Monday, December 3, 2012

Where to Begin? #2

The vast majority of people would prefer a simple comfortable life.  Why are so many diverted into some radically different, destructive and self-destructive path?

What is directing people (it looks to me like the answer is some kind of chaotic domain of storms)?  Why are they so willing to be directed?

Over tens or hundreds of thousands of years of human society (depending on at what point the word "human" should apply), our evolution, the determiner of our natures, shaped, and was shaped by, a certain rough structure of society and culture.  People did everything within the context of some small number of companions, probably less than a hundred.  In all the world, there might be a few thousand people whose language and worldview one could make some sense of, but contact with that thousand or few thousand was limited and sporadic.  In some cases one band of people might get along reasonably well, intermarry... but ones entire universe of people with whom one might have friendly interactions consisted of an inner circle of under a hundred, and an outer circle of something like a thousand or maybe a few thousand.  A worldview, and a set of techniques for coping with "the world" (as one experiences it - actually only ones immediate environment), must be maintained within it small collection of people.  There is no "extended memory"; no assistance from books in enlarging the sphere of accumulated "knowledge".  If a group of people is descended from ones who had quite a different environment to cope with, any non-transferable coping skills/knowledge will have been forgotten, except for sketchy stories of far away places.  This is the essence of "hunter-gatherer society" which is all that existed up to around 10,000 years ago, and which still survives in many places (though they will disappear within a few generations).

Based on surviving remnants of our "family tree", the primates from which we are descended stuck exclusively to the band of under a hundred, and had no extended society beyond that.

There are many books and documentaries showing what these societies are like.  Their repertoires consist of a few techniques: some kind of dwelling construction, string bags, and other techniques for carrying things, methods of constructing weapons and sometimes primitive boats; there is the knowledge of a few foodstuffs, how to gather or kill and prepare them.  They will have something to say about perhaps every striking thing in their surroundings.  There are stories about why the Sun and Moon behave the way they do.  There are stories about animals they have essential interactions with the collective, and about those they don't but which stand out in some way.

If I've gotten away from the original questions, it is because I'm searching for all the generalities that reading and an occasional documentary have exposed me to.  An important part of the method of successful sciences is this trying to flesh out a complete picture that can be tested against reality.  Even the most "primitive" human societies are extremely varied, so to find a set of generalizations that can all be viewed as part of "human nature in the wild" is difficult; maybe so difficult that specialists might view my attempts to comprehend it as ridiculous, but I'll persist anyway; it's what I do instead of buying lottery tickets.

I believe the history of ideas gives us strong lesson that we fail when we try to get directly to the "important thing" (like for some people, "why are we conscious?"), without a very broad sense of that might be important to the whole picture.  Real usable scientific progress has nearly always required decades if not centuries of going over every little bit of the landscape.

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