See msg 30762 from 2004 for a discussion of "relative ego value" as a
concept of self worth prompted by Phil's theorizing. Here it is
reproduced below. Jay and Phil's discussion is below it:
Re: [evol-psych] RE: Gene-culture coevolution theory of altruism
--- In firstname.lastname@example.org
, "Phil Roberts, Jr."
'An increase in cognitive objectivity (knowledge, cognitive
competence, wisdom, intelligence, etc.) "facilitates" an
increase in valuative objectivity (valuative impartiality)
IRRESPECTIVE OF ITS ADAPTIVENESS.
I like this and have always been intrigued by Phil since hbe-l days.
Assessments of *ego value relative to other individuals* have become
decoupled from natural selection. The cognitive assessments we make
and the reality we create to place ourselves within social
hierarchies comfortably with a minimum of ontological anxiety have
become strong enough to override formerly instinctive reproductive
*The prime consideration of conscious ego value assessments is the
management of ontological anxiety generated by one's social worth and
right to life within a group, not reproductive success.*
Instinct is loosened with consciousness to provide us with the
ability to override the rigidity of instinct to make conscious
choices. But the adaptiveness of instinct once lost must be regained
by learning. The essence of religious discipline is the attempt to
make adaptive learned behavior intuitive - which it no longer is.
Else why would religion (the Gitas, Judaism, Zoroastrianism,
Catholicism, Mormonism) have to have rules constantly exhorting
people to achieve reproductive success if it was a cognitive
Kids who kill other kids in school and then kill themselves have made
their domination of those other kids even for that brief moment,
their means of achieving the consciously perceived absolute ego value
they have always been socially denied. They are not concerned about
the ultimate reproductive cost of their behavior, only the very brief
but devastatingly real cognitive benefit.
The cognitive pursuit of relative ego value overrides the genes. It
was meant to. The maintenance of rigid adaptive instinct precludes
the expansion of the behavioral repertoire and the development of
consciousness. We think of ourselves, not our progeny.
All formal religion contains a personal discipline for abandoning
our 'selves' to instinct so that we can take what was formerly
instinctive and internalize it once again, only this time, by
conscious choice because our instincts derived from our genes have
necessarily been loosened to provide the cognitive freedom
--- In email@example.com
, "Jay R. Feierman"
> Jay R. Feierman: I suspect that the concept of self-worth (which
you need to define formally) is present only in a very few species
and is most likely a reflection of some type of subjective evaluation
of one's relative reproductive value.
> Phil Roberts, Jr.: Yes. Why do you suppose it is present in only
a few species, and possibly only in man to any significant degree?
> Jay R. Feierman: The only species I'm sure it is present in is
Homo sapiens. Perhaps it is only present in species which engage in
complex, reciprocal reciprocity. In baboon societies, where one does
not have the specialization that one has in human societies, a minute
of grooming may be able to be reciprocated by a minute of grooming.
Baboons are not specialists, like we are in complex societies.
> Jay R. Feierman: I've assessed my own self-worth numerous times
in my life but I'm biased and not objective about the assessment. My
bias generated certain beliefs, which biased my behavior in a
predictable way. I found it quite helpful, as it probably led me to
do things that I might not have done if I had a more accurate opinion
of my self worth.
> Phil Roberts, Jr.: It sounds like you are of the opinion that
nature has introduced a bias into your self-appraisals toward a
somewhat exaggerated conception of your self-worth because an
excessively objective appraisal would actually be maladaptive.
> Jay R. Feierman: I believe that is correct but I also believe
lots of things which are not true.
> Phil Roberts, Jr.: If being more optimistic and willing to try
things is adaptive, why wouldn't Mother Nature just build it in as a
given, endowing us with the maximum amount of self-worth possible,
and just use fear as an inhibitor where we might be biting off a
little more than we can chew? Why not just use animal appetites
counter-valenced by fear? That's the way its done in most other
species, wouldn't you agree?
> Jay R. Feierman: We believe things about ourselves which are not
true. To give you a very personal example. I have a high level
government security clearance. To get the clearance, among other
things, I had to have an extensive background investigation, which
gets repeated each five years. My relatives, neighbors, co-workers,
supervisors, employees, etc. were all interviewed by the
investigators. I have the right to get a copy of my background
investigation and see what all of these people have said about me
over the years. Yet, I have never wanted to do that, as I don't want
to know. I'm happy with how I see myself and I don't want to be
disillusioned by knowing how other people see me. That may tell you
something about self worth and about me. Being more optimistic and
willing to try things is not always adaptive. One has to strike a
balance between one's abilities and the abilities of those with whom
one is competing. I've applied for some high level jobs and have
gotten them and I've applied for some other high level jobs and not
gotten them. The last time a very high level job came up that I might
have been qualified for, I decided not to apply because I didn't want
the disappointment of not getting it, as each time I didn't get a
particular position, it lowered my sense of self worth. As the song
goes, one has to "know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em,"
if you area poker player. Humans don't just use animal appetites
because we have more tools in the toolbox, meaning in our head.
> Phil Roberts, Jr.: I think of feelings of worthlessness as
originating IN PART from a cognitive appraisal of one's worth based
on one's life experiences. When negative, Mother Nature has opted to
identify this appraisal with a sensation of unpleasantness in order
to encourage the organism to take remedial action. This is because an
organism that thinks its existence is of no value is going to be LESS
MOTIVATED to do those things necessary to keep itself alive (the
converse of the increased motivation you have already acknowledged to
result from positive self-worth appraisals).
> Jay R. Feierman: I agree with much of that. The sensation of
unpleasantness may be the feeling of depression with its accompanying
low self-esteem. However, depression often doesn't encourage the
organism to take remedial action. That is a decision motivated not by
> Phil Roberts, Jr.: This remedial action might be in the form of
obtaining empirical evidence that one is indeed of worth, or it might
be in the form of developing aggrandizing fantasies that one is of
worth (e.g., that God is intensely concerned with the smallest
details of one's life; or that one has the one true inviolable
perspective on how science should be done in all paradigms [Jay], or
that one has discovered the keys to the kingdom of a full fledged
science of the mind [Phil]; etc.).
> Jay R. Feierman: There are many types of remedial actions one can
take if one is depressed with low self-esteem, which I think is the
same as what you are calling low self worth. Unfortunately, when one
is depressed, one is rarely creative and trying to develop anything
is creative. I don't believe it is possible to pull oneself out of
Major Depression or the depressed phase of Bipolar Disorder by
creative remedial actions. However, when one is not depressed,
creatively motivated behavior can add to one's sense of self-worth,
especially if what one creates receives recognition as being a
valuable contribution to a particular discipline.
> Phil Roberts, Jr.: I should also point out a technical detail
here. Although it is my contention that 'feelings of worthlessness'
are maladaptive, its not so much THE FEELING that is maladaptive,
since the pain part of the feeling is merely a means of getting the
organism to take corrective action. So technically I suppose you
could say that the feeling itself is actually adaptive.
> Jay R. Feierman: Feelings of worthlessness, like low self-esteem
may both be vestiges of adaptations, if they bias behavior in a
predictable way and that way was adaptive in the environment of
evolutionary adaptation (EEA). They may not be currently adaptive at
the individual level in modern, industrialized societies. Again,
depending on what is causing the feelings of worthlessness or low
self-esteem, Major Depression or something else, corrective actions
may or not be possible and may or may not help.
> Phil Roberts, Jr.: Rather, it's more THE APPRAISAL that one is
worthless that is maladaptive.
> Jay R. Feierman: What if one really is worthless? By worthless I
mean no good to anyone, including oneself. That's where belief in God
> Phil Roberts, Jr.: However, all in all, I maintain that human
beings would be better off if these feelings weren't necessary in the
first place, if we all were simply endowed with the maximum amount of
self-worth possible, suitably adjusted to take account of kin
selected valuing of others.
> Jay R. Feierman: That's like saying that human beings would be
better off if feelings of pain weren't necessary in the first place.
We should be endowed with the most self worth we can garner for
ourselves, plus what we distort through self-deception and believing
things about ourselves which are not true.
> Phil Roberts, Jr.: But it should be understood that when I try to
make the case for the maladaptiveness of feelings of worthlessness, I
am referring to the combination of the cognitive component and the
affective component taken as a whole.
> Jay R. Feierman: I'd be very cautious about proposing that a
particular cognitive/feeling state, such as thoughts and feelings of
worthlessness, which is not that uncommon in humans, at least
transiently, is maladaptive. I have felt worthless one time in my
life. The feeling lasted several hours and was not associated with
Major Depression. As a result of that feeling, I have modified my
behavior in such a way that it most likely will not happen again.
Therefore, the feeling for me was adaptive, although I felt terrible
for several hours. What led to that feeling was my behavior, which in
retrospect was maladaptive.