Thought — 2 Min Read

Think And Fight

by Case Greenfield, September 2nd, 2022

Thought – 2 Min Read

Think And Fight

by Case Greenfield

September 2nd, 2022

Donald D. Hoffman says “veridical perception minimizes expected fitness payoffs”: trying to understand how the world really works may reduce your chances of evolutionary survival. By trying to understand how the world works, you may lose focus on what is important to survive. Wow. That blew me in the face.

In my recent story Three Causes for Mind Models, I talked about (UC Irvine psychology professor) Donald D. Hoffman and his ideas about fitness pay-off. It keeps on wandering in my brain. It won’t let me go. The crucial question is: Does natural selection favor veridical perceptions—those which accurately, though perhaps not exhaustively, depict objective reality? Simply said: What is a more successful approach for successful survival, chasing the truth, understanding reality, understanding how the world works – “the philosophical approach” – or developing the right traits – skills, tools – for winning the evolutionary competition – “the fighter approach”: think or fight?

Hoffman’s answer is very simple: “veridical perception minimizes expected fitness payoffs”. In other words, trying to understand how the world really works may reduce your chances of evolutionary survival. The mechanism works very simple. By trying to understand how the world works, you may lose focus on what is important to survive. Hence, your chances to become extinct increase, the more you focus on understanding the whole world; you better focus on what keeps you alive.

Wow. That blew me in the face.

Why? Because, if you’re breathtakingly honest, those who best compete in our society have the better chances to survive, not the philosophers. It all comes down to the question, how much impact the philosophers really have on the course of society and mankind at length versus the survivors, the ones in power, the ones that change the world and their traits to their advantage, reducing the philosophers to mere shouting spectators.

And let’s be brutally honest here. What ultimately is the underlying urge of philosophers to search for the truth, to understand reality? Isn’t it ultimately the need to survive, in an intellectual package (wisdom), the idea that ‘if I understand everything, I can predict and control everything’?

And it gets more confusing. Is this the eternal conflict between good and bad? Between egoism and altruism? Between hard-heartedness and empathy? Between short-term and long-term, maybe? Not sure …

I still don’t know what to do with it. Stop philosophizing? Stop trying to search for truth and understand the world? And then? Instead, fight for myself, my survival. Collaboration increases chances of survival. So, what group to include? All of humanity? Just me and my family? And some ‘useful’ friends? It sounds like a macabre path to pursue …

Anyway, it makes mind models all the more interesting! Following Hoffman’s line of thinking, mind models are the ultimate tool to maximize fitness pay-off, the reward we get – ie. survival – from adjusting to be able to defeat existential threats. Mind models are the way to focus on developing the traits for ultimate survival and filter-out everything that is not useful for that purpose – resulting in a far-from-complete but nevertheless very useful image of reality.

Implicitly, I have always felt that philosophizing about reality and the world would be the best way to achieve just that. So, maybe a good compromise between my original ideas and Hoffman’s thinking is, that yes philosophizing is good, as long as it is focused on evolutionary survival.

Hmm … let me chew on that. Maybe, it is: think AND fight. The thinking, though, then should be focused on and supporting the ability to fight. So, is the ultimate goal of philosophy to increase our chances of evolutionary survival rather than objectively – ie. without a specific objective or goal – understanding reality and the world? And, by the way, does that mean the same for science? Is survival-driven science more effective than science-for-science, mere knowledge collection out of curiosity?

Paint and fight

So, what does this mean for my art? Earlier, I wrote about the Vincent syndrome, considering whether artists should live a romantic, ‘l’art pour l’art’ poor lifestyle – like Vincent van Gogh or Amadeo Modigliani, the ‘artiste bohemièn’ or ‘starving artist’ – or a pragmatic, rich lifestyle – like Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst. In the light of the ‘think and fight’ discussion, it must definitely not be the starving artist style. Is there a way in between? Something like Leonardo Davinci or Rembrandt van Rijn? Making brilliant art, while finding an audience that is willing to richly reward you for your work? Must be possible.

You cannot make art for everybody. Your art will appeal to some, while others will dislike it. Maybe, trying to paint for everybody is like trying to understand reality through philosophy. So, the next step in my artistic quest may be to find my audience that is willing to richly reward me for my work.

One thing is sure. It will be people who understand and live by the mind model of philosophy in the context of fitness payoff.

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(October 10th, 2022) – Afterthought

And maybe, I – or we – don’t have to try to solve these philosophical and (neuro)scientific problems. Maybe in the near future, AI will solve it for us. Researchers like Fernanda De La Torre at MIT are working hard on developing complex algorithms to investigate philosophical questions about perception and reality.

So, let me focus on my art, instead.

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