From: Keith Henson (email@example.com)
Date: Sun 30 Mar 2003 - 20:15:09 GMT
A while ago I subscribed to the psychohistory list to see what it was
about. The list seems mostly to be about examining the effects of personal
history, particularly those of childhood abuse, to understand the current
psychological traits of people. I.e., it is only remotely related to
memetics. There is another meaning to the word, established by Isaac
Asimov in his Foundation novels dating from the early 1940s.
Asimov's psychohistory was predictive, postulating that the future could be
predicted and guided to some extent based on a mathematical understanding
of social trends. Robert Heinlein, calling it "psychodynamics" also
developed the theme of predicting social movements in Methuselah's
Children, (1941) and Revolt in 2100 (1952). The story elements from these
two famous SF authors are about future disciplines fairly close to the core
of memetics. From Methuselah's Children:
"Schultz looked at her soberly and smoothed his kilt. "You're right,
Eve. I could easily be wrong again. That's the trouble with psychology; it
is a subject so terribly complex, so many unknowns, such involved
relationships, that our best efforts sometimes look silly in the bleak
light of later facts." He stood up again, faced the others, and again spoke
with flat authority. "But I am not making a long-range prediction this
time; I am talking about facts, no guesses, not wishful thinking-and with
those facts a prediction so short-range that it is like predicting that an
egg will break when you see it already on its way to the floor. But Eve is
right . . . as far as she went. Individuals are kind and decent . . . as
individuals and to other individuals. Eve is in no danger from her
neighbors and friends, and I am in no danger from mine. But she is in
danger from my neighbors and friends -and I from hers.
"Mass psychology is not simply a summation of individual
psychologies; that is a prime theorem of social psychodynamics -not just my
opinion; no exception has ever been found to this theorem. It is the social
mass-action rule, the mob-hysteria law, known and used by military,
political, and religious leaders, by advertising men and prophets and
propagandists, by rabble rousers and actors and gang leaders, for
generations before it was formulated in mathematical symbols. It works. It
is working now."
[Last paragraph break added.]
The real study of memetics offers models and mathematical tools lifted from
genetics and epidemiology that describe the growth and decline of social
movements and it offers a useful tool from modern Darwinianism of
considering a meme from the meme's "viewpoint." Unfortunately memetics
fails to provide understanding of *why* some social trends develop large
followings and others don't.
Evolutionary psychology (which grew out of the same background as
sociobiology) may provide the insight memetics needs to understand and
model human the human psychological traits driving the spread of memes,
including those which lead to wars and similar social unrest. This *might*
lead to predictive "psychohistory" or "psychodynamics" of the kind
envisioned by Asimov and Heinlein.
As background, humans (like any other animal without predators) have always
populated the world to the ecological limit. The psychological response
that seems to have been evolved in the survivors over millions of years
when the environment's carrying capacity was exceeded (or perceived to be
exceeded) is for the tribes to find some reason for the males to fight with
neighboring tribes until the population was reduced, or the rains come back
and raise the carrying capacity. (The same effect happened as farmers
pushed hunter/gatherers off potential farming lands the world over.)
This rough model would therefore predict meme "driven" wars or similar
forms of social unrest in times and places where the income per capita is
falling. (Where per capita income is psychologically mapped to the fruits
of hunting and gathering.) The theory does not predict *what* memes will
arise, only that socially disrupting memes will become prevalent. An
obvious example would be Germany in the late 1920s. The relative lack of
wars among the advanced countries of the world in the last 50 years could
be seen as an effect of technology increasing the supply of food and other
essentials faster than the relatively slow population growth in those
The convulsive mass killings between the Hutu and the Tutsi may have had
such a population/economic lead up. Anyone have data?
As a prediction based on this model, wars should decline after a plague has
killed a substantial fraction of the population (leaving the rest better
off). Anyone have data about the rate of European wars in the generation
after the plague of 1348-49?
On a cautionary (predictive?) note, the per capita annual income for Saudi
Arabia has fallen from $28,000 to $7,000 in the last generation.
Two longish snippets from Methuselah's Children
"That rising hate has now swelled into a flood which threatens the welfare
and even the lives of all our revealed brethren . . . and which is
potentially as dangerous to the rest of us. The danger is very great and
very pressing." He sat down abruptly.
They took it calmly, with the unhurried habit of years. Presently a female
delegate stood up. "Eve Barstow, for the Cooper Family. Ralph Schultz, I am
a hundred and nineteen years old, older, I believe, than you are. I do not
have your talent for mathematics or human behavior but I have known a lot
of people. Human beings are inherently good and gentle and kind. Oh, they
have their weaknesses but most of them are decent enough if you give them
half a chance. I cannot believe that they would hate me and destroy me
simply because I have lived a long time. What have you to go on? You admit
one mistake-why not two?"
Schultz looked at her soberly and smoothed his kilt. "You're right, Eve. I
could easily be wrong again. That's the trouble with psychology; it is a
subject so terribly complex, so many unknowns, such involved relationships,
that our best efforts sometimes look silly in the bleak light of later
facts." He stood up again, faced the others, and again spoke with flat
authority. "But I am not making a long-range prediction this time; I am
talking about facts, no guesses, not wishful thinking-and with those facts
a prediction so short-range that it is like predicting that an egg will
break when you see it already on its way to the floor. But Eve is right . .
. as far as she went. Individuals are kind and decent . . . as individuals and to other individuals. Eve is in no danger from her neighbors and friends, and I am in no danger from mine. But she is in danger from my neighbors and friends -and I from hers. Mass psychology is not simply a summation of individual psychologies; that is a prime theorem of social psychodynamics -not just my opinion; no exception has ever been found to this theorem. It is the social mass-action rule, the mob-hysteria law, known and used by military, political, and religious leaders, by advertising men and prophets and propagandists, by rabble rousers and actors and gang leaders, for generations before it was formulated in mathematical symbols. It works. It is working now.
"My colleagues and I began to suspect that a mob-hysteria trend was
building up against us several years ago. We did not bring our suspicions
to the council for action because we could not prove anything. What we
observed then could have been simply the mutterings of the crackpot
minority present in even the healthiest society. The trend was at first so
minor that we could not be sure it existed, for all social trends are
intermixed with other social trends, snarled together like a plate of
spaghetti-worse than that, for it takes an abstract topological space of
many dimensions (ten or twelve are not uncommon and hardly adequate) to
describe mathematically the interplay of social forces. I cannot
overemphasize the complexity of the problem.
"So we waited and worried and tried statistical sampling, setting up our
statistical universes with great care.
"By the time we were sure, it was almost too late. Socio-psychological
trends grow or die by a 'yeast growth' law, a complex power law. We
continued to hope that other favorable factors would reverse the
trend-Nelson's work in symbiotics, our own contributions to geriatrics, the
great public interest in the opening of the Jovian satellites to
immigration. Any major break-through offering longer life, and greater hope
to the short-lived could end the smouldering resentment against us.
"Instead the smouldering has burst into flame, into an uncontrolled forest
fire. As nearly as we can measure it, the rate has doubled in the past
thirty-seven days and the rate itself is accelerated. I can't guess how far
or how fast it will go-and that's why we asked for this emergency session.
Because we can expect trouble at any moment." He sat down hard, looking tired.
Eve did not argue with him again and no one else argued with him at all;
not only was Ralph Schultz considered expert in his own field but also
every one of them, each from his own viewpoint, had seen the grosser
aspects of the trend building up against their revealed kin. But, while the
acceptance of the problem was unanimous, there were as many opinions about
what to do about it as there were people present. Lazarus let the
discussion muddle along for two hours before he held up a hand. "We aren't
getting anywhere," he stated, "and it looks like we won't get anywhere
tonight. Let's take an over-all look at it, hitting just the high spots:
[later in the book after the whole 100,000 of them have escaped on a star
ship . . .]
"Eve," said Zaccur Barstow "I agree with your opinion of Ford and I myself
would be glad to have him as our executive. But how about all of the
others? To the Families-everyone except ourselves here present-Mr.
Administrator Ford symbolizes the persecution they have suffered. I think
that makes him an impossible candidate."
Eve was gently stubborn. "I don't think so. We've already agreed that we
will have to work up a campaign to explain away a lot of embarrassing facts
about the last few days. Why don't we do it thoroughly and convince them
that Ford is a martyr who sacrificed himself to save them? He is, you know."
"Mmm . . . yes, he is. He didn't sacrifice himself primarily on our
account, but there is no doubt in my mind that his personal sacrifice saved
us. But whether or not we can convince the others, convince them strongly
enough that they will accept him and take orders from him . . . when he is
now a sort of personal devil to them-well, I just don't know. I think we
need expert advice. How about it, Ralph? Could it be done?'
Ralph Schultz hesitated. "The truth of a proposition has little or nothing
to do with its psychodynamics. The notion that 'truth will prevail' is
merely a pious wish; history doesn't show it. The fact that Ford really is
a martyr to whom we owe gratitude is irrelevant to the purely technical
question you put to me." He stopped to think. "But the proposition per se
has certain sentimentally dramatic aspects which lend it to propaganda
manipulation, even in the face of the currently accepted strong
counterproposition. Yes . . . yes, I think it could be sold."
"How long would it take you to put it over?"
"Mmm . . . the social space involved is both 'tight' and 'hot' in the
jargon we use; I should be able to get a high positive 'k' factor on the
chain reaction-if it works at all. But it's an unsurveyed field and I don't
know what spontaneous rumors are running around the ship. If you decide to
do this, I'll want to prepare some rumors before we adjourn, rumors to
repair Ford's reputation-then about twelve hours from now I can release
another one that Ford is actually aboard. Because he intended from the
first to throw his lot in with us."
"Ub, I hardly think he did, Ralph." -
"Are you sure, Zaccur?"
"No, but- Well . . .
"You see? The truth about his original intentions is a secret between him -
and his God. You don't know and neither do I. But the dynamics of the
proposition are a separate matter. Zaccur, by the time my rumor gets back
to you three or four times, even you will begin to wonder." The
psychometrician paused to stare at nothing while he consulted an intuition
refined by almost a century of mathematical study of human behavior. "Yes,
it will work. If you all want to do it, you will be able to make a public
announcement inside of twenty-four hours."
"I so move!" someone called out.
If someone has time to locate quotes and post about psychohistory from the
Foundation novels, I would appreciate it.
This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sun 30 Mar 2003 - 20:22:43 GMT