This post is in response to my friend Kirsten Hacker’s article titled Jocularity, Jocks, Jokes, and Jackson’s E&M which was a reaction to the Garrett Lisi and Eric Weinstein discussion which I also wrote about in my blog post Garrett Lisi and Eric Weinstein on The Portal #015.
Friend here, responding. I also see the ego jockeying in the Eric Weinstein and Garrett Lisi video but not with the same disdain as Kirsten. In my view, it is mostly low level and playful, except a few more direct shots where the punch is not pulled. The parts where the punch was not pulled, I did find uncomfortable, as I would prefer an ego controlled discussion. As Kirsten mentions, the behaviour is typical of men as a generalization (many men, to varying degrees, often but not always?). I had a career in the hardware and software engineering world and the ego skirmishes at the senior engineer/architect level and higher were often far more severe because the battle was to impregnate the corporation with one’s idea or to gather power.
I’ve been watching a lot of nature videos lately, in particular lions and various apes. The babies play fight seriously, but with soft blows designed only for training. The teen males fight more seriously to practice physically and mentally this game of dominance and submission. The young males fight more violently because they are driven to pass on their genes. The ruling male has some level of power and respect and this alone will often cause a young male challenger to back down. Of course then there is the male-female dynamic which is a discussion for another day in a psychologically safe venue, but suffice to say we have all seen the increasing focus on this in past decades and especially more recently as women are more emboldened to speak their mind and bravely and rightly challenge offensive behaviour. The nature videos I’ve seen don’t show much about the female to female interaction. In any case, humans are descended from apes, so we humans naturally have these inclinations and in the academic or professional world they play out as idea and power struggles.
There is a push in the STEM fields to encourage and foster women, LGBTQ, and racial minorities to enter and stay in the field because there is much truth to the idea that many individuals in these groups have been thwarted or discouraged from these fields for a variety of reasons. I don’t believe that every field should have a demographic that matches the population, but I 100% support the idea that every individual should be able to pursue whatever field(s) and careers interest them as long as they have the normal non-tribal qualifiers, like talent, perseverance, etc. Artificial barriers such as discrimination, misogyny, harassment, bias, economic background, etc., would fall in what I call the tribal barriers where one tribe inhibits another. (A tribe can be any set based on characteristics other than the generic ‘individual’).
Even if we could solve the egregious barriers discussed above, in the technical fields it seems there is always a competition of ideas. Competition is good, right? But what are the ground rules of competition? Must we play by men’s rules descended from ape dominance/submission fights? Certainly that is how it works in every environment I have seen or heard about in engineering or acadamia, at least at the senior engineer, architect, Ph.D, and post-doc level (at higher management levels it is more political and underhanded). In my experience in engineering, Type A white men were the incumbents and defined the rules of competition and were also the ones who succeeded more often than demographic parity. Still, there were also many white men didn’t want to be aggressive, who would have preferred a meritocracy of ideas discussed in a low ego process. It seemed to me that Chinese, Japanese, and women “in general” also did not want to compete aggressively. Some did, more did not. These are ad hoc observations, not scientific data, yet we often hear these touted as issues caused by the white male patriarchy. What is the solution? Are there significant examples of idea competition that are on a level playing field for all individuals? As much as I wish there were, I think it will continue to be a constant struggle to find ‘fair’ competition venues for ideas and individuals. I mean after all, we haven’t even discussed some of the truly evil forms of tipping the scales such as nepotism/legacy, quid pro quo, narcissistic favoritism, and etc.
Now, to turn to the search for a Theory of Everything, my motivation is very different than what Kirsten attributes to me. I have no particular desire to hold the attention of ambitious young men who are studying physics and cosmology. To the contrary, if my ideas were a breakthrough, it would turn the current worlds of physics and cosmology upside down and lead to a revolution where the younger more enlightened generations could remake the fields to be far more supportive of diversity of individuals and ideas. I would like to help individual-kind** understand nature and the universe for altruistic purposes. I imagine that a fundamental understanding would lead to individual-kind spreading far more rapidly in the universe, but before that even, I would think that the technologies that would emerge from that understanding would help to alleviate suffering and inequality and improve the environment on Earth, i.e., imagine if energy was 100x or more less expensive. So while I imagine a very small number of fundamental ingredients to the universe, that is a grand simplifer, because everything else would emerge from that set. What could be simpler than two particle types, a 3D Euclidean volume, energy, and Maxwell’s equations?
** ‘individual-kind’ includes human individuals and eventually general artificial intelligence individuals and of course hybrids. Fun subject: imagine any contentious moral issue in the context of general individual-kind. What is homosexuality in the context of GAI robots? What is abortion on the assembly line of a GAI robot? Once these beings are legally defined as individuals, it can help us in our understanding of the same issue as applied to humans.
J Mark Morris : San Diego : California : February 6, 2020