Tag Archives: evaluative diversity

A Recall on Moral Education

Sometimes the products we buy turn-out to be better than we expected,

… and sometimes they turn-out to be worse.

By Ragesoss (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsOn rare occasions when products turn-out to be so much worse than expected that they actually damage their owners, we issue a product recall. For example, in 2004 Merck announced a recall of the anti-inflammatory drug, Vioxx, because a new study found that Vioxx promotes strokes and heart attacks. As another example, we are now told that orange juice is one of the foods health conscious people ought to moderate. Rather than a recall issued by orange-juice-makers, this recall came as a reversal in the recommendations of dietitians.

Moral education is another market where errors can be made. Beliefs distributed through moral education are products, and it is possible to teach dangerous beliefs. For example, it was once taught that left-handedness should be avoided and that conflicts should be resolved via duels. Those teachings needed to be recalled. This essay considers the possibility of another recall to respond to evidence that moral education causes evaluativism.

The Complaint Against Moral Education

We should start by considering a special problem with implementing a recall on moral education. Recalls are typically justified by new scientific discoveries, but aren’t morals matters of opinion, or, at worst, theological matters beyond the scope of science? Even if moral education does cause evaluativism, who’s to say it shouldn’t?

The complaint against moral education is not based on scientific evidence that one option is more moral than another—rather, it cites evidence that moral education messes with the brain in such a way that it limits humans from recognizing what is moral. Mind-control and manipulation are within the scope of science, so science can justify a recall on moral education if it finds that moral education is a kind of mind-control.

In this case, the relevant scientific evidence is that:

  1. Humans have moral disagreements,
  2. Rather than reflect mere differences of opinion, these disagreements sometimes reflect physiological differences such as genes and brain structure (a.k.a. “evaluative type“),
  3. Some of the evaluative types are interdependent
  4. Some man-made environments are optimized for people of specific evaluative types, thus discriminating against people of other types (this is a form of “evaluativism”)
  5. Like many other forms of discrimination, evaluativism is currently out of control
  6. Evaluativistic environments impact the chemistry of the brain, causing people of various types to experience depression, apathy, lack of self-control, and other limitations to moral faculties
  7. Modern centers of moral education produce evaluativism that divides interdependent types

The complaint against moral education is premised on these findings—if you conduct research which disconfirms the findings, the complaint is withdrawn. The paper linked above suggests that moral education can be reformed, such that it no longer produces evaluativism, divides interdependent types, and handicaps our collective moral faculty. New scientific work would be required to prove reform has succeeded; a recall is what to do while waiting for that proof.

The Scope of the Recall

If moral education is counterproductive—if it is actually hurting us—then we should stop engaging in it until it is reformed. That’s a recall. Recalls are stopgap measures. For example, once we find a way to mitigate the dangers of orange juice, then the recall will be lifted and we will be free to drink as much orange juice as we like. Reasonable efforts to test potential reforms are exceptions to a recall. For example, if someone develops tiny robots that regulate sugar in our bloodstreams, someone will need to drink orange juice while using these robots to determine whether they succeed in mitigating the dangers of orange juice drinking. Testing efforts which do not include measurement, however,  do not qualify as exceptions to a recall.

In addition to being temporary—limited in duration—recalls are limited in scope. For example, the recall on orange juice is not a recall on all liquids. There are fairly clear boundaries on what qualifies as “orange juice” for the sake of the recall. The discovery which justifies the recall on orange juice is about liquid calories, so the recall extends to all sugary drinks (including soda and other juices), but does not extend to oranges, vitamin C tablets, or the use of orange juice in a marinade.

The scope of “moral education” for the recall justified by the evidence discussed above includes only attempts to teach people to form independent moral judgments. When we teach people to specialize in a mere aspect of moral decision-making, we may actually support interdependence between people of different specialties. For example, one might teach someone to predict consequences, but to rely on others to determine which of the predicted consequences is best. Likewise, one might teach someone how to follow best practices, or to empathize, or to innovate, but to rely on others to complete other aspects of moral decision-making. When we imply that everyone should develop all the skills, or that not all skills are needed (e.g. that one can get by with mere best practices, or empathy, or innovation), we are implying that everyone ought to be able to engage in moral decision-making independently.

Teaching people to form independent moral judgments is like teaching neurons to live without the help of bone cells, muscle cells, and all the other interdependent cells of the body. That would be counterproductive education because abandoning the rest of the body and setting-out on its own would be hazardous for the neuron. It would also be hazardous for neurons to set out in groups. That’s analogous to what people do when they become convinced that they can form good moral judgments without the help of people of other evaluative specialization—they set out with people of their own type. Conservatives group with other conservatives, and liberals group with other liberals. That’s evaluativism. The recall on moral education ends when measurements demonstrate that moral education no longer produces evaluativism.

An Example: Churches

This article concludes with a description of how such a recall would look in churches. First, it needs to be said that the recall does not target churches—moral education also takes place in secular schools, workplaces and families. Second, church includes many other activities including fellowship, worship, charity, and ritual. Third, to boycott churches would be an evaluativistic form of moral education, teaching by example to segregate attenders from non-attenders.

All that said, churches are one of the leading centers of moral education and segregation in the United States, even though the bible explicitly informs Christians that we are evaluatively interdependent like the parts of a body, that we develop moral competence together, rather than as individuals. Christians generally believe that Christ opposes discrimination (especially against genetic traits), and churches have a rich history of fueling reform efforts. Moreover, Christians generally do not doubt that reform is needed in churches.

Although a recall of moral education would not include a boycott of churches, it might require churches to fail to meet the expectations of certain “customers.” One reason to become a “customer” of a church is to protect one’s legacy by instilling one’s own values in the people who will inherit that legacy. Customers with that motive would be inclined to “shop” for a church where they could bring their family to witness a preacher condemn evaluative types contrary to their own and see a room of people nod in agreement. Such a person might even settle for a church that seems to affirm their evaluative type simply by not criticizing it (i.e. to protect oneself from having one’s family exposed to opposing churches). In either case, the customer expects the church to help them influence the values of the guests they bring. Under a recall, churches would refuse to meet that expectation. Any church which delivers the expected mind-control services would be violating the recall.

“Don’t accuse me of ‘mind-control’ or even of having a ‘legacy’,” Christians might object. “I am merely expressing appreciation for the truth I inherited.”

For many Christians, this is an honest objection that should be acknowledged, but the fact that some people shop for church undermines the theory that churches merely preserve truth. If we were not trying to propagate our own values regardless of whether they happen to be true or not, then we would join whichever church is closest and debate there until the truth won out. Once churches have measurably demonstrated that they can teach morals without producing evaluativism, they will be free to resume their preservation of moral truth, for they will have untangled truth-preservation from the mind-control services sought by legacy builders.

I do not believe that mind-control is the dominant motivation for most Christians, nor for churches. I think that most of us see no biblical justification for “church shopping,” and that any mind-control which takes place in our churches is an accidental side-effect we would gladly see expelled. We agree with the Qur’an where it says “Let there be no compulsion in religion” and with the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution which protects religious freedom (even of our own children). However, to suspend moral education would frustrate any church members who want to establish their own values in others. We need to acknowledge that pre-existing mess, so the clean-up crew doesn’t get blamed for any unavoidable division that results from clean-up.

The other major difficulty with implementing a recall of moral education in churches can be the subtle ways in which moral education takes place there. When a pastor preaching a sermon tells the congregation precisely how moral judgments should be made, when the pastor declares that no one should be ambitious, or legalistic, or subjective, or questioning, when the pastor points to politicians with some such attribute and instructs the congregation to vote against them, it is obvious that the preacher is engaging in moral education. However, moral education in churches is often more subtle.

My own pastor pointed to the book of Hebrews as an example of that subtlety. He said that the book of Hebrews has a conciliatory tone, that it simply lays out a set of facts and leaves the listener to draw their own conclusion about how those facts should impact their moral behavior. No one would doubt that the book of Hebrews aims to convince people to change their moral behaviors, but any book, sermon or hymn with such subtlety makes its claims about morality indirectly. Thus, any misinformation about morality it produces would be lies of omission.

Rather than say that no one should be ambitious, a subtle pastor might teach about a scripture that exposes a weaknesses of the ambitious evaluative type (every type has weaknesses—that’s what makes them interdependent). The pastor might explain indisputable facts about the context in which that scripture was first heard and how it would have been understood in its original language. The pastor might never say, “All of you should avoid ambitious decision-making—do not elect ambitious people,” and might not even directly claim that the scripture should be followed. The pastor will not deny that there are many other scriptures to consider. Yet many people of the congregation will hear a moral lesson loud and clear. It is moral education by omission.

Education by omission can happen in hymns and rituals as well. I know of a thriving church that is so concerned that the ritual of communion will convey the wrong message that they always preface it by explaining that no one should feel pressured to participate. It would be nice to be able to mark out the boundaries of the range of topics in which preachers can speak their mind without worrying about engaging in counterproductive moral education, but moral education in churches so often happens by omission that the only way to be safe is to preface each church service the way this church prefaces communion.

The preface might go something like this (pastors can work out their own versions—given that the preface is recited every week, they might also want have a written explanation prepared):

The Bible tells us, ‘Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.‘ You may have come here today to make teachers of me, of our liturgists, our choir, the hymn writers, and those who wrote and translated the Bible, so I need to warn you not to get the wrong idea. God made each of us different, so perfect teaching would require delivering different lessons to different people. We want to figure-out how to provide teaching like that and to confirm it works, but are not there yet. You will not get reliable teaching from us today. We will simply have to forgive each other for failing to be perfect as we worship and study together.

Without such a preface, members of the congregation will likely assume that the leaders of the service intend to engage in moral education. They will likely hear moral lessons where none were intended. At times, a leader may slip—he/she may forget about the need for reform or may grow impatient waiting for proof that reform has been accomplished—then this preface becomes their request for forgiveness. The need for forgiveness is inevitable because failure to discuss morality could delay reform, yet appropriate boundaries of such discussion will not be known until reform proves successful.

Finally, we must ask who should issue the recall. Should pastors create their own prefaces, should entire denominations compose standard disclaimers to be recited at each service, or should some external body, such as the government, warn citizens that churches promote evaluativism? A congregation might want all three. If the pastor volunteers their own preface, the church will experience no embarrassment when the denomination and government issue recalls as well, yet the higher-level recalls may be necessary because not every pastor will issue the recall locally.

Conclusion

Most people who developed and prescribed Vioxx had every good intention. When scientists discovered that it promotes strokes and heart attacks, no one thought any less of those who discovered it. Likewise, the well-intended efforts of moral educators in the past remain heroic, despite new evidence that their efforts turned-out to be counterproductive.

Once Vioxx was found to be dangerous, to continue selling it would have been wrong. It would have been wrong to say, “I’m going to keep prescribing Vioxx, because I don’t have the resources to test these claims about strokes and heart attacks for myself.” Those who distribute a product—even if they are giving it away for free—have a responsibility to follow-up on evidence that the product my harm its owners. In the case of tobacco products, this responsibility may have driven some people to quit their jobs.

When facing the discoveries cited above, it is natural to ask what they mean for moral educators. Hopefully, you will see that moral education can and will be reformed. Like orange juice, moral education is wonderful in many ways, so we are willing to invest in finding ways to mitigate its dangers. Yet, until reform has proven to mitigate the dangers of moral education, to continue with moral education as usual would be immoral. This article aims to avoid overreaction. It discusses the limits of a recall on moral education, and proposes ways to minimize inconvenience while waiting for proven reform.

Military Applications of the GRIN Model

A social group’s ability to innovate is limited by its GRIN diversity, and the GRIN Model (Gadfly-Relational-Institutional-Negotiator) helps us to measure and manage that diversity.  Thus, if you think the goal of the military is to dominate others, then you might expect the primary military application of the GRIN model would be to reduce enemies’ capacities to innovate, while defending one’s own.

However, the goal of the military should not be to conquer everyone else, nor merely to defend oneself; the goal of the military should be to mitigate the motives for war.  In other words, the military and state departments share the same ultimate goal—the military is just more inclined to pursue it through technology.  This is the greater application of the GRIN Model: It allows us to understand the causes of war, and to end them.  That turns out to involve protecting and growing innovative capacity, especially among one’s enemies.

New concepts facilitate new science.  This post will demonstrate how new science, which thus far confirms the GRIN model, corrects misconceptions which previously led to inferior strategies for resolving conventional warfare and terrorism.  The post will then discuss how the GRIN model enables exploration and implementation of a potentially superior strategy for achieving the military endgame.

Conventional Warfare

Conventional warfare and terrorism have different causes.  The motive for conventional warfare resides in those of us who are natural negotiators (the ‘N’ of the GRIN model).  The essence of a natural negotiator—his/her moral imperative—is to grow wealth and power. In business, we say we “grow market share,” and we represent that share as a slice on a pie chart.  There are only two ways to grow a slice of the pie:

  1. Grow the entire pie through innovation, or
  2. Steal market share from competitors.

Conventional warfare is the process of engaging in this second strategy: stealing other’s share and preventing others from stealing your own.

It is unfortunate that people label this “greed” because the same motive—the growth motive—could instead grow the pie for everyone by advancing innovation; conventional warfare stems from a fundamentally good motive that is twisted by dysfunction in our innovation systems such that investment in competition becomes more rational than investment in innovation.  If the dysfunction were repaired and investment in innovation were proven to be the more promising path towards growth, then conventional warfare would no longer be motivated.  This is the ideal solution: All countries of the world innovating such amazing products and services that we all want to trade, rather than fight, with each other.

However, that is not the typical military response to conventional warfare today.  Instead, the successful response has been to make investment in competition less attractive by raising its cost.  This is a game of threats: Enemies do not expect to profit by attacking because they expect attacks to be met with retribution.  This response doesn’t actually allow others to profit through innovation, but it works because it makes competition unprofitable.

Most people are not natural negotiators, so they are less inclined to base decisions on profit, and they underestimate this cause of conventional warfare.  The naturally institutional, for example, allow institutions to guide their decisions.  Assuming that their enemy thinks likewise, they blame war on institutions.  By revealing that most people do not evaluate institutionally, scientific confirmation of the GRIN model reveals that any institution would be twisted to war.  It shows us that blaming Islam or Communism or Capitalism merely distracts us from the real causes of war.

People who are naturally relational do not think in terms of profit either.  They allow emotional bonds to guide their decisions.  Assuming their enemy does the same, they expect to end warfare by building emotional bonds across borders.  By revealing that most people do not evaluate relationally, the science confirming the GRIN Model shows that such bonds are not sufficient to prevent war.

Emotional bonding or destruction of contrary institutions could prevent war if everyone were forced to evaluate institutionally or relationally, but forcing everyone to think in the same ways would limit GRIN diversity.  We may instinctively believe everyone should think like ourselves, but the GRIN Model demonstrates that all four types are interdependent, such that society benefits from GRIN diversity.  Thus, the confirmation of this model helps us counteract that misleading instinct.

Terrorism

The motive behind terrorism is different from the motive behind conventional warfare.  Terrorism is sustainable only because people are willing to suffer personal loss for the sake of an ideal.  This motive resides in natural gadflies, rather than in natural negotiators.  The moral imperative of gadflies is to rebel against misapplied power, against injustice, hypocrisy, ineptitude, and imperfection.  Rather than aim for wealth and power, or the preservation of an institution, or love, they aim for the possibility of social progress.  Most, if not all, institutions originated through some revolution built on this motive.

Recently, we have called such revolutions “terrorism” because we realize (with terror) that the typical military response to conventional warfare does not mitigate gadflies’ motive to war.  In fact, the game of threats fuels terrorism.  Gadflies are enraged when market leaders use threats to secure their disproportionate shares of the pie.  Then terrorism allows negotiators to compete against market leaders indirectly—when a market leader is taken down by a terrorist, everyone else divvies the spoils—so disadvantaged negotiators compete (without retribution) by fostering an environment which promotes terrorism

Apple (when it was not the market leader) launched an advertising campaign appealing to natural gadflies: “Here’s to the crazy ones.  The misfits.  The rebels.  The troublemakers.  The round pegs in the square holes.  The ones who see things differently.  They’re not fond of rules.  And they have no respect for the status quo.  You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.  About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.  Because they change things.  They push the human race forward.  And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.  Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

It actually is possible for market leaders to prevent natural gadflies from changing the world.  However, not all natural gadflies will give up without a fight, so preventing world change ultimately requires waging a war against terrorism.  Steve Jobs didn’t have to resort to terrorism, but not all gadflies are so fortunate—especially not gadflies in third-world countries dominated by first-world countries.

As with conventional warfare, the naturally institutional and relational misunderstand the motives behind terrorism, and the GRIN model can correct this misconception.  Change is not central to the moral imperatives of non-gadflies, so they see no sense in the claim, “Terrorism is better than no change at all.”  Non-gadflies assume this claim is insincere, uneducated, or insane, so they do not expect to be able to end terrorism by opening alternate avenues for gadflies to explore change.  Scientific confirmation of the GRIN model reveals the fallacy of this assumption

Finally, the End of War!

The most significant application of the GRIN Model is to eliminate the motives for both kinds of war by making successful innovation easier.  Successful innovation requires four activities:

  1. Generation of novelty,
  2. Discerning better innovations from worse,
  3. Sustenance of proven innovations, and
  4. Network localization.

Each GRIN-type specializes in one of these activities.  Thus, innovation will be most successful where GRIN diversity is maintained.  Thus far, the results of experiments which manipulate the composition of design teams have been consistent with this theory.

Societies need all four kinds of people.  A society without gadfly evaluators would be dramatically less able to make paradigm-shifting innovations—it would get stuck in a rut.  A society without relational evaluators would tend to consolidate its power, thus dramatically decreasing the number of potential innovations it could entertain at once.  A society without institutional evaluators would be dramatically less able to retain successful innovations—it would have to keep reinventing the wheel.  A society without negotiator evaluators would be dramatically less able to distinguish good innovations from bad—its facility for innovation would wander aimlessly.

The secret to achieving higher rates of useful innovation is to protect GRIN diversity as one would protect biodiversity in an ecosystem.  At the most basic level, this involves measuring changes in diversity, and counteracting whichever conditions diminish it.  Inevitably, protection of endangered types involves conditions less-favorable for other types, so types naturally conflict, and societies which do not value their diversity tend to become dominated by people of one type who force others “into the closet”.

When facing an enemy which suppresses is own GRIN diversity, the first step may be to educate that enemy about the benefits of GRIN diversity.  Not only does protection of GRIN diversity lead to prosperity, but it is also compassionate and endorsed by enduring institutions.  The second step is to demonstrate ways one can protect GRIN diversity—show how successful techniques of GRIN diversity management have been implemented in your own nation, companies, families, and in those of allies.

The military endgame will have been achieved once we all know that we are (and always will be) interdependent.  That knowledge will lead those in power to empower others.  Competition will be replaced with innovation.  Thus, the ultimate military strategy is to accelerate the rate at which the GRIN model is encountered and tested.  Tactically, that includes research, building consensus among researchers, curriculum development, translation, and distribution.  Militaries already have competence with all of these tactics—it is just a matter of applying those competencies to general understanding of the motives behind war.

This material is cross-posted from the Peace and Collaborative Development Network

What “Letting People Be Themselves” Means

In Humans as Superorganisms: How Microbes, Viruses, Imprinted Genes, and Other Selfish Entities Shape Our Behavior, Peter Kramer and Paola Bressan present evidence that we are “not unitary individuals,” but rather “collections of human and nonhuman elements that…in an incessant struggle, jointly define who we are.”  The research they highlight challenges those of us who want to “let people be themselves” to explain precisely what we mean by “themselves.”  If people are not unitary individuals, then what could “themselves” refer to?

The notion that we are not unitary individuals is not new.  Quantum physicists have pointed out that every atom of our bodies is entangled with the entire universe, biologists have pointed out that less than 2% of those atoms remain in us for over a year, and psychologists have pointed out that the mechanisms of our cognition typically extend beyond our brains to include scratchpads, musical instruments, calculators, and the Internet.  Kramer and Bressan add merely that our values and preferences—what we call our “soul”—are just as entangled with our environment as are our other aspects.

In my opinion, the most compelling branch of their argument is the one relating to microbes.  Only about 10% of the various types of cells our bodies require to flourish are human.  The rest are microbes.  Although most of the microbe studies cited by Kramer and Bressan were conducted on mice, it seems clear that the decisions humans make—how we vote, whom we marry, whether we commit a crime—depend upon which microbes dominate our internal ecosystem at the time.  Thus, we can lose our identity—the person our friends know us to be may cease to inhabit our bodies—not just through a lobotomy, but also through some combination of antibiotics and probiotics which irreversibly tip the balance of power among the microbes within us.

Such microbes might be called parasites of our bodies, but they cannot be parasites of our selves, for they are an essential part of who we are.  Kramer and Bressan would argue that our rights belong to our entire internal ecosystem, including those microbes.  Laws to protect you must therefore take the form of laws to protect an ecosystem, not necessarily protecting particular microbes, but protecting balance among them.  This sets the stage for shocking reform of our legal system and conception of human rights.

The hypothesis that we are not unitary individuals also seems to entail that our identities/souls can copy into other bodies.  That could happen through transfer of microbes, like spread of a disease, or by imposing environments (e.g. diets or medications) which favor certain kinds of microbes over others.  Just as culture can persist for many generations—maybe even forever—thus might our souls.
Periodic TableThis article responds to the research highlighted by Kramer and Bressan by showing how unitary individuality can exist functionally, if not materially.  Models of evaluative interdependence (e.g. GRIN) mark-out persisting unitary souls much as the periodic table we memorized in chemistry class marks-out persisting unitary elements.  Chemistry focuses on elements rather than particular atoms—it is about the software, rather than the hardware of matter—and the research highlighted by Kramer and Bressan likewise justifies focusing psychology away from the material brains/consciousnesses and toward functional souls.

What is Freedom?

The microbe issue highlights the difference between your soul (i.e. what sets your values and preferences) verses your consciousness.  Suppose a doctor were to replace the values and preferences that manifest in your body with her own values and preferences by gradually shifting the frequencies of different kinds of microbes in your body.  Unlike murder, this procedure would leave no tell-tale corpse—instead, it would leave a person who claims to be you and who will testify in court that the procedure cured him/her of a mental handicap.  That person would have your memories and your consciousness, but it would not have your soul—it would have the soul of the doctor.

Your consciousness and body are the container for your soul.  That container would persist through the doctor’s process of replacing its contents with a sort of clone of herself, but your soul (your values) would not persist—at least not in that particular container.  If you would consider such a process a violation of your freedom—as I assume you would—then you identify with your soul rather than with your consciousness.

Given that you would not identify with the consciousness that would remain in your body, it would be absurd to allow that consciousness to retain rights to vote in elections.  To allow that would produce a government which awards power to whomever can afford to turn the most people into clones of him/herself.  Such a government would be more aristocratic than democratic.  Winning hearts through biological warfare is not the same as winning them through arguments and inspirational speeches.  The former path to power violates freedom, so true democracy must assign voting rights to souls rather than to bodies or consciousnesses—that is admittedly a flaw in democracy as practiced today.

Note that perfecting democracy would require more than merely outlawing medical manipulation of other’s values.  We must also account for accidental replacement of values—especially in bulk, such as with the development of a popular medicine that turns-out to have unforeseen consequences, or the outbreak of a naturally evolved virus that produces the same outcome.  The difficulty here, of course, is that many modern voters may already have been victims of such events, and therefore we might not deserve the voting rights we currently exercise.  How could one sort this out?

At the center of this mess is the problem of determining where in the gradual shift of relative microbe frequencies identity loss has actually occurred.  Are there “tipping points” between relatively stable persistent configurations, or do souls exist across a continuum, coming into existence for but a brief moment before being replaced by another?

This is where I may disagree with Kramer and Bressan.  I see a universe that has tipping points at many levels.  At the subatomic level, there is a tipping point when a bottom quark becomes an up quark.  At the atomic level, there is a tipping point when a hydrogen atom becomes a helium atom.  At the cellular level, there is a tipping point when a stem cell becomes a neuron.  At the ecosystem level, there is a tipping point when a predator becomes a manager.  All of these tipping points divide the universe into unitary functional types (e.g. quark-types, elements, and cell-types).  Evidence that the underlying material mixes and flows in non-unitary ways does not undermine such concepts.

Let’s take elements as an example.  It is plausible that no two atoms of a given element are exactly alike.  Each atom is constantly changing, and may never again be exactly the same as it was at a given point in time.  However, each atom tends to keep returning to something close to an average of what it was in the past, and this average is shared by all other atoms of that element.  One might think of that average configuration as the atom’s home or normal state, even if the atom spends most of its time venturing away from it.

For an atom to transition into another element means for it to pass a tipping point and get a new home.  At the moment of transition, the atom will be far from its new home state, but we nonetheless classify each atom in the entire universe as being of one of the 118 known elements.  We have great faith that the atom will approach one of these remarkably few home states because that’s what other atoms have done in the past.

Analogously, to copy the doctor’s soul into your body means to transition the home state of your body and consciousness to match the home state of her body and consciousness.  Again, we are talking about home state (expectations about the future) rather than about actual state.  The supposed clone of the doctor would actually be unique—it would have its own memories and circumstances—but would have become far more likely to agree with the doctor where evaluative diversity previously would have produced disagreement.  The two bodies would both be the doctor in the sense that two atoms can both be helium, two cells can both be neurons, or two organisms can both be predators.

Putting this another way, the number of souls among a population of consciousnesses is like the number of elements in a population of atoms.  The periodic table aims to list all the elements from which an entire planet of atoms might be built, and one might similarly strive to construct a table of all the souls from which an entire society of consciousnesses might be built.  The GRIN model lists only four souls, which is certainly more than the two implied by the simple conservative-liberal dichotomy, but is probably just a beginning for this scientific project, as additional souls may be discovered or fabricated.

The Battle for Souls

Where does the functional conception of identity leave freedom?  Violating another’s freedom is not the only way to reach agreement with that person.  People of different souls can reach agreement on particular issues without losing their souls, so long as neither passes the tipping point.  If there were no tipping points, however, then freedom would constantly be violated—in other words, freedom wouldn’t exist.  Thus, the functional conception of identity is what makes rigorous conception of freedom possible.

This brings us to offer a rigorous definition of what it means to “let people be themselves”: It means creating an environment which minimizes the number of transitions to different souls in the general population over the long-term.  Other terms for this aspect of an environment include “stability” and perhaps “peace,” even though a consciousness which retains a single soul may nonetheless be very dynamic.

venus flytrapsAn analogy may help clarify: Imagine a Venus flytrap plant.  It grows on a particular plot of land, but change in the climate of that plot of land may cause it to be replaced with grass.  In this analogy, the plot of land represents a consciousness , and the set of all Venus flytraps (or all predators) represents one soul, while the set of all grasses (or plants that absorb nitrogen from the soil) represents another soul.  Kramer and Bressan have made a compelling case that consciousnesses, like plots of land, are not individual units; at a level typically beyond notice, the plots are composed of various particles, fluids, and creatures which churn like a river (but slower).  Nonetheless, the plot has a character, and a tipping point is crossed when it shifts from Venus flytraps to grass.  “Letting people be themselves” means minimizing climate change so that Venus flytraps and grass flourish in their current plots.

It is important to note that letting people be themselves does not necessarily mean promoting match between souls and genes.  The fact that many people tend to converge by age 50 upon values which match their genetic predispositions might be evidence that souls persist underneath mood swings and maturation, or it could be evidence that transitions occur so readily that consciousnesses are bound to return to the souls matching their genetic predispositions eventually (and genes provide the only stable patterns upon which to converge).

It is possible that some people have transitioned to souls different from those they had birth.  To make them change back might not be letting them be themselves.  Furthermore, it is possible to genetically engineer a population that would be unstable if everyone lived-out their genes, so the minimum number of transitions might be larger than zero.  Therefore, rather than measure our success at letting people be themselves in terms of alignment with genes, we need to count actual transitions.

The fight for freedom or the battle for souls has often been associated with military and religious enterprises, but the current evidence suggests that the battle is one for which scientists also have essential contributions to make.  Measuring success in this fight will require counting transitions, and that will, in turn, require discovering the table of souls.  This scientific process of mapping evaluative diversity may deserve high military and religious priority.

This mapping process is a study of interdependence.  For example, we know that an atom is hydrogen because of the way it interacts with other elements.  Likewise, a neuron does not function as a neuron nor a predator as a predator except in the context of interactions with other cells and organisms.  The neuron cell-type is a stable configuration only if the environment includes muscle and bone cell-types, and predator is a stable configuration only if the environment includes plant and microbe.  The continuity of the sequence of elements we have discovered thus far suggests that elements likewise co-evolve.  They arise, not through independent invention, but through diversification of the system as a whole.

Neurons exist because it is advantageous for populations of cells (called “bodies”) to specialize into different cell-types.  Likewise, the GRIN model explains the origins of evaluative diversity in terms of the advantages evaluative diversity brings to a society.  The least-mature societies might be all of one (very flexible) soul—that soul would be the hydrogen of the table—but additional souls would become viable as the society matures.

There seems to be a popular misconception that God creates one soul for each human body.  According to the creation story I was first taught, God created only two human souls—the second because it is not good to be alone—and all other souls came from diversification of that society.  It is possible that the first two souls split into further specializations even before there were additional bodies to manifest them—perhaps elder Adam’s values and priorities were very different from those of young Adam.  Modern science certainly suggests that more than two souls exist by now, but probably relatively few roam through the seven billion consciousnesses on our planet, much as about 118 elements roams through the far larger population of atoms.

Our doctrine needs to adjust to account for the research highlighted by Kramer and Bressan.  They conclude, “It is time to change the very concept we have of ourselves and to realize that one human individual is neither just human nor just one individual.”  We have embraced division of material being from functional being in physics, chemistry, and biology, but somehow denied this division in psychology until now.  This is not science attacking religion and democracy.  It is science helping religion and democracy re-calibrate, showing us that identity, freedom, interdependence, and the soul are not as simple as previously assumed.

Kramer and Bressan warn that even the evaluative nature of a body is in constant flux.  The same is true of atoms, cells, and species.  However, the fact that a hydrogen atom is in constant flux does not mean hydrogen cannot be relied upon to bond with oxygen to form water.  Kramer and Bressan are probably right that our consciousnesses experience mood swings that come upon us like bacterial infections, but we may function as unitary souls just as much as an atom functions like a unitary element.

The appropriate response to Kramer and Bressan is not to lose faith in each other’s reliability and treat each other as wisps of smoke.  Rather, the appropriate response is to identify the aspect of ourselves that can be relied upon: our souls.  We might not be able to rely on a soul to persist in a particular body, but, because souls are functionally interdependent, we can rely upon them to persist or re-evolve in society.  In fact, because souls are interdependent, we need diversity of souls to persist in our society.  Thus, understanding people as souls, rather than as bodies, it makes a lot of sense to let people be themselves.

Measuring Support for Invisible Stigmatized Identities

Evaluative diversity is in a category of diversity known as “invisible stigmatized identities” which also includes sexual orientations, learning styles, economic backgrounds, and mental conditions. So far, we have identified three approaches to managing environments to support such diversity:

  1. We could follow the approach of ancient religions, and build humility by regularly reminding people of the inadequacies of their own personal types
  2. We could follow the approach of biodiversity, and monitor the environments we maintain, implementing interventions when measures exceed thresholds
  3. We could follow the approach of the gay-pride movement, and talk about who we are and how we feel, so that love will translate into support

The second approach may be a prerequisite for the third. Harvey Milk’s push to disclose sexual orientation was controversial in the 1960s, because ”coming out of the closet” was typically met with rejection and even abuse. Even today, young people are advised not to disclose their sexual orientations to their parents until they leave home.

On the other hand, Belle Rose Ragins has advanced the theory that humans have “a primary psychological need to create social identities that reinforce coherent self-views.” Hiding core aspects of one’s identity would frustrate the satisfaction of that psychological need. Thus, while it might be hazardous to disclose one’s identity in the most caustic environments, it might be hazardous to not disclose core aspects of one’s identity in supportive environments. I would want to know which kind of environment my children are in (and will be in) before advising them about whether to disclose their evaluative types. That requires measurement.

In her dissertation, The Disclosure Process of an Invisible Stigmatized Identity, Jessica Hudson demonstrated two kinds of measures we can use to distinguish between caustic and supportive environments: measuring perception of support, and measuring impacts of disclosure.

With respect to perception, she found significant correlations to mental health (measured using Derogatis’ Brief Symptom Inventory) for:

Such measures of perception may be a step removed from measurement of actual support, but Hudson’s research shows they are nonetheless meaningful.

Theoretically, it is even better to measure actual health impacts of disclosure. In an environment of persecution, such as an evaluativist school, church, or workplace , one would expect significant negative correlation between disclosure and mental health, since persecution more directly targets people who have disclosed their identities. However, at DePaul University, Hudson found no significant correlation between disclosure and mental health. This demonstrates reduced persecution compared to the 1960s, and, if Ragins is right, DePaul University could go even further to achieve significant positive correlation.

It is left to the rest of us to create benchmarks for schools, workplaces and churches by implementing such measures broadly. This will allow us to recognize the accomplishments of people who aim to create supportive environments. The measured success of such leaders also provides evidence which can justify following them.

Here are versions of Hudson’s measures, adapted to measure support for evaluative diversity at a university. Scores would be calculated as follows:

  • Perceived Stigma= q1+ q2+ q3+ q4+ q6+ q7+ q8+ q9- q5- q10
  • Perceived Social Support= q11+ q13+ q14+ q15+ q18+ q19+ q20+ q21+ q22+ q23+ q24+ q26+ q27+ q29- q12- q16- q17- q25- q28- q30
  • Perceived Institutional Support= q32+ q33+ q36+ q37+ q38+ 3q9+ q40+ q42+ q44- q31- q34- q35- q41- q43
  • Disclosure= The sum of q45 through q50
  • Psychological Symptoms= The sum of q51 through q103
  • Impact of Disclosure on Health= The correlation between Disclosure and Psychological Symptoms

Parking Lot Tale: A GRIN-type picture book

a parking space

Suppose you are trying to park your car; you’ve found your spot, but the other cars are shifted to the right. How you handle this situation will depend upon your GRIN-type.

Relational Parking

relational evaluation

If you evaluate relationally, you will park midway between your nearest neighbors. You might do this automatically, and might even call it “empathy”.

Institutional Parking

naturally institutional

If you evaluate institutionally, however, you will park midway between the lines. Again, this may be an automatic behavior, but you could reason that other cars come and go; assuming they park properly before you return, your position will be perfect. You are setting a trend!

Gadfly Parking

Gadfly parking

If you evaluate as a gadfly, you will likewise try to set a trend, but each gadfly may have a different trend to set. For example, you might park on less of an angle, pointing-out that the triangle in front of each angled car is wasted space. Are the cars too long to park straight? Maybe we should all buy Smartcars…

Negotiator Parking

Negotiator parking

If you evaluate as a negotiator, then you will aim to maximize the space available to open your driver-side door, so you may shift even further to the right, or, if you are clever, back into the space.

Now suppose it is your job to assign spaces in the corporate parking lot. One option is to segregate the lot by GRIN-type:

Segregated Parking

segregated

It might not be reliable to ask people to identify their GRIN-types—they might pretend to be a different kind of person so as to avoid being judged—but you could monitor actual parking behavior averaged across many days to account for shifts in mood. Then you could assign each employee a space next to other employees who usually park in the same ways.

The Institutional Section

institutional section

Segregation would rescue the naturally institutional employees from having to exit through the passenger side. They would probably appreciate the segregation very much.

The Gadfly Section

gadfly section

The gadfly section would be a mess, of course, but natural gadflies might not mind. The more serious problem with messes is that they swallow up innovation. Gadflies are likely to innovate both the very worst and very best parking strategies, all of which would be lost in the black-hole of gadflydom. This is especially a problem for natural negotiators because negotiation is competitive, and competition gets ugly when there is no supply of innovation to open new paths for competition. Competition can be beneficial, but only if all types work together.

As an example, suppose parking spaces were reassigned each day at random. Eventually, a natural gadfly with a better parking strategy would be surrounded by naturally relational parkers who would automatically imitate it. A natural negotiator driving by would notice the efficiency of the new pattern, and arrange to have all the lines repainted for the entire lot. Then naturally institutional parkers would get (almost) everyone to adopt the new pattern, which would provide a better launching position for the next innovation.

cars parking at the other slant
Parking at the opposite slant leaves an open triangle by each driver-side door

Continuous improvement is the ideal scenario for everyone. That’s what segregation kills. It is no coincidence that measures of the impact of segregation on team effectiveness have focused on design competitions. The measures find that self-segregated design teams win only half as much. Design teams need to innovate to win, so they need evaluative diversity.

The prevailing management strategy today seems to be to privilege a few gadflies like Steve Jobs, and banish the rest to a black-hole. This strategy assumes that we can predict which gadflies will produce the best innovations, but that assumption is false, so excellent innovators get lost, or, worse, promote terrorism.

That’s right—terrorism ultimately comes from segregation, which comes from our frustration with people unlike ourselves. But this frustration, this evaluativism, is all in our attitude. Ultimately, the way to eliminate the frustration, like eliminating racism and sexism, is a change of heart. That may involve disciplining ourselves with policies and education, but the source of the problem is fundamentally inside ourselves—it does not come from guns, technologies, doctrines, or leaders. It cannot be managed through mere assignment of parking spaces.

Our evaluativism—the real problem—is an attitude we nurture all day long through activities as mundane as parking cars. The most healthy thing we can do is to park in our own way but not get frustrated that others park differently. Leaders who wish to promote social health should remind us that we are part of a larger team that uses disagreement to achieve progress. If each of us is true to ourselves, we will experience disagreement that looks a lot like the typical parking lot, shifting from day to day.

Typical parking lot

That’s healthy disagreement—we need to celebrate these disagreements all day long, so we will not develop attitudes which produce segregation and violence.

Who’s to Blame for Disagreement? An Interview with John Hibbing

Beyond Dislike: Viewing the Other Party as a ‘Threat to the Nation’s Well-Being’John Hibbing and Kevin Smith co-direct the Political Physiology Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Their recent article in Trends in Cognitive Science concludes: “Although many people want to believe that their positions on moral, religious, and political issues are the product of rational, conscious thought, the reality is that subthreshold, biologically instantiated predispositions shape all human attitudes, leading people to rationalize their positions and actions.” John generously allowed me to interview him about it:

Chris: John, first tell us about you. What got you interested in the relationship between biology and political science?
John: I was trained as a traditional political scientist and studied Congress, elections, and public attitudes, but I increasingly came to the conclusion that surveys (in which people report their own perceptions) do not reveal everything, since humans are notoriously bad at understanding themselves. Thus I became interested in techniques that would help us understand the human condition, especially as it relates to politics, without forcing people to try to explain themselves.

The lab you co-direct with Kevin Smith is unique. What kinds of journals and departments, if any, should develop elsewhere to confirm or expand your findings?
Our lab was probably the first of its kind in a political science department, but, for some time, psychologists, neuroscientists, and behavioral geneticists have been probing the extent to which political orientations mesh with non-political aspects of our person. There is a gradually growing core of people–mostly psychologists–expanding and confirming our findings. A good indication of this was a piece we recently published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences that attracted 26 commentaries.

You have been studying the role of biological factors in explaining political variation for 20 years, and the law that all human behavioral traits are heritable has been known for well over a decade. How, then, does your work in Trends in Cognitive Science qualify as a “trend”?
I’m not sure. The editors from Trends in Cognitive Science asked us to submit that piece, so they must have thought there would be interest. There is more attention to the politics-biology connection now than there was 10-20 years ago, and I think it is only going to grow.

After acknowledging that twin studies consistently find political orientation to be strongly heritable, your article highlighted research on the particular gene DRD4. Why bother studying particular genes?
In terms of understanding the pathways through which biology affects politics, it would be quite useful to know the particular genes involved because that would indicate where in the brain to look. DRD4, for example, directs attention to the dopamine reward system.

What would it cost to identify the particular genes that make behavior heritable, and who would fund such research?
It is not that expensive these days to genotype people. The problem is that, to do the research properly, you need sample sizes of many, many thousands, and that can be a problem, especially when it is not common to collect political data along with the DNA. Our lab has moved away from doing candidate gene association studies because there is so much more to biology than just the DNA nucleotide sequence. For example, many environmental experiences can eventually become instantiated in our biological characteristics, so it is important for readers to realize that biology does not have to be genetic [to be immutable].

You also wrote about measuring biological underpinnings using EEG, the technology behind neurogaming. Does this imply that one might use a neurogaming headset to identify environments, such as particular workplaces, which are more or less likely to overwrite one’s values?
We do know that experiences, such as driving a taxi in London, can alter certain areas on the brain…

Beyond Dislike: Viewing the Other Party as a ‘Threat to the Nation’s Well-Being’The Pew Center recently reported that 27% of Democrats and 36% of Republicans in the U.S. see the opposing party as a threat to the nation’s well-being. How should they act on their beliefs, given the evidence that the disagreement stems from biological diversity?
Research by Shanto Iyengar shows that political differences are increasingly a reason for bias–people are more likely today than a few decades ago to say it would bother them to have their child marry someone with opposing political beliefs–while most other traits and factors (e.g., sexual orientation) are decreasingly a reason for bias. So the problem is real.

Our basic pitch is that, if people recognize that that their political opponents experience the world differently from a cognitive and physiological point of view, it should make them more tolerant of political differences, just as we became more tolerant when we found out that mental disabilities, left-handedness, and sexual orientation had biological bases. People should be less proud of their own beliefs, because hubris is a big reason we have the gridlock and terrorism that we do.

Lamenting terrorism, failed policy initiatives, and ruined family reunions, you wrote that research findings suggest a need to revise traditional views of political opinion. Care to elaborate?
Quit calling them names and thinking that they will “come around” when persuasive arguments are made. Compromise needs to be stressed more and deliberation needs to be stressed less.

 

The imperative for compromise is John’s big message. We spoke at length about how compromise might be determined, but ended up with unanswered questions. John’s insight that humans are bad at understanding themselves is demonstrated by his experiment in which the average conservative and liberal claim to have the same reactions to pictures of dead animals, but brain scans of those reactions reveal differences significant enough to identify political orientation. We also discussed evidence that genetic and self-report measures correspond differently at different ages. The average person seems to spend 20-50 years shifting his/her self-report, but efforts to mold the young tend to unravel, leaving us ultimately aligned with the diverse orientations we inherited at birth. John wanted to emphasize that schemes to control politics through genetic engineering oversimplify the way genes work. Many different genes interact, and they interact with major life events, including social reforms. His discoveries are tools less for social engineering than for giving politicians the same reverent respect for societies that medical doctors have gained for the human body.

To learn more about John and Kevin’s research, buy their book, Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences, coauthored with John Alford from Rice University.