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In a message dated 3/14/2002 7:12:05 AM Central Standard Time, Wade T.Smith
> My argument has always been that even declarations of intentions are
> irrelevant to the actual behavior.
> Killing one's children predates satan, therefore the behavior (the meme)
> predates satan. Satan is only the latest name of this.
I always thought that declarations of intentions were themselves behaviors.
Indeed, beliefs can be viewed as internal behaviors, as discussed in the
excerpt from "Units, Events, and Dynamics in the Evolutionary Epidemiology of
As for Joachim's question, one can say that belief in Satan played a causal
role in the killing of those children, but that it was not the only causal
factor. Most people who believe in Satan do not kill their children. Indeed,
I would not be surprised if most of the jurors who convicted Andrea Yates
believed in Satan. Still, one might say (at the risk of furious protests from
believers in certain religious ideas) that belief in Satan is part of a mass
delusion that gravely worsened the outcome of one woman's post-partum
depression. Both the depression and the belief played causal roles, along
with other potential factors in her personal psychology, living arrangements,
beliefs, social setting, financial situation, etc.
EXCERPT FROM: "Units, Events, and Dynamics in the Evolutionary Epidemiology
of Ideas" (http://www.thoughtcontagion.com/UED.htm)
[Section 13] Quantitative Analysis for Artifactual and Behavioral
"... Although labels of individuals based solely on artifacts and externally
visible or audible behaviors are not treated as ideas, or thought contagions
in this paper, equations 1 and 2 can be generalized to apply to such labels.
That is, equations 1 and 2 can model the natural selection of artifactual
abstractions and external behavior abstractions as well as memory
abstractions, provided that the individual person is still taken as the
measure of transmission. For instance, N1 can be defined as the population
possessing a certain kind of artifact, and N2 defined as the population not
possessing that kind of artifact. Alternatively, N1 can be defined as the
population exhibiting a certain external (e.g., motor) behavior, and N2
defined as the population not exhibiting that behavior. However, as
population equations, equations 1 and 2 cannot directly model the number of
copies of an artifact or the number of instances of an external behavior. The
latter quantities would require modification of the equations or the
development of different types of equations. One possible method of
proceeding is to separately model the number of artifact copies or external
behavior instances per person counted as "possessing" the artifact or
exhibiting the behavior, and multiply this quantity by the numbers N1 or N2
as modeled by equations 1 and 2. Naturally, that is a much easier task in
those cases where the behavior or artifact count per person can be treated as
constant over the time interval under study. Such mathematical methods do not
work, however, for entities that are said to be "the same" replicator whether
instantiated in behavior, artifact, or brain. The replicated subset of
combined behavioral, artifactual, and neurally stored information already
goes by the term "culture," and so is not given additional nomenclature
within this paper. The term "thought contagion" is used in this paper to
refer only to the replicated subset of neurally-stored information, a subset
of culture that thus receives identification.
The description of the evolutionary epidemiology of ideas as being about how
ideas influence behaviors that propagate ideas need not be taken as implying
a rigid idea/behavior dichotomy. The phenomenon we call "life" is a material
process, and processes can be viewed as behaviors. Some behaviors can be
labeled "internal" while others can be labeled "external" while still others
can be labeled as mixes of "internal" and "external." The neural memory of
anything is actually a process, as is the "static RAM" storage of a "1" or a
"0" mentioned earlier. The axons and dendrites that form a synapse, for
instance, are dynamic, ever-changing, metabolizing parts of cells. Their
lipids, water, ions, proteins, etc. are all in states of flux at various
rates. It is only through process that they remain "the same" (with respect
to an abstraction) from one day to the next, or one year to the next. Thus,
the concept of "memory item" or "idea" can be rephrased in terms of behaviors
causing behaviors. The "internal" neural behaviors called "ideas" in the
preceding sections can thus affect "external" speech behavior, for instance.
That "external" behavior can then affect the "internal" behavior of another
person in such a way as to cause a new "internal" behavior that is "the same"
(with respect to an abstraction, or theoretical construct) as the "internal"
behavior of the first person.
Such theoretical constructs handle the recurrence of external behaviors in a
single organism as well. They are also intended to remain consistent with
recent and potential future observations of internal behaviors using PET
scans, microelectrodes, etc. -- the neurobiological research.
In behavioral terminology, a phenomenon or experience that people might
identify as an "idea" held for (say) 20 years can be considered an ongoing 20
year internal behavior, and identified by abstraction as is the case with
more temporary external behaviors such as shoe tying discussed in section 7.
A focus on behaviors need not be limited to the macroscopic actions of such
body parts as muscles, bones, and skin, but may also include the microscopic
actions of neurons and the overall actions of such internal organs as the
brain. (There is no magical barrier that allows for consideration of behavior
of all body parts and organs except the brain and nervous system.)
While some may prefer to focus exclusively on external behaviors in hopes of
attaining reliable observability, the goal of observability is not always
met. External behaviors can be deceptive, a fact routinely demonstrated by
magicians but also evidenced in such areas as the unreliability of eye
witnesses. There are also many important phenomena poorly handled by
considering only external behaviors without reference to internal behaviors
or ideas. For example, a specific set of ideas about how to hijack a plane
and use it to attack a skyscraper can be replicated among a number of people
even if the actual behavior of attacking a skyscraper with a hijacked plane
has never before taken place. People involved in such a plot can all have
"the same" idea (i.e., instantiate the same internal behavior abstraction)
long before the actual attack. To understand the causes of such an attack,
one simply must pay attention to ideas or abstractions about internal
behaviors in people before the first such attack ever happens. This includes
paying attention to whole systems of belief as well as
ideologically-motivated attack plans. Many less spectacular events also call
for explanation in terms of ideas or abstractions about internal behaviors.
Among the less spectacular phenomena that call for explanations in terms of
ideas or abstractions are urban legends. To understand such stories, one must
consider how much attention they command in the people who have learned them.
A vivid story that causes people to keep thinking about it and considering
its implications can, by that fact alone, achieve more retellings per host.
If a vivid story provokes 10 minutes of thought from its average host in a
given week, while a bland story provokes only 1 minute of thought from its
average host in a given week, the difference in time spent thinking about the
two stories can easily cause a large difference in how many times hosts of
the two stories repeat the stories to new listeners. One must consider
internal behaviors involving internal memories of the stories in order to
make such an analysis.
In financial markets, one frequently must consider not only the securities,
cash, merchandise, and documents that people hold, but also what beliefs they
hold about companies. Consideration of both artifacts and beliefs, then,
allows one to explain why a company such as eToys once had a very high share
price even as it was loosing money and headed for collapse: shareholder
beliefs about the company's prospects were out of line with reality. Again,
internal beliefs cannot be ignored to perform the analysis (Lynch, 2000). ..."
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