You’ve not been able to miss the Marvel universe, I’m betting, even if, like regular readers, you don’t go to the movies. The characters are nevertheless everywhere, as is the influence of the cartoonish thinking of their movies.
They have this thing in the Marvel world called “mutants”, which are a group of teens and twenty-somethings (the older ones all die early?) who are born with astounding powers. Like laser beam eyes, or running real fast. One character disappears in a puff of blue smoke and reappears elsewhere (never, luckily, inside solid objects). I think one of them can make it rain.
The shtick is to pretend all these fascinating teens with enviable superpowers are beleaguered, and suffer from mutantism. Poor creatures! Teased everywhere they go, yet they can destroy ordinary people with a flick of their brightly colored tails. Or whatever.
That metaphor and what is happening to our culture is so obvious, we’ll pass it by quickly. Let’s instead focus on the less obvious one, which is to explain how these non-human mutants come into existence.
I don’t know how their writers explain it, but it’s probably some quirk of genetics or the like. Whatever the explanation is, somehow ordinary superpowerless parents give birth to mutant superpowered children who are no longer (as some say) subject to the same laws of physics as the rest of us.
Laser beam eyes and other such curiosities should cost massive amounts of energy, which mutants have in infinite quantity. They get it free, in endless supply, and in ways impossible for man. If there’s one truth of physics that is indisputable, it’s that perpetual-motion machines are impossible. Yet mutants, in effect, have them built inside themselves.
Zap! Pow! Wham! forever without tiring. Or maybe that’s Batman.
Anyway, I believe you have the idea. Now let’s see how this is a metaphor for a certain class of thinker.
Evolution, some say, proceeds by fitness. It produces, not always at once, but always in the end, creatures that are fitter than their predecessors. Some claim to have quantified this, and propose various models which fit well to their choice of data.
Let’s take as example the peer-reviewed paper “Fitness Beats Truth in the Evolution of Perception” by Chetan Prakash, Kyle D. Stephens and Donald D. Hoffman in Acta Biotheoretica. Here is their Abstract (my paragraphification):
Does natural selection favor veridical percepts—those that accurately (if not exhaustively) depict objective reality? Perceptual and cognitive scientists standardly claim that it does. Here we formalize this claim using the tools of evolutionary game theory and Bayesian decision theory. We state and prove the “Fitness-Beats-Truth (FBT) Theorem” which shows that the claim is false: If one starts with the assumption that perception involves inference to states of the objective world, then the FBT Theorem shows that a strategy that simply seeks to maximize expected-fitness payoff, with no attempt to estimate the “true” world state, does consistently better.
More precisely, the FBT Theorem provides a quantitative measure of the extent to which the fitness-only strategy dominates the truth strategy, and of how this dominance increases with the size of the perceptual space. The FBT Theorem supports the Interface Theory of Perception (e.g. Hoffman, Singh & Prakash, 2015), which proposes that our perceptual systems have evolved to provide a species-specific interface to guide adaptive behavior, and not to provide a veridical representation of objective reality.
That’s a lot of jargon, so let me paraphrase: “We,” say the authors, “Prove, using truth, that truth cannot be known: Our theory that the truth cannot be known is true: here is a model which we believe is true that shows evolution does not lead to truth.”
Since you and I, dear reader, are the products of evolution, we cannot know whether or not our authors’ theory is true. Evolution may have produced in us a mere desire to say the theory is true, because this enhances our ability to survive on stale cookies and cold coffee, of the kind served at computer science departmental seminars.
Yet our authors Prakash, Stephens, and Hoffman can see the truth which we cannot!
They are therefore mutants.
They, by some mechanism unknown to us low brutish fitness-over-truth seeing mundanes, have escaped the clutches of evolution, and with laser-like perception, like the Marvel mutant’s laser beam eyes, can see what is impossible for us to see.
This is an astonishing superpower.
Doubtless they will claim victimhood over our teasing, like in our first metaphor. But this, too, is in their favor, for there is no higher being in our culture than the Victim.
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