Our Fabulous Fantasies
Lester Earnest (les at cs.stanford.edu)
[This is a work in progress with additional fantasies to be added over time.]
Many people like to pretend that they think and act rationally even though there is ample evidence to the contrary. Each of us lives in a fantasy world set by our DNA inherited primarily from hunter-gather ancestors dating back millions of years but modified somewhat by evolution since then and further by our personal educational and life experiences but some aspects of our inheritances cause us to think and act irrationally.
Below are reviews of some specific fantasies that interfere with rational thinking. Humans are naturally interested in histories of the world and a lot of effort has gone into researching and recording that information. However, because of human nature, all histories are incomplete and distorted but vary a lot in the degrees to which those deficiencies apply.
Yes, I too write distorted histories but claim to be more closely coupled with reality than most people, perhaps because I am a bit Aspergerish. Below are reviews of certain widespread fantasies including some accounts of my personal experiences with these problems.
Egotism is valid. Most people like to think that we are the most intelligent species on Earth, if not the Universe. In fact, intelligence is not a one-dimensional rating but has many aspects and some other species on Earth are far more intelligent than we in their perceptual abilities, examples being the visual perception of raptor birds, the perception of aromas by wolves, dogs, and others. Consider also the communication abilities of elephants, using low frequency sounds that we canÕt hear, and other talk that we cannot understand between various kinds of whales and dolphins.
For almost a hundred years, certain machines have been grossly outperforming humans in doing various kinds of information processing, such as complex arithmetic and searching large databases, and the scope and speed of that work is expanding daily.
Considering the choice of many people to ignore science and pretend that global warming is a fantasy, we are clearly a rather stupid species. With any luck, space aliens will arrive soon and take over, else we must develop a superior species ourselves.
Piracy provides a good life. Life appeared on Planet Earth about 3.8 billion years ago and evolution then began developing many species and discovered that piracy (capturing the assets of others) was strategic, so it became widely used by many species and remains dominant today.
Humans naturally inherited that trait but it is now causing serious problems. For example, all modern governments are run by pirates, predominantly men, who take assets from others, thus enlarging their power, while making life miserable for their subjects. Because of advancing technologies this behavior is now threatening us with a world-wide die-off, so moving away from that lifestyle is essential. However, that is a tall order as discussed in Unfortunately We Are All Pirates
Paranoia makes life safer. Through the process of evolution, our ancient ancestors naturally adopted a somewhat paranoid view of the world because worrying about things that could go wrong helped them survive in the rough world where they lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers and had to follow the food as the weather changed throughout each year.
When moving they often had to go without food for days at a time, so they tended to eat anything they could get their hands on. That adaptation got imprinted in their DNA which has been passed along to us, resulting in modern tendencies toward obesity and type 2 diabetes.
In modern times, our intrinsic paranoia is used by politicians and others to manipulate us in various ways. On the morning of 9/11 I started writing the fourth article in a series aimed at restoring democracy in USA Cycling, the national governing body of bicycle racing that had been taken over by commercial interests in a thoroughly crooked way. It was to be posted in the Usenet newsgroup rec.bicycles.racing but as I was writing, news came in about planes being hijacked and rammed into buildings, so I switched topics and predicted the effects this would have on civil liberties Š see S*x, lies and politics: Part 4. Terrorists and the politicians who love them, Unfortunately, my predictions began coming true the next day and have proven to be a big setback for civil liberties.
For thousands of years, politicians have known that people can be manipulated by talking about boogeymen and the threats they pose, recent choices being Africans, Jews, anarchists, communists, fascists, homosexuals, Iranians, terrorists, Muslims, etc. Increasingly, public media also play this game irrationally.
Today public media focus on terrorists and blow their importance far out of rational thinking. The chance than an individual American will be harmed by a terrorist on a given day is infinitesimal compared with the chance they will be injured or die while driving or walking somewhere that day, but you get a very different impression from the evening television news.
[More to come]