The Generality of M0

This is a thoughtful critique posted to Slashdot, which questions the generality of the M0 hypothesis because the original study group of software engineers was atypical. It is followed by my response.

The Pathology of Pathology (Score:5, Interesting) by goliard (goliard at weasel dot terc dot edu) on Tuesday October 26, @06:59PM EDT (#38) (User Info)

Mr. Carter has constructed a theory of anthroplogy based about the premise that some large percentage of people are diseased. He has done this based on his observation of white-collar workers, primarily in technical fields.

Earlier in this century Katherine C. Briggs cast her net wider. She observed some of the same phenomena, but in a much bigger context. She came up with a different interpretation.

The sub-branch of psychology she founded has the following paradigm:

A certain sub-population can be characterized as particularly change- and risk- adverse, very traditionalist and conservative, very methodical and habitual - among other traits. Testing indicates these people comprise about one third of the US population. Testing in workplaces, the military, and college programs which specialize in business training indicates that this change-adverse population is disproportionately represented among executives and business people. Let's call these people group A.

A different sub-population (group B) can be characterized as particularly risk- and change- embracing; more dare-devil and capricious. They, too, account for about one third of the US population. This population has disproportionately high school drop-out rates, and a much lower tolerance of the routine of the office; they are less common in the white-collar world, and tend to work in "interupt-driven" jobs such as "business development".

Group C, the remaining third-to-a-quarter (depending on which study you use) is the lump which has several familiar factions in it. It is not characterized (as a whole) as being particularly change-adverse or change-embracing (though individual members maybe on either end of that scale.) Instead, they are characterized by a facility with (and reliance on) abstract thought, which the other two populations don't share. In is in this population that you find the Poets, the Activists, the Mystics - and the Scientists, Architects, and yes, Hackers.

One of the foundations of this paradigm is that all these trait-clusters (which define these populations) are equally "normal", healthful, viable and valid. They have pathologies, but they aren't themselves pathologies.

What it looks like, from the perspective of this paradigm, is that Mr. Carter generalized from the interactions of his Group C friends, students and collegues with a largely Group A -rich population, to wit, The Suits. And perceiving the very palpable difference between these kinds of people, he then made an presumption as old as humankind: If They are different from Us, either They or Us must be broken/wrong/bad/defective/sick/disordered.

It is these Suits, these (usually) Group A people, who are Packers. They are not Packers because they are defective or diseased. They are Packers because Packing is an amazingly useful and viable memetic strategy - ask Mr. Ford about his factories. I agree: Packing is an abysmal strategy for making software. But it is kick ass for making cars, running a farm, or, yes, packing boxes.

In fact, it's they very success of Packing that's at the root of this problem. All those Packers have had such success with it so far, they have trouble imagining it could fail them. They have a hammer, and have seen many nails; if they are skeptical about the concept of certain nail-like objects being "screws", that is only to be expected.

And give them some credit: If someone working for you insisted that the methodology which has worked for you your entire life was wrong, you'd probably be rather skeptical.

Packers live in a world in which Packing, by and large, works. Mappers, unfortunately, have to live in a society filled with Packers (the Group B, the swing vote, usually effectively supports Group A for reasons to complicated to go into here). So natural Mappers to learn to Pack. Since Packers can get through life without learning much to Map, they often slack off and don't bother.

From: Alan Carter

While it is true that the detailed empirical observations of the way people carry on were performed primarily amongst white collar workers, particularly in the IT sector, the motivations for trying to understand what was happening came from much wider contexts.

I contend that anyone who would today be "diagnosed" as suffering from "Attention Deficit Disorder" will, from an early age, notice something is rather odd about the people around them. I'll give a couple of topical examples of the kind of "oddness" that I mean.

Example 1: A couple of weeks ago there was a terrible disaster at a Japanese nuclear fuel processing plant. Immeadiately after the squib explosion that blew a chunk of the roof of the plant, its managers asserted that their safety standards were "the same as everyone elses and also the highest in the world". Never mind the contradiction in that statement - most people just don't question such contradictions in terms. A couple of days later, it was revealed that behaviour in the plant had got to the point where workers were carrying mixtures of U235 and nitric acid around in open buckets. A day later the managers announced that now safety standards were "the same as everywhere else and also the highest in the world." Now if on day 2 the bucket brigade was in operation, how on earth could there have been time to carry out the root and branch attitude changes necessary to make the place the least little bit safe by day 3?

Example 2: I am involved with a group that is using some pretty clever biometric sensing and IT equipment to provide communications for people who have been brain damaged in accidents like car crashes and falling off mountains. Many people have only one twitch left, perhaps a littl head movement or a thumb waggle. Recently some colleauges were asked to take a look at a lady who had been in a car crash 5 years ago. In that time, numerous highly qualified people had "examined" her, and had testified, under oath, as expert witnesses, that she was in a persistent vegitative state. A cabbage. Well, the guys went down there, started to set up the gear, and at one point put a keyboard on a table in front of her. She reached forwards and started typing. No-one had actually even bothered to find out before delivering their testimony under oath. Their paperwork was perfect, but totally unconnected to reality. This kind of thing is by no means uncommon.

Now in neither of these cases did the people who had committed the atrocities sit together in a room, ask "How can we neutron activate our friends and relatives/subject someone to soul destroying torture", and go "Bwahahaha" in the best Blofeld manner. But they had acted that way. They live in a delusional world of their own fantasies. And their response to people behaving non-delusionally is bullying, frightening and contemptuous in the extreme. And they don't even know it.

The great thing about the software engineering context is that the delusional types are so clearly wrong, so clearly convinced of the rightness of their own position, and so ineffective with respect to the useful people, that it was a great place to study the effect.

So I don't feel I have drawn inappropriate conclusions from an atypical sample group, nor do I believe that it is inherently a problem that I propose that most people are unwell. I would rather believe that "man is sick" than "man is vile", particularly if I can state exactly how I think he is sick, how we can experimentally verify the sickness, and how we can cure him.

Now it is a consequence of the situation (M0) that I have described, that people in administrative jobs who engage in arbitrary, high frequency rituals with little contact with nature (in any form) will become novelty fearing, ritualised, robotic and arrogant in the extreme. Those who engage in jobs which bring them into contact with nature will be less so, although in a highly ritualised society their boredom (and hence dopamine levels) will still be very high, and the natural immunes will not be robotic at all (although they may well end up emotionally disturbed because of all the contempt/threat displays). This matches the empirical findings of Briggs described in the posting below, although I'd take issue with the diea that the immunes comprise 25% to 33% of the population. The total of people with defective D4 receptors, overactive transport mechanisms, and "diligents" (people who keep themselves out of trouble due to old fashioned upbringing and values) doesn't seem to be higher than 20%, according to the most optimistic studies (in this interpretation).

Furthermore, the idea of the dopamine self-addiction hypothesis (1: M0) led me to the logical/psychological concept of the Ghost Not (2: The Ghost Not) which is verifiable by inspection, and explains a great many mysterious puzzles. This lends credence to the M0 idea. The Ghost Not then led me to a re-interpretation of the puzzles in modern physics (3: Reciprocal Cosmology) which would seem to be allowable, novel and obvious. Thus is does not matter if it is correct to lend credence to the Ghost Not. And so on. Thus M0 is far more that a mere descriptive (arbitrary) classifiaction of "personality types". It comes from somewhere, goes somewhere, proposes detailed mechanisms, is concrete and is testable.

I would also take issue with the idea that it is I that is arbitrarily defining others as sick because they are not like me. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is the ritual addicts who are so befuddled and distressed by the novelty of immune children that are force-feeding them Ritalin to burn their poor little brains out and refusing to even discuss the very possibility that there may be something of value in the so-called ADHD world view.

As to the idea that packing is an amazingly viable memetic strategy, I would argue that it is viable strategy for accomplishing just two ends: Not being bullied by packers, and maintaining a population explosion. All of the miseries of the human condition, from the ritualised wars in the Balkans and Ireland that have been proceeding for 1,000 years to the inability of most people to function at all in Information Age terms can be ascribed to ritualised, robotic, reactive behaviour patterns that have no basis in thought out reason. Unfortunately this point is very hard to make, since packers believe that once a thing is categorised, the one-shot stimulus/response pattern has been fulfilled, and the stimulus need be considered no longer. Hence they dismiss the consequences of packing as "the human condition", and then flatly deny that there are any consequences to packing! Oh dear.

The hypothesis says that M0 was instantiated about 6,000 years ago, at the start of the "agrarian revolution". At the instantiation, experiments with division of labour, specialisation and production lines generated abnormal social conditions which turned an evolved facility that allows an intelligent animal to outwait stupid animals in seige conditions into a trap. Atthat point we started to farm and breed and farm and breed. Societies with dangerous procedures died out, societies with less dangerous procedures survived. The procedures evolved instead of the humans, who without being aware of it, sacrificed awareness for wealth. Such societies should not be allowed to play with technologies, since they don't have time to evolve safe procedures, and can do terrible damage. Such as global deforestation.

For another view of how delusional most people usually are, this time in a Freudian psychological model, check out a book called "Narcissistic Process and Corporate Decay" by Howard Shwartz. Shwartz makes extensive reference to Richard Feynman's analysis of mass delusion in parts of NASA in "What Do You Care What Other People Think?". The more one looks at this matter, the more it becomes apparant that beleiving there is no problem is part of the problem.

But all of this is waffle. It is not necessary. All we need to do is find out, experimentally. It is nature, and only nature, that is the ultimate judge. I think it was Einstein that said, "Nature is subtle, but she is not malicious." If we dare ask her, she will tell us the truth.