Search Results for 'consilience'

“It is not only science that can suffer under the thumb of those in power. The anthropologist Donald Brown was puzzled to learn that over the millennia the Hindus of India produced virtually no histories, while the neighboring Chinese had produced libraries full. He suspected that the potentates of a hereditary caste society realized that no good could come from a scholar nosing around in records of the past where he might stumble upon evidence undermining their claims to have descended from heroes and gods. Brown looked at twenty-five civilizations and compared the ones organized by hereditary castes with the others. None of the caste societies had developed a tradition of writing accurate depictions of the past; instead of history they had myth and legend. The caste societies were also distinguished by an absence of political science, social science, natural science, biography, realistic portraiture, and uniform education.”

That’s another quote from Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works. It reminds me that long ago I promised to write a post on why I am not in favor of caste. I’ll have to ask for another extension on that. However, after giving a Straussian analysis of Mencius Moldbug as Islam-proponent (read the comments for MM’s responses), how could I resist finding the similarities here as well? One of the oddest statements MM has made is that history has been corrupted by “social science” (which he hates) and is properly a branch of literature. He favors figures like Carlyle or Ruskin who held that history is the account of the acts of “great men”, which sounds a lot like myth and legend. He of course despises uniform education as brainwashing by the Cathedral (I can’t say I dissagree terribly there). He doesn’t much trust natural scientists either whether the subject is global warming, string theory (though he seems more sympathetic to Lubos Motl than Lee Smolin for global warming and political reasons) and is quite ready to concede that cold fusion has been suppressed by a conspiracy of scientists.

You might note that the quote contrasts China with India, and MM currently promotes the post-Deng system of the former and named himself after a follower of Confucius. Can a good Straussian take him at his word? He once defined leftism as the belief that we should be governed by scholars, perhaps assuming people would make the connection to Plato’s Philosopher King (he later defined it as favoring disorder, while he as a righty/”pronomian” favors the opposite). A much better connection could be made to the Mandarins of China. The term he uses for our intellectual class is “Brahmin”, which like his “Vaisyas” and “Dalits” he takes from India (Optimates are Roman and Helots served Spartans). This is a purposeful bit of misdirection. The Mandarin class of China was famously meritocratic, while in India one’s caste is determined at birth (there are even some well-off intellectual Dalits). MM notes that the Brahmins recruit the children of Optimates (who are fast disappearing) and Vaisyas sent to universities, and despite PC cant those universities are very meritocratic. Even the ethnic group most closely associated with that caste, the Jews, rose up to it after starting out as lower-class immigrants or shtetl dwellers. The Chinese are well known for their abhorrence of disorder, but what’s often forgotten by Westerners is that this is the result of their experiencing the awful consequences of it repeatedly. Mao and his cultural revolution are a recent example, but there have been waves of other intellectual movements that burned the books of the Four Olds (both the Maoists and the Legalists hated Confucianism). India remained firmly in the grip of the warrior caste, and despite being the birthplace of Buddhism it ignored that faddish religion for the Chinese to take up (some of them simultaneously believe in it as well as Taoism). The sub-continent is also the birthplace of Jainism (perhaps the ultimate progressive religion) and Sikhism, but its adherents are generally content to go into finance rather than trying to overturn society. A bonus from my perspective and possibly his is that India was never unified until the British arrived and conquered the various little kingdoms. (more…)


The sub-title of Jim Manzi’s “Uncontrolled” is “The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society”, but multiple passages of the book actually consists of caution how small such payoffs can be. The sociologist Peter Rossi formulated the “Iron Law of Evaluation“: The expected value of any net impact assessment of any large scale social program is zero. Manzi’s background is in consulting for business rather than social policy, but the same logic applies in that there are abundant ideas undertaken because they sounded good when an evaluation would show them to have little effect. Manzi phrases things differently: he says questions of human behavior are plagued by high “causal density“, in contrast to the simplicity of questions in physics which can be controlled in a lab. Mencius Moldbug would claim this is why one must then rely on “wisdom” rather than the “cargo cult science” found in academia, but I find Manzi more persuasive. Reality is one and our methods of obtaining knowledge can work in other fields, even if it is more difficult (as Manzi phrases it: “The experimental revolution is like a huge wave that has lost power as it moved uphill through topics of increasing complexity and holism”). This book isn’t an in-depth introduction to epistemology & the philosophy of science, but it does provide a bit of an intro so a layman can understand that such issues exist. (more…)

The following is pretty long and is something like an attempt to sum up my world-view and contains many tangential connections. You may be more interested in my case against WW2 being black-and-white (without even mentioning nukes or firebombs), which appears to have succeeded in convincing my target, although it could be that I’m failing to recognize sarcasm on the internet.

I, and I suspect many of my readers, are wary of something we call (among other things) “universalism”. The universe is a large and scary thing, the local and particular less so. Universalism seems to have the upper hand in the battle of ideas, which perhaps shouldn’t be too surprising given it (duh) universal appeal. Even in critiquing universalism I must approach it with a universalist mindset. The particulars I cherish are universalist and my defense of particularism is universal. (more…)

UPDATE: GNXP has a post up. Watch for comments there. Henry Harpending says the interview was “terrific” and likes Ferguson’s attitude compared to other cultural anthropologists.
John Horgon has a diavlog with cultural anthropologist Brian Ferguson, sometimes called a “neo-Rousseauian” who says warfare is much less common than the conventional scientific wisdom claims and is more subject to specific circumstances than genetically hardwired. He repeats the claim of James Scott I noted earlier that primitive societies today are unrepresentative of the past (horse-backed nomads are right out). He says Napoleon Chagnon’s statistics don’t really support the claim that killing leads to higher reproductive success and leaders of empires like Genghis Khan are relatively modern. He also disagrees with archaeologist James Keeley, author of War Before Civilization, about the archaelogical evidence for ancient warfare. He disagrees with Wrangham (whose book I reviewed here) on chimpanzees, saying the incidents of violence are unusual and likely the result of humans reducing the resources available to them (I think he excuses too much). He says he’d be less surprised by violence among bonobos because he doesn’t think they’re that different from chimpanzees. Stephen Pinker’s Hobbesian optimism is also discussed. If you don’t feel like sitting through the video, this article from Horgan covers basically the same ground. You can read some of Brian’s papers here. Two topics covered in the diavlog but not the article are controversy over anthropologists hired by the military and the high intelligence of the Ashkenazim, specifically referencing Cochran’s article. Ferguson has a 70 page paper attacking it, but it won’t be up at his site for about a week.

In Consilience E. O. Wilson points to anthropologists and sociologists as the social scientific stronghold against Darwinian (or “sociobiological”) explanations and scientific consilience. His tower of disciplinary resistance to general scientific principles has sociology at the top, followed by anthropology then primatology and finally sociobiology. Some exceptions of sociologists amenable to Darwinism are the University of Washington’s Pierre L. van den Berghe (the one name of the list I recognized, even if I don’t remember how I heard it), Minot State’s Lee Ellis, University of Texas’ Joseph Lopreato and Princton’s Walter L. Wallace. In the diavlog Horgon characterizes the running theme of Ferguson’s writings to be resistance to Wilson’s sociobiology. I haven’t read his work myself, but I did not detect the same sort of epistemological resistance to consilience found among many cultural anthropologists (and Mencius Moldbug). Wilson cites Robert Nisbet in claiming that sociology’s roots are as an art rather than a real attempt at science. It was, to use a term MM intends positive connotations for, “literary”. Wilson sees Gary Becker style economics as much more amenable toward scientific consilience and resembling population genetics even if it falls far short. In case the other social science discipline left out I’ll leave an awful quote from the awful Woodrow Wilson. “I do not like the term political science. Human relationships … are not in any proper sense the subject matter of science. They are the stuff of insight and sympathy and spiritual comprehension”. And as a final dig at sociology, a rather p.c theory of gangs is discussed in this OrgTheory post and I mock it in a comment.

On a completely unrelated note, a huge argument began between the leftists and libertarians at TAOTP when Roderick Long accused Noam Chomsky of being a fake anarchist and really a social democrat.

UPDATE 2: Here’s what Greg Cochran has to say:
I read an earlier version of it last year: I was not impressed. One issue was our fault, in that we were unclear: he somehow got the idea that we thought that all of the IQ-boosting was caused by the effects of disease-causing mutations in heterozygotes, mutations like Tay-Sachs That’s not what we think. Strong selection for intelligence would have changed allele frequencies at many loci: the disease mutations are, we think, only a well-studied tip of the iceberg. Ferguson agues that non-genetic social factors had a strong effect on who was rich: we never said otherwisr. Our point weas that genetic causes of even a _small_ fraction of the variance in income were enough to drive selection. For there not to have been any kind of evolutionary change in personality or cognition among the reproductively isolated Ashkenazi Jewish population, which had a _unique_ concentration in white-collar jobs, intelligence would have had to have almost completely decoupled from economic success. It is not so much we were arguing that IQ is all-important in economic success, it is more that Ferguson argued that it makes almost no difference at all. For that to be the case, people with IQs of 85, one standard deviation below average, would have had to be reasonably good at being moneylenders, traders, and estate managers. Today people with IQs of 85 are not successful at comparable jobs, or for that matter very many jobs at all.

Judging from his article, he doesn’t understand quantitative inheritance, population genetics, or general human medical genetics.

He also seems to think that success in a job like moneylending is driven by access to capital: it is of course, but it’s easy to _lose_ that capital if you make too many mistakes. Seems to me that we might be able to think of some contemporary examples, yes? He also thought that Jews could enforce debt collection: that was not always the case, and in fact it was often catastrophically reversed, with debtors helping spark and man pogroms.

Our model suggests that much of the notable achievements and high social status acquired by the Ashkenazi Jews in the United States are the results of innate biological advantages – advantages in the context of this kind of society. This means overrepresentation in bridge tournaments, Putnam exams, as well as corporate CEOs (20-25% Ashkenazi Jews.). Given the structure of the society, we’d say that this success was meritocratic, more or less. It’s hard to see how a bunch of tailors living in East Side tenements pulled this off without native smarts: it’s not as if they were ushered directly from Ellis Island into the Social Register.

He talked about linkage disequilibrium, quotes a source that thought it was higher among the Ashkenazim, a sign of recent founder effects. But we now have enormously more info now (from SNP chips) and we know, for sure, that linkage disequilibrium is almost exactly the same among the Ashkenazim and Northwest Europeans.


I suppose we’ll have to write some sort of response. This is boring: Ferguson doesn’t know his stuff.

I apologize for not posting material from Consilience earlier, but nothing really jumped out at me at first. One passage however grew on me over the days and is unlike anything else in there, so here goes:

Ever since our ancestors, the macrotermitine termites, achieved ten-kilogram weight and larger brains during their rapid evolution through the late Teriary Period, and learned to write with pheremonal script, termitic scholarship has elevated and refined ethical philosophy. It is now possible to express the imperatives of moral behavior with precision. These imperatives are self-evident and universal. They are the very essence of termitity. They include the love of darkness and of the deep, saprophytic, basidiomycetic penetralia of the soil; the centrality of colony life amidst the richness of war and trade with other colonies; the sanctity of the physiological caste system; the evil of personal rights (the colony is ALL!); our deep love for the royal siblings allowed to reproduce; the joy of chemical song; the aesthetic pleasure and deep social satisfaction of eating feces from nestmates’ anuses after the shedding of our skins; and the ecstasy of cannibalism and surrender of our own bodies when we are sick or injured (it is more blessed to be eaten than to eat).

People have been whining about how I need to update more and I’ve stored up some things I want to yack about during the time that meatspace held me back from making another post, so here goes.

I’d been touting Bryan Caplan’s Myth of the Rational Voter for a while without actually having read the book, but the paperback arrived in the mail a few days ago so now I can do so with good reason. Caplan’s research builds a lot on Scott Althous’ work on “enlightened preferences” which can broadly construed as showing that the more you know the more libertarian you are (Caplan would be motivated to discover that, but Althaus is apparently not a libertarian himself). I could get to self-congratulating and confirmation of my beliefs there, but because I’m so humble and rational I’ll do some double-checking.

Caplan calls the enlightened more “libertarian” but he got that from them being “fiscally conservative and socially liberal”, which I of all people have spent a lot of time denying is necessarily libertarian. Bobos can like low-taxes and free-trade while endorsing smoking bans, trans-fat bans and gun control. Michael Bloomberg is a paradigmatic example. Hopefully Anonymous, the gink whose opinion I respect more than anyone’s save perhaps Robin Hanson’s, has a fairly favorable view of Bloomberg, but I hate him. On the other hand, it should reassure those obsessed with the Stuff White People Like/Brahmin crowd that the enlightened are less supportive of additional government intervention to protect the environment and oppose “equality of results” affirmative action and welfare programs in favor of “equality of opportunity”.

On foreign policy they are both more interventionist AND more dovish. I’m not sure entirely how that works out, but it doesn’t describe me. I’m an extreme non-interventionist but I’ve got bloodthirsty Jacksonian instincts and an indifference to any suffering others go through if it benefits us. I’ve moved closer to doves precisely because I’ve become more anti-interventionist and recognized the costs of war which include antagonizing people, but even if I don’t think we should have entered into or pursued unconditional surrender in WW2 I think it also proves the “violence never solved anything/only begets more violence” trope is wrong and that massive killings and the crushing of the enemy can work. That’s part of the idea behind Edward Luttwak’s piece Give War a Chance. I oppose the U.N and peaceful global meddling like many right-wing populists, and populists are notoriously stupid. I can ascribe some of their beliefs to anti-foreign bias while my own is merely radically decentralist and fearful of the concentration of political power (or cooperation among concentrations) regardless of whether it’s my own or someone else’s, but that anti-elitism (even though I consider myself an elitist hostile to The People) and localism could also signify dimness. I don’t know what the enlightened think about “law’n’order” and don’t myself have a view clearly on one side or the other.

Because Caplan is an economist and focuses on that as opposed to Althaus the political scientist, I’m on less shaky ground with regard to his work on enlightened preferences. As a libertarian I’m completely free of anti-market bias and make-work bias. There are a few areas where Caplan himself disagrees with the enlightened and other economists, such as education, and I agree with him there. Our big point of disagreement is over immigration. This is an obvious area where anti-foreign bias comes to play, and I have no problem ascribing a lot of opposition to immigration as irrational. I favor unilateral free-trade and have no problem with immigrants “stealing jobs” or “lowering wages”, I even approve. I would endorse a Gulf State style guest-worker system, as Lant Pritchett has proposed, as well as expanded meritocratic immigration (brain draining other countries is a clear win for us). My worries about immigration pertain to its long-term effects over generations to our political culture when their descendants attain near-majority status as well as the combination of persistent human capital deficits in a knowledge based economy with a democratic welfare state combined with salient ethnic differences.

The last bias is pessimistic bias, and the most famous opponent of it was libertarian economist Julian Simon. Radical libertarians (especially those affiliated with Austrianism) seem as prone to it as anyone, leading to wrong predictions. Today Billy Beck keeps going on about the “endarkenment” while Vox Days says he’ll be laughing as the world falls apart (and he doesn’t have a bunker like Cleve Blakemore). Like many paleos I’m pretty disgusted with the pervasive idiocy all around us, but I recognize that things still tend to get better over time. I even managed to get Mencius Moldbug to concede that things have improved, though he had to add that considering technological advances they should be far better (I don’t think we should treat technology so exogenously). I’m not completely sold on optimism over the long term though for Darwinian reasons. I’ve mentioned the Return of Patriarchy before and even Robin Hanson has predicted some Malthusian scenarios after the Singularity.

A lot of what’s in the book, including many of Caplan’s papers, I’ve already read. One exception though is Terrorism: The Relevance of the Rational Model. An interesting part is that he says giving bin Laden what he wants would cost us less than nothing. He also suggests retaliating against the family members of suicide bombers. In that paper and many other places in the book he cites Gaetano Mosca’s The Ruling Class from 1939. I guess I’ll have to check it out some time, along with Eric Hoffer’s True Believer.

I’m further into Consilience by E. O. Wilson. A warning to others who might seek it out: steer clear of the Thorndike Large Print version. It is absolutely chock full of massive glaring typos. I’ve never seen any this bad before. The basic theme of the book is the unity of knowledge and how with the modern advance of science we seem closer to achieving that goal. The natural sciences will be rooted in physics and math, the social sciences in the natural sciences (especially biology, neuroscience and psychology) which will in turn subsume the humanities. As someone who doesn’t think there’s any fact of the matter when it comes to aesthetics or ethics, I don’t have his confidence. I am however a fan of scientific imperialism in history and economic imperialism in the social sciences (speaking of which, a sociologist portraying other sociologists as conspiracy theorists compared to economists sparked a massive OrgTheory thread here), as I mentioned here. Mencius Moldbug’s preference for “literary” history and economics just seems willfully ignorant to me. While most of the book is just bursting with Wilson’s childlike love of science, he gets into some downer parts when it comes to lefty academic post-modernism and how the Enlightenment went all wrong with the French Revolution.

Speaking of the perils of the Enlightenment and all the harm the Jacobins did, I just picked up Michael Burleigh’s Earthly Powers: The Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe, from the French Revolution to the Great War. I’ve only read the introduction so far and I’ll hold off the rest until I’ve finished Consilience. If it’s good I’ll have to read the second Volume, titled Sacred Causes, which also covers areas from the Great War to the War on Terror. I’ll likely get to the Bell Curve before that though.

You might notice that I had nothing to say about Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. Dennet’s a fine writer and some of his thought experiments were pretty interesting, but it just didn’t generate the same sort of urge to share a great bit like How the Mind Works did. I thought he was weak in his criticism of Wilson and other socio-biologists commonly called “ultra-Darwinians” as greedy reductionists. I did draw upon the book recently in an Overcoming Bias thread here.

I take back my earlier statement. I don’t truthfully know who either is, but I do not think it likely they are the same person.

Apologies for the lack of posts. I finished Collapse without having more I felt like saying about it, and while I’m enjoying Daniel Dennet’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea I haven’t yet had anything to say about that either. E. O. Wilson’s Consilience is up next and after that I figure why not dive into the Bell Curve? To complete the terrible triumvirate opening the Blank Slate I would then have to read Thornhill and Palmer’s A Natural History of Rape, but that isn’t as widely available. Speaking of sociobiology though, I think the Sahlins guy everyone is making fun of here is the same one Tooby & Cosmides take down (among others) in The Psychological Foundations of Culture.