Monday, September 05, 2005

More on Horizons... the roots of sympathy

First some items:

This is simply stunning, if true. Miracle mouse' can grow back lost limbs ““We have experimented with amputating or damaging several different organs, such as the heart, toes, tail and ears, and just watched them regrow,” she said. “It is quite remarkable. The only organ that did not grow back was the brain.”

Next: Forwarded from fantasy author Jennifer Roberson:> "I'm spearheading a book drive for the hurricane evacuees now in the Astrodome. They have food, water, cots, plumbing, etc.; they now need things to fill the endless hours. I have contacted the local authorities and was given the following address for direct book donations: HURRICANE EVACUEES RELIANT ASTRODOME c/o RED CROSS 2700 Southwest Freeway Houston, TX 77098> Please mark the package as "BOOKS" or "READING MATERIALS" > It might be particularly helpful to include some childrens' books as well."

A caution: some folks question whether this is proper according to hierarchies of need. I am tempted to do this, but willing to listen to those with objections. CITOKATE.

More misc stuff: Drexler's Nanofactory Design Animation Now Available. "Productive Nanosystems: From Molecules to Superproducts," an animated video, is now available in streaming media format on KurzweilAI.net. The large 80 MB file previously took a long time to download.

And here’s an excellent article relevant to any thought of modernism continuing, under GW Bush Supreme Court nominees... (With thanks to Ray Kurzweil.)

Now... continuing with my rumination about some underlying aspects of human sanity, altruism and philanthropy...


HORIZONS OF INCLUSION- Part IV

All of this talk of Horizons of Inclusion has bounced against a related topic. It’s a word that I’ve mentioned in several recent postings, though it has almost vanished from the modern lexicon. Like “modernism” it was so abused and misused... and then abandoned for so long... that appears to be just lying there, ready for somebody to dust off, re-define and bring back into relevance for a new era.

The word is sanity. And yes, it has appeared useless in all of its old manifestations. Uselessly vague. Uselessly tendentious. Contradictory and yet so easily used by the mighty or bigoted to oppress harmless human eccentricity and honest dissent. It deserved exile...

...and yet, there is a root meaning that might be reclaimed, and used for good purposes. For example, suppose a new definition actually included a diversity of non-harmful, exploratory eccentricity and constructive disagreement, as core values?

Well, if you are tantalized, we can bring up and thrash around the topic of "what is sanity" another day! (There is one small page in EARTH that offers hints.) I only mention this because of the connection made earlier... between sanity and satiability.

.
Someone on the philanthropy discussion group raised an interesting question of “what does satiation mean?” Is it an end to ambitious desire and endeavor? Or merely a process by which the satisfaction of one goal allows a flexible human being to reprogram desire, and shift endeavor toward new goals?

Clearly, what needs inclusion is the notion of ambition as an essential human characteristic. In which case satiation would not mean an end to desire... at least not in a vigorous descendant of gregarious apes!

Here is an attempt to chart the process:

Satiability + extended surfeit => satiation

Satiation + extended horizons => fresh desires and worries that shift to other farther-ranging concerns.


In order to illustrate the point, here's one of my favorite metaphors. Go back in time, to the Neolithic Era, and ask our wisest ancestor what she would wish for her descendants. Her answer?

"No more fear of large predators, plus all the fats, sugars, salt, carbs and alcohol they could ever want."

Could she have imagined it coming as true as thoroughly most of us have it today? To her, it would seem we live in paradise, albeit a noisy and confusing one. Yet, we are troubled by insatiability for these ancient appetites, living at a time when fat and sugar etc are in surfeit! So... in order to stay healthy... many of us run for exercise... or for fun! Another unimaginable. Nobody said that satiation was easy.

Here's another, related connection. Empathy is NOT the same thing as sympathy.

Empathy is the power to understand the thoughts and feelings of others. It is a pragmatic tool that is needed by hunters, like tigers, who must try to think like their prey. Empathy is frightening when it is set in a fierce, zero sum game.

But in a surfeit? Amid positive-sum games? When appetites are satisfied and fear is low?

satiation + empathy => sympathy.


Your ancestors, upon hearing of dolphins stranded on a beach, would have run toward them. As YOU would, today, upon hearing the same news.

Only with very different intent. Think about that.

==See: Horizons and Hope: The Future of Philanthropy

28 comments:

Frank said...

Re Nanofactory, the design reminds me of the way cars are made on an assembly line. I am sceptical as to how well such traditional production techniques will work on the nanoscale. It could be a mistake to think along such lines, like trying to build an airplane with flapping wings.

Re satiability, There are people who feel they can never gather enough wealth. But then who is to say what is enough? It doesn't seem very likely that a limit on wealth will be imposed.("hey mister, you've made enough money doing this job, go do something else now, or take a long vacation. Good-bye.")

Re sympathy, Hm, never had a dolphin for dinner, tastes like chicken maybe? There are still people who have no problem eating
dolphins. So, this is a cultural thing, I think. Like empathizing with cats and dogs, but not with cows and chickens. The former are highly anthropomophized in western culture and the latter are not. An horizon of empathy.

David Brin said...

When really good chicken flesh is grown in culture tanks... resulting in you having a surfeit to satisfy any appetite... are you saying that development won't change your attitude toward the mass process slaughter of living birds?

Methinks you miss the point.

BTW, nobopdy is talking about policing other people and forcing them to be satisfied. It is about the very nature of satiability. Again, a point that you clearly think you grasp...

...but without showing evidence that you really do.

No insult intended. I just see no evidence in your response.

Frank said...

"When really good chicken flesh is grown in culture tanks"

Okay, okay, as far as food is concerned it's relatively easy to became satiated, a protein substitute will do mostly (unless you are a connoiseur). Wealth is another matter, I think. The behaviour of an economy is still impossible to predict. My wealth depends on that economy. How am I supposed to know that a certain amount of wealth will be sufficient to guarantee my survival ? I can't know that. So why change my attitude toward making more more more money?

Frank said...

Hm, you don't want to change that attitude ? Being an insatiable is okay as long as I give something back to society ?

Frank said...

Never mind.

Rob Perkins said...

satiation + empathy => sympathy.

Strikes me as clever, and maybe useful, if a bit simplistic. I may wait for real CITOKATE until you've done more exposition.

However, I note that sympathy as well as satiability exists among the un-satiated, we see that sort of phenomenon among parents who sacrifice for their children, for example. Perhaps that's a case of sympathy in a zero-sum game? The parent must "lose" in order for the child to "win"?

(Except, the parent doesn't see it that way, and it is a far cry from the indifference and selfishness of the zero-sum game which thugs were playing in NO last week, as they kept food from the children for themselves. Another distinction between empathy and sympathy?)

Rob Perkins said...

Re "A caution: some folks question whether this is proper according to hierarchies of need. I am tempted to do this, but willing to listen to those with objections. CITOKATE."

Our evacuees (a better term than refugee, now that some have objected to those connotations) are largely literate Americans, aren't they, at least in the sense that they can and many want to read?

Seeing as they (as I) would consider literature well within my heirarchy of basic needs, I say it's far more than appropriate to send books.

In particular, I think it would be a tremendous sign of respect, both for them and for Otherness as a concept, to send *holy books*, since a great number of those evacuees will be religious people who value that.

As well as *escape literature*, especially and including David Brin's stuff! ;-)

I may box up my paperbacks.

Anonymous said...

Only objection I can think of to the books thing, is that to 100,000+ people who already have nowhere to live, and probably are going to be moved around quite a bit more before a solution is found for the following months (or years), books might add to the logistical nightmare it already is. Now, you don't just have to transport 100,000 people, you also add a few truckloads of books.
Maybe it'd make more sense to do a month from now, when they have found out where all these people can stay.

Anyway, just a thought. Apart from that, I think it'd be a great idea.

Steve said...

Regarding satiation + empathy => sympathy

Perhaps a better way to get this idea across is:

sympathy = f(satiation,empathy,e)

...where "e" is the influence of other factors.

I know of folks who have plenty who enjoy a good deer hunt, and others who live in desperate straights and would never consider harming a deer. If civilization collapsed, I would be able to kill and eat a deer, but I would continue to feel sympathy for those deer for some time. Similarly, there are hunter-gatherer groups who highly revere the animals they hunt. Perhaps this is the same as sympathy in the absence of, or at least low, satiation?

I don't see the possibility of PETA, for example, in the absence of plenty, but I think that sympathy can be found in lower levels of satiation. So there is a relationship but perhaps not a one-to-one.

Also, there is the (very rare) example of cannibals. Cannibalism (at least for humans) seems to be more related to magical rituals than food. I seem to recall an article that showed peoples who practice cannibalism incorporate family animals in their horizon but not humans from other tribes. This adds to the evidence of a cultural aspect to sympathy.

michael vassar said...

Come on Robb, you know that parents feeding their own children falls under the rubric of self interest from a biological perspective, don't you? How often does an atheist (to rule out self-interest by making anonymity real)who lives on $3000/year anonymously donate food to a stranger who lives on $300? Does that *ever* happen? It might, but it certainly isn't normal. By contrast, as our moderater is well aware, even Darth Vader refrains from killing his own son.

The basic problem with the satiability thesis is that many goods are positional. The drive to gain status is satiable in most people, but it can't realistically be satiated in most people simultaniously. In so far as it is a desire to recieve more attention than one gives, this is demonstrably true. What healthy societies do is not try to extinguish this and associated drives, but to channel them into productive, positive sum activities.

David Brin said...

Again, see my altruism paper, cited earlier. Rob you really need to read it. Michael is right. Helping your kids does NOT count.

Cannibalism involves EMPATHY... seeking to understand your prey.

So does ritually apologizing to it... although that starts to feel like sympathy and may become it when a hunter stays his hand.

atama said...

viruses are small

Steve said...

@ michael

Here is a call from . Whether or not a person is an athiest has no bearing on whether they feel sympathy. (I think a case could be made that they could have more sympathy since their "sympathy horizon" can include both religious and non-religious.) The determinant is the $3,000/year that you mention someone is trying to survive on. Basic Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs pertains there, with sympathy at the top of the heirarchy.

Steve said...

sorry for the messed up tags above. :(

Eric said...

When really good chicken flesh is grown in culture tanks... resulting in you having a surfeit to satisfy any appetite... are you saying that development won't change your attitude toward the mass process slaughter of living birds?

Mass slaughter is hard to justify, but we also have to look into the impact of those culture tanks. If we avoid killing billions of chickens, and instead end up killing millions (or even thousands) of people in, say, Africa, due to increased resource usage for instance, is that a win? How many chickens equal one person?

Yes, I know it's an unfair question-- intentionally so. The point is, most technological advances have historically come with greater resource utilization; I don't see any reason, as yet, that this ought to be different.

-=Eric

Steve said...

@eric

It seems to me if we invent chik-o-vat(TM) that we could attain the same amount of chicken protein with less resources that with live chickens, as live chickens demand a lot of resources that do not go to the production of muscle tissue.

There would be an impact on chicken farmers, for sure. But I am missing the impact on Africans.

By the way, I am a vegetarian by habit, not really by ideology. But I do like it that I have a slightly smaller "footprint" on the ecology due to that. If everyone switches over to vat-o-tissue(All Rights Reserved) rather than the real critters, I fugure that would capture an enormous benefit in saved grain production that would be "wasted" on cattle that walk around. Not as much as if everyone became vegans, but that isn't happening anytime soon.

@ Dr. Brin
The cannibal example was meant to show precisely that - sympathy for even one's fellow humans is cultural. Cannibals have empathy at most for their "long-pig." This raises the whole issue of de-humanizing enemies in times of conflict, rightly or wrongly choosing to turn off sympathy that is appropriate at other times. Another example of lack of sympathy even though satiation and empathy may be present.

But to counter my own argument: Perhaps when there is physical satiation, you cannot raise the population to war unless the culture has not been sated in some other way (resources, pride, etc). Thus since most Americans are pretty well sated in the basics, since we have not been asked to sacrifice this satiation, we are not really committed to prosecuting the war formerly known as the war on terror.

I dunno. I understand individual people quite well, but I feel autistic when I try to understand groups. Not much seems to scale to populations.

Rob Perkins said...

You're constraining the context of familial motivations to a set of assumptions I don't necessarily share, but I'll play in your space if you want; I've seen sympathy develop in precisely the way you're describing.

For example: The perspective someone like my brother got, for example, when he went to live in the mountains of Sinaloa, got dysentery from bad water, and met and lived among the really impoverished. After 2 years he went home again.

(I got a similar taste, albiet disease-free, by working in Switzerland, where I spent lots of time among economic and political refugees from Turkey, Sri Lanka, Angola, Zaire, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and so forth.)

Does that feed in as an example of the case you're making? Upon his return, he became a dentist and used his skills by returning to teach the really impoverished about dental hygeine, as well as using his skill "pro bono" among them to stave of periodontal disease and fill a few cavities?

What of those who witness such things, and still have that surfeit, but *refuse to expand their horizons* as my brother did? ("Let them eat cake!")

It leads into the question that came to mind when I read the last few posts. If you overlay our diamond on top of the triangle of a place like Mexico or India, and try to make objective comparisons, what do you see? Would that sense of perspective encourage the sorts of horizons which would create satiability?

Re books to evacuees, I note from news reports that people are using what has been sent, and reports are coming out that more would be nice, especially for children. I don't think the logistics are a problem, first because not that many books will be sent, and second the Red Cross and other relief agencies can certainly handle carrying things like that into their shelters.

David Brin said...

Remember that surfeit only bcomes satiation if a person was already satiable. Or "sane".

Many do not become sympathetic when their needs have long been met. I call that insane.

As for books, I am snding some tomorrow. They will have lots of idle hands inside the Astrodome, willing to come out to the loading dock.

Rob Perkins said...

That's... a complex concept.

It's consistent (remarkably so) with the etymology of the word's roots, in the Old English for "healthy".

So here's another one, since you're still doing exposition. You've used the term "loony" in polemics against the extremes of the Left and Right, Marx and Rand both.

Are "loony" and "insane" synonyms in the rubric you've introduced here? Are Marxists and Rand-Objectivists both fundmentally insatiable? If so, how?

Rob Perkins said...

Oh, and also, some comments about chicken flesh-vats. Some contend that chicken is the "most efficient meat". That one gram of chicken feed usually becomes one gram of chicken meat. (The bones are very lightweight constructs in a chicken.)

Usually, we feed chickens grain, probably dried grain grown using some pretty standard processes. In order to make chicken flesh-vats, we'd have to feed it what the chicken digests, presumably processing the grain to refine it, or stuff like it, into constituent nutrients before the vats could make use of it.

What if that takes more energy than just raising chickens?

Francis said...

michael vassar said...
How often does an atheist (to rule out self-interest by making anonymity real)who lives on $3000/year anonymously donate food to a stranger who lives on $300? Does that *ever* happen? It might, but it certainly isn't normal.


Kindly tell me which group it is normal in. Most Christians don't tithe and anyway tithing does not necessariy involve anonymous giving - and often does involve giving to organisations which the person gains benefit from.

By contrast, as our moderater is well aware, even Darth Vader refrains from killing his own son.

Must resist making cheap shot at Christianity here.

The basic problem with the satiability thesis is that many goods are positional. The drive to gain status is satiable in most people, but it can't realistically be satiated in most people simultaniously.

And the poor shall always be with you... Hard isn't necessarily the same as impossible.

In so far as it is a desire to recieve more attention than one gives, this is demonstrably true.

Here you appear to be making the common mistake in thinking that all forms of attention are interchangable - and are valued similarly by everyone.

What healthy societies do is not try to extinguish this and associated drives, but to channel them into productive, positive sum activities.

Agreed. Enlightened self-interest is a good thing.

Rob Perkins said...

Kindly tell me which group it is normal in. Most Christians don't tithe and anyway tithing does not necessariy involve anonymous giving - and often does involve giving to organisations which the person gains benefit from.

Many Mormons tithe, and then some, and the phenomenon is not unique to that sect.

By contrast, as our moderater is well aware, even Darth Vader refrains from killing his own son.

Must resist making cheap shot at Christianity here.


Best that you do; you might offend someone and taint the conversation. In any case, any cheap shot at *Christianity* is bound to be a sweeping generalization. The makeup of Christianity is so diverse, thanks in part to the Reformation and the Enlightenment, that no single cheap shot statement is going to ever be true.

michael vassar said...

Silly Atheists, words are for parsing, not for recognizing patterns and getting aggressive.

I didn't say that generousity was more common among Christians than among Atheists, but rather that I wanted to restrict my discussion to anonymous donations in order to restrict the subject matter to donations given out of sympathy rather than in an attempt to gain favor or status either with other humans or with god(s). My point was not that any religious people are more generous, but that only the anonymous generousity of atheists is unambiguously generousity rather than self-interested behavior.

I'm pretty sure you still need about 3 calories of feed per calorie of chicken, but that compares favorably to the situation with cattle. You might get nearly one gram of chicken protein for each gram of protein in the chicken feed, but even then, it seems unlikely. Chicken feces are nitrogenous, indicating protein waste.

Rob Perkins said...

I wanted to restrict my discussion to anonymous donations in order to restrict the subject matter to donations given out of sympathy rather than in an attempt to gain favor or status either with other humans or with god(s).

That ascribes only the lowest possible motivations for action among religious people. None I know behave charitably for that reason, or even, for that matter, talk about how they share resources with others.

michael vassar said...

I wasn't saying that religious people can only act from the motivations you are referring to as "low". Frankly, I don't think that people's behavior is usually driven by preferences regarding outcomes at all. Rather, people decide what type of person to be, and then do what they think that type of person does. At any rate, if we are going to study sympathy, it seems imperative that we restrict our observations to those people who are least likely to be effected by considerations other than sympathy. By limiting the discussion to atheists you accomplish this goal.

You can measure gravity most easily by working in a vacuum. That you do so does not mean that you believe that gravity only works in a vacuum.

Rob Perkins said...

You accomplish creating a control group by limiting it to atheists?

I reject that.
If you want to restrict the discussion to "pure sympathy" or whatever, selecting only atheists isn't the way to do it. The idea that atheists don't respond to flattery, or don't act in anticipation of it is untrue.

Francis said...

Silly Atheists, words are for parsing, not for recognizing patterns and getting aggressive.

Sorry. I've been dealing with those patterns regularly recently. (And FWIW, I'm an agnostic).

Best that you do; you might offend someone and taint the conversation

For God so loved the world that he sent his only son to die upon the cross. Vader may not have sacrificed his son...

The makeup of Christianity is so diverse, thanks in part to the Reformation and the Enlightenment, that no single cheap shot statement is going to ever be true.

Um. I think my statement covers a significant majority of Christians (any believers in Substitutionary Attonement or Penal Substitutionary Attonement for starters).

The difference, of course, is motivation - and that Jesus Christ was one part of the Trinity - which makes the relationship and autonomy somewhat different.

michael vassar said...

Who said Atheists don't respond to flattery. I created a control by limiting it to Anonymous donations. However, the common belief in universal divine surveillence means that anonymous donations by atheists are the practically relevant control, as the donations of traditional monotheists are never anonymous.