Daniel Schmachtenberger - The Portal

'Daniel Schmachtenberger on The Portal (with host Eric Weinstein), Ep. #027 - On Avoiding Apocalypses'
The Portal


54:07 - Basically economics has perverse incentives - we try to create law to bind it, but economics is deeper in the stack of power than law is. So you get a legal system that is supposed to bind the perverse economic incentives, but mostly ends up legislating in the benefit of it.


57:45 - If I’m perfectly ethical I’m going to lose in politics, because I won’t be able to get anybody to support me - so I make certain compromises.


1:52:55 - Up to a tribal scale people could do a better job of accurate information sharing because there was less incentive to disinform each other, because it would probably get found out - and we depended on each other pretty significantly. The Dunbar limit seems to be a pretty hard limit on that kind of information sharing. 

Tribes never got beyond a certain scale within a certain kind of organisation, and if they started to they would cleave - if they were going to get larger they would have to have a different kind of organisation.

One thing that we commonly think about is a limit of care and tracking - up to [say] a hundred and fifty people I can actually know everybody pretty well, they can all know me, and if I were to hurt anybody I’m hurting the people that I’ve known for my whole life.

Something like universal interest of that group, or a communalist idea makes sense if there are no anonymous people, or very far spaces where I can externalise harm. I basically can’t externalise harm in the social commons when I know everybody well. I also can’t lie and have that be advantageous. 

There is a communication protocol that anyone who has information about something within that setting can inform a choice where that information would be relevant. They can actually communicate with everybody fairly easily. If there’s a really big choice to make everybody can sit around a tribal circle and actually be able to say something about it. As you get larger you just can’t do that.

I think there’s a strong cleaving basis in not wanting to be part of a group that would make decisions that I’ll be subjected to that I don’t get any say in - unless it’s really important. [For instance,] tribal warfare is starting to occur more often, and so having a larger group is really important. In which case the bonding energy exceeds the cleaving energy.


1:58:29 - We still have incentives to figure out how to game the game as long as we still have separate interest.

Separate interest - where any in-group can advantage itself at the expense of an out-group, or any individual can itself at the expense of other individuals; which is grounded all the way down to a private balance sheet -  is an inexorable basis of rivalry.

Rivalry, in a world of exponential tech, self-terminates. 

Given that I don’t think we can stop the progress of tech, I think we have to create fundamentally anti-rivalrous system, and I don’t think we can do that with capitalism, or private-property ownership as the basis of how we get access to things.


2:32:02 - I think we get a certain level of empathy up to the Dunbar number just through mirror neurone type effects - the fact that I know these people, they know me, we’ve lived together and so on. If they’re hurting, I’m going to see it because they aren’t somewhere far away. Similarly I’m less likely to pollute in an area I’m in than through an industrial supply chain that pollutes somewhere that I’m not.

Proximity [is significant because] as we start to get to much larger scales, when I [cause something] there is an effect but I don’t get a feedback loop on it. A broken open feedback loop is a problem. 



3:11:40 - I think that status is a hyper-normal stimuli […] what porn is to sex, sugar and salt and fat concentrated in a Frappuccino, or a McDonalds is to food - void of the actual nutrition […]

In an evolutionary environment we couldn’t necessarily have more than 150 people pay attention to us - now we can have a huge number of people pay attention to us and have it metricised with likes.

I think it is like sugar, a hyper-normal stimulus that is [unlikely] not to be bad for us, and we have to have a very mature relationship to it. Addiction of any kind - any hyper-normal stimulus that decreases normal stimulus - is going to end up being net bad for us.

I think one of the metrics for how healthy a society is, is inverse relationship to addictive dynamics. 

A healthy environment conditions people who are not prone to addiction, which means having more authenticity of choice. Addiction or compulsion writ large is less authenticity of choice.

If there is a healthy status relationship - in a tribal environment, where I can’t really lie and people are watching me, and know me - if I’m thought well of it’s because I’m actually doing well by everybody and I have authentic healthy relationships, as as opposed to [being able to] signal things that aren’t true, get more status though negative signalling about other people, and so on - that is the same kind of thing as the fast food, or the porn.

So I think we have a hypo-normal environment of the healthy stimulus which actually creates a baseline well being. Most people, when they go camping with their friends and they’re in nature in real authentic human relationships, they’re checking their phone for dopamine hits from email or Facebook less - because they’re actually having an authentic, meaningful, engaging interaction.

But in a world where there is a lot of isolation, [little] connection to nature and meaningfulness, that hypo-normal environment creates increased susceptibility to hyper-normal stimuli. Hyper-normal stimuli happen to be good for markets, because on the supply side addiction is good for the lifetime value of a customer, but is bad for society as a whole.

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