Hardware and Software

Back in the day, computer systems were designed as combinations of logical gates. These were etched into silicon to create specialized computational devices:

Full Adder

Eventually the complexity of systems reached a point where we developed generic processors that could perform generic operations and the computational complexity was moved out into software that could be changed much more easily than rewiring circuits.

Consider results of an experiment found via the experience sampling method. In ESM, test subjects are beeped at random intervals and they conduct a short survey. The results were interesting:

Everyone in our sample was an American, a teenager, and belonged to the same major religious tradition of Protestantism. In these respects they were culturally uniform. But some belonged to conservative denominations such as Pentecostal and others to liberal denominations such as Episcopalian. As Ingrid combed through the data, which involved tedious hours in front of the computer, the differences that began to emerge were astounding. It was as if these conservative and liberal religious youth were — different species.

For example, two questions that were asked as part of the background information were “Do you think of yourself as a religious person?” and “In your family, do you express opinions even when they differ?” The more liberals agreed with the first question, the more they agreed with the second. The more conservatives agreed with the first question, the less they agreed with the second. Their religions were pulling them in completely different directions.

… Liberals spent about 10% more time alone than conservatives, which is a lot when you consider that these are high-schoolers without a lot of discretionary time on their hands. Even more amazing, the positive mood of conservatives depended upon being in the presence of others. They consistently reported being bored, self-conscious, and lonely when alone and turned on in the presence of others. In stark contrast, the liberals maintained the same mood in the presence and absence of others and even preferred to be alone!

The question that isn’t really addressed in the article is the likelihood that a child will self-identify as liberal or conservative given their parent’s disposition. I’d be particularly interested if there are any differences in the trends for particularly extreme parents or for adopted children.

A particularly interesting trend would be if children tended to form their ideologies in reaction to parents or if adopted children tended to mimic their upbringing. Both of these patterns suggest that self-conceptualization is somewhat divorced from genetic composition. Since there are relationships between ideologies and thinking patterns, that would mean that humanity is essentially a malleable substrate on which socialization operates — socialization is software running on meat-based hardware.

Whether or not our behavior patterns are set in our genes and the extent to which neuroplasticity exists in adults are important considerations for people who want to see a change in the world. The world can undeniably change, but the form that this change should best take is a function of the characteristics of the major change makers: human beings.

As I talk about jobs and money and whatnot with Jenni I am frustrated because it seems like there should already be an organization devoted specifically to creating a scientific inquiry into the overarching development of the human race. What is this group and how do I get to work with them?

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