Of innovation, rationality and macaques…

Here’s my thesis, up front. Innovations which disagree with or undercut the cosmologies and power-sources of the ‘gatekeepers’ in a society have little (if any) chance of success.* Disruptive technologie are, well, disruptive, and disruption is not welcomed if you’re winning the game (or think you’re winning) by its current rules.

Exhibit A:

Ancient Chinese society is a good example of a central authority supported by a powerful bureaucracy that was able to resists for centuries the spread of new ideas. Despite enormous early cultural advances and a great number of creative individuals, Chinese society believed that the use of gunpowder for weapons and that of movable type for the printing of books were bad ideas. Of course, they might have been right: nevertheless, currently China is trying to catch up as fast as possible with the new ideas that in the psat it had politely ignored.
Rentier societies, where the ruling classes lived of the profits of land rent, pensions, or stable investments, have been historically reluctant to change because any novelty was seen to potentially threaten the status quo that provided the livelihood of the oligarchy.
from “Implications for a Systems Perspective for the Study of Creativity”
by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi page 323. The Handbook of Creativity, ed Sternberg R., Cambridge University Press, 1999

Exhibit B (less ‘conspiratorial’):

… I have discovered that there is enormous resistance to the idea of giving full value to mental abilities other than intelligence. For instance, when I lecture on how I think society has overvalued mental traits like intelligence and undervalued other traits such as rationality, someone in the audience will invariably respond with a variant of the rhetorical question “Well, would you want someone with an IQ of 92 doing surgery?” My answer is that perhaps not – but that I also would not want someone with a rationality quotient (RQ) of 93 serving on the judicial bench, someone with an RQ of 91 heading a legislature, someone with an RQ of 76 investing my retirement funds…

[There isn’t an RQ test] but there could be. “If not for professional inertia and psychologists’ investment in the IQ concept, we could choose tomorrow to more formally assess rational thinking, focus more on teaching them, and redesign our environment so that irrational thinking is not so costly.”
page 4 of Keith Stanovich’s “What Intelligence Tests Miss”, (2009)

And finally, exhibit C, from the world of macaques.

The Japanese Macaque is a very intelligent species. It is the only animal other than humans and raccoons that is known to wash its food before eating it. Researchers studying this species at Koshima island in Japan left sweet potatoes out on the beach for them to feed on, then witnessed one female, named Imo (Japanese for yam or potato), washing the food off with river water rather than brushing it off as the others were doing, and later even dipping her clean food into the salty sea water. After a while, others started to copy her behavior. This trait was then passed on from generation to generation, until eventually, all except the very oldest members of the troop were washing their food and even seasoning their clean food in the sea.

Conclusion: There’s no chance of effective transruption.

* OK, so it’s not the most testable of hypotheses, what with the circular evidence criterion and all. Obviously I am going to have to work on this one a bit more…


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
This entry was posted in activism, bureaucracy, competence, death, economics, framing, natural world and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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