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The Monkeysphere and why should we care?

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memenode's picture
User offline. Last seen 10 weeks 2 days ago. Offline
Joined: 2004-07-12

Has anyone read this?

It's been referred to me by a friend on IRC (again) when we had a discussion that basically revolved around the question of whether there is a reason to care for the future of humanity in which we would probably be dead. It is related to the question of caring for people who we don't know at all dying en mass in some war far away or in some catastrophe or accident etc. We don't visualize those people in the same way we visualize those close to us, from our family to our friends and neighbours etc.

According to the linked article, those people who we don't really care about are simply outside of our "monkeysphere", which apparently can includes only a limited number of people (150).

On the other hand I for some reason and in some sense do care. Perhaps I wouldn't care or seem to care much if you woke me up in the middle of the night and told me a hundred people just got killed in Pakistan due to a plane crash. I would say, "ok, that's terrible, but it happens all the time, why did you wake me up for that, bla bla". Yet my reaction would be dramatically different if the news included my best friend or even a close family member among the killed.

But when I am awake, start thinking about things, get philosophical so to speak, I can't entirely deny that I care in some sense for people all over the world. In trying to answer why and in what sense I basically come up with the "human connection". I care because I am human and hence I care for "humanity" for I am part of it.

And that quickly leads to the conclusion that the only real reason I actually care for anything is because I care for myself. If my relative is to die I would be upset because he or she is a part of my life, makes my life richer, more pleasant etc. It's basically all about "me". It is called unselfish when we give something away, as if we are really doing it 100% because of the other instead because it makes us feel good about ourselves. This leads to conclusion that all people are nothing but selfish, and even when they are "selfless" it is because they are selfish.

So whenever we care for others we care because we care for ourselves. But things become shady when it comes to humanity in the future in which we might not even exist. Why care for that? I suppose I could say, I care because someone like me or "the other me" could exist in that future and I would want him all the best. Again I put myself into that future, or the vision of one, and obviously want such future to be best possible.

But does doing that really matter? Why should it matter? Even if it is the "other me" it still isn't ME. What kind of a logical connection is there to really back up any capability to care about such a future?

Another argument then is that I care because it feels good to leave good heritage, so I indulge myself in fantasies of the future in which I would hypothetically want to live and based on that vision work in my life to, based on that, leave a heritage which could add to the foundations upon which such a future could be built. Basically I don't do it so much because of that future. I do it because I want to feel good about myself in the present and perhaps in some hope that I might actually live to see such future happen.

That also leads to another argument. If I take that I don't really know what is after death, and I don't, then I can't be absolutely certain that what I do today wont in some sense matter to me even after I am gone. Who says there is nothing after death? Who knows anything about after-death? We can only assume, but that is one of those areas science can't probe and religions can merely guess about. You can't know until you go there. So why not leave a good heritage, if you can? It can't hurt yet it could potentially be of benefit.

This of course, does validate the theory that we should live our lives seeking more than anything else freedom and independence for ourselves. Often by really pursuing that goal we in fact end up doing things that people would call "selfless". Reminds me of what I sometimes say recently; "empower yourself by empowering others".

Looking forward to your opinions.

Edit: Related, from the same author: "Embrace the Horror" about the non-existence of free will (although some comments mention that the final response to the question of why is something "better" than something else can be changed from "It just is" to "I don't know" plus the further exploration of quantum physics revealing still some room for free will to exist.

How is that relevant? Well, for one the article practically repeats some of the points from the discussion mentioned above. Second, denying existence of free will as anything more than an illusion also questions whether anything really matters, including caring for others or for a better future.


Daniel Memenode signature

User offline. Last seen 11 years 31 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 2004-08-23
That monkeysphere article is

That monkeysphere article is rather cynical.

One "monkey" reason to care about the future is that our potential children, grandchildren, etc, are part of our monkeysphere.

But thinking of the monkeyspere as an absolute limit is wrong. Because we are capable of thinking about our own psychology, and therefore capable to know there is such a thing as a monkeysphere, we are able to ignore or even correct our instincts. Our minds are capable of creating something we might call an "extrasphere", from which we can move any person into our monkeysphere as needed, and forget about that person when we don't have to deal with them anymore, so space in our monkeysphere gets freed.

User offline. Last seen 7 years 26 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 2007-02-26
Bang on, I found it very

Bang on, I found it very cynical too.

Relating brain size to care group size doesn't stand up to even basic science or observation.
If quantity of brain cells were the key determining factor in what we are, we'd only be marginally smarter than chimps, in fact we're way beyond because of certain qualities of our brain cells. And any observation of the level of altruism in human society deftly blasts his 150 care group theory out of the water.

Instead of dealing with that head on, he turns his attack on altruism, and makes the mistake I've pointed out before of classing all motivations and acts as selfish. That's a half truth, the whole truth considers the costs and benefits to ourselves and to others over time. This is something most people understand.

We all know we have animal instincts, but what separates us from the animals is just as you say, being able to rise above it rather than being puppets of the groin and gut. We can and do give a damn about total strangers.

I think he's completely misjudged the key factors. It's not that our brains can't physically care for more than 150 people. The logistics of modernity mean we simply no longer have the *time* to establish the preferred depth of relationship with everyone we need to deal with, this is a frustration because we are social beings, and that frustration comes out. I make an effort to be personal even if it's a shop-assistant or call-centre worker, that keeps my life real and connected and I know I'm trying to be the best person I can be.

A lot make no such efforts however. People are subjected to a vast global exercise in anti-social engineering. Many advertisements encourage people not to share, to be greedy and selfish, not to have relationships. The customer is always right, be assertive and demand good service, we deserve the best because we're worth it and woe and betide anyone who fails to deliver. And so the low paid pawns on the front line take all the flak for corporates shafting their customers in order to further enrich the investors.

He says people do the us and them, castigating big evil corporations simply because they're outside our monkeysphere. Questionable. I'm not the only one with friends and relations who are multi-millionaire business people, I can disagree with their views on class division, yet still care about them on a personal basis. We can separate the individual, their views, and acts. We can criticise a system that advantages some and disadvantages others, and it's got nothing to do with only caring about people on one side of the equation.

No matter how many times the mantra is repeated "life isn't fair", people relentlessly believe life ought to be fair and keep striving to make that a reality.

Frankly I think there's something deeper going on with the author. He comes accross as profoundly frustrated, I'm betting there's some history there, and the quote that springs to mind is from The Last of the Mohicans:
"Magua's heart is bitter and twisted because of the white man, he would become as bad as that which twisted it".

memenode's picture
User offline. Last seen 10 weeks 2 days ago. Offline
Joined: 2004-07-12
Good points. I have to say

Good points. I have to say it ultimately makes more sense for me to accept that there is a genuine and even scientifically demonstrable logic behind caring for other people who we don't know or even for the future of humanity regardless of whether we will live to see it, but we just didn't discover that logic yet.

And as was well pointed out the monkeysphere basically gives a very simplistic answer to the question which is probably not supposed to be answered yet. Although things like you guys mentioned already seem to come quite close to the logic behind it and are basically founded on the notion that our brains are far more complex than the monkeysphere author cares to admit..

I mean, the day after reading this I've went to the city and among the people and on blank moments had these thoughts spinning somewhere between my conscious and subconscious mind - do I really not care at all for all these people? That old poor looking guy squeezing with the rest of us in a tram? Well.. it often just seems natural to sympathize, to be polite, to face people with a positive attitude by default. But if they are supposed to be out of our monkeysphere and irrelevant to us, why should we care? Who cares.. the more important question is why do we care? Sticking out tongue

So the author might have just written "well I don't know yet, but I'm gonna think about it" and move on. Laughing out loud

We have much more to learn about ourselves before allowing us the luxury to pose absolute theories of who, what and why we are. Smiling



Daniel Memenode signature

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