    This has some obvious implications as far as the rationality of our behavior is concerned. Try following the reasons you imagine you’re doing what you do down through the accumulated “rational” muck to the emotional bedrock where they originate. You can string as many reasons together as you want, one following the other, and all perfectly rational, but eventually the chain of reasons must lead back to the origin of them all. That origin cannot be the “good in itself,” because such an object does not exist. It is imaginary. In fact, the bedrock we are seeking consists of behavioral predispositions that exist because they evolved. As the result of a natural process, they cannot possibly be “rational,” in the sense of having some deeper purpose or meaning more fundamental than themselves. It is evident that these behavioral traits exist because, at least at some point in time and in some environment, they enhanced the odds that the individuals possessing these traits would survive and reproduce. That, however, is not their purpose, or their function, because there was no one around to assign them a purpose or function. They have no purpose or function. They simply are.

    That’s what I mean when I say that none of us acts rationally. The sun does not act rationally when it melts solid objects that happen to fall into it. It does not have the purpose or goal of melting them. It simply does. The ocean does not act rationally when it drowns air breathing creatures that are unfortunate enough to sink beneath its surface. Millions of creatures have drowned in the ocean, but the ocean didn’t do it on purpose, nor did it have a goal in doing so. In the same sense, our behavioral traits do not have a goal or purpose when they motivate us to act in one way or another. Just as it is a fact of nature that the sun melts solid objects, and the ocean drowns land creatures, it is a fact of nature that we are motivated to do some things, and avoid others. That is what I mean when I say that our behavior is irrational. I don’t mean that it can’t be explained. I do mean that it has no underlying purpose or goal for doing what it does. Goals and purposes are things we assign to ourselves. They cannot be distilled out of the natural world as independent objects or things in themselves.

    Consider what this implies when it comes to all the utopian schemes that have ever been concocted for our “benefit” over the millennia. A goal that many of these schemes have had in common is “moral progress.” It is one of the more prominent absurdities of our day that even those among us who are most confident that Darwin was right, and who have admitted that there is a connection between morality and our innate behavioral predispositions, and who also realize and have often stated publicly that morality is subjective, nevertheless embrace this goal of “moral progress.” This begs the question, “Progress towards what?” Assuming one realizes and has accepted the fact that morality is subjective, it can’t be progress towards any objective Good, existing independently of what anyone thinks about it. It must, then, be progress towards something going on in conscious minds. However, as noted above, conscious minds are a fact of nature, existing by virtue of natural processes that have no function and have no goal. They simply are. Furthermore, our conscious minds are not somehow connected all across the planet in some mystical collective. They all exist independently of each other. They include predispositions that motivate the individuals to whom they belong to have desires and goals. However, those desires and goals cannot possibly exist by virtue of the fact that they benefit all mankind. They exist by virtue of the fact that they enhanced the odds that the responsible genetic material would survive and reproduce. They were selected at the level of the individual, and perhaps of small groups. They were definitely not selected by virtue of any beneficial effect on all mankind.

    In other words, when one speaks of “moral progress,” what one is in reality speaking of is progress towards satisfying the whims of some individual. The reason for the existence of these whims has nothing to do with the welfare of all mankind. To the extent that the individual imagines they have some such connection, the whims have become “dysfunctional,” in the sense that they have been redirected towards a goal that is disconnected from the reasons they exist to begin with. Belief in “moral progress,” then, amounts to a blind emotional response to innate whims on the part of individuals who have managed to profoundly delude themselves about exactly what it is they’re up to. The problem, of course, is that they’re not the only ones affected by their delusion. Morality is always aimed at others. They insist that everyone else on the planet must respect their delusion, and allow it to dictate how those others should or should not behave.

    This fundamental irrationality applies not just to morality, but to every other aspect of human behavior. Whether it’s a matter of wanting to be “good,” or of “serving mankind,” or accumulating wealth, or having sex, or striving for “success” and recognition, we are never motivated by reason. We are motivated by whims, although we certainly can and do reason about what the whims are trying to tell us. This process of reasoning about whims can result in a bewildering variety of conclusions, most of which have nothing to do with the reasons the whims exist to begin with. You might say that our brains have evolved too quickly. Our innate behavioral baggage has not kept up, and remains appropriate only to environments and forms of society that most of us left behind thousands of years ago. We continue to blindly respond to our emotions without understanding why they exist, pursuing goals that have nothing to do with the reasons they exist. In effect, we are living in an insane asylum.

    I am not suggesting that we all stop having goals and aspirations. Life would be extremely boring without them, and they can be just as noble as we please, at least from our own point of view. From my point of view, the fact that creatures like us can exist at all seems wildly improbable, wonderful, and sublime. For all we know, the life we are a part of may exist on only one of the trillions of planets in our universe. I personally deem it precious, and one of my personal goals is that it be preserved. Others may have different goals. I merely suggest that, regardless of what they are, we keep in mind what motivates us to seek them in the first place. I personally would prefer that we avoid botching the wildly improbable, wonderful, and sublime experiment of nature that is us by failing to understand ourselves.


    17 responses to “Has It Ever Occurred To You That None Of Us Are Acting Rationally?” RSS icon

    • Great blog and its the complexity which is most appreciated.
      After having so rightly dispensed with right and wrong as having any objective moral/ethical footing we should in life be confronted with ‘and just what are we to do now moment’.
      Rather than approaching this dilemma from a ‘to do’ direction, a possible hint could come from the ‘what not to do’.
      To recap/expand some of my previous rants, the things that trigger our actions/thoughts are external stimuli which fit (lock and key, Lorenz) instinctual patterns in our brain. All very unglamorous and primordial, nothing religious here.
      Tinbergens ‘beak’ showed how easily, infact how delighted, we are to be confronted by an external False stimuli. I’ll use religion as the example.
      The Church with its many and complex ‘false stimuli’, has and continues to cause huge damage to millions in lost opportunities to live a ‘non delusional life’ etc.
      It’s not surprising that thousands of years ago some people discovered or simply by chance developed behaviours that cause others to give them 10% if not more. And lets face it, many of the enjoyable things in life (even a drink of wine) are ‘false stimuli’.
      Clarity and an understanding of these personal systems can/should be a liberation. As in all things, this understanding still then takes self awareness and determination to not fall, however, how far better to battle ones own demons than be fooled by anothers false gods.

    • I think you really hit the nail on the head with that comment, David. It’s encouraging to hear from someone who at least understands what I’m saying occasionally, whether they agree with me or not. It seems to me that the difference between objective and subjective morality is very simple. In spite of that I constantly run into people who insist that objective morality exists, because this, that, or the other thing is “really good,” or “really bad,” and “no reasonable person” would deny it. They just can’t comprehend something as simple as the fact that an object must, by definition, be independent of what they or anyone else thinks ought to be. It’s frustrating.

      Your comment hits on what might very well be the only real point of writing this blog. After all, I’m certainly not going to inspire a social revolution. Still, it’s worthwhile from my personal point of view if I can inspire a few individuals to achieve “clarity and understanding of these personal systems.” I, too, find it depressing that so many people live their lives pursuing “false stimuli” such as religion. Reality is so much more stunning and inspiring than the delusional belief that “God did it.” I can find nothing attractive in a life spent being manipulated and exploited in the service of these false idols. From my personal point of view, I find it better to understand what kind of a creature I am, and why I’m motivated to want the things I want, and do the things I do, than to stumble blindly through life. I may decide to act in harmony with the reasons those motivations exist or not. If it’s necessary to “battle my own demons” in the process, I’d at least like to have a clear understanding of what those demons are.

    • Would it constitute “moral progress” for us to better understand our whims and how they drive us? Would such increased understanding be for “the good of all mankind”?

      Also, I’d like to know whether your hypothesis here is in principle falsifiable. Take F = GmM/r^2: finding an instance where it’s r^2.01 would falsify the universality of r^2. Well, what’s the closest “nearby” phenomenon one could observe which would falsify your own hypothesis?

    • Thank you for your kinds words.
      I remember stumbling onto your blog after being inspired by Ardrey, it was like a beckon. Your challenge re ethics and morality is a key turning point for anyone who wants an understanding many of the other concepts discussed here. When people are unable to grasp the many layered nature of our ‘minds/psyche’ they are invariably acting purely at a ‘conscious’ ‘ego’ level and its one of the great mysteries how any of us manage to step back and consider/identify within ourselves the ‘primordial’ nature of our impulses. When a person starts to do this there is no roadmap, its quite bizzare that bookshops have 100,000’s of books but I have yet to see anything that really nails these ideas.
      Ardrey, Lorenz, Tinbergen etc all touch on aspect, but it takes a polymath to join the dots,. Logically there is the possibility of clarity, the gatekeepers and illusions who stand in the way can be swept away, I look forward to many more posts.

    • @Luke

      No, better understanding of our whims and how they drive us would not constitute “moral progress,” for reasons that I’ve repeated many times in this blog. Used without qualification, the term “moral progress” implies the existence of a goal towards which progress is made. No such goal exists. As Darwin pointed out, morality exists by virtue of the same process of natural evolution that accounts for the vast majority of our other significant characteristics. As a natural process, evolution did not have a goal or a purpose, any more than the natural process that led to the formation of an asteroid orbiting a distant star implies that the asteroid has a goal and a purpose.

      Similarly, it is impossible for anything to be “for the good of mankind,” because such a statement implies the existence of an objective good. No such object exists. Look at my earlier comment. Do you see the phrase, “I find it better?” That’s exactly what I mean when I speak of things that are “good,” whether for all mankind or any other group or individual. I describe “increased understanding” and “knowing the truth” as “good” because I personally consider the thought of a life lived without understanding or knowledge of the truth distasteful. In other words, I’m speaking of a subjective “good” that is no more capable of dictating to the rest of mankind that they must also agree it is “good” than any of my other personal whims. Given what I’ve so often written in this blog, I don’t think it’s necessary for me to qualify my writing with some legalese disclaimer about exactly what I mean every time I use the word “good.”

      My hypothesis here is falsifiable in the same sense than any other negative hypothesis is falsifiable. In other words, it is similar to the hypotheses that there are no unicorns, or there are no fairies, or there are no leprechauns. One falsifies such hypotheses by producing an example of a unicorn, fairy, or leprechaun, as the case may be. In this case, one could falsify my hypothesis by producing an objective good or an objective evil, independent of what any conscious mind happens to imagine is good or evil, existing as a thing in itself. Of course, it could not consist of nothing, because in that case it would be nothing. If it is an object of the kind with which we are familiar, well and good, we should all be able to see or otherwise detect it. If, instead, it is made of some kind of a “spirit” substance, then whoever presents an example of this “spirit good” or “spirit evil” bears the burden of proving that the spirit substance itself exists to begin with. They must then provide a coherent explanation of how this substance has acquired the ability to dictate what is “really good” and “really evil” to everyone on the planet, regardless of what they personally think about the matter.

    • @David

      I think that Ardrey, Lorenz and Tinbergen, as well as earlier thinkers such as Keith, Westermarck and Darwin himself, “joined the dots,” as you say. However, it will take a little longer to sweep away all the moral cobwebs accumulated over the millennia thanks to the “gatekeepers and illusions.” I think “considering/identifying within ourselves the ‘primordial’ nature of our impulses” is the key challenge facing mankind today. Until we meet that challenge it will be very difficult for us to achieve a stable state of anything resembling “human flourishing,” no matter which flavor thereof you happen to prefer.

    • @Helian

      Given what I’ve so often written in this blog, I don’t think it’s necessary for me to qualify my writing with some legalese disclaimer about exactly what I mean every time I use the word “good.”

      It was easy to read your blog post as if you were presenting it as something which would produce “moral progress” and be “for the good of mankind”. Indeed, reading it that way made it seem compelling. My questions really meant to ask: what happens when one utterly destroys those two concepts? For example, a dedication to saying the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is a moral one. Why should anyone believe that your whims will be maximally satisfied by you maximizing truth and minimizing falsehood?

      In this case, one could falsify my hypothesis by producing an objective good or an objective evil, independent of what any conscious mind happens to imagine is good or evil, existing as a thing in itself. … If it is an object of the kind with which we are familiar, well and good, we should all be able to see or otherwise detect it.

      How does this help anyone else understand what is meant by “an objective good or an objective evil”? Contrast this to F = GmM/r^2, which tells you that you will not observe F = GmM/r^⍺ where ⍺ ≠ 2. Perhaps you mean “independent of what any conscious mind happens to imagine” in this sense: anyone who rejects that F = GmM/r^2 is an excellent approximation for most human experience is either teachable or crazy. We don’t have any concepts of ‘the good’ where society is able to maintain the “either teachable or crazy” dichotomy. But that can’t be right, because society hasn’t always been oriented toward the kind of science done from the Enlightenment on and that didn’t mean said objective knowledge didn’t exist. It just means we weren’t disciplined enough in the right ways to systematically study it.

      Suppose that John Glubb is right in The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival and the rise and fall of civilizations follows a standard trajectory. Could it be that all of those empires refused to submit to some objective morality which is a technical requirement to avoid civilizational collapse? It’d be like getting continually hit by plague epidemics and never changing one’s behavior appropriately to make them less likely. Those dominated by whims won’t develop the kind of discipline required to deal with either problem.

      Perhaps I’m misunderstanding your meaning of ‘whim’; my starting point is the standard dictionary definition with denotation and connotation. Those controlled by the capricious are able neither to detect much structure nor create much structure.

    • I am currently trying to put together a coherent comment, but in the short term could I just say that what you are attempting to do is similar to an athiest walking into the Vatican and trying to convince the multitude that there is no god.
      As discussed before there will be two types, the ones who really believe, and the liars who will never admit that they have any doubt,.
      The point I’m trying to emphasis is this divide, this huge gap between the conscious map/psychology of the individual, and the underlying/unconscious reality of the ‘instinctive/non blank slate’ of the person.
      The frustration of not being able to get beyond the continual return to issues such as ‘right and wrong’ is simply one of the symptoms/signs of the magnitude of the challenge.
      This is such a rich field for discussion as there appears to be very few who can even get to this point.(you rightly broadenend my list, I’ll add Eugene Moralis, Lionel Tiger) It’s as if its simply impossible to start a broader exploration of the deeper issues with most people,.
      Without going on to long I am really beginning to think that the Dawkins of the world, the Pinkers of the world are classically on the wrong side of this awareness barrier,.
      Naturalist are far more likely to accept reality than theorists.

    • @David

      Yes, I definitely feel like an atheist walking into the Vatican. If anything, my case is worse. Our consciousness creates a powerful illusion that good and evil are real things, objects if you will. The God illusion is less direct. It is probably just a manifestation of our tendency to recognize and respect the alpha male in our group or tribe. I doubt that our genes know anything about supernatural beings. One result of the power of the illusion is that people simply can’t imagine it isn’t real. They are not even capable of considering the possibility that the categories “good” and “evil” are subjective, or of imagining what that fact implies. As a result, the difference between objective and subjective morality becomes incomprehensible to them, even though, to all appearances, it seems trivial. As a result, they respond to my arguments with non sequiturs, such as, “If everyone believed that, it wouldn’t be good,” or, “The result of everyone believing that would be evil.” In other words, they keep trying to force what I am telling them into their old, familiar categories, even as I explain to them that those categories don’t exist. It’s frustrating.

    • @Helian

      In other words, they keep trying to force what I am telling them into their old, familiar categories, even as I explain to them that those categories don’t exist. It’s frustrating.

      I suggest checking out Alasdair MacIntyre’s 1977 Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narrative and the Philosophy of Science. He looks at precisely this paradigm shift and what makes it work. Two key conclusions are that (1) you must show you can explain more than the old way; (2) you have to show how you can account for the error in the old way of thinking. I haven’t read enough of your writing to know if you’ve done these in a compelling manner. Are there societal conundrums which cannot be well-explained in terms of objective morality, but can be in terms of evolved morality? Does objective morality have an ultraviolet catastrophe you can take advantage of? Note that classical physics reigned until the new physics was shown to be superior.

    • Morning From Sunny Nambucca on the East Coast of Australia.

      Now I mention this as in a world of madness I find the walk along a beach, made up or actual sand, then a swim in the ocean a fine way to connect with things which I claim as evidence of actual objective reality,.

      Further your comments, yes I think Authorities are directly traceable back to our tribal leader, leaders or leadership group. To expand a fraction, the actual ‘true’ indicators of that ‘leadership’, would have been quite subtle. This subtlety an extension of the changing and dynamic nature of any ‘Alpha individual or group’ in a natural setting,. This is important as the ‘false beak’ of Tinbergen in the setting of ‘authority’ has become enormous, and in many ways the ‘structures’ are now greater than any individual or group. But maybe more on that later,.

      I think that your question re the ‘good’ and ‘evil’ conversation is a seed well worth encouraging.

      If we look across a a range of different ‘groups’ and identify differing examples of ‘the content’ of their ‘goods’ and ‘evils’ we may then be able to look at the function of these ‘words’. I do mean to down play the ‘word’ or ‘contents’ of the various ‘theories’ of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ as they are often of little relevance to that actual functioning of said groups.
      The narrative of this ‘good/evil’ becomes and identifier and a group norm. To be in the group you must accept and spruik the neccesary ‘words’ and hold onto the appropriate ‘books’ etc
      We then see that the treatment of those who have the word, and are in the group, is expected to be different to the treatment that is allowed/encouraged against those who don’t accept the word/book and are therefore ‘outsiders’.
      But there is another ( there are probably many) aspect here, and its one of submission to the ‘Authority’ who determine the ‘good/evil’ narrative. The Authority can change the nature/meaning/interpretation of the word, the non leaders must submit. (As hinted, the word is not real, the submission is.)

    • 2/2
      This phenomena of submission is something that intrigues me as it is a clear and naturally occurring part of the human psyche. It is however, something that in the natural setting would have been occasionally broken by the reality of moving from the submissive member of the tribe, to finding oneself the ‘elder/alpha’. This is a natural developmental stage, albeit for only a small fraction of the populaiton, maybe 1-5 in the group of 50-250. (I use these estimates as rough counts only) (the 1-5 I think is important as I see evidence that in many tribal settings there is a group of elders, made up of both genders, there is no set pattern. )
      Now in our ‘modern civilisations’ this natural system is broken and usurped by the ‘false beaks’ of religion and other external structures.
      A very real and powerful element here is that a powerful and dynamic natural developmental stage has been lost. Rarely do we encounter a person who has had to move from the ‘submissive’ stage to the full responsibility of the ‘leadership/alpha’ stage. In our ‘false authority’ system many of our leaders still have a ‘god’ or a ‘nation state’ to play the role of the responsible Authority.
      I’ll pause there and see if you have are any comments or thoughts.
      Re the ability to share these thoughts (extensions of the ‘good/evil’) debate I’ve been thinking of writing a book re this and many extensions (the submissive theory etc) but come up against an almost overpowering feeling that people would think these ideas quite mad. Imagine not only confronting their ‘gods’ but then explaining their ‘submission’, then challenging the foundations of their illusionary beliefs.
      Anyway, I’d be interested in any of your thoughts.

    • @David

      I think the “dysfunctional” behaviors you speak of can be at least partially explained in the same way as many other similar problems. First, the underlying heritable traits evolved in a radically different environment from the ones we find ourselves in now, and second, our brains have become so large that we overthink what those predispositions are trying to tell us in the context of our current environment, coming up with a host of mutually contradictory answers.

    • @Luke

      I think you’re comparing apples and oranges here. When you speak of the inverse square law or the ultraviolet catastrophe, you are at least speaking of things that you can observe and measure. In other words, you have evidence that they exist. In the case of objective morality, there is no such evidence. On the other hand, much evidence exists that morality is subjective. Indeed, if it exists by virtue of natural selection, it must be subjective. Newton didn’t discover the planets, and Planck developed his quantum theory to explain things that we could actually observe and measure. When it comes to morality, there is no equivalent. No one has ever observed an objective good, or an objective evil. Under the circumstances, it would be premature to begin deriving mathematical laws that we imagine apply to them. It would be the equivalent of applying mathematical laws to predict the length of a unicorns horn, or the location of a leprechauns gold.

    • Back to the discussion re the lack of any evidence to support the abstract constructs of ‘evil’ or ‘good’; the ability to transmit to others this understanding relies on the others having some underlying ability to grasp the concept.
      When Einstein revolutionised our understanding of physics he was extremely lucky that the leaders in the field at that moment where open enough and had a degre of understand where they could grow to the concept. They then performed another crucial element in the broad acceptance of the new understanding, they gave their ‘Authority’ and ‘status’ to the new ideas.
      If we now focus on the ‘evil’, ‘good’ paradigm, who is the current leader in this field? The Pope, the Dalai Lama? I have no idea, it seems to float in the ether, who ever it is I doubt they are about to grasp and then share a new level of understanding,. Further as there is no ‘accepted’ ‘Authority any new idea is blocked, who can further the cause?
      In a way it reminds me of the ‘dilemma of the Question’. To ask a question one needs to have at least some idea of the answer,.
      And with a risk that I am tangenting way of topic, can I just comment re the ‘left’ and the ‘Collusion’ thing. As an old lefty I am horrified at the group think, the parochialism, the idiocy, the locked thinking, re the whole thing. That opponents must be wholly wrong, rather than a complex matrix of shades of subjective behaviours and thoughts is simply beyond them.
      Well may they say God save the USA because nothing will save the MSM.

    • @David

      Yes, there’s the rub. There are no “leaders” capable of adopting a new moral paradigm at the moment. All the plausible candidates are much too invested in propping up the old ones. In spite of that, the version of “absolute, objective” morality that applies in WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic) countries at any given time changes with startling rapidity. The process is more like the movements of a school of fish than anything directed by a leader. In spite of that, most people are so devoted to the particular flavor of “objective” morality they happen to prefer that they immediately defend it when challenged. Though the alternative seems so simple, to all appearances they seem incapable of even imagining it could be true, not to mention the obvious consequences if it were. This is true even of the many who insist they believe that morality is subjective. In the next breath you will find them defending some version of morality in a way that is completely irrational if they didn’t actually believe that their own versions of “good” and “evil” were real.

      The Russia collusion hoax has actually been a fine anthropological study on a massive scale. The way the MSM and the rest of the Left in WEIRD countries across the globe became completely invested in it, their deification of Mueller as the messiah who would “prove” the hoax, and their incredibly rapid formulation of a revised narrative after he let them down, have been quite instructive. It’s ironic that the intellectual forebears of today’s leftists were once so furious about the McCarthy “witch hunt.” In that case, of course, the witches were real.

    • @Helian:

      You can certainly investigate behavior of scientists and form hypotheses as to which behavior furthers scientific inquiry and which behavior hinders further scientific inquiry. I imagine some behavior acts like the building material of wood: you can get some stories up, but any further risks collapse. Other behavior is more like steel. Still other behavior is like steel-reinforced concrete: you can get to truly massive heights. If there is always a more refined behavior—perhaps which goes through a scientific revolution in understanding while having a crucial continuity when it comes to pattern—which helps get science further, then we would seem to have discovered something quite objective and quite empirically investigable.

      One response is that perhaps an entirely different behavior could also enable science up to some level; my response is that perhaps an entirely different set of equations can also describe the phenomenon sufficiently well.

      I’m married to a scientist: I am very confident that some behavior damages scientific inquiry. I’m friends with a sociologist who among other things, studies the conditions of interdisciplinary science. As it turns out, we are doing a lot of things rather wrong if our goal is to promote and enhance interdisciplinary science. Or so his analysis of the empirical data he’s gathered suggests. We may choose to never adopt better behaviors in this realm; humanity could plateau or perhaps other countries will decide to overcome this and ultimately outcompete the US/West.

      The above analysis seems emininently applicable to other endeavors in human life, whether they are oriented toward a goal in the distance (like science) or focused on creating and maintaining stable structures. We have science to talk about stable and unstable systems. Certain behavior is good for stable systems, and other behavior destabilizes those systems. If we want to keep building more and more with greater and greater variety, then we need to behave in certain ways and not other ways. Is that not obvious?

      Now, I’ve made morality instrumental in this discussion, a means instead of an end. But this is because I see it as inextricably tied to particular ends. Perhaps I have also been philosophically pressured to only see the instrumental as possibly having truth-value. Anyhow, the way you get ‘objective morality’ is if there is convergence to the kinds of behavior which allow one to build ever more varied, ever more complex things. The idea would be that unless you act this way, your ability to build will come to an end. Individuals and societies can then decide whether they are happy with status quo, or want more.

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