How rational is nonconformity?

Carl Feynman (
Sun, 30 Mar 1997 20:44:56 -0500

Robin Hanson wrote:
>fact that you make final decisions is irrelevant to the weight you
>should give to the opinions of others. This weight can be objectively
>calculated in principle, and is typically large

Like most things about the mind, the weight one gives to the opinions of
others (let's call it "swayability") is determined partly by evolution,
partly by culture, and partly by individual reason and experience. We can
disagree about what weight to assign to these three components. However, if
there is any significant evolutionary component, I would suspect that it
would push people in the direction of lower swayability than is rational
under current circumstances.

Under the hunter-gatherer conditions in which our ancestors lived for the
past seven million years, a typical person only knew a hundred or so other
people. Half of those were kids, and half the adults were stupider than
average. The chance of coming up with a good idea that nobody else had
thought of was much higher than it is today. Thus, the likely reward of
doing something most people thought was a bad idea was bigger than it is now.

This may explain the disparity between how Robin thinks people should act,
and how they actually act. Are there any other cases like this, that we
might try to explain by evolutionary arguments?


PS. Please cc replies to me directly; I read Extropians through a filter.