This will be my attempt to unify behavioral economics etc. in an abstract model described with Aeolitalk. Obviously it will be a work in progress and probably never be finished. The intention is reductionistic; I want to formalize the central, common notions of the human experience in terms of three core concepts, analogous to the fundamental forces of physics:
1. Information: the set of statements a person believes about their world.
2. Expectations: the set of models a person uses to predict how their world will change.
3. Values: that which demands a person’s attention.
Some common notions I’m particularly keen to formalize:
Demoralization (esp. what makes Jewish ethnocentric behavior different from Han Chinese ethnocentric behavior)
Delusion (i.e. one’s set of copes)
Genetic similarity theory
On values: There are ultimately only two things people value, God and themselves. All other values reduce to facets of these two in more or less granularity, piquancy, and categorical shading. This is most easily imagined in two cynical propositions drawn from marketing and product design. One doesn’t value “Coke”, one values youth, beauty, athleticism, a life of leisure, and the company of such carefree, lively people as those exhibiting one’s most ideal life in the advertisement. Insofar as a friend or acquaintance embodies one’s core values of health, wealth, and reproductive fitness, one feels drawn to be around them, imitate them, and earn their favor and reciprocated attention. I claim that one doesn’t even value the subjective experience of fizzy corn syrup, rather one values the brief dopaminergic experience of the world brightening, every sense reaffirming that the world is a benevolent place because you’re a good person and God loves you, just before the crash hits and returns you to a darker world than before, filled to the brim with insulin, despair, politics, existential uncertainty, and litterbugs.
Human action is defined as behavior which a person expects will draw them “nearer” to the purest expression of their values, in the colloquial sense of “feeling close to X”. That which is closer looms “larger” in the psychological viewscape, taking up more of the 2D “space” which mentally represents our available conscious attention at a given moment. Everyone has something like an idealized 2D picture in their heart of which elements ought to be in this attentionscape, and in what proportions, and they will feel anxiety until they have repositioned themselves such that their “view” matches this ideal, imaginary picture. This is their personal version of heaven, where “all is right with the world”. Peace of mind is the expectation that the view will not get worse in the future. Therefore, a man who values some idealized feminine figure (say, for example, the “girl next door” type) may find his thoughts irresistibly drawn to a particular starlet who catches his fancy, because she is an expression of “that which demands his attention”. With a few very small leaps then, we can see that worship is merely the expression of focused interest, interest is nothing more than continual attention, and attention is nothing more than gathering and processing additional information about the subject.
Motivation can be defined as nothing more or less than the immediate precursor to revealed preference. It’s the expectation that an action will create a future view that is closer to the ideal picture. There is a common misunderstanding about dopamine here that must be corrected: dopamine is not released in response to pleasure, it is released by anticipation of a future pleasure, i.e. the biological certainty built by repeated concrete associations between intention, behavior, and reward. We release a bit of dopamine in realizing there is a Coke in the fridge, a bit more when it’s in our hand, and the biggest rush of all as the first sip sets off the sensory cascade and rush which we associate with an elevated feeling of benevolence and wellbeing. When the association between a Coke in the hand and this elevation is interrupted, violating the expectation (perhaps by having the bottle knocked out of our hands by a ne’er-do-well), it produces a massive stress response that can only be compared to narcissistic rage. Repeated frustration of all such expectations of acting to improve one’s situation can lead to learned helplessness, as previously discussed.
As far as I can tell, in the final analysis the only thing over which we can truly exert effortful control is in directing our attention toward potentially better expressions of our deeply held values. This appears to be where the conscious human will interfaces with the brain. Behavior is downstream from expectation, expectation is downstream from information, and information is filtered for relevance by what we value. Of course, effortful control in directing attention to potentially better expressions of our deeply held values requires having previously paid conscious attention to what we deeply value, which is a topic that receives surprisingly little analysis that I’ve seen. The best way to determine what you value but don’t have is to analyze your fantasies (particularly your taste in fiction and art), and the best way to determine what you value and already have is temporary privation of as many things as possible, at which point your needs will make themselves known to you, generally in order of priority. I.e. You always know at some level what you don’t got, but you don’t know what you got til it’s gone, but then maybe you wouldn’t miss it.