Re: Looking for a name.

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Thu 18 Mar 2004 - 07:13:44 GMT

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    At 05:23 AM 17/03/04 -0500, Aaron wrote:


    >Hi Keith.
    >I was one of those who sent you some compliments on your
    >article, and the capture bonding hypothesis. It contained
    >some innovative hypotheses that strike me as well-formed
    >from within the theoretical framework of evolutionary
    >psychology. However, I did not mean my comments to indicate
    >that I considered the hypotheses you offer as being
    >confirmed. There are all sorts of reasons people don't send
    >all the critiques that come to mind. For one thing, writing
    >it all out can easily amount to a paper in its own right,
    >and perhaps even a longer paper.

    For a start, capture-bonding, (CB) more commonly known as Stockholm Syndrome, (SS) was just an illustrative example of a psychological trait with an *obvious* potential for having an evolutionary origin. It was by no means central to the paper which was mostly about the addictive
    (intensely rewarding) properties of attention--universally used by cults. (No exceptions are known to me.)

    >In the case of your 2002 paper, I did not specifically
    >state a disagreement with your "categorization of Stockholm
    >Syndrome as 'a conditionally switched on evolved
    >psychological trait.'" However, merely not voicing a
    >disagreement with it does not mean that I concurred with
    >it. There are other hypotheses that you have not even
    >addressed, let alone ruled out. For example, over the
    >centuries, people who have pretended to sympathize with
    >their captors may have more frequently lived to tell about

    People have fairly good detectors for people who are pretending. In a life and death situation, where tripping those detectors in your captors is fatal, evolution is going to favor real reorienting and bonding.

    >They would then have re-told their stories and advice
    >more often than did people who behaved less cooperatively
    >and died. Those who live and eventually escape by stealth
    >and deception might also feel particularly motivated to
    >tell their stories to others so that they too can survive.
    >And when someone does survive, many people want to know how
    >they did it. The stories are also vivid and gripping, and
    >promote more tellings and listenings for that fact as well.
    >Emotionally loaded stories might also be more durably
    >remembered, a matter that has been studied in recent
    >decades in neurosciences. So there is reason to expect high
    >transmissivity, receptivity, and longevity for any
    >culturally transmitted ideas of how to survive in
    >captivity. Some of these mechanisms of survival-linked
    >transmission have been discussed in broader terms by
    >various other evolutionary cultural replicator theorists
    >ever since evolutionary cultural replicator theory came
    >into being. To discover a few early citations, rev up your
    >space telescope and peer way back through time to F. T.
    >Cloak (1966, 1973 and other papers) and Pierre Auger's book
    >L'homme Microscopique, (1952). The latter could even be
    >said to use a certain "m-word," but I digress. (The past 30
    >yeas have generated additional works discussing
    >evolutionary cultural replicator theory of
    >survival-enhancing ideas, but I will leave the library
    >research to you. Again, I am not trying to give anything
    >like a full commentary on your paper or its topics.)

    I expect there would be parallel memetic paths that lead to the same effect. Instinctive vs memetic snake fear would be an example. Or take mother-infant bonding. It is well understood at the chemical (oxytocin) level. But being a good mother is also highly dependant on meme transfer, learning. This is true for chimps as well as humans. (See Jane Goodall on this topic.)

    However, the conditions that elicit full blown SS are so rarely encountered in the modern world that I doubt that victims like Patty Hearst or Elizabeth Smart would have run into stories about how to act in such situations. (Though I grant the possibility and it is a point worth investigating if anyone has contact with interested researchers and would like to suggest they ask.)

    Such a "how to survive capture" meme by *faking* bonding to your captors would probably include escaping when you have the chance. Both of these women had plenty of chances and neither used them. Besides, there are thousands of less newsworthy cases of battered wife syndrome every year--which I contend is activating the same mental machinery.

    >Cognitive dissonance theories and other psychological
    >theories might well explain why pretended sympathies with
    >captors have been known to develop into ideological
    >realignments, and without need for a captivity-specific
    >genetic mechanism.

    Cognitive dissonance resolution may well be a good part of what happens to people who undergo SS bonding. You could make the case that the *origin* of CD is the same suite of traits selected by surviving and becoming an ancestor rather than breakfast when captured. I am not making a strong case here, just that I am not aware of any other evolutionary reason that leads to people having a psychological trait like CD.

    >In modern times, there has been widespread non-genetic
    >propagation of ideas favoring cooperation with captors.
    >Prior to September 11 of 2001, such ideas were even
    >inculcated as standard policy for employees taken hostage
    >on airborne jetliners. Indeed, this learned cooperation
    >response was shown to be an exploitable weakness on that

    No kidding! It is also interesting how fast the counter meme spread. The 4th plane crashed when the passengers (who correctly figured they had nothing to lose) attacked the hijackers. Cell phones were in the memetic transmission path here.

    >Again, I am not offering a full commentary on your paper.
    >On the topic of captive bonding, as with a few others, I
    >should clarify that I found your hypothesis interesting and
    >well-deserving of publication. But I should add that you
    >have not yet established your hypothesis as being the best
    >available explanation for the phenomena it addresses.

    My first mention of EP applying to the phenomena was in early 1999 (though I didn't call it SS or CB at the time). I was making a case that
    "brainwashing/mind control" of the Patty Hearst variety had an evolutionary origin.


    : > The American Society of Sociologists almost passed a
    : > resolution a while back that took a stand against the study of
    : > brainwashing, thought reform, cult mind control as even an appropriate
    : > area of study.


    . . . over the past two-three years I have picked up a new thinking tool called evolutionary psychology. It proposes that human minds have been shaped by evolution in directions which promoted reproductive success in the ancestral environment--and that we should keep this factor in mind when trying to figure out why people act the way they do.

    Now, we know that some people, maybe even a lot of them, can undergo what happened to Patty Hearst.* What happened to her is often called "mind control" or "brainwashing" but whatever you call it, the phenomenon of sudden change of thinking and loyalties under duress or intense social pressure and isolation from friends and family is known to happen.

    Given the existence of this phenomenon (whatever you call it) a person would apply evolutionary psychology by asking why such a trait would have improved the reproductive success of people during the millions of years we lived as social primates in tribes and small villages.

    We don't have historical records of those times. The best we can do is use what records we have of various low tech tribes as a stand in for what life was like then. One thing which stands out from our records of the historical North American tribes, the South American tribes such as the Yanamano, and African tribes is that being captured was/is a relative common event. I.e., if you go back a few generations, almost everyone in these tribes has at least one ancestor who was captured (mostly women).

    Now, while fighting hard to protect yourself and your relatives is good for your genes, when the situation is hopeless, giving up short of dying and (enthusiastically?) making the best you can of the new situation is
    *also* good for your genes.

    On this basis, I propose that whatever you call the observed phenomenon, the fact that we have lots of ancestors who gave up and joined in with the people who had captured them and (often) had killed most of their relatives may account for the ability of humans to undergo the sudden change of thinking and loyalties which is sometimes called "mind control" or "brainwashing."


    Point being is that this idea has been exposed for a long time now without objections being raised or reasonable alternative origins being proposed
    (that I know about).

    >Working up some good empirical and quantitative tests is,
    >as you already know, still another matter.

    Indeed. You would have an interesting time getting a research proposal through an ethics committee. On the other hand, you probably *could* analyze saliva samples of Marines going though basic training to get a feel for just what brew of chemicals was soaking their brains. You could compare their brain hormone profile against that of battered women and controls.

    Such research might lead to a way to distinguish between women who really did fall down a flight of stairs and just need to be patched up and those who were beaten in an abusive situation and are suffering from SS bonding. Such women could be offered a safe place to stay for a few weeks while the effects wore off--or even be ordered (temporarily) into a safe situation by a judge.

    It might be possible to treat the abusive spouse (almost always male) if medical people had a reliable way to determine what was going on. Would insight help? Do the *abusers* have a particular brain chemistry profile? (Seems possible.)

    >Unless you can demonstrate that truth-contingent mechanisms
    >of transmission are reflected in the web statistics, the
    >figure of 50k is irrelevant, whether considered high or

    Ian mentioned that it was still one of the top six downloaded papers per month after a year. Your point is correct--though I would expect more flack if there was something really out of line with the reasoning about the evidence.

    >To get a sense of how you would even begin making a
    >causal connection between the truth value of your paper's
    >thesis and the numbers of times the html and pdf files have
    >been transferred between computers, you might begin by
    >looking at all the html crammed into the paper, with an eye
    >to how each script, link, cookie, etc. affects the traffic.
    >Then you would have to study a variety of behind the scenes
    >web promotion activities done by Ian Pitchford and others

    I never asked, but as far as I know there was nothing special directed toward the "Sex, Drugs and Cults" paper. It was announced in a few places.

    >Are any of those activities truth

    Good point. Some probably are and some aren't.

    >Do they work better for creationists, for
    >instance? Have you considered changes in how Google ranks
    >pages, and how that process is manipulated?

    I know people who manipulated page rankings. I have not done it, nor have I had anyone do so on this article. (It takes an organization with the dedication of scientology or their critics to manipulate page rankings.)

    >As with people
    >not expressing disagreements with a paper, one should avoid
    >rushing into inferences of scientific validity based on
    >internet traffic. (Much more can be said about widespread
    >and unwarranted conclusions being drawn from web links,
    >traffic, publicity, citation counts, and so on. But that is
    >not on top of my things to do list.)

    Google (for all its limitations) is an interesting research tool for memetics--and you can use it to look at the contributions of people we know to memetics and the relative place (%) their work on memetics has in their representation on the net.

    Tonight Google says 122,000 pages for "memetics"

    JoM has the top two spots

    Link 5 mentions Eric Drexler (memetics drexler 456, "eric drexler" 21,000) 2%

    Link 8, Dawkins (memetics dawkins 8490, "richard dawkins" 117,000) 7%

    Link 9 Brodie (memetics Brodie 3760, "richard brodie" -artist 9130 ) 41%

    Link 26 Blackmore (memetics blackmore 3550, "susan blackmore" 16,600) 21%

    Link 33 Hans Cees (memetics Cees 819, "hans cees" 1800) 45%

    Link 41 Robert Aunger (memetics aunger 1680, "robert aunger" 2000) 84%

    Link 45 Aaron (memetics Lynch 3800, "aaron lynch" 7190) 53%

    Link 70 Vajk (memetics vajk 74, "J. Peter vajk" 178) 42%

    Link 105 Henson (memetics henson 2930, "keith henson" -jazz -nasa 27,600) 11%

    Which goes to show that higher rankings go to those who write books. :-)

    (Everyone in this list above me except Han-Cees is a book author)

    Google page ranking seems to actually have merit. For example: There were no mentions of either of these former posters in the first 750 links in for memetics in Google

    No links (memetics [former poster1] 5780, [former poster1] 8830, 37 listed) 65% No links (memetics [former poster2] 1100, [former poster2] 3190, 124 listed) 34%

    Some combination of page rank and hits for memetics and name probably gives a very rough ranking in the memetics community.

    Feel free to add your own data of your own or that of others I missed. Not doing a through job here.

    Re the article,

    Sex drugs cults 39,900 sex drugs cults "keith henson" 568 1.4%

    The first 23 links are pointers to the article. (The 24th is too, but the context is a sex exploitation site.)

    "sex drugs cults" 288
    "sex drugs cults" "keith henson" 259 89%

    I don't know exactly what to make of this.

    Keith Henson

    PS. I am still looking for a catchy name for the psychological trait involved where privation or looming privation induces war.

    Also I have pushed back precursors to "interesting times" to the early 1900s. Nothing new on "ideas have a life of their own."

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