Flock of Dodos

This page written circa 10 May, 2008 .

I have probably upset a lot of people over the years as a result of attitudes stemming from my assertion that the civilised bipeds of this planet come from not one but two distinct species, Homo Sapiens and Homo Nonsapiens. It begins to seem as if I may have been wrong about the number of species. Perhaps Homo Nonsapiens is the only one, which is a shame because I'm one too.

At a recent conference in Sydney on happiness, professor Daniel Gilbert reported that having kids does not make you happier. He had such an impact that it spawned several reports in various newspapers and cities. He reported studies showing that "people's happiness goes into steep decline after they have children, and never recovers its old level until the children leave home". In a nutshell, scientific evidence shows people are very bad at predicting what will make them happy. Now I have loads of anecdotal evidence to the effect that Kay and I have been very lucky (or very skillful) with our kids, and we figure we are about breaking even in the happiness department vis-a-vis children. The professor explains that the brain is hard-wired to make people reproduce, not necessarily make them happy. Hard-wired, a good engineering term. There's plenty more evidence that thinking is unlinked from human decision-making.

Dan Hind reflected in a marvellous commentary in New Scientist last January that "Self-conciously enlightened commentators often express dismay at the public's appetite for baseless conspiracy theories", but that "It would be easier to take this dismay seriously if they at least noticed that the most lethal conspiracy theory of recent years was concocted and promoted by the US state", referring, of course, to the suggestion from the Whitehouse that Iraq was behind 9/11. The article is all about the many threats to "the enlightenment", meaning that people tend to believe in god, or astrology, or intelligent design, or (and this is my extrapolation) just about anything they are told irrespective of whether it is consistent with other accepted facts. Pythagorean thinking does not happen in most bipedal Homo brains. Supporters of the enlightenment ought to realise that they are pushing a rock up a hill with about as much hope as Sisyphus when it comes to having people rely upon logical thought to guide their lives. Homo Nonsapiens' superstitious leaning is not about to abate.

The human mind is bent by the most odd things. I read in http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/10/us/10names.html that people have a bond with others through nothing more than sharing the same name, purely at random. I have known since the start of the web that there are lots of Jonathan Scotts, but it seems I have Wikipedia-worthy "Googlegängers" as these are known, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Scott. I've never felt any need to look any of these guys up, except perhaps to check that they are not likely to be collecting any of my email or search hits. I do now realise why it is important to have your birthday attached to your name when you have some identity with an organisation, say for instance if you have a gift registration on Amazon!

A more charming, but no less illogical habit, is personifying robots. Understandable if they look like people, but it is apparently happening to Roombas. The CEO of iRobot, who make Roomba based on a mine-seeking robot made for the military, described how a U.S. soldier begged iRobot to repair his unit's robot, which they had dubbed Scooby Doo. "Please fix Scooby Doo because he saved my life," was the soldier's plea. From there on similar stories emerged concerning people talking to the civillian cleaner. Would Richard Dawkins be delighted or disappointed if it proves to be the personification of mildly intelligent machines rather than the enlightenment that displaces the superstitious belief in unseen supernatural beings?

If you can't beat 'em, fool 'em. Perhaps we can start with concerned scientists convincing Catholics to go on low-carbon diets for Lent, and go from there. Of course, not all crazy statements signal the lack of a thought process. A report in the SMH claimed that in the 2001 United Kingdom census, an astonishing 390,000 people---0.7 per cent of the population---listed Jedi as their religion.

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