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On Media and Effective Altruism

What is the kind of distortion you should expect if you are interviewed or go through media as a representative of EA?  
Here is my response (I’d like to write a version of this writing for the Effective Altruism blog) 
 
I’ve been interviewed/covered since I was 10 in many media. So I may have something valuable to share with EA’s on media distortion. When young I was interviewed in school with some of the other kids, and I’d notice that the TV show would come to the school already knowing exactly what they wanted us to say. They’d basically tell the teacher what he should inquire us about or lecture about, and the teacher would do so. Later they would interview us making questions hardly related to the class they were supposed to be covering, and even these questions would later be cut into a few seconds of something they already knew to begin with. I noticed that even the news part of TV is not news back then, it is pre-arranged fake reality. 
 
As an arrogant young teenager I refused giving further interviews when I was about 14, and I’d leave class if it was being filmed for some reason. 
 
Sometimes though you want to be filmed for some ulterior purpose. This happened to me when a movie director and producer came to me asking whether I would think it is a good idea that she made a documentary about me. More specifically, a documentary about the fact that I wanted to be cryopreserved when I died, “Diego Wants to Live Forever”. I was shocked and felt unsure about it. I sat down and told her I can only decide later on. So I asked people what they would do on Lesswrong, the World’s greatest rationality blog: 
 
I didn’t want to be filmed for filming sake. But there were ideas I could promote through the film, discussion of the Technological Singularity, Transhumanism, Immortalism, all topics unheard of in my native Brazil. Slowly those could be turned into discussion of GWWC and other Effective Altruist organizations as well, later. So all things considered I choose for it. The movie is yet to be released since it grew from a 15 to a 60 minutes documentary. The one thing I kept in mind throughout is that if my goal was to self promote, the movie would be terrible, since being a cryonicist in a christian country where no one else is makes you look completely insane. If I wanted to promote those ideas, I’d pay a price in my image, but attracting new interested people to those memes that surround cryonics (not to cryonics itself, I have no interest in promoting it) seemed to be worthy. If someone wants to interview you or film you, always consider it a personal image sacrifice for a cause, and see if the cause is worthy enough. You’ll never be depicted as you’d like to be. If you are not the writer, then the goal of the media is not your goal, check trade-offs carefully. 
 
After that I was featured on a TED talk. TED is libertarian media so they actually let you do what you came to do, and help you improve. The purpose of the TED@ event was to select people for TED global 2013. No one from my country got selected, but that didn’t matter, because the topic on which I spoke, Effective Altruism, got selected. TED curators are smart, and they had no reason to pick me over anyone to talk on TED Global about Effective Altruism, they did what they should, and invited Peter Singer to speak on behalf of the movement. Some media can really help you achieve your goals, specially if your goals don’t mind whether you are present or not, nearly always the case with Effective Altruism. If the media that wants you is TED like, go for it and don’t worry, they are there to help you. 
 
Later on were my so called 15 seconds of fame. This time I knew the distortion would be drastic, uncanny, absurd. The worlds second largest TV network (Globo) wanted to interview me for their Sunday show, the most viewed one. At the same time, Record, a smaller TV network was going to broadcast an interview with me. Basically, 40 million people would see me on TV. This is a massive amount of people, and I knew nothing I said could be immune from distortion, you don’t get to be the second worldwide without some manipulation skills. The interview was again related to the one thing I don’t want to get people’s attention to, cryonics. A man’s body was being held in the country due to a legal fight between sisters, since he wanted to be cryopreserved and only the daughter who lived with him wanted to send him to Cryonics Institute. That is what the media wants, they want to see half sisters fighting over a dead frozen body, that’s what gets most eyeballs, and I was a side dish given I’m the only Brazilian actually signed up for cryonics. 
 
Not long before I had found my memetic child, http://www.ierfh.org, an Effective Altruism/Transhumanism promoter institute, we were growing and producing a lot. Our purpose was broadcasting, and there would never be a chance of broadcasting the right things for 40 milion people. The question in my mind was, was it worth it to broadcast the wrong things?
 
I decided in favor of it. I tried to negotiate with the reporters so that my name would appear as “IERFH’s director” somehow. Something, a tiny tiny thing, that could connect that whole tragic comedy they wanted to broadcast as news to my actually serious work related to things I actually cared about. Of course this was to no avail. The major network displayed specifically the name they promised they wouldn’t (what am I going to do, sue a company worth tens of billions?) and the other one didn’t do what I asked, but at least also not the exact opposite. 

 

I had done my homework, I wrote a piece on cryonics connecting it to Transhumanism to attract those who googled about me or cryonics or both. The bridge was there. We paid Google ads to show up on top on Google for a few days. If there were similar mind’s we would lure them into talking to us and collaborating. I learned that 40 million is a massive number of people. It is so massive that though I nearly didn’t appear in one channel, and none of the links that I wanted them to provide were there, dozens of people came to me or to us in the next few days. Few had something to offer or knew what they were talking about. but it has shown me the power of big numbers. When people say no press is bad press, it’s because when you have massive numbers, those at the curve’s tail can be helpful for you. If it’s big enough, I recommend you do it, regardless of distortion. It’s those who see through that matter most.  

 

But for most press related matters, numbers are more mundane, in the low thousands, and trying to forecast the trade-off is worth it. Sometimes it is better not to do it. The recent coverage of Effective Altruism by Rhys Southan (with a distorted title by someone else, but keep in mind not even your interviewer has complete control over his writing), is a good case in point. I invite you to use it as proxy for how much you are willing to be distorted. Here are the parts of his article that mention my name: 

From this point of view, the importance of most individual works of art would have to be negligible compared with, say, deworming 1,000 children. An idea often paraphrased in EA circles is that it doesn’t matter who does something – what matters is that it gets done. And though artists often pride themselves on the uniqueness of their individuality, it doesn’t follow that they have something uniquely valuable to offer society. On the contrary, says Diego Caleiro, director of the Brazil-based Institute for Ethics, Rationality and the Future of Humanity, most of them are ‘counterfactually replaceable’: one artist is as pretty much as useful as the next. And of course, the supply is plentiful.

 

‘We’re actually very stacked out with people who have good mathematic skills, good philosophy skills,’ Robert Wiblin, executive director of the Centre for Effective Altruism, told me. ‘I would really love to have some artists. We really need visual designers. It would be great to have people think about how Effective Altruism could be promoted through art.’ Aesthetic mavericks who anticipate long wilderness years of rejection and struggle, however, would seem to have little to contribute to the cause. Perhaps they should think about ditching their dreams for what Caleiro calls ‘an area with higher expected returns’.

And the next paragraphs are the content from which he drew them, about a 1/4 of the whole written interview (the rest was simply discarded), I don’t  want you to assume beforehand that I find his a very degrading or very uplifting change in what I said. I want you to see for what it actually is, so you can judge for yourself if you would do an interview if you were in my place, Our cluster of ideas, from Transhumanism and Singularity to Effective Altruism and X-Risk reduction are becoming mainstream by the day. You may have to face similar choices to those I did. Rhys was actually very interested and from my experience, he distorted quite a bit less than what is usually done, so take this as a below standard level of distortion: 

When I was originally going to write an article about effective altruism, it was going to be about earning to give. My one hesitation was that I felt like someone else could easily write a similar article about earning to give, and I worried that made my “replaceability” very high. (And it turns out it was — someone had already written such an article.) Do you find yourself applying the concept of “replaceability” to other aspects of your life? Like could you consider the replaceability of someone you’re dating and the marginal improvement of happiness they bring to your life compared to someone else you could be dating?

 

That is a great question because Love, as very few things in life, is exactly the kind of emotion in which you can’t apply the logic or replaceability, or as we philosophers call it, counterfactuals. A great part of what love is is valuing a relationship. A specific one relationship that is built over time. Most songs about love, as Marvin Minsky reminds us, are about how the loved one could become anything, even a dumb psycho crazy nutcrack, and we would still love them. There are things that counterfactual reasoning can’t buy. For all others, there is effective altruism.

I suspect artists will tend to resist the effective altruism idea: there seems to be no place for them within EA, unless they happen to already be very successful, in which case they can earn to give. Do aspiring artists who want to do art full time pretty much have to give up that dream and change courses if they want to become effective altruists?

Artists are fighting in red markets. The things they make dispute people’s attention, and there are way more things available to pay attention to then there is attention to be given. Nearly all artists are counterfactually replaceable. This is why you feel they have no space within the EA movement. What I find interesting is that most of the early effective altruists come from a philosophy background, and the exact same is true of philosophy. Nearly no one reads academic publications by philosophers, and the area is so disputed it is hardly the case that anyone who left the profession would leave a significant blank behind that no one else could fulfill. Even then the EA movement thrives among philosophers, we should expect that over time, artists will find similar unusual paths to either conciliate their interests, or else shift their perspectives.

And related to the previous question, one thing that effective altruism does is put things in perspective, and artists and other creators of various sorts won’t like the perspective EA provides: by judging actions based on how much they improve well-being and decrease harm, the works of art, comedy routines and so on that people create turn out not to be that important after all. Devoting years of your life to writing a novel, for instance — while many see this as noble in some way — seems to be a horribly inefficient way to make a positive difference. Is there a way to reconcile effective altruism with artists’ beliefs that their creations are worthwhile contributions?

The short answer is no. Something will have to give, either effective altruist artists shift their art to promote altruism, like some friends of mine are doing here in São Paulo, or they abandon the artistic field. Art is a noble pursuit, and it should always be the case that a small subset of humanity is pursuing artistic expression and interacting with the world in that way. But I don’t think it will ever be the case that this subset will become so small that it would actually be worth it, all things considered, to choose to become a novelist instead of an effective altruist in some other area with higher expected returns. Not because the value of art is any less than people believe it is, but just because it is infinitely easier to understand the value of art, than to understand the value of saving the lives of hundreds of people who live across the ocean, or across the century. When I say it explicitly it may not seem that way, but hundreds of millions of people are able to see the value of art, and only very few, less than one in a million, if you consider the entire world, have already understood how much good they can create by being as altruistic as possible.

This is it, make your decisions accordingly and keep in mind that the media is part of reality, in a sense, of nature, it is not good or bad intrinsically. It has it’s properties just like gravity, which can help or hinder, and if you want to use it, you have to understand those properties and be prepared for them. 

Anúncios

On Media and Effective Altruism

What is the kind of distortion you should expect if you are interviewed or go through media as a representative of EA?  
Here is my response (I’d like to write a version of this writing for the Effective Altruism blog) 
 
I’ve been interviewed/covered since I was 10 in many media. So I may have something valuable to share with EA’s on media distortion. When young I was interviewed in school with some of the other kids, and I’d notice that the TV show would come to the school already knowing exactly what they wanted us to say. They’d basically tell the teacher what he should inquire us about or lecture about, and the teacher would do so. Later they would interview us making questions hardly related to the class they were supposed to be covering, and even these questions would later be cut into a few seconds of something they already knew to begin with. I noticed that even the news part of TV is not news back then, it is pre-arranged fake reality. 
 
As an arrogant young teenager I refused giving further interviews when I was about 14, and I’d leave class if it was being filmed for some reason. 
 
Sometimes though you want to be filmed for some ulterior purpose. This happened to me when a movie director and producer came to me asking whether I would think it is a good idea that she made a documentary about me. More specifically, a documentary about the fact that I wanted to be cryopreserved when I died, “Diego Wants to Live Forever”. I was shocked and felt unsure about it. I sat down and told her I can only decide later on. So I asked people what they would do on Lesswrong, the World’s greatest rationality blog: 
 
I didn’t want to be filmed for filming sake. But there were ideas I could promote through the film, discussion of the Technological Singularity, Transhumanism, Immortalism, all topics unheard of in my native Brazil. Slowly those could be turned into discussion of GWWC and other Effective Altruist organizations as well, later. So all things considered I choose for it. The movie is yet to be released since it grew from a 15 to a 60 minutes documentary. The one thing I kept in mind throughout is that if my goal was to self promote, the movie would be terrible, since being a cryonicist in a christian country where no one else is makes you look completely insane. If I wanted to promote those ideas, I’d pay a price in my image, but attracting new interested people to those memes that surround cryonics (not to cryonics itself, I have no interest in promoting it) seemed to be worthy. If someone wants to interview you or film you, always consider it a personal image sacrifice for a cause, and see if the cause is worthy enough. You’ll never be depicted as you’d like to be. If you are not the writer, then the goal of the media is not your goal, check trade-offs carefully. 
 
After that I was featured on a TED talk. TED is libertarian media so they actually let you do what you came to do, and help you improve. The purpose of the TED@ event was to select people for TED global 2013. No one from my country got selected, but that didn’t matter, because the topic on which I spoke, Effective Altruism, got selected. TED curators are smart, and they had no reason to pick me over anyone to talk on TED Global about Effective Altruism, they did what they should, and invited Peter Singer to speak on behalf of the movement. Some media can really help you achieve your goals, specially if your goals don’t mind whether you are present or not, nearly always the case with Effective Altruism. If the media that wants you is TED like, go for it and don’t worry, they are there to help you. 
 
Later on were my so called 15 seconds of fame. This time I knew the distortion would be drastic, uncanny, absurd. The worlds second largest TV network (Globo) wanted to interview me for their Sunday show, the most viewed one. At the same time, Record, a smaller TV network was going to broadcast an interview with me. Basically, 40 million people would see me on TV. This is a massive amount of people, and I knew nothing I said could be immune from distortion, you don’t get to be the second worldwide without some manipulation skills. The interview was again related to the one thing I don’t want to get people’s attention to, cryonics. A man’s body was being held in the country due to a legal fight between sisters, since he wanted to be cryopreserved and only the daughter who lived with him wanted to send him to Cryonics Institute. That is what the media wants, they want to see half sisters fighting over a dead frozen body, that’s what gets most eyeballs, and I was a side dish given I’m the only Brazilian actually signed up for cryonics. 
 
Not long before I had found my memetic child, http://www.ierfh.org, an Effective Altruism/Transhumanism promoter institute, we were growing and producing a lot. Our purpose was broadcasting, and there would never be a chance of broadcasting the right things for 40 milion people. The question in my mind was, was it worth it to broadcast the wrong things?
 
I decided in favor of it. I tried to negotiate with the reporters so that my name would appear as “IERFH’s director” somehow. Something, a tiny tiny thing, that could connect that whole tragic comedy they wanted to broadcast as news to my actually serious work related to things I actually cared about. Of course this was to no avail. The major network displayed specifically the name they promised they wouldn’t (what am I going to do, sue a company worth tens of billions?) and the other one didn’t do what I asked, but at least also not the exact opposite. 

I had done my homework, I wrote a piece on cryonics connecting it to Transhumanism to attract those who googled about me or cryonics or both. The bridge was there. We paid Google ads to show up on top on Google for a few days. If there were similar mind’s we would lure them into talking to us and collaborating. I learned that 40 million is a massive number of people. It is so massive that though I nearly didn’t appear in one channel, and none of the links that I wanted them to provide were there, dozens of people came to me or to us in the next few days. Few had something to offer or knew what they were talking about. but it has shown me the power of big numbers. When people say no press is bad press, it’s because when you have massive numbers, those at the curve’s tail can be helpful for you. If it’s big enough, I recommend you do it, regardless of distortion. It’s those who see through that matter most.  

But for most press related matters, numbers are more mundane, in the low thousands, and trying to forecast the trade-off is worth it. Sometimes it is better not to do it. The recent coverage of Effective Altruism by Rhys Southan (with a distorted title by someone else, but keep in mind not even your interviewer has complete control over his writing), is a good case in point. I invite you to use it as proxy for how much you are willing to be distorted. Here are the parts of his article that mention my name: 

From this point of view, the importance of most individual works of art would have to be negligible compared with, say, deworming 1,000 children. An idea often paraphrased in EA circles is that it doesn’t matter who does something – what matters is that it gets done. And though artists often pride themselves on the uniqueness of their individuality, it doesn’t follow that they have something uniquely valuable to offer society. On the contrary, says Diego Caleiro, director of the Brazil-based Institute for Ethics, Rationality and the Future of Humanity, most of them are ‘counterfactually replaceable’: one artist is as pretty much as useful as the next. And of course, the supply is plentiful.

 

‘We’re actually very stacked out with people who have good mathematic skills, good philosophy skills,’ Robert Wiblin, executive director of the Centre for Effective Altruism, told me. ‘I would really love to have some artists. We really need visual designers. It would be great to have people think about how Effective Altruism could be promoted through art.’ Aesthetic mavericks who anticipate long wilderness years of rejection and struggle, however, would seem to have little to contribute to the cause. Perhaps they should think about ditching their dreams for what Caleiro calls ‘an area with higher expected returns’.

And the next paragraphs are the content from which he drew them, about a 1/4 of the whole written interview (the rest was simply discarded), I don’t  want you to assume beforehand that I find his a very degrading or very uplifting change in what I said. I want you to see for what it actually is, so you can judge for yourself if you would do an interview if you were in my place, Our cluster of ideas, from Transhumanism and Singularity to Effective Altruism and X-Risk reduction are becoming mainstream by the day. You may have to face similar choices to those I did. Rhys was actually very interested and from my experience, he distorted quite a bit less than what is usually done, so take this as a below standard level of distortion: 

When I was originally going to write an article about effective altruism, it was going to be about earning to give. My one hesitation was that I felt like someone else could easily write a similar article about earning to give, and I worried that made my “replaceability” very high. (And it turns out it was — someone had already written such an article.) Do you find yourself applying the concept of “replaceability” to other aspects of your life? Like could you consider the replaceability of someone you’re dating and the marginal improvement of happiness they bring to your life compared to someone else you could be dating?

 

That is a great question because Love, as very few things in life, is exactly the kind of emotion in which you can’t apply the logic or replaceability, or as we philosophers call it, counterfactuals. A great part of what love is is valuing a relationship. A specific one relationship that is built over time. Most songs about love, as Marvin Minsky reminds us, are about how the loved one could become anything, even a dumb psycho crazy nutcrack, and we would still love them. There are things that counterfactual reasoning can’t buy. For all others, there is effective altruism.

I suspect artists will tend to resist the effective altruism idea: there seems to be no place for them within EA, unless they happen to already be very successful, in which case they can earn to give. Do aspiring artists who want to do art full time pretty much have to give up that dream and change courses if they want to become effective altruists?

Artists are fighting in red markets. The things they make dispute people’s attention, and there are way more things available to pay attention to then there is attention to be given. Nearly all artists are counterfactually replaceable. This is why you feel they have no space within the EA movement. What I find interesting is that most of the early effective altruists come from a philosophy background, and the exact same is true of philosophy. Nearly no one reads academic publications by philosophers, and the area is so disputed it is hardly the case that anyone who left the profession would leave a significant blank behind that no one else could fulfill. Even then the EA movement thrives among philosophers, we should expect that over time, artists will find similar unusual paths to either conciliate their interests, or else shift their perspectives.

And related to the previous question, one thing that effective altruism does is put things in perspective, and artists and other creators of various sorts won’t like the perspective EA provides: by judging actions based on how much they improve well-being and decrease harm, the works of art, comedy routines and so on that people create turn out not to be that important after all. Devoting years of your life to writing a novel, for instance — while many see this as noble in some way — seems to be a horribly inefficient way to make a positive difference. Is there a way to reconcile effective altruism with artists’ beliefs that their creations are worthwhile contributions?

The short answer is no. Something will have to give, either effective altruist artists shift their art to promote altruism, like some friends of mine are doing here in São Paulo, or they abandon the artistic field. Art is a noble pursuit, and it should always be the case that a small subset of humanity is pursuing artistic expression and interacting with the world in that way. But I don’t think it will ever be the case that this subset will become so small that it would actually be worth it, all things considered, to choose to become a novelist instead of an effective altruist in some other area with higher expected returns. Not because the value of art is any less than people believe it is, but just because it is infinitely easier to understand the value of art, than to understand the value of saving the lives of hundreds of people who live across the ocean, or across the century. When I say it explicitly it may not seem that way, but hundreds of millions of people are able to see the value of art, and only very few, less than one in a million, if you consider the entire world, have already understood how much good they can create by being as altruistic as possible.

This is it, make your decisions accordingly and keep in mind that the media is part of reality, in a sense, of nature, it is not good or bad intrinsically. It has it’s properties just like gravity, which can help or hinder, and if you want to use it, you have to understand those properties and be prepared for them. 

O Fim do Brainstormers?

Caros colegas do Brainstormers, obrigado pela participação ao longo desses cinco anos, nos divertimos muito juntos, discutindo como sobreviver nesses muitos mundos simplificados matemáticos éticos e confusos.

Alguns de nós fundaram o http://www.ierfh.org  um instituto onde discutiremos as questões que vinhamos discutindo aqui além de dar apresentações e organizar eventos como a 1a Jornada Transhumanista ocorrida na última sexta.

Em breve, o instituto terá seu próprio blog, onde interagiremos com o Público.

Durante nossa formação na USP, em diversos institutos, compartilhamos nossas reflexões com vocês sobre tópicos nunca antes discutidos na USP.

Como o Blog é de 9 pessoas, não garanto que esse seja seu fim.

 

Observações sobre o comportamento sexual das pessoas

Por conta de estar solteiro, tenho feito muitas observações sobre o comportamento de seleção sexual e corte das pessoas a minha volta. E tenho de dizer que os acho na sua maioria muito estranhos, e o modo como são irracionais e ineficientes em produzir resultados satisfatórios me angustia.

Acho que muitas pessoas tem uma visão muito distorcida destes processos, baseada em concepções idealizadas de como as coisas deveriam ocorrer (a pessoa certa, o príncipe encantado, “beleza é relativo”, casamentos perfeitos, etc). Vou expor então como acho que as coisas de fato ocorrem. Estou deliberadamente misturando conhecimentos mais científicos com constatações mais pessoais.

As bases do comportamento sexual são instintivas, como é o caso da maioria das espécies vivas, os machos humanos, por terem gametas pequenos e móveis, tem mais sucesso reprodutivo fecundando a maior quantidade possível de fêmeas viáveis reprodutivamente, enquanto estas, por terem o gameta grande e nutritivo e nos mamíferos uma gestação longa e custosa, ficam naturalmente com o fardo de garantir a sobrevivência da cria, e tem a necessidade de buscar tanto um macho com boa qualidade reprodutiva e de sobrevivência, como um bom provedor para fornecer os recursos para criar seus filhos (que pode ou não ser o mesmo indivíduo).

Curiosamente o comportamento sexual parece se dividir entre o comportamento de interação sexual casual e o comportamento de busca de relacionamentos estáveis. A interação sexual casual é dominada por sentimentos de atração, que são provocados pela ativação de certos gatilhos emocionais em resposta a sinais específicos; as mulheres parecem ser estimuladas principalmente por sinais de dominância e competência sexual e social, enquanto os homens são mais por características físicas e sensoriais. A busca de relacionamento é dominada por critérios um pouco menos superficiais, como segurança, estabilidade, comprometimento afetivo e posse de recursos.

Acho que na grande maioria dos meios sociais os homens tem o papel ativo de escolher entre as mulheres aquela que lhe parece mais atraente e abordá-la e conquistá-la, enquanto as mulheres tem o papel passivo de selecionar entre os homens que as abordam e controlar o que querem com cada um.

Quero chamar atenção para o fato de que o mercado sexual (este contexto de busca e oferta de parceiros, interações e relacionamentos) é injusto, ineficiente e tem incentivos perversos.

* É injusto: A maior parte dos principais caracteres valorizados na seleção sexual não tem muito mérito pessoal e são em grande parte de origem genética (o que faz sentido pensando na sua razão de ser): altura, porte físico, extroversão, agressividade, inteligência, forma e tamanho de partes do corpo, propensão a acúmulo de gordura, características sexuais masculinas e femininas são caracteres com grande componente genético, e distribuídos de forma bastante desigual na população. Claramente há pessoas muito mais valorizadas sexualmente do que outras, a distribuição é desigual como qualquer outra característica. Há diversidade e variação de gostos, mas há tendências claras favorecendo alguns padrões.

* É ineficiente: As estratégias de seleção frequentemente levam a parceirias insatisfatórias para uma ou ambas as partes, muitas pessoas sistematicamente procuram e se atraem por parceiros que são incompatíveis com suas personalidades, ambições ou estilos de vida e tem relacionamentos conturbados e infelizes.

* Tem incentivos perversos: As estratégias e sinais de seleção de parceiros incentivam práticas indesejáveis, como desonestidade (esconder atributos indesejáveis e mentir ou dissimular sobre os atraentes, fingir interesse ou escondê-lo, dar falsas perspectivas de um relacionamento, de exclusividade e de fidelidade), superficialidade (ênfase em disputas de status baseadas em sinais de valor de baixa confiabilidade ou curta duração, como modas, aparências e especulações), agressividade (pela seleção de parceiros mais dominantes), objetificação sexual feminina (pela supervalorização de atributos físicos), promiscuidade e traição (pela seleção dos parceiros mais sexualmente competitivos).

É possível se definir a atratividade sexual de uma pessoa pela sua atratividade média na população em questão, assim, uma pessoa ou uma característica que é atraente para muitas pessoas pode ser dita mais atraente. Pessoas tendem a se relacionar com pessoas de atratividade semelhante, isso se deve ao processo de seleção sexual, e a instabilidade maior de relacionamentos com diferença grande de atratividade.

Além disso, a atratividade sexual de uma pessoa tem diversas implicações sobre seu sucesso social, opções e estilo de vida. Pessoas sexualmente atraentes tendem a ascender socialmente, pois são puxadas para cima pelas pessoas que as desejam, as querem por perto ou se relacionam com elas compartilhando seus recursos. Pessoas sexualmente atraentes tem mais opções de emprego, mais parceiros sexuais, e creio eu mais poder e acesso a recursos em geral. Esta percepção de status as leva a optarem por ambições, valores, meios sociais e opções profissionais específicas. Curiosamente, as pessoas menos atraentes tem de vencer na vida por outros meios, a acabam sendo incentivadas a desenvolver outras habilidades. Então, embora as pessoas mais atraentes tenham mais acesso a recursos que permitem seu desenvolvimento, também podem ter um contraincentivo a se desenvolver em outros aspectos por ter uma vida facilitada.

Os papéis sexuais e as diferenças de atratividade também criam injustiça e desigualdades sociais na medida que favorecem discriminação social a favor das pessoas mais atraentes em muitas situações nas quais não deveriam ser relevantes, favorecem a dominância masculina (pelo incentivo que os homens tem em estabelecer dominância social e sexual e em competições arbitrárias) e a objetificação da mulher e seu favorecimento em receber recursos (o que atua como um desincentivo a sua autonomia).

Devido à grande vantagem que a atratividade sexual proporciona, ela é um bem posicional que é disputado em muitos meios sociais; é comum ver competição de dominância sexual entre mulheres (principalmente com beleza e roupas), e entre homens (varia bastante, mas frequentemente por porte físico, riqueza, agressividade, inteligência, …); estas disputas às vezes tomam formas bastante específicas e exdrúxulas (mais do que cantos de passarinhos e lutas de chifres) como esportes, política, artes e competição intelectual.

Além das inúmeras coisas infelizes que já expus, o processo de corte e relacionamento tem numerosos conflitos de interesses que criam jogos e disputas; o processo de aproximação sexual tem uma tensão de exposição em que cada um vai mostrando pouco a pouco suas cartas a fim de mostrar que tem qualidade tão boa quanto o outro, ao mesmo tempo que tentam ocultar seus pontos negativos (quando podem); há também um problema de sinalização de interesse, sinalizar mais interesse e necessidade do outro traz desvantagem pois tira seu poder de negociação sobre os termos da relação, cria subordinação, o que sinaliza baixo status. Investir no outro e se comprometer cria um conflito interno pois aumenta a chance de se machucar ao ser rejeitado, ou de perder muito ao se decepcionar, ou de se perder oportunidades com outras pessoas que possam aparecer. As mulheres tem um conflito a mais principalmente em relação a relacionamentos casuais que é o de se expor socialmente como promíscua, que é altamente desvalorizado em boa parte dos meios, o que faz com que sejam mais inibidas sexualmente. Após o estabelecimento do relacionamento frequentemente há disputas por dominância entre quem toma decisões, disputas por atenção, comprometimento emocional e outros recursos, disputas de insegurança e dominação para estabelecer fidelidade e compromisso, entre outras. Isso para não falar de quando há filhos e dinheiro envolvido. Estas disputas podem ser intensificadas ou não dependendo do modo como o casal lida com elas e com a diferença de status envolvido, quanto maior a diferença mais fácil é de um predominar naquela disputa.

Devido a estes conflitos e jogos, as pessoas criam estratégias de investimento, ataque e defesas, que demandam estratégias de resposta da outra parte e criam uma corrida armamentista do mal. Como vivemos numa sociedade competitiva e com algumas pessoas hostis e aproveitadoras, as pessoas geralmente tem muitas defesas. Então elas bebem para diminuir suas defesas, o que também prejudica seu senso de avaliação e as deixa mais impulsivas e propensas a tomar decisões ruins. Quantas pessoas procuram e começam seus relacionamentos por intermédio de álcool? (calma, não estou dizendo que seu relacionamento é ruim, apenas que é triste que a sociedade precise disso)

Minha conclusão é de que no aspecto sexual as pessoas são muito irracionais, e pela minha experiência adverti-las é pouco eficaz, abordagens mais racionais não costumam funcionar devido ao forte aspecto emocional e muitas vezes pouco consciente das questões envolvidas, incluindo a atração. De maneira que é um aspecto que temos de nos conformar em algum grau, e tentar lidar da maneira mais prática e menos danosa possível, o que é bem complicado. =(

What Does Make a Difference? It’s Really Simple

This is really simple:
Suppose you want to check if some action of yours makes a difference.
How to do it?
The wrong thing to do:
Think of the consequences of your action and evaluate them to see if they fit your purposes. If they do, go on and do it.

The reason for this being wrong: If someone else does something with the same consequences, and if your doing or not your action makes no difference to the fact that THAT person will do it, then you are not necessary for those consequences, they would happen anyway.
This is also true if something, not a person, would do an action with the same consequences.

The right thing to do: Consider what would happen if you DIDN’T do your action. Subtract that from what would happen if you DID do your action.
This is the difference it would make if you did it.

There is a reason it is called a ‘difference’, it is the difference between you doing it and you not doing it.

Example: Suppose you think you will make a difference by carefully considering your vote, and voting.

Wrong: Well, I’m partially causally responsible for the election of X so my action would make a difference.

Right: If I do vote or if I don’t vote, the same candidates will be elected. Therefore my vote makes no difference.
(In more than 16000 elections in the USA it was NEVER the case that one vote would have made a difference)

The AWFUL argument people usually say: But what if everyone did it?

The reason it does not work: Everyone will NOT do it. Yes. That simple.

The reason it is awful: Compare “I don’t think I should go to the movies today, what if everione did it?”

So, when you are willing to make a difference, not feel good, not do what everyone does, not clean your consciousness. When you want to REALLY, REALLY make a difference, you should consider the difference between doing and not doing it.

It is that simple.

Why haven’t intelligent people taken over the world?

(Publiquei este post em português no meu blog)

Let’s suppose a few hypothesis:

1) There are people who are very, very, VERY intelligent in the world.

2) The human civilization doesn’t look so let’s say…  very well organized, it seems like there are important human beings doing stupid things.

3) A fraction of the very intelligent people are also ambitious AND have strong opinions about how the world should be AND care enough to do something about it.

Hence my question is: Why is the world not regularly dominated by very intelligent people???

Ok, I admit that it is a somewhat bizarre question, but I really mean it, and I will try to justify myself.

First, what do I mean by dominating the world?
Domination means that you are able to make your will prevail over others. It doesn’t have to happen by force, far from it, it is enough that one can handle the situation to his side. Dominating the world assumes that someone (or some group) can achieve such a degree of superiority of power that is able to subvert the whole political established hierarchy. This seems to be VERY difficult, as I suppose that the closer you get to dominating the world, the more competent are your competitors aiming for the same purpose (or any other purpose which is incompatible with yours). That is, to take over and keep the power you have to find a way to win, eliminate, or avoid the elite of the political power in the world.

Why would anyone want to dominate the world?
To impose your will. And why would anyone want this? Well, this is a psychological matter. I suppose that it could be to satisfy an insatiable ego, a huge will to power, magnify one’s own image or by a very strong feeling of revenge, which is nonetheless also an imposition of one’s self on others. These motivations would be psychopathic. A more rational motivation could be for an ethical duty, well, it is true that the notion of duty is not rational, but I mean it would be a more objective conduct, to dominate in order to actualize goodness (whatever one understands by goodness…).


Why would anyone need to dominate the world?
Because the traditional social means may not be enough for what you want; for the most common political organizations requires that in order to gain power someone should gather admirers and trust in those who are in control of stabilishing your rank (whether the population or a political aristocracy). This route has many disadvantages, it commits the applicant to the interests of his political supporters (actually sharing his power with them), requires him to maintain a demagogic persona (social image) that somehow motivate or justify his position, and blatantly exposes him to all who might be interested in taking his rank or who oppose his policies to act against him, to overthrow him or simply kill. That is why someone would want to dominate the world through alternative means – which need not be by force (violence), I believe there probably are other ways.

Why someone would have to be intelligent to dominate the world?
Well, it is important to emphasize that I am not talking about a merely academic intelligence, I’m talking about a person with high cognitive ability in many areas, one who is able to face difficult problems of pratically any nature, from metaphysical questions, to social manipulation, to juggling gelatin.
Therefore, I think this would be the most important capacity in order to try to dominate the world because someone in this condition could try to understand and solve any problems that could appear, no matter if he/she was not particularly good at it.

How it would be like if intelligent people dominated the world?
It’s hard to answer, but we would live in noocracy, a government of the wise, or initially a geniocracy, since I am considering that on or a few geniuses would take over the power.  I suppose intelligent people would be better able to solve the major problems of society and to create efficient policies, they would have a more realistic, deep and complete understanding of the social functioning, have ethical concerns and a well-developed ethical system, and would be able to separate their personal interests of those of humanity.
Unfortunately some of these assumptions would probably not materialize.
There is still a complicated issue of how to represent the ethical and political values of the population, which is one of the greatest values of democracy. This would be an additional problem to be solved.


Isn’t the desire to dominate the world a childish, narcisistic and megalomaniac attitude based on a simplistic conception of society?
Hmmm… maybe. But would that really prevent people from dominating the world?

Assuming then that the main questions have been clarified:
Why is that the world is not regularly dominated by very intelligent people???

The answer doesn’t seems obvious. I will consider several possibilities:

1) The world has already been dominated by intelligent people and I was the only one who did not notice.
Well, this answer is either a denial of my second premise (that the world does not work very well), or the defense that even though intelligent people have dominated the world, these beings are not able to make it work in a way that seems adequate or worse, they are not interested in that.
This argument is quite similar to the Epicurean argument against the existence of God: if God wants to be good and is not able he is impotent, if he can but does not want he is malevolent, if he cannot and doesn’t want he shouldn’t be called God.
I shall divide this possibility in two:

1.1) The world has been dominated by intelligent people, but they can’t do the trick.
This is possible, but unlikely. However, given my lack of information about the occurrence of exceptional intelligence in ranks of high power, I will assume they probably are in positions of lower public exposition ( “illuminati”? O_O). If it is that so, why is that they cannot do deal with the problem? Is the dynamics of society, politics and the economy so uncontrollable? After all, remember that we are talking about people who were able to dominate the world! Why is it that they could not manage it efficiently? They don’t have enough critical mass? There would exist too much disagreement between them? It seems more likely to just reduce this position to a more usual view that whoever is controlling the powerful society are not as intelligent or competent as we are talking about. In other words, this position denies the first postulate.

1.2) The world has been dominated by intelligent people, but they are not concerned with organizing it, they are worried about other things.
This seems somewhat more likely. But why? In my view, a very intelligent person who has been able to dominate the world should have serious concerns about which direction to take. After all, has he dominated for what? Is it that ethics really does not necessarily lead to a social administration other than that we see today? Does intelligence not necessarily lead to ethical concerns? What are the motivations of these people then? Is it a fact that power corrupts people and that as soon as someone gets in a high position, this person gets overwhelmed by their instinctive and selfish desires?


Certainly in human history very intelligent great leaders have made to the high power and we can analyze the diversity of their behavior in order to see their profile, their motivations and what was their end, i.e. why they were unable to keep the power under the same ideals. So this question remains unanswered: What were the motivations of the great intelligent powerful men of the past?


Possibly the paths that lead someone to power do not usually lead people to deeper ethical concerns. Perhaps these men have been primarily busy with more immediate concerns, as their next conquests and maintaining their own power, without thinking much on a larger scale. After all, ruling empires sounds like an awful lot of work.

2) The world has not been dominated by intelligent people.
Well, this is my main proposal. And why is that the world has not been dominated?

2.1) Intelligent people are not able to dominate the world.
I think this is the best answer. And the main evidence is the lack of competence of the resistance movements throughout the world, even under the most ideologically hostile and absurd conditions.
We could remember the case of the Soviet Union under Stalin, or Nazi Germany. The number of attempted attacks, organized resistance movements and counter-revolutions in history seems to be modestly small in addition to being little effective. Taking into account that a revolution is a great opportunity to change the order of things, for a group to take the power and establish their political ideals, it seems that in fact, what is lacking is the competence (hypothesis 1 must be false in this sense).

And why this lack of competence?
I think it’s because the intelligent people usually have some characteristics that prevent them from being politically effective: they are either insecure, or undisciplined, or impractical, or unrealistic, or not politically skilled, or intransigent, or competitive, or disorganized in excess. Just look at most of the student movements and intellectual groups. This goes a little in the line of thought of a quote from Russell:

“The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
Bertrand Russell, Education and the Social Order (1932) Bertrand Russell, Education and the Social Order (1932)

Possibly the life paths of growing up and the personality of intelligent people does not help them to develop so many skills and intellectual and political motivations at the same time.

On the other hand, there were in the history of mankind, some situations in which one or more very intelligent people took over the power. Why were they unable to keep the power in the hands of other intelligent people? Why is the power of intelligent people not stable? Is it that they haven’t had this concern? Is it that their motivations did not favor them to pass the power to other intelligent people? Or they simply could not find successors up to their height? After all, finding suitable successors is not an easy problem.

Perhaps the problem is too difficult for one or even a few humans, to take over the world and still administrate humanity is a too hard job. This also seems quite reasonable. After all, for this purpose humanity is divided into hundreds of thousands of government functions and ranks. I certainly would not expect that they could control everything, just give the main guidelines. But anyway it is a reasonable possibility. Perhaps the problem is a mixture of lack of intelligence, number of people and organization. Interestingly this seems to be feasible. Hum….


Then there is also the possibility that our society is somehow protected against the domination of the intelligent. As if our society was constituted so that whenever someone very clever has this idea and decides to do something about it, it is quickly detected and eliminated (or perhaps distracted by an intellectual problem which will occupy his entire productive life and will not cause anything useful). This strikes me as too conspiratorial for my tastes.

2.2) Intelligent people do not want to take over the world.
Finally, perhaps the intelligent people are not so interested or motivated to take over the world.
After all, these people are supposedly perfectly capable of making themselves a very good life in today’s world, so it is just not worth trying to dominate the world. This is consistent with the view that rational people do whatever is advantageous for them, which usually does not involve caring so much with others.
In addition, dominating the world takes a lot of work, is very dangerous, and probably requires the rest of your life, if you eventually succeed.
It neither seems to be psychologically advantageous:
Unless you have a tremendous disturbance of an obsession with your ego or ethics, I think intelligent people get sufficient reward in activities far more feasible, in particular, most intellectuals are very happy discussing ideas, reading and writing and have no megalomaniac intentions.

Conclusions:
1.2) Intelligent people who achieves power do not usually worry too much about great ethical issues.
2.1) Intelligent people often have personality traits that prevent coming to power.
2.2) And the intelligent people who could come to power are probably not very interested.
And 2.1 again) If by chance there are people interested, they are in insufficient quantities to manage it, because the problem is so very hard …
Anyway, c’est la vie.

But a question remains, why isn’t the permanence of intelligent people in the power stable? Once a government of intelligent people is established, why can’t it keep its quality? Doesn’t these people usually have a strategic vision for this issue? Or is it that difficult to get suitable successors?

The problem with psychoanalysis

(Publiquei este post em português no meu blog)

Psychoanalysis has always intrigued me, since my first contact with it at high school until now that I feel able to contextualize it and compare it among the other mind sciences. There is no doubt that it is a controversial issue, both in terms of theory, methodology and practice; people seem to have a reaction somewhat skeptical and mocking to the idea that we can have incestuous desires (unconscious) towards our parents, that a good model of psychotherapy consists basically saying “tell me more about this” or that someone is in need to face repressed feelings.

I must say however that I think that psychoanalysis should be taken seriously. The main reason for this is because I believe in the reality of its subject matter, I think we have strong evidence that the unconscious, the meaning of dreams, repression, hypnosis, defense mechanisms, personality disorders, neurotic symptoms are real phenomena, and they are not so satisfactorily explained by other theories. Psychoanalysis seems to be the only theory (along with its variants) that attempts to broadly explain how our emotional and symbolic representations are made in the face of problems that life imposes us, how they shape our personality and influence our behavior, and their implications on the nature of our mental apparatus, our identity and culture and society in general.

However, one must have great caution when reading Freud and his followers, not because they were careless investigators (I think Freud had a fairly good level of scientific rigor), but because they lived at a time when our knowledge about the brain and human evolution were still very, very primary, so that there was no way to know clearly what kind of structures, mechanisms and functions (physiological and adaptive) were implemented the human brain, and all they could do was to guess. But even with all faith in the projects of neuroscience and evolutionary psychology, I still think that psychoanalysis maintains its explanatory niche, to describe, explain and analyze how do symbolic representations form, what is their dynamics and how they are related to the contents of consciousness. I also have serious doubts whether such phenomena could be studied in such depth in any way other than the analysis of individual discourse.

Unfortunately, psychoanalysis seems to have lagged a little in time. Freud and his followers were not as successful in creating a science as tthey were in creating a professional sect, as well as several other schools of psychology, and instead of focusing on checking, testing, grounding and confirming the originally proposed thesis, incorporating new findings from other sciences, dismissing unverifiable theories, psychoanalysts were happy to read the founders and follow them orthodoxically. So that instead of having progress, and becoming a robust body of theory, open and integrated with the rest of human knowledge, it degenerated, became more hermetic, obscure and obsolete.

I have the feeling that something went terribly wrong. Psychoanalysts do not seem to have inherited the investigative spirit of Freud, probing, feeling, experimenting and describing the form of the subjective structures; they seem to me much more in the position of mere observers, comfortable to seek confirmation of their beliefs; psychoanalysis seems to have become a mystical game like astrology or tarot and the psychoanalysts excited about their cultural status and distinctiveness are deliriously playing with metaphors and concepts of doubtful reality while forgetting that they are supposedly talking about a very concrete object: the human psychic apparatus, how does the psyche in every individual of our species in fact works.

I’m sad to see the contempt that the neuroscience community has towards psychoanalysis, which is increasingly taken as pseudosciencientific. I think there is much to be lost here, psychoanalysis loses by ignoring a paradigm that should ground it, and neurosciences loses by ignoring the fine symbolic structure that relates it to the representations of consciousness, feelings and language. The responsibility for this situation as I see it is from both, but primarily of the psychoanalysts who do not show interest to test their hypotheses, formulating them clearly and structuring their theories in a formal way.

One of the great difficulties of psychoanalysis in my opinion is its linguistic imprecision, and since it apparently is not derived from the inability of its authors, I interpret it to be some kind of defense mechanism that protects an insecure self-esteem with a pedantic obscurantism because it fears that clear and assertive claims may expose them to be refuted as any ordinary science. Of course, a true precise statement, on the other hand, is much useful and valuable.

Therefore, in defense of my thesis that psychoanalysis is valuable as a science of the psychic symbolic domain, I will propose some statements that I judge to be significant, reasonably falsifiable, and that as far as I know are in good agreement with the conventional psychoanalytic theory. In particular, I think many of them are susceptible to neuroimaging testing, behavioral experiments and simple practical tests, of course, accompanied by a good statistical analysis:

– The conscious mental life is regulated by a system that restricts or blocks access to certain representations of strong emotional or moral negative meaning.

– Representations “pushed out” of consciousness have a more difficult voluntary access (resistance) to consciousness. Note: There are similar documented cases in patients with anosognosia.

– Symbolic conflicts and blockages may have consequences on the voluntary motor mobility (hysteria).

– Episodic representations are often associated to emotional evaluations (liking, disliking, aversion, disgust, expectation, frustration, humiliation, exaltation, etc.) that influences their conscious accessibility.

– Representations associated with similar emotional evaluations often associate, the evocation of one spontaneously bringing or facilitating access to another. The free association method often reveals this kind of association.

– Unreachable representations (repressed) are often associated with others, transfering its emotional value to them when they usually don’t seem to have a specific reason for that value. The recall of the inaccessible representation should destroy this emotional displacement.

– Emotional intensity during recall is relevant to the relief of symptoms (catharsis).

– The content of dreams often express unconscious desires transfigured in metaphor and metonymy.

– Recent traumatic episodes often cause initial little transfigured dreams. This should increase as the individual re-signify their experience better integrating the memory of the episode with the rest of his/her life.

– The pattern of relationship with the mother, especially in childhood, shapes a model that strongly influences on later intimate relationships of individuals, which often repeat similar patterns (Oedipus complex). John Bowlby developed this idea in his theory of attachment. Perhaps neuroimaging studies would be interesting.

– Moral repression done by the parents is the basis for the individual’s own repression over the moral contents of consciousness (superego).

– There is a sexual energy (libido) that can be released in several ways, of which the sexual act is usually one of the most efficient, but could also be released by other pleasurable activities.

– There should be typical expected behaviors at each stage of psychosexual development according to the symbolic issues involved (Freud).

– Defense mechanisms (Anna Freud) and their triggers, and their ontogenetic determinants (repression, denial, rationalization, projection, idealization, fantasy, dissociation, etc. …).

– Prediction of neurotic symptoms based on personality characteristics of the patient.

– Prognosis of symptoms based on the type of issues addressed in therapy and personality type.