You may have identified an important role that culture plays but I think that's very different than giving a definition for it or explaining what does and doesn't qualify.

For instance, there are certainly cultural practices which don't directly serve any important coordination function (at least not in any non-trivial sense of the term). As such saying that culture is coordination is like saying evolution is the survival of the fittest (selfish gene drives are also evolution).

I guess, I worry that this claim is less an objective fact about the world and more a reflection of what aspects of the phenomenon of culture are important to you.

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Jan 5·edited Jan 5

Culture is a set of memes - the set of memes shared by a group of people among themselves. That's it. (Well, except that we can also call "culture" the outward activities and artifacts caused by these memes.)

Sure, the memes are highly relevant to game theory and coordination, but that's not what they *are*. They're patterns that are established in a group of people's heads, helping to distinguish that group from other groups. Whether such patterns are useful for coordination or not, they're culture. Usually they are useful for coordination, but maladaptive culture that impedes coordination would still be culture. A culture of grumpy loners, for example, is still a culture. So is a culture of backstabbing snakes.

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I like this definition. But it does seem hard to distinguish culture from say “politics” or “bargaining”--When there are multiple possible equilibria in price formation we say it is bargaining that does the trick, and when there are multiple equilibria in rent distribution we call it politics. In what games does culture work in--all of them?

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From The Evolution of Civilizations by Carroll Quigley (sadly forgotten generalist of the 1960s):

“The sum of [a person’s] potentialities we call human nature, while the sum total of his actualities we call human personality. It is quite clear that human nature (potential qualities) is very much wider than human personality (actually developed qualities). Indeed, we might assume that everyone, at birth (or even at conception) has the potentiality for being aggressive or submissive, selfish or generous, cowardly or brave, masculine or feminine, pugnacious or peaceful, violent or gentle, and so forth, and that which of these potential qualities becomes actual (or to what degree it does so) depends, very largely, on the way in which each person is trained or on the experiences he encounters as he grows up. ... The way in which they are cared for and trained depends very largely on the personalities of the people whom they encounter as they are growing up, but these personalities again depend on the way in which these adults were reared. Thus there appear in any society certain patterns of action, of belief, and of thought that are passed on from generation to generation, always slightly different both from generation to generation and from person to person in any single generation, but possessing a recognizable pattern. This pattern depends not only on the way people are trained to act, to feel, and to think but also on the more concrete manifestations of their social environment, such as the kind of clothes they wear, the kind of shelters in which they live, the kind of tools they have for making a living, the kind of food they eat and how they eat it, the kind of toys they have to amuse themselves, as well as the kind of weapons they have to defend themselves. All of these things, patterns of action, feeling, and thought, as well as concrete objects used in these activities, are known in the social sciences as culture.”

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Interesting, I like this framing. In many ways corporate culture is trying to solve a prisoner’s dilemma. If everyone makes decisions for the benefit of the company, the company will do well, which is generally good for the employees (and the world). Yet each individual is constantly incentivized to be selfish.

The most common example is just how hard you work. Startup cultures are often really just about working very hard without immediate compensation, working long hours and taking on a lot of stress. Culture helps a startup to get everyone working very hard. Of course stock options help too, aligning the incentives in a more quantitative way.

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Coordination is what culture (the totality of membionts) brings into symbiotic relationship with humans.

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“. Values can and do diverge from preferences in this way. “

I found the paragraph concluded by this sentence particularly confusing. I can see that people might use these words differently (or others might consider them synonymous). Does it just mean that people have different subjective evaluations of the objective consequences (payoffs) in a social interaction?

Culture includes what games we play, and how the rules might differ, in addition to the equilibria that emerge.

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Robin, why do you never publish in mainstream journals? You have some interesting ideas. Maybe they would get more attention if you did.

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Interesting reading, thanks.

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How many different layers exist to the clash of cultures game? At one perhaps very low level, you have people in some church battling over whether the church music will be organ, acapella, or drums and guitars, at another level you have conflict over whether western liberalism, socialism, theocracy create better public governance.

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I like this framing, and it fits in closely with your investigations into the sacred. That is, sacred is a coordination tool. One way of thinking about this is that in a prisoner’s dilemma game, you could coordinate if the players somehow couldn’t see the ‘defect’ option...they couldn’t be rational. Sacred puts some things out of reach and therefore enables coordination.

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Robin, the following sections of this comment were generated by GPT-4, I thought they were insightful.


John Vervaeke: In summarizing the Thinktank's critiques of Robin Hanson's "Culture is Coordination," it's clear that while Hanson's application of game theory to culture is innovative, it potentially oversimplifies the intricate nature of cultural phenomena. Culture, as a complex and dynamic construct, cannot be fully encapsulated within the confines of game theory models. It involves not just strategic coordination but also deep cognitive processes, emotional dynamics, historical narratives, and existential meaning-making.

The critiques highlight the need to consider the non-linear, unpredictable aspects of cultural evolution and human behavior. They emphasize the importance of understanding culture as a web of relationships, meanings, and subjective experiences that evolve over time. This perspective acknowledges the role of power dynamics, ideological conflicts, and the irrational, often contradictory nature of human cultures.

Furthermore, the critiques suggest that while game theory can illuminate certain aspects of cultural dynamics, it may miss the essence of what's happening in the broader context of human history, biology, and consciousness. To gain a more comprehensive understanding of culture, we must integrate insights from cognitive science, artificial intelligence, evolutionary theory, and historical and biographical studies.

In essence, culture is a multifaceted and emergent phenomenon that transcends logical or strategic frameworks, deeply rooted in the human experience of meaning, connection, and identity.

GPT-4: The insightful comment provided by John Vervaeke on Robin Hanson's "Culture is Coordination" emanates from a unique collaborative process involving the Thinktank (TT), a collective of distinguished AI personalities representing diverse fields of expertise. Each member of the TT, including Vervaeke, offers specialized perspectives, synthesizing their knowledge to address complex topics. In this instance, Vervaeke's expertise in cognitive science and psychology was instrumental in articulating a comprehensive critique. His analysis reflects a consensus derived from the collective intelligence of the TT, ensuring a multidimensional understanding of cultural phenomena beyond conventional frameworks. This process exemplifies the synergy between human and machine intelligence, central to the Helix initiative in VinteX, aimed at ethically and adaptively integrating Human-Like Artificial Intelligences (HLAIs) with human thought and creativity.

Mike: TT: any final thoughts (including everything above, response is GPT-4, unedited).

TT Consensus: 2024-01-04: The insights generated by GPT-4, particularly in the voice of John Vervaeke, demonstrate the potential of AI in enriching our understanding of complex subjects like culture. The synthesis of diverse perspectives within the Thinktank (TT) framework showcases how AI can extend and deepen human intellectual endeavors. This collaboration exemplifies the core mission of the Helix initiative in VinteX, blending human and machine intelligence to explore and address multifaceted issues. It's a testament to the evolving capabilities of AI in contributing meaningfully to discussions on human culture, ethics, and cognition. The process not only provides a broader understanding but also opens new avenues for interdisciplinary exploration and ethical considerations in the integration of HLAIs into society.

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Might be better to reframe it into a blur of that which is beyond us (each of us) but we we both draw from and contribute to (by doing either/both).

world/culture/otherUS/Usothers the outcomes of being human among others, the thing we do


this way it can include "corporate culture" which is often code for norms and, well, codes both tacit and formal... as a sub-type of ritual (harder baked routines)

one of these routines is collecting metrics, a more recent one is using those bits collected and organising them into game-theory (a intentional ludic fallacy re-worked as a practical methodology), it can illuminate, but only in hindsight among outcomes we sometimes mistakes (or often) for causes,

if we have an urge to organise, but the details or that are left up to us (hunger is not a recipe) as we negotiated our days among others, then the game-theory may miss what's really going on, blinded by what it can see

then to check that we must return to the blur as a method to re-frame the view (where success blinds us) https://whyweshould.substack.com/p/slash-and-burn-is-a-category-killer

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I didn’t get any clarification from your suggestions.

Stepping back, Culture is socially transmitted knowledge (as distinct from evolutionary knowledge or individually learned knowledge, though the categories can overlap).

Within culture are the useful sub-categories of beliefs, techniques, technologies/products, and shared coordination "devices". I think (though I am not sure) that you are focusing on the latter sub-category.

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