Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Game Theory, or Why we are Blank Slates

Infinite behavior means blank behavior.

The blank slate was a bad metaphor from long ago. Why we need to defend it or kill it I do not know. But I do so all the same.

Our behavior is infinite. Our selves, a given set of genes, are capable of endless behavioral repertoires. We could be an infinite many selves. Ones that vary in behavioral dispositions and identity characteristics in infinite ways. That is, the things that we think are integral to our self today are capable of being infinitely manipulated, and yet still have remaining a robust, viable individual (though perhaps one that our present selves would disapprove of).

I am tempted to say that is enough to make us blank slates. A slate is not blank because I can do anything to it. If all I have is yellow chalk, all I can do is write in yellow, though I can write the word “blue.” Anyways, enough of that.

What we care about are intricate characteristics of our selves. We care about behaviors and why we do the things we do, and whether those things could be done radically differently. Games show that behavior is infinite, and that is because we can create infinite numbers of games that our brain/body can play, and this will lead to infinite behaviors. Now, there is limitations to our behaviors. We cannot fly unaided (in a gravity world) or calculate as fast as computers, and thus our game behaviors are limited by such things. But that also shows by careful manipulation of our environment, say by creating zero-gravity chambers or living on the moon, we can create a significantly different game than the one we create on earth or before the science revolution. 

Just because there are certain parameters to behavior and behavioral expression, it does not mean that behavioral expression is not infinite. Integers have significant parameters to them, but yet we still declare, intuitively, that they are infinite.

Language and games show the infinite behavioral manipulation that can be made to any body/brain, to any individual. The language and society one grows up in will mean that one's language and game-behavior will be determined by that culture. But of course, it is completely blank what the games are within the culture that your genes happened to have been born into. It is therefore blank as to what game behavior you will end up having.

I, of course, only care a little about game behavior, even if it is infinite (and hence blank). We care more about other personal characteristics such as knowledge-gathered and knowledge-used (intelligence). We care about things like the scope of our relationships and how we interact with people. But these latter things are capable, once we put all social institutions and social discourses on the table, of being infinitely arranged as well. And given that our genes are capable of being born into many disparate societal arrangements, the selves we end up being are capable of being infinitely altered, and in the most dramatic of ways. Hence, I would argue that for most people, such an argument is enough to make us blank slates.

Lastly, the common claims of evolutionary psychology often have to do with personality traits. I am a strong evolutionist, and I believe evolution can tell us important things about structures of our dispositions, but still, with enough societal jingling, much that we already do through processes of socialization, we can thoroughly undermine or rewrite or socialize out any kind of personality trait. We can change institutional and discursive structures that make genetic structuring of those dispositions vanish in the air, essentially because the social structures that such genetic structuring are reacting under has been dissolved.


Often, as we dig deep, the proposed genetic structures that align with proposed characteristics within our society may be real. As we tinker with different possible social arrangements, those genetic structures may have robust effects on the behaviors of individuals. I would caution, though, that many of these genetic effects that we see happen in radically altered environments will not fall within the broad categories that we use to describe such genetically induced characteristics within our social sphere.

I will lay more of this out in future posts. I will argue that within our present cultural structures, we already significantly alter dispositions through social structure and socialization processes. I also will argue that even with modest social shifts, we can thoroughly alter the meaning and expression of a behavioral disposition, such as the expression of introversion/extroversion.    



- For some parallel arguments, check out Jesse Prinz's Beyond Human Nature.

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