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/ Teaching / Society / Social Epistemology / Homeostasis
Homeostasis: a complex set of natural laws by which the average protects the average.
2011 07 26 If you’ve got a good genotype in a stable suitable environment, then average is exactly what you need, today and tomorrow. but if …
What’s more foolish than humans — individuals, societies, polities, institutions — believing that they’re guided by the conscious, “reasonable” part of themselves? I’ll tell you what’s more foolish: human individuals believing that the human group is like the human individual, writ large.
A human individual can deal the poker hand honestly, issuing cards from the top of the deck only. The human group will say that it will deal from the top but will always actually deal from the middle (correction: will alwasy deal from the upper layer of the middle — rulers (chosen by, supported by, the middle) will have IQs of 115, 120 …) Ethical decisions will reflect the mean ethics, not the ethical high end.
The metaphor can be exploited in greater detail: once an executive forms, then that executive can deal from the top of the deck, bottom, middle, second card down, third card … at its pleasure.I repeat here a standard pk point: “the buck” is a poker term. The buck indicated who was dealing, who was next to deal, the deal passing around the table: a bit of insurance against cheating. Truman’s saying “The buck stops here,” taken to mean that he would be responsible, also means that the house has seized the deal, that the insurance has been cancelled.
We ourselves are the only sentient life form we know at all well. We are only just starting to treat the idea of intelligence, sentience, or sense in other species with the most faltering of steps toward fairness. I follow some of the studies of other genus and species — cetaceans, chimps, and so forth — but make no claim to “know” much about the intelligence of any species including our own. But I don’t believe such knowledge is necessary to make the following observation (or is it more paradox than observation?):
Given the homeostatic nature of complex creatures, some of the concepts this species takes for granted as being already accomplished are actually impossible to accomplish. I’m thinking of vasty concepts like “truth” and “science” for example. How can something quality as “truth” unless it’s superior to whatever is the norm of what’s accepted as true? How can something qualify as science unless it topples paradigms, exposes them as false? That which has already been judged true or good or science will defend its status. Castro inaugurated a Committee to Maintain the Revolution in Cuba. Oh, wow, I thought: that’s rare, until I realized that it only meant keep beating up on the old; not prepare to get beaten up by the new. Hell, isn’t the US Constitution “designed” to allow for improvement, for reform? Then how come it’s so hard?
Of course history like evolution is filled with events that can be interpreted as “progress.” But which of them came easily? Did King George say, “Why Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson … I think you’re right. What you propose is better. Why don’t I just abdicate?” Did the dinosaurs say, “Why bless my soul, I do believe these funny little furry creatures have great potential. Why don’t all of us reptiles just die and make room for them?”
We tell stories of Jesus’ Passion, of Galileo’s imprisonment, the Church’s threats of torture, but we tell them only after Rome and the Church lost their dominance. What kind of a Christian religion can Christianity be when Christians are no longer hunted? How readily do we admit what scientists like Walter Reed had to go through in recent history?
Oh, no. We’re different. We’re better. We’ve learned our lesson. Now we practice freedom of religion. We support education. We fund science.
Do we now? Those statements can not stand up to falsification-informed scrutiny. Certainly we have something that we call religion that we allow and something called education and something else called science that we fund: but are they really religion, education, or science?
Recent reading related to the subject: Greg Bear, Darwin’s Radio.Government science agency does everything in its power to stop science from occurring in defense of its misdiagnosis of a new “disease.” Mutation ignorantly, but not not-deliberately wiped out till an individual or two manage to get born anyway. The novel leaves them at age three and on the run, unable to maintain contact with each other.
Current history looks damn similar to ancient history to me. Chechnya and so forth should be obvious enough, but I’ll focus just on the continuing persecution of ideas. Ivan Illich proposes solutions to the worst aspects of modern civilization. First book sells. Second book becomes a best seller. Rapidly allowed to go out of print. Books four, five, six can’t find US publisher. English publisher finds US distribution reluctant at best.
Now there’s an author who was already famous, accepted by the establishment before being persecuted by his Church. How many books similarly brilliant were written, offered, and never published? We can’t know. We don’t keep records of our own crimes. Jacque Fresco has solutions to offer through cyberneering: can’t get published. I don’t say that they’re perfect or problem free: far from it. But we don’t even get to consider them. And, obviously, the reason I sweat so on this site: none of my work has ever reached beyond the smallest public. As the exec at the fancy publisher said to me amid cigar smoke, “Oh, you probably write real literature.”
That would explain everything wouldn’t it?
The concept of homeostasis can go far to explain how centralized, hierarchical institutions protect themselves from extinction long after their inefficiencies and injustices audibly creak. Of course homeostasis will apply to decentralized systems as well — homeostasis applies to everything. But authoritarian structures from churches, to governments, to schools clearly benefit: to the cost of the society itself. Getting more specific: administrations staff the institutions with the brightest, most efficient people they can find — provided that to a man, to a woman, they are every one of them too stupid to see real solutions. The math department prefers teachers who don’t understand Godel: and they do it most unerringly if they do it unconsciously. GM will promote people who are forever trying to improve the internal combustion engine. People who believe in walking or who prefer bicycles will not prosper, not if they say so too loudly, do so too visibly.
The institution will never understand that it’s that way. Thus the theist church will always be well stocked with theist theology, never with the several alternatives. And centralized democracies slip ever closer to totalitarianism.
And having shut me up once, the universities find it ever easier to shut me up twice: three times … After a while there’s strong precedent not to have to listen to difficult ideas, or to simple ideas that might lessen the institutions privileges.
“Science” “knows” that astronomers receive only a fraction of the light from the universe. Newton talked about picking up a pretty pebble or two from a vast beach; not about solving all problems, not about knowing everything. It’s kleptocratic societies that pretend to near omniscience and invent perfectly omniscient gods. Homeostasis applies there too: cultures will go to great lengths to preserve familiar errors. Schools of all kinds persecute new information, now ideas, challenges to the tenured: always without knowing that they’re doing it.
I regard us as permanently the Romans against the Christians, the Nazis aainst the dissidents: white culture against vitality. It should surprise no one when we’ve danced off the edge of the cliff if we fall off the edge of the cliff; but it will surprise nearly everyone. Oh, but I thought we had progressed past such foolishness.
In other words: flawed sentience will remain flawed, awareness will lag behind experience: no matter who’s in charge, no matter if “God” (another flawed sentience) is in charge!
2013 02 21 Straight Dope Newsletter says:
… “risk homeostasis or risk compensation. It holds that everyone engaged in a dangerous activity has a personal risk-vs.-reward level they’ll stick to no matter what. In other words, if you force someone playing a contact sport to wear protective equipment, they’ll take bigger risks to bring the overall danger back to the level they’re comfortable with.
Does that sound self-destructive? If only. When risky behavior increases, others may bear the brunt. A watershed 1975 study of automobile safety measures theorized that motorists increased their driving “intensity” if they felt safer behind the wheel, leading to fewer driver and passenger deaths but more dead pedestrians.”
context was whether football pads reduce or increase injuries.
And Ooo, goody: “A concept related to risk compensation is moral hazard, where people do dangerous things because they won’t suffer the consequences.”
I’m reminded of a bunch of things I can’t pursue far now. One concerns Marquis of Queensbury rules in boxing: the gloves aren’t to protect the boxers; gloves are there to display more knockouts for the gentlemen bettors. The sport isn’t to proect gladiators but to provide gore for leisured kleptocrats to enjoy, themselves safe.