From: Keith Henson (
Date: Wed 24 Dec 2003 - 00:07:04 GMT

  • Next message: Ray Recchia: "Empathy"

    At 11:27 PM 20/12/03 -0500, Scott wrote:

    >>From: Keith Henson <>
    >>Subject: Good EP FAQ
    >>Date: Sat, 20 Dec 2003 12:51:21 -0500
    >>"Evolutionary psychology is betting that psychological adaptations have
    >>to be just as domain specific as physiological adaptations. Information
    >>processing appears to be an excellent model for the general class of
    >>problems solved by psychological mechanisms. In the field of information
    >>processing, no one has invented a computer program that solves all
    >>problems. Each information processing problem requires specialized
    >>software to solve that problem. Spreadsheets are different from word
    >>processors are different from video games. Similarly, vision is different
    >>from hearing is different from pain is different from smell is different
    >>from sexual desire is different from navigation. In short,
    >>transformations of information are just as specialized as any other
    >>physical transformation and require equally specialized mechanisms to
    >>complete the task. Thus, psychological adaptations are as likely to be as
    >>domain specific as any other adaptation."
    >All fine and dandy, but the problem arises when people start seeing
    >psycho-adaptions everywhere and concocting just-so stories to explain
    >those psycho-adapions under eery rock they happen to turn over.

    To my limited knowledge, there are remarkably few proposed psychological adaptions proposed for humans. I have proposed 4 of them (one of which was informally proposed by Tooby about 1980) where the logic of how they would have been selected in the ancestral environment seems very good if not airtight.

    >The trick is delineation between historic origin and current uility.

    I am not sure what you mean here. Could you explain?

    Traits like the ability to capture-bond and the modes of going to war are and always were of conditional utility. They are not normally invoked unless you get captured, your group gets attacked, or your group gets into a situation where the risk of war seem better than something worse.

    High drive to do things in the pursuit of status has become partly decoupled (due to birth control) from its original function of promoting reproductive success but that is *very* recent.

    >Gould's arguments for exaptations and spandrels are of value here.

    "Spandrels" are known as "byproducts" in EP speak.

    >It may be that religion, for instance, isn't an adaption in itself, but
    >merely a byproduct of a large enough brain to contemplate mortality.

    That's a point I have argued for at least ten years:

    "This is very speculative, but "religious" memes could have "functions" such as reducing the effects of grief or answering philosophical questions about which it was (genetically) unprofitable to ponder. These memes would be favored in a causal loop if they improve the survival of people carrying genes which tend to destabilize a person's mental state, but otherwise improve their survival.

    "Such genes might (for example) contribute to intelligence, sensitivity, and forming strong emotional attachments. After a few millennia, religious memes and conditionally advantageous genes would become quite dependent on each other. In an environment saturated with religious memes, there would be little pressure for minds to evolve that could get by without stabilizing memes."

    Thus "smartness" which Calvin make the case for being a byproduct of projectile hunting, opens a niche or religious memes, which contribute
    (perhaps) to the survival of certain genes. Definitely a cases of genes and memes feeding into each other's survival--as you would expect.

    >If co-optation and non-adaptive spin-offs are a legiimate possibility,
    >then the rug is swiftly pulled from underneath anyone who would
    >uncritically speculate about this or that psychological phenomenon being
    >an adaption. This isn't to say that psycho-adaptions don't exist, but that
    >not everything that superficially appears to have arisen as a direct
    >product of its current utility is an adaption. It could be a spinoff of
    >something else that is itself an adaption (ie a spandrel which could be
    >the case with religion) or it could be a feature that arose and was
    >selected in relation to another function, but the function has shifted (ie
    >co-optation of former ancestral jaw components to be ear ossicles in
    >mammals). Gould has written extensively on this stuff and EP'ers ignore it
    >at their peril, regardless of what Dan Dennett says.
    >>To give examples from ideas of mine, the psychological mechanism evoked
    >>by being captured is specific to that situation and unrelated to the
    >>mechanisms for obtaining status. (Both are mechanisms for spreading
    >>certain classes of memes.)
    >So did the memes influence these putative psycho-adaptions being selected
    >or did the memes arise as a result of the existence of the
    >psycho-adaptions themselves. In other words did the memes drive the
    >creation of the mechanisms or vice-versa?

    For the two I discussed in detail in the "Sex Drugs and Cults" paper, it looks more like the mechanisms were there from tribal days, long, long before memes such as Islam or scientology used these mechanisms to spread across the world.

    >>This kind of material relates in three ways to this group. Anyone doing
    >>AI work needs know how natural intelligences came about. Second, anyone
    >>working on improving humans needs to know what they are starting with.
    >Exactly what do you mean by "improving humans"? I start getting a little
    >antsy about vague expressions such as this.

    The other group (transhumanists) this was directed toward is very interested in upgrading humans.

    To a very high degree we do this today under the name of "education" and information locating tools.

    >>Third, it may be of considerable utility in creating a more cooperative
    >>group if people had insight into why they act the way they do.
    >You're really going to need to reassure me on this one. Anybody having
    >read Aldous Huxley's _Brave New World_ would suffer the red flag syndrome
    >when someone starts talking in terms of biological or social engineering.

    If people had knowledge of their evolved in psychological traits, *perhaps* they could be more resistant to being manipulated. A certain person just got his output shunted off the mailing list. Wouldn't it be better if people understood more about how to present various memes in a style that did not offend people?

    >More cooperative? Isn't that what a certain sci-fi author's religion that
    >you've done battle with has tried to do?

    No, scientology was originally concerned with bleeding members for the maximum amount of money they could get out of them. When he was alive Hubbard skimmed a million a week. Nowadays the money is mostly used in an attempt to prevent bad PR about the group from reaching potential customers--a hopeless task in the face of the Internet, but the current leadership people are as hung up on what Hubbard said as the customers so they can't change.

    Keith Henson

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