If Michael Tomasello is to be trusted, the sharing of goals and intentions is one of the few core features that distinguish the way in which humans interact and think about the world, and the way other animals do it. Chimps, octopuses, dolphins and crustaceans may use tools. But only humans, he contends, are able to think of a goal as a group goal whose tasks can be subdivided and assumed to be happening in parallel, or in series, and being done by different people. Animals may share a specific task, such as a hunt, but as far as we know, neither primates nor cetaceans can share goals the way we do.
The challenge I’m about to embark on is trying to share (in the Facebook sense, or the communication sense) my goals only with people who share my goals (in the sense of being aligned arrows pointing towards similar regions of possibility space).
#47 Share your goals with who shares your goals:
For the next month I’ll stop sharing any information about what I’m doing, what I did and what I plan to do with people who share genes with me, but not goals. These of course are my parents and family and my girlfriend, who is considered by evolutionary psychology to be though of as equivalent, in some ways, to a surrogate sister. Since any of her hypothetical grandsons would share my genetic material with a high likelihood (if we were monogamous, under the conditions in which the brain evolved) I should – from the gene’s eye viewpoint – think of her as a blood relative. The only people who will be allowed to peek into my life, other than this blog’s readers, are those who actually want the World to change in the ways I want. Blood relatives usually have a plan for how we should interact with the universe to make it better. It just so happens that their plan for you is based on their goals, and maybe you just don’t want to be a lawyer, you just want to live in a jungle studying the habitats of Congo’s bonobos.
Paul Graham said it perfectly: “The advice of parents will tend to err on the side of money. It seems safe to say there are more undergrads who want to be novelists and whose parents want them to be doctors than who want to be doctors and whose parents want them to be novelists. The kids think their parents are “materialistic.” Not necessarily. All parents tend to be more conservative for their kids than they would for themselves, simply because, as parents, they share risks more than rewards. If your eight year old son decides to climb a tall tree, or your teenage daughter decides to date the local bad boy, you won’t get a share in the excitement, but if your son falls, or your daughter gets pregnant, you’ll have to deal with the consequences.” – How to Do What You Love
Now there’s people out there, lots of them, who either have the same plan as you have, or else don’t give a flying kaputz about your plans and just want to have a good time with you. Because they don’t share any genes, real or imagined, you don’t feel anxious about doing what they want you to do unless you want to do it too. Frequently people associate for one of two reasons. Because they share genes, or because they share goals. Another quote by Steve Pinker, the MIT Harvard psychologist, nicely captures what I think about associating with people for genetic Darwinian reasons:
“By Darwinian standards I am a horrible mistake…But I am happy to be voluntarily childless, ignoring the solemn imperative to spread my genes. And if my genes don’t like it, they can go jump in the lake.”—How the Mind Works
So that is the deal. There are more than 7 billion humans, a trillion animals, and an uncountable amount of objects in the universe to talk about. Why do people focus so much on themselves? If we started talking to those who share genes with us only about other things for a month, I guess that would be a big relief.
Previous Challenge Tracking
Challenge #49 Send Those Applications Out! has been really hard to pursue over the month. I have a list of the best places in order of awesomeness, I sent out 4 different applications for grants, and tracked down about 2 dozen different professors who could be god advisors. I hired a Virtual assistant to help with ten more hours when I realized I wouldn’t be able to do it in a month to speed things up. Even with all that I haven’t been able to create seven folders with all the required documents ready to be sent as soon as the deadline arrives. Only five and I’m not sure all five will figure the final list yet. The challenge continues, and for the time I spent doing it, I take it to have been a great success!
Challenge #48 Out of the Armchair and Into the Field has had a major turning point when I realized that even though leaving the country (the goal) now feels more similar to the goal of living abroad than leaving the country later, it actually gives me a lower probability of making it into some form of stable root creating mechanism. The goal is to leave for years, not as a tourist for a few weeks. Thus, I stayed, and here am I, researching thoroughly how to live in the San Franscico Bay or Oxbridge, applying as quickly as I can, and doing it the way it needs being done, not the way that feels cooler, it may be more beautiful to gaze at the dream from this side of the cliff, but sometimes to get to the other side you actually have to dig through the underground.
Have the people you share genes with been bothering you with their goals for you lately? Then join me in my challenge. If not, create your challenge, leave in the comments, and let’s get to it!
If you just arrived at fourhourscience, take a look at the first challenge as it is the only one you have to go through to jump straight on to the current challenge. Do challenge yourself on the comment section, and every first of the month, I’ll start a challenge chosen by my readers, and ask how they are going at their own self-challenges. Every 15th, I’ll choose one for myself. If you want to give me a challenge, make a comment in the most recent post, which is where I’ll get them from every 1st of the month. To subscribe to fourhourscience.com and keep track of your challenges, click on the blackish square on the bottom right that says follow. If you are logged in a wordpress account, check the top left instead. – Neotenic
4 thoughts on “#47 Share your goals with who shares your goals”
It occurs to me that this is more about separating yourself from your family, about becoming a unique individual, than anything else. Perhaps you’re still figuring out your true identity, perhaps you simply hold what your family says with more weight than you know is reasonable. That’s normal, but it can take a long time for some people to realize that ‘genetic ancestry’ does not translate into ‘more likely to be correct’.
In a lot of ways, I got lucky in my youth: my mother was wrong often but unabashed about it, so I learned that being wrong was fine, and that she wasn’t perfect. My father made glaringly huge social mistakes that even at age seven I still remember three decades later – and in one fell swoop, I learned that he wasn’t perfect either. Later, I saw him stop a rant cold and actually change his mind, when asked a pointed question by a nine year old boy.
But in environments where the social norm is “parents are always right and you’ll be grounded if you question them”, it can take a bit longer. Keep working on it, this is an important step!
Great ppost thank you