The Human Is Signaling Machine: Citizen Kane/Naruto, Buddha/Jesus

Once you see it, you cannot unsee it. The inevitability of a consistent trope among cultural creations. Whether we are looking at the protagonist in Citizen Kane, Naruto, or Christianity. These depict the centrality of what economists call “signaling” to human existence. In a rich society like ours, well over 90 percent of human behavior has these features:

  1. It is not sent mainly via the literal meanings of words said.
  2. It is not easily or soon verifiable.
  3. It is mainly about the senders’ personal features, perhaps via association with groups.
  4. It is about sender “quality” dimensions where more is better, so senders want others to believe quality is as high as possible, while others want to assess more accurately. Such qualities are not just unitary, but can include degrees of loyalty to particular allies.

People like art for relatively mundane reasons, but we like to think we like it for grand reasons. This is one sense in which we can put on our “ah, yes, signaling”- lens on. But there is another sense. Like the sub-selves in our dreams who are fragmented to indefinite recursion, those characters of our fiction also “like stuff for relatively mundane reasons, but like to think they like it for grand reasons.”

The protagonist in Citizen Kane honestly thinks he wants to help people, but soon falls into the tragic act of having wanted praise. The verdict is the Human is bad/Impressing is futile.

Naruto goes the other way. The framing begins cynical, i.e., he is honestly doing it for selfish praise, and gradually becomes “genuine.” This becomes a victorious non-tragedy, by the embracing of signaling. The verdict is the Human is good/Impressing is salvation.

Jesus chooses to be a human sacrifice, but suffers about it (otherwise it wouldn’t be a sacrifice). This behavior is about sending a message to particular allies within the story. And then the bible itself is human behavior sending a message to you as a potential ally. The verdict is the Human is good/Impressing is salvation.

The other 10% of human behavior which does not have a signaling component are things like scratching your butt – things that don’t impress anyone. Someone who is not sending “quality” dimensions for further processing in other minds is hardly human.

Some subspaces of Eastern philosophy seem to be quite explicit about having recognized human existence as a scam and subsequently attempted to transcend the human. The depersonalization induced through such things as intensive Vipassana meditation is an attempt to debug the conscious program which continuously falls into “vile tethers of the world.” Hence the Buddha saying, “abandon love, abandon hatred, abandon greed, and cross to furthest shore.” It is an attempt to permanently inhabit that other 10%, where everything is pure, clean, pointless. The verdict is the Human is bad/Impressing is futile.

 

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