Toward a Theory of Human Error

From: BigBooster (
Date: Tue May 01 2001 - 14:21:32 MDT

by Frederick Mann

Feedback appreciated!


The first thing to realize is that some errors have survival value.
Consider a human a thousand years ago. Fifty yards from him
he perceives what he believes to be a tree stump. He goes
closer. It turns out to be a bear, which charges and kills him.

A second man perceives what he believes to be a bear. He's
actually mistaken; it's a tree stump. He takes evasive action
and removes himself from the scene. He suffers few or no
bad consequences for his mistake.

If primitive man mistakes a bear for a tree stump, he tends to
die for his mistake. However, if he mistakes a tree stump for
a bear, he suffers few (if any) negative consequences, and he

So, erring on the side of safety has survival value in certain
environments and areas of life. (See 'Faces in the Clouds:
A New Theory of Religion' by Stewart Guthrie
See also: 'Anthropomorphism and Related Phenomena'

John F. Shumaker has propounded the theory that certain aspects
of nature (random accidents, brutality, death) are too frightening
for most humans to confront. By distorting reality with myths, they
enjoy "greater peace of mind and body" and tend to live longer.
I've heard that people who regularly go to church tend to live 5-10
years longer than those who don't go to church. Another case of
error having survival value? (See 'Wings of Illusion: The Origin,
Nature and Future of Paranormal Belief'
and 'The Corruption of Reality : A Unified Theory of Religion,
Hypnosis, and Psychopathology'
by John F. Shumaker.)

There may also be biological origins of human error. The "triune
brain theory" claims that the human brain evolved in such a way
that the modern human brain actually consists of "three brains":
a primitive reptilian brain, a more evolved but still primitive
mammalian/emotional limbic system, and a modern neocortex
or thinking brain. Under certain conditions of stress and/or real
or perceived threat, the more primitive brain structures tend to
take over control, sometimes resulting in irrational behavior.
(See 'The Dragons of Eden : Speculations on the Evolution
of Human Intelligence' by Carl Sagan
and 'Human Brain & Human Learning' by Leslie A.
Hart, Karen D. Olsen (Editor)

The human biological reproductive/sex drive may lead
to errors of "thinking with the sexual organs!" (See
'The Breeding Motivation: What You Can Do About It"

There are two basic ways to acquire the wherewithal
to survive: 1. Produce and exchange; 2. Steal. There's
also a principle: Obtain the wherewithal to survive with
the least effort.

If certain powerful humans can induce the weak to adopt
certain erroneous beliefs and habits, rendering them "easy
marks," then the powerful can acquire the wherewithal to
survive from the weak with relatively little effort, and without
having to produce and exchange. Historically, it was a case
of, "Bow down, call me King, kiss my feet, and pay me your
tribute, or I'll have your head chopped off!" The "independent
rebel spirits" tended to be killed off, while the obedient,
submissive, genuflecting victims tended to survive.

As a result, modern human culture includes many memes,
which if accepted and acted upon the way most humans
do, bestow great advantages to those "above the memes"
and great disadvantages to those "below the memes."
(See 'The Anatomy of Slavespeak'

Conformity is also a factor. In primitive tribes, if you didn't
conform so as to be "like everybody else," you risked being
kicked out, most likely leading to an early death. The conformists
tended to survive and the nonconformists tended to die off.

Unfortunately, some of what most humans came to conform to
were and may now be errors that became deeply instilled cultural
habits, which some modern humans may find difficult to question
and analyze. As an example, many humans ingest, as directed
by deeply instilled cultural habits, substances that eventually
cause bodily harm and early death. (This area is particularly
difficult to analyze rationally, because the consequences of
ingesting certain substances are immediate "good feelings,"
while the harmful long-term consequences sometimes become
manifest only after years or even decades of self-abuse.)

Certain industries reap huge financial gains by propagating errors.
As an example, tobacco companies earn billions by promoting the
erroneous smoking habit.

Certain "professionals" (such as medical doctors and lawyers)
command a great deal of power, money, and respect to the extent
that their customers are ignorant and error-prone. The economic
interest of many "professionals" is for their clients to be so ignorant
and error-prone that they often need "expert" assistance, but not
so ignorant and error-prone that they die too soon! -- the longer
the victims can be "milked," the better!

In evolutionary terms, the neocortex is a relatively new development.
Humans haven't had much time to learn to use it to best effect. So
we are prone to a host of logical errors in our thinking. Because of
the conformity factor, humans who share the same thinking errors
tend to band together and expel those without their errors (or with
different errors!)

Philosophers such as Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and Rand have indicated
that most animals automatically develop to achieve their full potential.
Humans are different in that we need to make a deliberate effort to
develop our minds and bodies correctly. Lazy conformists who don't
make this special, deliberate, continuous effort to develop their minds
and bodies tend to stagnate in errors of relative mediocrity.


In my opinion, humans generally are most prone to error in the following
areas of life:

* Diet and exercise -- Many humans habitually, culturally, and erroneously
eat and drink harmful substances; many lack proper and sufficient

* Religion -- Superstitious memes proliferate and pervade many human

* Politics -- Superstition abounds. The deepest erroneous political memes
are in my experience much more difficult to correct than their religious
counterparts, to which they are related.

* Economics -- About 90% of businesses fail during their first year. Many
humans have personal financial problems because they are relatively
ignorant and error-prone about money.

* Relationships and sex -- In some parts of the world, about 50% of
marriages fail. Some human couples (and their families) "fight like
cats and dogs." (Maybe the "marriage" meme has become an error
-- particularly considering the risk of having to pay for alimony and
child-support, in case of divorce!)

* Education -- To the extent that the powerful (who seek to acquire the
wherewithal to survive with least effort) control education, they are
likely to "shape" education to produce relatively helpless, ignorant, weak,
error-prone, obedient workers and worshippers who suffer from their
errors and often need "professional services" and "welfare assistance."

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