Re: Replicator article

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Tue 18 May 2004 - 12:36:31 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re: Replicator article--"

    At 02:03 PM 17/05/04 +0100, you wrote:
    >It's not that I am saying it definitely isn't a thing (it'll be a long
    >time before we can point at stuff and say there it is/isn't), I just can't
    >distinguish between fully genetic, and behavioural (learned or
    >learned-emergent) with an option on some midbrain stuff. For me, it's not
    >about logical flaws (pity cos that's a lot simpler), it's about valid
    >alternate explanations.

    I am a big fan of learned memes being the root cause of a whole lot of human behavior, baseball being a typical example. In that case, the process of transmitting the meme(s) from a person who does know how to play the game to a person who does not is fairly obvious and could be demonstrated with the "baseball island" experiment. I don't think anyone is going to argue that playing baseball emerges from genetic traits.

    Chipping rocks has been around long enough (at least 2.6 million years) and is important enough to hunter gatherers that it could have become a genetic trait, but it did not. Memetic transmission was good enough (we don't have an instinct for whacking rocks together).

    On the other hand, there are human behaviors for which memetic transmission seems to be lacking, examples being Stockholm Syndrome and the counterpart of abusing captives to activate Stockholm Syndrome (TTICB for lack of a short descriptive term). My bet would be that Milgram tapped into a genetic behavior in his "obedience to authority" shock experiments. Then there are human behaviors such as mothers caring for infants where the mother-infant bonding is genetic--chemically mediated with oxytocin release at birth--but the details of the behavior are memetic since they differ across cultures.

    (As an observation, genetic behaviors get selected when the trait has a close coupling to gene survival and there is not much opportunity for it to be passed down as a meme.)

    The trait of going to war in response to "looming privation" could be learned (memetic) but given the example of Easter Island where a population expanded without war for a dozen generation or more it seems likely that memes for war not used that long would have been lost.

    >I'd have to see mutants (with sequence, and experimental evidence showing
    >altered proteins/RNA) to believe in a fully genetic version. Otherwise
    >we're just swapping stories again (which, admittedly, is the main activity
    >of most biologists so I shouldn't grumble).

    My guess is that we will see sequence evidence much faster than you think. I was at a lecture yesterday where I heard a report that researchers are repeating some of the classic experiments in psychology with the subjects, whole "groups* of subjects, in functional MRI machines. In some of these experiments they are also analyzing genetic samples of the subjects.

    This is from memory of the lecture since I have not looked it up . . . and am not sure it has been published yet. Do you remember the classic experiment where a bunch of shills exert social pressure on a subject to get him to deny the evidence of his senses and say the longest line shown on a screen is not the longest? The "social pressure group" had to be connected over the Internet since the MIR machines they were using were all over the country. But the results they got were robust. There is a particular chunk of brain tissue that lights up in subjects like a glowing coal when the subject is denying sensory evidence and going with the social group. This happens even if the subject is not consciously aware that his judgment is being warped by social pressure!

    There is nothing like an MRI for high tech--tons of superconductors, sensitive radio receivers, massive computation. The effect is just amazing though. Researchers using these tools are able to make rapid progress in brain science that could not have been conceived of a generation ago.

    Best wishes,

    Keith Henson

    >Cheers, Chris.
    >Keith Henson wrote:
    >>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
    >>This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    >>Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    >>For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
    > Chris Taylor (
    > HUPO PSI: GPS --
    >This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    >Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    >For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

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