Re: Hello, can anyone help?

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sun 16 Feb 2003 - 03:52:56 GMT

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    At 06:38 PM 15/02/03 -0500, Scott wrote:


    >I thought Martha was looking for books that would give a god overview of
    >evolution, where it seems most of the books you suggest may lean more
    >towards behavioral topics. I had suggested Mayr's recent book, because he
    >gives a decent, though biased, overview of the topic and is quite
    >knowledgable and reputable. Martha might be looking for something that
    >addresses the evolutioncreation controvesry head on, which I'm at a loss
    >for right now.

    I don't think this is very effective. These people have beliefs that are part of their mortality censor agents in their brains. Books, memes even, that attack this kind of structure are at an extreme disadvantage. Who wants to give up the promise and comfort of everlasting life, not to mention your entire social circle for something with (in their view) so little going for it?

    I don't know that I have ever made an outright atheist out of a ghod believer, but I have sure given a number of them a thing or two to think about by telling them I understand the evolutionary sources of all religious beliefs and ghod, and that such beliefs have function and have been selected in the culture and even may have played a major role in the emergence of more intelligent people by giving them something to deal with the problems people developed as they became smarter.

    >Does anybody know any good books that address the evolution/creation
    >controversy that are approachable to someone with Biblical leanings?
    >Mayr has several suggestions in his _What Evolution Is_ book, including:
    >Douglas Futuyma. 1983. Science on Trial: the Case for Evolution. Pantheon
    >Books, New York
    >Niles Eldredge. 2000. The Triumph of Evolution and the Failure of
    >Creationism. WH Freeman. New York
    >Philip Kitcher. 1982. Abusing Science: the Case Against Creaationism. MIT
    >Press Cambridge Mass
    >Michael Ruse. 1982. Darwinism Defended. Addison-Wesley, Reading Mass
    >There's a several more listed by Mayr on page 4 of the hardcover edition
    >of his book (which should be available on shelf in many bookstores still).
    >I'm not sure which of these books would be best.

    The hang up is you have to buy into the scientific method/culture *before* you can grok any of these books. My suggestion is to come at people sideways.

    >Another resource that may be of some help is the website:
    >where there's an archive and FAQ.
    >As for memetics and other behaviorally related disciplines with
    >evolutionary relevance there's Kevin Laland and Gillian Brown's recent
    >_Sense & Nonsense_ which does a good job of providing overviews. I thought
    >it was a fair and reasonable balanced treatment of the subjects such as
    >memetics and evolutionary psychology. Martha might be more interested in
    >this one, where the person who offered to read 10 books might do well to
    >read some of Mayr's suggestions of some basic sources covering modern
    >evolutionary biology in summarized overview.

    Hmm. Have to look this one up.

    Here is what Arel Lucas (my wife) and I had to say about it some years ago
    (last 1/3 of an article at:

        By now, the difficulties evolution has as a replicating information pattern should be apparent. In explaining one side of the where-did-we-come-from/where-are-we-going question, the evolution meme is in serious competition for limited mind "space" with long-evolved religious memes. Unlike the memes of physics, it is out there in a Darwinian fray for mind space with a large group of well adapted, fearsome competitors, some of which have induced those infected to incredible physical exertions, from building cathedrals to flaying infidels.

        There is an even more important strike against evolution in this competition. Most of the religious memes provide for both origin and fate. Unlike them, evolution deals only with origin and says little (certainly nothing comforting!) about our fate, either as individuals or as a species.

        With so little going for it, why has the meme of Darwinian evolution had any success at all? First, physical evidence--especially from geology and biology-- and the meta-meme of the scientific method are strongly supportive of evolution as a meme.

        Second, the (relatively) tolerant, secular world, with its diverse religions, and rapidly increasing scientific knowledge was complex enough when the concepts of evolution were first introduced that space in minds was available that was not wholly committed to competitive memes. Had there been no diversity in the religions at the time of Darwin, the religious meme carriers might have succeeded in suppressing ideas about evolution, or at least censoring those holding such beliefs as they did temporarily with Copernican astronomy.

       As it turned out, the memes of evolution have spread well in the subpopulation of receptive humans. They fit in seamlessly with the scientific meme pool. Since Darwin, most religious schemes have evolved to at least ignore natural history, waxing metaphysical and getting vague about the meaning of passages written by (or about) nomads thousands of years ago.

        But a few of the religious belief patterns have successfully evolved into an expanding niche (especially in the southern part of the US) where organized opposition to evolution memes is a distinguishing, even driving feature. Anti-evolution beliefs involved fit comfortably into a meme pool that is almost an inversion of the scientific one. The developing situation is reminiscent of the struggles driven by memetic competition that sometimes turn into physical conflict between groups of people infected with different religions.

        On this rather alarming note, let us resume thinking about mental models and see if a better understanding of the processes within the minds of "creation scientists" and their ilk can come out of it.

        We are going to assume some "mental space," and speculate a little about the shape and function of it. We are not proposing a literal, physical space into which ideas tumble and take root, like fertilized eggs in a uterus, yet the metaphor is useful. Consider
    "mind" to be composed of various "modules," or functioning computation sites like parallel processors within a computer. The form and identity of many of these modules are shaped by memes. Thus we could say (from examination) that person has the baseball meme (or memes). That is, enough knowledge so that they could teach a recognizable game to a group of children who had never seen or heard about it.

        "Game" memes seem to have relatively little competition with each other. Knowing about baseball probably has little influence on susceptibility to learning marbles, hockey, or hopscotch, though there is competition among these memes for a person's "game time."

        This is not true of all memes. Memes of the religious class are quite effective in excluding each other. Games do not include a
    "play only this game" sub-meme, religions ordinarily do. Religious memes may be taking advantage of the mortality censors, i.e., having acquired an "explanation" that accounts for "after death," the censors close off thinking that may change the structures of this area.

        For those who already have one religion, there is little to be gained by acquiring a different one. In former times, and to some extent today, changing religion often cost you your social group. During our tribal past, questioning the tribes beliefs or ritual was potentially disruptive, a threat to the group, and, even up to late historical times, put your survival in question.

        Anything statistically affecting survival can cause genetic bias to emerge if there is variation in the available genetic material. Edward Wilson and Charles Lumsden in *Genes, Mind and Culture* provide suggestions as to how units of cultural transmission may influence hereditary "biases" toward certain kinds of behavior via a cycle of both physical and cultural reinforcement over several hundred generations. It seems fairly obvious that if your tribe makes its living with chipped rocks, inability to learn how to chip rock will be bred out after a while. Likewise, we may have coevolved with religious memes to accept, and not question, the one of our tribe.

        Memes of the religious class infect a majority of the people in most countries of the western world. The combination of widespread vulnerability to these memes and (normally) exclusive rule of one set of memes per mind has led one of us (Henson) to propose a
    "religious meme receptor site" in human mental space, with the usual properties (selective stickiness and exclusion) of chemical receptor sites.

        Selective stickiness means that only "religious" beliefs can occupy the site. The "energy currency" to measure stickiness might be the lower level of anxiety from "solving" inference engine problems of the where-did-I-come-from/where-am-I-going kinds.

        Exclusion provides a test of what *is* a religious belief, and forces us to include (for example) communism in the class of competitors for the site. Unless our analogy is misleading, the "site" may be shaped/prepared by other memes (concepts) and experiences that are commonly learned in childhood. Wherever it is in human mental space, the 'religious meme receptor site' appears to be ROM-like.

       That is, once occupied, programmed, or constructed, its content does not change, and its influence is not likely to change in intact people (though ablating a small region in the temporal region of the brain destabilizes beliefs of this category, according to Gazzaniga). It is not that people never change religious beliefs, but just that they are relatively more stable in this aspect than say, political opinions. 'Changing' religious beliefs seems to be more of a process of building a new mental structure and cutting the old one off from behavioral connections.

             Religious meme receptor sites may be 'close' in mental space to the 'mortality censors' mentioned above. Religious memes may be protected by the censors, normally preventing us from thinking about
    (and potentially changing) beliefs near to this area.

             Since we are discussing receptor sites, let us mention 'module activation sites'. This would be a recognition activity on the
    'surface' of the module built by a meme. For example, the baseball agency built by the baseball meme would recognize a physical baseball
    (or a bat, a mitt...) through visual or tactile senses and activate the appropriate parts of the module given the context. These sites would recognize the spoken or written word 'baseball' and the names or pictures of prominent players. There might even be a site that recognized roasting peanut smell. (The baseball agency might respond by bringing up the memory of a particular game.)

             In the case of a person with an influential creationism programmed meme, the very words 'evolution' or 'Darwin' may instigate complex behavior patterns, especially when a child comes home and mentions that they were studying the 'E' word.

             Are there practical applications of these theories? That is, can we make predictions with this knowledge? Most of the predictions we have thought of so far are post hoc: we already know that those spreading the evolution meme run into dedicated opposition. The theory partly accounts for the difficulty we have in trying to explain our case, but we already knew that logical arguments have little effect in changing the beliefs of people who believe in the creation meme.

             Perhaps one idea to try would be to avoid the trigger words that arouse these mental structures. It is in fact more descriptive to refer to principles of 'variation and selection' than to evolution. Richard Dawkins' 'biomorph' computer program is particularly good at demonstrating these phenomena. Copernican astronomy displaced the Ptolemaic system because it provided a superior world view. For the same reason Creationist beliefs will eventually be displaced.

             This analogy might be of use in public arguments. The comparison alone may be a useful argument if it opens a chink in 'mind armor' enclosing creationist memes. The most effective people in spreading Creationist memes are intelligent, but have mental agents that put up strong defenses against the commonly used arguments. New arguments may engage other mental mechanisms. It is even possible that novel thoughts about the mental structures holding their beliefs may shake a few of them.

             A more attractive possibility would be to construct a 'scheme of memes' which includes science and evolution memes but is more effective in competing for the religious meme receptor site. This is what the Humanist movement is about. The memes behind this movement appeal in that they are in concert with the memes of science. In competing for religious meme receptor sites in human minds, however, we see two ways in which scientific/humanist beliefs fare poorly in comparison to the opposition.

        First, humanist beliefs answer where-we-are-going with no hope for anything beyond a short life and oblivion. Second, it denies human control over the forces of nature (except through raw engineering efforts). As human control over our environment increases, the second will become less of a drawback. We have personally found a way to hope something other than oblivion through cryonics and the developing concepts of cell repair machines, but going into detail would take too much space

             Even if we can't do much now about the spread of creation memes or with those who are infected with these memes, it is useful to know what we are facing. The knowledge may eventually lead to really effective programs, but even if it does not, it may keep us from wasting our time on futile activities. At least for us. we are less upset by the irrational behavior all around us now that we know it has an understandable origin in our evolutionary past.

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