Re: No Subject (Memes/War)

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Thu 27 Nov 2003 - 05:06:29 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re:"

    At 01:46 PM 26/11/03 -0500, you wrote:
    >Here's a paper I've been working on, it's obviously incredibly rough, and
    >honestly not all that original. I think however it's got a few original
    >ideas that are worth noting. Any comments?


    >As long as the concept of evolution has existed people have debated,
    >whether certain phenomenon are a product of culture, or of or genes. The
    >nature vs. nurture debate has raged on for many years.

    Strictly speaking--genes may map closely to nature, but nurture includes much besides culture. Like did you get enough to eat when you were a kid?

    >Specific attention has been given to controversial issues such as the
    >origins of war. Through the evolutionary model of culture, we can shed
    >some light on this issue, and discover that in regards to the origins of
    >war, as with any phenomenon, or behaviour is a complex combination of
    >nature and nurture.

    A subject I have posted here in draft as well. :-) Hope you saw it.

    >Before rapid transfer of information meme’s spread relatively slowly,
    >with little meme transfer between isolated groups. Within a community
    >there would be a large amount of meme transfer, groups of successful memes
    >would tend to spread throughout an isolated group. The interest of the
    >meme’s, (as Blackmore points out in her book, “The Meme Machine”)
    >were primarily the genes, but with one fundamental difference (which
    >Blackmore and other memeticists tend to overlook). The meme’s are
    >interested only in the survival of the group, they are not interested in
    >individuals, this causes a marked conflict between the interest of the
    >selfish gene’s.

     From the viewpoint of the *selfish* gene or meme, you are not using the model correctly. Memes don't have "interest" but even speaking metaphorically, they would not give a rat's ass about groups or anything else besides replicating. A (hypothetical) meme that caused each person that got it to transfer it to two more and then commit suicide would spread till it wiped out all human groups.

    Believe it or not, there are *genes* that have an effect much like this.

    Van Boven M and F J Weissing F J 1999. Segregation distortion in a deme-structured population: Opposing demands of gene, individual and group selection. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 12(1) 80-93.

    Abstract The evolution of segregation distortion is governed by the interplay of selection at different levels. Despite their systematic advantage at the gamete level, none of the well-known segregation distorters spreads to fixation since they induce severe negative fitness effects at the individual level. [more here]

    Segregation distorters are a neat subject. When they get loose in a non resistant mouse population, they can drive it extinct in short order because *all* the baby mice are males carrying the trait.

    >This is true because a gene can only spread one generation at a time, and
    >meme’s can spread across an entire population within one generation.

    I don't see how this follows.

    >There are a variety of mechanisms by which this is done. First lets
    >conduct a thought experiment from the traditional standpoint, and than
    >analyse it to show where exactly this perspective is flawed. If we
    >imagine a mutant meme arising in some individual member of a community,
    >that said sacrifice as much of your well being as you can for the good of
    >your group, it would likely suffer the same fate as a mutant Gene of the
    >same sort, because changes in a memeplex tend to be transferred down
    >generational lines, along with genes. Individual changes in the overall
    >structure of a belief can evolve, and be passed down generational lines,
    >such changes are subject to the same limitations that mutant selfish genes
    >are subject to. This is the point made by Ben Cullen in his paper,
    >"Parasite Ecology and the Evolution of Religion" his abstract says it all,

    >"It is argued that the blanket view of religion as a disease, advocated by
    >Dawkins, is inconsistent with the principles of parasite ecology. These
    >principles state that vertically transmitted parasites evolve towards
    >benign, symbiotic states, while horizontally transmitted parasites
    >increase their virulence. Most of the world's established religions are
    >transmitted vertically, from parents to children, and are therefore
    >expected to be benign towards their hosts."

    Good points he makes, ones I have stated implicitly a number of times in articles dating back to the late 80s, even putting a typical time (300 years) for a fanatic cult to mellow out into a relatively benign religion
    (if it does not die out). I also mentioned the more or less extinct Shakers who stopped vertical transmission by forbidding sex among their members.

    >I agree with his conclusions, if we take a simplified view of the memetic
    >relationship to genetic evolution. Once we take a closer look at the
    >mechanisms of memetic transmission, and how they exploit the


    >static nature of the human genome, we see that in fact the interest of the
    >memes, effectively lies in the group and not in the individual. The
    >first thing we need to look at is the status of social structures, before
    >memes arose. Memes are not necessary for hierarchal structures. A group
    >can have a leader, or an Alpha-Male if you prefer, without any sort of
    >culture or society. We see this sort of behaviour in just about all
    >kinds of social animals. Blackmore makes an important point in "The Meme
    >Machine," about the development of altruism. She says that individuals
    >will tend to imitate the successful, the successful being the highest
    >ranking member of a group.

    ARGH! You don't need memes to understand altruism. Hamilton's very simple concept of inclusive fitness and reciprocal altruism will account for the observations. Further, in the one really clear example of a new meme
    (potato washing) spreading in a group of monkeys, it came from a young female and the *last* to learn the meme was the alpha male.

    >The existence of leader's can than be exploited by memes, in order to
    >increase coherency of ideas across a group. This however is not the full
    >picture, on its own it is not enough to explain how the idea of altruistic
    >behaviour would spread throughout a group. Human beings are complex
    >creatures, and such a simplistic view of a behaviour, especially one which
    >goes against basic human instinct (as seen through selfish gene theory)
    >can not spread just because a leader possess a certain idea. This
    >difficulty comes from a lack of understanding about the mechanisms used by
    >memes. They survive within the biological vessels created by our genes,
    >their development, and mechanisms of transmission are inextricably tied to
    >our genes.

    That is not strictly speaking true as the hypothetical meme and the Shaker meme show, but in the long run, memes that are seriously opposed to the genes of their carriers are gonna die out. It can take a long time though, consider a celibate priesthood . . . .

    What is needed is to consider symbiotic relations between memes and genes. When both replicators are pointing in the same direction you get Mormons, when opposed you get Shakers. There are a hell of a lot more Mormons than Shakers as you might expect. (There are a whacking lot more humans than there were before the spread of a zillion technology memes too.)

    > Let us not forget, that according to selfish gene theory, each and
    > everyone of us already contains a set of genes that have to do with
    > altruistic behaviour. It is in our genetic interest to behave in an
    > altruistic manner towards family members. It is much easier for memes
    > to slightly distort the phenotypic effect of these already existent
    > genes, than it is to completely rearrange human patterns of
    > behaviour. This is exactly what religion memes tend to do. A meme that
    > said roughly, "all members of the community are brothers" is very simple,
    > and with the help of a status holding meme spreader, could spread
    > throughout an isolated population in no time at all.
    >And this behavior has what feedback effect? You might remember the bible
    >story of brothers too. :-)

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