Re: Replicator article

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Mon 17 May 2004 - 12:49:57 GMT

  • Next message: Chris Taylor: "Re: Replicator article"

    At 10:03 AM 17/05/04 +0100, you wrote:
    >>Memes interacted with the human line, making those hominids who could
    >>learn the memes more likely to reproduce and to obtain the high energy
    >>foods needed to support the energy hungry hardware of a large brain. A
    >>computer model going back to the origins of culture would have to include
    >>two levels of evolution where both memes *and* genes for better meme
    >>capacity would be influencing each others reproduction.
    >Like this'un (fyi): The mimetic transition: a simulation study of the
    >evolution of learning by imitation. Higgs PG. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci.
    >2000 Jul 7; 267(1450): 1355-61

    Yes. Thank you for this pointer.

    >>As some of you are aware, my interest has largely switched from memes to
    >>a larger problem; the brain's gene based switches that change biases in
    >>human behavior, particularly in the propagation of memes. There is an
    >>observed coupling between hard economic times and the spread of
    >>xenophobic memes. The logic of how that mechanism came to be selected
    >>and its current day application is profoundly disturbing. There are days
    >>when I feel like someone who (by some strange flash of insight) has
    >>discovered physics *after* seeing people who are completely unaware fall
    >>off a cliff.
    >I just don't get why this has to be genetically wired-in. I can see how
    >some mid-brain fear centre might become overactive in hard times, but I
    >don't see how this mechanism would stay selected-for when the pure-memetic
    >version suffices to explain everything IMHO (when times are hard you're
    >generally more tight-fisted, but tend to be less so with family, familiar
    >people, and even your pets perhaps...).

    Ever since the human line discovered the high tech life (chipped rocks, later fire) they have over-populated and over-exploited their environment with period of about a generation. At 2.5 million years since chipped rock and 25 years a generation, this happened 100,000 times to our ancestors. Also, weather glitches would suddenly drops the carrying capacity of the human ecologic niche on an irregular basis. I am not talking about modern times--when this happened the entire tribe would die of starvation unless they moved into new territory (normally impossible) or attacked and took over the resources of a nearby tribe.

    We know that we have conditional psychological traits that switch on in certain circumstances. Stockholm Syndrome or capture-bonding is one of them. I recently recognized that the "trait to induce capture bonding"
    (TTICB) is *another.* It is switched on by the mere presence of captives. This is a tight and simple way to account for Zimbardo's famous prison experiment results. and a lot of current news stories. (Google TTICB.)

    I claim that the response to "looming privation" of attacking neighbors is genetically wired in rather than a meme. The spread of xenophobic memes is part of the causal chain that leads a tribe to attack its neighbor, but it is a conditional genetic mechanism like the Stockholm Syndrome that turns up the "gain" on xenophobic memes.

    Genes do what is good for them. (Over the long term surviving genes are 100% rational--without, of course, being able to think at all.) In good times it is not good for your genes to attack neighbors (not counting raiding for wives). It is better for your genes to spend your time hunting and raising children rather than fighting with dangerous neighbors where you and the personal copy of your genes may both come to an untimely end.

    But it is a different matter when your tribe is facing starvation. Our genes have seen this enough times to have evolved a conditional strategy. Even the *worse* outcome of fighting with a neighboring tribe, where every single male of your tribe is killed is usually better for genes than starving. Reason (see bible accounts of the tribal era.) is that the wining tribe normally takes the losers young women as booty. They become wives of the winners and mothers of the next generation. Rough on the loosing males, but note that the copies of their genes in their female children march on, satisfying Hamilton's inclusive fitness criteria that such a trait should evolve.

    Hard economic times start up the ancient mechanisms to go to war with neighbors we evolved when we lived in little hunter gatherer tribes. The solution is lowering population growth, which requires empowering women and providing access to birth control measures *and* takes upwards of 20 years to take effect. Fundamentalist Islamics and the current fundamentalist US administration agree on the undesireability of empowered ("uppity") women and the full range of birth control methods.

    I have said this a dozen different ways here and on other lists over the past year, citing Easter Island and the evidence of what happened in the American Southwest after 1250 CE as examples, and the confirming example of the troubles fading out in Northern Ireland due to slowed population growth and rising income per capita. Try "xenophobic memes" and related terms in Google for more discussion.

    If you can find a hole in the logic of this argument, please do. It accounts for many known events of human history such as the Rwanda genocide, and (roughly) predicts where we are going to have problems in the future. Still, I find it profoundly disturbing and wish someone could provide a convincing argument that it is not true.

    Keith Henson

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