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Jumble of ideas July 15, 2010

Posted by Summerspeaker in Evo psych, Primitivism, Transhumanism.
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I’ve been out on the edge of cell phone service doing manual labor and learning about permaculture with Think Outside the Bomb. Hence the absence of updates. I lack both time and inclination to do a through review of recent activity in the transhumanist scene. I’ll just note with disappointment Michael Anissimov’s stress on biological gender differences. As Zack and I have discussed, the evidence cannot sustain such strong claims. In particular, see the linked paper by Janet Hyde. Even with cultural conditioning from day one, psychological differences are minor.

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1. Zack M. Davis - July 16, 2010

As Zack and I have discussed, the evidence cannot sustain such strong claims.

What strong claims? I agree that the “different species” metaphor that Anissimov offers in the comments is silly, but I don’t find it implausible that innate sex differences affect attitudes towards cryonics (although I doubt that “enthusiasm towards science” is the most useful variable to focus on).

Even with cultural conditioning from day one, psychological differences are minor.

Although do note that differences can be innate without being large. Consider, for example, the meta-analysis of Schmitt et al., which found that sex differences in Big Five personality measures are larger (!) in richer and more egalitarian countries. This is not something that most social-role theories would have predicted in advance; the authors speculate that agricultural economies offer less opportunity to express evolved personality tendencies. But the effect sizes in Table 1 are still in what Hyde terms the small and moderate ranges.

2. Summerspeaker - July 20, 2010

What strong claims?

The claim that males and females carry substantially different mental hardware. We don’t even know that the brain works in a way that would allow this. (See the Panksepp critique of evolutionary psychology.)

I don’t find it implausible that innate sex differences affect attitudes towards cryonics

I think it’s far more useful to consider socialized gender differences in this case. Cryonics has a specific cultural and historical context. Particularly given the difficulty of isolating innate factors, what does the approach bring to the table?

3. Zack M. Davis - July 21, 2010

The claim that males and females carry substantially different mental hardware.

You know, some days I fear that human natural language is too vague for the task of properly discussing science, and that most of our commonsense beliefs are not so much wrong as they are meaningless. I can look at a graph and get some idea of what d=0.3 means, but I’m not sure how to operationalize substantially different. I’m not blaming you—when I ask, “What strong claims?” it’s because I find it too easy to read Anissimov as not so much as communicating a falsifiable hypothesis as much as expressing an attitude: “Hey, I’m not one of those brainwashed egalitarians; I’m part of the cool contrarian evopsych club!”

Let me explain. Aumann’s agreement theorem states that Bayesian reasoners cannot agree to disagree; the extent that you expect people’s opinions to actually refer to the real world is the extent that you should expect to agree with them. And yet we see a lot of apparent disagreement; why? I think the paradox can be partially explained by supposing that a lot of what seem like factual disagreements are actually just differing expressions of sentiment. If the result of some experiment is (let’s say) “three,” and I say the experiment found a big number and you say the experiment found a small number—well, we’re not really disagreeing about anything in the rationalist’s sense, for there is no bigness nor smallness in the world itself. The true fact of the matter is: three. Full stop.

When I first read that Hyde paper a few years ago, it made me happy: evidence for our side!—although I didn’t consciously phrase it like that. Now, Hyde’s language seems almost dishonest to me. The “Gender Similarities Hypothesis”?—what could that possibly mean? I’d almost rather she had said: “Here’s a table of effect sizes from the literature; if you don’t know how to think in terms of effect sizes, then you’re not competent to think about this issue.”

Although probably the journal editors wouldn’t approve.

I think it’s far more useful to consider socialized gender differences in this case. Cryonics has a specific cultural and historical context.

Yes, it’s a highly specific cultural and historical context that lets us have of have a concept of cryonics at all! But once that context has been set, biological factors are going to be one of the forces determining behavior.

Obviously there’s nothing in human biology specifically about attitudes towards cryonics, nor yet towards science, because there was no cyropreservation and no science in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness. On a similar note, most people’s childhood gender socialization (I might say indoctrination on nights when I am particularly heartbroken over some of the possibilities I was not brave enough to choose for myself) made no mention of anything like cryonics—it’s just not something most people have heard of.

Rather, social and biological forces end up determining subtle personality and cognitive traits that in turn have some specific reaction when faced with new information about specific things, like cryonics. To the extent that there are sex or gender differences in those subtle factors, then it’s not surprising that it would show up in different behavior. (Although in the specific case under discussion, it’s not even obvious to what extent “hostile wife syndrome” reflects a real sex difference, and to what extent just a few colorful anecdotes blown out of proportion. I also might like Kyle’s “distant, socially dysfunctional husband syndrome” idea better.)

You could hardly fault me for saying that it depends and that it’s complicated. (Or maybe you can.)

4. Zack M. Davis - July 21, 2010

I wrote: “historical context that lets us have of have”? Well, the Singularity might or might not kill us all, but at least it will be the end of such horrible proofreading mistakes.


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