Re: Education and Genetics

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Thu 29 May 2003 - 22:57:49 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re: Pursuit of Happiness and Genetic Fitness"

    At 08:57 AM 29/05/03 -0400, Reed wrote:

    >1) Memes benefit the species.

    If you mean genes rather than species, that's true in most cases, but there certainly are exceptions. Consider the Shakers. Long term memes that are destructive of genes tend to die out, though I must say the Catholic church has had a supposedly celibate priesthood for a long time

    >The proliferation of memes seems mutualist
    >with the spread of the genes held in common by all members of the human

    There has very likely been feedback between both kinds of replicators. There is a good prospect that humans have been selected to be good at picking up memes (skills, knowledge) that help them survive and reproduce, especially in an unstable environment. Memes that help people in these endeavors do so well as mutualistic symbiotes that they are hard to notice as separate entities.

    >After all, humans are host to both. The more humans, the more

    >2) Hypocrisy is successful. From the perspective of an individual,
    >spreading a meme can be mutualist with the individuals genes. The same meme
    >can be parasitic if obeyed. For example, monogamy is, from a genetic
    >perspective, best to preach and ignore.

    A better example might be cult memes of the type where the leader gets the chicks and has most of the kids. Waco comes to mind in this respect. Monogamy is a complex business. Worth reading what Robert Wright had to say about it in Moral Animal.

    >3) Memes don't act in a vacuum. Monogamy can be a successful strategy
    >for a male in an environment dominated by females using reliable birth
    >control. In such a case the risks of becoming a known adulterer may exceed
    >the potential rewards.

    Have you read Sperm wars?

    >4) Few individuals are able or willing to recognize the (dis)connection
    >between genetic imperatives and their memetic symbiots. Even fewer know
    >what to do, as individuals or as a society, with this knowledge. When you
    >realize that the cut-throat competition for power you have been part of is
    >motivated by a genetic desire to reproduce, what next? Do you seek a better
    >quality of life, or deeper introspective wisdom...or are those also genetic
    >dead ends? If you step outside the genetic cut-throat
    >competition a poorer lifestyle than the others?

    There are other ways to power, more effective ones. See Evolution of Cooperation. Humans are deeply social and work best in cooperative modes. (Though between groups it can be vicious.)

    >Desire for education does seem to be a meme that is, from a genetic
    >perspective, best approached hypocritically. By spreading the meme "get
    >educated" one hopefully produces a caste of highly effective cuckolded
    >workers. This allows the rest of the species to become genetic free riders;
    >taking advantage of the products of the educated to proliferate their own
    >This is true even under circumstances where wealth and power are unevenly
    >distributed favoring the educated, even exceptionally so. In fact, wealth
    >and power might be seen as the booby prize offered as an illusionary
    >deception. A host of memes that dramatically restrict the ability of an
    >individual to use wealth and power to forward their own genetic interest
    >render these prizes, well, impotent.

    You may be right here, though exceptional wealth can provide males with more offspring. In any case, humans evolved in tribes where there was no such thing as higher education.

    >Why does everyone want their children to be educated, then? If you poll
    >parents asking them what they wish for their children, by far the most
    >common response is "I want them to be happy". In a modern society,
    >education is certainly one path towards this kind of general fulfillment.
    >My position would be that wealth, power, and education are not memes that
    >act in opposition to their hosts genetic imperatives *except* in the case
    >where the host seeks them as an end in themselves and not a means to genetic

    . . . .that desire for wealth . . . .

    I really doubt more than a very small fraction of the population has the
    *slightest* idea that their desire for any of these is driven by genes selected when wealth and power (in a tribe) really did contribute to reproductive success.

    >Of course, this all assumes that it is the purpose of an individual human to
    >proliferate their genes. I don't think that is necessarily the case. That
    >certainly isn't my primary purpose.

    It is amazing how human motivations that worked fine long ago can get messed up. Consider Heaven's Gate. Attention rewards because it is the way we detect rising status. Status was critical in tribes to reproduce. For attention rewards these dudes whacked off their 'nads.

    Genes that build people who aren't motivated to have children at all don't make it into the next generation. But the point is about to become moot with the singularity just over the horizon.

    Keith Henson

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