From: Keith Henson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Sun 16 Feb 2003 - 03:52:56 GMT
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 talk.origins 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: http://www.operatingthetan.com/1990-memes.txt)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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