Saturday, 14 February 2015
Exhibit Hall (San Jose Convention Center)
John Oakley Beahrs, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, OR
Among many complex species, how did only human beings evolve their unusual type of consciousness, symbolic language, and cumulative culture?  Shared self-deception might have contributed, under extraordinary conditions -- a “shared self-deception hypothesis” (SSDH).  1. Ancestral hominins lived in coercive in-groups, (a) at war with conspecific enemies, (b) organized via indirect reciprocity, with (c) lethal suppression of pre-existing communication.  2. Pair-bonding and deceit became linked, in symbiosis.  3. Factions could collude to gain extra self-interest (“autonomy”), conceal their actions from themselves and others by shared self-deception (“privacy”), and bind one another via risk of whistleblower retribution.  “Covert compacts for autonomy and privacy” (C-CAP) were complex multi-level processes, which became emergent “entities” (“memes”) that could now compete, combine and complexify in new and different ways.  4. C-CAPs could both stabilize and de-stabilize their in-group.  When the latter occured, 5. Secondary processes would sometimes stabilize, potentially leading to otherwise anomalous mental phenomena; e.g., (a) symbolic reference derives from code-like identifiers of specific individuals and roles; (b) “consciousness” arises from that tiny sub-sector of sentience that remains open to public view; (c) the remainder is now suppressed into an “active unconscious”; and (d) “free will” concentrates one’s perceived locus of control, enhances autonomy, and modulates punishment of deviant behavior.  The SSDH also helps to explicate other anomalous data; e.g., that beliefs’ social utility so often takes priority over their truth value, consciousness and volition co-occur with their negations, and psychosocial structures are context dependent and fundamentally uncertain.  The very same processes that lead people to “enable” others’ wrongdoing and punish whistleblowers, also lead to novel modes of creativity and exceptional in-group cooperation.  A program is proposed for testing the SSDH.  1. Study ancestral conditions via paleontology and evolutionary biology. 2. Utilize computer simulation to (a) test C-CAPs’ plausibility, (b) model data that cultural transmissibility varies with population density, then (c) test any viable paradigm against social science data.  3. Study how the SSDH intersects with other concurrent processes, each being tested for its limits of relevance (best explanation), and behavioral effects -- on scientific methodology, interdisciplinary cross-fertilization, and seeking new ways to mitigate human conflict.