From: Keith Henson (
Date: Mon Jan 07 2002 - 02:51:54 GMT

  • Next message: "Re: CRASH CONTAGION"

    Received: by id CAA29399 (8.6.9/5.3[ref] for from; Mon, 7 Jan 2002 02:55:33 GMT
    Message-Id: <>
    X-Mailer: QUALCOMM Windows Eudora Version 5.1
    Date: Sun, 06 Jan 2002 21:51:54 -0500
    From: Keith Henson <>
    Subject: Re: CRASH CONTAGION
    In-Reply-To: <>
    Content-Type: text/html; charset="us-ascii"
    Precedence: bulk

    At 08:18 PM 06/01/02 -0500, you wrote:
    In a message dated 1/6/2002 7:56:33 AM Central Standard Time, Paul Marsden
    <> writes:

    Hi Paul.

    ABC news here in the USA reported this evening (1/6/2002) that the boy had
    left a 4 paragraph note applauding the September 11 attacks and expressing
    support for Osama Bin Laden. The target building was also a financial office
    tower. The evidence strongly indicates that the idea of flying a plane into a
    building had propagated as a result of previous ideologically-motivated
    crashes, and not as a result of some prior accidental crash or a prior crash
    whose cause remains unknown. I don't think anyone would suggest that this
    Florida crash would have happened without the prior ideologically-based
    crashes of September 11, and without the immense publicity that those crashes
    gave to the ideologies involved and to the idea of deliberately crashing
    planes into buildings for ideological reasons.

    --Aaron Lynch


    I agree with Aaron, this is a clear case of contagion, and his post is a good explanation what happened and how the idea was transmitted.

    My focus of interest in the realm of memetics has moved on to the "why" question.  Why do humans have the psychological tendencies to do something so clearly counter survival? 


            "The goal of research in evolutionary psychology is to discover and understand the design of the human mind. Evolutionary psychology is an approach to psychology, in which knowledge and principles from evolutionary biology are put to use in research on the structure of the human mind. It is not an area of study, like vision, reasoning, or social behavior. It is a way of thinking about psychology that can be applied to any topic within it.

            "In this view, the mind is a set of information-processing machines that were designed by natural selection to solve adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors. This way of thinking about the brain, mind, and behavior is changing how scientists approach old topics, and opening up new ones. This chapter is a primer on the concepts and arguments that animate it."

    "designed by natural selection to solve adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors" is the key statement.

    A clear example of psychological traits natural selection left us with is the Stockholm Syndrome, exemplified by the Patty Hearst kidnapping and spouse abuse.  This capture-bonding or social reorientation when captured from one waring tribe to another was an essential survival tool for a million years or more.  Those who reoriented often became our ancestors.  Those who did not became breakfast.

    This is easy to understand, but what could people have done in the tribal days that translates today into strapping on explosives as they do in Israel or crashing airplanes into buildings?  You have to grok William Hamilton's concepts about inclusive fitness for this to make sense.  Bees kill themselves defending a hive because shared genes to do so become more common in their relatives when they do so ...

    The same is true of humans.  Hamilton once figured out that genes for saving more than two brothers or more than 8 cousins at the cost of death should spread in an environment where such choices happened.  We presume such was the situation for a million years or more.

    Of course, leading a charge into a group men armed with sticks and rocks was not the sure thing of crashing into a building, but you can see where the willingness to die would come from.  And it may well be that the genes of the suicide hijackers and similar  cases are doing well through enhanced reproductive opportunities for their relatives.

    The other factor is that some degree of social status was (and still is) an essential condition for reproductive success.  In male Yanamano Indians social status comes with being a killer.  Killers in that culture have several times as many children as non killers. 

    Social status clear back to the chimpanzees is measured by the level of attention an individual gets.  There is no doubt that Ben Ladin has had one hell of a lot of attention put on him in recent months.  Sorting out positive attention from negative is something that a lot of people (many on the net) never get right.

    A 15 year old in a tribe 100k years ago would have led an attack on a party from another tribe and (if he didn't get killed) chances are he would have gotten lots of attention and maybe laid that night as a reward.  Crashing a light plane into a building just gets him dead, but you can see where the behavior comes from in response to exposure to these memes showing how to get attention.

    I have an article in draft that goes into this in more depth.  It is about ten pages if that is not too long for this list.

    Keith Henson
    (practical memetics at)

    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Mon Jan 07 2002 - 03:02:01 GMT