Lethal memes, was reading a book

From: Keith Henson (hkhenson@rogers.com)
Date: Tue 26 Apr 2005 - 23:11:08 GMT

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    At 03:28 PM 26/04/05 +0100, Chris Taylor wrote:
    >>What isn't so obvious is why memes that are of no or negative survival
    >>value sometimes do well. I believe I know, having been induced to figure
    >>it out by experiences that can't be recommended.
    >I know where you were going with this, but I'd like to take it in some
    >different directions. Firstly, if the unit of selection is the meme, then
    >it is only the likelihood of replication rather than its effect as part of
    >an ensemble on the fitness of the environment (host) that matters.
    >And it has been demonstrated in a published model that copying good and
    >bad without discriminating still favours copying ability over the long
    >term. Partly cos the ability to become pseudo-Lamarckian is really great,
    >and partly cos bad memes do tend to die with their unfortunate host
    >(slightly at odds with the above but only slightly).

    That depends on how rough the meme is on the host's inclusive fitness and how much the meme relies on vertical (down the generations) as opposed to horizontal transmission.

    Over evolutionary time, people should have become resistant to memes such as Shakers, Heaven's Gate, and celibate priesthoods unless susceptibility to this class of memes was a side effect of something that normally promoted reproductive success.

    The analysis is here: http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/cults.html

    In short, this class of memes takes advantage of our attention-reward system that normally made us more reproductively successful (in tribal days at least).

    The other class of memes I have been concerned with recently is those which sync up a tribe's warriors to a do or die effort to kill off a neighboring tribe.

    Of course such memes are likely to result in the death of the people who have them, but considering the conditions in which the psychological mechanisms were activated (incipient starvation) in the EES the alternative was worse for genes than the death of the warriors.

    I have been harping on this idea for the last two years.

    It's really depressing.

    Keith Henson

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