Nixon is famously said to have said, “I am not a crook.” He was, but we all are, crooks. Our brains are crooked. “They” lie to “us” all the time, that is to say, neural nodes construct cognitive frames with intent to commit fraud. On these frames are built the looms on which our mortal minds weave tangled neural webs, and practise to self-deceive.
If you think you know your own mind, you, or rather you all, are lying to that mutable aggregate of ‘consciousness’ you think of as yourself, and some of you is sniggering behind your back. If you think you have a ‘mind’ or that you are in any way ‘conscious’, you are not even wrong.
The brain is a house divided against itself, and the house will fall, is falling, a free-for-all in free fall. The Confederate States of You rebels against the Union of Y’all, whilst King You summons a long parliament of “tiny robots” to hash you out.
We are all thought criminals. When we “face a moral hazard” our criminal minds are engaged. Our inner Nixon deploys its plumbers to ratfuck any opposition. Deep within the brain the worm ouroboros stirs in its lair; the ancient firedrake, curled on itself, gnawing its own tail, falls awake. The jaws snap. Snicker-snack.
It’s ruth is less. Like a computer, it’s dumb but fast. It’s a lot faster than you, the analog self of your self-regard, can think. You will, if you ever try, find it hard to beat the simple, swift, and greedy algorithms of the ouroboros; hard to think twice when faced the risk of less risk, the moral hazard of the ‘IN’ vig.
But the algorithms succeed by skittering over the surface of a complicated moral landscape, like a roach doing a broken field run over assorted cans, cartons, bottles in a kitchen cabinet. Delve deep? Map a complex ethical topology? Can’t do it.
In fact, the ouroboros is all surface, finite but unbounded. The serpent swallows its own tail because it is its own Klein bottle. Break glass (only) in case of fire.
Homo sap evolutionary history has created in us distinct, inherent, structural cognitive biases against which all aspirational rationalists must contend. The cognitive characteristics that helped our ancestors, or rather, their genes to survive makes us stoopid about things we think we’re clever about. This applies to me, you, everybody, not just the demorons.*
These biases may have been adaptive or at least benign in the circumstances in which our species evolved. Natural selection is not survival of the fittest, it is survival of the fitter, the survival of the fitter-than-thou, the survival of the fit enuf. Nature abhors perfection. If perfect, overadapted for a particular niche in your enviroment. Enviroment changes, niche goes away, you’re perfectly extinct.
The ability to think outside the kin group was not selected. It was maladaptive in the context of our ancestors’ physical and social environment. It did not help the the genetic line to survive. Group think was selected. Pattern seeking was selected, thus we seek pattern even if where there is no pattern. We are biased in our response to stimuli, thus we seek to impose pattern on those stimuli we are biased toward, and tend to ignore other stimuli, no matter whether not our cognitive biases make us fit to survive present circumstances.
The vast majority of humans are not aware of their cognitive (much less their cultural) biases, and thus do not attempt to compensate for them. Some are clever enough to manipulate these biases in others for self gain, but thinking you are smarter than that, and smarter than the other guy, is in itself a cognitive bias. Attributing success to your own efforts and your own smarts, or for that matter attributing success to others’ success to their efforts and smarts is in itself a bias, a narrative bias against randomness of luck and fate–against the black swans. Humanity abhors randomness. If you’re rich, you must be smart, right? As John Kenneth Galbraith said, “Financial genius is before the fall.”
Hope itself is an adaptive cognitive bias. Optimism is the happy face of the feckless and stupid. Confidence (as in confidence man) is the poker face of a player who knows the odds, the cards in his hand, and how to play them to his best advantage. Obama is not an optimist, he is a highly competent, confident man–and a confidence man when he speaks of hope. What Obama will actually do after he wins the Presidency, my Magic 8 Ball will not tell me. Nevertheless, I am reasonably confident that our best advantage lies with him. I put money on it.
*A conflation of demos + morons
Note: I emailed this text to Mrs. Dr. Omed with the subject line: “Does any of this make sense?” Her answer was, “No. But it has very good bones. Perhaps we could work on it together.” I too think we think we could work on it together. I would like that. But I hang the skeleton out in the meantime, hastily festooned with a few shreds and gobbets in the form of links. ‘Tis the season.