Arquivo da categoria: Ética

Ciúme

Diego C 2004. Período em que estava aprendendo a escrever.

Ciúme

“A boa vida não pode ser vida sem autocontrole,
mas é melhor controlar uma emoção restritiva e
hostil como o ciúme, do que uma emoção generosa
e expansiva como o amor.” Bertrand Russell 1929

Há poucas coisas às quais nossa sociedade dá tamanha importância quanto o ciúme, dentre as ações humanas deliberadas, é das mais legisladas, juntamente com o assassinato, o tráfico e o roubo. O casamento é das instituições civis de maior importância, e as práticas relativas a ele costumam ser vigorosamente legisladas, arbitradas e modificadas, o que mostra o desconforto social que circunda questões relativas ao matrimônio, como divórcio, traição, pensões, amor etc.
Na escola, aprende-se que a diferença entre um compromisso sério e um rolo é a existência de ciúmes, e todos os materiais escolares de meninas estão repletos de símbolos amorosos de seus únicos amores. Os contos de fadas ensinam às meninas que serão acordadas por seus príncipes encantados, e viverão felizes para sempre, e aos meninos que devem passar por cima de todos os outros cavaleiros, e dos dragões para alcançá-las.
O ciúme é ensinado desde a infância como sendo uma das mais nobres características de um ser humano. Nos filmes, novelas, revistas sobre gente famosa, o ciúme é encarado como algo que se deve defender a qualquer custo, e do que depende a honra de qualquer pessoa que dê valor a sí mesmo. Ai de um ator ou atriz que saia da linha e se deixe levar, numa noite, por uma tentação, toda a mídia estará a postos para ridicularizar, e o cônjuge ficará malfalado até que, como convém à mídia, apareça um novo alvo para satisfazer os interesses latentes das donas de casa, que para reprimir seus próprios desejos de pular a cerca, assistem as novelas para ter chance de ver outros pulando-a.
Todo o nosso sistema legal sobre casamento é baseado nos moldes e conformes do ciúme, o casamento é um contrato que visa, essencialmente, segregar o casal do mundo exterior, para poder evitar que o cônjuge se envolva com quaisquer outras pessoas, aceitando para sí que essa segregação também é desejável. Divorciar-se é difícil, e, para os provedores da casa, é também economicamente indesejável. O casamento, para efeitos práticos, representa a substituição do ciúme do sujeito pelo ciúme do Estado, que passa a ser aquele que cumpre as funções do ciúme pessoal, a saber, dificultar quaisquer envolvimentos entre o cônjuge e pessoas do sexo oposto. Como substituto, o Estado é alias bastante efetivo, pois seu ciúme, além de pesar nos bolsos, não decresce quando cai a taxa hormonal e a paixão.
Se por um lado o casamento representa uma facilitação no exercício de estar enciumado, por outro, ele demonstra o quanto o ciúme necessita de auxílio para sobrepor-se ao desejo e a vontade de amar. O casamento, as alianças de namoro, a moral, o ensinamento escolar, são tantas as tentativas de honrar o ciúme, a ainda assim, permanece latente em nossa sociedade uma grande quantidade de homens e mulheres infiéis. A traição acompanha a história humana desde quando parte da humanidade se tornou monogâmica, e nenhuma instituição, por mais poderosa que fosse, conseguiu impedir que os seres humanos continuassem se relacionando emocionalmente e sexualmente com outras pessoas.
Estima-se que pouco mais de metade dos homens casados, e pouco menos da metade das mulheres seja infiel, o que quer que a lei, as morais ou a voz das massas deseje, a ação não parece comprovar.
O sentimento de posse, o desejo de ter uma mulher como apenas sua, deriva da época em que a humanidade descobriu a paternidade, e os homens, que descobriram ser pais, tinham de controlar as mulheres para poderem conhecer sua linhagem, hoje em dia, esse sentimento está tão acoplado a nossa carga moral desde a infância, que consideramo-lo inato, honroso e importante. Por outro lado, fingimos ignorar, ao menos no discurso, outro sentimento, muito mais forte, o desejo, a vontade de relacionar-se, o amor.
É evidente que temos uma predisposição biológica tanto para termos ciúme, e possuirmos, como também para nos reproduzirmos com outros indivíduos, ou seja, temos impulsos que nos direcionam ao amor, bem como temos impulsos que nos direcionam ao aprisionamento emocional. Caberia nos perguntarmos, como fez Russell, alimentando qual dessas tendências naturais estariamos tornando-nos indivíduos melhores e mais saudáveis.
A importância do ciúme, ou que se acreditava que ele tinha, está diminuindo bastante, isso se deve a diversos fatores relacionados ao desenvolvimento histórico das sociedades, por exemplo, o sexo atualmente não precisa gerar filhos, dada a diversidade de anticoncepcionais disponíveis. O ciúme moral que carregamos vem de um tempo no qual existia uma grande chance de se ter filhos em relações extra-conjugais, a moral da época tratou de impedir que uma pessoa fosse considerada virtuosa e de bom caráter caso tivesse filhos sozinha, além do quê, ter filhos sempre foi caro para as famílias de classes mais abastadas (aquelas que são mais moralizadas) e portanto fazia sentido que houvesse da parte dos moralistas algum tipo de incentivo ao ciúme. Numa sociedade em que relação e filhos não mais se conectam, não há mais utilidade nessa pregação do ciúme, principalmente na educação infantil, quando são construídos os princípios morais das crianças.
Os preservativos e anticoncepcionais nos levaram a uma era em que o sexo pode ser praticado com liberdade antes desconhecida, sem ter de se levar em conta o risco de filhos indesejáveis, estamos em um momento em que finalmente exercer nossos desejos amorosos e sexuais não vem acompanhado de problemas financeiros e familiares, mas a moral vigente continua perseguindo fortemente as pessoas que se consideram livres o suficiente para aceitar que seu desejo de amar possa ser maior que o de possuir, ou no mínimo mais virtuoso.
Sem dúvida que a prática de relações amorosas e sexuais está se tornando mais ampla durante a juventude, os jovens homens de hoje podem, aos vinte anos, ter se relacionado já com trinta ou quarenta pessoas diferentes sem que sejam massacrados e malvistos pelas pessoas a sua volta, até algumas mulheres já gozam esse privilégio, embora a moral continue, vias de regra, atentando contra as mulheres que adotam práticas tão liberais quanto as dos homens. Ainda há, entretanto, um tabu sagrado que não parece ser tocado com frequência: A possibilidade de eliminar o ciúme em relações “sérias”, a própria definição de “sérias” tornou-se completamente interligada com a idéia de ciúmes. A moralidade, grande pílula de amnésia da humanidade, nos fez esquecer que “sérias” significa seriedade e profundidade, e alterou o conceito de sérias para “unicas, exclusivas, e possessivas”. Quando pergunta-se para alguém se está numa relação séria ou não, a resposta que se espera nada tem a ver com a profundidade emocional ou a seriedade da relação, é completamente dependente do ciúme, e do quanto uma pessoa prende a outra, essencialmente, se fossemos substituir o termo “séria” por algo mais plausível com o que queremos de fato saber, até doentia seria uma substituição mais razoável.
Essa necessidade de separar a relação séria da relação não séria traz uma série de implicações perigosas, afinal, não são só as pessoas de fora que vêem assim, quem se relaciona também fica sempre em dúvida se a relação é séria, a não ser que ambos se comprometam a não beijar mais ninguém. Se uma das partes quer realmente ter uma relação séria, terá dois caminhos. Um é simplesmente fazer isso do modo ciumento e convencional, pedir em namoro e impedir que ambos possam ser livres em seus desejos, o outro é ter a coragem de explicar que quer ter, apesar de continuar livre, uma relação mais séria, pode-se até dizer compromissada, mas diversas dificuldades se colocam ante essa idéia de propor uma relação séria e livre. A primeira dificuldade é ter de explicar que isso, uma relação séria e livre, é possível, sem ser condenado por um fazer uma proposta tão impura como desejar liberdade e igualdade de direitos. Estranho como esses mesmos ideais no ramo político vigoram desde a revolução francesa, e no amor, a igualdade continua sendo regulada pela falta de liberdade, e quanto menos fraternidade melhor.
Quem sabe, no futuro, o amor passe a influir mais na economia, e com isso, passe a evoluir na mesma velocidade que a política, esperamos que não seja necessária uma revolução proletária anti-ciúme para que as pessoas pensem no assunto, por enquanto, questionar o funcionamento de ideologias como o ciúme é sempre um exercício importante de evolução do pensamento pessoal.

Ética, Herança, Propriedade, Há Alternativa?

Faz uns anos que a seguinte questão me intriga: O que seria bom em termos de herança e propriedade.

Uma questão para mim é bastante relacionada: Se tenho uma moeda, e digo que apenas se ela der cara vou usar meu dinheiro para comprar piscinas de plástico, e se der coroa não, deve haver um regulamento diferente para os impostos sobre as escolhas caso dê cara e caso dê coroa?

Em geral as pessoas estão dispostas a dizer que é absurdo condicionar impostos sobre se uma decisão financeira foi ou não feita porque uma moeda deu cara… Uma piscina custa 10000, seja porque deu cara ou porque deu coroa, o imposto sobre ela será 300, digamos….. Não parece fazer sentido nenhum pensar que devemos taxar apenas as caras.

Uma intuição contraditória a essa rege o seguinte princípio: Quando uma pessoa morre ela deve ter grande parte de sua herança adquirida pelo Estado, já que ela era parte da sociedade e isso funciona como distribuição de renda etc…

A razão da contraditoriedade: Digamos que eu tenha meu milhão de reais. Meu amigo Alfredo tem o dele. Eu decido condicionar meu uso de dinheiro segundo a moeda…. Ele decide escrever um testamento em favor de sua filha. Mal sabíamos nós, mas um terrorista maluco estava a distância, e nos moldes de um filme do irmão Cohen, decidira que a vida de Alfredo estava para ser decidida naquela moeda. A moeda dá cara, e após o funeral de meu pobre amigo, que recebera um tiro de sniper, eu compro minhas piscinas.

Ambos os eventos foram condicionados na mesma coisa, mas eu pago impostos normais, e o patrimônio dele é tomado pelo Estado, que diz que é justo e razoável que um dinheiro que não foi ganho pela filha fique com ela, pelo menos não tanto. Em geral é assim que ocorre, principalmente em países mais ricos.

Há uma grande diferença entre dizer que alguém não merece um patrimônio porque não ganhou ele, e dizer que uma pessoa pode gastar o próprio dinheiro com o que bem entender. É estranho que, de todas as coisas do mundo, é quando uma pessoa escolhe gastar seu dinheiro com aquele que criou, ama, compartilha genes e mais quer garantir, que surge uma lei dizendo: Não. Você pode gastar seu dinheiro com BMW, Diesel e Dolce Gabbana, mas jamais, ouça bem, jamais, deixaremos que você gaste (uma parte d)ele com sua querida e amada filha, que saiu de seu ventre, que você viu falar pela primeira vez, ensinou boa parte do que sabe, ama de paixão etc….

Vivemos em uma sociedade que é menos favorável ao gasto de dinheiro com nossos filhos do que, digamos, com prostitutas.

Isso soa doentio.

Por outro lado, não é doentio que não tenhamos um sistema de correção de todas as mazelas sofridas por aqueles que nascem pobres? O mínimo que se espera de uma sociedade não Nietzscheniana é que haja uma tentativa de igualdade de condições de criação. É absolutamente revoltante que alguém nasça com direito a fortuna de um califa árabe enquanto milhares de sauditas famintos não tem acesso a educação por falta de dinheiro.

As duas intuições são importantes, e é bem difícil decidir entre elas.

A questão que se coloca é em parte: Como decidir sobre o direito a patrimônio. Em favor dos seres que virão a existir, ou em de acordo com quem produziu o valor?

Ninguém tem culpa de existir. “Existirmos a que será que se destina?”

Os pais não tem culpa de preferirem seus filhos a roupas da Diesel.

Nesse ponto você já deve ter decidido de que lado está, isso se deve ao fato de que, como todos os humanos, você está sujeito aos bias cognitivos, inclusive:

Need for Closure – the need to reach a verdict in important matters; to have an answer and to escape the feeling of doubt and uncertainty. The personal context (time or social pressure) might increase this bias.

E você acha que tem de estar de algum lado porque sofre do que Dawkins chama de “tragedy of the bicameral mind” a tragédia que é que nossa cognição divide tudo em dois grupos e acha que tem de ser “sim ou não”, “preto ou branco”, “certo ou errado”, etc…. More often than not, você deveria procurar uma Terceira Alternativa

Saíram uns papers sobre pensar em grupo, que dizem que um grupo acha uma solução melhor do que seu melhor membro: “We found that groups of size three, four, and five outperformed the best individuals and attribute this performance to the ability of people to work together to generate and adopt correct responses, reject erroneous responses, and effectively process information,” said lead author Patrick Laughlin, PhD., of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Então, mesmo que você se ache a pessa mais genial do mundo, deixe os outros ajudarem você a pensar para encontrar uma terceira opção.

Para o caso das heranças por exemplo, estou fazendo isso. Não tenho idéia. Me ajudem a pensar!

We need you!

We need you!

No fim do ano passado me lembro de ter assistido a propaganda do Singularity Summit 2009 e ela ter me passado um sentimento de “Transhumanists of the World, rise!”. Claro que na verdade a conferencia foi sobre singularidade, que é apenas uma subtopico do transhumanismo. Visitando o site da associação mundial transhumanista (agora Humanity Plus) é possível constatar que não existem muitos transhumanistas por ai, pelo o que me lembro a contagem estava em torno de 5.000. Que de fato praticam e escrevem a respeito, com certeza existem talvez menos que centenas. Mas esses poucos tem feito barulho recentemente! Surpreendentemente no Brasil também. Nos meses passados tem aparecido um crescente numero de reportagens de capa a respeito:

Capa da Superinteressante de Novembro de 2009: A pílula da inteligência

Capa da Scientific American edição 90, de Novembro de 2009: A pílula da inteligência

Capa da Superinteressante de Janeiro de 2010: Imortalidade

Capa da Filosofia edição 43, de Fevereiro de 2010:  Transhumanismo

Entrevista com Nick Bostrom, Revista Filosofia No. 48

Matéria sobre o Paradoxo de Fermi e o Futuro da Humanidade, Revista Filosofia No. 47

Nos paises desenvolvidos a exposição na mídia de temas tranhumanistas é ainda maior. Só o fundador da associação transhumanista, Nick Bostrom, já participou de quase 400 entrevistas para revistas como a Times e canais como a CNN. Se com tão poucos transhumanistas ativos já temos feito tanto barulho imagino quando aqueles outros milhares começarem também a se envolver.

O fato é que querendo ou não, você racionalista e amigo da tecnologia terá um papel fundamental no futuro próximo. Cada vez mais esses temas estão sendo divulgados e cada vez mais eles irão parar na discussão da mesa de jantar da pequena elite intelectual que controla a opinião das massas. Por isso não se sinta surpreso de se encontrar cada vez mais freqüentemente na posição de defensor das “loucuras” tecnológicas e acima de tudo nunca tema se colocar ativamente nesse papel. São aqueles que se dispuserem a energicamente causar uma mudança de opinião que serão os primeiros e principais responsáveis pela implementação dos avanços tecnológicos.

Alem dessas situações domesticas também não se acanhe em participar nos meios públicos de divulgação da informação como blogs, sites, revistas, emissoras de TV e rádio. Você tem uma responsabilidade e um papel fundamental no futuro das pessoas com quem você se importa e no futuro da humanidade como um todo, exerça essa responsabilidade.

Dois bias que podem acabar com a humanidade

Um bias cognitivo é uma tendência inerente que temos, ao pensarmos ou analisarmos certas situações,  de cometer desvios sistematicos da racionalidade. Existem dois bias não listados em nenhum livro sobre bias cognitivos que considero como os principais no que concerne a avaliação de potencias riscos catastroficos à raça humana.

Bias Observacional

Tratei de modo mais axiomático deste bias em outro post. Aqui tentarei expor ele de maneira mais concreta. Imagine um jogo de computador baseado na evolução com pequenas entidades auto replicadoras que geram algoritmos comportamentais nessas peculiares entidades e um ambiente virtual. A simulação reinicia periodicamente a cada T segundos e as populações são extintas sem deixar rastros. O evento só ocorre caso as entidades não tenham desenvolvido um conjunto muito especifico de algoritmos. O leitor poderia imaginar que essas nossas entidades teriam uma tendência a evoluir este certo algoritmo, pois de outro modo seriam extintas. Mas esta impressão está errada pois durante toda a historia de uma dessas populações de entidades virtuais muito provavelmente não há qualquer razão especifica para que esta população tenha desenvovido este algoritmo e caso, sem aviso, o programa se reinicie a população vive caso possua o algoritmo e é completamente devastada caso contrario: não há a chance de que as entidades que sofreram o holocausto passem as gerações futuras a informação de quem um cataclismo acontecerá e que só aquelas populações com o algoritmo sobreviverão; não há a chance de nossas pobres entidades aprenderem evolutivamente deste horrendo acontecimento pois cada vez que ele acontece o jogo é reiniciado do zero. Apesar de estar sob o risco de extinção essas ingênuas populações nunca ficam sabendo deste fato simplesmente porque as que sabem morrem e as que não são extintas por possuírem o algoritmo não estão sob este risco para se informarem dele. Se há uma pressão evolutiva agindo seria uma seleção por ignorância. Alem disso se assumirmos um crescimento populacional maior que zero, se você é uma dessas entidades, a maior probabilidade é que esteja mais próximo do tempo T de extinção do que mais longe. Isto é uma conclusão facilmente obtida a partir da SSA, se você um uma entidade aleatória que não sabe quando será extinta, mas sabe que a maioria das entidades esta mais próxima do fim do que do começo então você deve assumir que está mais próxima de ser extinta do que não. Uma população de entidades rudimentares, em seus começos, pode ter um futuro vasto a sua frente. Enquanto que uma população já extremamente evoluída e adaptada ao ambiente provavelmente esta no seu fim. É fácil constatar que nós partilhamos da mesma ignorância destas ingênuas e ledas entidades. Nós só estamos vivos, pois não fomos extintos, logo não podemos usar esse dado para calcular nossa probabilidade de extinção. O dado de ha quanto tempo não fomos extintos muito menos, pois o que se da é o inverso, quanto mais tempo permanecemos vivos maior a probabilidade de sermos extintos no instante seguinte. Temos, portanto de usar outros meios indiretos.

Bias da Intencionalidade

Durante a imensa maioria da historia da humanidade os eventos naturais eram em sua maior parte inevitáveis e matavam muitas menos pessoas do que os eventos humanos evitáveis. Naturalmente que aqueles que sabiam evitar a sua própria morte através de outro ser humano sobreviviam em oposição aos que não conseguiam e aqueles que desnecessariamente despreendiam energia em evitar eventos inevitáveis – mantendo o resto constante – tenderiam a não sobreviver frente a grande escassez energética. Esta situação criou um bias – até pouco tempo vantajoso – de se preocupar muito mais com perigos intencionais do que não intencionais. Esse é talvez o principal bias a desviar a atenção da humanidade para os principais eventos catastróficos. Só muito recentemente tem-se dado conta de um destes muitos perigos: o aquecimento global, – talvez as custas de identificar paises ou industrias como as culpadas – enquanto os outros inúmeros males permanecem na penumbra.

Sobre ler os Clássicos -On Reading Classics

By Peter Gerdes

Absolutely signed below by Diego C

In my view one of the most glaring indictments of the way philosophy and other humanities are taught and practiced is the senseless insistence on reading original works by the great masters. This is most apparent in the continued consumption of Plato, Hobbes, Aristotle and the like in philosophy but can be equally well be seen in the reverance for Chaucer, Shakespeare or other literary classics. To my horror this reverence for the original works is even being promoted in economics. So even though I gave a short reply in the comments at overcoming bias when this issue came up I’ve been meaning to discuss the question in more detail.

For the moment I’d like to set aside the issue of literature for another post and focus on subjects like philosophy and economics where (at least in theory) the aim is to genuinely progress towards a (more) accurate/useful understanding. Since I find it genuienly perplexing why one would ever feel the need to read the originals rather than the digested and improved material found in modern expositions as one does in math of physics I’ll quote Tyler Cowen’s justifications for returning to the original thinkers. Obviously these don’t represent every possible justification but they are the best justifications I’ve ever heard.

First though I’d like to be perfectly clear that the issue under consideration is whether there is some pedagogical benefit to reading original thinkers as opposed to modern summaries (of either the original thinker or simply the current state of the discipline). There is no accounting for taste so if you simply have some Plato fetish or like the way reading Plato makes you feel sophisticated you might find it more enjoyable to read Plato rather than more modern work just as someone else might prefer to have their philosophical arguments interspersed in Harry Potter slash. Also if your interest is in original…..  (Continues Here)

The most important problems and what to do

by Jonatas

The most important problems of the universe: (1) suffering; (2) lack of intelligence; (3) new imperfect life being created unintentionally in unreachable (due to the speed of light) places; (4) the end of the universe (by heat death or something else). Other relatively minor problems can be fixed with time by fixing problem 2. Problems 3 and 4 seem to be impossible to completely fix, although maybe problem 3 could be diminished by a type of class action by all intelligent beings in the universe to replace imperfect life in their nearby planets, and problem 4 could be delayed by slowing the subjective passage of time in conscious beings (by accelerating their rate of functioning, this could be done to extreme levels in artificial beings, effectively multiplying by many times the remaining time in the universe). Mortality is not really a major problem (see Daniel Kolak’s open identity theory, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Kolak).

What we should focus the most on doing now: (A) making the population sympathetic to and willing to work for transhumanism (this includes trying to diminish opponent forces, such as religion, and in general trying to propagate the whole mindset that leads one to accept transhumanism), which has the potential to solve problems 1 and 2 for us – and fixing problem 2 will fix many other minor issues with time (such as lack of knowledge; mortality; creation of virtual paradises; etc.); (B) preventing global catastrophic risks (the most important of which seems to be bio- or nanotechnological terrorism, which is not something that exists now), something that we have little to do about now, except trying to convince legislators and politicians of the risk, without making them averse to goal A.

About the relationship between goals A and B: avoiding goal A will do little to help B. In fact, putting too many security restrictions on goal A has the potential to make less ethics-conscious individuals advance the technology first. Instead, the technology should be advanced as fast as possible, with some restrictions, and there should be created a global power with strict international surveillance for bio- or nanotechnological terrorism.

About artificial intelligence: it is not per se going to solve problems 1 and 2 for us, unless it acquires consciousness and replaces us completely (but I don’t see that happening in the near future). As long as there is still lack of intelligence in people, bad political decisions and all stupidity related problems would continue to exist, and the same with suffering. Artificial intelligence, if properly planned, should not be considered a relevant global catastrophic risk, because it can be easily contained (inside reality simulations, or through many limitations, such as physical, in terms of knowledge, of accessibility, etc.) and because if it is very intelligent it should not have unproductive behavior.

Once we can fix problems 1 and 2 for us with transhumanism, we can explore all planets nearby, and if we find forms of life that still have problems 1 and 2, we can either solve these problems for them (giving additionally knowledge, immortality, virtual paradises, etc.) or replace them. Advanced aliens should be expected to do the same.

What impedes people to solve these problems or to see the need to solve them? (Z) Thinking that education will solve problem 2; (Y) Thinking that problem 2 doesn’t need to be solved because we are so intelligent already; (X) Thinking that suffering is somehow necessary and shouldn’t be avoided; (W) Thinking that it is against their God’s rules to fix these problems. The absurdity of these (Z, Y, X, W) should be already evident to who is reading this, so there’s no need to explain it.

Two Cognitive Cases

Two Cognitive Cases

This is the first draft of an article I’m developing, I appreciate any commentaries and corrections, which can be sent as reponses.

The study of cognition can be benefited in a number of ways, and people from areas as separate as mechanical engineering, artificial systems and psychology show us that. In fact, from Gödel’s theorem to dynamic systems to molecular genetics, there is some kind of contribution that has been made to the understanding of mind. I want to present two new challengers here, to join the group of things which are useful to understand cognition. In fact to understand in general. They are Recently-Biased Information Selectivity and Happiness.

First I want to talk about selectivity. If one wants to understand more and be able to acomplish more, it is highly likely that he will have to learn (the other option being invent, or discover). We learn more than we invent because it is cheaper, in economic terms. Our cognitive capacity to learn is paralleled in the south asian countries, whose development is funded into copying technologies developed in high-tech countries. Knowledge is not a rival good, that is, the fact that I have it doesn’t imply you can have it too. Knowledge, Newton aside, has nothing to do with apples.

So suppose our objective was to learn the most in the least time, and to be able to produce new knowledge in the least time. There is nothing more cognitive than increasing our descriptive and procedural knowledge in reasonable timing. The first thing one ought to do is to twist the idea of learning upon itself, and start learning about learning. There are many ways to improve learning that can themselves be learned. One can achieve higher efficiency by learning reading techniques. Also she could learn how to use different mental gadgets to learn about the same topic (i.e. Thinking of numbers as sounds, if she usually thinks of them as written, and vice-versa). She also could simply change her material tools, using a laptop instead of writing with pen, writing in a different language to allow for different visual analogies, using her fingers to count. The borders are of course not clear between different cognitive tools. Writing in chinese implies thinking through another grammatical scheme, as well as looking at different symbols, one of this is more mental, the other more material, both provide interesting cognitive connections to other concepts and thus improve thinking and learning. Another blurry technique, without clear frontiers is to use some cognitive enhancer. Coffee, the most widely used one, is a great enhancer. Except that it isn’t. Working as a brain’s false alarm that everything is okaywhn is isn’t, leading to disrythmia, anxiety exaustion etc. Modafinil is much better, healthier, less prone to causing tension. But are these mental or material gadgets? One thing is certain, they are part of the proof that the mind-body dichotomy has no bearing on reality. These are all interesting techniques for better learning, but I suggest they are not as powerful as selectivity.

Recent-Biased Information Selectivity is a pattern towards seeking knowledge, what is informally called an “approach” to knowledge. A Recent-Biased Information Selector is a person who has a pattern of behavior. This pattern is, as the name denunciates, to look for the solution for her problems mostly in the most recent publications she can find. That is, amongst all of her criteria for deciding to read or not to read something, to watch or not to watch a video, to join or not a dance group, being new is very close to the peak. There are many reasons for which this is a powerful technique, given our objectives. The first is the Law of Accelerated Returns, as proposed by Kurzweil(2005). According to it, the development of information technology is speeding up, we have an exponential increase in the amount of knowledge being produced, as well as in the amount of information being processed. This is Moore’s law extended, and it can be extended to all levels of technological improvement, from the invention of the multicellular organism to genomic sequencing, from the invention of a writing system to powerful computing etc… Stephen Hawking (2001) points out that if one wanted to read all that was being published in 2001, he’d have to run 145 kilometers per second, this speed has probably doubled by now (2010). So Information technology in general and Knowledge in particular are increasingly speeding up. That means that if you cut two adjacent periods of equal sizes from now to the past, odds are high there is more than twice the knowledge of the older period in the newer one. If one were to distribute fairly his readings among all there is to be read, he would already be exponentially shifted towards the present. So a fair distribution in order to obtain knowledge is one that decreases exponentially towards the past. Let us say one reads 1000 pages, more or less three books, per month. So if we divide time in 4 equal periods, let’s say, of 20 years, one would have these pages divided according to the following proportions: 1 : 2 : 4 : 8. Now, 1x+2x+4x+8x = 15x = 1000. x=66 We get the distribution of pages:

66 to 1930 – 1950

122 to 1950 – 1970

244 to 1970 – 1990

488 to 1990 – 2010

In general: Let S be the number of subspaces into which one’s division will be made. Let T be the total number of pages to be read. The fair amount of reading to be dedicated to the Nth subspace is given by the formula:

2n-1 · (T / (21+22… 2S-1))

Now, this is not how we usually reason, since our minds are in general linear predictors, we suppose that fairness in terms of learning knowledge would be to read the same amount for equal amounts of time. This is of course a mistake, a cognitive bias, meaning something that is engendered in our way of thinking in such a way that it leads us systematically to mistakes. My first purpose is to make clear that the wisdom in the strategy of dividing cognitive pursuit equally though time is a myth. A first objection to my approach is that it is too abstact, highly mathematical, there are deep assymetries between older stuff and newer stuff that has not been considered, so one should not distribute her reading accordingly. Exactly! Let us examine those asymmetries.

First asymmetry: Information inter-exchange: It is generally taken for granted by most people that the future has no influence on the past, whereas the past has influence on the future. More generally, an event X2 at time T2 will not influence another event X1 at time T1, but might influence X3 at time T3. This of course is false. But we are allowed to make Newtonian approximations when dealing with the scale in which knowledge is represented, that is paper scale, brain scale (Tegmark 2000), sound-wave scale. So it is true for our purposes. From information flow asymmetry it follows that what is contained in older knowledge could have influenced newer knowledge, but not otherwise. This is reason to take the fair distribution, and squeeze it even more towards the present.

Second, asymmetry: Having survived for long enough. This is the main objection I saw against biasing towards the present, it consists of saying that the newest stuff has not passed through the filter of time (this could also be called the “it’s not a classic” asymmetry) and therefore is more likely to be problematic. I have argued elsewhere that truthful memes are more likely to survive (Caleiro Forthcoming) and indeed that is a fair objection to the view I am proposing here. This asymmetry would make us stretch our reading back again. But in fact there is a limit to this filter. One has strong reasons not to read what came just hot out of press (unless there are other factors for it) but few reasons not to read what has been for 2 years in the meme-pool, for instance. The argument is strong, and should be considered.

Third, Conceptual-Scheme Complexity: Recent stuff is embedded in a far more complex world, and in general into a very complex scheme of things, that is, the concepts deployed are part of a complex web, highly sofisticated, deeptly interacting. This web makes the concepts clearer since they are more strongly interwoven with other concepts, theories, experiments etc… The same concept usually will have a much more refined conception today than the one it had two hundred years ago. Take the electron for instance, we have learned enormous amounts about it, the same word means much more today than it did. Even more amazing is the refinement of fuzzy concepts like “mind”, “cognition”, “knowledge”, “necessity”, “a priori” and so on.

Fourth, Levels of Meta-knowledge available: Finally we get to an interesting asymmetry, that is related to how many layers of scrutiny has an area passed through. In the early days we had “2+3·5+(9-3)” kind of maths, then someone notices we’d be well with a meta-symbol for a given unknown number so we had “ X+3 = 2” kind of mathematics…. and someone else eventually figured a symbol could denote a constant, and we had “Ax+By+C = 0” kind of mathematics, there are more layers, but the point is clear. Knowledge2, That is Meta-Knowledge depends on the availability of Knowledge1, same for Meta-meta-knowledge or Knowledge3. In psychology we had first some data regarding a few experiments with rats, then some meta-studies, with many clusters of experiments with rats, then some experiments with humans, then meta-inter-species knowledge that allowed us to compare species, then some theories of how to achieve knowledge in the area, that is epistemology of psychology etc… Now, it is usually impossible to create knowledge about something we have no data about. So there is no meta-knowledge without there being knowledge first. The number of layers is always increasing, for it is always possible to seek patterns in the highest level (though not always to find them!). More publications give us access to more layers of knowledge, and the more layers we have, better is our understanding.

These asymmetries give us the following picture, if we had a fair distribution, we should squeeze it a lot towards the recent past (some 2 years before present) but resist the temptation to go all the way and start reading longterm-useless nonfiltered stuff like newspapers. A simple way to do that is to change the 2 in the general equation for a 3. Some interesting ideas on this topic of selective ignorance deserve mention:

There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Learning to ignore things is one of the great paths to inner peace”

Robert J Sawyer – 2000

What information comsumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

Herbert Simon, Turin Award winner, Nobel Prize winner

Just as modern man consumes both too many calories and calories of no nutritional value, information workers eat data both in excess and from the wrong sources”

If you are reading an article that sucks, put it down and don’t pick it back up. If you go to a movie and it’s worse than The Matrix Revolutions, get the hell out of there before more neurons die. If you’re full after half a plate of ribs, put the damn fork down and don’t order dessert.”

Timothy Ferris – 2007

I’ve shown the names of those I’m quoting, for this gives one tip on exceptions for the no hot-out-of-press rule. That is the argument from authority. The argument from authority is fallacious in its usual form:

Source A says that p.
Source A is authoritative.
Therefore, p is true.

But is reasonable in its bayesian form (“~” is the symbol for “not”) :

Source A says that p. Source B says that ~p.
Source A is authoritative. Source B isn’t.
Therefore, it is rational to consider that p is more likely to be true until further analysis.

The other exception in which we should read what is hot-out-of-press (given our cognitive objective, as always in this article) is when it is related to one’s specific line of work at the moment. Suppose I’m studying Happiness to write a review of current knowledge in the area, this gives me good grounding to read an article published this month, since I must be as up to date as possible to perform my work. Exceptions aside, it is a good strategy to let others filter the ultra-recent information for you and remain in the upper levels of analysis. The same is true of old information, what is relevant is highly likely to have been either preserved, as I mentioned before, or rediscovered, as all the cultural evolutionary convergences show (Diamond 1999,Caleiro Forthcoming ).

First Case Conclusion:

Our natural conception of how to distribute our time in obtaining knowledge is biased in the wrong way, suggesting equal amounts of effort to equal amounts of time. To achieve greater and deeper knowledge, one should distribute her effort with exponentially more reading of more recent periods than older ones. In addition, she should counter this bias with another bias, shifting it even more towards the present but stoping short of it, with an allowance for some basic knowledge filters to operate before choosing what to read. We end up with an exponential looking curve that peaks in the recent past and falls abruptly before reaching the present.

Second case, Happiness

All other things equal, most people would not choose to have every single day of their lifes, from tommorrow onwards, being completely miserable. It is a truism that people do not want to suffer unless it is necessary, and most times not even in that case. Neutrality is good, but not good enough, so, all things equal, it is also true that most people would choose to have countless episodes of deep fulfilling happiness for the rest of their lifes, as oposed to being merely “Not so bad”. Some people have noticed that this is not so unanimous, for instance, Betrand Russell (1930) wrote: “Men who are unhappy, like men who sleep badly, are always proud of the fact.”

I intend to discuss happiness from another perspective, the perspective of cognition. Is happiness good or bad for thinking? Supposing our cognitive objective, as we did before, let us examine happiness. Suppose we don’t care about happiness, we just want to be cognitively good. Contrary to popular legend that thinking equals suffering, and Lennon’s remark that “Ignorance is bliss”, current evidence suggests that happiness is positively correlated with (Gilbert 2007, Lyubuomisrky 2007, Seligman 2002):

Sociability

Energy

Charity

Stronger immune system

Cooperation

Physical health

Earnings

Being Liked

Amount of friends

Social support

Flexibility

Intelligence

Ingenuity in thinking

Productivity in job

Leadership skills

Negotiation skills

Resilience in face of hardship

It is hard not to notice how many characteristics there are on the list, and easy to see how many of them are related to being a better learner, a better teacher, and a better cognitive agent in general. This is true independently of what one studies, if the knowledge is descriptive such as calculus, or procedural such as dancing. There is also the evident fact that depressed people tend to loose productivity dramatically during their bad periods. This gives us good scientific grounding to believe that happiness is important for cognition, to learn better, to achieve more, and to be cognitively more apt in general. So we ought to be happier.

But should we be happier? How much happier? The reason why I started this article is that I was reading in the park, listening to some music, watching people going and coming, families, foreigners, kids etc… It was a beautiful sunny day and I had just exercized, I was reading something interesting and challenging, the music was exciting, I took a look around me and saw the shinning sun reflecting on the trees, a breeze passed amidst the giggle of kids nearby and I thought “This is great!” In fact I thought more than that, I thought “This is great! Still it could be better”. There is some background knowledge needed to qualify the power of this phrase. Once I saw a study that said a joke had been selected among thousands by internet users, therefore it was a scientifically proven funny joke. Now, I’m a happy person. In fact I’m a very happy person. It took me a while to accept that. It is hard to accept that one is the upper third of happiness, because that tells a lot about the human condition, and how happy people are. So I was pondering about this fact that people told me, and that I subjectively felt, and finally science came to my aid. The University of Pennsilvania holds an online-test called authentic happiness invetory. The website has 700,000 members. I did the test twice, with some 14 months in-between. The website provides comparisons among those who took the test, we can take these to be some dozens of thousands of people at least. The first time I did it, it showed “You scored as high or higher than 100% of web users, 100% of your gender, 100% of your age group 100% of your occupational group, 100% of your educational level and 100% of your Zip code”. One year later, the first five bars were still showing 99% and the last one 98%. Thinking I might have been in an exceptionally happy day that time, I took the test again, and to my surprise I was back to 100% in all categories. I knew I am happy, but that was taking the thing to a whole other level. So I was as scientifically comproved to be happy as that joke, I was in the very end of the tail of the curve.

Now think again about that phrase in that scene in the park. “This is great! Still, it could be better.” I was not talking about myself (as I’ve been for one paragraph now) I was talking about Man. If you found yourself in the edge of the curve you’d know what I mean. If this is the best we can do, we are not there yet. I’m not saying that being happy is not great, it is awesome, but it could be much better. I suggest that anyone who had the experience of reading all those “100%” there in the website thought the same, this cannot be the very best, there must be more. This is what brings me to the Humanity+ motto:

Better than well.

The human condition is not happiness-driven. Evolutionarily speaking, we do what we can to have more grandchildren than our neighbors, whereas this includes happines or whether it doesn’t. A mind that was satisficed all the time would not feel tempted to change his condition, so mother nature invented feelings such as anxiety, boredom, tiredness of the same activity, pain etc… Happiness, as designed by evolution, is fleeting, ephemerous (Morris 2004). How could we change that? There are several ways, the most obvious one being chemical intervention. Also technologies of direct stimulation of pleasure centers could be enhanced to accepted levels of safety. Artifacts such as MP3 players also have an effect on happiness since listening to music causes happiness (Lyubomirsky 2007), many artifacts have positive effects on happiness and in the long term may help in improving the human condition. Art, philosophy, spirituality and science have also had long term effects on human happiness. So in order to improve the human condition in the long term, we ought to work in all those bases. This would in turn provide us means to achieve our proposed cognitive goal, through greater cognitively enhancing happiness. Before moving on, I’d like to make an effort of showing a mistake that most people are likely to make, due to some cognitive biases, I’ll first list the biases:

Status quo bias: people tend not to change an established behavior unless the incentive to change is compelling. (Kahneman et al 1991)

Bandwagon effect: the observation that people often do and believe things because many other people do and believe the same things. The effect is often called herd instinct. People tend to follow the crowd without examining the merits of a particular thing. The bandwagon effect is the reason for the bandwagon fallacy’s success.

From Yudkowsky (2009):

Confirmation bias:In 1960, Peter Wason conducted a now-classic experiment that became known as the ‘2-4-6’ task. (Wason 1960.) Subjects had to discover a rule, known to the experimenter but not to the subject – analogous to scientific research. Subjects wrote three numbers, such as ‘2-4-6′ or ’10-12-14’, on cards, and the experimenter said whether the triplet fit the rule or did not fit the rule. Initially subjects were given the triplet 2-4-6, and told that this triplet fit the rule. Subjects could continue testing triplets until they felt sure they knew the experimenter’s rule, at which point the subject announced the rule.

Although subjects typically expressed high confidence in their guesses, only 21% of Wason’s subjects guessed the experimenter’s rule, and replications of Wason’s experiment usually report success rates of around 20%. Contrary to the advice of Karl Popper, subjects in Wason’s task try to confirm their hypotheses rather than falsifying them. Thus, someone who forms the hypothesis “Numbers increasing by two” will test the triplets 8-10-12 or 20-22-24, hear that they fit, and confidently announce the rule. Someone who forms the hypothesis X-2X-3X will test the triplet 3-6-9, discover that it fits, and then announce that rule. In every case the actual rule is the same: the three numbers must be in ascending order. In some cases subjects devise, “test”, and announce rules far more complicated than the actual answer.” […]

“Hot” refers to cases where the belief is emotionally charged, such as political argument. Unsurprisingly, “hot” confirmation biases are stronger – larger in effect and more resistant to change.”

Let me restate a case of the status quo bias in another form: When people make a decision, they should take only the benefits and costs of what they intend to do, and carefully analyse them. This is fairly obvious. Also, it is complete nonsense. What one ought to do when she is trying to find out about doing or not doing something is to compare that that thing with what she would do in case she didn’t do that thing. Suppose I’m a father who gets his daughter everyday in school. Then some friends invite me to go play cards, I reason the following: “Well, playing cards is better than doing nothing” and I go play cards, leaving my poor child alone in school.

 

Another important topic is how can someone be happier than he usually is, right now? What is already available? What has been proven to increase satisfaction? The rest of the article is dedicated to this topic. Gilbert (2007) has many interesting words on that, they are worth quoting:

“My friends tell me that I have a tendency to point out problems without offering soutions, but they never tell me what I should do about it.”[…]”… you’ll be heartened to learn that there is a simple method by which anyone can make strikingly accurate predictions about how they will feel in the future. But you may be disheartened to learn that, by and large, no one wants to use it.

Why do we rely on our imaginations in the first place? Imagination is the poor man’s wormhole. We can’t do what we’d really like to do – namely, travel trough time , pay a visit to our future selves, and see how happy those selves are – and so we imagine the future instead of actually going there. But if we cannot travel in the dimension of time, we can travel in the dimensions of space, and the chances are pretty good that somewhere in those other three dimensions there is another human being who is actually experiencing the future event that we are merely thinking about.” […] “it is also true that when people tell us about their current experiences […] , they are providing us with the kind of report about their subjective state that is considered the gold standard of happiness measures. […] one way to make a prediction about our own emotional future is to find someone who is having the experience we are contemplating and ask them how they feel.[…] Perhaps we should give up on rememberin and imagining entirely and use other people as surrogates for our future selves.

This idea sounds all too simple, and I suspect you have an objection to it that goes something like this… “

This fine writer’s message is simple, stop imagining, start asking someone who is there. This is the main advice for those who are willing to predict how happy will they be in the future if they make a particular choice.

Now, Lyubomirsky offers many other happiness increasing strategies. First, she proposed the 40% solution to happiness. Happiness is determined according to the following graph:

50% genes 10% circumstances and 40% intentional Activities
50% genes 10% circumstances and 40% intentional Activities

That is, Happiness is 50% genetically determined (that is, if you had to predict Natalie Portman’s happiness, and she had monozygotic twin separated at birth, it would be more useful to know how happy the twin is than to know every single fact you may figure out about Natalie’s way of life, past and present conditions and reactions to life events) , 10% due to life circumstances (This includes wealth, health, beauty, marriage etc…), and 40% due to intentional activities. So, all things considered, if one is willing to become happier right now, the best strategy is to change these last 40%, how can we do it. Here I will list some comproved ways of increasing general subjective happiness. I will not provide a detailed description of the experiments, but those can be found in Lyubomirsky’s book references. My aim here is to give my reader a cognitive tool for increasing her happiness, since I have defended that achieving greater happiness is a good cognitive strategy.

Bostrom, N. 2004 The Future of Human Evolution. Death and Anti-Death: Two Hundred Years After Kant, Fifty Years After Turing, ed. Charles Tandy. Ria University Press. pp. 339-371. Available online: http://www.nickbostrom.com/fut/evolution.html

Diamond, J.1999. Guns Germs and Steel:The Fates of Human Societies. W.W. Norton & Co

Kahneman, D., Knetsch, J. L. & Thaler, R. H. (1991). Anomalies: The Endowment Effect, Loss Aversion, and Status Quo Bias. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 5, 1, pp. 193-206

Russell, B. 1930. Conquest of Happiness

Available online: http://russell.cool.ne.jp/beginner/COH-TEXT.HTM

Tegmark, M. 2000. The importance of quantum decoherence in brain processes IN Physics Review E61:4194-4206

Available online: http://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/9907009

Yudkowsky, E. 2009. Cognitive biases potentially affecting judgment of global risks IN Global Catastrophic Risks, eds. Nick Bostrom and Milan Cirkovic. Oxford

Available online: http://yudkowsky.net/rational/cognitive-biases