Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Fatal fitness cues

By Donald Sensing

I've written some about why no one has resolved Fermi's Paradox, that if life in the universe is as common as biologists and planetary scientists assume it is, then, "Where is everybody?" as physicist Fermi put it a few decades ago.

Today Warren Ferrell writes about an altogether different topic but one that seems oddly related. He says,

After Newtown, Conn., parents cried out, "What's making our children kill?" But it is not our children who are killing. It is our sons. All but one of the 62 mass killings in the past 30 years was committed by boys or men. 
Here's the un-obvious tie-in to Fermi's Paradox:

And just while their bodies are telling them that girls are the most important things in the world, these boys are locked into failure. Boys with a "failure to launch" are invisible to most girls. With poor social skills, the boys feel anger at their fear of being rejected and self-loathing at their inability to compete. They "end" this fear of rejection by typing "free video porn" into Google and working through the quarter-billion options. Online "success" increases the pain of real world failure.

So, too, with these boys' relationships with video games. While girls average a healthy five hours a week on video games, boys average 13. The problem? The brain chemistry of video games stimulates feel-good dopamine that builds motivation to win in a fantasy while starving the parts of the brain focused on real-world motivation. He'll win at Madden football, but participate in no sport.
Fermi said that once a species develops the capability to travel through space, even the rudimentary ability we earthlings now have, it can reach every habitable point in the galaxy in only five million years. Since the galaxy is billions of years old, and if intelligent life is as common as ETI advocates claim, we space faring species should be tripping over each other. But we're not. Why?

One possibility that I recently posted is that interstellar space flight is just plain lethal to life. No living entity can survive the attempt. A more thought-provoking explanation is that once a species develops the technology for space flight, it has also developed the technology for all manner of other things, including entertainment.

And that means - since we assume evolutionary processes are much the same everywhere else as here - that those species become addicted to virtual experiences more than real ones.
The result is that we don’t seek reproductive success directly; we seek tasty foods that have tended to promote survival, and luscious mates who have tended to produce bright, healthy babies. The modern result? Fast food and pornography. Technology is fairly good at controlling external reality to promote real biological fitness, but it’s even better at delivering fake fitness—subjective cues of survival and reproduction without the real-world effects. Having real friends is so much more effort than watching Friends. Actually colonizing the galaxy would be so much harder than pretending to have done it when filming Star Wars or Serenity. The business of humanity has become entertainment, and entertainment is the business of feeding fake fitness cues to our brains.
So species that could explore space don't for no reason other than it simply isn't fun enough.

Is there a link between technological (and therefore unreal) fitness cues and murderous calculation? I don't know, but it seems worth exploring. Perhaps Warren's observation that, "Online 'success' increases the pain of real world failure" is a clue. Why that pain invokes murder as well as suicide - and especially murder of small children - is a mystery.

Related: "He has a demon, and is mad"

Update, November 2013: The link between electronic immersion and real-world conduct has been established.

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