Many society scale things — such as definitions of beauty and intelligence, technologies, languages, laws, narrative plot structures, etc. — apparently evolve through a process called “structuration.” Basically, trends emerge from small-scale to large-scale; then companies, governments, and the like incorporate the trends into their policies or products, which they impose on the masses; the masses (ab)use those policies or products in certain ways, the patterns of which emerge again into large-scale trends; the powers-that-be modify their policies and products; and the cycle repeats. The cycle also could start with something that is initially imposed by companies, governments, or the like (e.g., some breakthrough technology, or the designs of currencies or ID documents).

The back-and-forth between individuals and societies apparently even affects people’s genetics. Though many of the physical differences between ethnic groups are environmental adaptations (e.g., dark skin is more protective against UV radiation, which people in sunnier places need, and light skin is more efficient at producing vitamin D, which people in darker places need), features without much utilitarian value (e.g., the arched noses of many people from the Mediterranean to South Asia, the pointy facial features of many northern Europeans, many East Asian women’s straighter figures, etc.) may be the way they are because those societies have long considered those features to be desirable/beautiful. So, over many generations, people with those features in those societies might have had an easier time finding desire/reproduction-oriented relationships. This anecdotally seems true on dating websites; people who their society probably would consider especially beautiful often seem to have had children as young adults.

Idea: family journals

Something I wish would exist, or become more organized, is a tradition of families making and passing down records of the views and wisdom that individuals in the family had, and the reasons why certain family members made certain important decisions. It wouldn’t need to be lengthy autobiographies — just a journal that preserves important insights. Personal letters and diaries often don’t survive, possibly because individuals might not want their private thoughts, romantic letters, etc. shared so broadly. But a family journal could preserve a less intimate or embarrassing, yet still insightful, account. If every family kept more-or-less the same kind of journal, the tradition might become more organized than the proverbial shoebox of photos and recipes that many families hand down now. History records migrations, wars, social movements, etc., but individuals are not necessarily/completely defined by society. What kinds of people were my ancestors, and why did my family do what they did?

Womanly male desire

In our species, males are modified females (i.e., a smaller/simpler Y chromosome modifies a larger/more-complex X chromosome, men have breasts that can be made functional with the right hormone treatment, etc.). If a man is celibate for long enough (several months), his attraction/libido cycle can start to resemble that of a woman, namely: about a week of very low sexual desire, a week of rising desire, a week of high desire, and a week of waning desire. The cycle repeats every month, like a woman’s monthly cycle. During the week of low desire, almost no one looks attractive — just a bunch of bodies of different shapes and sizes. During the week of high desire, almost everyone, regardless of sex/gender, looks somehow attractive. The spectrum is quite extreme. If more men would try this, I suspect they would have less confusion about how women’s (and perhaps people who are somewhere in between male and female) hormonal/attraction cycle might feel.

Coercive missionaries

Did you know that religious missionaries to other countries sometimes use coercive tactics, such as “if you let us build this church, and if you say that you’ve converted to our religion, we’ll use our money or technology to dig the well your family needs to survive” (rhetorical)? In/from many areas in South and Southeast Asia, I have met people who superficially present themselves as members of some foreign religion. But, if you talk with them very deeply, it’s clear that they are publicly paying lipservice to the foreigners, while privately preserving their age-old traditions. Very poor people will say or do almost anything to survive and provide for their families.

Global moral decline

I see many trends in societies around the world towards greater indulgence, lasciviousness, crassness, and violence. Everyday clothing is slowly tending towards nudity (e.g., women’s leggings being worn as pants), even for people in monogamous relationships/marriages. Mass media is slowly including more cursing, sex, violence, lavish materialism, and dysfunctional families — do you remember when Bart Simpson’s saying “I’m Bart Simpson, who the hell are you?” was considered edgy? Cable TV channels and blockbuster films often insert f-bombs, nudity, and gore into shows for no reason that serves the story. Hardcore porn sites are among the most popular on the Web, and are running softer things like Playboy out of the porn business. Governments are slowly legalizing stronger intoxicants (e.g., pot). Beautiful natural places are turning into high-traffic theme parks to such an extent that some countries are having to shut down tropical islands to let them recover. Child-sex tourism and human trafficking, along with indentured servitude and slavery, are becoming more common. Religions are having to relax their rules or practices, or risk losing membership. People increasingly waste food or over-eat to the point of obesity and diabetes, quickly buy and throw away non-biodegradable plastics, drive giant cars, live in giant houses, use inorganic pesticides and rearrange genetics for higher crop yields without regard for the long-term consequences… and on and on.

Before the industrialization of the 1800s, this planet was able to sustain up to a few hundred million humans for many thousands of years. Now, it has over 7.4 billion, and is rising with no end/control in sight.

Experiment idea: monks vs. microscopes

In my experience, Buddhist monks often say that modern externalities (technologies, drugs, etc.) are unnecessary for seeing absolute reality and for healing or improving oneself, that they can have negative side-effects, and that meditation contains natural safeguards (e.g., progress in meditation depends on one becoming increasingly loving/harmless and sober of mind and body, and meditators can maintain control of themselves throughout the process) which technologies and drugs lack. They also sometimes claim that the most advanced meditation masters can see atomic-scale phenomena directly with their minds in jhana meditation. Wouldn’t it be interesting, and possibly validating of meditation for billions of non-Buddhists around the world, to find a rigorous way to compare what such people can see vs. what microscopes can see?

For example, have a CPU manufacturer produce metal plates with microscopic pictures etched onto them at scales from millimeter to nanometer. Deliver highly reputable meditation masters to an isolated facility, so they can’t be accused of cheating. Perhaps they should make the trip secretly, so there is no humiliation if they fail. In a controlled environment, give them the plates, without telling them what pictures they should see, and give them as much time and comfort as they need. Have them draw or describe (on record) whatever they could see, and then let them see the images for themselves with their eyes in a microscope, so that they know they were not deceived, before taking them home. Incentives for their participation might be that, the smaller of pictures they can accurately see, the more money will be donated to their home monastery or village, and the more positive international publicity and funding there could be for their branch of Buddhism. If any masters are found to be reliably capable of competing with powerful microscopes, perhaps the experiments could be demonstrated more publicly.

Science is (inter)subjective

Despite scientists’ and popular cultures’ many claims of science’s objectivity and universality, (I have a social science PhD and some natural science training and) I have never seen a scientific study or theory that completely removed human subjectivity — e.g., that was not conceived, conducted, or interpreted by humans working in their everyday states of mind — or that was done from start-to-finish by non-humans. Asian philosophies often claim that everyday consciousness is dominated by either learned or evolved biases and prejudices, and that meditation or psychotropic drugs can break down those biases and allow a more unfiltered view of reality. It might be interesting to study whether, and what, biases can be removed by various types/degrees of meditations or drugs, and whether one could conceive, conduct, or interpret experiments with less subjective bias from within such states. It might not be so different than how people sometimes say that an idea came to them in a dream.