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Wellness

How Much Of What You Know Is Good For You

If it’s not good for you, who is going to pay for it? What’s on the menu? The only way to find out is to do it yourself.

So how much of it is good for you, that you can give away for free? According to the website www.givewell.org, the following percentage of evidence suggests it’s the right size: “It is reasonable to believe that 90% of our DNA is in effect a kind of gene bank for storing adaptive traits. This doesn’t make us all immortal, of course, but it does mean that all we can do, as a species, is protect ourselves, preserve our genes, and learn from them, as best we can. ” By that logic, there’s only a few percentage points worth of human capital you should ever let another person hold; if a child or a college student can benefit from the information, it’s worth sharing. That said, the other 10% of it, for a non-human primate, is probably worth investing in and investing in. Some time ago I read a wonderful book by John Tooby that called “The Mismeasure of Man,” and he pointed out that we haven’t been so lucky in our ability to accurately model other species. The reason it’s difficult to know the value of humans, for example, is that we’re so genetically unique that we cannot accurately model any other species that we’ve encountered, especially in the hominid line.

I do appreciate how the author is trying to apply the term “mismeasure” to the human evolutionary project. You can find a lot of information on the web on the differences between evolutionary thought and biological thought–the difference between homo- and neolimitists, for example. This is a major reason that I don’t take the Mismeasure of Man book, which is quite readable and well written, seriously. It also explains why the other two volumes of Tooby’s book are also not so great for my purposes.

But I have to confess that when I read the “mismeasure” portion of “The Mismeasure of Man,” it did actually strike me as quite plausible. The theory that humans evolved in isolation from other groups can be seen as a sort of “mismeasure,” because the people using it can’t really even see other people anymore. All they can see are different versions of us. The problem is that other versions, not the humans themselves, may evolve much more slowly than we do. The time lag in this case, of course, is the difference between knowing that some other person has a certain gene, and knowing that that genetic code actually determines how that person acts. This can be a long time. It is sometimes very difficult to recognize this difference even with someone else you know very well, if you’ve known that person a long time.

The other problem is that in some cases the other person will have changed since you last knew them, so it’s not certain they will have the kind of “persona” that you have in mind. The second point can be a huge problem for understanding human relationships and interactions. If we change the details of our experiences, we may very well change other people’s behavior.

The more time you’ve known the other person, the harder it is to get the impression that they’ve changed at all. When you meet someone in one setting, the way they say things may be very different than what you would say in another, simply because they’re different people. There are other possible explanations for some of our behavior patterns. That, my dear reader, is the “mismeasure” part of Tooby’s book; it should be a huge red flag. As an evolutionary theory, it is very strong, and it seems to me like it doesn’t give enough weight to the other explanations I’ve just mentioned.

At the same time, it is not a very well-formed theory. As such, there is no compelling reason to believe it. There are many people who think that we were created as a species by means of sexual selection and so on. They feel that their lives may not be worth living without their sense of social interaction with people. But I cannot see how this argument would work on its own.

Another reason to feel skeptical about The Mismeasure of Man is that it is a very specific and limited model. To think of this as an ideal model instead of a framework for thinking is not to dismiss the idea of social evolution as a whole, but it’s important to realize what its limitations are.