Monthly Archives: June 2015

Zero-Sum Games and the Law of Mutuality

When playing zero-sum games (such as most sports or political elections), one can still ask oneself ‘How can all parties win in some other way?’

So, it seems the Christian motivation, in such situations, ought to be to figure out how a non-zero sum game dynamic (‘win-win’) can be constructed.

For example, in a football game, either one team wins or it does not. Yet, all players can grow in character, say.

Zero-sum game dynamics become more acute when looking at politics, where one party wins an election. This can be extended to international politics, where zero-sum dynamics can lead to things like war.

It seems especially important, in these cases, for the actors to try to figure out how to implement non-zero sum games, if not to outright change the game to a non-zero sum game (trade can be such an example in international politics).

Grounding the good

If there is an essential role for the core, specifically Christian canonical scriptures, I think it is to ground a conception of the good.

It is one thing to say God is the Good, or a Christian ought to align their will with the good. It is another to say exactly what the good is.

Here, the Gospels and letters from Paul, John, and James, in particular, have to be a significant part of a specifically Christian answer.

This doesn’t require something like ‘infallibility’ or ‘inerrancy’ in that scripture. Rather, scripture can be a repertoire that can act as an heuristic, and so on.

The Law of Mutuality

There is an ethic of helping others in Christianity.

Yet, because the point of Christianity is to align one’s will with the will of the Good, and since considerations on the good include considerations about oneself, it would not be surprising if God (i.e., the Good) would want solutions to various problems that improve the state of all people involved.

This, in short, is the basic idea behind a Christian view of what can be called ‘the law of mutuality’, or in more common parlance, ‘win-win’ outcomes.

(It is not a coincidence that it was a Mormon Christian, Stephen Covey, who popularized the term ‘win-win’. Covey also coined the terms ‘abundance mentality’ and ‘scarcity mindset’, both of which are related to the considerations on whether win-win outcomes are possible in a given situation.)

The basic impulse in a given situation as far as ethics goes, from a Christian perspective, is to ask the question ‘What would be good for everyone in this situation?’ or ‘What is the will of the good in this situation?’

Although this detaches oneself from egoism, often it will lead to a better result for oneself than a purely egoistic method of reasoning, almost paradoxically. In short, it has a greater chance of leading to ‘virtuous circles’ of action – an upward spiral of cooperative behaviour that is better in the long run than more egoistic alternatives (even if one does not get the best result for oneself in the immediate situation).

Of course – not always! Yet, it seems Christians often talk about their actions as if it will be – long run – self-sacrificing. Most of the time, this isn’t the case. It is not suffering that is the point, rather it is the law of mutuality.

How to do more real science

Given the state of things in science in general (the rise of careerism, grants, bureaucracy, mediocracy, management, and so on) – things that often don’t coincide with doing one’s best to figure out the truth – what is someone who wants to do real science to do?

I think the answer lies in the time of some of the greatest science done, and in particular, the ‘amateur scientist’ or ‘aristocrat-scientist’ model. Darwin, for example, was both of these.

The basic idea is to reduce the social pressure from people who aren’t necessarily interested in the truth (real science), by reducing one’s reliance on funding from various institutions where the primary goal isn’t truth.

One way to do this is to make money in some other way, and then do science with your spare time.

Second, now that one is free from institutions that don’t regard truth as of primary importance, one can be selective about the associations one has, and so build a network of like-minded people.

This probably applies to academia in general – not just science.

What to focus on

One of the most important questions is ‘what ought I focus on?’

Focus is one of the basic currencies, along with time and energy.

A key problem with ‘reactionaries’ (and here the epithet is largely accurate) is that they are reacting-to, i.e., they are reacting to things other people are doing, instead of deciding what to focus on themselves.

Of course, inevitably one must respond to others’ actions in a sense. Yet if one lets others set the agenda of what one is focusing on by and large, then one has already given up one of the most important currencies – one’s own focus and, more generally speaking, the cultural focus to the extent one contributes to and cultivates a surrounding culture.


Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19)

Both Stoicism and Buddhism (accurately) see the negation of attachments as a solution to suffering. Therefore, if one removes the attachment, one lessens the suffering when those things are destroyed.

Although Christianity also (accurately) sees this, this isn’t the primary motivation for removing attachment to things in Christianity. Consider that Stoicism tends to go further, rejecting attachment not just to things (i.e., hedonism or materialism) but to people and relationships. Buddhism also has this element.

Differently, in Christianity the primary motivation for rejecting attachment to materialism or hedonism comes not from considerations of suffering but from an alignment of one’s will with the will of the Good, i.e., a rejection of egoism.

Stoicism is the opposite – a rejection of attachment stems from egoistic considerations.

The basic idea in Christianity is that one aligns one’s interests with the interests of the Good. Yet, almost paradoxically, because ‘happiness’ or ‘meaning’ is rarely found by focusing on one’s self, this re-alignment tends to lead to happiness. I.e., happiness or meaning is found by focusing outside oneself (on family, on a cause, on the good, and so on), and valuing these things.

To put the basic idea in more Christian terms, by losing oneself, one gains oneself. Stoicism (and Buddhism, to an extent) misses this dynamic in motivation, and so settles into a kind of nihilism, where any ‘goodness’ is suspect.

Politics properly applies to science

Politics applies to all organizations (societies, churches, and so on). It is not that one realm is political (what we typically refer to as ‘politics’), and then other areas become politicized. Rather, politics is part-and-parcel of inter-personal human activity.

Therefore, politics is part of the scientific process whenever it becomes inter-personal.

What distinguishes political systems? In one important sense, it is the electorate. My guess is that the defining feature of a polity isn’t the generally-agreed-upon rules by which things are done (although these are important), but rather the character of those within the polity.

In science, the electorate ought to be prioritizing truth, as real science is simply doing one’s best to figure out what the truth is. (While in typical politics, it is the long-term well-being of society that ought to be the principal goal.)

Anyone arguing for this or that view within science has to factor in, anticipate, and take measures to account for, the political aspect. This is not something antithetical to science – rather, it is part of any inter-personal project.

(That is not to say the political aspect can’t be more or less conducive to real science!)

It behooves any scientist to study, understand, and gain practical know-how in this field. Certainly, to understand it better than those for whom truth is a secondary goal. To become a scientist of politics, in addition to a politician, campaign strategist, and so on – as much as this may not suite certain people’s strengths.

Of course, given the proper goal of science, it is entirely appropriate to take issue with people who are not primarily interested in the truth within the scientific enterprise. Due to the increase in careerism, grants, bureaucracy, and so on, they abound – more so than a hundred or two hundred years ago – and it makes the scientific enterprise more difficult. Regardless, if one cares about the truth, then one must account for these and the political processes one finds oneself in.

The impact of evidence

Since all evidence for a view can be denied, ignored, or interpreted away, ought we to give up on evidence?

No. We are willful creatures – yet, evidence has an impact. Evidence cumulatively can have a very large impact. Put another way, there is an epistemic cost to denying, ignoring, or interpreting away evidence.

When looking at whether evidence is important, one can’t just look at extreme or hypothetical cases. It’s possible that someone could deny the moon exists, for example.

Simply put, there are people who are interested in the truth (for whatever reasons), and these people are looking for compelling reasons for this view or that.

It is sometimes difficult to make a compelling case, especially when it requires making sub-cases for multiple other things. Marshaling a significant cohort of evidence, showing how certain metaphysical beliefs make more sense of the available evidence, clearly and cogently drawing out limitations or contradictions in certain lines of thought, and so on, and then effectively communicating this to large numbers of relevant people, is not typically easy or quick – especially when there are entrenched interests that would stand to lose by a given view’s adoption.

Yet, it seems to be one of the most important things one can do, if one believes a given theory to be important and true.

Evidentiary thresholds

There is a cost to evidence + belief combinations. This is to say, although certain evidence can be interpreted away with certain beliefs, there is an epistemic cost to doing so – it becomes less plausible.

When people get to a certain point, they can look at another belief set, to see which belief set has less epistemic cost to it – which is more plausible.

Once the evidence + belief epistemic cost outweighs some alternate, we can say a person arrives at an evidentiary threshold.

Needless to say, various non-epistemic factors affect people’s evidentiary thresholds – for example, they might have money or status tied to a certain belief being true, and so dishonestly downplay certain evidence.

In one’s own case, if one is interested in the truth, one ought to weight things accordingly, as it is easy to allow these factors to influence our own decisions.

Evidentiary thresholds can be galvanic. They can push one to find more or different evidence, hence changing the equation, or push one to carefully review implicit or explicit beliefs related to the evidence, to see if there is something wrong there.

Why do people care about the truth?

Here are a couple reasons.

1. What they’re doing isn’t working.

Someone is trying to achieve a result, but isn’t achieving the desired result. If achieving the result is important to them, they will tend to care about relevant truths.

2. They believe they could be doing something that would work.

Someone comes to a belief that they could do something (or do something much better), and so relevant truths become important.

Which is to say, technology is a demonstration of truth.

In this sense, technology forms the metaphysical basis for robust science (not the other way around). Put another way, we believe certain theories because they seem to be demonstrated in certain technologies.