Working on the Sufficiently Alien Hypothesis has led me to a tentative criterion for answering the question whether a cognitive mode (I think I'm calling it PBC - Personality, Beliefs, Cognitive Mode - now) is a disease or whether it is alien. This may be a bit definitional, and in today's world people shy away from definitions because "hey man, I'm the only one who can define me," but that's stupid and without definitions we might as well just not try to understand anything. Methinks this question could be answered by looking toward the future.
Could a society structured around beings with similar PBCs be made to function indefinitely? If yes then it is (or MAY be) alien, if no then it is a disease. Of course there is also the question of "could such a society ever come to exist in the first place?" It's a related question, but I don't think it's necessary to answer in order to answer the first question, though it may make answering the first question more difficult. Getting a group of people with similar PBCs (over 2,000 is necessary to allow for sufficient genetic variation in case the PBC turns out to be viable and a perpetually self-sustaining population is to be maintained) and seeing how they get along together would be a step toward finding an answer, but it may not be the only way.
The answer is "yes" for "normal" people, since history is pretty much testament to such a society functioning for several thousand years. It's not perfect, but it works well enough to have marked survival value. As stated before there seem to be some antiquated PBCs that were dominant in hunter gatherer societies thousands of years ago that are displayed in a small number of people today. That would also be alien. Some PBCs are clearly fatal. A society cannot be built around predominantly people with extreme paranoia, or who cannot stand physical interaction, or cannot feed or clothe themselves. Under the above criterion these would be classified as diseases.
There is the interesting side question of modern Western society, indeed any extremely affluent society, as to whether it does, in fact, represent a diseased PBC and not merely an alien one. All extremely affluent societies throughout history have been plagued by extreme narcissism and apathy, which is displayed in declining fertility rate. Some societies, such as Japan, are so affluent that they are literally on the fast track to extinction because they simply stop breeding. A PBC that cannot produce children above replacement rate (2.1 births/woman) has no survival value and would, by the above criterion, represent a disease. After the inevitable collapse whatever society that arises to fill the void would be made of individuals who possess viable PBCs. As I mentioned in "Affluence and Apathy", there is a healthy form of affluence, though it has never seemed common enough to prevent an entire affluent society from collapsing. It would be possible for healthy affluent to form a viable society, and so I would classify healthy affluent as alien, though it has never happened before and probably never will.
The trouble with most alien PBCs is that the individuals are so widely spread out, and so scarce that it may not be possible for such individuals to find each other in sufficient numbers to actually form a society. The result being that while these alien PBCs could form a viable society they probably never will. However, it is not necessary that a PBC form a society to demonstrate its viability.
1. I believe I have clearly defined "alien" by now, but the fact that I later use "alien" to include "normal" people later on may seem a bit odd. It is important to know that all societally viable PBCs would appear alien to all other societally viable PBCs. Viable PBCs may be mutually exclusive.
2. It's possible that there is some overlap. A disease need not be bad enough to inhibit the survival of the society and/or individuals in question. When I actually get around to writing that 200 page dissertation I'll go into more details, but for now all that I'm focusing on is narrowing the field to exclude all societally fatal PBCs, as they definitely cannot be alien.
3. A PBC that CANNOT, not one that WILL NOT. An individual may sacrifice reproduction for the greater good of society, such as defending the society in warfare or uplifting the society culturally or spiritually through extremely dangerous exploration or monasticism. This does not necessarily place all such individuals outside the society, even if these professions may be safe havens for individuals who are. The difference I'm getting at is between those who do not reproduce out of the choice of self-sacrifice for the greater good and those who cannot reproduce because they are terminally incapable. An outlier, an alien within a society who is incompatible with other members of that society is still capable of reproducing with similar individuals, though may never encounter such an individual in an alien society. Such an individual is also not included here.
The following is a comment I made to someone in response to an interesting question he raised in regard to the first Sufficiently Alien Hypothesis video. It's very interesting but I haven't figured out where to put it, so I'm just putting it here. It helps to explain the incompatability of outliers in society.
That's an interesting question: would all differences manifest valueless? I'm not sure. I have not worked out where exactly to draw the line, but as I see it there are roughly four different schemes, and again, this is just me painting with as broad a brush as possible:
1. Healthy Brain/Modal Cognition - e.g. "normal" people
2. Pathological Brain -> Deviant Cognition - e.g. Parkinson's, dementia
3. Deviant Cognition -> Pathological Brain - e.g. OCD, clinical depression
4. Healthy Brain/Deviant Cognition
A. Antique Cognition - e.g. ADHD
B. Other Deviant Cognitions - e.g. ?
C. Sufficiently Alien Cognition - e.g. ?
As it stands, I do not know exactly where various deviant cognitions fit or how to determine if one is truly sufficiently alien or not. Some deviant cognitions do have benefits in normal society. Most psychopaths turn out to have highly successful business careers because there is value in maximizing profit versus caring about other people. We can think of the corporate world as a subset of the normal world.
I would suspect that some traits of these sufficiently alien cognitions may provide benefits over normal people in certain areas. Maybe more concrete and/or abstract thinking ability would allow for better problem solving under certain conditions while certainly proving detrimental in other activities, most notably in interpersonal areas. Sufficiently alien by definition should include greatly decreased interpersonal skill, at least when among "normal" people, because there's that gulf that must be crossed that makes the distinction between "normal" and "alien". Whether sufficiently alien people would have no problem interacting interpersonally with each other or whether there would be physical limitations that prove disadvantageous I'm not sure.