Friday, November 17, 2023

Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will III

I can't say that I enjoyed the remainder of the book, and I didn't spend much time on it, because I thought that Sapolsky was just rambling, and little new information of any real importance emerged. There wasn't even a noticeable conclusion either. Sapolsky, clearly an academic, is best on neurological matters. After he made a strong case for determinism and the absence of free will, he seemed to drift off into a series of anecdotes about how individuals are different from other individuals, and there is nothing that they can do about it. He is critical, for example, of those who pass judgment on fat people, because he thinks that fat people have little or no choice in the matter. Somehow, crime and punishment seem to interest him a lot, and there are countless stories about how criminals are perceived and treated by the public, often in a way that ignores the inevitability of their behavior. He seems to have the classic liberal college professor stance in which tolerance should be the norm, and people shouldn't be allowed to let their prejudices run wild. Many of his examples are old news that I've known about for decades, so I was quite disappointed when I arrived at the end of the book and determined that it did not include what I would consider to be an action plan or any useful recommendations.

In my view, Sapolsky, though he does have a good understanding of human nature, is demonstrating no interest in the rather significant implications of his findings. Those are the kinds of things that I've been writing about since I started this blog. There are two areas in particular that I've discussed repeatedly. If people are all different through no fault of their own, with widely varying intellectual abilities and prejudices, all of which are relatively intractable, how do we define equality and to what extent can a democratic process produce a coherent government? The other area is capitalism, which, despite mountains of evidence, continues to produce an increase in wealth inequality while destroying the environment. Currently, income inequality is spilling over into unruly populist movements in the West, with incompetent, opportunistic leaders who are not being filtered out by the existing democratic processes, and climate change is advancing unabated. I would have appreciated the book more if Sapolsky had devoted a few pages to those topics rather than taking jabs at Sigmund Freud, Bruno Bettelheim and other bad scientists and making fun of the public's prejudices. He seems merely to be reciting the now-popular "compassion" mantra without actually making any useful suggestions. I wasn't attempting to find religion when I started reading the book, and I'm not about to now.

I won't regurgitate all of the things that I have written previously, but I still think that the best long-term option is going to be an AI-based world government that, rather than depending on an unreliable democratic process or the whims of a dictator, maintains the planet for the benefit of Homo sapiens in an orderly fashion, based on what we know about ourselves, including the idea that we are a socially cooperative species and value equality. The point is that we collectively are not doing a good job at self-governance and ought to be taking a hard look at other options. If Sapolsky decides to write a separate book on that topic, I may read it, but I do find the current book too limited in scope and bloated in the wrong places.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated in order to remove spam.