Thursday, 8 November 2012

'True Blood', Hysteresis Costs and Repugnancy Markets.

Vampires like human blood. Humans are willing to sell blood, preferably that of somebody else, for a price.  So long as Vampires are willing to sell their services to humans- say as night-watchmen-the conditions for a co-operative equilibrium exists.
However Vampires may be very impulsive by nature and so their 'time-preference' may be too extreme to permit them making binding contracts. However, since Vampires by their nature are immortal, it follows that so long as they have non zero phenotypal polymorphism- i.e. so long as small differences in 'time preference' exist in that species- then there must be an evolutionarily stable equilibrium in which some older vampires kill young vampires for humans in return for a steady supply of blood.
The problem here is that this is a 'repugnancy market'- Vampires may feel it infra dig to do deals with humans and humans may find it disgusting to live peacefully with their historic predators- and so  irrational barriers or restrictions may arise which make the co-operative equilibrium infeasible.
The TV show, 'True Blood' deals with a synthetic food for Vampires which allows them to 'come out of their coffins' and enter Civil Society by getting rid of the overt repugnancy cost associated with blood sucking. However this is an unstable equilibrium on both sides for purely thymotic reasons and, in the current episode,  militant Vampires are planning to dynamite the 'True Blood' factories so as to restore overt repugnancy costs and set the stage for a final conflict between the dead and the living.
From the human point of view, what lies at the root of this repugnance? Is it that something which is dead is having commerce with the living? The same 'repugnancy cost' was associated with usury- the notion that 'dead' money can multiply in the same way as cattle or sheep. At a later stage, Marx introduced the idea that Capital- i.e. some fungible asset vital to the production process- was 'dead labor' and that it was morally repugnant that Capitalist Vampires get to dictate how and when and where 'living' Labor is to be employed.

More broadly, we can say that anything created before today which nevertheless has a bearing on our present decisions, is an example of the 'dead hand' of something or other constraining us in a morally repugnant way. Let us take an example. Suppose a new Bank wants to set up its H.Q. in the City of London. The Govt. could say 'look, the City of London already has plenty of Banks. Why don't you set up in Liverpool?' The Bank may reply- 'It is precisely because there are plenty of other Banks in London that we need to set up there. London has 'external economies of scope and scale', for the Banking industry.'

The Govt. may reply (and in the Seventies quite often did reply) 'but these 'external economies' are merely a historical accident. Why should we let the 'dead hand' of Capitalism's vampirical past dictate the future shape of Britain?'
Moving away from Govts., in the de-regulated Eighties, we find a lot of factually inaccurate memes cropping up which protested against 'lock-in' inefficiency by reason of historical accident.
Thus, people asked- Why should we be stuck with the qwerty key-board? It was only introduced to slow down professional typists who might otherwise type too fast and break the primitive machines which were available a Century ago. Why should the 'dead hand' of past typewriter technology constrain us to a sub-optimal keyboard which, going forward, imposes an ever rising Social Cost? (Actually, qwerty reduced jams and thus enabled people to type faster.) Similar, generally mistaken, points were often made about VHS vs. Betamax or the Windows Operating System and so on- i.e. there was a notion that 'historical accident' had got us stuck with an inferior product because producers were too stupid or unimaginative or downright sucky to understand that they needed to be competitive just as much against potential rivals as actual rivals.

Why did these 'memes' gain such widespread and unquestioning currency? Is it because of an irrational repugnancy cost attaching to the notion that 'the dead past' still constrains us modern, living, human beings?

In Economics, 'lock-in' effects are studied under the rubric of 'hysteresis' or 'path dependence'.
One reason why Moral Philosophers were attracted to 'Neo-Classical' Welfare Economics was because it used hysteresis-free models. This meant that the opportunity cost of breaking with the past- what we might term hysteresis costs- was set to zero. Thus, a playground was created where all manners of pseudo repugnancy costs could be conjured out of thin air.
Any form of intersubjective Just Proceeding, that is widely acknowledged as such, is going to have hysteresis effects as it is a sort of moving target for successive co-ordination problems. But, by simply ignoring hysteresis- the way most Economists do in their models (because hysteresis is less mathematically tractable)-  Moral Philosophers got to re-label every form of Just Proceeding as an example of a grievous injustice. The comedy here is that Philosophy's own in-built path dependence is the reason it has been shunned by all sensible people and not just starting from Aristophanes either. But this itself is an example of a hysteresis cost becoming the basis of an irrational repugnancy effect! Equally, had philosophers been alert to the hysteresis ridden nature of their own profession, they wouldn't have made fools of themselves by so sedulously manufacturing bogus repugnancy costs! This stricture applies not just to Moral Philosophy but also to every Philosophically informed Methodenstriet (dispute over what constitutes proper methodology and thus what results can be thought of as valid) such that there was a repugnancy cost attached to truths only derivable by one method of proceeding or which violated some preferred ontology. Empirical results, e.g. experimental confirmation of Bell's inequality, ought to have killed this sort of Philosophy off, but the evidence is it didn't.

As a case in point, Putnam argues that the Many Worlds interpretation is wrong because any time there's a Schrodinger's cat type situation then, no matter what the probability of the cat being killed, half of the observers across multiple worlds will see a dead cat. This because there are only two possible worlds- dead cat and live cat world. What about a sequence of Schrodinger experiments- so we have sequences of dead or live cats?  Surely, the Universe splits every time the Schrodinger box is opened such that you have a bunch of these Universes out there. Putnam asks ‘What is the probability in the naive sense—not the ‘‘probability’’ in the quantum mechanical sense, this real number which I calculate by finding the square of the absolute value of a certain vector, but the probability in the sense of the number of my future histories in which I will observe that, say,( the cat was dead) half of the time plus or minus 5% of the time divided by the total number of my future histories?’ 
Putnam thinks it very strange that this naive probability is 50 percent and not whatever the chance of getting a dead cat was according to the Q.M probability theory. Yet, what else could it be? These multiple worlds (generated by the experimental sequence) differ only according to the criteria dead cat/ live cat. In every other respect they are indistinguishable. Putnam is ascribing a repugnancy cost to the Many Worlds interpretation based on discerning a bogus hysteresis. To see why, consider the following- is there anything in Many Worlds which constrains the arrow of Time to a particular direction? If your answer is yes, then Putnam is right- there is some sensible use of the word 'probability' such that he can say 'On the Many Worlds interpretation, quantum mechanics is the first physical theory to predict that the observations of most observers will disconfirm the theory.' In other words, if path dependence is a feature of Many Worlds, then its use has a repugnancy cost. But, if Many Worlds is hysteresis free- i.e. if it says there's a block Multiverse containing all the possible worlds- then Putnam's use of the word 'probability' is not logically coherent. As a matter of fact, Many Worlds doesn't have to make any ontological commitments at all and can plume itself as a paradigm of, hysteresis free, 'logically coherent thought'

Bearing this in mind and returning to take a closer look at repugnancy markets- prostitution, abortion, drug dealing etc.- the problem with each of these is that once hysteresis effects are taken into account, the picture changes. In each case, the relevant information- viz. was this particular  act of prostitution/abortion/drug dealing, welfare and capability enhancing or was it deleterious?- is difficult to extract because it is so highly correlated with everything else that was happening or had happened or was likely to happen.  Contemplating this mess we find there are no easy answers. It may be that licensing a repugnancy market reduces the social evil and enables Society to move more quickly to a better path in which that evil diminishes to a purely medical problem affecting very small numbers of people. On the other hand, it could happen that a small increase in the Social evil has a run-away effect. How are we to know in advance what sort of attractors are lurking in our vicinity on the fitness landscape? Might not hysteresis effects save us from disaster? But is it not somehow repugnant that we can even ask ourselves this question? Whatever are we to do?

The answer, of course, is watch more TV, because the Series Finale of 'True Blood', will reveal that beverage not to have been synthetic at all. It was ordinary human blood purchased from willing humans out of wages paid by humans to Vampire night-guard guild. This guild contains the oldest Vampires with lowest time preference. They secretly manipulated the militant Vampires to blow up the True Blood factories not so as to re-establish overt repugnancy costs and thus drive a wedge between the dead and the living, but to show that repugnancy  costs are irrational and ought to be abandoned when a stable co-operative equilibrium exists.
Thus it turns out the 'True Blood' fraud had two objectives
1) to get the dead and living used to living together
2) to shake out the low time preference or high repugnancy cost militants and hate-mongers on both sides.

My question is, once this co-operative Utopia is established, would sex with Vampires still be hot?
No. Not at all. Think about it, what would women need tampons for if Vampires were on tap?

1 comment:

  1. Vampires can use mind control tho...

    ReplyDelete