Saturday, November 7, 2015

No More Rooting for the Underdog

Sympathy is very common among humans although there are many humans who lack much of it. Sympathy here is meant to mean an emotional response to the understanding of another human being’s distress or challenges. There can be a kind of pseudo-sympathy, where someone intellectually feels that he/she should assist someone, or at least be happy at their success, but there is no emotion connected to it. Emotion is an outpouring of certain neurochemicals that is triggered by associations in the brain. To be more specific, when someone notices that another person is having a difficult time, and that someone has the right association so they connect to that person, then they will also feel like helping or encouraging or doing something else to support them. There has to be an associative connection between the person feeling sympathy and the person receiving it. Associative connections come from our experience.

There is a secondary type of sympathy, which does come from associations, but via another person. If a child sees someone they are prone to imitate, unconsciously, helping another person in some particular situation, that mode of behavior becomes something they might do, given similar conditions, because the unconscious imitation of the behavior of their role model gives them pleasure. There may be some differences in exactly how the brain processes the primary and the secondary types of sympathy, but the results are the same.

There is even a tertiary kind, where someone helps another because of the expected or previously experienced praise that they received or noticed others receiving when they acted sympathetically. But the secondary and tertiary kind of sympathy depend on their having been, at some stage in the process, some primary sympathy. Where does that come from?

It comes from parental instincts. In higher animals, there are many examples of parents assisting children in different ways. This occurs without training. Even animals with such small brains as birds feed and nurture their young. It is an essential part of reproduction with the lower animals, and there is no reason to think that instinct is not present somewhere in the brain of humans, waiting to be evoked. The details of parental behavior are learned, but there is some positive feedback neurochemically that many people experience when parenting or even observing their offspring succeed in later years.

During periods when human lived, pre-civilization, in small groups, it is likely to have been evolutionarily beneficial for these types of behaviors to be administered to some others. Thus, having a loose binding between the object of the sympathy and the behavior may have been very useful, and over the tens of thousands of years that humans lived in small hunting and gathering groups, it was reinforced and coded both into genes and memes.
Thus, now we can watch a screen showing some other humans having difficulties, and some of us may respond with an emotional reaction. This is the broadening that our associative brains can provide. In fact, sympathy by humans does not have to be directed toward other humans at all; it can be directed toward other species in certain instances. In the earliest days of animal husbandry, this may have been most helpful in promoting survival both of the husbanded animals and their keepers. Again, a loose connection between the object of sympathy and the response was useful, and therefore likely coded into genes and memes.

To return to the main point, this arises because of the original sympathy or parental instinct that exists in more primitive animals and would have existed in early humans. What happens in an alien society when parenting is no longer required, and no one experiences it? Furthermore, no one sees anyone else doing it. Young aliens are cared for by robots and intellos. There may be no families in existence anywhere on the alien planet, having been replaced by other types of groups, perhaps long-lived or perhaps more transient.

For the first few generations after the shift away from the traditional, for aliens, form of rearing young, there may be some preservation of the feeling of sympathy, coming from secondary and tertiary sources. But as more generations come into existence, that would erode and there would be nothing to replace it. Alien civilizations well past the genetic grand transition would not have sympathy in their repertoire of emotions. It would have become obsolete, like child-rearing.

Perhaps there would initially still be some instinctual remnants of parental feelings, which might somehow be translated into sympathy. It is hard to imagine how, because aliens do not go through any experiences which would tie some associations with the portions of their brains where these instincts lie. The alien society could invent some aspect to their training so that young aliens would see and learn about sympathy, and then it might be preserved. So the resulting question is: would they bother? Does this give any benefit to the alien civilization?

One can conceive of some Good Samaritan actions, in which one alien comes upon another who is injured, and provides initial first aid. This could be part of a young alien’s training, but it doesn’t need any evocation of instinctual sympathy feelings for it to be done. Instead, it could be taught as an expected behavior for aliens. Other situations, such as charity, would not exist in an alien civilization. When all aliens are genetically optimal, capable of doing any task in the society, well-motivated by their training, able to learn skills upon demand, communicative, and all other ideal aspects of designer citizens, why would there need to be something like charity?

Support for young aliens in their role as learners would not need any sympathy to have it be done. It would be a well-organized portion of their civilization, and well-understood. There would be methods created to teach, and it could be done by some artificial intelligent remotely, or by robots or intellos on the spot, or by volunteer aliens wishing to spend some time in this activity. They would not be doing this because of some inner drive to help young aliens, but for reasons of personal fulfillment. Yes, the alien society could make it part of their training to have adult aliens all participate at some time in the educational process of the youth, but this is not done for emotional reasons. They would be superfluous.

Sympathy as an emotional reaction, such as we experience as humans, might also have been experienced, and in fact likely was, by aliens in the pre-civilization and pre-grand-transition periods. But after that, and especially after the genetic grand transition, it would exist only in the alien civilization can come up with some reason to preserve it, and none appear obvious at this point.

In fact, sympathy could interfere with the normal course of business in dealing with robots or intellos or intelligent pets or designer animals in a professionally created ecology, or other situations. Because it was traditionally loosely coupled with parenting, this type of mis-direction, in the view of the overall civilization, would be aberrant and likely designed out of the alien civilization. Thus there is at least one good reason to expect it would not exist.

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