Books . . . .

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sun 01 Jun 2003 - 17:25:05 GMT

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    For the last several years I have been in the situation of a cancer patient, highly motivated to locate all the research I can about my
    "particular condition" and to extend it to a "cure" if possible.

    It has led me into writing a somewhat popular article (~15k downloads) that you can find as the top link using "sex drugs cults" in Google.

    As a result of digging into evolutionary psychology I have recently been thinking about the evolved triggers and memetic mechanisms that lead human groups into war.

    There is a highly supportive article on prehistoric warfare in the Southwest in the May issue of Discovery Magazine (read after I had done this draft or I would have quoted from it).


    The trigger far all this bloodshed, LeBlanc believes, was the onset of a mini ice age, a period of global cooling known to have inflicted famines in Europe. The little ice age came on the heels of 300 years of generally benign weather known as the medieval warm period. In the American Southwest, says LeBlanc, beginning in about 900, a warming trend moderated the usual harsh dryness of the region and brought more rain. Crop yields increased, and so did the human population. <snip> It was a relatively peaceful age, says LeBlanc, with little evidence of warfare between 900 and the late 1200s. Most people lived in undefended sites on valley floors near their crops and water sources.

    "During the medieval warm period it was a great time to be a corn farmer-and a great time to be a wheat farmer in Europe too;' says LeBlanc.
    <snip> This was a good time for everybody, and to and behold, there's plenty to eat, and warfare declines. Then the warm period ends, and you get the beginning of the little ice age. <snip> What happened? The population had grown immensely. In bad times, there just weren't enough resources to go around. People competed and the best organized survived. It's a classic pattern that occurs everywhere on Earth:'

    LeBlanc estimates that before 1300, at least 20 distinct alliances of pueblos . . . .[of them] only four groups survive . . . . The others were wiped out in war, the survivors absorbed by other tribes.

    "The fundamental, underlying reason for warfare is competition over scarce resources," says LeBlanc. <snip> And the only times you have peace are when there are a lot of resources:"


    Dr. William Calvin, a sometimes Hacker attendee, has more to say about this subject in his recent book. "_A Brain for All Seasons_ argues that such cycles of cool, crash, and burn powered the pump for the enormous increase in brain size . . . ." You can read it on line, but it is good enough you probably want hard copy as well.

    There is another book I am part way through that is likely to wind up on my books of major importance list, _Religion Explained_ by Pascal Boyer. The book is the best account I have seen of the massive advances in cognitive science made over the past 40-50 years. It has huge implications for a lot of areas (such as memetics, AI and Artificial Personalities) far beyond that mentioned in the title. Unfortunately, as you can see from a number of harsh reviews, it takes a lot of background in evolution and evolutionary psychology for his exceptionally clear presentation to be understood.

     From a review at ". . . Perhaps more puzzling, and just in need of an explanation, is the fact that human beings have religion in the first place. According to Boyer, it is only now, with recent contributions of the cognitive and neural sciences and evolutionary biology to the understanding of the nature and origins of the human mind, that we are in position to successfully provide such an explanation. Religion Explained attempts just such an explanation, drawing on cutting edge research in a variety fields and Boyer's own fieldwork experience. Religion, Boyer suggests, is a by-product of the way our minds evolved to negotiate the natural and, more importantly, the social world. .
    . . "

    Keith Henson

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