Tag Archives: interdependence

Teamology: Evaluative Diversity Promotes Success

Teamology: The Construction and Organization of Effective Teams“Teamology” is the name of a new branch of science somewhere between psychology and sociology. It studies teams and what makes them successful. This seems like an important new science, given that the impact of evolution on the human genome has been increasing and optimizing the success of competing teams rather than of individuals. However, experiments turn out to be logistically far more difficult to conduct in teamology than in psychology. All of the research mentioned in Douglass Wilde’s Teamology: The Construction and Organization of Effective Teams relied on the power of professors to make guinea-pigs out of students (Carnegie-Mellon, Stanford, Loyola U of Los Angeles, Oregon State, Shanghai Jiao-Tong, Sungkyunkwan U., U.C. Berkley, U.C. San Diego, U. of Florida, and U.T. Austin)

Teamological evidence is crucial to management of evaluative diversity because the reasons to protect evaluative diversity are:

  1. Love: For the sake of our children and grandchildren who are likely to be diverse
  2. Religious: For the sake of the One who created diversity
  3. Selfish: For our own sake, believing that we are part of teams which need evaluative diversity (as ecosystems need biodiversity)

The first two motives assume merely that we have diverse predispositions, a hypothesis which is well-confirmed by a wide range of experiments as detailed in Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences. The third motive additionally assumes that diverse teams are more likely to succeed. Teamology is the only field in which experiments can confirm or reject that hypothesis (or tell us which kinds of diversity are beneficial when).

There is strong theoretical reason to expect team success to rely on evaluative diversity. GRIN-diversity reflects specialization in mitigating distinct factors which limit rate of adaptation:

  • Gadfly to increase the rate at which novel configurations are produced
  • Relational to increase network localization through subjective evaluation
  • Institutional to increase fidelity with which proven configurations are reproduced
  • Negotiator to increase selection pressure privileging better configurations

If it turns out that GRIN-diversity does not maximize rate of adaptation, then there must be something wrong with our theory of evolution. One test of the GRIN model involves comparing the success of computer systems with different GRIN-diversity. Computers with a dearth of any GRIN-type fail just like any machine missing one of its essential parts. Having found that confirmation in machines, it makes sense to compare the success of human teams with varying GRIN-diversity.

Evaluative Diversity in Human Teams

Douglass Wilde taught engineering at Stanford University. Each year, his students would work in teams to produce reports which would be entered into competition against each other and against teams from other universities. Teamology presents the method Wilde developed to form and organize winning teams. The method was tested over the course of decades and at U.C. San Diego, U. of Florida, and Jiao Da (Shanghai).

Wilde’s method essentially involved:

  1. Measuring students’ evaluative types,
  2. Dividing into teams so as to maximize evaluative diversity, and
  3. Assigning roles within each team to match measured types.

Wilde’s research was conducted before there was any way to measure GRIN-types. His assignment algorithm used a survey of preferences along Jungian dimensions: Introversion (I) vs. Extroversion (E), Structure (J) vs. Flexibility (P), Facts (S) vs. Possibilities (N), and Objects (T) vs. People (F). Here are Wilde’s formulas to transform those measures into preferences for eight roles:

Wilde formulas

Wilde reports that about 25% of Stanford teams won awards when self-selected, but about 75% won awards when formed by this method. Replication studies found similar results, though they measured success differently and also found that diverse teams “took longer to coalesce” than randomly formed teams did.

How Many Types?

Jungian personality theory disagrees with the Big Five model on the question of traits vs. types. Size is an example of a trait, while sex is an example of a type. We often point-out that types are of discrete categories, while traits fall along continuous scales, but in the context of teamology it may be more important to note that stable types are interdependent, while traits are not. For example, a human society could thrive in certain environments without any especially large members, but could not thrive in any environment without any females (or males).

Interdependency impacts the ideal number of individuals per team. For example, since bees have three sexes, their “families” should be larger than in species with fewer sexes. In contrast, diversity in traits is valuable only to accommodate diversity of situations, so diversity in traits will afford a team no advantage over the best possible individual when the situation is stable or when the individual can adjust his/her traits to match the situation. If adjustment is not feasible, a team of just two polar-opposite members could have full diversity in traits. Thus, if traits were the only source of valuable diversity, then teamology wouldn’t be so important (at least beyond pairs).

Jung’s theory predicts at least eight types and no traits, but the statistical characteristics of measures of Jung dimensions look like traits rather than types. The Big Five model predicts all traits and no types. Truth is probably somewhere in the middle—some traits and some types. The GRIN-SQ produces the statistics to prove that at least four types exist. One might wonder whether teamology could be used to further increase the number of types proven to exist.

The studies Wilde cited involved teams of three to five members each, so they could not possibly have demonstrated the interdependence of more types. If they balanced types, those types might best be called S, N, T and F, since those variables are doubled in his formulas. In the data Wilde provided from his 2006 class, of the 13 students assigned to fill multiple roles, 92% were assigned to be both P and J and 69% were assigned to be both E and I, so any specialization would have been on other dimensions. As implied by the diagram above, the typical team had one member with primary specialization in each quadrant (though some students were also assigned to serve as back-up for other quadrants).

The experiments described in Teamology compared teams formed by Wilde’s method to teams formed randomly or though pure self-selection. It would be far more instructive to compare to teams with all but one type, so that one might identify specific types which make a difference (and perhaps characterize the difference each makes). Wilde initially doubled team performance merely by assigning the students with highest MBTI-Creativity Index (T+2E+2P+6N) to separate teams (leaving no black-hole of gadflydom), but tripled performance relative to self-selection by separating the highest scorers in all eight roles. The difference between these experiments does imply that creativity diversity isn’t the only kind that matters, but specifically what else matters remains to be measured.

Separation of Powers

The reason why the diagram above divides the roles on the left against the roles on the right is that Wilde’s scoring formulas mathematically make those on the left equal to the negative of those on the right. For example, even if a student’s two most preferred roles really were Tester/Prototyper (E+P+2S) and Visionary/Strategist (I+J+2N), the results of Wilde’s preference measure could not possibly reflect that reality. They sum to zero, so at least one is guaranteed to be zero or negative. That is a consequence of the assumption that diversity is structured around dimensions.

It would not be surprising that  the person responsible for devising visions should like to be the person with the power to decide whether those visions are good nor that the person responsible for empathizing should like to be the person with the power to interpret policies (and thus to show mercy). However the danger in mixing such roles is rather obvious—we might call it “conflict of interest”—so we can appreciate the separation of powers forced by Wilde’s method. Wilde’s claim that Visionaries should not be the Testers sounds reasonable (and is supported by his research), but this might have nothing to do with preference.

Are Teams With Greater GRIN-Diversity More Successful?

In theory, the S, N, T and F roles sound like the four GRIN-types:

  1. The S roles include “Tester”, “Investigator” and “Inspector” which match the Negotiator specialization in selection
  2. The N roles include “Innovator”, “Entrepreneur” and “Visionary” which match the Gadfly specialization in generating novelty
  3. Wilde’s measure for T associates it with “logic”, “truthful”, “unaccommodating”, “intolerant” and “impartial” all of which match the Institutional specialization in fidelity.
  4. F would be Relational by process of elimination. Specialization in network localization is undermined in Wilde’s experiments because the structure of students’ social networks is designed and enforced by the experimenter. However, students would be accustomed to social processes developed for groups formed more naturally, so a team lacking relational evaluators would have the handicap of needing to engineer new social processes (e.g. radically new ways to resolve conflicts). Thus, a Relational member might be valuable even in engineered teams.

Empirical comparison of measures confirms that teams formed by Wilde’s method would have greater GRIN-diversity than teams formed at random. N correlates strongly with the Big-Five dimension of “Openness” which is significantly related to Gadfly evaluation. F correlates moderately with the Big-Five dimension of “Agreeableness” which is significantly related to Relational evaluation. Thus, teams formed by Wilde’s method are likely to include one natural gadfly, one naturally relational person, and two people of other GRIN type(s).

Yes, the more successful teams do have greater GRIN-diversity. Again the GRIN model is supported.

But what we really want to know is in which circumstances any of the four GRIN-types might not promote success. To measure that, we would need to compare teams with each type deficiency (and with none) in different circumstances, and it would be better to use direct measures of GRIN-type than to use Jung-types as a proxy. Also, instead of imposing team structure, it would be better to let people form (and re-form) their own teams, and teams-within-teams (unless people segregate so much that they offer no opportunity to observe naturally formed diverse teams). There is much research yet to conduct.

Moral Diversity vs. Evaluative Diversity

The Righteous MindIn his most recent book, The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion, Jonathan Haidt (pronounced like “height”) reminds the reader at various points that he is telling his story in a roundabout way because typical readers would reject straight-up truth. The first four chapters are devoted to evidence that the average non-psychopath is irrational, able to learn truth only “in love” (as Ephesians 4:15 puts it). The Righteous Mind debuted at #6 on the New York Times best seller list for nonfiction hardcover, so, if you find it difficult to believe the claims in the summary below, you might want to try the roundabout version instead.

The Purpose of Division

Why are good people divided? Haidt devoted an entire chapter to defend the theory of group selection which entails that diversity will evolve if diversification is advantageous for groups. On page 365, Haidt summarized his conclusions about this advantage:

I suggested that liberals and conservatives are like yin and yang—both are “necessary elements of a healthy state of political life,” as John Stuart Mill put it.

In a similar way, bone cells and muscle cells are both necessary to the functioning of the human body, and it is for the good of the body that its cells divide and specialize.

To test the theory that diversification is advantageous for groups, one would want to compare the success of groups with different levels of diversity. Such evidence was collected by Douglas Wilde, a professor of design at Stanford University. His students divided into teams to develop designs submitted to intercollegiate competitions which were judged by blind-review. In some years, Wilde allowed students to form their own teams; in other years he forced them to team up with people who tended to think differently. Wilde, and the design professors who replicated this experiment at other colleges, found that forcing teams to be evaluatively diverse increased both internal conflict and win rates.

Instead of citing the research by the design professors, Haidt cited the research of Richard Sosis who found that the average religious commune founded in the nineteenth century United States was six times as likely as the average secular one to last over 20 years. Again, the research compared the success of different groups, but Sosis’ measure of success was longevity, while Wilde’s measure of success was win rate. Wilde’s measure would be irrelevant if we encountered a society that could survive well-enough with poor designs (i.e. had no competitors or environmental disasters pending to require rapid improvement of social designs).

The problem with Sosis’ research is that he did not manipulate or measure diversity. It is debatable whether the religious communes were more or less diverse than the secular ones. Communes are intrinsically anti-conservative—they are rebellions against the status-quo—yet religious communes have a commitment to norms. Thus, religious communes might be more likely to attract both liberals and conservatives, and it makes sense to expect them to be more diverse. Some of the greatest religious role-models created new norms while rebelling against the norms of their day (e.g. Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Confucius), yet Haidt offers an explanation which implies that religious communes would be less diverse (pg 342):

A commune that valued self-expression over conformity and that prized the virtue of tolerance over loyalty… would have lower moral capital than a commune that valued conformity and loyalty. The stricter commune would be better able to suppress or regulate selfishness, and would therefore be more likely to endure.

In Wilde’s research, the superior teams had heightened internal conflict, but Haidt’s explanation of Sosis’ research implies that we should expect the opposite. This may just be an example of Haidt trying to tell the story in a roundabout way. The bottom line is that Sosis’ research would need to be repeated with actual measures of diversity. Until then, we have Wilde’s results to support Haidt’s final conclusion that diversity is advantageous.

Proximate Causes of Division

From an evolutionary perspective, one could say that the cells of our bodies specialize into diverse types because this brings advantages to the body as a whole, but it is also correct to say that cells specialize because they are genetically programmed to do so. Genes are a proximate cause. In a similar way, while Haidt points to group-selection as the ultimate cause of division, he also points to research indicating that genetic and physiological differences (products of evolution) predispose us to disagree with one another.

After summarizing some of the research described in greater detail in John Hibbing and Kevin Smith’s Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences, Haidt attempts to navigate the controversial issue of how our natures interact with nurture. This comes to a head in the recounting of Keith Richards’ testimony that he became a liberal when he was betrayed by the choir master of his school (pg 330):

Richards may have been predisposed by his personality [and genes] to become a liberal, but his politics were not predestined. Had his teachers treated him differently… he could have ended up in a more conventional job surrounded by conservative colleagues and sharing their moral matrix.

Of course a sufficiently controlled environment can manipulate the typical person into developing values contrary to his/her own genetic predisposition. Haidt also mentions that sufficiently controlled environments can flip a switch he calls the “hive switch” to shift a person’s values temporarily. He discusses oxytocin regulation, but dopamine regulation and ego depletion would be other such switches. However, Haidt stops short of discussing what the costs of manipulating people’s values might be.

Assuming one were to manipulate an environment to promote conservativism, it would see a decline in liberalism. If this sufficiently unbalances the society, then, according to the theory Haidt quoted from John Stuart Mill, it would collapse like an unbalanced ecosystem. That is one example of a cost. It is a cost to the group.

But we should also consider the consequences for an individual like Keith Richards. How would he like to have values contrary to his predispositions? Would he be frustrated like a short basketball player, a gay person in a heterosexual marriage, or someone with high IQ who cannot access the Intenet? Keith Richards is the lead guitarist of The Rolling Stones—it is difficult to imagine him being so successful in that role without genes predisposing him against conservativism—how would it have felt not to exercise those genes? Here’s one theory:

Theory #1: In more tolerant environments, people are more likely to hold values which align with their genetic predispositions and those who have such alignment experience better mental well-being (e.g. greater engagement in their career, family and community, and less depression, apathy, guilt, and desire to commit suicide).

To test this theory, psychologists would measure the values, predispositions and mental-well-being of people in environments with different levels of evaluativism. The benefits of this research could be huge: if it confirms the theory above, we could use it to improve mental well-being for our children and grandchildren. Most of the people with jobs today are not happy with their jobs, and our own lives might not be so bleak if our grandparents had conducted this research. So we have to ask, “Why have no psychologists tested this theory?”

Haidt’s subtitle “Why good people are divided by politics and religion” seems to ask about the causes of intolerance. If it turns out that intolerance has such significantly negative health consequences, that discovering them would motivate us to be more tolerant, then it is fair to say we are intolerant because psychologists have not measured those consequences. Psychologists have determined that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and that gay youth facing anti-gay environments are more likely to attempt suicide, but this just a beginning to measuring the consequences of intolerance. Homophobia isn’t the only form of discrimination, and mental distress includes more than just suicide.

A 2014 study by Shanto Iyengar and Sean Westwood found that 80% of us, if asked to judge a scholarship competition, would discriminate against applicants with opposing values. That kind of discrimination is called “evaluativism” and the researchers offer every reason to believe it is pervasive, producing every manner of frustration. For the 13 years previous to that study, the only major study comparing kinds of discrimination was Haidt’s own study with Evan Rosenberg and Holly Hom. They found that people discriminate far more on the basis of values than on the basis of demographic differences, such as race, class and religion. His conclusion, in 2001, was that values diversity (which they called “moral diversity”) creates so much discrimination that it must be a bad kind of diversity.

In The Righteous Mind Haidt cited his 2001 study only in a footnote to his recommendation about how to make a team, company, school or other organization more “hivish, happy and productive” (pg 277):

Increase similarity, not diversity. To make a human hive, you want to make everyone feel like a family. So don’t call attention to the racial and ethnic differences; make them less relevant by ramping up similarity and celebrating the group’s shared values and common identity.

Again, Haidt implies that our aim should be to minimize internal conflict. As Haidt would predict, in years when Wilde didn’t draw attention to evaluative diversity, his students self-segregated and experienced less internal conflict. But the hivishness and happiness did not improve production; the consequence of self-segregation was inferior designs. Furthermore, if we do not raise awareness of evaluativism in awarding scholarships (and presumably jobs as well), Iyengar and Westwood’s research indicates the awards will be significantly and systematically biased. Aiming to minimize conflict is short-sighted.

Perhaps the worst tragedy to come from ignoring differences is implied by a 2009 twin study by Peter Hatemi, Carolyn Funk, Sarah Medland, Hermine Maes, Judy Silberg, Nicholas Martin, and Lindon Eaves which found that people’s values are less likely to align with their genetic predispositions while they remain in their parent’s homes. This does not indicate intentional discriminationparents are unaware of evaluative differencesyet even accidentally preventing one’s child from aligning with his/her genetic predispositions could diminish his/her mental well-being. What parent would want to remain ignorant of differences, if accepting those differences could save their child from wishing he/she were dead?

Again, the truth is so harsh that one can understand why Haidt might want to soften the blow. Would you believe a psychologist who told you that our failure to understand differences has made normal parenting is so oppressive that getting away from parents faster could save children from wanting to commit suicide?

Moral Diversity vs. Evaluative Diversity

Aside from his 2001 study, Haidt’s most important experiment may have been the development of the Moral Foundations Questionnaire (MFQ) which measures peoples beliefs that morality is about each of the following six values: Liberty/oppression, Fairness/cheating, Care/harm, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, and Sanctity/degradation.

This research created a stir because moral psychology was previously dominated by the theory that there is one best moral type. As it turns out, people who rate themselves as politically conservative tend to consider all six values in their definition of “morality,” whereas people who rate themselves politically liberal tend to emphasize Care/harm and discount the last three values, and people who rate themselves as libertarians tend to emphasize Liberty/oppression and discount the last four values. Thus, the MFQ demonstrates that political types are moral types. Since it is unacceptable to conclude that one political type is better than the others, the dominant theory moral psychology was overturned.

In chapter 8, Haidt admits that his list of values might not be complete; in fact, one of the six values was not on the original list, so it has already been revised once. Given what we know about GRIN types, one might think the next revision should be to add “Originality/orthodoxy” and “Effectiveness/ inefficiency.” While some people do value original ideas and effective strategies, it is debatable whether the value qualify as “moral.” For example, the debate over whether the ends justify the means may be seen as a debate over whether Effectiveness is a moral value.

As part of his roundabout story-telling, Haidt saves his own definitions of morality and moral capital until the last two chapters:

Moral capital refers to the degree to which a community possesses interlocking sets of value, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, and technologies that mesh well with evolved psychological mechanisms and thereby enable the community to suppress or regulate selfishness and make cooperation possible.

The values of Originality and Effectiveness do not necessarily suppress selfishness, so they would not qualify as “moral” values by this definition. They would probably qualify, however, under Ayn Rand’s definition of “moral.” Does Haidt have a scientific basis for dismissing Rand’s perspective? Haidt admits that Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity do not qualify as “moral” by liberal definitionsdoes he have a scientific basis for dismissing the liberal perspective as well? To the contrary, Haidt concludes that the diverse perspectives are interdependent, so he is painted into a corner.

Haidt describes himself as a liberal who wants to understand conservatives on their own terms, so it makes sense that he would accept a conservative definition of “morality,” and it makes sense that this definition would produce a survey instrument that focuses on conservative values. Reaching across the isle is noble. However, a partisan definition is still a partisan definition, even if entertained by a psychologist from the opposing party.

The advantage of the term “evaluative diversity”  over “moral diversity” is to escape the non-scientific bias that will necessarily result from having to define “moral”. All values are evaluative, whether they are moral or not. Thus, evaluative diversity includes Liberty/oppression, Fairness/cheating, Care/harm, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, Sanctity/degradation, Originality/orthodoxy, and Effectiveness/inefficiency (and perhaps more).

Unfortunately, there is no field of “evaluative psychology.” The field Haidt inherited and now leads is called “moral psychology”and that isn’t his faultso he finds himself asking people “Is it [morally] wrong for a brother and sister to have sex?” Depending on their own definitions of “morality” (or whether they even bother to have one), some people may find such questions nutty. I’m not God—why ask me? However, Haidt has already revolutionized his field. Asking him to strike the word “moral” from its name might be asking too much.

Independence vs. Interdependence: Should I follow my conscience?

Barbies by MattelEliana Dockterman’s article in the February 8, 2016 issue of Time discussed Mattel’s plans to diversify Barbie dolls into four body types: original, petite, tall, and curvy. It said Mattel decided to sell the dolls in mixed sets to avoid the problem of “a sensitive mom read[ing] into the gift of a curvy doll a comment on her daughter’s weight.” A modern world sees beauty in diversity, and no single doll can reflect that standard of beauty. Thus, Barbie will no longer be one independent doll—Barbie has evolved into an interdependent set.

The set is interdependent because segregating the dolls would diminish Barbie’s beauty, but focus groups at Mattel reveal that lesson has yet to reach young girls. All of the dolls are named “Barbie” but, when asked which doll is Barbie, “the girls invariably point to a blonde.” The response we would prefer is: “That’s a trick question! They are all Barbie together.”

Why don’t we get that response? It may be traced back to the story of the forbidden fruit, a story which is shared by Islam, Christianity, and Judaism and which strongly influenced the development of self-concept in Western culture. The oldest version (in the Torah) may be translated as follows:

Bereishit 3:1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman: ‘Yea, hath God said: Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden? 2 And the woman said unto the serpent: ‘Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said: Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.’ 4 And the serpent said unto the woman: ‘Ye shall not surely die; 5 for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.’ 6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband [Adam] with her, and he did eat.

7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves girdles. 8 And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden toward the cool of the day; and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. 9 And the Lord God called unto the man, and said unto him: ‘Where art thou?’

10 And he said: ‘I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’

11 And He said: ‘Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?’

12 And the man said: ‘The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.’

13 And the Lord God said unto the woman: ‘What is this thou hast done?’

And the woman said: ‘The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.’

14 And the Lord God said unto the serpent: ‘Because thou hast done this, cursed art thou from among all cattle, and from among all beasts of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. 15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; they shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise their heel.’

16 Unto the woman He said: ‘I will greatly multiply thy pain and thy travail; in pain thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.’

17 And unto Adam He said: ‘Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying: Thou shalt not eat of it; cursed is the ground for thy sake; in toil shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. 18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field. 19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.’

20 And the man called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them. 22 And the Lord God said: ‘Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.’ 23 Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

Through this story we have inherited the doctrine that we are “as God, knowing good and evil”. It teaches us to see ourselves as decision-makers of infinite moral potential. This doctrine comes in two very different varieties:

The Independence Doctrine tells us that each human has a conscience which has god-like moral competence, such that any human has the independent ability to achieve moral perfection simply by obeying his or her own conscience. Believers of this doctrine interpret the story of the forbidden fruit as an explanation for the origin of these amazing consciences. Some Christians suggest that consciences were imperfect until Christ sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, but those who believe the Independence Doctrine nonetheless maintain that, for at least the last 2000 years, humans have had the means to achieve independent moral perfection:

Jeremiah 31:33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.”

The tendency to look for Barbie and beauty in an individual doll goes with this tendency to look for goodness in an individual person. The Independence Doctrine gives us the expectation that a solitary individual could be sufficient. Believers in this doctrine tend to pray “Give me the wisdom,” or “Let my words be pleasing…” They worry less about the wisdom, goodness and beauty of others because they believe one can be good (enough) despite segregating oneself from those who are not.

The Interdependence Doctrine tells us that we cannot achieve moral perfection independently, but we can contribute meaningfully to the development of a society which will converge on god-like morality collectively if allowed to evolve. Believers of this doctrine interpret the story of the forbidden fruit as an explanation for the origins of this social evolution. They point to history, recorded in scripture and elsewhere, as demonstrating a pattern of discovery in which each generation inherits greater and greater opportunity to recognize moral behavior, and they explain the conscience as merely a snapshot of how social norms currently stand.

Christians who hold the Interdependence Doctrine may believe that love is the greatest treasure we can have and that love goes hand-in-hand with interdependence, so a loving God would want everyone to be interdependent and would withhold divine wisdom from anyone who would use it to become less dependent on others. Thus, God will not fulfill the prophesy of Jeremiah until we abandon independence.  Christians sometimes refer to this as the “Body of Christ”:

Ephesians 4:11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

The opposite of independence is not conformity.  Too many articles about independence vs. interdependence falsely portray interdependent individuals as lacking anything unique to contribute. To the contrary, the new interdependent Barbie dolls are more diverse than the independent dolls. Likewise, moral interdependence does not entail a lack of independent moral thought. Socrates explained the idea around 400 BC with the term “social gadfly.” The function of social gadflies is to question prevailing norms. Rather than make the gadflies right (impossible, since they question even each other), this is supposed to spur non-gadflies towards progress. According to the Interdependence Doctrine, neurons produce impulses, brains turn impulses into thoughts, and diverse societies gradually distinguish good ideas from bad ones.  Neurons can fire independently, but they cannot think independently; likewise, brains can think independently, but their independent moral facilities are limited (at best).

While it has been said that something was finished on the cross or in praying the sinner’s prayer, it is clear that our sanctification must continue throughout our lives and even after death. The doctrine of interdependence explains the mechanics of this sanctification: Abraham was part of an interdependent community which continues to this day, so Abraham continues to be sanctified as that community is sanctified. Thus, although current work in human rights, globalization, and health/environmental awareness may be inevitable consequences of the lives of Abraham or Moses or Jesus or Muhammad (etc), such current work nonetheless deserves our attention. Our response to the legacy we inherited should not be merely to accept it, but to advance it (even slightly).

Both doctrines contain conceptual elements found in the story of the forbidden fruit: moral agency, moral knowledge, moral growth/perfection, obedience vs. exploration, and convergence between humanity and divinity. However, the two doctrines yield very different answers to the practical question “Should I follow my conscience?” The Independence Doctrine says “Yes, your conscience is as wise as God—it is perfect.” In contrast, the Interdependence Doctrine says, “It depends upon who you are. Since society advances by modifying social norms, it needs most people to follow those norms most of the time, but also needs some people to explore potential improvements sometimes.”

If the second answer seems indecisive, that may be because it is a response to a trick question.  How can we ask for an objective answer which applies to everyone, if “my conscience” refers to a subjective experience? Similarly when we ask, “Which one is Barbie?” the question makes sense only if not all dolls are Barbie. It has been said that there is no such thing as a bad question, but whether these questions make sense depends upon their answers. To put this another way, the doctrines are like worldviews in that certain questions make no sense unless you happen to hold the associated doctrine.

I maintain that the worldview of the Independence Doctrine constrained scientific imagination in recent times. For over a century experiments have been confirming that we divide into types which come to different moral conclusions, yet no one bothered to test whether those types are interdependent. It was simply assumed (with no evidence) that one of the types can achieve independent moral perfection. Discrimination between interdependent types would harm society, but Jonathan Haidt, Evan Rosenberg and Holly Hom initially assumed that the evaluativism they discovered benefits society—they didn’t bother to consider whether the types might be interdependent. If worldviews can delay the course of science for a century or more, if they can can block girls from perceiving Barbie as diverse even when Mattel creates obviously diverse dolls, then the work of moving forward may be less a work of science or art than a work of social change.

Contrary to Dockterman’s article, a quick check of Mattel’s website reveals that they are selling the new dolls individually. That means Mattel is giving you the power to change the world. You can encourage your friends to buy Barbie in sets. GI-Joe figurines, with their diverse specializations, empowered children to invent stories in which teamwork was essential to competitive success. Let’s empower the next generation to invent stories in which teamwork is also essential to beauty and goodness. Let’s hope to hear Ken saying, “Wow, Barbie, what a beautiful family!”

Discrimination threatens families, churches, businesses, and nations

Witness evaluativism in the dinner scene from Lee Daniels’ The Butler:

Then consider the science behind why we act this way (note that this kind of discrimination needs to be managed differently because, while there is no race or gender we should not tolerate, one can easily invent values that we should not tolerate):

Finally, help spread the word. Just like racism, sexism, classism, lookism, and ableism, evaluativism will run rampant if we do not raise awareness.

 

Transcript of video, “Overcoming Evaluativism”:

The award-winning movie The Butler follows the life of Cecil, a butler at the white house. Cecil fought for civil rights by building the trust of powerful white men while his son, Louis, fought for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr. by building conflict with powerful white men. Cecil and Louis disagreed, but the movie makes a compelling case that both approaches were essential to the advancement of civil rights.

“Evaluativism” is when we fail to appreciate disagreement, when disagreement frustrates us so much that certain topics, like politics and religion, become taboo at the dinner table. In The Butler, Cecil and Louis avoided communicating for years to avoid disagreement, and many people sadly witness this kind of evaluativism in their own families.

Evaluativism is irrational. Disagreement is so valuable that we are genetically designed to disagree with each other. Evaluativism interferes with this design, such that the values of young people like Louis tend to align with their genes only after they achieve financial independence from their parents, and only until they lose it again through old age. Likewise Cecil was unable to express his values to his boss because evaluativism interacted with racial privilege.

As with sexism and racism, we engage in evaluativism instinctively. Jennifer Mueller of Wharton manipulated experimental subjects’ values regarding creativity, and found that, although all groups endorsed the same values, differences in speed of endorsement revealed subconscious biases which influenced ratings of product prototypes. Subconscious biases make a big difference.

Is evaluativism weaker than sexism and racism? To the contrary, Jonathan Haidt of NYU found that college students have significantly less comfort with evaluative diversity than with diversity of race, appearance, class or religion. Likewise, Shanto Iyengar of Stanford found that evaluativism biases resume review seven percent more than racism does.

What would change if there were less evaluativism? We would probably see a decrease in the divorce rate, for one. You may think your marriage, and those of others dear to you, are bullet-proof, but the current divorce rate is high enough to merit precaution against evaluativism between spouses.

Politics is another area that would probably shift. The Pew Center found that between ten and twenty percent of Americans are “consistent liberals” or “consistent conservatives”. Consistency may be a strength, but not when these people accuse each other of threatening our nation. This is evaluativism tearing America apart as it tore Cecil’s family.

The problem is not that we disagree, but that we do not appreciate our disagreements. Perhaps we can gain appreciation by learning the reasons why our genes give us the evaluative diversity that they do.

You used to look like this: a single unified stem cell called a “zygote”. Then you divided into more stem cells… and more… and more. Why be so divisive? Why not remain united as a single-celled organism? The advantage to division became apparent when your stems cells began to specialize, like this stem cell turning into a neuron. The specialized cells of your body are very different from each other. Bone cells do things muscle cells could never do, and muscle cells do things bone cells could never do. But all of these cells are you, so you can do all of these things. You can do things that single-celled organisms could never do. That is the purpose of division.

I have three practical suggestions about how we can let our evaluative diversity serve its purpose:

  1. The first is to believe that it is not your job to be right. Only God is right all the time. Cecil and Louis were never both right—Cecil was right sometimes and Louis was right at other times. If you believe that you are supposed to become right more and more often, then you are aiming to become God. Instead, try to be like the opposing attorneys of a courtroom. If attorneys tried to be right all the time, defense attorneys would stop defending clients whom they judged as guilty, and prosecutors would stop accusing people whom they judged as innocent. Such attorneys would be playing God. Trying to be right would distract them from their real jobs. Your real job is to be yourself, and that will entail disagreeing with each other.
  2. I call my second suggestion “multi-level love“. This is my son Miguel. And this is a skin cell in Miguel’s hand. We’ll call this skin cell “Miguel Junior”. If Miguel sees that I love him, but never sees that I love Miguel Junior, then I am teaching my son that mere parts are not lovable, and that he would not be lovable if he were a mere part. That might pressure him into trying to be right all by himself. So I’m going to start modeling multi-level love right now by showing you what I love about Miguel Junior. Do you see that gap? That’s a wound. Now take a look at what cells like Miguel Junior do to heal a wound. See how he leaps from the comfort of his family to reach across the isle? How can you not love skin cells? I love my son, but I’ve got to say I would love Miguel Junior even if he were not a part of Miguel.
  3. My final suggestion is to devote journals and academic departments to test claims about interdependence. Your own body developed from in-dependent stem cells to in-ter-dependent specialized cells, yet some people expect to progress in the opposite direction. They think advancements in education and medicine should make us more flexible and balanced individually, so that all individuals will converge on the same ideal. We have journals and departments to test claims about race, why are there none to test these claims about evaluative diversity?

Sexual diversity is one example of interdependence. Mushrooms have no sexual diversity—they are all female. Each is basically identical to her mother, so there is hardly any hope of progress across mushroom generations.

In contrast, flowers can reproduce sexually. When daughters are unique mixes of mother and father, there can be progress, but each flower is both male and female, so it risks pollinating itself, which would put flowers in the same boat as mushrooms.

The blue-banded goby switches back and forth between male and female, so it cannot impregnate itself, but sex change would be very difficult outside water, so mammals get to keep the sex they were born with. Granted, each still has to find a mate, and that can take years in the case of humans.

Bees, on the other hand, have only one sexually active female per hive. She mates once, collects about six million sperm, then lays about one-thousand eggs every day for the next six years. This lets most bees focus on concerns other than reproduction.

Currently, some human beings shift evaluative type like gobies, but others are more like mammals and bees. Which should we expect to go extinct? the small businesses where one person wears many hats, or the large corporations in which people lock into specializations? Science should help us reach better-informed answers.

Science can also help us monitor diversity and see where it is helpful. As an example, consider Christian churches. Here we see differences between the diversity mixes of Christians and non-Christians in the United States. These differences are amplified when we look at people who convert toward or away from Christianity. Some evaluative types bridge Christian and non-Christian social circles, but others seem to be victims of evaluativism. Here we see mixes among Americans with artistic careers, Americans with enterprising careers, Americans who identify with child or elder care, Americans who identify with sports, Americans who identify as conservatives, and Americans who have been accused of a crime or other serious betrayal of trust. The same measurement techniques could be applied to monitor the evaluativism of particular congregations, workplaces, clubs, and school programs.

We can also monitor consequences of evaluativism. For example, studies at many universities have now confirmed that the prevention of self-segregation when forming design teams raises interpersonal conflict, but ultimately yields superior results.

The evaluativism that tore Cecil’s family apart threatens our own families, churches, workplaces, and nation, but we don’t have to be frustrated by disagreement. If we study interdependence, we can discover its value, and maybe that discovery will allow us to disagree like attorneys—in a spirit of appreciation.

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.