Friday, January 05, 2007

Idle Theory!

Everyone who comes across me probably already reads Ran Prieur, but in case you missed it, check out his latest post, which links to both Dan's great piece about the mistaken idea of DNA, rather than environment, as king within biology, and Idle Theory, which suggests that idleness, not strength, speed, whatever, is the better marker of biological fitness.

That is, those species that can get by with doing less are better suited to deal with times of difficulty than those who are constantly working for their survival.

Makes me think about how I sometimes get flustered when people talk about biology as determinative. Like Richard Dawkins and the selfish gene. But I remember at times like this that science changes with the times, and though it's also important to adapt and integrate new information without undue prejudice, that information is not always true. This stuff validates my gut sense of the world, and yeah, that can be unreliable or whatever, but not always. I think I'd rather get in touch with my true self and the honesty I can access of the world in myself, than deny my feelings and operate in a purely abstract realm. I dunno- it's tricky. But nonduality and the universe is within me, and I am the universe, and I just ahve to align myself to its widsom. Cool stuff- sometimes hard to do and certainly hard to access sometimes for me, but a good sentiment worth appreciating.


Anonymous Devin said...

Okay, thanks for emphasizing that, because I'd skimmed Ran and hadn't really picked up on it.

My first reaction, other than "holy crap that's an excellent observation" is that sometimes the idlest creatures are the weakest and most dependent. I suppose it's semantics of what "idle" means. In some sense I suppose one must look at the entire species/entire system to measure its level of activity, rather than looking at individuals who might have found a particularly idle niche within an exhaustingly busy system.

So nuanced, I gotta say "wow." Certainly reframes pretty much everything in evolution, that's for sure.

10:09 PM  
Blogger Marcy said...

I've always felt that it was human nature to be efficient. Depending on context, it's called "efficiency" or "laziness." If you figure out how to do something faster and cheaper to save the company millions of dollars a year it's efficient. Or if you get your work done faster so that you can do more work, you're being efficient. If you get your work done faster so that you can have more leisure time, you're LAZY.

That's one of the problems with employment. Most people aren't paid by the job, or by the task. They are paid by the hour, or those poor salaried folks who are paid just to be there all fucking day long! So, if you're efficient and get your work done, it doesn't benefit you b/c then you're given more tasks to do, or you're called upon to finish the work of the less-efficient coworkers (read: slackers who purposely work slow in order to do less work overall). So, in order to cope with the fate of having to be somewhere for 8 hours, people start aping the slackers and then you have people en masse going against their god-given nature to be efficient. People then start doing wasteful activities and stretching out their work as long as they can, and it's totally unnatural and ridiculous.

Here's an analogy: say there's a task that involves moving 20 bricks from point A to point B. Mr. X picks up one brick at a time and makes 20 trips back and forth. Mr. Y picks up 5 bricks at a time and makes 4 trips back and forth. Mr. Z puts all 20 bricks in a wheelbarrow and makes one trip.

Modern employment practices do not reward Mr. Z or even Mr. Y. Everyone ends up becoming like Mr. X. It's unnatural and stupid to make 20 trips, but people do it to cope with the working world.

As much as possible, people should be independent contractors and paid by the job.

I don't know how much this actually has to do with the topic, but I felt the need to put my two cents in. ;-)

1:45 AM  
Anonymous Dan said...

"Makes me think about how I sometimes get flustered when people talk about biology as determinative. Like Richard Dawkins and the selfish gene."

Yeah, I have a problem with a lot of what Dawkins says. I mean his whole "God delusion" thing is nonsense. Take a look at this interview snippet. As Jordan, the author of that blog said, "This is bookworthy?"

I'm also not happy with the idea of the selfish gene. Number 1 because the role of genes is massively over-rated, and because with any talk on selfish genes, comes talk of memes, and I don't like, and can't see the value in, the concept of a meme, period. I like a lot Jeff Vail's stuff, but some of the premises in his book regarding genes and memes controlling us and battling for dominance doesn't make sense to me. It's something I'll be tackling in my book.

7:29 AM  
Blogger Marcy said...

I hate memes...only b/c I started seeing that word everywhere, but no one could explain it to my satisfaction. I have no idea what they are. I just looked up meme on wikipedia. Hmm, I had no idea that Dawkin's book "The Selfish Gene" was written in 1976! 1976, and the term meme just started going crazy the last ten years or so? That's a long time to wait.

Anyway, I came across this one part where it says that "Some speculate that traditional religions act as mental immune systems to suppress new (and potentially harmful) memes." Hmm, that kinda makes sense, b/c how else would you explain people's stubborness to change their beliefs about anything, even with proof? And I'm not just talking about religion.

I actually have one or two of Dawkin's books on reserve at the library. I'll reserve my judgment until I read his stuff.

I do agree with Dan that the role of genes is overrated. I don't know if I can get on board with this new theory that is sweeping the blogs about genetic transmission of aquired traits, though.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Archangel said...

Hey everyone,

Devin: Glad to help highlight it for you. It is a cool reframing. I was talking to my partner about it, and she didn't find it all that astounding. It seemed to her that it was intuitive that idleness in the sense the proponents are talking about was an extension of being 'stronger, faster, whatever, simply making them more efficient at surviving. But it is nevertheless cool to emphasize it.

Also, makes me think about how cultural attitudes inform science (and all the authority that lends said cultural attitudes). Seems to me that one can very easily argue that this theory is a reaction to the fact of industrial life, with its constant and tedious motion, only writ large for the community of life. It's equivalent, though opposite, one can argue, to the older notion of busyness and 'complexity' equaling greater fitness. I don't know that that makes it wrong, though, even though some may say any such lack of objectivity nullifies the conclusions. Eh. I'll read more about it to get a better sense of its nuances.

Marcy: I agree that it is really crazy how our system of 'work' encourages mediocrity in that way. I think it's because in our culture, work is about control of one's time (another cultural imposition), and even if teh task is done, too fucking bad- you're ours until 5pm, or what have you). The idea of laziness is crazy. It was so astounding to me, and Ran mentions this too, to learn that there have been indigenous groups who had NO REGULARLY CONTRIBUTING MEMBERS. For example, I htink it's the Hadza who have some of their men almost never hunt, and instead play gambling games with the metal spear heads. And you know what teh rest of the group does ot these slackers? It makes sure to divide the food evenly no less, and not punish them in any way we can see. It's that whole marxist/wobbly idea that work should be valuable in its own regard, and not need an external motivator like money to encourage it. So if work is an expression of one's own desires and procliviities, then not doing work is just you not accessing what could be meaningful.

Dan: That is a great point. While at another point in my life, I would have appreciated Dawkins, his dogged criticism of God only highlights his own obsessiveness and lack of maturity when it comes to other people's beliefs. He really tries to bully people into not believing in god/religion/whatever.

In one of my classes, we talked about how in the domain of heaven, some say the atheists sit just beside the true believers, because of the energy they place into God. Much more of a threat, maybe is the 'apathist,' who doesn't care and define herself in terms of God at all. Also kind of like Quinn's idea of walking away, rather than fighting civilization. Or Vail's notion of addressing hierarchy sideways, by means that don't have to do with direct confrontation (which plays to hierarchy's strength), and instead maneuvering around those in power, making their authority irrelevent.

It's also like excommunicated priest Dr Matthew Fox (who, by the way, is awesome), who says that the biggest problem of western spirituality is the separation of creator from creation. If God, like the theists say, is some being 'out there' and not directly accessible, he may as well not be anywhere. Theism, in fact, is only one step away from atheism. I love that idea, that atheism is not the opposite of thesism, as atheists suggest, but its parallel in some way. A truer opposite of theism would be pantheism or animism or something thereabout, that sees the divine in all. And this also dovetails with the fact that I guess neuroscientists have identified parts of the brain that deal with religion, spirituality, divinity, whatever. That was something hard to reconcile to me when I was an atheist. But not so much now- the spiritual is there, and our bodies ackowledge it, and aren't just carrying absurd and vestigial components.

Marcy again: I like that idea of traditional religions acting as an immune system to new and dangerous ideas. Though I have trouble with it on maybe different grounds, cloning is something that religious folks have thus far been fairly successful at resisting. If there weren't those conservative (in the non-pejorative sense of the word) elements in culture, we may be already much further along into aa brave new world, since that's the trajectory of our culture anyway.

Thanks for your responses, folks. Sorry it took me a couple days ot respond!

6:32 PM  

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