Monday, August 29, 2011

An illuminating correspondence about Dr. Efficient's posts

David Drake (Dave) and Dr. Efficient (Kyle) recently exchanged a set of email messages on the topic of the Dr. E columns. They CC'd me, in part because I'm involved and in part because the original goal was to have this happen through the Comments section of the blog. I found the correspondence interesting, so I asked their permission to reprint it here. They agreed.


I am intellectually and emotionally in tune with sociobiology, and there's lots of empirical support for it. That said, I have a feeling in reading your answers that we're missing something. I think we're Newtonians in an Einsteinian universe. Everything we can see reacts in the fashion we think it should, but there's more out there.

Obviously if I could see what I was missing, I wouldn't be missing it. Intuitively, though, I believe we may be understating--ignoring--the role of our higher processing faculties in viewing our behavior as only that of beasts. I think that throws enough of a variable into your (our; let me emphasize, I'm very much in your camp) calculations to seriously bias the result in a direction we have difficulty in seeing, let alone accepting.
Humans are somewhere between apes and angels. Anybody who's seen a dog playing with a toddler realizes that other animals are straightforward predictable creatures and that humans, even little ones, aren't. If I spend a lot more time focused on our apish than angelic natures, there are three reasons for that:

1. Most people seem to think that we are angels--that is, that we're creatures of godlike intellect and airy emotion who act out of love or reason rather than animal need. If that's what humans were, our species would have gone extinct a long time ago. Maybe that's what we'll become after the Singularity. In the meantime, I emphasize our apish past as a counterpoint to the conventional wisdom.

2. Most of the things people care about most deeply are rooted in our evolutionary past. Love, war, fidelity, family, mortality... I can't think of any of Shakespeare's plays that wouldn't have made as much sense to a paleolithic hunter-gatherer as they do to us.

3. As you say, we're Newtonians in an Einsteinian universe. Or maybe Einsteinians in a Heisenbergian universe, since Einstein at least thought that truth was knowable. Every year at the beach there comes some point when I wander upstairs to find the women deep in conversation with each other about families I didn't know they had or concerns that I didn't know existed, and I'm reminded that I'm surrounded by this web of human connections that I simply lack the sense organs to perceive. It's like being blind, but feeling the warmth of the sun on your face, and knowing that there does exist such a thing as light even though you'll never be able to see it.

Tigger's now answering the same questions that I answered. I don't disagree with her answers, and I don't think that she'd disagree with mine. They just come from different places. My answers come from painstaking research.

Her answers come from blowing lots of dudes. I mean, life experience.
Apes/Angels implies a good/bad dichotomy, where I really think it's just different--or rather, much more complex.

Yes, the blind man in the sun is a very good analogy. I wish I understood better, since apparently about half my species does understand better; but hell, that's life.
I don't intend for apes/angels to imply a good/bad dichotomy. Because we are apes. Genetically we have more in common with chimps and bonobos than gorillas and orangutans do. Certainly, I wouldn't be too surprised if I ran into this fellow at WalMart one day.

As for angels, I've never assumed that they have our best interests at heart. Lucifer was, of course, an angel. The rest of them didn't seem like a particularly trustworthy lot, either. I'm not trying to connote goodness, merely transcendence.

Whatever else you may think about the Dr. Efficient columns, I encourage you to consider also this: though entertaining and frequently outrageous by design, they also represent more serious consideration and examination than may be initially apparent. As I hope this dialog makes clear.


J. Griffin Barber said...

Very clear, from the get-go. The conclusions are merely couched in easily understood and fun vernacular, making the column a blast to read.

Tiggerz said...

Dunno about 'lots' of dudes... but probably (hopefully) more than Kyle anyway.


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