The main idea is to use the author’s own experience to demonstrate the nature of Wokeism the danger it presents to American democracy and way of life. Another idea presented in the book relates to the novel use of legal doctrines limiting actions of top corporate management and enforcement of their fiduciary responsibilities
INTRODUCTION The Woke-industrial Complex
This chapter presents the key point of Wokeism: “Basically, being woke means obsessing about race, gender, and sexual orientation. Maybe climate change too.”
However, it is even more important to explain this phenomenon’s real objectives – power and wealth. Therefore, the author demonstrates how it works based on his own experience as CEO.
CHAPTER 1 The Goldman Rule
In this chapter, the author discusses the main rule of the American business he learned working at Goldman: “He who has the gold makes the rules.”. The author then tells the story of how it works at the top corporate levels using the Woke ideology: anti-white racism, BLM, stakeholder movement to transfer wealth from shareholders to management, and whoever woke ideologists designate as recipients. The author defines it as crony capitalism 2.0. Finally, he retells some stories of his interactions with top-level business leaders promoting Wokeism, stressing that some are pretty sincere.
CHAPTER 2 How I Became a Capitalist
This chapter retells the author’s story: the child of immigrants growing in the USA with regular visits to the old country who eventually achieved the top of American corporate leadership via education and entrepreneurship rather than by climbing the corporate ladder.
CHAPTER 3 What’s the Purpose of a Corporation?
This chapter initially retells the author’s being pushed out from the company he had founded because of his refusal to submit to Wokeism. Then it discusses the nature of corporate ownership and the purpose of the corporation how it was developed throughout history. The author also discusses how limited liability corporations are used to protect social activism. Finally, he also proposes a solution:” For those like me who believe the rise of Wokenomics represents a problem for democracy, the simple answer is to limit the scope of limited liability of the corporation to cover only the set of activities it was intended to cover. A corporation ought to be free to pursue activities that go beyond the pursuit of profit—America is a free country, after all—but to the extent that it does, its social-activist shareholders shouldn’t receive any special protection from direct liability. There is no government regulatory action needed here. Just a simple legal fix—arguably a form of deregulation—that clarifies that the construct of limited liability is… well, limited”.
CHAPTER 4 The Rise of the Managerial Class
This chapter discusses how big business management captured nearly complete control and often enriched themselves at the expense of shareholders. The author demonstrates how technocrats use stakeholder capitalism to expand their power into areas they could not invade before and how it hurt shareholders and consumers. Once again, the author makes a suggestion:” HOW DO WE end the tyranny of the corporate managerial class? Here’s a thought: limit the scope of the business judgment rule (or the BJR, as it’s often called). In practice, most examples of stakeholder capitalism in the real world start with a CEO who decides to use the company’s corporate platform to solve a social problem. This often results in the CEO making bad business decisions that have negative externalities for democracy. Yet they are aided by the BJR, a corporate privilege that is designed to protect CEOs and corporate directors from being sued for bad business decisions that they make. There are good reasons for this legal doctrine, but today it applies far too broadly in a way that is toxic both for companies and for democracy.”
CHAPTER 5 The ESG Bubble
ESG stands for “environmental, social, and governance,” and the author testified as an expert in Congress during hearings about this. The author makes a case that ESG would lead to asset bubbles as it already happened in 2008. It is also less profitable because it puts other objectives at par or even above profits. He also tells an interesting story of how government regulations of the pharmaceutical industry created business opportunities for him to start up a multi-billion business, which as a non-public entity could work outside of these regulations. The author also looks at reports that ESG businesses outperform others. As one could expect, these non-commonsensical claims do not stand to scrutiny, even if politically motivated institutional investors prop up ESG companies.
CHAPTER 6 An Arranged Marriage
This chapter begins with the story of the successful matchmaking of the author’s parents. It then proceeds to use the analogy of marriage for an alliance of top corporate management with the “Occupy Wall Street” woke mob against the middle class. Finally, the author points out that this marriage will probably not be very successful due to incompatibility of interest.
CHAPTER 7 Henchmen of the Woke-Industrial Complex
This chapter looks at another exciting part of the woke/capitalist alliance: money flow. It works pretty much this way: big business pays money to woke non-profits either directly or via settlements with the government, so wokes do not attack this business, but do attack their competitors. This deal would not be possible without the massive support of government bureaucracy, especially the DOJ that became a subsidiary of DNC for all practical purposes. The author provides a few examples of how it works in real life.
CHAPTER 8 When Dictators Become Stakeholders
In this chapter, the author documents the alliance of big business and woke non-profits expanded to the international scene to include the Chinese communist party, which became the big player in this game. They have a lot of gold, so they can extensively use Goldman’s rule. The author strays a bit into his company’s story to provide an example of how a billion dollars investment made all the difference needed for huge success after the failure of the original plan.
CHAPTER 9 The Silicon Leviathan
This chapter discusses the monopolistic nature of Silicon value big businesses such as Google and Facebook and their attempt to suppress the free flow of information and provide massive financial support to the Democratic party. The author reviews the constitutional and legal sides of this massive intervention and expresses great concern that his children may not live in the free country that America used to be.
CHAPTER 10 Wokeness Is Like a Religion; CHAPTER 11 Actually, Wokeness Is Literally a Religion
In these two chapters, the author looks at the psychological and behavioral aspects of the wokeness and concludes that it has all indicators of religion.CHAPTER 12 Critical Diversity Theory
In this chapter, the author discusses the case of wokes attacking their own Larry Summers and similar occurrences and present his own suggestion: Critical diversity Theory, which seeks intellectual diversity, rather than biological diversity:
CHAPTER 13 Woke Consumerism and the Big Sort
This chapter discusses the Big Sort of Americans by political affiliation and attitudes that are happening over recent years. The author refers here all the way back to the struggle between federalists and anti-federalists and their different attitudes to diversity. Finally, the author concludes that Americans should promote their identity as first and foremost Americans, and race and political identities should be demoted, or the country would see a big fight between races and other identities.
CHAPTER 14 The Bastardization of Service
Here the author uses his own experience as upward mobile youth acquiring all kinds of formal qualifications necessary to get into the top college: volunteer work, social justice activism, and all other BS forms that substituted something that used to be internally driven service to others into self-serving activity. The author promotes the idea of mandatory civil service as a tool to establish and maintain the universal American identity.
CHAPTER 15 Who Are We?
This chapter discusses the meaning of America and the need to bring back the idea of E Pluribus Unum and live up to this idea.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book presents a realistic picture of the current American malaise of wokeness from the point of view of the person who was extremely successful in using opportunities of education and entrepreneurship open for intelligent people capable of being effective in the environment of big government, big education, and other forms of massive corruption that constitute contemporary American society. It is also fascinating in the description of the author’s intellectual and psychological development that eventually put him at odds with other establishment members and changed the direction of his life. The most interesting thing here is the author’s ideas about legal options that could be used against woke members of the establishment that abuse their positions at the top of public entities, either corporations or government or non-profits, to use government or shareholders resources to promote their ideology of wokeness and even suppress other people’s constitutional rights. In my opinion, the last few years removed the veil of hypocrisy that covered the existing and constantly growing gap between interests of government-dependent, prospering, and often parasitic elite and lower classes and interests of the middle class who usually pays for this prosperity with the decrease in quality of their life.
Typically these interests would be reconciled via election process when members of elite supporting competing sides find some accommodation more or less acceptable for everybody while interchanging place in power. However, the last few years saw the united front of the elite against the middle class represented by rich non-elite Trump who unexpectedly jumped at the top of the governmental machinery. The panicked elite responded by completely destroying any semblance of normalcy via massive bureaucracy resistance, media hostility, opportunistic pandemic use, and eventually rigged elections. I am afraid that the successful removal of Trump could be a pyrrhic victory for the elite with a high price to be paid and maybe even soon.
The introduction defines this book as an attempt to close the gap between popular notions about Intelligence, which is often not supported by scientific research, and expert opinion based on such research. To make things clear, the author provides the definition of Intelligence generally supported by a consensus of scientists:
Intelligence is a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings – “catching on,” “making sense” of things, or “figuring out” what to do. (Gottfredson, 1997a, p. 13)
The author also provides here samples of IQ test questions, some minimally required statistical concepts, and a bit of history. Below is a general overview of the presented ideas and data.
Section 1 The Nature of Intelligence
Intelligence Is Whatever Collection of Tasks a Psychologist Puts on a Test
FALSE – all cognitive tasks measure Intelligence in one way or another, which allows using factor analysis to arrive at a consistent g factor.
Intelligence Is Too Complex to Summarize with One Number
FALSE – Since all cognitive tasks are highly correlated, it is possible to derive a common factor that predicts performance on the wide variety of such tasks
IQ Does Not Correspond to Brain Anatomy or Functioning
FALSE – The correlation is well established, but only at a high level. The details would require massive research effort.
Intelligence Is a Western Concept that Does Not Apply to Non-Western Cultures
FALSE – g factor equally strong in Western and non-Western people, the cultural differences notwithstanding.
There Are Multiple Intelligences in the Human Mind
There is no empirical confirmation that there are independent levels of Intelligence in different functional areas of human activities.
Practical Intelligence Is a Real Ability, Separate from General Intelligence
Attempts to identify some practical intelligence areas independent from g were not successful. However, some non-cognitive human traits impact practical abilities that define the success or failure of an effort.
Section 2 Measuring Intelligence
Measuring Intelligence Is Difficult
FALSE – Intelligence is relatively easy to measure, and practically any cognitive task does it to some extent. Different knowledge bases and experiences do not relate to IQ tests designed to neutralize differences in backgrounds.
The Content of Intelligence Tests Is Trivial and Cannot Measure Intelligence
FALSE – the simple measurement can easily produce a reasonable estimate of a complex phenomenon. The author provides an analogy with a simple thermometer measuring the complex heat process.
Intelligence Tests Are Imperfect and Cannot Be Used or Trusted
The “imperfect” part is TRUE, but the results are good enough to be used and trusted, as confirmed by empirical data.
Intelligence Tests Are Biased against Diverse Populations
FALSE – professionally developed tests show consistent results unbiased by race and other irrelevant factors. The author provides an interesting description of the process in Ellis Island that pretty much demonstrated the validity of tests.
Section 3 Influences on Intelligence
IQ Only Reflects a Person’s Socioeconomic Status
The “ONLY” part is FALSE because genetics play an essential role: generally, about 50%. However, research demonstrated that adopted children do have higher IQ and that children in educated households get to hear more words, spend more time with adults, have better food, and so on, which has at least some impact on IQ
High Heritability for Intelligence Means that Raising IQ Is Impossible
FALSE –the incidents with lead poisoning and other environmental factors demonstrate that they have a material impact on IQ.
Genes Are Not Important for Determining Intelligence
FALSE – genes are essential for everything from height to digestion to IQ. It is always a combination of nature and nurture.
Environmentally Driven Changes in IQ Mean that Intelligence Is Malleable
TRUE – as demonstrated by adoption studies, the Flynn effect, and individual fluctuation. Most of the improvements over time are at the population level, while IQ measure the variation within a population
Social Interventions Can Drastically Raise IQ
Extreme neglect drives IQ down, but all known interventions, especially highly tested preschool programs, demonstrated only temporary improvements that disappeared over time.
Brain-Training Programs Can Raise IQ
So far, no program has demonstrated a significant improvement. However, there is no proof that no program never will.
Improvability of IQ Means Intelligence Can Be Equalized
FALSE – it is a statistical impossibility since IQ measures variation, not an absolute value. Neither genetic nor environmental components could be feasibly equalized for everybody.
Section 4 Intelligence and Education
Every Child Is Gifted
FALSE – also a statistical impossibility because all children are different.
Effective Schools Can Make Every Child Academically Proficient
It depends on what is considered proficiency. The difference will remain, but some specific level could be achieved by everybody, providing it is low enough.
Non-cognitive Variables Have Powerful Effects on Academic Achievement
TRUE – no school grades based on IQ only, so lower IQ could be compensated by hard work and discipline, at least to some extent. Similarly, a high IQ would not help if one is lazy and undisciplined.
Admissions Tests Are a Barrier to College for Underrepresented Students
TRUE – they are, but eliminating them would not change the factual differences in IQ. All attempts to equalize failed and will always fail, but selection based on proportionality deprives the brightest of opportunities they could use to produce benefits for all. In contrast, force-feeding opportunities to less bright would only mean squandering these opportunities.
Section 5 Life Consequences of Intelligence
IQ Scores Only Measure How Good Someone Is at Taking Tests
Here is a lovely picture of correlations:
Intelligence Tests Are Designed to Create or Perpetuate a False Meritocracy
FALSE – Tests were designed to simplify the selection of people to do more or less complex tasks. Ideas of meritocracy and ideology around it came later.
Very High Intelligence Is Not More Beneficial than Moderately High Intelligence
Research does not support the idea of a threshold about which higher IQ does not matter. However, IQ always works in the mix with many other factors. Therefore, simplified correlation does not work either.
Emotional Intelligence Is a Real Ability that Is Helpful in Life
There is no evidence that EQ works or even exists, and multiple attempts to raise EQ failed to produce results.
Section 6 Demographic Group Differences
The author begins by presenting fundamental principles:
Males and Females Have the Same Distribution of IQ Scores
Here is the conclusion:” While males and females are equal in average Intelligence, the distribution of their abilities differs in other ways. However, in broad non-g cognitive abilities – like spatial ability, verbal reasoning, and mathematical reasoning – mean differences do exist. Females tend to score higher (on average) on verbal abilities, while males have higher average performance on spatial ability and mathematical reasoning. Across these abilities, though, the differences average out to produce equal means on overall IQ. An important difference exists in variability in cognitive abilities. Males have a standard deviation that is 5–15% larger than the standard deviation for females. As a result, there is a greater percentage of males than females at the high and low extremes of most abilities.”
Racial/Ethnic Group IQ Differences Are Completely Environmental in Origin
The author provides a very detailed discussion well supported by statistical data but concludes that there are genetic differences even if everybody wants it not to be so. The author also discusses the inevitability of such differences due to the diverse evolutionary path of races.
Unique Influences Operate on One Group’s Intelligence Test Scores
Here the author discusses X-factor that supposedly generates differences between groups. Here is the definition:
The author reviews four different candidates to be X-factor and concludes that none of them meets the definition’s requirements.
Stereotype Threat Explains Score Gaps among Demographic Groups
The recently popular explanation of differences by the Stereotype Effect failed, mainly due to the replication crisis in psychology. The failure of confirmation does not mean proof of existence. It requires new research with a better methodology, including rigorous replication of results.
Section 7 Societal and Ethical Issues
Controversial or Unpopular Ideas Should Be Held to a Higher Standard of Evidence
The only criteria for science should be true or false, with ethical constraints necessary to prevent damage. Other than that, more knowledge is always better than less.
Past Controversies Taint Modern Research on Intelligence
This part is mainly about Eugenics, its popularity, and later disgrace due to its use by Nazis. Eugenics as an idea is mainly irrelevant by now, and it should not impact contemporary genetic research in any way.
Intelligence Research Leads to Negative Social Policies
Here the author provides some guidelines:
- First, do not promise more than a policy or program can deliver.
- Second, stick to facts – not wishful thinking. Many of the misconceptions that I deal with in this book are ideas that people want to believe.
- Third, do not ignore genetics. Nearly every trait or life outcome is partially influenced by genes
Intelligence Research Undermines the Fight against Inequality
The critical point here is that people are different but must be treated equally legally and ethically. The author also presents very interesting results that demonstrate how little IQ and other scores are relevant to actual live decision making:
- Randomly guessing which individual is more intelligent will be correct 50.0% of the time.
- Discriminating on the basis of race and assuming that the European American is always more intelligent results in a correct decision 76.0% of the time.
- Ignoring race and using IQ scores to identify which person is smarter increases decision accuracy to 94.2%.
- Using race and IQ scores to identify which person is smarter lowers the accuracy slightly to 94.0%.
In other words, ignoring race produces better decisions.
Everyone Is About as Smart as I Am
FALSE – people are different, and individuals with higher IQs are better at solving cognitive problems than people. The author calls for compassion and helps people with lower abilities rather than keeping them in contempt.
In conclusion, the author provides the summary of the book:
The author concludes by stressing the value of intelligence research and expresses hope that helps to promote a better comprehension of the world.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is an excellent collection of research results and presentations of the current level of knowledge about human Intelligence, its measurement, and relevant popular conceptions, some true and some false. I want to stress a few points related to these themes.
The first one is that everybody without exception should have not only compassion for others with lower IQ but also humility that is absolutely necessary if one thinks about the reality of the Bell Curve: if you are in the top 1%, it means that on this planet with about 8 billion people there are 80 million individuals more intelligent than you are. Or, if one goes local: 3.2 million people in the USA are also more intelligent than you are.
The second point is that it would be best to stop looking at IQ and another psychological testing as a tool to define a place in a hierarchy. The objective should not be selecting people for the slots higher or lower in the hierarchy. Instead, it should be the better understanding of self and adjusting your actions so that planned results are achievable and effective in producing the best quality of life one can have in the place and time of his/her/its existence.
Part One. Old Times
1. The Rewards of Hard Work
This chapter looks at the usual misconception about the life of hunter-gatherers as the struggle for survival and hard work. It rejects this view based on the author’s experiences as an anthropologist living with authentic hunter-gatherers. In reality, it is much more like a beautiful future imagined by Keynes when productivity is so high that people need to work just 15 hours per week to get all they need. In reality, 15 hours a week is all those hunter-gatherers need to hunt and gather enough resources from the environment to satisfy all their needs,
2. The Mother Hill
This chapter touches on the Khoisan hunter-gatherer’s philosophy, their genetic relations to other populations, and their evolution and way of life, based not on growth and expansion but on sustainability or what one can call stagnant interactions with the environment. The chapter also noted that this way of life, while effective for human flourishing, fails to provide tools for defense when an encounter occurs with agriculturalists. The typical result is that agriculturalists’ higher productivity, numbers, and technology allow them to push hunter-gatherers away from their territory, enslave, or annihilate them.
3. A Beachside Brawl
This chapter retells the story of European arrival to this area, the first encounters, and the specific story of da Gama and Dias.
4. The Settlers
This chapter expands this history to the present times. It includes discussion on the relations between farmers of European descent with locals, including lots of ugly interactions, exploitation, and forced labor. The situation somewhat improved after the independence of Namibia, but the old way of life was destroyed anyway.
5. Living in the Moment
This chapter looks at the psychology of hunter-gatherers. It notes their different understanding of time when only present exists, albeit it changes cyclically. Consequently, they have no notion of delayed returns, investment, and multi-step production processes. Instead, their economics based on immediate returns and knowledge base contains details about the usefulness of the environment at any given period of natural cycles.
6. Tsumkwe Road
This chapter narrates the first encounters of hunter-gatherers with anthropologists and the consequent constantly increasing intensity of the research. It also narrates the parallel development of interactions with the contemporary world, with the Tsumkwe road being a symbolic representation of these interactions
Part Two. The Provident Environment
7. The Hollow Tree
This chapter discusses the author’s experience of visiting the site starting in 1994. The author observed environmental changes caused by external forces: farmers that made this environment lose its ability to support hunter-gatherers. The chapter also discusses the difference between attitudes of hunter-gatherers and farmers, the former accepting natural settings and adjusting to them, while the latter changing the natural environment to fit their needs.
8. Strong Food
This chapter discusses attitudes to food, which hunter-gatherers divide into strong and weak food. For example, the strong food in the area with insufficient water contains more liquid. Also, the food obtained via hunting is considered strong and worth the higher time expenditure required by its acquisition. It also discusses the reasons for the absence of obesity among hunter-gatherers, and it is not from lack of food. It is rather a form of a combination of food consumption on an “as needed” basis and constant physical movement – per research, about 7-8 miles per day.
9. An Elephant Hunt
This chapter looks at another essential part of the local environment – elephants, poacher hunting, and countermeasures. The especially effective was allowing regulated hunt with the sale of licenses and organized tours that created lots of incentives for locals to protect elephants and maintain their population.
10. Pinnacle Point
This chapter looks at the archeological findings that demonstrated the uninterrupted habitation of people in the place where contemporary hunter-gatherers live. These findings also showed the stability of technology, which is, while sufficiently complex to meet human needs, nevertheless did not develop that much over time. The chapter explicitly discusses hunting technics and equipment, demonstrating that it was reasonably sufficient to assure that nearly half of calories came from meat. The chapter also points out that the stability of technology over the centuries has nothing to do with the cognitive abilities of these people. On the contrary, they quickly familiarized themselves with multiple artifacts of contemporary life and used them as needed.
11. A Gift from God
This chapter discusses hunting and general attitude to animals and changing environment of the animal world. It also describes how the fire was used to preprocess food, making people much more efficient food consumers and freeing them from consuming low-quality food. It also concludes that hunter-gatherers’ meat consumption in everyday conditions was at the first world level.
12. Hunting and Empathy
This chapter discusses various hunting technics. But more interesting is that te critical cultural relationships are established between hunters and animals that allow maintenance of a sustainable way of life for all. It specifically stresses that these relationships are based on empathy and understanding of animals as companions and adversaries.
13. Insulting the Meat
This chapter discusses hunting-related relationships within groups directed at strict maintenance of egalitarian mores. Specifically, it looks at the typical behavior of the group’s diminishing level of hunter’s success. The value of acquired meat is insulted with the objective to prevent the hunter from being arrogant. Then the chapter proceeds to discuss the use of hierarchy and its role or, more precisely, lack thereof in relations between people. It also looks at so-called “demand sharing” that somewhat regulates whatever property could be identified and gift-giving procedures.
Part Three. New Times
14. When Lions Become Dangerous; 15. Fear and Farming; 16. Cattle Country; 17. Crazy Gods; 18. The Promised Land
The last part of the book tells the sad story of the destruction of hunter-gatherers’ way of life by an encounter with the contemporary world that turned these “affluent without abundance” from well adjusted and generally happy egalitarians sustainably living off the environment into poor and often unhealthy people living off miserly welfare handouts and low paid unskilled jobs.
MY TAKE ON IT:
In my view, this is not just a description of the disappearing lifestyle that humanity maintained for hundreds of thousand years, but also the foundation for the projection into the future when humans may return to somewhat similar arrangements, only based not on harmonious interaction with the naturally existing environment, but based on the newly developed environment with fully automated processes of production of goods and services. If something like that happens, humanity could once again move to a highly egalitarian arrangement of society that must be the most effective way to pursue happiness since it is very much in synch with the human evolutionary background. Obviously, the agriculture-based invention of property and hierarchy is not going away. Still, the new forms of the egalitarian society could be based on an extensive distribution of ownership of everything with violent hierarchical structures limited to maintaining effective and efficient resource allocation and individual rights.
Here is how the author identifies the main idea of this book:” Your consciousness is like a tiny stowaway on a transatlantic steamship, taking credit for the journey without acknowledging the massive engineering underfoot. This book is about that amazing fact: how we know it, what it means, and what it explains about people, markets, secrets, strippers, retirement accounts, criminals, artists, Ulysses, drunkards, stroke victims, gamblers, athletes, bloodhounds, racists, lovers, and every decision you’ve ever taken to be yours.”
1. There’s Someone in My Head, But It’s Not Me
This chapter first identifies the theme of this book, and then it discusses various cases of small detail changing human perception either about beauty or many other things. It then makes the statement about the author’s position:” Consciousness developed because it was advantageous, but advantageous only in limited amounts.” It also makes the positioning statement:” The conscious mind is not at the center of the action in the brain; instead, it is far out on a distant edge, hearing but whispers of the activity.” Further, the author discusses the history of thoughts about consciousness from Thomas Aquinas to Freud and poses many questions about human behavior,
2. The Testimony of the Senses: What is Experience Really Like?
This chapter discusses the complexity of human perception, providing multiple examples that it is not a simple process of reading sensory input but a rather complex process of interpreting the multitude of inconsistent signals from the environment. This process sometimes produces quite different results from the same input, and the author provides several examples of visual illusions when the same picture is perceived differently. The typical example is “vase vs. two profiles.” The discussion includes the eye scanning process, blind spot, text reading, etc. The author also makes a significant point that blind people who recovered vision later in life still could not see because their brains did not develop the neural networks necessary for the interpretation of visual signals. Finally, the author also discusses the perception of time, which he also defines as a construction.
The conclusion the author makes is this:” So the first lesson about trusting your senses is: don’t. Just because you believe something to be true, just because you know it’s true, that doesn’t mean it is true. The most important maxim for fighter pilots is “Trust your instruments.” This is because your senses will tell you the most inglorious lies, and if you trust them—instead of your cockpit dials—you’ll crash. So the next time someone says, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” consider the question carefully.”
3. Mind: The Gap
This chapter defines the unconscious as the gap between:” what your brain knows and what your mind is capable of accessing.” The author presents an example of chicken sexers – people who select chickens by sex without fully understanding how they do it, just based on acquired experience. He then expands on other similar workings of the unconscious. After this discussion, the author moves to discuss the process for the development of subconscious hunches and similar processes:” When the brain finds a task it needs to solve, it rewires its own circuitry until it can accomplish the task with maximum efficiency. The task becomes burned into the machinery. This clever tactic accomplishes two things of chief importance for survival.” The author defines these two things a speed and energy efficiency. Finally. The author arrives to the conclusion:” Evolutionary selection has presumably tuned the exact amount of access the conscious mind has: too little, and the company has no direction; too much, and the system gets bogged down solving problems in a slow, clunky, energy-inefficient manner.”
4. The Kinds of Thoughts That are Thinkable
Here the author discusses human limitations:” What you are able to experience is completely limited by your biology. This differs from the commonsense view that our eyes, ears, and fingers passively receive an objective physical world outside of ourselves. As science marches forward with machines that can see what we can’t, it has become clear that our brains sample just a small bit of the surrounding physical world.” The author discusses the notion of umwelt for an organism, meaning the totality of inputs that create this organism’s world. For example, radio waves were outside human umwelt until technology changed it. The author also discusses a condition of synesthesia, when the inputs are perceived idiosyncratically, as when a person can see music. After reviewing the development of humans as a combination of inherited features and results of social interactions that define human behavior, the author concludes:” We’ve seen in this chapter that our deepest instincts, as well as the kinds of thoughts we have and even can have, are burned into the machinery at a very low level. “This is great news,” you might think. “My brain is doing all the right things to survive, and I don’t even have to think about them!” True, that is great news. The unexpected part of the news is that the conscious you is the smallest bit-player in the brain. It is something like a young monarch who inherits the throne and takes credit for the glory of the country—without ever being aware of the millions of workers who keep the place running.”
5. The Brain is a Team of Rivals
This chapter discusses human complexity using real-life examples of inconsistent human behavior, poetic expression of “I am large, I contain multitudes,” an analogy with various forms of government: “Democracy of mind.” The author even refers to a two-party system: Reason and Emotion. Here is the author’s summary of the chapter:” The main lesson of this chapter is that you are made up of an entire parliament of pieces and parts and subsystems. Beyond a collection of local expert systems, we are collections of overlapping, ceaselessly reinvented mechanisms, a group of competing factions. The conscious mind fabricates stories to explain the sometimes inexplicable dynamics of the subsystems inside the brain. It can be disquieting to consider the extent to which all of our actions are driven by hardwired systems, doing what they do best, while we overlay stories about our choices. Note that the population of the mental society does not always vote exactly the same way each time. This recognition is often missing from discussions of consciousness, which typically assume that what it is like to be you is the same from day to day, moment to moment. Sometimes you’re able to read well; other times you drift. Sometimes you can find all the right words; other times your tongue is tangled. Some days you’re a stick in the mud; other days you throw caution to the wind. So, who’s the real you? As the French essayist Michel de Montaigne put it, “There is as much difference between us and ourselves as there is between us and others.” A nation is at any moment most readily defined by its political parties in power. But it is also defined by the political opinions it harbors in its streets and living rooms. A comprehensive understanding of a nation must include those parties that are not in power but that could rise in the right circumstances. In this same way, you are composed of your multitudes, even though at any given time your conscious headline may involve only a subset of all the political parties.”
6. Why Blameworthiness is the Wrong Question
This chapter references the Texas sniper with the damaged brain. It discusses whether it is possible to blame people for their actions if these actions are caused by biological factors such as DNA or brain damage outside of their control. As usual, this discussion moves to free will and presents events and experiments that demonstrate that actions often occur outside of conscientious control. However, the author provides a unique point of view: “I propose that the answer to the question of free will doesn’t matter—at least not for the purposes of social policy—and here’s why. In the legal system, there is a defense known as an automatism. This is pled when the person performs an automated act—say, if an epileptic seizure causes a driver to steer into a crowd. The automatism defense is used when a lawyer claims that an act was due to a biological process over which the defendant had little or no control. In other words, there was a guilty act, but there was not a choice behind it… So, I’m going to propose what I call the principle of sufficient automatism. The principle arises naturally from the understanding that free will, if it exists, is only a small factor riding on top of enormous automated machinery. So small that we may be able to think about bad decision making in the same way we think about any other physical process, such as diabetes or lung disease. The principle states that the answer to the free-will question simply does not matter. Even if free will is conclusively proven to exist one hundred years from now, it will not change the fact that human behavior largely operates almost without regard to volition’s invisible hand.”
The author nevertheless states that “Explanation does not equal exculpation” and
Offer a graphic representation of dynamic approach based on the level of technological development:
After that, the author discusses what he calls:” A FORWARD-LOOKING, BRAIN-COMPATIBLE LEGAL SYSTEM.” He also looks at the maturation of the human brain and human inequality and concludes that legal measures should be based on modifiability to align punishment with neuroscience. The author especially stresses that his position does not mean letting criminals go free, but instead defining appropriate action, precisely:” The concept and word to replace blameworthiness is modifiability, a forward-looking term that asks, what can we do from here? Is rehabilitation available? If so, great. If not, will the punishment of a prison sentence modify future behavior? If so, send him to prison. If punishment won’t help, then take the person under state control for the purposes of incapacitation, not retribution.”
7. Life After the Monarchy
This chapter discusses scientific progress overall and its philosophical reflection, including the understanding of humans. The author discusses how difficult it is for people to accept the materiality of who they are despite the enormous amount of evidence demonstrating the impact of mechanical and chemical interferences on the human condition, from thought processes to physical actions. The author also discusses the complexity of nature/nurture interaction and provides a simple and interesting example based on a short/long combination of alleles of two genes controlling serotonin in everybody’s genome:
In short, humans are defined by both nature and nurture in complex and unpredictable combinations. The reduction to materialism does not simplify the analysis of human thoughts and behaviors. Here is the author’s final word:” In the same way that the cosmos is larger than we ever imagined, we ourselves are something greater than we had intuited by introspection. We’re now getting the first glimpses of the vastness of inner space. This internal, hidden, intimate cosmos commands its own goals, imperatives, and logic. The brain is an organ that feels alien and outlandish to us, and yet its detailed wiring patterns sculpt the landscape of our inner lives. What a perplexing masterpiece the brain is, and how lucky we are to be in a generation that has the technology and the will to turn our attention to it. It is the most wondrous thing we have discovered in the universe, and it is us.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think it is time to finally recognize that there is no clear division between the human mind and brain or between the role of nature vs. nurture in human development. This book provides a pretty good set of real-life examples and experimentation supporting these two statements. It also provides an excellent discussion on the individual’s control over his/her actions and blame that could or could not be assigned as a result. I also like the idea that this is not relevant to the reality of crime and punishment because the goal should be preventing crime from happening rather than inflicting retribution on the perpetrator. However, I think that in real life, retribution and prevention functions could not be separated. For example, I am always puzzled by the statement that capital punishment does not prevent crime. As far as I know, no dead criminal murdered or caused harm to anybody else, while it is not unheard of for murderers convicted to life in prison to kill again. Somehow, it is challenging for quite a few highly educated people to move from abstract thinking about “general deterrence” to simply understanding that dead people do not do anything, crimes included.
The only thing that I probably do not entirely agree with the author is about the complexity of a mind/brain being comparable to the cosmos. I think that despite a huge number of neurons in the human brain, unlike the universe, it is finite and therefore comprehensible and could be modeled or even artificially recreated if not on a silicon basis, then biologically or even mathematically. However, I do not think that it will be done on a regular basis beyond scientific research. What is the point in creating artificial humans when plenty of them are produced naturally. Indeed, technologically developed specialized brain-like systems will be and already are made, but they are just tools. They will remain tools forever because, after a tragedy or two with artificially developed conscious beings, the cruelty and meaningless of such exercise would become evident, and it would stop. I think that eventually, people would understand that a complex dynamic system is not possible to fully control externally, as well as reliably predict its behavior, so it would be better not to play with fire.
The main idea of this book is to apply the authors’ knowledge of evolutionary biology to the contemporary situation and derive clear recommendations for behavior both individual and a group not only in general but also in specific functional areas of human life. It is also to point out the dangers of the current situation when even humans’ formidable ability to handle changes could be overwhelmed by the temp and scale of changes currently occurring in technology and society.
In the beginning, the authors retell how they nearly got into a dangerous situation because of the lack of local environmental knowledge. Then, they discuss how much people lost what used to be necessary for survival: local knowledge, tradition, norms of behavior, and such. They make a point of how much unusual it is for the traditional human world and how difficult it would be to adjust:” The best, most all-encompassing way to describe our world is hyper-novel. As we will show throughout the book, humans are extraordinarily well adapted to, and equipped for, change. But the rate of change itself is so rapid now that our brains, bodies, and social systems are perpetually out of sync.”
The authors suggest that the only way to handle this novel situation is via science and discuss their experience as scientists. They also define science:” science is a method that oscillates between induction and deduction—we observe patterns, propose explanations, and test them to see how well they predict things we do not yet know. We thus generate models of the world that, when we do the scientific work correctly, achieve three things: they predict more than what came before, assume less, and come to fit with one another, merging into a seamless whole.”
Finally, they conclude:” Our species’ pace of change now outstrips our ability to adapt. We are generating new problems at a new and accelerating rate, and it is making us sick—physically, psychologically, socially, and environmentally. If we don’t figure out how to grapple with the problem of accelerating novelty, humanity will perish, a victim of its success.”
Chapter 1: The Human Niche
The discussion of the human niche begins with the story of the slow movement of humans to America via Beringia and how humans adjust to changes. Here how the authors see critical components of human nature that facilitate such adjustment:” Most of the best ideas that our species has generated, the most important and powerful ideas, have been the result of a group of people who had different but consilient talents and vision, non-overlapping blind spots, and a political structure that allowed for novelty.” The authors stress the paradox of human ability to become specialists as individuals while maintaining a wide range of functionality as a group. Next, the authors discuss consciousness and culture, their interplay, and the uniqueness of human use of “collective consciousness.” They provide a fascinating approach to all this:” Homo sapiens therefore oscillate between two dominant modes. When we face problems for which our prior understanding is inadequate, we become conscious. How do we feed ourselves in this new land? We plug our minds into a shared problem-solving space and share what we know. Then we parallel process—proposing hypotheses, providing observations, offering challenges—until we arrive at a new answer, one that an individual would rarely reach alone. If the result works well when tested in the world, it gets refined and then driven into a more automatic, less deliberative layer. This is culture. The application of culture to the circumstances for which it is adapted is the population-level equivalent of an individual being in the zone.”
Another interesting point that the authors make, as evolutionary biologists, is related to fitness, which they define this way:” fitness is indeed often about reproduction, but it is always about persistence. A successful population can ebb and flow through time. What a successful population can’t do is go extinct. Extinction is failure. Persistence is success—and the reproduction of individuals is only one factor in the persistence equation.”
The authors also provide a couple of notions that are critical for understanding human evolutionary processes:
Chapter 2: A Brief History of the Human Lineage
This chapter discusses the biological classification of human evolution from the very beginning starting with Plant and all the way to humans. Here are the first and last pictures:
The authors also provide functional characteristics and a high-level timeline of human development:
- Oscillating between these two challenges—ecological dominance and social competition—we became expert at exploring new niches. We are the ultimate niche switchers.
- By forty thousand years ago, many populations of people were engaged in hunting and gathering that was even more cooperative and forward-looking.
- Seventeen thousand years ago, when the most famous cave art in Europe, at Lascaux, was being created, Beringians had likely become Americans and were spreading across two vast continents.
- Ten to twelve thousand years ago, people were beginning to farm.
- By nine thousand years ago, permanent settlements were forming; in the Middle East, Jericho may have been Earth’s first city.
- Eight thousand years ago, at Chobshi, in the Andes of modern Ecuador, people took cover in a shallow cave, and hunted by funneling guinea pigs, rabbits, and porcupines off a short cliff, retrieving the corpses at the bottom, with which they made food and clothing.
- By three thousand years ago, much of Earth’s landscape had been modified by human activity—by hunter-gatherers, by agriculturalists, and by pastoralists.
- Seven hundred years ago, some humans were in Europe
Here is also a graphic representation:
Chapter 3: Ancient Bodies, Modern World
This chapter discusses multiple differences between WEIRD people and people untouched by wealth and education. These differences are both physiological and psychological. From this, the authors define a test for a feature being adaptation or not:
After that, the authors discuss different types of trade-offs: allocation and design constraints. Finally, to summarize the discussion, the authors provide the kind of user manual for dealing with the new and unknown so the following chapters discuss multiple areas of human existence and, for each, provide similar recommendations for the evolutionary approach:
Chapter 4: Medicine;
Chapter 5: Food
Chapter 6: Sleep
Chapter 7: Sex and Gender
Chapter 8: Parenthood and Relationship
Chapter 9: Childhood
Chapter 10: School
Chapter 11: Becoming Adults
Chapter 12: Culture and Consciousness
Chapter 13: The Fourth Frontier
In this last chapter, the authors move to the broader picture looking at the development of a whole society. They review challenges and define the next frontier:” The fourth frontier is the idea that we can engineer an indefinite steady state that will feel to people like they live in a period of perpetual growth, but will abide by the laws of physics and game theory that govern our universe. Think of it like the climate control that allows the inside of your house to hover at a pleasant spring temperature as the world outside moves between unpleasant extremes. Engineering an indefinite steady state for humanity will not be easy, but it is imperative.” They also talk about the senescence of civilization and suggest building a system based on such principles:
- Not optimize for a single value. Mathematically speaking, if you try to optimize for any single value, no matter how honorable—be it liberty or justice, decreasing homelessness or improving educational opportunities—all other values, every single other parameter, will collapse. Maximize justice, and people will starve. Everyone may starve equally, but that’s small recompense.
- Create a prototype for your system. After that, continue to build prototypes. Do not imagine that you know from the beginning what the final system will look like.
- Recognize that the fourth frontier is inherently a steady state, whose characteristics are ours to define. We ought to strive to create a system that:
- Liberates (that is, that frees people to do rewarding, interesting, awesome stuff),
- Is antifragile,
- Is resistant to capture, and
- Is incapable of evolving into something that betrays its own core values. In the technical language of evolution, we need a system that is an Evolutionarily Stable Strategy, a strategy incapable of invasion by competitors.
The authors also discuss challenges and the need to jump curves when usual processes stop working. Here is a graphic representation:
The final set of suggestions:
The epilogue presents the rules for life that the authors linked to 8 days of Hanukkah:
Day 1: All human enterprises should be both sustainable and reversible.
Day 2: The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Day 3: Only support systems that tend to enrich people who have contributed positively to the world.
Day 4: Don’t game honorable systems.
Day 5: One should have a healthy skepticism of ancient wisdom, and engage novel problems consciously, explicitly, and with robust reasoning.
Day 6: Opportunity must not be allowed to concentrate within lineages.
Day 7: Precautionary principle: When the costs of an action are unknown, proceed with caution before making change.
Day 8: Society has the right to require things of all people, but it has natural obligations to them in return.
MY TAKE ON IT:
The approach to the current situation through the lens of evolutionary biology is generally sound but not sufficient. The authors’ recommendations are excellent, and I agree with most of them. However, I do not think individual behavior adjustments based on these recommendations would do the trick. People need some vision of the future condition of the system to act consistently and persistently, even if this vision is not completely clear. This vision should also be simple and linked to modifying the system of relations between people rather than to individual behavior only. Religions used to be able to do it pretty well, including the religion of socialism and communism, but they also tend to lead to obsession, fanaticism, and destruction. We can see it now in the current religion of wakeism. I hope that America’s relative freedoms would help resolve existing problems by updating the system of society’s organization to match currently achieved technological levels. Still, we are probably at the beginning of a protracted period of disturbances before we’ll complete this upgrade.