RE: HEA report on religion and mental health

Gatherer, D. (
Wed, 27 Oct 1999 15:37:13 +0200

From: "Gatherer, D. (Derek)" <>
To: "''" <>
Subject: RE: HEA report on religion and mental health
Date: Wed, 27 Oct 1999 15:37:13 +0200

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

Yes, but isn't humanism a kind of religion? For the same reason, I don't
think that using the Communist Party, say, would be an appropriate control.
We'd need to try things that are a little more determinedly belief-free -
perhaps the British Secular Society (they spit on the namby-pamby

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 still disagree. The findings are as good as the classic psychology of
religion methodology allows. Repeating the experiment with secularist
social groups, or religious non-socials (if such things can be found) would
allow the HEA findings to be elaborated, but wouldn't invalidate them
(unless of course something really surprising turned up - eg. if the
secularist society turned out to be the healthiest group of all, say).

Can you think of a prediction across a
smaller time frame?

Oooh... I'll have to think about that...

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 wouldn't risk generalising to _all_ long-lived memes. Only those, which,
like religion, appear to have some objective claim to adaptiveness.

Alternatively, what if a predominantly horizontally spread
meme happened to be biologically adaptive - would *that*
kind of meme inevitably end up vertically transmitted?

Perhaps Rogers' example of water boiling in Peru is good here. It is
transmitted poorly in the horizontal manner, but where adopted, it will
increase both fecundity and longevity. Once the water-boilers have
out-reproduced the non-water boilers to extinction, it will become
exclusively vertical. [Unless of course, it is particularly difficult to
transmit vertically...., but that would only be a problem if it was _more
difficult_ to transmit vertically than horizontally - and horizontal
transmission is already extremely poor....]

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.

Fair enough, but that would apply to new memes. We still have some hundreds
of thousands of years of old memetic baggage travelling down the vertical
route. That stuff won't be so easily subverted, (especially if it's

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)