RE: HEA report on religion and mental health

Nick Rose (
Wed, 27 Oct 1999 13:19:55 -0400 (EDT)

From: Nick Rose <>
To: JOM-EMIT Discussion List <>
Subject: RE: HEA report on religion and mental health
Date: Wed, 27 Oct 1999 13:19:55 -0400 (EDT)

Hi Derek,

>>For me that would point
>>towards social psychological and community support rather
>>than any intrinsic psychological reward of belief...

>So yes you're right, there is no way that one can
>immediately separate social from intrinsic factors. I
>suppose one could look at people who are religious but do
>not belong to a religious group. That sort of thing
>is supposedly increasingly common nowadays, so it moight
>be possible to repeat the classic method on that group as
>compared to, say, parish-oriented Anglicans.

Hmm.. Even new age groups - who typically have religiousy
beliefs but reject orthadox practices - tend to band
together. A couple of our third year project students are
looking at healing circles and, from what they describe, it
sounds like community plays a strong part. If you went for
a group selection argument (ala Wilson and Sober) you might
see such cultural practices as a way of reducing within-
group fitness differences.

An alternative group to try would be humanist societies. If
the benefits of religion are a purely social function -
then we should find those benefits in the absence of
belief. Still, by now the HEA report is looking a little
feeble! Between cause and effect and the composition of
the control group's wrt social context, I think there is
very little we can conclude from their findings - does
anyone disagree?

>>I haven't noticed a sudden decay in scientology, for
>>instance. Surely, the horizontally transmitted memes will
>>survive so long as they can gain as many or more hosts
>>than they lose. Like a viral infection perhaps ;)

>Well, Scientology is still quite young. I'd predict
>however, that if it's still with us in 200 years time, it
>will have become a more normal vertically transmitted

A nice clear prediction - too bad we won't live long enough
to test it ;) Can you think of a prediction across a
smaller time frame?

This appears to be a co-evolutionary stance - ala Durham.
He suggests that whilst memes may have the capability to go
astray for a while - gene selection will always root them
out for oblivion. Your suggestion appears to be that whilst
memes may be churned out regardless of whether or not they
are biologically adaptive - the only ones that survive for
any time are the ones which *are* biologically adaptive.

I think a lot of sociobiologists would agree with that - as
Dawkin's puts it - they always want to go back to genetic
fitness. I too have a lot of sympathy for that view.
However, so long as the biological pros and cons of a
behaviour broadly balance out many neutral or mildly
biologically maladaptive memes could survive?
Alternatively, what if a predominantly horizontally spread
meme happened to be biologically adaptive - would *that*
kind of meme inevitably end up vertically transmitted?

Basically, the only way I see vertical transmission
regaining it's dominance as the vector for cultural
practices is if civilisation collapses and we lose the
telecommunication infra-structure (Cloak would say
M-Culture) which has allowed horizontal transmission to
take off.

>For instance Bah'ai-ism is mostly horizontal in
>the West but very much vertical in

In short: Is this because memes inevitably end up being
vertically transmitted? Or because the m-culture here in
the West supports horizontal transmission so much better?

Nick Rose
"University of the West of England"

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)