Conscious Processes, Chocolate, and Strange Attractors

The panorama of evolutionary biology reveals evolved consciousness at many levels — from bacteria pursuing food to theoretical physicists performing mind experiments to determine the constituents of matter in the universe. The quality of inference varies widely between different species, and within a single species as well. We know this is true by the trouble that is taken by exclusive schools and employers to select the best students and workers. The selection of Nobel Prize winners in the hard sciences and the selection of Fields Medal winners in mathematics are even more extreme examples of discrimination between levels of conscious inference.

… we can talk about inference, the process of figuring out the best principle or hypothesis that explains the observed states of that system we call ‘the world’. Technically, inference entails maximising the evidence for a model of the world. Because we are obliged to maximise evidence, we are – effectively – making inferences about the world using ourselves as a model. That’s why every time you have a new experience, you engage in some kind of inference to try to fit what’s happening into a familiar pattern, or to revise your internal states so as to take account of this new fact.

… A creature cannot infer the consequences of its actions unless it possesses a model of its future. It needs to know what to expect if it does this as opposed to that. For example, I need to know (or subconsciously model) how my sensations will change if I look to the left, to the right or, indeed, close my eyes.

… systems that can grasp the impact of their future actions must necessarily have a temporal thickness. They must have internal models of themselves and the world that allow them to make predictions about things that have not and might not actually happen. Such models can be thicker and thinner, deeper or shallower, depending on how far forward they predict, as well as how far back they postdict, that is, whether they can capture how things might have ended up if they had acted differently.

… humans are little more than ‘strange loops’, as the philosopher Douglas Hofstadter puts it. We all flow through an enormous, high-dimensional state-space of manifold possibilities, but are forced by our attractors to move around in confined circles. We are like an autumn leaf; tracing out a never-ending trajectory in the turbulent eddies of a stream, thinking our little track is the whole world. __ Aeon

Chocolate Consciousness

Chocolate is a processed food derived from the cacao bean. When humans consume chocolate, their brainwave activities are altered in a predictable manner. People become less drowsy, with an increased alertness. Mood effects conducive to romantic feelings can be heightened significantly.

The cacao tree — the source of cocoa and chocolate — first evolved in the tropics of Central and South America. Making cocoa from the cacao bean is a labour intensive process. Growers who cannot keep worker costs down, cannot compete.

Global Cocoa Production
Where Cocoa Comes From

Fine chocolate is a luxurious delicacy, available to those with the means to obtain it. Cacao beans are mostly grown in sub Saharan Africa and other tropical zones, but fine chocolate is mostly made in Europe. The best chocolates are typically consumed in Europe, the Anglosphere, East Asia, and by the wealthy around the world.

Meanwhile in Africa, cacao farmers struggle to make a profit, using child labour as much as possible to keep costs down.

Africa’s attempts to meaningfully break into the export market is so small that Europe doesn’t even consider it as “competition.” Europe’s biggest rival comes in the form of Asia, where Indonesia, in particular, has been growing cocoa and building an industry which taps into the fast-growing middle class of China. Despite Chinese taste for chocolate growing slowly, the country is already the world’s 11th largest chocolate market. __ Chocolate Logic

Why Europe Prospers from Africa’s Toil

When chocolate finally came to Europe, it was so expensive that it remained a luxury for the well off — until European consciousness applied itself to the problem of cocoa:

When chocolate first came on the scene in Europe, it was a luxury only the rich could enjoy. But in 1828, Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten discovered a way to treat cacao beans with alkaline salts to make a powdered chocolate that was easier to mix with water.

The process became known as “Dutch processing” and the chocolate produced called cacao powder or “Dutch cocoa.”

Van Houten supposedly also invented the cocoa press, although some reports state his father invented the machine. The cocoa press separated cocoa butter from roasted cocoa beans to inexpensively and easily make cocoa powder, which was used to create a wide variety of delicious chocolate products.

Both Dutch processing and the chocolate press helped make chocolate affordable for everyone. It also opened the door for chocolate to be mass-produced. __ History of Chocolate

From those early innovations, European tinkerers and tradesmen proceeded to refine the art of chocolate making to an exquisite art. Now chocolate — with almost $20 billion in exports — is Europe’s most profitable “cash crop” export, beating out both tobacco and coffee products.

The chocolate industry is but one example of African sweat being turned into veritable gold for others on world markets. Coffee — a plant native to Africa — is another example where African sweat is turned into gold for outsiders.

Coffee Revenues

When we consider the global profits from diamonds, gold, uranium — mined wealth that comes from Africa in significant quantities — we find the same type of profitable distributions. Example:

As Chinese and Indian companies move into Africa to do more business, we find the same set of affairs. The outside participants arrange the financing and technological expertise, while the African government takes payoffs to provide necessary access to local work areas, raw materials, and labour — as needed. The further the trade goods are transported from their African origins, the more they are refined and given added value.

At each stage in the journey to greater value and profitability, goods of African origin are subjected to outsider technical expertise, outsider financing, and outsider marketing skills and connections.

Civilisation and Grass Huts

The level, complexity, and clarity of consciousness vary between individuals. But at a cruder and more statistical level, these things vary on average between sorted groups of individuals. The notorious sexist and feminist Camille Paglia once said:

If civilization had been left in female hands we would still be living in grass huts.

__ Camille Paglia

Be that as it may, one might compare a number of different population groups and imagine what type of huts we would be living in had civilisation been left in their hands.

We know, for example, that there is more to technological achievement and expertise than IQ. And yet the average IQ of nations tends to vary along with the wealth and technological competence of those nations overall. The correlation is best modeled with an exponential function.

Civilisation at the Turning Point

Human consciousness generated “surplus knowledge” whenever surplus wealth allowed for specialisation of labour and an excess of time available for pondering the why nots and the whys. This tended to happen in cities, places where the wealth of the countrysides was concentrated and managed. And it tended to happen during periods of time when the planet was warm enough to provide long growing seasons, helping to maximise surplus wealth.

Civilisations formed along the Nile, along the Tigris/Euphrates, along the Indus, and along the Yellow Rivers. None of the earliest ancient producers of knowledge were located in what is now western Europe. Some later civilisations formed along the shores of the Mediterranean, on the periphery of Europe.

And yet for the past hundreds of years, European and Europe-derived nations have dominated the world in terms of global exploration, global trade, scientific and mathematical discoveries, technology and engineering, and the fine arts. How can a historically backwater region such as Europe come to dominate the globe in so may areas?

The best explanation is that although great knowledge accumulated in China, India, the MENA regions — and in Islamic Spain — this knowledge was never systematised and further applied and developed in a systematic way. Not until the ancient knowledge arrived in western Europe at a time when various European nations were primed to learn and then to experiment.

Europeans systematised the ancient knowledge and applied a type of thinking called “the scientific method” to as much of the ancient knowledge as was made available. Suddenly Europeans acquired an expanded knowledge of the world around them, which gave them the navigational tools to explore the world along with many other tools for acquiring and communicating new knowledge. All of these things along with the expanded technological ability to make war, allowed Europeans and Europe-derived nations to dominate the world from roughly 1500 to the present day.

But why did this flood of great ancient knowledge affect Europe in the way that it did? Why did no one else with earlier access to this great knowledge develop it in such a way as to allow them to take similar advantage?

Were Europeans more intelligent than the descendants of earlier civilisations? It is unlikely that Europeans of the 16th through the 20th centuries were more intelligent than the Chinese, on average. As for India and the regions of MENA, the question of IQ comparisons is debatable.

Europe was hungry for new knowledge and competencies. The older civilisations were passing through more insular states of mind. Europe was developing tools of trade, finance, warfare, and manufacture that the older civilisations were not of a mind to pursue at that time.

And what was sub Saharan Africa doing at the time? Same-o same-o, more or less. Tribal warfare and taking slaves, just as for tens of thousands of years. There was some increased prosperity for particular tribes that traded with the Europeans as they began to land in the few good ports along African shores. But Africa was a bit out of the way in the new flow of ancient knowledge (and burgeoning trade) from east to west. And whatever knowledge did sometimes land on African shores was not likely to be greatly systematised or put into profitable use, except by the outsiders calling.

It was a special quality of consciousness that made the difference between how ancient knowledge was treated by different civilisations between the 15th and the 20th centuries.

Africa has abundant natural resources and growing numbers of young labourers. But if you look at the regional “wealth comparisons” in the graphic above, Africa is barely visible along the right lower edge.

Africa has access to all of the ancient knowledge and all of the modern knowledge, more or less. And Africa has a lot of people of productive years — and many more on the way. What keeps Africa (and much of the rest of the world) backward and dependent upon outside expertise for so many vital goods and services? Why can’t Africa (etc.) develop its own vast resources, instead of selling itself on the cheap?

Among the many reasons, quality of consciousness must rank near the top. What is quality of consciousness? It is a combination of various characteristics including intelligence, emotional balance, and prefrontal executive functions. If most of a continent’s population functions at a pre-industrial level, its nations are likely to remain dependent on more advanced populations for their more complex and sophisticated needs.

“As soon as we have problems, we ask someone else to take care of them for us,” Isaac continued. “We ask the Europeans. We ask the Americans. We ask the Chinese. We will run this train into the ground, and then we will tell the Chinese we need another one. This is not development.” I thought of the wreckage by the tracks. In China, there is no such thing as metallic waste. Armies of migrant workers scour the countryside with hammers and chisels, collecting and selling every scrap to the insatiable smelters that feed the country’s industries. Here, by contrast, was a land without industry. __ Atlantic

China is now attempting to build infrastructure across much of Africa — for a price. But who will maintain these great constructions and installations, once China gets what it came for and decides to leave?

The problem runs through the populations of Africa: The quality of consciousness at this time cannot support modern advanced technological infrastructures without massive outside assistance. This is as true for reliable and affordable electrical power generation and long distance transportation as it is for the locally profitable production of chocolate, coffee, diamonds, and uranium. It is all related to the same thing.

Strange Attractors Vary

So we come back to the strange attractors of the brain, and finally realise that different populations evolved with different strengths of strange attractors. This amounts to different internal puppetmasters, nudging and pulling the actions of mass populations differently — in a broadly statistical manner.

We are learning a lot about the human brain and human consciousness, but seemingly at a snail’s pace. We are slowed in our application of this knowledge by two significant factors:

  • Large numbers of humans are incapable of understanding this knowledge and its relevance
  • Large numbers of humans are unwilling to acknowledge the existence of this new knowledge for reasons of political or religious correctness
  • Pay attention. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

    Try not to neglect your Dangerous skills training.


    Free online books relating to this topic —

    The Neuroscience of Intelligence by Richard Haier 2016

    Human Accomplishment

    The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

    Dysgenics by Richard Lynn

    Economic History of Patent Institutions an encyclopaedia article

    History of Science and Technology in Ancient India

    Legacy of Ancient Greece

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    5 Responses to Conscious Processes, Chocolate, and Strange Attractors

    1. matthewpmusson says:

      Remember that Europe regarded God as a clock maker and they believed there were underlying rules that governed the natural world. Asia believed that the world was a variable mix of mysticism and instability.

      • alfin2101 says:

        The history of mechanical clocks is an interesting one. Consider that Europeans began systematising old knowledge from the middle east and muslim Spain well before mechanical clocks became reliable.

        You have a good point that the religions which prospered in Europe in the middle ages had a strong tradition of exegesis — a strict critical interpretation of religious texts, often requiring multiple linguistic expertise. This type of thinking might have transferred to more naturalistic and scientific topics as old knowledge blended with new attitudes of epistemology.

        • info says:

          I think Rodney Stark in his book “Triumph of Christianity” observed that Christianity involves a rational God.

          John’s Gospel equates God with the Logos(Reasoning, Logic or Wisdom). When the bible says “Word” the Greek is “Logos”

          “In the beginning was the Logos and the Logos was with God and was God”

    2. Borepatch says:

      A new book out from Princeton Professor Walter Scheidel called Escape From Rome makes the case that the difference was that no empire rose to replace Rome in Europe, but China, India, and the Middle East saw empire replacing empire for most of history. This absence of central authority and persistent, extreme fragmentation in Europe led to a long-term uninterrupted competition that was unique in world history. It was this incrementalism that came from this competition that led to the “Great Divergence” around 1700 or so.

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