Re[4]: Memetic Parasitism

From: Robin Faichney (
Date: Mon 25 Jul 2005 - 08:34:42 GMT

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

    Hello Keith,

    Sunday, July 24, 2005, 9:25:36 PM, you wrote:

    > 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.)

    I didn't say the problem is behaving in ways that aren't determined by evolution. I said it's NOT behaving in ways that ARE inherited tendencies. Big difference. In a previous message you mentioned motivation. We have needs and are motivated to fulfil them. One result among others of failing to fulfil our needs is chronic anxiety. Here's a neat formulation: failing to do what we THINK is right (or doing what we think is wrong) causes guilt, while failing to do what we FEEL is right (or doing what we feel is wrong) causes anxiety. Our feelings about our actions are, at base, inherited behavioural tendencies, though of course they're much modified by upbringing and experience.


    >>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.

    I understand a little about kin selection, but I don't see how that excludes hierarchy in humans. And if you're saying that there is no human tendency towards hierarchy, with dominance and submission in relationships... well, I'd be astounded. Just look at any cult.


    >> > 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).

    I agree with some of this, but it's too easy to say "these people have mental problems". What's much more challenging is to ask (a) what makes cults and religions attractive to such people, and (b) whether, in some cases, such people might be genuinely helped and even cured by
    "religious experiences".

    Best regards,
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