Computer Science & Anthropology

Computer Science & Anthropology

Anthropology and Computer Science don’t typically seem like they would have a lot of overlap, but they do. Each focuses on how discrete units change temporally and spacially. One focuses on human evolution, the other on engineering – one on statistics, the other on digital logic. In Anthropology, at least in the US, we study a lot of Biology, Linguistics and culture. We learn and practice methods of setting up experiments, testing and critquing, theory, reading and critiquing hundreds of papers. In Computer Science, we learn software engineering and algorithms, writing hundreds of hundreds of functions and programs, constructing software and debugging.

Studying Anthropology and Computer Science leaves a person with a strange view of the world. Everything around them seems to have predictable patterns – humans, machines, and the interactions of both. You see patterns in everything. You see patterns most other people don’t recognize – and you can make better decisions quicker. In fact it leads you to frustration when debating other people.

Thinking in this way, has led to the development of some personal theories, ideas and best practices. These theories relate to a lot of things that Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson and Eric Weinstein talk about. All of these people are extremely intelligent and very educated, yet I just don’t hear them frame these questions in the way that I think about them – in the frame of evolution.

I’ve developed a few theories and a few best practices that help me slice and dice arguments very quickly, and I can honestly say have helped me immensely in my personal and professional life. The plan is to flesh each of these out in follow on blog entries.

Theories, Analogies, and Best Practices

  • Hardware, Firmware, and Software – Biology, Culture, and Behavior – hardware is like biology, it is difficult to change – really it can’t be changed much until the next generation comes out. Firmware is like Culture, it can be reprogrammed, but it takes special tools and is often hard to test, and hard predict the results of an upgrade. Software is like the individual behaviour of a nuclear family – mother, father, and offspring. It’s the most easily changed, and also has great variation between instances.
  • Culture and Religion – Pools of Symbols – we know that humans operate on symbols, so it would make sense that these symbols would be pooled together in archetype and provide Darwinian survival generation after generation, like genes in a gene pool. Religion and architype feel so profound because they really are. If all there is relative value, these are pools of relative value.
  • Developmental Biology, Culture, and Behavior – we know that time has a profound effect on Biological development, why wouldn’t it have the same effect on Culture and individual behavior?
  • Symbols are Like Sprites in Video Games – We don’t operate on the underlying data, we operate on the symbols. I have seen this many a smart person to bad conclusions about evolution and human behavior.
  • Thinking of Things in Terms of 330,000 Years – for the vast majority of Human history, the smartest person in a group of 20-30 people was the one who led. Grouping symbols in emotionally engaging ways helps a group survive. Hence, the religious leader in any group was also the academic leader, and most likely the physical leader as well. It’s only in the last 10,000 or so years that this began to change. I always struggled to explain why intelligent people could believe in God, until I had this epiphany. I am not religious.
  • Thinking of Things in Terms of 25,000 Generations – when my daughter was born, I had the epiphany that her eyes, ears, voice, nose, arm length, gate, attitude and even intellect was the permutation of 25,000 generations of ancestors. The vast majority of her is probably made up of duplication of traits in ancestors, but there is also probably just a hair of new variation.
  • Thinking of Things in Terms of The Nearly Neutral Theory – things don’t have to be survivally advantageous to fix themselves in the genome, nor in culture, nor in individual behavior. They just can’t be so deleterious as to remove the individual from the gene pool. Hence, we witness all kinds of irrational behavior
  • Absolute and Relative Value in the Context of Human Evolution – there is no such thing as absolute value in evolution, everything is based on probability. Relative value helps construct everything around us and give meaning to life. I think it’s why Jordan Peterson’s theory about accepting responsibility actually makes people happier.

Strangely, when you study Anthropology and Computer Science you get comfortable with crossing the threshold between digital and analog, logical and statistical. Anthropology uses a lot of statistical testing, whereas computer science uses a lot of digital logic testing.

Nonetheless, they both focus on how things change temporally and specially. There are even second order equations in both, like developmental biology and self modifying programs.

But, you must also take care not to mix the two where it is unethical. In software it is ethical to be ruthless with your software changes, the same is not true when dealing with individuals who experience the world and suffer.

I hope you have a chance to dissect some of my articles, and critique some of these ideas.

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