Darwinian Selection in Information Space
There’s a wrong idea floating out there that bad concepts are selected out in the information space. This isn’t how it works! Ideas are information objects like viruses. Its hosts are minds. The encapsulating vector drives its infection, not the deadliness of its payload.
Minds must have their own immune system that determines the benefits of an information virus. Absent this defense mechanism, an information virus will spread based on the infectiousness of its encapsulating container.
It’s the unconventional and wild ideas that spread fastest because they get above the noise of the ordinary. Hence viruses are spread by extremists in societies. Its true value is untested unless it becomes the norm. But that’s when it is too late!
This is simply an articulation of the memetic ideas of information distribution. The ideas that robustly survive the test of time are the ideas that are useful. That is why technology spreads more robustly than religion. Few religions are opposed to the use of technologies.
We can therefore think of religious and political ideas as social coordination technologies. They remain useful only when they benefit their users and their users remain captive to their use through technologies of coercion.
This leads us to the specific ideas that are cancerous to humanity. These are the social coordination technologies that enhance the coercion of the many by the very few. The anti-democratic technologies where defection can lead to death.
This begs the question, what technologies are present to strengthen the individual information immune system? Such a system is hinted at by Kegan in his constructive theory of adult development and Taleb in his identification of first-order thinking.
Our models of the relationship between cause and effect can be biased. It is only when we rigorously examine empirical data that we gain a better model of relationships. This is why an anti-science meme is so dangerous. Anti-science deliberately shortcuts any deeper analysis. It hijacks good-faith discourse by cherry-picking information that aligns only with an agenda and throws away the truth. Anti-science is destructive because it attacks an essential process for the creation of robust ideas.
Kegan’s theory of adult development frames the development of the human mind in constructive stages. When you look at social coordination technologies from this reference frame, we can clearly see that destructive kinds are a consequence of an immature mind.
The problem with information technologies is that they promote the flourishing of the immature mind. Social media platforms that have the strongest revenues (i.e. Facebook, TikTok) are those that exploit the desires of the immature mind.
What is needed in the social media space are platforms that promote mature thinking. Unfortunately, it is the curse of the human condition that we are not born with self-transforming minds. We have to construct ourselves from infantile minds into mature minds.
Cognitive technologies are not assimilated like facts, rather they are learned through practice and experience. You cannot be good at playing music by understanding just the theory. You can’t be good at math without performing the exercises at the end of the chapter.
Building a robust information immune system requires effort. Unfortunately, AI technologies deprive us with the need to exert effort. We are inundated with tools for creation that exponentially require less skill.
Success in social media is driven by the size of engagement and thus we see the proliferation of information objects that have click-bait envelopes and zero-calorie payloads. Social media drives the sugar water of information.
A social media systems that encourage the construction of the adult mind is conspicuously absent in our technological ecosystem. We are thus left with an impoverished system that drives maximum engagement at the expense of the growth of young minds. We are destroying our future.
It is a common belief that human civilization evolution is predominantly influenced by the religious and philosophical ideas of the past. I don’t think this is true, civilization is influenced by technology. Let me explain.
Technology influences the direction of civilization because we are ‘forced’ to adopt it. We adopt technology because it is useful. We adopt it regardless of our religious or philosophical biases.
The Amish, as part of their religion. deliberately avoid modern technologies. With the exception, however, if it is used for work. So it is not uncommon to see them with smartphones and credit card readers to facilitate their commerce.
At the end of World War 2, the centralized control economy of communist USSR was at par with the USA. But as technology advanced and became more complex, their economies could not keep up technologically. It all collapsed in the 1990s.
That’s because people will vote with their feet. Politics or religion be damned. Humans will use whatever tool they will find useful for their own well-being. So if masks and vaccines keep you alive then the hell with politics. Let the zealots die clinging to their beliefs.
Humans frame their explanations based on the models they’ve learned. We gravitate towards Adam Smith or Karl Marx as models of societies. We imagine the world being driven by the decisions in the political sphere. But is this not all just a cognitive facade?
What actually changes the world are the multitude of technologies that have come into ubiquitous use. Human minds are influenced more by technology than any philosophy or religion. That is because technology is undeniably useful and what is useful is an objective truth.
I will be in error if I don’t recognize religion and philosophy as a kind of technology. However, there is a difference between technology that you can replicate and technology that places the burden of interpretation on the user.
It is often the case that religions attempt to solve this ‘replication crisis’ by demanding a literal interpretation of their religious text. That goes downhill very quickly when inconsistencies with reality become conspicuous (see: Noah’s Ark).
Humans are pragmatic beings. Humans can still thrive despite keeping in their heads logical inconsistent ideas. We now see this every day with senseless arguments in the political space.
The problem with relying on lies is that it’s very difficult to keep everything logically consistent. The best way to catch a liar is to have them discuss their narrative in length. Inconsistencies are an indication of the presence of dogma.
The beauty of technology is that they more than often are consistently useful. The dark side though is that technology is exponentially growing and as a consequence humans are driven to a loss of understanding of their own constructed reality.
There is always a human appeal is always to simplify their world models into a closed system where no new inputs are entertained. Closed systems can’t avoid inconsistency (see: Godel) and tend toward entropy (see: Boltzmann).
Humans need a sense of permanency to derive meaning in their lives. Adult humans are not beings that are comfortable being endlessly transformed. Too many of us would prefer that time froze.
As technology makes its inexorable progress, our social coordination mechanisms will look more and more like technologies. We see the first salvo of this with money being transformed into a technology solution (see: cryptocurrencies). This is just the beginning.
Applications like Noom highlight how effective digital therapeutics can be. People’s health habits are changing at scale because this replicable application nudges them effectively to develop beneficial habits.
The destiny of the human species isn’t dictated by our politics or our philosophies. It’s dictated by something that we have very weak control over. It is dictated by our inventiveness.
Unfortunately, our inventiveness is accelerating!