Saturday, 27 September 2014

Common sense may be rare and getting rarer - and cannot be taken for granted

*

I have tended to assume that common sense is something which pretty much everybody has - excepting the intellectual elite and psychotics - but which in our modern mass media has overlaid and overwhelmed.

But this is to take common sense for granted. Common sense is in fact a complex functional adaptation to (something like) 'survive and reproduce and raise offspring on earth', and complex adaptations can be lost. Indeed there is an inbuilt tendency to lose them.

Insofar as common sense is a gift of God; it can be lost by rejection of God. Insofar as common sense is a Good, it can be lost by subversion, inversion and the destruction of Good.

Insofar as common sense is a suite of evolved adaptations it can be destroyed by loss of adaptations - from mutational damage to the genes which make the structures which implement the common sense.

(All this on top of the fact that what was common sense in the ancestral evolutionary environment may be mis-matched to the modern environment and may function as common nonsense.)

*

So, until recently, I have assumed that when the mass media and the crazed, self-hating and suicidal structure of Leftism destroys itself or is destroyed, and brings down the material structure of modernity - we will 'at least' be left with common sense to help survival and rebuilding. Common sense and common experience - in a phrase I used.

But maybe I was being over-optimistic (!).

Common experience depends on intelligence, and average intelligence is falling so rapidly that it seems likely that people after the collapse will not able to learn from experience in the way that was normal through most of the past millennium or so: they will not be as quick nor as able to learn.

And if widespread and cumulatively-severe genetic damage from mutation accumulation is a major element in the decline of intelligence, as now seems to me (unfortunately) highly likely, then common sense will be much weakened and destroyed to a lesser or greater extent.

This seems inevitable as a consequence of accumulation of deleterious mutations which get worse with each generation, and which act like a shotgun blast against the genome - each 'pellet' smashing a gene, and the mass of pellets breaking functions here and there. Each new generation inherits the genetic damage and adds more damage.

*

The key point here (as Michael A Woodley realized in our conversation yesterday^)  is that in mutation accumulation it is not only adaptations which are transmitted from the parent and inherited by offspring, but non-adaptations, broken adaptations, wrecked and useless remnants of adaptations.

Parents do not just transmit 'fitness' to their offspring, but also the accumulation of unfitness. Common sense is - or was - presumably, to some significant extent, a suite of interconnected and mutually-supportive adaptations supported by genes; and therefore damage to common sense may have a genetic cause, and will be heritable.

The 'nightmare scenario' would therefore be a human population which not only lacks the intelligence to sustain and operate complex modern civilization, but lacks the common sense to function even in simpler societies.

*

The main message is that although common sense used to be near universal and something which could be taken for granted - and which would re-emerge in situations of crisis - this is much too complacent a view. We cannot just assume that the people who survive crisis or collapse and re-emerge from the rubble will be armed with the levels of intelligence and common sense which we take for granted from history. Common sense is vulnerable, at the biological level.

*

(^Note: Michael Woodley's insight yesterday concerned the difference between on the one hand heredity of functional and fitness-enhancing adaptations, which has always been the focus of evolutionary theory, and the way that modernity has selected-for non-adaptation, for broken adaptations. And furthermore, damage, hence dysfunction, is not merely inherited but is added-to with each new generation - with each generational wave of new and un-purged mutational damage, with each failure to eliminate the cluster spontaneously occurring deleterious mutations. This is not a matter of offspring inheriting fitness from their parents, but inheriting 'anti-fitness'; and it is not only inherited - because offspring will differ from their parents in having novel and added and extra forms of heritable anti-fitness. In is not an adapted genome which is being selected-for, but a broken genome. In sum, modernity has not selected for a population who are 'adapted' to modern conditions; but for a population whose adaptations are being  destroyed, progressively and generation upon generation. Modernity has not selected for fitness, not even for a new kind of fitness - but modernity has selected for a lack of fitness - for the destruction of complex functional adaptations. And this loss of fitness, of adaptations, is objective and in principle measurable and quantifiable. Such a situation may be unique to human society in the modern world - where humans created an artificial environment which destroyed a critical mechanism for purging deleterious mutations from each generation, and therefore both allowed the survival off, and also positively selected in favour of, high-mutation-load humans who could not sustain that artificial environment which allowed them to survive and reproduce. Clearly the situation is not stable - is meta-stable as WD Hamilton said. We are, at present, in the lag phase when the inertia has allowed modernity to continue after the fundamental basis for its continuation has gone. The uniqueness of this situation, enabled by the truly massive effect the human species has had upon the environment for the selection of the human species during the past few centuries, could explain why the phenomenon has apparently not been previously noticed by biologists - not even the greatest ones. Nonetheless, this is a fundamental attribute of natural selection - http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/the-primacy-of-red-queen-or-what-does.html.)

7 comments:

  1. The key point here (as Michael A Woodley realized in our conversation yesterday^) is that in mutation accumulation it is not only adaptations which are transmitted from the parent and inherited by offspring, but non-adaptations, broken adaptations, wrecked and useless remnants of adaptations.

    Yes that makes sense. A proto-anti-adaptation; may be something which is not filtered, and has not been an issue to that point, and hence is not yet an anti-adaptation. Socially and behaviourally we could consider our ability to specialize due to being a social species with intelligence. Specialization has allowed for discovery and invention that in turn has allowed us to increase our numbers past the capacity of nature to support us without specialization. The pressure of Natural Selection has been reduced as a result - for a time - but will return with a vengeance due to mutation load. And when it does, our social and behavioural adaptation towards specializing will be our undoing. Who amongst us has the set of general basic skills to survive for long without the support of a modern society? (Not very many.) With the proliferation of chronic diseases, what happens when there is no pharmaceutical support. (Imagine the affect of adult onset diabetes just as a starting point. This disease has become incredibly prevalent. Centuries ago it would have been uncommon, since among other things the refined sugars did not exist, nor the ability for most to eat enough to have more body mass than can be supported by our ability to make and utilize insulin.)

    I was camping in what could be a hostile environment this summer, and without the support of my freeze dried food and water purifier, how long could I actually survive. Take away just those two items and my ability to survive for an extended period has just dropped radically. Infection without modern health care; without foraging knowledge of what is safe to eat; facing into winter: Just how many of us would manage to survive the first year?

    We have through specialization become precariously powerful; and with few exceptions are unable to exist outside of modernity for more than a very brief period.

    Parents do not just transmit 'fitness' to their offspring, but also the accumulation of unfitness. Common sense is - or was - presumably, to some significant extent, a suite of interconnected and mutually-supportive adaptations supported by genes; and therefore damage to common sense may have a genetic cause, and will be heritable.

    The 'nightmare scenario' would therefore be a human population which not only lacks the intelligence to sustain and operate complex modern civilization, but lacks the common sense to function even in simpler societies.


    We are creatures of our age, and rapid decline is a close as a confluence of events that upset modern systems to the point that they cannot be maintained. The modernity anti-adaptation has left people without the skills to exist in a simpler non-modern society. And once it starts the process will cascade rapidly. We are intensely vulnerable.

    The main message is that although common sense used to be near universal and something which could be taken for granted - and which would re-emerge in situations of crisis - this is much too complacent a view. We cannot just assume that the people who survive crisis or collapse and re-emerge from the rubble will be armed with the levels of intelligence and common sense which we take for granted from history. Common sense is vulnerable, at the biological level.

    The Achilles' Heel of modernity is that it is a fragile meta-stable system that has made the majority of people unfit to live outside of a modern society. It has enabled us to extend ourselves artificially to a point of non-viability outside of modernity. We are hooked on the bad stuff; and have no idea how to live without it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. @NF. Yep, that's it.

    "The modernity anti-adaptation has left people without the skills to exist in a simpler non-modern society. "

    Indeed - plus we may lack the ability (intelligence, common sense) even to re-learn the necessary lost skills: we will presumably find ourselves to be intrinsically (genetically) dumber, dafter and more disease-ridden creatures than we had supposed.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I assume that you accept the current view that mental activity is brain activity,as Sheldrake likes to put it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dr. Charlton, a question. Do you believe human nature is ultimately suppressible? From this article I would say you are leaning that way, but I just want to be absolutely sure.

    ReplyDelete
  5. @Boethius - To some extent, yes. BTW there ia fair bit about Sheldrake on this blog from a few years ago if you do a word search.

    @Luqman - I don't think so but it depends on what you mean. Would you say that someone ill with schizophrenia or dementia has 'changed' human nature? That's the *kind* of thing I mean.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Common sense cannot depend too critically on intelligence, or it wouldn't be common. By definition it has to be accessible to something like 85% of the population.

    The 'nightmare scenario' would therefore be a human population which not only lacks the intelligence to sustain and operate complex modern civilization, but lacks the common sense to function even in simpler societies.

    My question is this - how much of the functioning of "simple" societies depended on knowledge passed down through the generations, as opposed to instinct that is genetically inherited?

    You do not know, as a matter of genetics, how to gather the right crops or how to hunt and kill animals. Someone teaches you.

    The problem post-collapse is that nobody will know how to do any of this, no matter how smart they are. I doubt it is something you can learn quickly from a book. You have the knowledge when the lights go out (and few people do) or you are dead.

    At the very least there would be a period of cannibalism, and those who survived that would have to figure out how to hunt (non-human game) and gather. The ones who survive all this horror will have to be "fit" because 99% of the population will be eliminated.

    ReplyDelete
  7. @JP - Put it this way, if the line of reasoning is correct, it will turn out that everybody has multiple genetic diseases (which are currently often invisible due to the soft environment). This will apply even to the fittest 1% - mutations will have accumulated.

    But this did not use to be the case, before mutation accumulation - so the survivors of this putative mutational meltdown will be less fit, less intelligence, less able to learn and remember, less able to transit wisdom, weaker, more disease prone and so on - worse in all these ways compared with what humans used to be before the industrial revolution.

    ReplyDelete