Monday, October 31, 2022

Review of The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter by Joseph Henrich

This review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Sociology
Book Club Event = Book List (12/10/2022)
Intriguing Connections = 1) To Cooperate Or To Defect?, 2) How to Teach? How to Learn?

Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“Beyond status, culture transformed the environments faced by our genes by generating social norms.  Norms influence a vast range of human action, including ancient and fundamentally important domains such as kin relations, mating, food sharing, parenting, and reciprocity.  Over our evolutionary history, norm violation such as ignoring a food taboo, botching a ritual, or failing to give one’s in-laws their due from one’s hunting successes meant reputational damage, gossip, and a consequent loss of marriage opportunities and allies.  Repeated norm violations sometimes provoked ostracism or even execution at the hands of one’s community.  Thus, cultural evolution initiated a process of self-domestication, driving genetic evolution to make us prosocial, docile, rule followers who expect a world governed by social norms monitored and enforced by communities.” – Joseph Henrich, Chapter 1: A Puzzling Primate, Page 23


“Cultural learning refers to a more sophisticated subclass of social learning abilities in which individuals seek to acquire information from others, often by making inferences about their preferences, goals, beliefs, or strategies and/or by copying their actions or motor patters.” – Joseph Henrich, Chapter 2: It’s Not Our Intelligence, Page 31


“What these cases teach us is that humans survive neither by our instinctual abilities to find food and shelter, nor by our individual capacities to improvise solutions “on the fly” to local environmental challenges.  We can survive because, across generations, the selective processes of culture evolution have assembled packages of cultural adaptations – including tools, practices, and techniques – that cannot be devised in a few years, even by a group of highly motivated and cooperative individuals.  Moreover, the bearers of these cultural adaptations themselves often don’t understand much of how or why they work, beyond the understanding necessary for effectively using them.” – Joseph Henrich, Chapter 3: Lost European Explorers, Page 45


Review

Overview:

Culture is prepackaged information accessible to local individuals.  A package composed of knowledge, skills, habits, and values.  Cultural informational content has the ability to improve over generations, making culture adaptive.  Informational content that is learned from other people.  Culture enables a collective brain, rather than individual insight.  As members learn from each other, they do not need to start understanding ideas from nothing, but can proceed from the foundation culture has already enabled.  Success derived from faith in the already accumulated wisdom, rather than just intuition and personal experience.

Natural selection favored individuals who were better cultural learners, as they were able to access and utilize the ever-expanding body of adaptive information available.  The interactions between cultures and genes caused them to coevolve.  Cultural evolution led to the self-domestication of the human species as those who violated norms were punished, while those who complied with norms were rewarded.  Culture overrides many private self-interested decisions, with social self-interest.  Culture makes member behavior more predictable, which facilitates cooperation. 

 

Individual Knowledge Versus Culture:

Humans have adapted to deal with local environments using group intelligence.  Humans do not have instinctual ability or individual capacities to quickly adept to novel local environments.  There are dire consequences to putting humans into environments they do not know, for they will misapply their knowledge to wrong contexts.  Even with food preparations, taking unprepared food from different cultures causes problems, because transferring the raw food does not transfer the knowledge of how to appropriately prepare the food to make the food safe to eat. 

Humans have survived and thrived because of the process of cultural evolution, knowledge that has come in assembled packages of cultural adaptations.  Practices and beliefs acquired over previous generations.  Knowledge that cannot be devised within a few years by intelligent and cooperative individuals.  Not even the bearers of cultural adaptations understand how or why something works, as they only know what is needed to make effective use of them.  The process of learning and attending other members tends to be unconscious.  Knowledge as an unintended consequence of interactions between learning minds over time.

Survival is based on the inheritance of a vast body of knowledge from previous generations.  Information that is stored in daily routines, rituals, and beliefs.  Using information stored in the culture, facilitates development of complex knowledge that is designed to meet local challenges.  Social and generational development, rather than a product of any specific individual’s ingenuity in applying logical skills.  Cultural evolution is often smarter than the individuals.  Complex adaption emerged because natural selection favored individuals who have faith in their cultural inheritance.  Faith in accumulated wisdom from prior generations, rather than their own intuition and personal experience.   

Rather than thinking as individuals, culture enables a group’s collective brain.  The group’s collective brain is limited to the population size and the social interconnectedness.  Members loss or becoming disconnected reduces the transmission of cultural information, which can lead to loss of skill and complex technologies. 

Those copying the practices of highly skilled and knowledge expert, often do not become as skilled or knowledgeable as them.  As copies can be worse than the original, there can be generational information loss.  Cumulative cultural evolution has to overcome the information loss, and is best able to do so when there is a large population that is highly socially interconnected.  While most individuals will be worse than the guide used to learn from, there will be individuals who develop skills and knowledge surpassing their teachers. 

As more individuals are trying to learn something, there is a higher chance that someone can become better than the individual they are learning from.  Interconnectedness means that more individuals can access skilled and successful guides, thereby increasing the chance of exceeding them.  Access to different highly skills and knowledgeable guides means that the information can be recombined in creative ways. 

Westerners are trained to seek out behaviors that explain why something happened.  Within this culture, claiming that the behavior was the outcome of custom is not an appropriate reason.  There is a lot of pressure for explicit reasons which makes them have an illusion that people have explicit causal models and clear reasons, even though they do not. 

 

Self-Domestication:

Cultural evolution self-domesticated the human species.  As culture developed social norms, those who violated the norms provoked ostracism or removal from sociality.  Making the members of the community prosocial and rule followers in which members of the community monitor and enforce social norms.

Culture and evolution are intertwined.  Genes have evolved brains with abilities to learn from others.  Ability to learn from others disseminates knowledge across society, giving rise to large amount of knowledge about a lot of things.  Rather than hunting abilities, humans as cultural species can copy others.  But not just any other person.  Learners use a wide range of cues to find out to whom they should selectively pay attention to and learn from.  Cues that help determine who in the community is likely to possess the required knowledge and skills that would enable development of individuals’ skills.  Teaching is the other side of cultural learning.  Guides become active transmitters of information.

Cultures influence society development even at an early age.  As children play out and practice adult roles and skills.  Maturity involves apprenticeships that develop complex skills and areas of knowledge, and an understanding of how to build romantic and peer relationships.

Individuals seek to cooperate with others, but also do not want to be exploited.  Social norms solve that social dilemma problem.  As more individuals trust each other, there are more opportunities for exploitation.  But culture has enabled third party monitors, and mental models to overcome trust inhibiting situations.  Locally transmitted and shared rules can be enforced by third parties who monitor, reward, and sanction.  Culture contains information on how to handle situations and relationships that makes people more prosocial and directs away from exploitative opportunities.

Communities are forged by social norms that harness, extend, and suppress social instincts.  Social rules are learned by observing others, and are then internalized.  Judging others is based on cultural learning, which create self-reinforcing stable social behavior.  People would not be as cooperative without social norms and beliefs.  The human species have constructed social environments that penalized antisocial individual and norm violators, while reward the more sociable individuals.  What makes community members cooperative and coordinate with each other is the social norms, beliefs, and worldviews which facilitate an anticipation of each other’s behavior.

Culture enables biological modification, without the need for genetic changes.  Individuals become psychologically rewarded for agreeing with others.  Changing individual preferences and valuations.  Society functions depends on the cultural packages of social norms.  What makes people do the appropriate behavior and avoid inappropriate behavior, is not self-interest, but automatic norm following.  Cultural learning systems have the ability to override may instinctual or innate inclinations.  Acquiring values and practices that appear to go against instinctual or innate inclinations.

Languages have evolved for improved cultural transmission.  Changed in response to local contexts, physical environments, and social norms.  Enabling communication to become more efficient and have higher quality.  Communications includes not only verbal language, but many non-verbal elements.  Linking meaning and inferring intentions of communication to an immense range of behaviors.

 

Prestige Status or Dominance Status:

The availability of adaptive information in the minds of others facilitated a prestige status.  Status based on cultural learning, rather than just the genetic dominance status.  As evolution made humans cultural learners, the question became whom to learn from.  Guides were those who possessed information likely to be valuable to the learner.  Learns need to be with their guides for long durations, and at crucial junctures.  Learns benefit more from guides who are willing to share nonobvious aspects, or not actively conceal the secrets of their success.  Individuals developed a motivation to seek out skilled and knowledgeable models, and became willing to defer to the guide to gain their cooperation or acquiescence.  Deference is a reward that enables the prestigious individuals to share their information to the learners.

Within dominance relationship, individuals follow the dominant out of fear.  Submit or cooperate to not provoke the dominant.  Individuals seek out prestigious individuals.  Learners then to shift their values and practices to become more similar to the prestigious individual.  Learners pay deference to prestigious individuals and learn from them, while prestigious individuals are rewarded by individuals willing to defer to their values even if they do not agree with them.

Dominance and prestige based strategies influence groups in different ways to gain their status.  Dominance strategies tend to give credit to themselves, humiliate other, manipulate, and be overbearing.  Prestige based strategies tend to give credit to the group, and self-deprecate.

Prestige status is associated with individuals with great skill, knowledge, and successful outcome in tasks and activities that people care about.  Prestigious people are sought for knowledge in their locally valued domains, and deferred to which makes them very influential across a wide range of domains.  Prestige status forms the basis of leadership even in egalitarian societies, with no formal leadership roles or hierarchy.  Prestigious people tend to be known for their generosity, and are rarely ill-tempered or erratic. 

Prestigious individuals are generous to improve their statue, this generosity makes their social network more overall prosocial.  The individual increases the probability that other people become more generous and cooperative. 

Culture has made older individuals important information resources.  Culture changed the relationship between older and younger individuals, as there is information transmission within the relationship.  In noncultural species, individuals are limited to what can be acquired through experience which is little use to others because they lack the learning abilities to extract the information.  Aging can diminish the physical body, but for a species with cultural learning, those aging possess valuable information that they can transmit to younger generations.  Knowledge becomes less useful when the contexts change.  Knowledge from older individuals is beneficial when faced with similar contexts as older generations. 

Media exposure, for whatever reason and even without trying, creates attention cues for others to unconsciously perceive that individual as a worthy model.  The individual becomes a shared point of reference for everyone, making other seek out what they think.  Generating emulation within the group.  Creating a feedback loop where people want to hear more from the individual, because of a mistaken belief that others were attending to that particular person. 

 

Culture, and Food:

Most natural food is toxic, to deter predators from eating them.  The reason why there appears so much food available, is because of the already detoxified products in stores.  Cooking has become the modus operandi way of consuming food, which influenced genetic evolution to make humans addicted to cooked food. 

Cooking makes for more accessible to digestion, and does a lot of pre-digestion activities such as detoxification.  Cooking increases energy available through consumption.  Facilitating energy saving that reduced gut tissue, while also preventing diseases associated with gut tissue.  Every saving that facilitated the species to be able to have and maintain bigger brains. 

 

Caveats?

This book features primarily the beneficial aspects of culture.  Although there is an acknowledgement that cultures can have harmful aspects, there is a lack of ways to recognize the harmful aspects.  This leads to the problem of identifying what cultural aspects are beneficial or harmful, which are dependent on perspective, and contexts.  Contexts can change how a cultural aspect impacts its people, by making prior beneficial or harmful aspects have different consequences.  As much of culture is unconscious, what is missing are ways to recognize cultural aspects and values, and if experimentation with the aspects can find and promote an understanding of better alternatives. 

Although there are examples of gene-culture evolution, they have mixed qualities and add to a confusion.  Some are based on seeing the result, and rollbacking to identify the process that made the result.  But there could have many different unmentioned factors that influenced the process and result.  Other times there is a clear understanding on how gene-culture coevolved.  

Humans are compared and elevated above animals.  But there is research indicating that other animals have culture, with many of the same implications.  Animals might not have had best gene and culture combination to make them dominate, but that is no reason to diminish them.  Animals have adapted to fit their environments, using their physiology.

 


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest the book?
•What is culture?
•What is a cultural species? 
•What is cultural evolution?
•How did humans self-domesticate themselves?
•Do humans use instinctual ability or individual capacity to survive?
•What information does culture possess?
•Why is culture referenced as being usually smarter than the individual? 
•From whom do people learn?
•Why can culture have information loss?
•How can culture overcome information loss?
•How did culture and genes coevolve? 
•What is prestige status?
•What is dominance status?
•How is cultural learning different from social learning? 
•What are some marriage norms and how are they enforced? 
•How did complex communicative tools develop? 
•How do social norms spread to other groups? 
•Are there harmful consequences to social norms? 


Book Details
Publisher:         Princeton University Press
Edition ISBN:  9780691166858
Pages to read:   340
Publication:     2015
1st Edition:      2015
Format:            eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           5






Friday, October 28, 2022

Review of Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

This review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Novel
Intriguing Connections = 1) Stories Worthy of Children, 2) Some Kind of Friendship

Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“”Since I could write.  Ole Golly told me if I was going to be a writer I better write down everything, so I’m a spy that writes down everything”” – Louise Fitzhugh, Chapter 2, Page 36


“Of course not.  Can you see Mata Hari in a gym suit?  First of all, if you wear your spy clothes everyone knows you’re a spy, so what have you gained?  No, you have to look like everyone else, then you’ll get by and no one will suspect you.” – Louise Fitzhugh, Chapter 5, Page 87


“Sport was pulling at her sleeve.  He whispered frantically, “you can’t quit.  This is a SCHOOL.” But it was too late.  Even that mild thing, Beth Ellen, was laughing her head off.” – Louise Fitzhugh, Chapter 7, Page 151


Review

Overview:

Harriet wants to be a writer.  To practice, Harriet writes down everything about everyone.  To be a writer, Harriet became a spy.  Carrying around spy tools and writing supplies on a belt while going on spy routes around the neighborhood.  Always carrying a notebook, with thoughts on everyone.  Harriet is a spy, but is also learning what it is to be a spy.  A spy is not supposed to get caught.  For Harriet, it was worse than getting caught, as the notebook was misplaced and was picked up by a classmate who then started to read the content to everyone.  The content containing many details that the classmates did not want to hear about themselves.  This created discord and friction even among Harriet’s friends, which brings with it an understanding of the value of friendship. 

This is a book about negotiation skills, and emotional turmoil.  Teaching not only how to be a spy, but also how to treat others.  Teaching how to belong to a community. 

 

Caveats?

This book does not make light of emotional turmoil.  Which makes the book very difficult emotionally.  But bringing with it an understanding on how to manage emotions.  


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest the book?
•Who is Harriet?
•Who are Harriet’s friends?
•Who are Harriet’s classmates?
•Why is Harriet a spy?
•Why does Harriet write everything down?
•Who does Harriet spy on?
•How does Harriet lose the notebook?
•What happens when classmates read the notebook?
•How does Harriet react to how classmates treat Harriet after they read the notebook?
•How do Harriet’s friends treat Harriet after they read the notebook?
•How do Harriet’s emotions change through the book?

Book Details
Publisher:         Dell Publishing
Edition ISBN:  044034475
Pages to read:   296
Publication:     1984
1st Edition:      1964
Format:            Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          3
Overall           3






Monday, October 24, 2022

Review of A History Of The Federal Reserve: Volume 2, Book 2 1970-1986 by Allan H. Meltzer

This review was written by Eugene Kernes   


Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“The Bretton Woods system of fixe but adjustable exchange rates broke down because no major country or group of countries was willing to subvert domestic policy to improve international policy.  Exchange rate stability was a public good; no country was willing to pay much to supply it.  The United States chose to maintain high employment even if its policy required rising inflation, as it did after 1965.” – Allan H. Meltzer, Chapter 5: International Monetary Problems, 1964-1971, Page 754


“Friedman and Schwartz (1963) emphasize the importance of money growth and inflation.  Their work was well known but largely ignored by most members of FOMC.  Economists in the Nixon administration understood the importance of money growth for inflation but yielded to political pressures.” – Allan H. Meltzer, Chapter 7: Why Monetary Policy Failed Again in the 1970s, Page 860


“the Volcker FOMC, Volcker himself, and his successor Alan Greenspan put greater weight on inflation control.  Interest rates increased at times during recessions or periods of rising unemployment if needed to control inflation.   By 1994 the Federal Reserve finally accepted monetarist criticism and adopted counter-cyclical policies by reducing money growth during expansions and raising it during contractions.” – Allan H. Meltzer, Chapter 9: Restoring Stability, 1983-86, Page 1206-1207


Review

Overview:

During this era, the Federal Reserve had to deal with high unemployment and high inflation, known as stagflation.  Myopic in policy, which produced temporary economic fixes.  The short-term seemingly random policy changes were made without much concern for long-term consequences of its actions.  There was more pressure on lowering unemployment than inflation, which caused the government to stimulate the economy while reducing pressure on anti-inflation programs.  Errors in understanding the interactions between economic factors precipitated in procyclical bias.

The Federal Reserve learned from its experiences, and made changes such using different economic models for decision making, and changing how they interact with the economy and citizens.  During 1975, Congress tasked the Federal Reserve to publicly announce a 12-month money growth target, have long-term policies for economic production, and make reports to Congress at open hearings before the banking committees.  Volcker, and successors, changed how the Federal Reserve operated by focusing more on inflation control, and using counter-cyclical money growth policies. 

 

Addendum:

There was conflict between domestic and foreign objectives.  Governments were not willing to sacrifice domestic policy of lower unemployment for international policy.  Much like many nations, the United States focused on high employment even at the expense of inflation.  Citizens choose temporary unemployment over wage reduction, making wages sticky. 

Controlling inflations requires patience and persistence, which the Federal Reserve lacked during the era.  Lacked long-term objectives, and ability to achieve them.  There was research and ideas about managing money growth and information.  They were ignored by the FOMC, while government economists accepted them.  Even though government economics accepted that money growth led to inflation, it yielded to political pressures.  Monetary policy had managed economic factors to maintain economic stability when the Federal Reserve started to reducing volatility of output and limiting inflation.

 

Caveats?

This is not an introductory book on monetary policy.  To understand much of the history presented, would require the reader to have a background in monetary policy.


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest the book?
•What is stagflation?
•How did the Federal Reserve make decisions?
•What did the Federal Reserve learn from this era?
•How did the Federal Reserve manage employment, and inflation?
•How did international objective influence national policy?
•Why was money growth a target?
•How did Congress shape the Federal Reserve?


Book Details
Publisher:         The University of Chicago Press
Edition ISBN:  9780226519944
Pages to read:   572
Publication:     2009
1st Edition:      2009
Format:            Hardcover

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    3
Content          3
Overall           3






Friday, October 21, 2022

Review of Beyond Order: 12 More Rules For Life by Jordan B. Peterson

This review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (12/24/2022)

Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“People depend on constant communication with others to keep their minds organized.  We all need to think to keep things straight, but we mostly think by talking.” – Jordan B. Peterson, Rule I: Do Not Carelessly Denigrate Social Institutions Or Creative Achievement, Page 26


“The relationship between this brilliant dramatic representation and how we use, or misuse, the gifts of our culture is obvious: the careless demolition of tradition is the invitation to the (re)emergence of chaos.  When ignorance destroys culture, monsters will emerge.” – Jordan B. Peterson, Rule II: Imagine Who You Could Be, And Then Aim Single-Mindedly At That, Page 76


“Leaving everything hidden in the fog because you are afraid of the danger you may find there will be of little help when fate forces you to run headlong toward what you have refused to see.” – Jordan B. Peterson, Rule III: Do Not Hide Unwanted Things In The Fog, Page 106


Review

Overview:

Mental health depends on more than just the individual, for sanity has been delegated to society.  Communication with others maintains the brain and keeps the mind organized.  Thinking is mostly done through talking.  Talking about the past and future clarifies what matters and how to proceed.  Talking about behaviors informs the appropriate ways to judge others.  Social feedback reminds of appropriate behavior, with deviations getting negative reactions.  Physical and mental health depends on interactions, even with close relations.   Requiring continuous negotiations with the partner to maintain peace. 

Laws create order needed for social cohesion, but cannot perfectly codify the complexity of behavior and contexts.  Even with important rules, rigid rule following causes problems.  Creation comes from the chaos of deviating behaviors.  Dynamic responses that facilitate change.  Tolerance is needed for the order of law, and the chaos of deviation.  Stability and change are outcomes of the interactions of social institutions and need to be managed to find the appropriate mixture of order and chaos. 

Traditions and cultures inform behavior.  Carelessly destroying the culture brings with it chaos, inappropriate behavior.  Genuine authority constrains arbitrary exercise of power, because the authoritative agent cares for those within the agents responsibility.  Someone needs to take responsibility for getting things done, and by doing so, they create opportunities for them. 

To resolve problems, requires acknowledging and dealing with them.  Ignored problems do not go away, and can be exacerbated by the avoidance to resolve them.  Sins of commission are those acts that are purposely done knowing that they are wrong.  Sins of omission are those acts which should have been done, but were not. 

No individual has complete knowledge of anything.  But ideologues have a pretentious claim on having that amount of knowledge.  This is a totalitarian claim on knowledge, which facilities problematic behavior when prediction fail to materialize. 

Autonomous consciousness needs to be built, and requires the individual to make their own mistakes and learn from them.  By being overprotective to others, the individual weakens their character.  Individuals need to learn what they hate doing, so that they can avoid doing the things that they hate, to avoid making a miserable life.  Individuals also need to build skills which require dedication and hard work.

Individuals are more complicated than simply good or evil.  A simplifying division used for justification of self-righteous hatred.  A division purposely creating terror that leads to conflict and destruction.

A relationship requires constant negotiation with the partner.  The arrangement is not a zero-sum game, but relationship needs many coordination activities.  Negotiation means figuring out how both partners can help each other.  Without negotiating peace, each partner will slowly aggravate each other causing conflict. 

 

Caveats?

The book is filled with examples that try to define reasons for a claim, but not enough explanations of the content.  The reasons for the claim do not necessarily lead to the claim.  The use of the claims can be exaggerated, and create contradictions with other claims being made. 


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest the book?
•What is needed for mental health?
•What is communication used for?
•Why are laws needed?
•Why is deviation behavior needed?
•How to manage order and chaos? 
•How does culture work? 
•How to resolve problems?
•What are sins of commission, and sins of omission? 
•What is genuine authority? 
•What is an ideologue? 
•What happens to those overprotected? 
•How to build skill?
•How does writing impact memory?
•How to maintain a relationship?

Book Details
Publisher:         Portfolio [Penguin Random House]
Edition ISBN:  9780593084656
Pages to read:   308
Publication:     2021
1st Edition:      2021
Format:            eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          2
Overall           2






Monday, October 17, 2022

Review of Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy by George Gilder

This review was written by Eugene Kernes  

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (10/29/2022)

Watch Short Review


Excerpts

“Google understands that most advertising most of the time is value-subtracted.  That is, to the viewers, ads are overwhelmingly minuses, or even mines.  The digital world has accordingly responded with ad-blockers, ad-filters, mutes, Tivos, ad-voids, and devices to help viewers escape the minuses, the covert exactions, that pay for their free content.” – George Gilder, Chapter 3: Google’s Roots and Religions, Page 38


“While most of us welcome “free” on the understanding that it means “no charge,” what we really want is to get what we ordered rather than what the authority chooses to provide.  In practice, “free” means insecure, amorphous, unmoored, and changeable from the top.” – George Gilder, Chapter 5: Ten Laws of the Cryptocosm, Page 50


“Midas’s error was to mistake gold, wealth’s monetary measure, for wealth itself.  But wealth is not a thing or a random sequence.  It is inextricably rooted in hard won knowledge over extended time.” – George Gilder, Chapter 8: Markov and Midas, Page 93


Review

Overview:

There are many technology companies, but it is Google’s product of information distribution that has become ubiquitous.  Giving Google vast influencing power over the economy, and policies.  Providing seemingly free products.  Paying for them not with money, but with something far scarcer, time.  Directing attention away from the wanted content, with distracting advertisements.  Collecting a lot of data on the users which can be used for improvements, but the data is also centralized which attracts thieves.  While not providing enough security, for the product is free.  Free products that also attract malware. 

There is a trend to utilize algorithms, and develop Artificial Intelligence.  Seen as superior to the brain.  Which makes humans appear to be substandard and useless.  But AI cannot think, as AI needs human intelligence to program it.  AI needs humans to structure information for AI to learn.  Humans provide the goals and targets for AI to obtain an output.  Algorithms are logical machines that have deterministic outcomes.  But wealth is created from knowledge based on informational discoveries and surprises.

 

Advertisements, And Consequences Of Free Products:

The internet was meant to remove unwanted advertisements that were disruptive during the television era.  The internet was meant to provide only the advertisements that were wanted.  But under Google’s guidance, the internet is full of unwanted ads and contains a lot of bots and malware.  Rather than empowering the individual, the internet has empowered those with money.

Google followed an unconventional strategy of making its content and information free.  Making information part of a commons, available to all.  Google wanted to organize the world’s information, and make it available.  This would have also displaced existing advertising regime.

Nothing is ever free.  Rather than paying for products with money directly, people are paying for products with their attention.  Time is the ultimate scarcity.  Time is what customers pay with free products.  People welcome free when it means no charge, but what is wanted are the ordered content, rather than the content the authority chooses to provide.  In economics, money measure scarcity of time.

Advertising is usually value-subtracting.  Advertising distracts from watching content.  Many products arose to prevent advertising, the source of the free content.  What Google did was try to use search results, to have viewers see the advertising that they wanted to see.  Transforming advertising into valuable information.  Based on measurement of advertisement effectiveness and quality, advertisers were forced to improve their advertising or remove those that were ineffective.  Google itself created an ad-blocker, which would apply to ads condemned by the Coalition for Better Ads.  Blocking ads it deemed inappropriate, which might be an illegal act for a search engine.  Ad-blocking is detrimental to the unwanted advertisement industry.

Not charging for software services, means avoiding liability for buggy products.  Free products avoid liabilities to real customers, such as preventing development of appropriate security.  Free products are not stolen, therefore do not develop measures to prevent hacking and theft.  Security of information is delegated to the customers. 

 

Artificial Intelligence:

Within the industry of AI, there are claims that machines will be much smarter and have access to more multidimensional data, that individuals would want to delegate their decisions to the machine.  Everything becomes seen as an algorithm that can be controlled through machine learning.  For the AI industry, the superiority of AI algorithm intelligence is making human intelligence inferior and the humans unemployable.  As AI is making homo sapiens obsolete, there are Silicon Valley leaders who favor federally guaranteed annual income to compensate those who are obsolete.  Making more and more people who are unemployed forever.  AI is incredible technology that can improve human life.  The problem is the human mind is seen as a sub-optimal computer, meant to evolve into a silicon based superior machine.

Marxism started with a belief that the industrial revolution solved many problems of production.  Although the ideology has become known for revolutionary methods of rectifying workers grievances.  Silicon Valley has a neo-Marxism trend of repeating the same error as prior Marxists, that of making human labor and mind obsolete.  A world in which the machine supplement human activities is a utopian vision from Silicon Valley.  Ironically, the vision is shared by their critics who have a dystopian view.  The collaboration between utopian and dystopian views is possible because of Google’s monopoly of information and intelligence.

Computer power has become delegated to centralized propriety clouds, moving more data between distances without degradation.  Computers have become cheaper because of this delegation.  The “cloud” is an external hard drive for collecting a gargantuan amount of data, containing processors, connected by fiber-optic lines that consume immense amount of electrical power with the outcome of radiating immense amount of heat. 

Gödel argued that all logical systems had a variety of paradoxes.   Logical systems depended on unproved propositions.  Consistency was no assurance that the system was correct.  Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem precipitated the creation of a mathematics of information.

Path to knowledge in a logical machine is deterministic and dictatorial.  The machine can potentially gather and process data quickly using a combination of algorithms to produce a single outcome.  A centralized processor of all data gathered under a single operator.  As private data is oppositional to how Google wants to process all data, then Google’s claims about wanting privacy are inconsistent with what it wants. 

Deterministic logic prevents surprises that enable discovery and creation.  Technology needs to transcend deterministic mathematic logic to make progress.  Deterministic machines are free from surprise, as the answers are implicit in the question.  But information is surprise, the discovery of the unexpected.  Within information theory, order defines the expected, but there are degrees of freedom in the message that allow for entropy. 

Consciousness depends on faith for it acts even without full knowledge and therefore obtains surprises.  Machines lack consciousness, lacking surprises.  A logical system that is incomplete and needs an oracle.  Knowledge of the incompleteness is the human condition, manifested in consciousness. 

 

Wealth, and Knowledge:

Gold was mistaken to be wealth by Midas.  Gold is the monetary measure of wealth, but not wealth itself.  Wealth is not a thing or random sequence.  Wealth is knowledge accrued over time.  Knowledge is the source of wealth.  Knowledge provides the understanding on how to utilize matter, and improve upon prior knowledge.

Many firms are using algorisms to make a profit.  Firms within the financial industry make trades that make no sense because of algorisms, but these trades do create profit.  Without understanding the reason for success, then no knowledge is added to improve and provide productive investments. 

Knowledge and learning are the mechanisms by which wealth is created within capitalism.  Rather than create wealth, wealth is being distributed in a zero-sum game.  Knowledge is created with laboriously investigations within companies, but the Securities and Exchange Commission has made inside trading illegal.  Which moved trading to algorithmic formulas because a computer cannot be indicted, although no creative investment is made either. 

Universities make a fortune by selling a paper that comes at great cost to people.  Students obtain massive debts while preventing them from becoming entrepreneurs that would enrich future generations.

 

Security Measures, And Lack Thereof:

Although there are people making claims about the superiority of the machines over their limited human customers, the breakdown of the security system reduced the worth of the machines.  Nations with better security systems are becoming more prominent.  Security is a fundamental, basic, and indispensable component of information technology for the services they provide, rather than a benefit from retro-fixes. 

Centralization of data informs hackers where the most important data is, putting everyone at risk.  Centralization makes information vulnerable to manipulation and theft by those in power.  An alternative would be to have power and information distributed in a peer-to-peer system.  The author predicts that the centralized and free information that collect customer data are not likely to survive distributed peer-to-peer technology, which has been termed a cryptocosm. 

 

Money:

Gold provided a stable economic foundation that could be used to plan for long term projects without fear of inflation due to counterfeit money or fiat money that erodes future payments.  Without the gold standard, money does not have an external frame of reference.  Money has become a self-referential logical system that can be manipulated by central banks for their governments.

Bitcoins is like a precious metal which has a predetermined supply.  Demand by users changes its value.  A recognized but illusive originator of bitcoin is Satoshi.  But Satoshi is nowhere to be found.  The lack of leadership means that there is no third party that governments or hackers can infiltrate.  Without taking control of bitcoin, there is distributed security. 

Cryptocurrencies provide for anonymous exchange and security needed for transactions.  They also provide proof of record needed to defend against governments and businesses spurious claims. 

 

Additional Information:

Successful firms utilize extensively their era’s abundant resource designated by declining prices, while saving the scarce resource.  Data and bandwidth have become the abundant resource, while customer patience is scarce.

Scarce bandwidth means that it will be allocated preferentially, no matter the laws.  But if bandwidth is abundant, then neutrality laws are unnecessary.  The irony is that a network neutrality campaign deters investment into improving the bandwidth.  While Google supports internet neutrality, for government to intervene on Google behave.  But Google depends on bandwidth abundance, that are penalized by network neutrality laws.

Applications tend to lock people in them.  People provide them with lots of information, but need to petition to move their information to another application.

 

Caveats?

Some caveats for the book includes that the book is less about Google, and more about how the internet functions.  Google provides and controls a major internet function.  A company whose actions influence how other functions operate, and the policies that regulate how other companies behave.  Showcasing the negative consequences of how the internet operations, and the alternative methods that are taking root. 

There is a lot of esoterica in the book.  Would help understand the content if the reader already knows the esoterica.  Among the ideas, there is a poor transition between topics, and a lack of explanation for some claims.  Related content is sporadically placed which makes it difficult to put together into a coherent understanding. 

There is a contradiction when discussing security.  In part, the author claims that security has been delegated to the customers, making it seem as a negative consequence of the internet companies not providing security.  But in another part, blockchains are described as peer-to-peer distributed security as a positive consequence.  Decentralized security cannot be both a positive and negative consequence of products.  


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest the book?
•Why is Google the target of this book?
•What do free products provide? 
•How are free products paid for?
•How is data centralization used?
•What are the benefits and consequences of algorithms and artificial intelligence?
•What is wealth?
•How is knowledge generated?
•What value do advertisements provide? 
•What impact do ad-blockers have?
•Why is security lax? 
•What are the limits to artificial intelligence?
•What is the cloud?
•What is Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem?
•What is the cryptocosm?
•What is blockchain?
•What are cryptocurrencies? 
•What is the value of an education?
•How does Google manage bandwidth? 
•How did John von Neumann influence the digital (information) age?
•Can superior intelligences be governed? 
•Where does value come from a network? 


Book Details
Publisher:         Regnery Gateway [Salem Media Group]
Edition ISBN:  9781621576136
Pages to read:   268
Publication:     2018
1st Edition:      2018
Format:            eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          4
Overall           4






Friday, October 14, 2022

Review of On Obligations by Marcus Tullius Cicero

This review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Philosophy
Book Club Event = Book List (01/07/2023)
Intriguing Connections = 1) To Cooperate Or To Defect?

Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“Furthermore, when we are enjoying success and things are going our way, we must make strenuous efforts to avoid arrogance, contempt, and disdain.  It is a mark of instability to be intemperate in the face of success no less than in adversity.  It is a splendid thing to remain level-headed in every condition in life, and to show the same demeanour and outlook at all times.” – Cicero, Book 1, Page 31


“We should accordingly treat other people – not just the best of them, but also the rest – with a modicum of respect.  Disregard for what others feel about you is a mark not merely of conceit but also of lack of integrity.  Mind you, there is a difference between justice and deference when taking stock of other people.  It is the role of justice not to wrong them, but of deference to avoid bruising them; the impact of the fitting is especially notable here.” – Cicero, Book 1, Page 34-35


“Such men with erroneous judgement have their eyes fixed on the rewards which attend on their actions, but not on the penalty which they pay.  I refer not to punishment under the laws, which they repeatedly violate, but to that imposed by their own base conduct, punishment which is the bitterest possible.” – Cicero, Book 3, Page 96


Review

Overview:

Each individual has obligations to the community they belong to.  Obligations to not harm others directly, and not allow inaction to cause harm to others.  Those attempting to not concern themselves with others do prevent potentially harming others.  But, as they prevent committing an injustice of commission, they are committing an injustice of omission.  As they desert community life, they do not contribute anything to the community. 

Foundation of justice is adherence to good faith in interactions, to not exploit others for profit.  Individuals are meant to be useful to human community, without restricting obligations to those close to them.  But being useful must not come at the expense of exploiting the rest of the world.  Justice overrides that which can be useful.  For useful activities that contain shameful elements should be rejected.  Rejected even if the reprehensible behavior will not be made public. 

 

Obligations of Philosophy:

The job of the philosopher is meant to teach obligations.  To teach about the behaviors that each member in the community has to other members, and even beyond the community.  That requires teaching about what is useful, honorable, and justice.  There are behaviors which should be done because they are honorable.  Praiseworthy behavior that should be done even within anyone praising the behavior.

Individuals are meant to be active in helping others, rather than being idle in seclusion.  There is more to wisdom than just obtaining knowledge.  Knowledge needs to be applied, which facilitates practical wisdom.  Knowledge is useless without practical action as a reward.  Knowledge needs to be justified by applying knowledge in the service to the community. 

There are those who undermine obligation by assuming a supreme good, which is not connected with virtue.  Philosophers undermine social obligation by using their self-interest as a measurement for what is honorable.  What that means is that friendship, generosity, and justice cannot be cultivated if they are not aligned with the philosopher’s perspective.

 

Justice, and Injustice:

Just behavior comes from preventing harm on others with the exception to an aggressor, and that individuals should observe the common good.  Not even friendship overrides justice.  Protection of interests needs to come without damaging others.  Politicians should not promote advantages when they come about by hurting other communities or with dishonorable policies.  Even within commerce, merchants are meant to declare defects in the products.  Corruption comes about from those proclaiming to be doing good and useful activities, but utilize inappropriate behaviors and policies. 

Roots of injustice come from fear, greed, and lust for dominance and fame.  Sometimes injustices are justified when committing a harm to prevent more harm.  There are individuals who seek the rewards of actions, but ignore the consequences of their actions.  Law can be escaped by those who harm, but they cannot escape the knowledge of what they had done.  A constant reminder of the harm they have committed.  Better to avoid those who do not have regrets over harm done, or that the harm done was appropriate or justified.

Cicero uses Caesar as the example of not just behavior.  Caesar treated Cicero generously, but understood Cicero’s disdain for Caesar.  Cicero saw Caesar as the individual responsible for the fall of the Roman Republic.   

Decisions are difficult and have many uncertainties about their use and impact.  Many question whether their decision is appropriate or reprehensible.  The following issue with decisions is whether they are useful, if the decision is beneficial to them.  The third issue is the conflict between what is useful and what is just.  These are issues within decision making that can be paralyzing and cause indecision.  A conflict between what is honorable and useful, which needs resolution.  When there is uncertainty whether a decision is appropriate or not, better to be patient and clear up the uncertainty.  Fairness within decision clears up uncertainty. 

 

How To Treat Others:

The individual judges oneself differently then when judging others.  Everyone should be treated with at least some respect, and avoid harming their self-worth.  A lack of integrity is shown when disregarding what others think of oneself.

Considering the welfare of others and being generous towards them, should not go beyond the resources available for appropriate distribution to close individuals and their futures.  Excess generosity does not come from generosity or honorable conduct but is disguised as such.  Excess generosity has its own self-interested motivations.

Success must not come along with arrogance, contempt, and disdain.  Appropriate behavior and retaining a dignified character are the desired attributes.  Decision making changes during success, making it important to utilize advice of those trusted, while being careful of those who flatter and deceive.  Many make grievous errors by taking the advice of those who flattered their ego.

 

Justice, Even In Time Of War:

Even within warfare, there are decisions which must be upheld by the state.  Military disputes can be settled by negotiation or by force.  Within civil societies, force is allowed if negotiation is not possible. 

Just war comes about after due warning and demands for satisfaction are provided.  Wars are meant to be used as tools for living peaceably without suffering injustice.  The defeated are to be spared and forgiven, unless they committed terrible injustices.    

 

Caveats?

A difficult book to read because of the era in which it was written in.  The era also makes the many references, not readily familiar. 

Many of the claims that Cicero provides need to be adjusted for they carry ambiguity.  The claims have philosophical paradoxes and additional contextual complications.  Even Cicero recognized the complexity of the claims, and tried to guide the reader in how to overcome them. 


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•What are the obligations that community members have towards each other?
•What are injustices of commission, and injustices of omission? 
•Why is there a need for individuals to be useful to the community?
•What is justice?
•What happens when justice and being useful are in conflict? 
•Why is the purpose of philosophers?
•How can philosophers betray the ideas of obligations?
•What is the purpose of knowledge?
•What are just behaviors?
•Why is injustice committed?
•Why is there uncertainty in decisions? 
•How does success change the way decision making is made?
•Can there be a just war?

Book Details
Publisher:         Oxford University Press
Edition ISBN:  0192839683
Pages to read:   171
Publication:     2001
1st Edition:      44 BCE
Format:            Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    3
Content          2
Overall           2






Friday, October 7, 2022

Review of The Evolution of God by Robert Wright

This review was written by Eugene Kernes  

Book can be found in:
Book Club Event = Book List (10/15/2022)

Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“There have been many such unsettling (from religion’s point of view) discoveries since then, but always some notion of the divine has survived the encounter with science.  The notion has had to change, but that’s no indictment of religion.  After all, science has changed relentlessly, revising if not discarding old theories, and none of us think of that as an indictment of science.  On the contrary, we think this ongoing adaptation is carrying science closer to the truth.  Maybe the same this is happing to religion.” – Robert Wright, Introduction, Page 10


“However diverse the forces that shape religion, its early impetus indeed seems to have come largely from people who, like us, were trying to make sense of the world.  But they didn’t have the heritage of modern science to give them a head start, so they reached prescientific conclusions.  Then, as understanding of the world grew – especially as it grew via science – religion evolved in reaction.” – Robert Wright, Chapter One: The Primordial Faith, Page 19


“What’s more, if you have a fruitful relationship with those people – if you trade with them, or join them in military alliance – it might be worth your while to go beyond tolerance and actually affirm your belief in their gods.  And maybe they’ll reciprocate.” – Robert Wright, Chapter Four: Gods of the Ancient States, Page 81


Review

Overview:

Religion provides a moral framework for how people should appropriately behave towards its members and others.  Influencing behavior that enables social cohesion.  Social cohesion used to coordinate between members of the religion, and others.  Raising the costs of exploiting strangers, while providing members with benefits.  Cooperation works within the dynamics of nonzero sum relationships, for cooperating would benefit each faction.  But cooperation is difficult in zero-sum relationships, for each faction seems to take resources away from the other, which is a source of conflict and tension. 

Religions have changed in reaction to social circumstances, to manage the sources of tension while providing members with benefits.  Religion has been challenged, and has done more than just survive the challenges, for religion responded to the challenges.  Religious ideas changed in the same way science does, by error correcting and adapting to improve ideas.  Evolving the ideas used for social cohesion.  Refining religious ideas, and moving them closer to truth. 

 

Evolution Of An Idea, And Features:

Many social cohesion ideas were thought to be products of religion, but then could be explained by natural selection.  Science, and evolution, seem to be in contrast with religion, but they do not need to be.  Religion has survived the encounters with science.  In response to discoveries the ideas have changed, much like in the domain of science which changes ideas relentlessly.  Idea of gods arouse as illusions, and the illusions evolved.  The story of how the illusions evolved is meaningful, and through the evolution became more plausible. 

Cultures evolve in the same way biological species evolve.  Cultural traits arise or perish, which creates different cultures.  Changing the institutions, and belief systems.  Religious ideas gain support when they appear to provide effective benefits.  Monotheism evolved from primitive religion. 

Religion came about from trying to understand the world, but without access to the tools of science.  Religion evolved in reaction to more understanding about the world, which includes scientific understanding. 

Many of the texts are thought to be wisdom literature.  The teachings from wisdom literature, is accumulated astute observations on the human condition.  Philo would advise accepting their authority, because it would save a lot of time.  But the wisdom was available to everyone, to empirically test them by watching the consequences of behavior.  Wisdom literature generalized that virtue is usually rewarded, and wrongdoing usually punished.  Not that evil is always punished.  Wisdom literature rests on the science of human behavior.

Two perspectives about religion dominate thought.  A perspective claims that religion serves society and provides social cohesion.  Another perspective claims that religion is a tool of social control, and exploitation.

When interpreting and writing many of the works, ethnic marking takes place.  Ethnic marking works by creating biases that provide a constructive identity and the differences between others.  Differences that become amplified and embedded in mythology that leads to massive distortion without anyone purposely distorting.

Religious doctrines always needed to provide benefits, out of self-interest.  It is the benefits that provide a source of appeal.  Self-interest that aligns with other interests.  Interests that change with time.  Self-interest link with other interests evolved and matured the religious ideas. 

Belonging to a religious cult did not mean that the gods did favors, but that the cult members helped each other.  Within a religious cult based on commerce, business information could be shared between the merchants and shippers.  The cult was a network that created bonds and contacts.  The more members in the cult, the more valuable the cult because more information could be accessed.


The Origins:

Ancient societies cannot actually be observed.  The ancient religions from which contemporary religions evolved from.  Beliefs could not be written down, because the peoples were illiterate.  That leaves archeological findings, and records of observed contemporary hunter-gatherer societies.  Contemporary hunter-gather societies are not exactly like the ancient societies, especially because the process of observation involves contact with the society and potentially influencing the society.  Genuine cultural aspects of hunter-gatherer society are usually characterized as widespread and strange (to others). 

Within small societies like hunter-gatherer villages, everyone knowns everyone else.  There are no anonymous relationships.  Most relationships are enduringly cooperative via reciprocity or kin selection.  Rivalry does occur, but the rivals can either figure out a way to cooperate or someone has to go to a different society.  There is a lack of opportunity to purposely exploit other members of the group and get away with act.   No need to for the small societies to preach virtues or require external threat to have the virtues, because they already inhabit those virtues and are implicitly reminded of them frequently.  Those virtues need to be preached and externally enforced when people are in contact with larger society.  When individuals need to adjust to people who they are not close to.   

Primordial religion was based on explaining why things happens, predict them, and potentially intervene.  Even in non-religious institutions, such as the stock market, there are those who claim to have special insights and predictive powers.  People who make such claims are mostly wrong, but they still exist and profit.  The reason is because people want to understand complex forces, and learn how to manage them.  Convincing others that the individual does comprehend the complex forces, leads to statues within society.  This is how it started with religion as well, for a belief in a supernatural force, created a demand for people to claim to understand it.  There are some shaman which obtained a reputation for success, enabling them to become leaders and sustain the practice.  Within some societies, shaman could improve the success rates of their interventions, and thereby protect their careers.  The ways they did so was by turning down dire cases, or blaming destiny rather than the shaman, or even countervailing sorcery from another hostile shaman. 

Gods of early civilizations, much like their ancestors, were humans but with supernatural powers.  Even when taking on various nonhuman forms, they were mentally human.  Even during the transition from chiefdoms and states, paragons of virtues for social organization have not yet been developed.


The Politics of Religion, and Politics:

Political and religious systems are deeply intertwined.  Using special connection to the divine for political use.  Ancient states relied on religion to provide a moral code to encourage appropriate behaviors between people.  Moral codes existed even in smaller societies, but was depended upon in the large societies of states.  Science, economics, law, government have evolved from cruder forms which were symbiotically intertwined with religious thought.  Social institutions which might not have been possible without religion facilitating social organization.

Law has become secular and enforced by police without supernatural support, but early laws required divide authority to make and enforce.  Unlike a state government which normally has a monopoly on legitimate use of force, within chiefdoms grievances can have violent retaliation.  Recriminating acts are not lawless, but is limiting as a source of social order.  Within small hunter-gatherer societies, temptation to exploit is so low because the costs of harming someone are large especially because everyone might be needed.  Chiefdoms have many more people which include many remote peoples who’s costs to exploit is low.  Religion facilitated in increasing the costs of exploiting remote peoples within the chiefdoms.

The chief was limited in the ability to use powers to exploit.  Having to make sacrifices, and perform social services.  The reason is that people do not appreciate exploitation and would have revolted.  There are more less powerful people who will defend their interests.  People might be susceptible to forces of social cohesion, but they are not easily blinded by them.  An external limit on exploitation would be competition with alternative social systems. 

Basic theology were partly based on governmental structures, which included a council.  Many religions had a pantheon of gods, an assembly of gods.  Canaanite tradition had a similar theme. 


Polytheism And Commerce:

During the 3rd millennium BCE, contact was on the rise between cities not under a single regional government.  Contact that was a combination of trade and war.  Contact with different beliefs in different gods.  But the people were polytheists, which meant that the gods were not making competitive claims about religious truths.  More than just tolerating other gods, the cities began to cooperate with other peoples, each affirming the others gods in reciprocity.  Within Mesopotamia, the gods were accepted into a pantheon and the cities determined their relations within the family.  To unify Mesopotamia’s diverse peoples, there was an attempt to unify the concept of divinity 

Polytheism is seen as a tool to subdue masses, or can be seen as providing intercultural amity.  As states expanded, they drew in different peoples and beliefs that had economic and cultural exchange.  As monarchs wanted to cooperate with others, through trade or military alliance, they developed interfaith harmony out of self-interest.  The different monarchs were each able to benefit from the cooperation, because economic interaction is non-zero-sum. 

Intercultural connection would continue through technological evolution.  Empires expanded with advances in transportation and communication, which would put more people in contact with other peoples.  But contact that at times had hostility within religious doctrines and moral attitudes.  War and other forms of antagonism foster a theology of intolerance, but because of non-zero-sum interactions between people, there is trend for tolerance and caring for the welfare of others. 


Judaism:

Although polytheism leaves validity for other peoples’ gods, monotheists appear to be belligerently intolerant to other people’s faiths.  Monotheists of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all claim descendants from the same Abraham during the 2nd millennium BCE.  Claim lineage from the same god, but do not accept each other as worshipping the same god.  A perception creating many Yahweh-on-Yahweh conflict which reinforces Abrahamic monotheism’s reputation for belligerent intolerance. 

The Hebrew Bible’s chapters were not written in order, and have different authorship.  With an understanding of which texts followed which, provides a guide on how God evolved.  Excavations provided evidence clarified events during the biblical story, sometimes at its expense.  Earlier sources accept polytheism, but it was later authors and editors decided upon which books and verses to keep or dismiss, with a bias against polytheism.

Yahweh declared oneself a jealous God, because of the existence of other gods.  And wanted no other gods to be worshipped.  Israelite religion went through a phase of monolatry, the worship of a single god without denying existence of others, before transitioning to a monotheism. 

Yahweh started out as a warrior god, not someone who rules the universe.  Within the time that polytheism reigned, even Israelites worshipped many different gods.  Those who did worship Yahweh, accepted the existence of others.  Although Yahweh was not the only god, Yahweh was promoted as the best god that the Israelites should worship. 

Yahweh also appears to be a son of God.  When Yahweh parent God divided people into ethnic groups, gave an ethnic group to Yahweh.  Although low in the pantheon, Yahweh emerged the chief god due to political shifts of power, as Israel gained power so did Yahweh.  As Yahweh became more powerful, other gods were being assimilated into Yahweh’s being.  A move towards monotheism.  As other gods diminished and disappeared, only Yahweh remained a God.  Other supernatural beings were demoted to divine messengers or angels.

After escaping slavery in Egypt, Israelites march and conquer a city of Canaanite.  They conquered Jericho with Yahweh’s help, then go to do the same with other cities.  Although Canaanites are usually seen as the opposition, evidence indicates that Canaanites and Israelites had a history of contact with each other that was peaceful.  It appears that Israelites religion might have been part of the Canaanite culture before the divergence.  Possible that Yahweh started as a Canaanite god, rather than an import. 

As Yahweh became the official religion, there were ordinary peoples who were devoted to other gods.  Even several kings were not devoted to Yahweh.  For these crimes, Yahweh set to punish Israel.  Traumatic religious experiences caused those who suffered, wanted to explain that suffering by forging a religious commitment with ultimate redemptive power.  


Christianity:

Bible’s claims about history are evaluated by how much sense they make.  The less sense, the more likely it was true.  Bible’s authors could have easily invented ideas that collaborated their religious beliefs.  Authors struggling with some facts means that they are genuine and could not be ignored.  

What Jesus said and done changed with time.  The embellishments made by the authors were believed by the authors.  What is known about Jesus came much later after Jesus’s death.  The initial compositions about Jesus’s life came from recollections from those who might have known Jesus or seen what Jesus did or said.  These accounts would limit authors inventiveness, but with time there would be less witnesses and therefore an increase in more dubious information.  As an example, the saying about throwing a stone if the individual is without sin, was added centuries after.

Although there is no evidence that Jesus Christ was crucified until claims decades after, it is accepted as the event happened.  As Jesus was approaching death, earlier sources indicated surprise by the act and an accusation at God.  Which is puzzling given that as a son of God, would have known about the forthcoming resurrection.  Later last words of Jesus were more equanimous.

Jesus did not enlighten many people before death.  The explanation given was that the words of divinity were cryptic.  Later authors would further embellish many explanations that contained inconvenient facts. 

Jesus was very traditional given the era, but would later be seen as a radical.  What Jesus did appear to envision is a reversal of fortunes of nations that would allow to Israel to rise above other nations.  A reversal even within the Israelite nation. 

Jesus wanted neighbors to have social cohesion within Israel.  Claims that were not intended for interethnic bonding.  Loving neighbors should not be confused with loving all humankind.  The historical Jesus didn’t emphasize universal love.  Many claims that would later be seen as more universal, where originally meant for just Israel. 

Jesus did not make love a major Christian theme, it was the apostle Paul.  Paul had an experience on a journey, from which Paul decided that Jesus died in atonement for humanity’s sins.  Paul’s “brotherly love” was a product of the time, and not an innovation.  The Christian church was providing the spirit of kinship, which was considered to be a big family.  Other organization were providing similar services.  As Paul set up congregations in a city, and went to other cities, Paul could not easily keep church leaders in line.  With the ask of brotherly love, Paul could induce congregational cohesion even at a distance.  A brotherhood that did not mean interethnic brotherhood. 

As the Roman Empire was expanding and linking cities via roads and legal system, the linkage benefited commerce and religion.  Paul used the road network to build a large religious organization. 

Christianity generated a reputation for generosity, even to non-Christians.  Non-Christians who might join the church, or speak highly of it.  The generosity would not be expected to non-Christians infinitely, as there would be no reason to join the group if the benefits could be had without joining.  Nor could a group afford to give endlessly without reciprocating contributions.  Entrance into the church had the expectations of contributing to the church, not just taking.

Provoking others would have given cause for retribution.  Paul understood that kindness frustrates the opposition by preventing a reason for retribution.  Going further as to provide for the opposition.  Paul learned the strategy of befriending an enemy as a way to counterattack from Hebrew wisdom literature.

Jews and Christians had a problem with the Roman Empire’s model of religion.  Roman government allowed freedom of worship, as long as they also paid homage to the official gods of the empire. Christians would not vindicate Roman gods, nor other people’s gods.  Christians challenged the legitimacy of other gods because they were monotheists, and sought conversions. 

For a religion to be accepted within the Roman Empire, it had to show historical heritage that predated the empire.  Jews and Christians used Hebrew scriptures of evidence of those roots, but the claims were competing as it was difficult to accept multiple heirs to the Hebrew tradition.  When Christians sought the empires religious exemption, they had to undermined Jewish claim to legitimacy.  The way they undermined Jews was by claiming that they had divine guilt of their god killing the son.  Within the context of non-zero-sum relationship, tribes were tolerant towards each other.  But competing for the claim of heir to Hebrew tradition was a zero-sum relationship that garnered conflict. 

Christianity drew support after Emperor Constantine fought under the symbol of the cross.  By the end of the 4th century, Christianity was the official religion of the empire.  Even without Paul, the Roman government was trying for ethnic harmony, and asked for tolerance towards the diverse gods of diverse ethnicities.  Constantine might have used Christianity for the purpose of social cohesion because of a need to consolidate the empire.  By the 5th century, many Christian were being told to avoid going to alternative churches.  They prevented communication to Judaism, which meant that they could not utilize Judaism’s infrastructure.  Anti-Semitism arising shortly after creation of the Christian religion. 

Salvation after death was a Christian evolution, which makes death less harrowing and influences people to be willing to die for the right cause. 


Islam:

Koran is best read in the order of its composition, in which the suras follow Muhammad’s life and the development of moral tones.  Much like Moses, Muhammad was outrages by injustice, gave voice in protest, and relocated.  Muhammad was eager to build coalitions, and used Islamic scripture to facilitate power.  Muhammad did not replace existing tribes, but did unite tribes with ties of devotion. 

Raiding was common within Arabia, and Muhammad obtained more support after a raid on a trade caravan by Meccans.  Raiding would eventually be considered illegal.  Tribes of Arabia, like the Islamic super tribe of Muhammad, obtained and preserved power through raiding and controlling trade.  Muhammad controlled most trade of Arabia by 632.

Muhammad was aggressive while expanding the empire.  Even with the aggression, there was tolerance towards those who did not share the religion.  Muhammad was even making alliances with non-Muslim Arabian tribes, until Muhammad died.  As Muslim empire grew, it would sometimes cooperate and sometimes attack others depending on the context.  When others attacked Muslim’s, Muslims would retaliate.  Peoples who have a strong military tend to pick fights and plan provocations, but even then, normally attacks come after grievances.  Even jihad does not provide a reason for preemptive actions. 

Islam supports mutual support of its members, and tolerance to others as a way to subdue tensions.  Much like prior empires and religion, Islam as an empire would bring antagonistic ethnicities into peaceful coexistence, and as a religion to further that cause. 

Islam and Christians see salvation coming from adherence to a moral code, which fosters and encourages socially appropriate behaviors.  The 21st and 20th century see more tensions rising between the religions and causing conflicts, and seem to need salvation themselves.  Striving for moral truth facilitates respect for others, otherwise there is chaos.


Caveats?

The book contains a lot of historical analysis, which can be difficult to understand and put together.  The confusion and uncertainty around many ideas is difficult to clarify because of the differences in translations, interpretations, and source history.  Evolution of religion occurred within many ambiguities. 

The dominant religions focused on are Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and a variety of primordial religions.  These religions were used because they’re interconnected within their heritage, making their evolutionary change more salient.  This means that the book lacks in applying the concept of evolution to other religions.

The historical analysis uses many different examples.  The examples have varying qualities, and interest in them will depend on reader’s background. 


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•What does religion do?
•How does religion influence behavior?
•When do religions cooperate, and when do they have conflict?
•How did religion evolve?
•Is religion and science in conflict? 
•Why do religions and government want to provide social cohesion?
•What are gods?
•How do cultures evolve? 
•How did religion start? 
•What are wisdom literate and what are they for?
•Is religion providing social cohesion or social control and exploitation?
•What is ethnic marking?
•How do religions use self-interest?
•What does it mean to be part of a religion?  What benefits do members have and who provides them?
•What are limits to understanding religious evolution? 
•How to identify genuine cultural aspects of hunter-gatherer societies? 
•Why do small societies not preach virtues?
•Why do religions have people with claims to accessing the supernatural? 
•How well could those with access to the supernatural exploit their followers?
•What were early civilization gods like?
•How are politics and religion intertwined? 
•How did polytheistic societies treat each other?
•What are some aspects of Judaism?
•Did Moses exist? 
•What names does Yahweh go by?
•Why was Yahweh a jealous God?
•Who was Yahweh before becoming a singular God?
•What are the roles of Lady Wisdom?
•What are some aspects of Christianity? 
•What were Jesus last words?
•To whom did Jesus promote social cohesion?
•Who made love a major Christian theme?
•What use was Brotherly Love within the Christian religion?
•How was generosity used?
•How did Christianity become a dominant religion in the Roman empire?
•What are some aspects of Islam?
•How did Muhammad get support? 

Book Details
Publisher:         Little, Brown and Company [Hachette Book Group]
Edition ISBN:  9780316053273
Pages to read:   441
Publication:     2009
1st Edition:      2009
Format:            eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          5
Overall           5