Transplanted meme discussion (1)

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sat 26 Mar 2005 - 21:56:14 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re: Transplanted meme discussion (2)"

    [Lee said it was ok to repost this discussion here from another mailing list]

    At 08:51 PM 24/03/05 -0800, Lee Corbin wrote:
    >Keith wrote


    > > Well, how do you account for the evolution of traits where one animal does
    > > something for the benefit of another? Consider bees rather than humans to
    > > work it out. That's how Hamilton first understood the origin of altruism.
    >We do have the examples of people choosing instant
    >impending death or torture, just in order to benefit
    >others. We can't---thankfully most people here agree
    >---torture the language by calling this anything but

    The existence of behavior fitting the definition of one individual doing something for benefit of another is unquestioned. The problem is how the psychological mechanisms behind such behavior came to have evolved.

    Now some of them are obvious, such as bears nursing cubs. Obviously the genes of those who did not feed the cubs become less common over time. The harder cases to understand are social insects, "helpers at the nest" in birds, and vampire bats. But all of these are now understood. (In fact, the reciprocal altruism mechanism involved in vampire bats was figured out
    *before* the bat behavior was found.)

    >But memes affect people strongly (duh), and can take
    >over to the point that people do lots of things that
    >are "unnatural". Yet we have evolved just this ability
    >to be controlled by memes, and many people here have
    >testified that they'd die for rather abstract reasons.
    >What about this?

    It is a good thing you are asking now instead of a few years ago.

    Hominids lost serious predation a *long* time ago. Like every other animal lacking predators, the population of our ancestors periodically exceeded the food supply. When it was possible, our ancestors moved over the horizon--which is why virtually every possible niche on the globe was occupied.

    When the entire ecosystem for social primates was filled up and hard times were looming, a behavioral switch (activated by the perception of a bleak future) turned up the "gain" on the circulation of xenophobic (hating others) memes in the tribe, and eventually the hyped up warriors went out to do or die against neighbors. Sort of having to be your own predator.

    Repeat this process over a few million years and you get animals who are peaceful most of the time, but sync up using memes (any will do) and kill each other periodically.

    Assuming no logic errors, this is the origin of the power memes have to control people.

    It certainly accounts for suicide bombers.

    This view of humanity is not PC. Over the years I have taken a lot flack
    (even from a Federal judge) for bringing up topics that humans are most uncomfortable with. But you have to understand the most unpleasant facts about our species if you want to do anything about them, or even stay out of the way.

    Keith Henson


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