Saturday, January 9, 2010

Non-Zero Correlations, or, Robert Wright Rips Me Off

Robert Wright's Non-Zero is a very readable non-fiction book that uses game theory to look at our history (social and biological). He traces a through-line in these fields that seems to show a positive direction to our development, defined by (Wright's term) "non-zero-sumness": meaning essentially, both parties in an exchange benefit (a win-win situation). As social and biological complexity grows, non-zero-sumness grows with it - enlarging our "circle of empathy" (first family, then friends- expanding globally).
Below is an excerpt from one of the final chapters, reflecting on the effects (and future possibilities) that the internet could play in this area of non-zero-sumness:
"...But it is evidence that, as global interdependence thickens, long-distance amity can in principle grow even in the absence of external enmity. And it's something to build on. There is no telling what it could mean as technology keeps advancing; as the World Wide Web goes broad bandwidth, so that two people anywhere can meet and chat virtually, visually (perhaps someday assisted, where necessary, by accurate automated translation). One can well imagine, as the Internet nurtures more and more communities of interest, true friendships more and more crossing the most dangerous fault lines - boundaries of religion, of nationality, of ethnicity, of culture.

The common interests that support these friendships needn't be high in gravitas. They can range from stopping ozone depletion to preserving Gaelic folklore to stamp collecting to playing online chess. The main thing is that they be far-flung and cross-cutting. Maybe this is the most ambitious realistic hope for the future expansion of amity - a world in which just about everyone holds allegiance to enough different groups, with enough different kinds of people, so that plain old-fashioned bigotry would entail discomfiting cognitive dissonance. It isn't that everyone will love everyone, but rather that everyone will like enough different kinds of people to make hating any given type problematic...Maybe the world of tomorrow will be a collage of noospheres with enough overlap to vastly complicate the geography of hatred. It wouldn't be 'Point Omega', but it would be progress." pg. 328
If this isn't basically the same argument I put out in part three of this post, regarding the bayonet-loving, vengeful bigot on a houseboat in the Atlantic, I don't know what is. Just kiddin' about the ripping-off part. Wrights got brains like I've got ill-advised purchases. Just kiddin' about the just kiddin part. Just kiddin' about the just kiddin about the just kiddin part.

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