Michael Vassar's Edge contribution: summary

by Stabilizer1 min read19th Jan 201316 comments


Personal Blog

Michael Vassar has written a provocative response to this year's Edge question: "What *should* we be worried about?". But, I'm confused about his post. My attempt to summarize his point of view follows:

1. People have physiological needs (food, shelter, safety etc.) and social needs (esteem, love, respect etc.).

2. People have mental programs to try to achieve both needs. 

3. Modern society has been exceptional at fulfilling people's physiological needs but not very good at fulfilling their social needs.

4. Thus, mental programs that were meant to achieve physiological needs do not develop very well relative to mental programs meant to achieve social needs .

5. Mental programs for achieving physiological needs are more precise and hence harder to hack. Mental programs for social needs are fuzzy and vague and thus more easily hackable. 

6. Thus, and because of (4), people are more hackable. 

7. This manifests operationally as a few powerful people (the rich, the politicians etc.) hacking the majority into submitting to their will. 

8. But even the powerful do not have significantly better mechanisms for precise thought. It is just that their social weirdness (need for power, lack of empathy etc.) allowed them to be the hacker instead of the hacked.

9. Thus for most of our useful innovations, we are forced to rely on the rare people who are capable of precise abstract thought because they worry less about their social needs. 

So, I guess Vassar's point is that this pattern is what we should worry about as it systematically suppresses useful innovators.  

Would agree about my reading of his short essay? 

How solid do you think his argument is?