Re: legend of Greyfriar's Bobby

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sat 28 Jan 2006 - 00:29:26 GMT

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    At 10:22 AM 1/27/2006 +0000, you wrote:
    > > Can you folks stand an EP analysis?
    >Yeah I reckon, because there's something very deep going on here that goes
    >waaaay back; and while I think you'd make a biological brain-structure
    >argument and I'd make a kind of 'sub-memetic' argument (ignore that for
    >now -- I just don't have a better phrase) the inputs and outcomes are the
    >same if you squint a little (and your grasp of prehistory trumps mine).

    I am a special case in the EP world. Few people are as motivated as I am to understand what drives the cult fringes of society. *My* self-sacrifice in trying to expose the vicious, legal system corrupting, cult may yet get me killed.

    First, you need to analyze human behaviors as if they were still living in a tribe and surrounded by relatives because that's the conditions under which we evolved. So, for example, when someone jumps on a hand grenade, they are not doing their genes a bit of good since the people they are saving are not close relatives, but you have to analyze the psychological traits that lead to the act *as if they were saving a number of close relatives.* It doesn't make a bit of biological/evolutionary sense otherwise.

    Anyway . . . Strong emotions are often very costly to an individual's genes considering what people do under the influence of strong emotions (i.e., the individual often *dies*). To account for genes--that build brains--that have detrimental effects on the individual, you have to look for the effects these genes have on *inclusive* fitness.

    Over evolutionary time the genes of humans whose emotional response (and behavior) improved inclusive fitness did better than those who did not have such emotional responses and behaviors, *even if their emotional responses and behavior killed them.*

    A lot of well-remembered stories that resonate down through the centuries have this element in them--Horatio at the Bridge and the stand by the Spartans at Thermopylae to cite two famous ones. For that matter, it is the underlying theme of Christianity.

    While the *particular details* of the stories are cultural, the psychological traits that drive the stories' continued (memetic) propagation is ultimately genetic, the legacy of millions of years of selection for psychological traits that improved inclusive fitness.

    The traits that we have strong positive feelings about are those expressed in people who are operating in "inclusive fitness" mode, saving others at considerable risk to ourselves, from parents saving children to a random citizen saving the life of a stranger.

    The reason we have strong emotions while hearing or seeing stories about self-sacrifice and loyalty (to get back at last to the dog story) is that they are activating our emotions that are part of our legacy of inclusive fitness psychological traits. If anyone wanted to go looking with fMRI, they could find the actual brain areas activated while watching/hearing this high emotion class of story.


    >>At 07:52 AM 1/26/2006 -0500, Scott wrote:
    >>>But, beyond that, what is it about such stories that have an emotional
    >>>impact upon people. I admit to geting choked up as I watched the
    >>>depiction of the terrier's behavior on TV. There's gotta be something
    >>>innate in this phenomonon, that such altruistic acts can result in a
    >>>deeply felt emotional reaction.


    Keith Henson

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