Layers of Delusion

Humans have many delusions, i.e., mistaken beliefs they are especially reluctant to correct. To understand such delusions, it helps to understand the many layers that make up the human mind. In the following I outline my best guesses, ordered roughly by time/layer.  (I’m especially interested in what I’ve missed or mis-classified.)

Animal – Animals have core mental processes to manage desires for food, warmth, sex, and to avoid harms. These processes can misfire, creating errors that other levels are reluctant to override.  For example, we can be terrified of heights, even when we “know” we are safe.  Animal minds are organized by level of abstraction (near vs. far), and so expect things near (far) in some ways to be near (far) in other ways. Animals usually act as if things not directly in view don’t exist. Embedded in brain architecture, these mistakes are hard to correct.

Socialite – Animals that pair-bond have bigger brains, to deal with trust issues in long-term relations. Social animals can betray one another, and have relative status, and so can be mistaken about status and partner loyalty. Social distance adds to near/far. Social mammals use a standard stress response for social stress; being disliked hurts health as if others had psychic powers.

Primate –  Very social animals have meta-beliefs about who thinks what about who, and so on. So they can be mistaken about meta-beliefs. Primates can often gain from errors via favorably influencing others’ meta-beliefs. For example, overconfidence in one’s ability or loyalty induces confidence in others. This creates selection pressures for delusions. In very social primates, power and status depend less on individual abilities and more on political coalitions. Primates can thus be deluded about who supports which coalition, and how strong are coalitions.

Talker – With language, we can say more things, and so can lie, be mistaken, and be deluded about more things. We find it hard to appreciate how language changes our thought, and so are often deluded to think reality divides neatly according to our word categories. We want our words to be believed, and to seem confident they will be believed. So we are deluded to think we reason more to find truth than to win arguments, and to think reality constraints shared beliefs more than it does.

Forager – Using language, foragers coordinate to enforce social norms against overt non-family dominance, bragging, sub-band coalition, and band-harming selfishness. Norms add to near/far as far goals. But since norms can only limit commonly-visible behavior, foragers violate norms covertly. Since conscious thoughts are more visible, they dominate, brag, ally, and self-serve unconsciously, via hard-to-verify eye contact, body motions, tone of voice, word double-meanings, etc. Consciously homo hypocritus foragers are deluded, especially in far mode, to less see the unflattering functions of their acts, and their bowing to social pressure. For example, foragers and their descendants have diverse styles (dress, body, music, food, language, stories, etc.) and are biased toward seeing :

  • Personal styles as preference, discernment, vs. show wealth, autonomy, loyal, tough, skills.
  • Changing styles as just better, vs. show gossip ties, social savvy, loyal.
  • Local styles as just better, vs. show local ties.
  • Attraction from shared values, vs. impressed by features, loyal.
  • Medicine, charity as help, vs. show loyal, wealth.
  • Gossip as curiosity vs. collusion, status moves.
  • Politics as help group, vs. show values, loyal.
  • Far talk as curious, info share, vs. dominate, show smarts, ties.
  • Laughter as due to funny events, vs. show comfort, loyal.
  • Stories as social practice, “fun” vs. show values, discernment.
  • Art as a pursuit of beauty, insight, function, vs. bond, show off.
  • Sport as healthy, “fun”, vs. show off.

Farmer – Higher forager density led to trade and rapid innovation, which led to herding, farming, marriage, war, and social classes. Social norms expanded, to induce behavior in conflict with forager inclinations. These included norms of long hard work hours, fair trade with strangers, life-long marriage, deference to elite classes, and of patriotic devotion in war. Frequently invaded regions evolved pro-community over pro-family norms. Added farmer self-control (i.e., norm adherence) came from norms encouraging far-thinking, persecuting deviants, just-world-delusions,and religion, i.e., submission to supernatural moralizers. Farmers were deluded on norm origins, and on high costs of environment alienation and from repressing forager-desires.

Aristocrat – Sedentary farmers accumulate durable goods, which gives material inequality, allowing elites. Elite classes need delusions that they deserve their status, and that they adhere to idealistic codes of chivalry, which placates other classes. Elites need to save wealth, accept within-class ranking, and function well in chains of command. To achieve these, farming elites pioneered writing and multi-media propaganda, schools with frequent rankings and far mode primes, and complex bendable rules with bureaucratic doublethink. Expensive art signaled wealth, and strengthened delusions of moral superiority.

City – Many folks living close is a productive, if alien, lifestyle whose anonymity can reduce norm pressures that come from non-work social monitoring.  This weakened non-work norms like marriage, family, and religion. It also made social status depend less on informal reputation and more on clear signals like wealth, degrees, fame, etc. City folk seem deluded to think informal reputation and social monitoring are stronger than they are; e.g., they credit confidence more than they should. Cheap surveillance, however, may soon strengthen social monitoring.

Industry – Industrial methods require worker specialization and coordination, which greatly increased the value of self-control. So industrial societies adapted and improved self-control-promoting methods pioneered by farming elites: far-mode schools with frequent ranking, and multimedia artistic idealistic news/entertainment.  Such folks deludedly think school classes and news media are mainly to give useful neutral info. Ubiquitous hierarchical organizations hone homo hypocritus skills regarding local formal rules and commands, opportunistically bending them while deludedly denying doing so.

Rich – Industry has recently made non-elites rich enough to afford to reduce alienation, e.g. more greenery, and to please their inner forager by reducing non-work self-control. Such folk return toward forager levels of sexual promiscuity, though via cheating and serial monogamy instead of polygamy, and less social monitoring in cities. Rich folk get less religious and patriotic, and seek political forms to mimic forager-style democracy, deliberation, food sharing, and sick-helping. They deludedly justify such policies in other ways, e.g., medical market failures. Coordination remains harder than most realize.

Stimulant – Industry has devised hyper-stimulating food, art, stories, sport, games, drugs, etc., which rich low-self-control folks eagerly consume, at the expense of work, kids, and work-like-hobbies. Hyper-status-seeking can compensate, inducing more work and hobbies, but not more kids. Most are deluded to think this a stable situation; if allowed, gene and culture selection would rapidly cut such waste.  Most also have the addict’s delusion, “I can quit anytime I want.”

Emulation – The next big change is likely whole brain emulations (i.e., ems), within a century or so. Profit-seeking investors may make trillions of copies of dozens of most suitable humans, and further select among trillions of ways to tweak each em.  This will allow enormous selection for the most adaptive em minds.  Adaptive behavior in the early em era has high work coordination, accepts more alien bodies and environments, has little interest in kids or hyper-stimuli, and accepts death, high trainee failure rates, long work hours, and near-subsistence wages.  Some of this may be achieved via genuine preference changes, but initially most will be achieved via strong delusory self-control.

Stability – More big eras may appear after ems, but soon rapid change will end.  We now live in the brief few-millenia “dreamtime” when people are poorly adapted to their environment. Within a few millennia, and then for trillions of years thereafter, economic growth and innovation rates will slow to a near halt, and people will once again be well adapted to their stable slow-grow world – as were foragers for millions of years.  As with foragers, what they do will mostly be adaptive, even if they are deluded about why they do it. And they may well be much less deluded, due to better academic knowledge, more mental transparency, ubiquitous documentation, and more prediction markets.

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