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Social Engineering & Effective Altruism

Social Engineering & Effective Altruism

This week our guest is Dr. Diana Fleischman, an evolutionary psychologist and active member of the effective altruism community.

We explore a range of topics, including social engineering, our evolutionary relationship with technology and language, effective altruism, and using the concept of Skinner boxes to create systems for ourselves that condition us towards better behaviors. You can find more of Dr. Fleischman's work at her website: Dianaverse.


Host: Steven Parton // Music by: Amine el Filali


Diana Fleischman  00:00

There's definitely things that could, that everybody could do. There's there's untapped potential. And what we see right now in society is people who were incredibly accomplished. But those are the people who have the combination of genius and determination. And they're very good at managing themselves, or they're very good at figuring out what their weaknesses are. Whereas there's tons of people who are like laying around on their couches all day who have the same cognitive potential, there's just no technology for extracting it.

Steven Parton  00:45

Hello, everyone, you're listening to the feedback loop on singularity radio, where we keep you up to date on the latest technological trends and how they're impacting the transformation of consciousness and culture from the individual to society at large. This week, our guest is Diana Fleischman, and evolutionary psychologist who specialties include discussed sexuality and hormones. She's also heavily involved in the effective altruism community, which feels especially relevant for the singularity community, given the focus on leveraging tech in business to solve global issues. Now this episode picks up in the middle of a conversation Diana and I would have been about transhumanism before we started recording. And from there, it goes through a variety of topics, including social engineering, our relationships with technology and language, effective altruism, in creating Skinner boxes for ourselves, where we create systems that condition us towards better behaviors, I want to give an extra big thanks to Diana for having this conversation with me when she did, as she was just recovering from COVID. And I really appreciate that she made the time in spite of still feeling a bit out of sorts from the experience. As always, before we get into it, I want to remind you all to jump over to su.org slash podcast if you're interested in exploring membership options, and ways in which you can become involved in the podcast, from providing questions suggesting guests, and even potentially being a guest on one of our upcoming community episodes. And with that being said, I think that covers everything. So let's go ahead and get into it. Everyone, please welcome to the podcast, Dr. Diana fleischman.

Diana Fleischman  02:27

But yeah, I would still consider myself a transhumanist. And and I think that even you could even make the argument that even just living with technology as we are now we're already there, in many ways.

Steven Parton  02:40

Yeah, that's one of the things that actually really attracted me to you. And, you know, some people were curious about why I'm interviewing and discussing, you know, entrepreneurship, and innovation and technology, with somebody whose backgrounds in evolutionary psychology and my thought is like, Listen, I don't understand how it could be, how, like, the desire for sex, and status and survival, and the motivators of all our behavior in general aren't somehow tied into why we're creating technology, how we behave in the world, why we're driving to do these things. So I'm curious, maybe, to that point you just made, what do you see the relationship is between kind of technology and evolutionary psychology and perhaps what's interesting to you in that dynamic.

Diana Fleischman  03:35

People often say that evolutionary psychologists are interested in maintaining the status quo that we have some attachment to even like a 1950s nuclear family. And that the ultimate goal of being a woman is to achieve motherhood and take care of a family. And the ultimate goal of a man is to achieve status or have great sexual success that these maybe basest human motivations are exalted, you know, among evolutionary psychologists. And I make the precisely opposite case that that we have to understand our basis motivations in order to transcend them. And there are some, I think that the motivation for status often has very good outcomes. So I think that a lot of people have have have chased status and ended up you know, helping the world a lot in the process. And I think that you can engineer cultural groups are or in a way that increases the status payoff of doing something. So I know that among kind of effective altruists Doing a ton of your monies is a high status thing to do. And dating a model or having a Corvette or having a big house or anything like that would not I mean, I don't think they've managed to reverse it completely, but would not be considered high status. And so yeah, as an evolutionary psychologist, I think that we have to know where we are, in order to transcend where we are. And I think too many people are interested in in skipping that over. So instead of thinking, you know, I couldn't remember the little, little finger quote from Game of Thrones, where he's like, I play a little game. And I try and think of the worst motivation someone might have for doing thing. I think that generally, if you think about the most self serving worst motivation for doing any particular thing, you'll identify at least something about what you want in that. And if you if you just say that humans have these better instincts all the time, then then you're going to really miss out. And that's, that's why so much of social engineering hasn't really worked. And there's so much that is in social engineering. You know, just think about my one of my favorite examples of this is thinking about A Clockwork Orange, about how much people really end up loving. Alex, what's his name is his name, Alex. Right? Horrible, horrible homicidal mania. I love that. Yeah. But I like the book as well. But how much you end up loving him. But it is true that you could make somebody good, actually implementing a protocol like that. Skinner never endorsed anything like that. But if you if you know that that's how somebody is, then you could overcome it. And yet, we think that if somebody digs in deep down, that they're going to be able to overcome these things. It's you know, it's the problem that you've talked about with many of your guests about the I think the belief in freewill really derails our ability to do any deep social engineering. And it also makes us more averse to things like genetic engineering, or embryo selection, which could make us much, much better. Because everyone's holding out hope that people will choose better choices.

Steven Parton  07:19

And there's, I mean, the reason this podcast is named the feedback loop is because of that relationship really, right. As as we change the environment with these technologies. We're very much a victim to how that environment influences our genes and our behavior. So have you seen ways in which like, our modern technology is concerning you in terms of how it's affecting our behavior?

Diana Fleischman  07:47

Yeah, I think of course, we have this problem with technology, that it's incredibly addicting. Social media is very addicting. I have this relationship with with Twitter, which is funny. My father only got on Facebook when he was like 65. And he unbeknownst to him, had the same relationship with it as me like he was on there all the time. He was telling you about these Facebook interactions he was having every time I was on the phone with him. He was telling me about like trolling somebody, like, very similar to my interactions on and then he's like, oh, quit cold turkey, like spent a week off and then got back on. And that's precisely my interactions on on Twitter. Is this, this push and pull? So yeah, I think that people are spending a ton of time on social media, and each shopping and pursuing various different status objects. And I don't know why. For me who's who's trying to get worked on and trying to write an engaging in these kinds of productivity hacks. I don't know why there's not a Skinner box for me. Why isn't there Why hasn't somebody developed some way of you know, some people would say, Oh, this is kind of a capitalists dream, to to try to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of you. But honestly, when you're being really productive, you don't feel less happy than if you're lying around watching YouTube all day. You know, in many ways you feel you feel better, it's kind of just depends on where you're at. So yeah, I do think that what's happening technologically is some is difficult and also you know, I have this guilty pleasure of watching shows about people with various addictions, addictions to drugs, addictions to food, you know, various different problems. And I think the basic reason why everyone watches those shows is to feel better about their life and their life choices, I think, isn't very much Yeah, I'd cynical reason behind all that stuff,

Steven Parton  09:43

some solidarity and the suffering. Well, yeah, you're

Diana Fleischman  09:47

like, Oh, you know, I don't have this particular problem. I'm not like addicted to heroin or buying shoes, or whatever the case may

Steven Parton  09:54

be. I have a good addiction compared to that bad addiction. Yeah, exactly. Can you can you You explain that the Skinner box concept and maybe something I heard you talking about before is like you want to create a Skinner box for yourself? Could you expand on that? Sure. So

Diana Fleischman  10:10

BF Skinner is not really talked about enough. And I think the perception in the general population about psychology is that Freud is still celebrated and Skinner's been debunked. But Eskandarian thinking is really important. And unfortunately, I don't think people consider it enough. So Skinner, actually, because he was trying to get by, without doing as much work himself, he developed a system where it would reinforce pigeons for doing some behavior, either like lever pressing, or pecking at a certain object, and they would get a pellet. And he actually ran out of pigeon food at one point and said, that was one of the ways that these schedules, different schedules of reinforcement happened. So he was either feeding them every time they did the requested behavior, or he was giving them more intermittent reinforcement. And so we came up with all these different schedules, and they were able to train animals to do all kinds of things. And there's been a bunch of people who followed in Skinner's footsteps. And to some extent, this woman called Karen Pryor, who wrote, don't shoot the dog, which I highly recommend, also learn how to train animals and not just train animals, she got dolphins to invent their own tricks. There's an amazing YouTube channel of this woman called a lot of Bram who's who's trained to fish, how to do various different tricks, including a creativity game, where every time the fish does something new with the rubberband, he gets rewarded. Wow. So just, you know, you don't actually know what you can get out of any organism, cognitively creatively, until you figure out the right schedule of reinforcement. And there's so much kind of untapped potential. So that's my basic idea. And Skinner had really, you know, very lofty designs about society, he wrote a book called Walden two, which was really interesting about how this technology of behavior that he's come up with, and in beyond freedom and dignity, the first chapter is called the technology of behavior, where he talks about how we can send a man to the moon, but we can't get people to reliably use contraception, or not annihilate each other with nuclear weapons or finished high school, you know, there's, there's what might would seem like a simpler problem than sending people to Mars, that have not yet been achieved. I think that those problems haven't been solved, because of our aversion to the methods of control. There's definitely things that could, that everybody could do. There's there's untapped potential. And what we see right now in society is people who are incredibly accomplished, but those are the people who have the combination of genius and determination. And they're very good at managing themselves, or they're very good at figuring out what their weaknesses are. Whereas there's tons of people who are like lying around on their couches all day, who have the same cognitive potential, there's just no technology for extracting it.

Steven Parton  13:20

And perhaps the environment to write like, if you're in one of the issues I try to focus on, there's a book that I'm been writing for the last several years kind of exploring some of these similar topics. And the thing that I'm trying to really look at is, what are the environmental factors such as, like stress, or maybe cultural narratives that they've bought into, which maybe represent the values of a status hierarchy that they've kind of acquiesced to? Like, what what are those environmental factors doing to their motivation? Is it causing to sleep less? Is it causing them to think that they need to work 10 hours a day is it forcing them to be so cognitively overloaded, that they don't have time to think about how to fix dinner and instead get fast food and therefore get a food coma and like, there's this really vicious cycle that seems to happen in these unhealthy environments that inhibit all of that potential. And that's one of the things that I'm most excited about is like, there would be so much genius. I feel like if we could clear off that like stress, and those burdens that are really keeping people from thinking to themselves, like when they wake up, what do I want to do today? Like what makes me curious, what would make me passionate and feel alive? And how can I lean into that? It's so rarely explored, I feel like

Diana Fleischman  14:35

yeah, I think about the conversation that I've heard about universal basic income recently a lot. And Russ Roberts, who I don't know if you've ever listened to econ talk, he's he's just great. But his own personal opinion, is really, the foundation of it is very much like a work ethic. That's Yeah, sort of from the baby boomer generation, but There's that there's dignity in work, and that there's dignity in getting up this kind of status hierarchy that we see in academia and in businesses. And if there were not these outlets available to people, that they would be living sort of undignified lives. And I do think that we could engineer a society where people don't have to work, but where they don't spend all day masturbating, eating french fries, and playing VR video games, right? What we see now is, is those things and I think it's important because we are giving people more freedom than not necessarily more freedom, but people are not limiting their own freedom. There's, there's, there's not enough ways that that we can pay people in, in our capitalist society, like I have that app called freedom, it like keeps me off the internet. I have, like an accountability coach that I email every day, for some reason, her approval matters to me. And she actually might the my accountability coach, her name's Pamela Hobart. And she's got this great blog, which is called stupid solutions for stupid problems. So it might be a stupid problem that you have that you eat french fries late at night, or that you're watching YouTube all day, or that you are drinking alcohol more than you should, her stupid problem is that she's got three kids, and they keep her from being able to load the dishwasher. They're like always in the dishwasher. So she got a tiny dishwasher to put on top of her large dishwasher. Because the kids can't reach it. And she's like, this is a really, really dumb problem. I can't keep my kids out of the dishwasher doesn't sound like a safe place for children. And she's like, there's tons of dumb problems. I'm not reading with all the books that I want to read. But this kind of gets back to the original theme, which is that if you don't know where you're at, if you're not willing to admit to people, you know, or or to yourself, where you're at and what your motivations are, then you can't transcend those motivations.

Steven Parton  17:09

Turning, you're turning your social network into a bunch of Skinner boxes.

Diana Fleischman  17:14

Well, I try. I just like, like, yeah, my, my husband is like actually not that interested in managing me. I've tried many times to be like, here's what I want to get done today. And he's, he's totally uninterested in following up on that. It's not that he actually you know, if I asked him about it, but revealed preferences show, he's not interested, he never does. But he's very encouraging with it anyway. But It surprises me even that, in fact, reward I know that in factory where people have this kind of reinforcement schedule that they use. And there's been, you know, Skinner and and other people who were in industrial organizational psychology, talked about the developments with that, but there's things that could be even improved upon now. And I can't help but think that we're reluctant to to do more. Because it's it's somehow repugnant to to manage people's behavior even more than than we already are. I'm not really talking about like micromanagement, I'm talking about things that would be more effective than something annoying like that.

Steven Parton  18:18

Yeah, there's the weird kind of realization, I've come to find, like working on science fiction books, or things like that, where it's like, the more limitations I have, the more creativity I tend to find. And it's, it's remarkable just because you lose all that overwhelming data, and you start to come up with these really, you know, you kind of find epiphanies are more like lateral thinking, because you just have very few points to connect. And then you're like, wow, this is way easier when I'm not as free.

Diana Fleischman  18:47

Even when I have more structure. Yeah, yeah. Have you looked at

Steven Parton  18:50

all at stuff by behind chicks at me? Hi, the flow?

Diana Fleischman  18:56

Yeah, I have looked at a little I mean, I've read a couple of chapters of his book. When I taught undergraduates. That was the flow chapter was one of the, the assigned chapters he's very good at, at Actually, it was really sad when I was teaching undergraduates, because one of the So in the first year, I organize the seminars, and I found out that many of these students had never written anything other than like an essay for an exam. They had never just, you know, written anything of their own. They've never journaled, or anything like that. So I asked students to describe what a flow state was. And then I told them to write about what it was like to be in a flow state. And one of them wrote all this thing, this whole thing about like roller skating, and I was like, Oh, this is fascinating. It's like, I've never roller skated. I just made this up because I've never experienced a flow state. And I'm so sad. I mean, like, certainly between video games, sex and eating like you've done experience of flow state, I find it very difficult to believe. But yes, I have I have read some of his stuff. Yeah, I

Steven Parton  20:06

just wondering about the ways that that could be incorporated. Maybe in case when you mentioned the factory, for instance, I believe that's one of the things that he references in the book is talking about how a factory worker is able to inject meaning into the repetitive experience by creating some kind of autonomous aspect to it, like playing a game, trying to beat their own high score of like, how fast they can do something, trying to see if they can, you know, just little tiny tricks they give themselves. And I'm just wondering about ways that we can I guess, life hack or, or implement those little behaviors into our life to kinda increase efficiency, increase happiness, decreased stress, you know, it's funny, because there's a balance between like, the goal in some ways is to like get more free, so that you can choose less freedom, it seems

Diana Fleischman  20:58

to me, yes, that doesn't make sense. I agree. Yeah, I think that with, with flow states, flow states are just so incredible. And of course, we can't always, a lot of work is just hard, and every minute seems like an hour. But I know that when you're playing a game, that's the whole thing. That me, chicks sent me how I was talking about was how, in a in a flow state, you know that you can accomplish the goal. Like when you're doing a video game, you know that the level that you're trying to beat is not impossible. Whereas when you're doing your work, when you're writing a book or whatever, you know, it might just be impossible to convey the idea that you're trying to convey you don't know.

Steven Parton  21:38

Yeah, the, the optimal challenge is 4%, beyond your skills, I believe, which is like how do you know how to conceptualize that when you're working on something.

Diana Fleischman  21:48

That's another thing is I've seen people try and do is to gamify. You know, certainly, I find gamification, incredibly reinforcing that it comes to exercise. I joined peloton during the pandemic like everyone else, which is why peloton is worth like trillions of dollars. And I don't have a peloton bike or anything, but I have the app. And there's usually charismatic people. And I like I work for badges that no one will ever see. Like I'm really, really struggling with these, these badges.

Steven Parton  22:19

That's that feedback that we want. Are there other ways that you kind of life hack or do trick yourself like using evolutionary tricks, the things that you know, your body, your brain are gonna respond to do you find ways to protect yourself from your weaknesses, or empower your strengths.

Diana Fleischman  22:37

There's like a whole lot of hacks that I have for myself these days, other than, you know, not not engaging in stuff that's going to upset me or make me feel envious. I don't, I don't participate in Instagram or, or anything like that. Because I think that those things would ultimately just make me feel worse about myself. But I do think that when it comes to this view that I have about human psychology, this view that I have that in the right context, and in the right, right learning context, with the right punishments and reinforcements, people's behavior could be much better. But people don't have free will. They might have conscious will, but they don't. They don't have free will. And I think Sam Harris and Annika Harris and other people have talked about this, it does make you much more forgiving of other people.

Steven Parton  23:30

Absolutely. I think that's one of the things to our earlier topic with social media that concerns me, especially from an evolutionary psychology perspective is if we're constantly on the lookout for status identifiers, or for acceptance and belonging, or we're looking to understand what behaviors we should do or not do. A lot of it seems to be filtered through likes, and follows and comments and stuff on social media. But that seems like a very shallow version of, I guess, norms and values. Like if you post a picture of yourself, that's very sexy. There's a natural like response, for instance, for people to like that more than if you post something that's like, less sexy. Do you know I'm saying there's, there's these weird signifiers. And then if you're somebody who's responding to that all the time, then you start to only really think about yourself maybe as a physical sexual entity, rather than, you know, somebody with intelligence and other traits. And I worry about the way that we're using social media and that way it's, it's kind of tell us who we are.

Diana Fleischman  24:41

There's this quantification of status, which is Yeah, like likes and retweets and stuff. And there's a certain withdrawal that I experienced when I get off social media, where you're like, Oh, you know, I'm not getting I'm not getting this kind of feedback anymore. But it's also very far removed from what it's like to get approval and when love and attention from people in real life. And one thing that I've noticed with this pandemic is, I was going, I'll go out and go for a walk. And it's always awkward to like walk by somebody in a hallway or like on a sidewalk, especially I'm in the south. So people say hello. It's not like New York, where like, there's no expectation that someone will say hello to you. And it's just even more awkward, like the timing of when you say hello, I feel. And I don't know if it was because I was sick, or if it's because I haven't seen people in groups in a long time. But it just seems so so much stranger, to be around other people. And I do think that there's been an acceleration of status gain through social media during this this lockdown,

Steven Parton  25:47

but a kind of a tangent here, but that makes me think of your work with effective altruism. And a lot of the listeners to this podcast, for instance, are working with Singularity University and are focused on you know, kind of our tagline, which is impacting 2 billion people. And one thing I was thinking about when I was preparing to talk for you is like, why do we have so many people who want to help a billion strangers when there's no evolutionary advantage really, like there's they're not kin? They're not going to help pass on our genetics? Maybe there's a status thing involved here. But I'm wondering what your thoughts are on that, and just effective altruism in general.

Diana Fleischman  26:31

You know, Peter Singer talked about the expanding the moral circle. And Steven Pinker is also talked about expanding the moral circle in a different way about how things like literature made us able to, potentially, and the greater literacy rate, potentially made people more able to step into the shoes of people they didn't know, or to identify with people that they didn't know. I think effective altruism is a fairly small movement, for a reason. And that's because it is difficult to leverage the sentiments towards strangers. And I remember back in, I think it was 2014, I went to an effective altruism conference in California. And at that time, people were talking a lot about future people like laser yudkowsky was talking about how, if you could increase by 1%, the chance that we would colonize the galaxy, or prevent a rogue artificial intelligence from destroying humanity or nanobots for making everything into grey group, you know, pick your science fiction demise, that if we could do that, and they were, you know, billions and billions of people are trillions and trillions of people in the future, and they were living good lives, that those future people would would matter more than anyone currently. And that was incredibly skeptical of this idea. And of the idea that we should morally prioritize future people, my intuitions were very much against the idea that we should prioritize future people over current people, especially people in the developing world. And we did this exercise, I don't know if it's called circling, I think it might be something like that. So we were in groups, and they said, okay, make eye contact with somebody, the first person you make eye contact with. Imagine that this is somebody that you know, and love in person. So make eye contact with a person, it was awkward, it's fine, you imagining that you love a stranger, it's okay, then you rotate, you're like this is this next person is the person living on the other side of the world. And they have the same interest that you do in living a fulfilling life with very little suffering, and make eye contact with that person, and then circle again. And now make eye contact with somebody, this is a future person, and this future person wants to live. And they have the same goals and wishes and hopes and dreams, and suffering and pain that you do. And that one exercise in about two minutes, changed my intuitions about future people. So that experience really made me realize how much I was at the mercy of my evolved intuitions and not caring about future people. Maybe your listeners are familiar with an idea called scope and sensitivity you know, we care a lot about Nemo the fish, but we don't really care about the trillion of fish, you know, that that people like pull up from the sea every year it might be a trillion. And we care a lot about one little girl who's who's malnourished and in Central America, but we don't care about 1000 other little girls like her as much, you can't care 1000 times more. Right? And for so many people the idea of this, this, like, huge amount of suffering, is it just boggles their minds. There's I think it's a Mitchell and Webb sketch, there's this very funny comedy sketch where this guy has like, he gets a $3 million endowment. And he says, you know, if I gave it to Africa, that'd be like a drop in the bucket, if I gave it to like vaccine research, instead, what I'm going to do is save all the donkeys in the UK, I'm going to have a donkey trust, I know that $3 million can really literally solve a problem of unwanted maltreated donkeys. Okay. And I think that, that there's a certain, you know, involves intuitives eye satisfaction with something like that, like, why would I do something that's a drop in the bucket? When I, you know, it just, it just seems kind of pointless, it doesn't, it doesn't leverage any of our motivations.

Steven Parton  31:10

There's not like a real sense of reward if you're doing something that doesn't show a, like a real tangible impact,

Diana Fleischman  31:17

or, or an impact on on anybody who cares, either a status impact, or sexual impact, or a can impact those things, or are the things that need to be leveraged? I wrote, I didn't write a full science fiction short story. But I wrote a science fiction short story a few years back, which involved people being chemically altered, so that they would attach to adopted children to the way that they would adapt to their own biological children. And there were these really strange experiments done like in the 1960s, where they took a baby away from a mother right after he or she was born for three hours, or they gave the baby directly to the mother within half an hour of the baby newborn. And those studies claimed that they could see differences in how mothers treated their children Forever After that, depending on whether they were separated for a long time. So there is this like, critical period of of bonding. And I have so much admiration for people who adopt, because there's just so many evolutionary obstacles to that. And I would love it, if there were some way to, you know, the, there's a lot of people who talk about moral enhancement. And that's the kind of moral enhancement that on the one hand, people celebrate parents who adopt, but on the other hand, I don't think very many people would sign up for a procedure that would make them neurologically as attached on unrelated children as they are to their own children.

Steven Parton  32:56

Yeah. Is that a? Is that a future you're excited about? Because I know you mentioned earlier, like what we could do with manipulating the genome and potentially changing our genetics. Do you embrace that as a future technology? Are you excited to see things like CRISPR and genetic manipulation become mainstream?

Diana Fleischman  33:16

Yes, I am. But I was much more excited. I have to say that this whole experience that I've had with with the pandemic, I had much more confidence in science and society and social engineering before this pandemic than I do now. And before this pandemic, I thought that there were a lot of things just kind of over the horizon. Things like me know, people selecting smart embryos, or gene selection, various things like that. And I've just seen people behave so irrationally. And I've seen such a huge, just fall from grace, even when it comes to Europe and the failure of lockdowns, the failure of people to make trade offs between freedom and and lives, and so many people, just disgusted by the idea that we would trade off the life and quality of life of some millions of people over the quality of life or lives at all, of maybe some older people. It just seems to sit and also just seen so many epidemiologists just think nonsense last year, so I have to say that like pre pandemic, I would have just been so delighted to talk to you about transhumanism and about all of the ways that I think we're going to improve ourselves over the next several decades, and about cryonics and all this And I know people who told me, you know, all my all the time that I've been interested in this stuff. This is like so. So out there, there's no really use, like thinking about this stuff. And somehow not somehow I mean, it's a very, very clear causal direction between how I've seen humans deal with this pandemic, and my faith in future technology as it relates to longevity and health.

Steven Parton  35:27

Do you think there's a particular impetus or source of that, like, one thing I wonder about, especially with your specialty and discussed, is if knowing that there is a germ, or a virus out in the environment that we could easily get, if that's making us very conservative, or very risk averse in ways that are, or are stressed or anxious in ways that are making us just make lots of bad decisions? Like, do you see a core thread weaving all of this? Uh,

Diana Fleischman  35:57

I mean, it could be I could just be like, I had COVID. And now I'm like an old conservative lady. You know, I, you've changed Diana. I'm, like, different than I ever used to be. I'm like, Yeah, can I start baking or whatever? I think? No, it's just, it's just like the complete inability of people to make trade offs. And like, even you know, I'll just give you one example. Even somebody who I think is pretty smart. Carl Zimmer, who I think writes for the New York Times, he was endorsing this idea that Black Lives Matter protests, there was sort of paper that people wrote that Black Lives Matter protests, reduced the prevalence of COVID, like, I think, in Arizona, but the explanation I read in the paper was basically, white people, mostly white people, were less likely to leave their homes because they were afraid of the protests. And so because BLM protests were scary, people stayed home, which is really good. Like a good. I mean, that actually all may be true, but the data didn't really it didn't really support it. And also, when it came to came to lock down, yeah, I mean, even even this, this, this this time last year, or was it this time, two years ago, this Chinese doctor who did CRISPR on two baby girls to make them HIV resistant. The response to that was just unbelievable. And, and Steve Sue, also, he didn't get fired, but he got taken off of a research position, because, you know, he quote, unquote, endorsed eugenics. So I don't think that right now it seems like the prevalence morality, right now and in society seems to be more concerned with fairness than it is concerned with potentially a rising tide lifts all boats with with progress.

Steven Parton  38:15

You were mentioning there about I guess the the way that cultural narratives are changing things, and I don't know if this is in your scope or not. But one thing I'm been really fascinated with is how language can I guess hijack our evolutionary behavior? What is the this is gonna be pretty open into question, but like, in your mind, what do you see the impact of language on evolution? How have we adapted to respond to language? Is it very much just like language represents our value systems? And so we just kind of acquiesce to whatever that value system is.

Diana Fleischman  38:55

It my thoughts on this are super scattered. So on, I'll make I'll make like three points. One point is that I do think that people are getting because of things like Twitter, and texting, and emojis and things like that. People are getting less and less good at having a diverse and rich vocabulary. You see all kinds of like, there's there's so many words like vibe, which has now replaced everything from like context, to demeanor, there's no there are all these words that are being replaced by fewer words. So I do think that that's one problem is this like poverty of language that we're seeing more and more now. And so there's also this kind of doublespeak where people are talking about equity. So especially like when you look at like, sort of social justice, activist narratives about equity, inclusion and diversity, those words mean different things than I think the average person would think that they would mean, and there's been this push and pull about diversity. So people like heterodox Academy, say, you know, you really should prioritize diversity of viewpoint. Whereas other people were saying, if you have an ethnic diversity, then you'll also see diversity points, although they don't explain actually how that would work very well. So there does seem to be some stuff like that going on. And so yeah, I don't know if any of this is relevant. But that's those are my completely unguided thoughts.

Steven Parton  40:34

But but that touches on as much as I could have asked for. I don't want to take too much more of your time here. But I thought maybe we could just end with tossing the ball in your court a little bit? And is there anything that you're particularly interested in exploring these days, maybe something you'd like to share that you're working on, or something you're excited about? Anything at all?

Diana Fleischman  40:58

Yeah, I'm going to be, I'm still working on this book, which is about manipulation, and close interpersonal relationships. And I've been working on that for some time. And I think that when we are more aware of how we're trying to change one another's behavior, and we're more aware of, you know, from an evolutionary perspective, what our motivations are, it can really help us become better. But I'm just, I'm just very much in favor of having a cynical view of oneself as a way to transcend one's one's basis motivations. But moreover, Lately, I've been researching how illness can can change people's personalities. And so that's something that I'm, I'm looking into, and I'm going to be blogging about soon, is just, you know, from my personal experience, some changes in my personality since I had COVID. I don't think they're going to last forever. But now that you've had, you know, millions of people who've had this disease, what is what is the evidence behind that there's this emotion that people rarely talk about is called lassitude. And there's a whole paper written about it in 2020, and lassitude is this risk aversion, social anxiety, introversion. Maybe people were not as open to experience as they were before. But also trying to think about how this pandemic has influenced so much that we've seen in the past year, I've been thinking about that a lot. And there's this area of research about how, when people feel that their lives are threatened, they're more likely to also engage in risky behavior. So that's, that's Yeah, what I've been thinking about lately, and I should be writing something up about that soon.

Steven Parton  42:51

And where can people go to find these things that you're writing?

Diana Fleischman  42:55

I am at sentience cysts, SC n t i e n t, i s t. On Twitter, I have a blog that needs some love. It's called Dianna verse.com. Or Yeah. And then I also write have a blog at psychology today. But if you go to Diana fleischman.com, you'll see all my links there.

Steven Parton  43:17

Wonderful. We'll include that in the show notes and everything to make it easy for everybody. Yeah. Awesome. Well, Diane, I want to thank you very much for your time, especially the first interview back post COVID. Yeah, I hope it wasn't too hard for you

Diana Fleischman  43:31

know, I feel like I I mostly made sense. That was good.

Steven Parton  43:36

You did you did, I understood all the words you said. So we're good, we're good. And now we're going to take a moment for a short message about our membership for organizations, which you can find by going to su.org and clicking organizations in the menu.


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