Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

If we are not the world, what are we?

with 4 comments

I continued mulling over this piece and how it reveals that we (our individual selves) are primarily a pastiche of cultural memes and life experiences, even deep within what we consider our innermost private sense of our “real” selves. In seeing how divergent are responses to the ultimatum game in different cultures, one wonders what, if any, response is native to our animal selves, free of cultural influence/determinism. Near as I can tell, the only constant across all the cultures—the only thing that seems unaffected by culture—is the finding that never in any culture did one find absolutely selfish players. So at the purely animal level, we share. But from there on it, we are artifacts of cultural memes, collected and roughly assembled as we grow.

And, of course, we contribute to the on-going cultural development, conversation, and exchange. We are the medium in which memes live and evolve, and we indeed are mostly collections of those memes. Each snowflake is unique because its structure is a record of the humidity, temperature, and particles it encountered as it grew, and how those changed over the time of its growth. So it is with us: we each are a unique combination of memes encountered as we grew, along with changes in the interaction of life experience with our meme collections. Very little of us originates from our animal side. We are a meme-based life form.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 March 2013 at 8:13 am

Posted in Daily life

4 Responses

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  1. I submit that to the extent that unselfish behavior has survival value to the individual it (unselfishness) is itself selfish.

    Bob Slaughter

    3 March 2013 at 10:03 am

  2. Then substitute a different name for the behavior observed: the point is that only one behavior was not seen in any cultural context. That behavior then is a candidate for being basic—i.e., not culturally derived. The name given to the behavior is not so important as the fact that culture-free behavior/choices exist.


    3 March 2013 at 10:13 am

  3. This resonates with the idea of social constructionism/social constructivism.

    I’m curious whether WordPress will accept good, old fashioned HTML anymore…

    Matt Grettir

    3 March 2013 at 2:31 pm

  4. Still does. And I was mulling the situation over further, and it struck me if by “human” we mean this emergent phenomenon (our ability to be a meme medium) that is the significant added fact to our physical selves (primates) that makes us human. And given that the cultural component is key, then when we have “humans” of such distinct variety and populations (as indicated by the culture-specific understanding of how best to play the ultimatum game, we are really talking about human speciation: different cultures truly give rise to different sorts of “humans” if by “human” we mean one of these culture-determined individual constructs of memes—i.e., persons. Long enough and over time, I suppose real speciation would be possible except for the fact that when cultures encounter one one another, you get some sort of hybrid, either the (much) stronger absorbing a few tidbits from the (significantly) weaker as it passes into oblivion, or some sort of amalgam and intermingling if the two cultures are of roughly the same overall cultural strength (depth of worldview times number of holders).

    In other words, cultural differences can go very deep with one side truly not understanding how the other side “thinks” (in the sense of grasping their worldview). Thus we may be astonished at the differences in how, for example, the ultimatum game is played, for that seems purely mathematical in a game-theoretic sense. But it is clearly not so objective as it seems, given the different “correct” answers various cultures arrive at. And if that’s so with a simple abstract game, one can only imagine how many “correct” views there are of (say) human relationships: a person’s “correct” way to relate to family, authority, the state, one’s religion, life expectations/goals, view of death, and so on: key common conundrums that one must answer: they define how one lives. And different cultures quite obviously find different “correct” solutions that from within the culture seem obvious and definite. And yet the choices other cultures make are so often clearly “wrong.” 🙂

    I think the original article is good because it so clearly presents a cleverly designed measuring device (the ultimatum game) whose scores then are used to measure the different strategies different cultures use in the game. And if there are such differences in such a specific instance of strategic thinking, what other differences must there be in judging complex situations?


    3 March 2013 at 3:31 pm

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