Re: Maybe make a brew for this one #1

From: Chris Taylor (
Date: Mon 23 Jan 2006 - 12:55:37 GMT

  • Next message: Chris Taylor: "Re: Maybe make a brew for this one #2"


    >> The accumulate/recombine thing, with your twists, suggests maybe the
    >> biological mode switch occurs earlier in the very bright child..?
    >> There must be physical correlates of this if we were on to something.
    >> It does suggest that careful handling would be required for such a
    >> precious and fragile analytical mind (lacking as it probably does a
    >> really robust self-image).
    > This last sentence is the most beautiful summary of everything that our
    > writing group (I've edited/co-written the gifted children book) has been
    > working towards, for - in some members' cases - almost four decades. (A
    > completely off-topic comment, but it rather bowled me over!)

    Heh. Thanks, that's a lovely compliment :)

    I know one kid actually (same cohort as my eldest) that is sooo one of your core types. She is absolutely charming and as bright as a button, and the natural impulse is to want her to be protected in some senses from other kids and from the, er, heterogeneous nature of adults (in the sense that some people do react badly to it -- "wave back at my kid dammit he's saying hello you barbarian") while trying just to keep up with the demand for fuel and air from the blaze in their mind...

    My eldest is a bright guy too (no prodigy though in a 'clinical' sense), it's a toughie to play off the desire to just feed that fire but also to want him to be socially bright (make friends, read situations, be robust), which can only come from success with peers, not from being able to do sums (trope).

    > Anyway - back to your main message. Thinking about what bright children
    > are like, especially as they move through adolescence, makes me wonder
    > whether the questioning typical of adolescents is a different sort of
    > biological mode switch from the memetic one you consider below. Rather
    > than an intellectual, memetic recombination thing, perhaps the sort of
    > questioning that goes on in normal adolescence is more about moving away
    > from the family of origin.

    This is very true and there's something like this in a lot of intelligent species where one or both sexes are somehow moved away from where they were reared through 'voluntary' behaviour
    (as opposed to wind blowing pollen or seeds or something iyswim). In chimps I think the females move around, in lions, the males etc. It could be that simple and perhaps not in conflict with the general questioning of everything; i.e. it could easily be an emotional/biological trigger for both
    (although the nest-fleeing would seem more likely to be bio-only). I think that emotions are the interface between
    'needs' of the wetware and those of the memes -- what makes the whole bio/memetic construct hang together essentially. I imaging all memes (more or less) as having a direct wire down to the midbrainy emotional centres (like old-style phone wires from telegraph poles to houses) that they pick up at inception and modulate ever after (raising issues of composite versus atomic
    ~memes and the 'propagation' of emotional bias; consider ambivalence composite memes -- feeling genuinely torn between emotions rather than neutral).

    If you use Word cleverly you can do things like flag headings of different importance (major, sub, subsub etc.); one can then use special functionality to change the appearance of all of the occurrences of that heading type at once (bolder, different font or whatever). The emotional associations of memes are I think like this; so at puberty (or whatever) the biology, acting through the midbrain and emotions, tweaks all memes associated
    (through however many removes) with particular feelings, both parental associations and general assumptions about the world
    (the 'bottom up', 'big lever' route).

    Maybe there is also a memes-only emergent effect -- perhaps in pre-pubescent kids we see the meme-emergent effect separate from the biologically-emotionally-triggered version (pulling the rug). Alcohol has a similar 'big lever' generalised effect actually.

    > What very bright children do, almost from day one, is reflect on,
    > question, synthesise, analyse (or, shorthand, metarepresent) everything
    > that they learn. This is pretty much an intellectual process. If I'm
    > right about metarepresentation being innate then it would make sense
    > that there should be variation in the human capacity for
    > metarepresentation - and very bright people do appear to me to be
    > characterised to a large extent by a very high capacity for
    > metarepresentation.

    This is key; the ability to abstract is essentially (if I get it) what we're looking at here? Can one take several instances and 'boil out' the commonalities; do subsequent examples moderate the eidos-internal version and how much (the stubborn/confident versus the pliable/low-self-esteem mind), etc.

    A long time ago I tried to describe a spectrum of personality types (it came out quite perjorative sounding but wasn't intended to be so -- I make no value judgements): At one end the
    'book learners' who can store endless instances but rarely see the commonalities and at the other end the 'free thinkers' who can see patterns everywhere but are rubbish at the detail. The tendency to either end or (more likely) a place in the middle is maybe decided biologically (by brain structure) or maybe decided by the structure of the earliest 'mental ecologies' (were those
    'trees' broad and shallow or narrow and many-layered), or both of course (most likely). This is linked in my mind to your description of the ability of various people to metarepresent. In essence I am in complete agreement on this whatever the cause; the ability to find patterns allows generic ~memes to be constructed that enable compact representation of many instances while maintaing the broad spread of 'trigger' memes that related to each ('its a such-and-such sort of a situation'), generic memes / metarepresentations take up less 'space in your head', and they allow predictive models to be built more simply; clearly this is something that selection would like and so we have to assume that in some sense the brain is built to favour this (a Karl Sims approach to growing a mind in a brain -- for reference he got sim-fish to learn to swim by giving them some nerves and essentially letting them wire themselves up with the sole (ho ho) rule that moving (more) is good).

    > Whereas what goes on in normal adolescence may not be about recombining
    > one's memes for intellectual reasons. It may be more about moving
    > emotionally away from the family of origin; which would tie in of course
    > with your idea that this is a biological mode switch because it makes
    > perfect sense for newly-fertile young people to have a similarly-timed
    > psychological change which gives them an incentive to move away from the
    > parental home and set up a new home with a partner (even if that's with
    > the partner's family; emotionally you still need to fly the nest, to mix
    > my biological metaphors).
    > Part of why I'm wondering this is that it occurs to me that for many
    > people, possibly most people, what goes on in adolescence is actually
    > not much more than a (possibly temporary) rejection of the parental
    > stuff. And as I say this could be more emotional than
    > intellectual/memetic.

    So as you can see I agree completely here; just a matter of trying to pick apart what our biology brings about and what can happen in a complex system (in this case large populations of interacting memes). This is where I'd like to include about 5% of Keith's view; clearly our brains have been made to favour the survival of the 'right sort of mental life' in a manner not so dissimilar to the way in which our gut favours the right sort of intestinal fauna (both subject to being hijacked). However the major ditinction between Keith and I is that his analysis applies at a much higher level, arguing for _behaviours_ that are directly under selection (in the individual organism), whereas I would argue that only the fundamentals of making a meme-friendly environment are under direct biological selection
    (individual-fitness-raising) whereas what is in the meme pool gyrates to the beat of a different drummer entirely (although still in an analogue of biological evolution).

    Incidentally, (guys) living at home aged 30+ for no good reason? Dysfunctional (clearly), but biologically, or emotionally, or memetically? I wouldn't like to say...



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