Re[2]: Memetic Parasitism

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sun 24 Jul 2005 - 14:39:47 GMT

  • Next message: Robin Faichney: "Re[4]: Memetic Parasitism"

    At 10:36 AM 24/07/05 +0100, Robin Faichney wrote:
    >Friday, July 22, 2005, 3:23:51 AM, Scott wrote:


    > > As far as EP goes, maybe there's some religiosity
    > > module at play that get people really into Biblical
    > > literalism and makes them feel compelled to impose
    > > their maxim as a law upon the rest of society (a
    > > little Kant here I think). Or maybe the emergence of
    > > religion is a spandrel instead, but still with the
    > > same outcome in the case of how fundies react to what
    > > they see as socially corrupting forces.
    >While I'm open to some EP ideas, religious (and other forms of)
    >fundamentalism seem better explained by pandemic neuroticism.

    There may be "pandemic neuroticism" and it may help explain fundamentalism, but EP gets you coming or going. EP asks the question:

    "Ok, where does 'pandemic neuroticism' come from?"

    and requires your answer be based on the biological first principle that
    *every* characteristic living things have, teeth, toenails and a tendency to pick up religious memes are the product of evolution.

    Spandrels, side effects, byproducts, etc. certainly exist, but they too are product of evolution even if "unintended." For example, take drug addiction. There is *no way* you can make an argument that a trait to get wasted on plant products was directly selected in our remote ancestors. (A hominid lying in a stupor is "Oh Boy, a snack!" to one of the big cats.)

    Drug addiction seems to be a side effect of plant chemicals activating the social reward brain circuits that motivated our remote ancestors to feed families by going out and killing large dangerous animals. And *that* obviously could be selected. (Feeding kids with copies of your genes.)

    Part of the reason this is hard to see is that the way most humans live today is so far from the hunter-gatherer mode in which the vast majority of our evolution took place (post splitting with the chimp/bonobo lines).

    >substantial proportion of the population experiences chronic anxiety,
    >and that is one symptom that can, in certain kinds of case, be
    >successfully treated by religious conversion: Jesus died for my sins, he
    >is my shepherd, there is absolutely nothing to worry about. The
    >release from guilt and general anxiety is such a profound experience
    >that it becomes the only answer to all the world's problems, instead
    >of just a solution to my biggest problem.
    >Neuroticism is pandemic due to unhealthy attitudes, opinions and
    >lifestyles, such as religious fundamentalism (but emphatically not
    >only that). It first instills guilt and anxiety, telling you you're a
    >sinner and will go to hell, and then provides a dramatic catharsis in
    >the experience of being "born again": rather a successful strategy.

    I won't argue with your analysis, heck, I wrote very similar things myself many years ago, but it really needs to be grounded at a lower level. How did "chronic anxiety," "guilt" and related become human psychological traits? I.e., how did they (or something else that they are a side effect too) convey a selective advantage during the millions of years we lived in hunter-gatherer societies?

    I think I have an EP handle on drug addiction, where we get our drive for status, where Stockholm syndrome/capture-bonding comes from, and the evolved behavioral switches and meme amplifications traits that led to wars in hunter-gatherer times and bedevil us today.

    But human psychology seen through EP glasses is a *huge* unexplored area and I don't have a clue as to how the traits you mention came about. They may be general mammal traits for all I know and you will have to go back much further to understand them.

    Pascal Boyer's book _Religion Explained_ doesn't provide a full explanation either, but his observations and insights look like they are leading in the right direction. I think they will have to be incorporated into an evolutionary psychology explanation of religions.

    Best wishes,

    Keith Henson

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