An essay against competition

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reval
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An essay against competition

Postby reval » Fri Jan 06, 2017 4:21 pm UTC

Three elevator pitches for https://peermorgan.wordpress.com/a-person-in-trouble/:

1. This essay starts with a definition of life as a thing that uses information to survive. It says there are two main kinds of life: evolution and thinking. People came out of evolution, but they're now using thinking instead. Thinking works best when people talk to each other. It gets messed up when they try to compete with each other. Evolutionary competition is bad for people.

2. Progressives need a new argument against greed. They need an effective challenge to the idea that competition is always a good thing. Competition creates inequality. It hurts everybody except a few greedy people on top. That is the purpose of competition. But the purpose of good government is decency. Everyone can have a decent life. The greedy people can't stand decency, because they need to control people. For everyone else, the thinking and talking works best when no one gets left behind.

3. The essay tries to tell a complicated idea in simple words, and it uses 8,000 words. If you read one sentence on its own, it may sound crazy, obvious, or wrong. "The fairness of games is meaningless" sounds pretty crazy on its own. "People do better when they're decent to each other" sounds obvious. "Good government doesn't need police" sounds wrong. But these are moving parts. They connect to a large number of other moving parts. Put them all together, and it's a complicated idea. To decide whether this idea makes any sense it may be necessary to look at the whole thing (or maybe the first half, "Part One"). Then tell me if it's crazy, obvious, or wrong.

Sure, it would be nice to talk to someone who would read the essay. But I'll be happy if someone looks at these three pitches and give me feedback on them. Is any of this reasonable?

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby Chen » Fri Jan 06, 2017 5:37 pm UTC

Even in just the first part of part 1, there are so many unjustified assertions that I stopped reading it. For example, distinguishing thought process from evolution is not immediately obvious and its not evident one has somehow supplanted the other. Or the "everyone is a valuable part of the shared thought process", which is fairly trivially untrue.

It's also not clear if this is how things are supposed to be or envisaged being in the future or a telling of how things are actually are. There is no real introduction to the entire point of the essay which makes the whole thing read as sort of a stream of consciousness without knowing what the point is.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby reval » Fri Jan 06, 2017 6:01 pm UTC

Part One attempts to summarize, while Part Two tries to provide a bit of a logical framework. Thank you for taking a look and telling me what you think.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby ahammel » Fri Jan 06, 2017 6:17 pm UTC

Can you give us a summary of the summary? I read through part one and I don't know what point you're trying to make.
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Re: An essay against competition

Postby reval » Fri Jan 06, 2017 9:09 pm UTC

Wow. Thanks for reading. I expected this to be judged just on the three paragraphs above.

Ten years ago, an attempt was made to carefully support each argument in turn. That resulted in a 50,000 word book http://www.lulu.com/shop/peer-morgan/the-house-of-sufficiency/ebook/product-17533169.html. No one read it.

There is a progressive political angle, but the essay is really about re-thinking personal values. That is a difficult thing. For example, the words "fairness" and "cooperation" are generally taken to be positive things. I think of them as negative things, because I see them as part of the game of competition between people. This makes it very difficult for me to use the words "fairness" or "cooperation" in a sentence that makes sense to anyone other than myself.

For example, I am currently re-thinking how I drive in traffic. I have been driving poorly, thinking of traffic as a situation where I was trapped by the competitive behavior of other people, and I had to act the same way. But now I think I can see a way I can behave better, despite their actions. That is the usefulness of the essay to me.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby ahammel » Sat Jan 07, 2017 5:11 pm UTC

reval wrote:Wow. Thanks for reading. I expected this to be judged just on the three paragraphs above.

Ten years ago, an attempt was made to carefully support each argument in turn. That resulted in a 50,000 word book http://www.lulu.com/shop/peer-morgan/the-house-of-sufficiency/ebook/product-17533169.html. No one read it.

There is a progressive political angle, but the essay is really about re-thinking personal values. That is a difficult thing. For example, the words "fairness" and "cooperation" are generally taken to be positive things. I think of them as negative things, because I see them as part of the game of competition between people. This makes it very difficult for me to use the words "fairness" or "cooperation" in a sentence that makes sense to anyone other than myself.

For example, I am currently re-thinking how I drive in traffic. I have been driving poorly, thinking of traffic as a situation where I was trapped by the competitive behavior of other people, and I had to act the same way. But now I think I can see a way I can behave better, despite their actions. That is the usefulness of the essay to me.
OK, I think I see what you're trying to drive at. But your essay still has far too much stuff in it, and not enough facts. If you want my advice: start cutting the stuff. The first paragraph should read something like:
People value fairness and cooperation. These things are actually bad because of x, y, and z. Instead they should value [something else], which has benefits thus and so.
The rest of the essay should be arguments supporting those assertions, and maybe a very small hand-full of illustrative examples.

There's a whole big section in there about the benefits of some science fictional medical technology. I don't see how it supports your point and you should think about cutting it.

There's quite a lot of verbiage in there about evolution. I don't mean to be harsh, but I don't think you understand that topic as well as you think you do. You should think about cutting it.

There's a lot of words about the political implications of your idea. That's fine, but before we talk about that you need to convince me that I should value fairness and cooperation less than [whatever]. The political stuff can wait for another essay.

Finally: there are literally thousands of years of prior research on the topics of fairness and cooperation. You should be reading some of that and citing it.
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Re: An essay against competition

Postby reval » Sun Jan 08, 2017 3:12 pm UTC

Thank you for your advice. Yes, there should be a narrower version that focuses just on personal competitive versus non-threatening behavior.

I would be very anxious to know about any errors in the discussion of evolution and reciprocal altruism. It's true that this discussion has provoked skeptical glances from biologists, but no formal corrections so far.

I guess the stuff developed from an attempt to show that the consequences of an unthreatening non-competitive society could be acceptable. You're right that some of this goes right back. Various religions have been talking about a golden rule for thousands of years. Individual people have been able to be "good" on occasion. But they have, in my opinion, failed to get inside the motivations of people in society. No society works this way. That could be changed.

Incidentally, the derivation of "good" from materialistic rather than theistic premises may be useful.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Jan 24, 2017 5:00 pm UTC

reval wrote:Three elevator pitches for https://peermorgan.wordpress.com/a-person-in-trouble/:

1. This essay starts with a definition of life as a thing that uses information to survive. It says there are two main kinds of life: evolution and thinking. People came out of evolution, but they're now using thinking instead. Thinking works best when people talk to each other. It gets messed up when they try to compete with each other. Evolutionary competition is bad for people.


A. That's an odd definition of life.
B. Thinking is not opposed to evolution. We literally evolved the ability to think. While we specialize in it, it's not unique to humans, either. Plenty of animals think. They, like us, are still subject to selection pressure.
C. People in competitions can think just fine. See also, chess.

If you're starting with premesis that are bonkers, everything that follows is garbage.

reval wrote:There is a progressive political angle, but the essay is really about re-thinking personal values. That is a difficult thing. For example, the words "fairness" and "cooperation" are generally taken to be positive things. I think of them as negative things, because I see them as part of the game of competition between people. This makes it very difficult for me to use the words "fairness" or "cooperation" in a sentence that makes sense to anyone other than myself.


If you find yourself inventing entirely new definitions for words, you're going to be unable to communicate with others. I suggest using standard terminology instead. Merely disliking something doesn't mean you change the definition. Look, I hate shrimp, but I can talk with someone who freaking loves shrimp, and both understand what the other means when we say "shrimp".

When writing, considering looking at your transitions. In particular, look for structures where "thing x happens because thing y happened". You want a solid chain of logic tying everything together to your ultimate point. You should be able to demonstrate, with evidence, these connections, particularly where said connections will not be immediately accepted as accurate by readers.

So, to return to your first paragraph, you need to justify things like "evolution no longer applies to humans, and was displaced by thinking". Because holy crap, that's a whopper to swallow. That topic alone could be the subject of a lengthy thesis.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby reval » Wed Jan 25, 2017 4:02 pm UTC

I'm sorry I failed to explain clearly the problem of competition. I appreciate the chance to improve the explanation.

Please allow me to speak bluntly. Based on your comment in the citizen's wage thread, I believe you may be wearing pro-competition blinders. That would make you exactly the sort of person I want to engage.

I believe when we talk about the competitive motive, we are indeed talking about the same thing. I am not changing the definition of the words on you. However, your habits and preferences may be blinding you to the true implications of the competitive motive. Perhaps you endow it with redeeming features it does not have?

The competitive motive by itself reduces human society to a darwinian struggle for survival, a killing game of alliance and betrayal and cooperation and ... fairness. Again, I believe I am using the words to mean exactly the same things you would mean. Monkeys know all about fairness. I link to the article reluctantly, because it is filled with happy-sounding words about researchers who are studying a trait that evolved within a competitive struggle. As did the human brain of course. And the happy words do not adequately reflect the blood and horror of that fact.

A different motive - a cognitive motive - is needed to explain the better side of people and society.

This comes down to the question of who you are, and why you do the things that you do. I say everything you do promotes either the bits of genetic information that are part of you, or else it promotes the cognitive ideas are that are also part of you. These are two different sets of information, they are part of two different computational processes, and they have two different sets of implications.

That is the point of the "odd" definition of life you quoted.

Under that definition, you are part of two different kinds of life processes. The monkeys only have one. Their cognitive process is still trapped inside their competitive process. But humans have broken open the trap. [Edited in view of subsequent comments: The monkeys don't have the tools to put their cancer drug ideas to work in the world.]

Humans can get out now - but only if they can clearly see the difference between their competitively motivated acts and their cognitively motivated acts. I am desperate to show you this difference.
Last edited by reval on Fri Jan 27, 2017 3:00 pm UTC, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby Chen » Wed Jan 25, 2017 4:23 pm UTC

It's very hard understanding a distinction between competitive and cognitive since they don't really seem to be related at all. What you're calling your "cognitive motive" is confusing. What do you mean by that? Clearly people with cognition can also be competitive, so I'm not sure how you're contrasting those things.

The standard opposite of competitive would be cooperative I'd think. If you're trying to argue between cooperation and competition, sure arguments can definitely be made regarding that. If not, I have no idea what you're talking about.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby Ixtellor » Wed Jan 25, 2017 6:22 pm UTC

Bob wants to be a billionaire. Bob works hard in school and develops a cure for cancer. Bob gets to be a billionaire. Society benefits from the cure for Cancer.

The end.
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Re: An essay against competition

Postby LaserGuy » Wed Jan 25, 2017 10:30 pm UTC

Or, more likely:

Bob wants to be a billionaire. Bob works hard in school and develops a cure for cancer in collaboration with a thousand other people at a pharmaceutical company. Bob gets a middle class salary and a pension, but is let go after five years when his company is acquired by a larger one. Society benefits from the cure for Cancer. Bob's bosses and their shareholders get to be billionaires. Society benefits from the cure for Cancer.

The end.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby Thesh » Wed Jan 25, 2017 10:47 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:Or, more likely:

Bob wants to be a billionaire. Bob works hard in school and tries to develop a cure for cancer in collaboration with a thousand other people at a pharmaceutical company. Bob gets a middle class salary and a pension, but is let go after five years when his company is acquired by a larger one. Bob's bosses and their shareholders get to be billionaires. Society benefits from a treatment that significantly increases the 10 year survival rate for one class of cancer. However, due to the high price of the drug caused by the monopoly on the market, as well as the increasing population due to the lower mortality rate, health care costs go up and more poor people go into bankruptcy. The crime and drug use resulting from the economic decay kill far more people than saved by the drug.
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Re: An essay against competition

Postby The Mighty Thesaurus » Thu Jan 26, 2017 11:39 am UTC

And that's why it's immoral to cure cancer.
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Re: An essay against competition

Postby reval » Fri Jan 27, 2017 4:15 pm UTC

What does Bob want? The same act could be competitive or cognitively motivated, depending on why he did it.

If Bob wants to be a billionaire and have someone else scrub his toilet and bring him a margarita, then he is acting competitively, and he might want to question where that margarita has been. Incidentally, he didn't actually cure cancer.

The people I know who are actually curing diseases, only want to run their own lives. And they understand how curing a disease can help someone else run their own life. Incidentally, they are not billionaires. I was shocked when I found out they wouldn't hire someone else to scrub their toilets even if they could afford it. Why? That discovery helped me to think more clearly.

It also helped me when I understood that they weren't "cooperating" with each other in a quid-pro-quo sense. To get this idea, it is necessary to look beyond the federal research grant and the meager salary. And it is true that when the federal government stops funding research, current progress on diseases in the US will stop, and these people will have to go work for insurance companies. But paying people, by itself, is not enough. To see that, consider the pharmaceutical companies that gladly spend billions on baldness cures and patent extension tricks, because that's their route to more billions.

The progress of knowledge does not happen through quid-pro-quo exchanges, but by a process that relies on something other than reciprocal rewards. Perhaps this is relevant?

Contrary to standard assumptions, cooperation with a quid pro quo is not an "opposite" to competition. It is actually part of competition. Cooperation evolved in many animals as a strategy within a competitive struggle.

I keep coming across places where people are willing to treat me as they would like to be treated. Sometimes they even do this when I have failed to protect them against myself and my worse behavior. I see in them flashes of cognitive motivation, and I have more hope because of it.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby Chen » Fri Jan 27, 2017 5:54 pm UTC

Define cognitive motivation. Is it just altruistic behavior?

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby qetzal » Sat Jan 28, 2017 5:55 am UTC

As noted previously, competition and cognition are not opposites and they're not mutually exclusive.

Cognition is also not an alternative to evolution. Claiming that the thought process is "more efficient and powerful" than evolution is quit frankly nonsensical. It's a bit like claiming that green is prettier than music.

And as for curing disease, I'm curious. When you get sick, where do you get the drugs that help you get better? Those people you know who just want to cure diseases and run their own lives - do they whip up batches of antibiotics for you? Do they make huge amounts of cancer drugs in their labs and just give them out to whomever?

I'm guessing not. Sure, there are people who want to cure disease and who are not only motivated by money. (I'm one of them, in fact.) But those people don't try to actually supply drugs to sick people on a routine basis. That's what pharmaceutical companies do, in spite of thrir myriad flaws. So if you see that as a contrast between cognition and competition, I don't think it cuts in your favor.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby reval » Sat Jan 28, 2017 3:25 pm UTC

We're all enmeshed in these complex exchanges with other people, aren't we? And each of us has our own mixed motives. A specific motive does not automatically imply a specific behavior. That's why it's hard to give a simple definition of cognitive motivation. It's a motivation, not a behavior.

"When I am advancing my genetic information, my motive is competitive. Always more are born than can live. When I am advancing the ideas in my head, I am not forced into competition with others. It is the ideas that are winnowed, not the people. My own best advantage lies in sharing these ideas with other. That will produce the best and most useful ideas and tools, and give me the greatest benefit."

That's the best I can do right now to define "cognitive motivation" in non-jargon words. Maybe someone else can do better?

One of my fears is that, if this explanation finds resonance, people will try to change our economic systems too quickly. As qetzal points out, we are dependent on today's competitive games for our food, shelter, and medicine. Try to change the system too quickly, and it could really hurt people.

As an alternative, I would like to expand people's independence by improving the good tools that help people to do what they need to do in their own surroundings. Yes, it would help if I were able to make my own drugs. And I mean medical drugs, but that would be my call, wouldn't it?

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby ahammel » Sat Jan 28, 2017 4:31 pm UTC

reval wrote:"When I am advancing my genetic information, my motive is competitive. Always more are born than can live. When I am advancing the ideas in my head, I am not forced into competition with others. It is the ideas that are winnowed, not the people. My own best advantage lies in sharing these ideas with other. That will produce the best and most useful ideas and tools, and give me the greatest benefit."
But almost nobody behaves as though they're motivated by 'advancing their genetic information'. That would just mean having as many children* as possible, wouldn't it? Having lots of biological kids is not what I would think of as 'competitive' behaviour.

Can you explain what you're talking about without making reference to evolution?

One of my fears is that, if this explanation finds resonance, people will try to change our economic systems too quickly. As qetzal points out, we are dependent on today's competitive games for our food, shelter, and medicine. Try to change the system too quickly, and it could really hurt people.
Friend, I don't think you've even succeeded in explaining your idea to internet strangers yet. I would seriously not worry about causing a crisis of capitalism at this juncture.

As an alternative, I would like to expand people's independence by improving the good tools that help people to do what they need to do in their own surroundings. Yes, it would help if I were able to make my own drugs. And I mean medical drugs, but that would be my call, wouldn't it?
Making drugs is really hard, though. You need lots of expensive equipment and specialist knowledge. Lots of drugs have to be grown inside living organisms. Whether or not it would be a good idea to give everybody a Countertop Drug-O-Matic™ is pretty much beside the point. No such thing exists, nor can it exist in the near future.

* Fertile children who survive to adulthood and have children themselves, if you insist. Several other pedantic caveats apply.
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Re: An essay against competition

Postby qetzal » Sat Jan 28, 2017 6:12 pm UTC

reval,

A key difficulty, at least for me, is that you make many claims and assertions that are unsupported and not self-evident (if not simply wrong). Take this paragraph:

"When I am advancing my genetic information, my motive is competitive. Always more are born than can live. When I am advancing the ideas in my head, I am not forced into competition with others. It is the ideas that are winnowed, not the people. My own best advantage lies in sharing these ideas with other. That will produce the best and most useful ideas and tools, and give me the greatest benefit."


Why is your motive necessarily competitive when you're advancing your genetic information? Even if the outcome is competitive (which isn't a given), your motive for doing it doesn't have to be. I didn't choose to have kids because I wanted ensure that my genetic information could compete with others! Of course, evolution obviously favors lineages whose members want to reproduce, and you could argue that my conscious motivations are merely a rationalization for pursuing inexorable evolutionary drives. But that's incompatible with your thesis that we should use cognition to select actions and behaviors that aren't dictated by evolution.

Secondly, why should your own best advantage necessarily lie in sharing ideas with others? Doesn't that depend rather heavily on the nature of the ideas, your motivations, the motivations of others, your skills and theirs, etc? I expect everyone would agree that sharing ideas is often very beneficial. But I think you're saying that you believe cognition and sharing are always inherently better than competition. That's a pretty substantial claim, and you've not provided any significant evidence to support it.

And there's still the fundamental issue that cognition and sharing ideas is not necessarily the converse of competition and evolution.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby BedderDanu » Sat Jan 28, 2017 7:18 pm UTC

One potential edge case where, even if your premises are true, begins to throw a monkey wrench into your system:

I have a brother who recently had a child. I currently don't have one. I have often tried to help him and his new family out with things like money and advice. Are my motivations cognitive or competitive? In many ways, My brother's family is evolutionarily my direct competition, after all we had to share more resources and compete amongst ourselves more than any other person on the planet. However, because we are related, right now my best bet of continuing my genetics is through the child that already exists, and making sure she grows as well as possible, even though my fraction of genetics in his child is much, much smaller than a direct child of mine would have.

So when I help out my brother, am I being competitive? No, because I am assisting my direct competition. Am I being cognitive? No, because I am assisting my genetics in survival.

So my current life situation is more complicated than the fundamental system you've described.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby quantropy » Sat Jan 28, 2017 8:42 pm UTC

reval wrote: I would like to expand people's independence by improving the good tools that help people to do what they need to do in their own surroundings. Yes, it would help if I were able to make my own drugs.
reval wrote:If Bob wants to be a billionaire and have someone else scrub his toilet and bring him a margarita

You are not arguing against competition. You are arguing against trading. The benefits of trading are argued for in many books on economics, but you don't seem to have anything to counter those arguments

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby reval » Sun Jan 29, 2017 6:34 pm UTC

Having more kids is only a small part of the behavior motivated by evolutionary competition. Think of all of the traits and behaviors studied by biologists. All of those came out of competition. Each of these traits and behaviors exists because it provided some kind of an evolutionary advantage in a competitive struggle.

We're not that different just because we're humans. And we don't always understand what we're doing, or why we're doing it. People don't directly think: "I'm going to push this other person around in order to improve my own evolutionary advantage so that I can have more kids."

Instead, they think: "I am going to humiliate and dominate this person because it will make me feel good." Or maybe they don't like the way that sounds, so they think "because it fits [some rationalization or habit I have constructed on top of the good feeling]." Or else, "because it fits [some cooperate exchange or trade they are doing with someone else]." "Just doing my job," they say. Or: "Just following orders." Evolution kills.

A more subtle example: a scientist puts the finishing touches on a groundbreaking paper, and thinks "this will get me some respect." Yes, unfortunately this is a competitive motive, too. Status is also a competitive game, and it also comes out of evolution; status can be observed among animals.

But this is a good place to talk about mixed motives. What part of the scientist's motivation to write the paper came from anticipation of the value of improved personal status? And what part of the motivation came from an appreciation of the value of the ideas in the paper?

If I am this scientist, and I am capable of honest analysis of my own motives, I can use the answer to measure where I currently stand between competitive and cognitive motives. And I shouldn't be too surprised to find the competitive part still strong in myself.

ahammel: No reason not to work towards cheap tools that emulate "expensive equipment and specialist knowledge", is there? Computers used to fill rooms.

BedderDanu: Should I help my brother's kids? This is another example of mixed motives. Kin selection is the evolutionary piece, and the fact that these are people near me is the cognitive piece. At some point, I realized that I should stop caring whether the people near me are related to me. It was only at that point that I realized that I had previously cared about this!

qetzal: I agree that sharing information is not always advantageous. For one thing, I see a distinction between generally useful information on the one hand, and personal information that could be used to control a person on the other hand. I would try to share the first kind of information, and not the second. When you are surrounded by competitive games, there is a strong disincentive to share information that could be used against you. That disincentive to sharing is gradually lifted if fewer and fewer people are interested in playing competitive games.

The attempt to argue that the thought process is more powerful and efficient than the evolutionary process occupies sections 7 through 11 of the "person in trouble" essay. I wish I could shorten it, without worsening my problem of unexplained transitions.

quantropy: I don't see any point in arguing with ideas of economics based on incorrect or incomplete models of human motivation.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby qetzal » Sun Jan 29, 2017 8:35 pm UTC

It's not that the explanations in your essay are too long. It's that they're not logical or persuasive. Regarding thought vs. evolution, you really only have a single paragraph (at the end of Chapter 10):

The human thought process is more efficient than evolution. The difference in efficiency is the difference between the energy cost of building and throwing away a large number of individual organisms, and the energy cost of thinking and talking. The thought process is also more powerful than evolution. Evolution cannot make jumps beyond existing forms, but humans can imagine and carry out interplanetary space travel.


Comparing energy costs only makes sense when the output is the same. The output of evolution is changes in gene/allele frequencies in populations over time. The output of thinking and talking is thoughts (changes in neural states) and words (sounds). Sure, the latter involve less energy, but so what. By that measure, being a rock is even more efficient because it requires much less energy than a thinking/talking human.

Comparing unrelated outcomes is also nonsensical. How is it useful to compare making "jumps beyond existing forms" to "interplanetary space travel." I can use a similar approach to claim it evolution is actually more powerful. Evolution can create and entire biosphere consisting of trillions of organisms, but humans can't grow feathers. Besides, humans are a product of evolution, so any ability we have to imagine and carry out interplanetary space travel is also a product of evolution.

Seems to me the heart of your idea is that cooperation and cognition will produce better outcomes for people than competition. If so, I suggest you concentrate on making that case, and leave evolution out of the discussion. I also recommend you go back through your essay and try to challenge yourself on the validity of your arguments. For example, Chapter 11 contains the following passage:

Workers hired to do a job are dependent on a boss for their pay, and this relationship creates a communication bottleneck between the workers and the boss. If it’s a simple job that has been done many times before, the boss may get what they want. But if it’s a new job, or it’s difficult and there unexpected obstacles, the job won’t get done right. The boss isn’t doing the work and doesn’t understand the obstacles. The workers don’t want to be blamed. They can’t talk to each other. They will not invent a new and different thing together.

A boss can try to make the team members independent of each other to improve communication. A team like that may be able to invent a new and different thing. But that doesn’t mean it will be what the boss wanted. Power separates the boss from the others. The boss still can’t explain ideas or understand obstacles. These ideas are cut off from the shared thought process. They go nowhere.


There are so many unfounded and/or wrong assertions in there that I hardly know where to start. Do you seriously believe that if a boss has paid employees, that means he's unable to explain ideas or understand obstacles? And his workers can't talk to each other either? But if the boss doesn't pay them or he's not their boss, all of a sudden everyone can communicate perfectly?

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby ahammel » Mon Jan 30, 2017 3:07 am UTC

reval wrote:Having more kids is only a small part of the behavior motivated by evolutionary competition. Think of all of the traits and behaviors studied by biologists. All of those came out of competition. Each of these traits and behaviors exists because it provided some kind of an evolutionary advantage in a competitive struggle.

We're not that different just because we're humans. And we don't always understand what we're doing, or why we're doing it. People don't directly think: "I'm going to push this other person around in order to improve my own evolutionary advantage so that I can have more kids."

Instead, they think: "I am going to humiliate and dominate this person because it will make me feel good." Or maybe they don't like the way that sounds, so they think "because it fits [some rationalization or habit I have constructed on top of the good feeling]." Or else, "because it fits [some cooperate exchange or trade they are doing with someone else]." "Just doing my job," they say. Or: "Just following orders." Evolution kills.

A more subtle example: a scientist puts the finishing touches on a groundbreaking paper, and thinks "this will get me some respect." Yes, unfortunately this is a competitive motive, too. Status is also a competitive game, and it also comes out of evolution; status can be observed among animals.

But this is a good place to talk about mixed motives. What part of the scientist's motivation to write the paper came from anticipation of the value of improved personal status? And what part of the motivation came from an appreciation of the value of the ideas in the paper?

If I am this scientist, and I am capable of honest analysis of my own motives, I can use the answer to measure where I currently stand between competitive and cognitive motives. And I shouldn't be too surprised to find the competitive part still strong in myself.
Hang on, so a "competitive" motivation is one that's a result of natural selection? There's a bunch of problems with that. It's pretty difficult in general to tell whether or not a particular human behaviour is a result of NatSel or not. Introspection is not going to do the trick.

If you think it's bad to be motivated by competition with other people, then just say that. Leave poor old Charlie Darwin out of it.

ahammel: No reason not to work towards cheap tools that emulate "expensive equipment and specialist knowledge", is there? Computers used to fill rooms.
The tool that you're describing isn't just an awesomer version of tech that already exists, though. It's science fiction.

I guess we could emulate the machine if we really wanted to by just giving everybody whatever drugs they want for free. I can think of a bunch of objections to that scheme, though. The most obvious one is that dosing drugs is really hard. Amateurs stand a decent chance of fucking it up and killing themselves.

quantropy: I don't see any point in arguing with ideas of economics based on incorrect or incomplete models of human motivation.
This sounds a lot to me like "I don't understand microeconomics, but I know that it has at least one unresolved problem, so I'm going to dismiss the entire field out of hand.
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Re: An essay against competition

Postby quantropy » Mon Jan 30, 2017 7:28 am UTC

reval wrote:For example, the words "fairness" and "cooperation" are generally taken to be positive things. I think of them as negative things

I see this as the controversial idea that you are putting forward, and so this should really be titled An essay against cooperation. I can just about see the point. If you are a wolf then it is more efficient to hunt in a pack than individually. the trouble is that this leads to an inequality - one of the pack is the alpha wolf. This can be thought of as the problem of cooperation. If you are a farmer growing corn then you need a mill to grind your corn. You could (A) make a hand mill to do so, but this takes a lot of time. It's more efficient to (B) have one person with a big mill who grinds the corn for a number of farmers. But then this person - the lord of the manor - gets too much power. They can charge so much that it more than eliminates the gain in efficiency for the farmer, and because they have so much power, any farmer who decides to switch back to a hand-mill is likely to have a visit from some heavies who break up the hand mill.

Then we get to classical economics, of Adam Smith and the like. Their solution was (C) to allow free competition, so that anyone could build a mill and sell its services to farmers. Then the farmers benefited from efficiency of scale and didn't have to pay exorbitant prices - they got the best of both worlds. So according to classical economics competition solves the problem of cooperation, it acts as an equalising force, and so it is a Good Thing.

The trouble is that we tend to drift back to hierarchical power structures, but because competition is seen as a Good Thing, today's neoliberal establishment tends to use it to justify these power structures. For instance banks claim they have to pay their top people large amounts to remain competitive (C), when it is more of a case of those in power holding on to it (B). There is also the problem that the equalising economic competition tends to get confused with the inequalising competition of a race where there are winners and losers. Hence people today tend to have a more negative view of competition.

And so to your essay. Arguing against cooperation would need a lot of persuasion to get people away from their inbuilt idea that it is a Good Thing. this is what you claim all your stuff is there for. But as others have pointed out, it just isn't persuasive. Instead you do the opposite, you call this an essay against competition, and rely on people's existing negative view of competition.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby Tyndmyr » Wed Feb 08, 2017 4:40 am UTC

ahammel wrote:One of my fears is that, if this explanation finds resonance, people will try to change our economic systems too quickly. As qetzal points out, we are dependent on today's competitive games for our food, shelter, and medicine. Try to change the system too quickly, and it could really hurt people.
Friend, I don't think you've even succeeded in explaining your idea to internet strangers yet. I would seriously not worry about causing a crisis of capitalism at this juncture.[/quote]

This. I'm a bit confused as to what, exactly is being proposed we do instead. There's a bunch of evolutionary justification of somewhat dodgy quality, and some really odd assumptions, but I'm not very clear on what actual changes are to be made.

Personally, I don't much want kids, so I don't feel particularly bound by evolutionary strictures.

There's these broad ideas treated as universals, and the whole thing really breaks down. Competition can be as simple as people playing sports competitively. Lots of folks seem to enjoy that. Why shouldn't they engage in it? If you don't have a problem with that, your target is not competition, but something else.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby reval » Sat Feb 11, 2017 5:35 pm UTC

Sorry for my delay in answering.

Tyndmyr: Yes, I do have a problem with sports competition, if there is a valuable prize involved, such as money, status, or reproductive opportunity. The genuine motive is what matters.

ahammel and quantropy: Thanks for pointing out that I tried to dodge a point. I didn't think of it that way, because I am so used to thinking of cooperation as a mere subtype of competition. The same number of "losers" end up dead, the only difference is who winds up as "winners" - in this case, those who are better at cooperation. But I was trying to use the "flavor" of the words to assist my argument, and that isn't a valid argument.

I admit I am mostly ignorant of microeconomics. I didn't see how it could contribute to the present discussion, because microeconomics begins by assuming a competition of people who are each trying to maximize their own advantage. Meanwhile, I am looking for an alternative to that assumption.

But I would indeed have to convince people that microeconomics won't take them where they want to go. It's true I haven't attempted that yet. All I can do right now is point to Karl Polanyi on the limits of markets.

qetzal: I owe you a longer explanation of efficiency. It is true I am in danger of comparing apples to oranges. But the output of the thought process is not merely words. It is effective control of a person's surroundings, for example, safety in crossing the street. A person can acquire this at the (cheap) cost of thinking and talking. A species of squirrels goes though thousands of dead squirrels to acquire instincts that amount to the same "control of surroundings". So I argue that I am comparing apples to apples, and thinking is cheaper.

Concerning bosses and workers, I am saying that there is a general principle behind the relationship of the pointy-haired boss and Dilbert.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby reval » Sat Feb 11, 2017 5:42 pm UTC

Let me try to describe the thought process more clearly.

Imagine that some aliens drop an embodied thought process onto a planetthat is similar to Earth, but otherwise without life.

It doesn't matter whether the embodiment is organic, robotic, or in some other form. What matters is that it is a computational thought process that is able to keep itself going.

First, it has to be able to obtain energy (sunlight) from its surroundings. Second, it has to be able to see and understand what is going on around it, and use tools to effectively control its immediate surroundings and its own body. Third, it has to be able to spin off another process like itself.

I will imagine that it sees lightning and volcanos and tsunamis, and that it spins off additional processes so that life can continue on the planet even if something bad happens to the original process. I can now ask about the relationship between the different processes.

If I am trapped in a competitive way of thought, I will view this as another evolutionary situation: I would expect them to fight and compete for resources. But that would miss something very important about the situation.

They are not forced into competition. Each is a complete process on its own. What they need is energy to keep running. They also need an improved understanding of the threats and obstacles around them, and improved tools to deal with those threats and obstacles. Those are their needs.

If they can improve their tools and understanding by talking to each other, and they can share ideas learned from different surroundings, then open communication becomes a vital survival need.

Contrast this with the needs of an individual in an evolutionary process. Each is only a small part of the process that maintains its species. That is a process of variation and natural selection. More are born than can live, and only some of the cousins can survive and have children. Competition is the essence of the process, and the process does not work without competition. There is no choice for the individual. The individual is forced into competition. Many wonderful things come of this, but the underlying logic doesn't change. It can't change.

Until now. Because this isn't science fiction. The independent thought process exists on Earth.

Humans weren't dropped off on Earth by aliens, but they were embodied and enminded by a evolutionary process so hostile to their new purpose that it might as well be alien. The evolutionary process works only on genetic information, and only by a method that is wasteful and inefficient. Humans are part of both processes, but the thought process is better. By means of the thought process, humans can work more efficiently and on a wider range of information, and their method allows them to imagine and carry out things like space travel, which evolution cannot reach.

Maybe human tools are still rudimentary in their control of their own bodies and genes, and in their ability to carry out artifical reproduction. So these tools need to be improved. And humans' ability to see and understand what is going on around them could be improved as well.

The important part is that we are not forced into competition with each other. That makes it possible for us to talk to each other and to improve our tools and ourselves. That is why it is so important for us to look at ourselves, and to sort out the old motives that take us backward, and to consciously choose the better motives that take us forward. We can build new behaviors and habits on these better motives.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby ucim » Sat Feb 11, 2017 7:16 pm UTC

reval wrote:...some aliens drop an embodied thought process onto a planet...
[...]
I will imagine that it sees lightning and volcanos and tsunamis, and that it spins off additional processes so that life can continue on the planet even if something bad happens to the original process.

Why?

However you answer the question, you are assuming a world-view - a set of "good" goals. Why are those "good"? And why is the thought process that leads to your answer "good"?

And when a "thought process" spawns another "thought process", is the new process an improvement? Could it be? How would that be determined? Or are you envisioning an already-perfect "thought process" simply cloning itself like a cancer?

reval wrote:The evolutionary process works only on genetic information...
Yet it produced "the thought process".

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby reval » Sun Feb 12, 2017 6:10 pm UTC

Okay, I forgot to explicitly mention "survival" as the first thing that the thought process does. If it stops surviving, there is no process, and nothing left to talk about. So "good" means good at surviving.

The question I am asking is whether these thought processes, by talking with each other instead of fighting with each other, can get better at surviving.

ucim wrote:
reval wrote:The evolutionary process works only on genetic information...
Yet it produced "the thought process".

Yes. Is that a problem? I guess I don't understand why that would be a problem.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby ucim » Sun Feb 12, 2017 7:27 pm UTC

reval wrote:Okay, I forgot to explicitly mention "survival" as the first thing that the thought process does. If it stops surviving, there is no process, and nothing left to talk about. So "good" means good at surviving.

The question I am asking is whether these thought processes, by talking with each other instead of fighting with each other, can get better at surviving.
... and the answer is "yeah, sometimes". That's why cooperation evolved as as survival strategy. That's why multi-cellular organisms exist in the first place. That's why some animals are pack animals.

But only sometimes. That's why bacteria still exist. That's why not all life forms are subsumed into a hive. That's why cooperation breaks down when things get tough enough.

You don't have to outrun the bear. You only have to outrun your friend.

In any case, answer the next paragraph in my post - to wit: how is a better "thought process" going to be recognized? Is there not some form of competition involved that will determine the "winner" of the "thought process" lottery, and prevent inferior "thought processes" from overrunning the world?

As to my evolution comment, you seem to be the one that regards evolution through natural selection (based on competition) as a problem, even though it produced the very thing you are touting as a "solution".

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby quantropy » Mon Feb 13, 2017 10:35 am UTC

reval wrote: fight and compete

Conjunctions are such dangerous words.

Does the and here means that competition is something sufficiently different from fighting that it needs to be mentioned separately? (I remember an old joke where someone was described as being famous throughout the civilised world and in America)

Or is and meant to imply that fighting and competition are similar, and so are lumped together? This seems to be the more likely interpretation. But in my milling example it was the non-competitive option B where you were likely to be visited by heavies, rather than the competitive option C.
reval wrote:I am so used to thinking of cooperation as a mere subtype of competition.

So you're arguing here that cooperation is not the solution.
reval wrote:The important part is that we are not forced into competition with each other. That makes it possible for us to talk to each other and to improve our tools and ourselves. That is why it is so important for us to look at ourselves, and to sort out the old motives that take us backward, and to consciously choose the better motives that take us forward. We can build new behaviors and habits on these better motives.

That sounds very like arguing in favour of cooperation.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby ucim » Mon Feb 13, 2017 6:55 pm UTC

I suspect he means {fight} and {compete for resources}, rather than {fight and compete} for resources. (Or even {fight and compete for} resources.) :)

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby ahammel » Wed Feb 15, 2017 3:55 pm UTC

reval wrote:Let me try to describe the thought process more clearly.

Imagine that some aliens drop an embodied thought process onto a planetthat is similar to Earth, but otherwise without life.

It doesn't matter whether the embodiment is organic, robotic, or in some other form. What matters is that it is a computational thought process that is able to keep itself going.

First, it has to be able to obtain energy (sunlight) from its surroundings. Second, it has to be able to see and understand what is going on around it, and use tools to effectively control its immediate surroundings and its own body. Third, it has to be able to spin off another process like itself.

I will imagine that it sees lightning and volcanos and tsunamis, and that it spins off additional processes so that life can continue on the planet even if something bad happens to the original process. I can now ask about the relationship between the different processes.

If I am trapped in a competitive way of thought, I will view this as another evolutionary situation: I would expect them to fight and compete for resources. But that would miss something very important about the situation.

They are not forced into competition. Each is a complete process on its own. What they need is energy to keep running. They also need an improved understanding of the threats and obstacles around them, and improved tools to deal with those threats and obstacles. Those are their needs.

If they can improve their tools and understanding by talking to each other, and they can share ideas learned from different surroundings, then open communication becomes a vital survival need.

Contrast this with the needs of an individual in an evolutionary process. Each is only a small part of the process that maintains its species. That is a process of variation and natural selection. More are born than can live, and only some of the cousins can survive and have children. Competition is the essence of the process, and the process does not work without competition. There is no choice for the individual. The individual is forced into competition. Many wonderful things come of this, but the underlying logic doesn't change. It can't change.

Until now. Because this isn't science fiction. The independent thought process exists on Earth.

Humans weren't dropped off on Earth by aliens, but they were embodied and enminded by a evolutionary process so hostile to their new purpose that it might as well be alien. The evolutionary process works only on genetic information, and only by a method that is wasteful and inefficient. Humans are part of both processes, but the thought process is better. By means of the thought process, humans can work more efficiently and on a wider range of information, and their method allows them to imagine and carry out things like space travel, which evolution cannot reach.

Maybe human tools are still rudimentary in their control of their own bodies and genes, and in their ability to carry out artifical reproduction. So these tools need to be improved. And humans' ability to see and understand what is going on around them could be improved as well.

The important part is that we are not forced into competition with each other. That makes it possible for us to talk to each other and to improve our tools and ourselves. That is why it is so important for us to look at ourselves, and to sort out the old motives that take us backward, and to consciously choose the better motives that take us forward. We can build new behaviors and habits on these better motives.

I'm just going to evaluate this from a rhetorical point of view.

Framing your argument around evolution is a blunder. Frankly, it doesn't sound as though you know what you're talking about. Whenever I hear evolution described in terms of nature red in tooth and claw and the preservation of the species, it immediately puts my wind up. I start looking for places to poke holes in the argument. It all sounds very Nineteenth Century. If you asked an expert what the theory of evolution was all about in the Victorian era, they might have talked about the struggle for existence and the survival of species. But if you talk to a scientist about it today, they would talk about allele frequencies and selection coefficients. You come off as though you've missed out on the last 100 years of thinking about natural selection.

Then we get into some rhetoric about how human beings have somehow transcended evolution, which is all kinds of dubious for reasons that I think have been adequately pointed out.

And in the end, it's not even necessary. Your conclusion, if I'm understanding you, is something like "therefore it's better not to exist in a state of Darwinian competition for the necessities of life". That fact is obvious to everyone. There is no need to belabor it with extended tangents about natural selection.

A reader can only think "that doesn't sound quite right" so many times before they give up and decide the whole essay is rubbish. Don't spend all of your incredulity tokens propping up a position that everybody already agrees with.

If I was writing your essay, I would frame it differently. You want to argue that, instead of behaving in a competitive or cooperative manner, people should choose some third way (right?) So I would start with a simple case study. Maybe the Tragedy of the Commons is a good example. It's well known that competitive behaviour leads to a bad result: the shared resource is exhausted. Then I would describe a cooperative solution to the TotC (perhaps everybody with access to the common land is given an equitable quota of grazing time or something like that). After exploring the negative outcomes of the cooperative solution, I'd describe the Third Way and show how it's better than either the competitive or cooperative solution.

You're going to have to fill in the blanks yourself there, because I still haven't figured out what your Third Way is meant to be.
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Re: An essay against competition

Postby Tyndmyr » Fri Feb 17, 2017 12:34 am UTC

reval wrote:Let me try to describe the thought process more clearly.

Imagine that some aliens drop an embodied thought process onto a planetthat is similar to Earth, but otherwise without life.

It doesn't matter whether the embodiment is organic, robotic, or in some other form. What matters is that it is a computational thought process that is able to keep itself going.

First, it has to be able to obtain energy (sunlight) from its surroundings. Second, it has to be able to see and understand what is going on around it, and use tools to effectively control its immediate surroundings and its own body. Third, it has to be able to spin off another process like itself.

I will imagine that it sees lightning and volcanos and tsunamis, and that it spins off additional processes so that life can continue on the planet even if something bad happens to the original process. I can now ask about the relationship between the different processes.

If I am trapped in a competitive way of thought, I will view this as another evolutionary situation: I would expect them to fight and compete for resources. But that would miss something very important about the situation.

They are not forced into competition. Each is a complete process on its own. What they need is energy to keep running. They also need an improved understanding of the threats and obstacles around them, and improved tools to deal with those threats and obstacles. Those are their needs.

If they can improve their tools and understanding by talking to each other, and they can share ideas learned from different surroundings, then open communication becomes a vital survival need.

Contrast this with the needs of an individual in an evolutionary process. Each is only a small part of the process that maintains its species. That is a process of variation and natural selection. More are born than can live, and only some of the cousins can survive and have children. Competition is the essence of the process, and the process does not work without competition. There is no choice for the individual. The individual is forced into competition. Many wonderful things come of this, but the underlying logic doesn't change. It can't change.

Until now. Because this isn't science fiction. The independent thought process exists on Earth.

Humans weren't dropped off on Earth by aliens, but they were embodied and enminded by a evolutionary process so hostile to their new purpose that it might as well be alien. The evolutionary process works only on genetic information, and only by a method that is wasteful and inefficient. Humans are part of both processes, but the thought process is better. By means of the thought process, humans can work more efficiently and on a wider range of information, and their method allows them to imagine and carry out things like space travel, which evolution cannot reach.

Maybe human tools are still rudimentary in their control of their own bodies and genes, and in their ability to carry out artifical reproduction. So these tools need to be improved. And humans' ability to see and understand what is going on around them could be improved as well.

The important part is that we are not forced into competition with each other. That makes it possible for us to talk to each other and to improve our tools and ourselves. That is why it is so important for us to look at ourselves, and to sort out the old motives that take us backward, and to consciously choose the better motives that take us forward. We can build new behaviors and habits on these better motives.


I think you misunderstand what competition is for. Yes, cooperation is often helpful, and serves many useful purposes. You see cooperation in nature, often, as a result.

Competition arises when there is NOT adequate resources for cooperation to be a solution. Sometimes, there's only so much of x. You need this. You need the selection process to weed out less effective things. This is all super basic stuff, honestly. Yeah, yeah, of course an individual is going to prefer to cooperate instead of complete in most situations, but you can't reasonably generalize this to all situations everywhere. And yeah, sometimes that means there's a loser. Civilization is, in large part, about accomplishing this at lower and lower costs. Ritualized conflict sometimes displaces actual fighting(not merely in humans, competing displays are super common behavior in the animal kingdom). This is still competition, but as a behavior, it has many advantages over fighting to the death.

Treating all competition as bad ignores many important distinctions, and becomes a super simplistic view of evolution.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby reval » Sun Feb 19, 2017 4:42 pm UTC

Sorry, yes, I meant {fight} and {compete for resources}.

Thanks for your comments. I agree obviously I am not being clear enough, and only hope I can improve.

Many of your suggestions urge me to stop talking about evolution already. But I have to talk about evolution because it is one of two fundamental processes that explain the meaning of actions.

I promise I am not using "evolution" for the negative flavor of the word, nor as a biologist who is interested in a specific trait, nor as a Victorian moralist with a preexisting idea of good and bad. I am trying to get underneath the Victorian, and figure out where good and bad come from.

I start with the idea of survival as a good thing. But it gets complicated right away. Whose survival? The survival of what? We are talking about the survival of order in a universe that flows according to the second law of thermodynamics. That is only possible in a local area, at the cost of greater global disorder, and using energy generated in a heat differential.

So we're talking about the survival of a local ordering process in a heat differential. The first example is the cycle of evaporation and rainfall on a planet like Earth. This process performs local ordering: it makes lakes of clean water separate from the salt of the oceans. It has continued on Earth for billions of years. It has been sustained, but I would argue that it is not self-sustaining. It depends passively on outside conditions, and doesn't do much to keep itself running.

Then we watch the emergence of evolutionary life. It adapts itself to conditions, and it adapts conditions to itself (the oxygenation of the atmosphere), and it remembers what worked in the past. It stores that information in a genetic code. The genetic pool of a species is maintained and adapted though a process of competition and natural selection.

We would not argue that life is "just part" of evaporation and rainfall. It is a separate process. True, if the Earth became incapable of sustaining evaporation and rainfall, most life would die. So there is some dependence. But it still makes sense to think of life as a separate process.

Evolutionary life introduces a new element: the use of information. I am going to call that a computational local ordering process. Notice how it operates on that information. It follows a trial and error process that depends fully on the variation and natural selection of individuals. If at any point there were "no more born than could live," it could not operate.

In contrast, the thought process uses cognitive information, and it operates on it using abstract and symbolic manipulation. This is more efficient than trial-and-error on individual prototypes.

As the thought process process becomes self-sustaining, we should not argue that it is "just part" of evolution. It is now a separate process. It is another computational local ordering process, another form of life, and we can compare it directly with evolutionary life. The first result of this comparison is the difference in efficiency. The second result is the difference in the relationship of individuals to each other, and any competition among them.

So we have two kinds of "survival" from which to choose: the survival of genetic information, and the survival of useful ideas. When those Victorian moralists chose to base their industrial revolution and their new capitalist markets on the army of the unemployed, they chose wrong. It is a choice we should revisit. They were aware of ideas like the golden rule, they just found that applying Malthus and Darwin to humans fit their real motives better.

To back up a step, I should acknowledge that my sort of evolutionary reasoning does not explain every plant response and animal behavior. Some things are the way they are because of founder effect or genetic drift. Some things are historical accidents that haven't been subject to strong selection one way or the other. Some are simply maladaptive. But the big things are the way they are for a reason. The point is that we, as humans, have two reasons to choose from.

I really appreciate the responses, and I hope you will be able to keep responding. I don't know if I would have had the patience to keep trying despite the disconnect we have suffered. My way of thinking seems to have wandered away from what I can explain to others, and I am trying to find a way back.
Last edited by reval on Sat Mar 04, 2017 8:42 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby ucim » Sun Feb 19, 2017 5:54 pm UTC

If you are aiming at promoting cooperation over destruction, then sure I can get on board, depending on what would be not-destroyed and what we would be cooperated towards. It's where you tie it into evolution, life as independent of its environment, and cognitive thought as an abstract thing-in-itself that I think you go into the weeds without sufficient justification. Cognitive thought depends on the life form (or AI) that is doing the thinking, and both life and machines depend on the environment in which they flourish, and that in turn depends on the second law of thermodynamics (and other laws of physics). They are not independent. The "thought process" isn't a thing. It is a process that another thing undergoes.

reval wrote:But it still makes sense to think of life as a separate process.
No, it does not. It makes some sense to think of an individual living thing as a separate process that interacts with its environment, but (as you allude to) this is just a useful abbreviation for a subset of properties of a particularly interesting quantum waveform. The latter way doesn't lead to enlightenment, but the former does, by dint of classifying and isolating the particularly interesting part. It's a mistake however to think of its environment as irrelevant, and that is the mistake you are making.

reval wrote:In contrast, the thought process uses cognitive information, and it operates on it using abstract and symbolic manipulation. This is more efficient than trial-and-error on individual prototypes.
I don't thnk this is even true, unless you are referring to present-day computer programs. In life forms that think, the thought process isn't so much an abstraction as an abbreviation and extension of prior trial-and-error experience. We don't "think" as much as we like to think we think. We justify what we did afterwards; that is something different but it feels enough like thinking that we go with the ego-enhancing idea that it promotes.

reval wrote:As the thought process process becomes self-sustaining...
Can you give an example of a self-sustaining thought process? Are you perhaps alluding to the idea of memes (grains of thought that can migrate from individual to individual)? Memes are more like parasites than self-sustaining entities. They depend entirely upon the host for survival, although they can leap to different kinds of hosts (brains to books for example).

reval wrote:So we have two kinds of "survival" from which to choose: the survival of genetic information, and the survival of useful ideas.
We have two different kinds of survival to consider in our discussion. We don't "choose" between them in any evolutionary sense. Genes and ideas each compete in their own arena (e.g. our bodies) for survival. Each can influence our own survival. I guess that's three things. (I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition!)

reval wrote:When those Victorian moralists chose to base their industrial revolution and their new capitalist markets on the army of the unemployed, they chose wrong.
How so? You are applying a moral judgment to an action that was quite successful from a survival standpoint. That it offends you is of no consequence.

Here's the thing: You are promoting something (cooperation) and villifying something else (competition), and in doing so implying a "right" and "wrong", without justifying why something is right or wrong. What is the goal here? (I mean the goal of the organism or thought-process, not the goal of the essay.) Because it's the goal that determines the best way of achieving it, and you are very unclear as to what this goal is.

To go back to the bear in the woods... you don't have to outrun the bear. You only have to outrun your friend. This can be taken on several levels - outrunning your friend is a clear case of competition - the fastest one survives to reproduce. Perhaps instead they should stop and come up with a co-operative plan? The more thoughtful one would stop to consider this. Sometimes that's not such a good idea though. Also, some thought-processes might see allowing your friend to be eaten as the morally right thing to do. It feeds the bear as well, keeps balance in the force. And isn't the whole of creation more important than one person? Perhaps, but that one person might disagree.

The "thought process" depends on goals. Evolution through natural selection does not. But you fail to specify or justify these goals up front. I'd say that's your first weakness. Without agreed-upon goals, the rest of the piece fails to justify anything and just rambles around without focus.

Jose
Order of the Sillies, Honoris Causam - bestowed by charlie_grumbles on NP 859 * OTTscar winner: Wordsmith - bestowed by yappobiscuts and the OTT on NP 1832 * Ecclesiastical Calendar of the Order of the Holy Contradiction * Please help addams if you can. She needs all of us.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby reval » Tue Feb 21, 2017 1:11 am UTC

ucim wrote:The "thought process" isn't a thing. It is a process that another thing undergoes.

Ah. I think I see one of the points of disconnection. Okay, I have been unclear. To me, a process is a thing. Information is a thing, a few electrons here or there, a mark in the clay. Computation and information exist together, they are a computer, and they are a thing. There are no ghosts in the world. There is no process that is not a thing.

A thought process is a human, or a future descendent, or an alien, or an AI. It comes with its own computer. If it is self-sustaining, it is able to make another one like itself. For a human, that would be artificial reproduction with effective read/write control of genetic information. We might be a little short of that at present, but there is no shortage of humans, and I feel there are plenty of other reasons to consider the human thought process effectively independent of evolution at this point.

Even though evolution is still happening in humans. Two processes in one body. You're right that my thoughts are not a pure "thought process". They also serve evolution. When I act, I often wonder, "which process did I just serve?"

Of course I agree that processes are not independent of their surroundings. It becomes useful to talk about a process, as separate from others, when the influence of the other processes can be practically thought of as inputs and outputs to the process under discussion. The point where this becomes useful can sometimes be debatable.

For example, Darwin observed that competition within a species, among individuals sharing the same space and way of life, is generally fiercer than competition among different species. So the other species are treated as inputs and outputs, and the process under discussion is the evolution of a single species and the competition of its individual members. The process by which evolution writes genetic information spans the whole species; the "body" of this process is a species, not an individual; the computer performing operations on this information is a species, not an individual.

In contrast, an individual human carries a complete thought process. And it can be extended into a shared thought process by communicating with other individuals. So here is an example where we are changing the boundaries of a process that is under discussion. We could debate what communication bandwidth is sufficient to make it more meaningful to talk of a shared thought process than of individual thought processes.
Last edited by reval on Tue Feb 21, 2017 2:33 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: An essay against competition

Postby ucim » Tue Feb 21, 2017 4:27 am UTC

reval wrote:To me, a process is a thing. Information is a thing, a few electrons here or there, a mark in the clay.
Ok, I'll go along with that. A process is an abstract thing. We can speak of a computer program as a thing, independent of the substrate it runs on. It influences other thought processes, but it controls non-abstract things (like pumps and printers).

reval wrote:A thought process is a human, or an alien, or a future descendent, or an AI.
Uh.... here's where I get off the bus. Humans, aliens, AIs, and other such are concrete things. They may host thought processes, but they are not themselves thought processes. Anything that follows is off the rails.

And, btw...
reval wrote:In contrast, an individual human carries a complete thought process.
It makes more sense (and is in greater accord with available scientific evidence) that concrete entites (that think) host many thought processes, and that these thought processes compete with each other for the attention of appropriate output devices (like fingers or vocal cords).

Jose
Order of the Sillies, Honoris Causam - bestowed by charlie_grumbles on NP 859 * OTTscar winner: Wordsmith - bestowed by yappobiscuts and the OTT on NP 1832 * Ecclesiastical Calendar of the Order of the Holy Contradiction * Please help addams if you can. She needs all of us.


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