Re[3]: Memetic Parasitism

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sun 24 Jul 2005 - 20:25:36 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re[4]: Memetic Parasitism"

    At 06:12 PM 24/07/05 +0100, Robin wrote:
    >Sunday, July 24, 2005, 3:39:47 PM, Keith wrote:
    > > At 10:36 AM 24/07/05 +0100, Robin Faichney wrote:
    > >>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?
    >The answer regarding chronic anxiety is very, very easy: it's the
    >result of NOT behaving in the ways that evolution has determined suit

    That's an awkward way to describe the process. The process of evolution results in adaption to an environment. In the human case, adapting to the environment of bands of hunter-gatherers living in a world with an erratic food supply.

    It is also demonstrably not the case--unless I misunderstand you. I behave in many ways that are extremely remote from the hunter-gatherer environment. Today so far I drove an automobile 50 km, watched a few trains thunder by from close range and shopped in two stores that between them had several hundred customers and at least 100,000 items. (I would have bicycled 15 km as well had a tire not gone flat.) None of these behaviors result in anxiety chronic or not. (Not that I noticed anyway.)

    Being stalked by predators (including human predators) is much more in keeping with our primitive past. In my strange case, that's something that I have to deal with. I think being stalked would generated chronic anxiety if I were the type of person who responds with fear. While I have some fear, I tend to get really pissed off when I am stalked or laugh off particularly inept attempts.

    (The text is duplicated below the page images so you don't have to read the fuzzy images.)

    >Guilt is perhaps more difficult, as it might have an adaptive
    >social function in hierarchical groups.

    There certainly are hierarchical groups, but that's not the way evolution of humans came about. The critical thing with the evolution of humans (and for that matter chimps) is kin groups. To understand how that operates you have to understand William Hamilton's kin selection and inclusive fitness.

    "Hamilton (1964) wrote: The social behavior of a species evolves in such a way that in each distinct behavior-evoking situation the individual will seem to value his neighbors' fitness against his own according to the coefficients of relationship appropriate to that situation.

    "This observation was the capstone of his theory. Underlying it are the constructs of kin selection, inclusive fitness, and the coefficient of relationship and their respective powers over behavior. This is the culmination of sociobiological thought, wherein genetic gain determines the action and response of the individual.


    "Kin selection has been described as "a beautiful and powerful extension of Darwin's theory" (Hardin, 1978). It is an essential corollary to Darwinian evolution, offering insight into previously misunderstood behaviors. William Hamilton has shaken the evolutionary paradigms of the past and laid foundations for future studies into evolution and behavior.

    I have written a lot about this topic if you look around for it. Hamilton's work is one of the essentials underlying evolutionary psychology.

    > > 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.
    >Religions are extremely complex and diverse phenomena, but I don't
    >think a general theory of them is possible without consideration of
    >their relationship with sub-clinical mental illness.

    True, especially religions on the cult end of the spectrum. Witness Tom Cruise's behavior of late. But the question then becomes: Did these people have evolved and biologically based mental problems that led them into cults such as Heaven's Gate? Or are all people vulnerable and just a few "catch" one of these "mental disease" such as scientology?

    While both factors probably interact, I lean strongly in the former being the more important. I can make a case that cult behavior is based on psychological traits that were important in stressful times to hunter-gatherers, but that would make this post too long (by about 20 pages).

    Best wishes,

    Keith Henson

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