Interconnected

Various extracts from Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate (at Amazon.co.uk), as a way of noting ideas that trigger other ideas, mainly.

one | The inherent logic of morality is pointing at the internal consistency of numbers and saying the same may be true in ethics. In non-zero-sum games where participants are capable of formulating a strategy, does our conception of morality simple follow? (Makes me think of morality ladder functions, to move from person-to-person to social rules, as in the science mentions in Starship Troopers.)

two | The portions of the mind: a tentative list of the mind's instinctive cognitive faculties and the intuitions on which they are based. In summary, Pinker contends that the following ship with every brain (intuitive versions of each):

  • Physics
  • Biology or natural history
  • Psychology
  • Spatial sense
  • Number sense
  • A sense of probability
  • Economics
  • Database and logic
  • Language
  • More emotional components: fear; disgust; morality

three | A quote from the Pope on converging discoveries, which is as good a way as any to define a successful theory.

four | A lovely passage on nonrival goods, which suggests two very fruitful ways of thinking:

  • Nonrival goods (that is, goods that can be duplicated for no cost. Know-how rather than cake) may have been part of humanity's makeup since the earliest days.
  • The idea of social cognition (which allows people to cooperate without being cheated). A system which can't be gamed. The bizarre arms race which results from having to be smart enough to fool something just as smart as you are comes to an end with a truce: your internal state is represented on your outside to a certain degree. And, there's nothing you can do about it.

(Thoughts so far about The Blank Slate: I found the first three parts - the first half of the book - a little tedious, but it's picked up now the rebuttals and justifications have ended. It's not a book with which I agree entirely (the inherent logic of morality is particularly shaky given what lengths Pinker goes to to make everything else robust. And we'll not mention his sloppy thinking around direct genetic modification. The rest convinces me far more than not), but it's challenging and thought-provoking. Which is the important thing.)