Jump to content

Selfish genes and self destructive behaviors


Recommended Posts

For nearly forty years I have been working on a personal project to somehow reconcile two seemingly incompatible ideas. On the one hand there is now overwhelming evidence that we (and other species) carry within us biological "circuitry" that if triggered, induces low mood which brings in its train physiological effects that, particularly in the natural world, would lead to a rapid exit from the gene pool. On the other, there is the impelling logic implicit within selfish gene theory that natural selection will winnow out any behaviors which do not serve to ensure the repeated replication of the genes defining them. Put another way, major depressive episodes are known, for example, to suppress both the immune function and the libido, slow down movement (very bad if predators are around!), impede decision making, diminish interest in most activities, seriously reduce energy levels and induce feelings or worthlessness. As what appear to be the same phenomena can be induced in experimental animals, just how has a package so threatening to survival and reproduction managed to persist over evolutionary timescales?

In 2010, the Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Psychology (2010, 4 (2): 94-114) published a paper of mine with the title "Family stigma, sexual selection and the evolutionary origins of severe depression's physiological consequences". In my view this paper contains by far the best answer to the above puzzle currently extant. Yet for all that, it has excited next to no interest. I should therefore be most grateful if those of you who can find the time to read it would advise me where I might find a receptive audience.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

“There is another way of looking at this, if happiness andsuffering are linked to the impending increase and decrease of inclusive fitness(as we should expect them to be; Chapter 2), a foetus or baby that has detectedin itself some fatal physiological flaw is expected of itself to die at the earliestopportunity, and, in executing this decision, it should die relatively calmly andhappily, aware perhaps in a subconscious way that it is doing the ‘right thing’.This because for itself it has nothing to lose. By bringing the event forwards,it is helping its sibs and parents who are likely carriers of the same thanaticgene it has found occasion to express.” W.DHamilton: Narrow Roads of Gene Land (p.90)

 

As the above quotation makes clear, the topic in which I aminterested goes to the very heart of what it is to be a human being. That iswhy I framed my first posting cautiously. However it has been suggested to methat I am very unlikely to elicit responses unless I am more forthcoming. Sohere goes.

 

In suggesting that organisms are likely to carry thanaticgenes (i.e. genes coding for a contingent process of self-destruction),Hamilton focuses on resource allocation. The idea that inclusive fitness will favour any means serving to ensure thatresources available to a family group are allocated in a way most conducive tomaximising genetic throughput to the next generation.

 

As I have long held the view that the potentially lethallinkage between clinical depression and its physiological sequelea is almostcertainly a mechanism favoured by natural selection, Hamilton’s conjecture hasbeen of considerable intellectual comfort to me. However, it has given me littledirect help. After all, severe depression is at least as likely to afflict an independentlyfunctioning adult as it is a child. Where, then, lies the familial advantage ifa member fully capable of reproduction is prematurely removed for the genepool? Surely, its only effect would be anet reduction in the passage of genes from one generation to the next.

 

After years of effort, I came up with an answer which seemsto me robust to challenge. It turns on the central premise of both stockbreedingand life insurance: judge on the basis of family merits, not individual meritsalone. As every biologist knows, the reason lies in the difference between ourphenotypes and genotypes i.e. the genes we express are only part of our geneticendowment and, for better or for worse, those genes unexpressed in ourselvesare likely to appear in future generations. For species evolved to select mates this is ofmajor importance, albeit very little researched. And it carries with it avicious corollary: if a member of a kin group’s phenotype gives evidence that itskin may carry, unexpressed, many sub-optimal genes, a point may be reachedwhere its own potential gene throughput is outweighed by the reputationaldamage it inadvertently causes to the mating prospects of the other groupmembers. At this point, as with Hamilton’sembryo or neonate, its rapid elimination would work to the selective advantageof any gene which coded for such an outcome. Hence the lethal mechanism which has for so long interested me.

 

Given that in 1999 the World Health Organisation placedmajor depressive disorders in fourth place in terms of diseases having the mostdetrimental effects on human well-being, what I call “stigma theory” seems tome to be worthy of investigation. How, then, do I get the ball rolling?

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Your theory has one major flaw and that is the human body is not just home to the part that you label as "you" but also home to many different species of organisms. Ask anyone that is suffering from major depression and want to kill oneself how hard it is to fight against its own body that wants to live when the "you" part wants to die. It is usually the body that wins this argument otherwise the suicide rate would be extremely high in the human population.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Your theory has one major flaw and that is the human body is not just home to the part that you label as "you" but also home to many different species of organisms. Ask anyone that is suffering from major depression and want to kill oneself how hard it is to fight against its own body that wants to live when the "you" part wants to die. It is usually the body that wins this argument otherwise the suicide rate would be extremely high in the human population.

 

 

I am taking it that what you mean by "many different species of organism" is not, say, the flora and fauna in the gut, but what is more generally known as the unconscious mind. If so, I think it a mistake to give much weight to what "you" (aka "the self" or "consciousness") does or not do. I have another published paper ("Organisation Theory and the Origions of Consciousness") in which I argue that consciousness is no more than a late evolutionary "bolt-on"essential to a big brained opportunistic problem solver. If this point is granted, it seems to me self-evident that whatever controlled the evolving organism before, did not suddenly say, in effect, "Consciousness you're so smart, I'll just hand it all over to you". Indeed there is plenty of evidence that in many instances poor old consciousness is a post-hoc rationaliser which comes up with explanations which satisfy it, but do not accord with the facts. Supermarket purchases are an often quoted example. Positioning within the store has a big impact on sales, yet purchasers very, very rarely explain their buys in terms of their being the things that first caught their eyes. Therefore my reading of what you are describing is that there is an inbuilt bias towards survival which has to be over-ridden by a very strong sense of worthlessness usually instilled by the responses of significant others. That is why poor parenting and/or peer group bullying can be so devastating. Put even more succinctly, it is why "to be put down" has both a literal and figurative meaning.

Edited by Mike Waller
Link to comment
Share on other sites

genes that lower our survival rate can and do out-compete other genes.

 

they just have to lower the survival rate of all other genes even more.

 

its a jungle out there.

 

 

I very much take your point. Indeed I think it can be made even simpler. If we imagine two competing alleles, one which codes for "Hang-on-in at all costs" regardless of the reputational impact upon close kin, whilst the other carries an over-ride which hastens death once the reputational impact is likely to reduce the over-all replicatory prospects of the gene responsible, it seems to me that (a) the latter allele must out-replicated the former; and (b) this is not a trick that natural selection is likely to have missed.

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Despite how old these concepts are and may have been happening, we're still working out the kinks. I don't think there can be concrete generalizations for all life forms except for maybe the few that separate a living thing from an abiotic thing.

Edited by questionposter
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Despite how old these concepts are and may have been happening, we're still working out the kinks. I don't think there can be concrete generalizations for all life forms except for maybe the few that separate a living thing from an abiotic thing.

 

My starting point is that if what I say is true, the implications are so profound as to warrant intense investigation. If I were to put the human imperative on a T shirt, it would read "Compete, complement, deviate of die". I mean by this that our sense of worth is so tied up with our need to be well thought of that we are hag driven to outcompete our conspecifics, find some sort of supportive role to them, or do something successful that is sufficiently different to obviate direct comparisons. If we cannot achieve any of these, then the thanatic processes I have described kick in.

 

I again stress that I do not think this a nice idea, but it accords pretty closely to the world as I apprehend it. I do not, of course, expect all interested parties to immediately fall down on their knees and declare in unison, "Hey, Mike you've got it!" I do, however, think that an idea that goes so far in explaining why we are so remorselessly gobbling up the planet and the relentless rise of depression up the World Heath Organisation's list of diseases that seriously impact on quality of life, deserves a great deal more investigative effort than I am able to supply.

 

As to these being "old" concepts, in a broad sense you are right. I have traced references to the lethal effects of failure-related depression back to the ancient Greeks. Further, the use of the term "thanatos", from which thanatic derives, is closely associated with Freud and his notion of the death instinct. However Fred's life-long attempts to tie this back into basic biology failed. This for the very obvious reason that nobody could see how evolved processes which brought forward death could be adaptive in an evolutionary sense. This is where I do claim originality and it was that which got me into print. Frankly, I do not believe that resistance to the idea is grounded in any inherent weakness with it; rather the difficulties lie in a problem Richard Alexander identified years ago:

 

"In all likelihood, no theory about anything extrinsic in the universe will ever hold as much intrigue, or encounter as much resistance, as a theory about ourselves. It may be the ultimate irony that the more such theory explains, the more difficult it will be to gain widespread acceptance".

 

Comments please.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Mike your idea seems both plausible and unecessary. I arrive at this provisional conclusion from a handful of thoughts.

 

1. We do see depression in animals, but it most commonly is only present to a significant degree when animals are in captivity. You may be able to point me to research that contradicts this view. I have an amateur's exposure to ethology and have formed my opinion from that limited stance.

 

2. We see depression in humans when they are afforded time to worry. I'm thinking Maslow'sheirarchy here. Their physiological needs are being met by society, but they are unable to satisfy there higher needs and so they become first frustrated, then depressed.

 

3. To illustrate this, I used to run after work as a way relieve tension. When you are fighting pain and struggling to breathe you are down and fully focused on the physiological level, so you cannot think about whther or not you are satisfying the higher levles.

 

4. Many of the problems of humanit have arisen because we evolved in small tribes, but we live in vast communities. (We are, in some ways, animals in cpativity.)

 

Put these disparate strands together and I find neither independent evidence for your thesis and a satisfactory explanation for depression without it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For nearly forty years I have been working on a personal project to somehow reconcile two seemingly incompatible ideas. On the one hand there is now overwhelming evidence that we (and other species) carry within us biological "circuitry" that if triggered, induces low mood which brings in its train physiological effects that, particularly in the natural world, would lead to a rapid exit from the gene pool. On the other, there is the impelling logic implicit within selfish gene theory that natural selection will winnow out any behaviors which do not serve to ensure the repeated replication of the genes defining them. Put another way, major depressive episodes are known, for example, to suppress both the immune function and the libido, slow down movement (very bad if predators are around!), impede decision making, diminish interest in most activities, seriously reduce energy levels and induce feelings or worthlessness. As what appear to be the same phenomena can be induced in experimental animals, just how has a package so threatening to survival and reproduction managed to persist over evolutionary timescales?

In 2010, the Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Psychology (2010, 4 (2): 94-114) published a paper of mine with the title "Family stigma, sexual selection and the evolutionary origins of severe depression's physiological consequences". In my view this paper contains by far the best answer to the above puzzle currently extant. Yet for all that, it has excited next to no interest. I should therefore be most grateful if those of you who can find the time to read it would advise me where I might find a receptive audience.

Surely there will be some similarity to the situation with the beta thalassemia gene where one copy of the gene makes you more resistant to malaria but to copies of the gene gives you fatal sickle cell anaemia.

 

Another factor that probably triggers depression in may cases is the fact many humans are now living in population densities vastly greater than what we are socially evolved to cope with.

 

 

For example I have read studies in the past about how high population densities in lab rat colonies induces abnormal psychology in individual rats.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Mike your idea seems both plausible and unecessary. I arrive at this provisional conclusion from a handful of thoughts.

 

1. We do see depression in animals, but it most commonly is only present to a significant degree when animals are in captivity. You may be able to point me to research that contradicts this view. I have an amateur's exposure to ethology and have formed my opinion from that limited stance.

 

2. We see depression in humans when they are afforded time to worry. I'm thinking Maslow'sheirarchy here. Their physiological needs are being met by society, but they are unable to satisfy there higher needs and so they become first frustrated, then depressed.

 

3. To illustrate this, I used to run after work as a way relieve tension. When you are fighting pain and struggling to breathe you are down and fully focused on the physiological level, so you cannot think about whther or not you are satisfying the higher levles.

 

4. Many of the problems of humanit have arisen because we evolved in small tribes, but we live in vast communities. (We are, in some ways, animals in cpativity.)

 

Put these disparate strands together and I find neither independent evidence for your thesis and a satisfactory explanation for depression without it.

 

Using your numbering, I reply as follows:

 

1. The problem all researchers have when dealing with animals is that we cannot actually know what goes on in their minds. It is relatively easy to make an educated guess with experimental animals, but it is very, very difficult in a naturalistic setting. Regarding the latter, the very modest offerings I have to put forward is the common place observation that prey animals seem to somehow sense which of their con-specifics the predator is likely to go for, which, to me would suggest that they are picking up on the bodily behaviour of those who themselves feel themselves likely to be losers in the struggle for life. The only direct observation I can offer was of a stray cat that lived near our home. Several peoples gave it food, but no one took it in. Then one neighbour did. She made a great deal of fuss of it and the transformative effect was frankly astonishing. It was more than just looking fatter and healthier; it look like what we call "the cock of the walk" and this, I think, arose from it having a living entity that made it feel valued again. This suggest to me that depression is not just a function of captivity.

 

Regarding experimental animals, a book of which I make a lot of use ("The Sickening Mind" by Paul Martin, interestingly sold in the US as "The Healing Mind"!) devotes its full 350+ pages to the phenomena that interest me. It says "The sheer volume of animal research in this field makes it impossible to describe more than a tiny and rather haphazard selection of examples.....We humans are not the only animals whose physical health can be damaged by upsetting events".

 

2. Nor is it just a luxury of first world countries. As I mention in my published paper, one of the warnings given by the WHO to the Asian countries affected by the Tsunami what that they should expect about a 40% increase in the levels of clinical depression. Although on a simplistic understanding the law of evolution ought to be "when the going gets tough, the tough get going", practical experience tells us that even with people who had little in the first place to whom live is a daily struggle, terrible misfortune can induce depression and for many this brings forward death.

 

3. It is common knowledge that exercise triggers the release of endorphins that bring about a sense of well-being. It also gives you another dimension in which to tell yourself don't I do this well. The puzzle is why people who are depressed don't routinely seize this wonderful self-medication. That they have just given up seems to me a very plausible explanation.

 

4. Again as I make clear in my paper, I totally agree with this point. In a small group the old against one individual being so poorly adapted that he or she ruins, or seriously reduces, the mating prospect of kin are very small. In that context, the mechanism I am describing is simply a neat little app which gives a marginal edge which inevitable counts in the long run. In the globalized world in which we live, it is devastating. I have heard people speak of "The Friends Effect", this being a sense of dissatisfaction induced in the minds of those following the series because their lives come nowhere near those portrayed by actors selected for their physical charms and then given lines written by brilliant screen-writers. It is a lot harder to deal with than being not quite as pretty/hansome or smart as the most attractive peer in the small breeding group.

 

Surely there will be some similarity to the situation with the beta thalassemia gene where one copy of the gene makes you more resistant to malaria but to copies of the gene gives you fatal sickle cell anaemia.

 

Another factor that probably triggers depression in may cases is the fact many humans are now living in population densities vastly greater than what we are socially evolved to cope with.

 

 

For example I have read studies in the past about how high population densities in lab rat colonies induces abnormal psychology in individual rats.

 

I think it very similar to sickle cell anaemia. Whilst as humans we naturally view it as a pathology, what natural selection is, in effect, saying, in terms of a classic Punnet square, is that adaptive advantage lies in the sibling without either of the SCA alleles dying of a malaria and the sibling with both dying of SCA where that enables the other two to survive and replicate. This, of course, only applies in environments where malaria is so common as otherwise to make the death of all four highly likely. Just shows how tough natural selection can be!

 

I have already accepted the point that modern conditions make the thanatic processes far more likely to be triggered. This is why I think it crucial to bring the idea to a wider audience.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My starting point is that if what I say is true, the implications are so profound as to warrant intense investigation. If I were to put the human imperative on a T shirt, it would read "Compete, complement, deviate of die". I mean by this that our sense of worth is so tied up with our need to be well thought of that we are hag driven to outcompete our conspecifics, find some sort of supportive role to them, or do something successful that is sufficiently different to obviate direct comparisons. If we cannot achieve any of these, then the thanatic processes I have described kick in.

 

I again stress that I do not think this a nice idea, but it accords pretty closely to the world as I apprehend it. I do not, of course, expect all interested parties to immediately fall down on their knees and declare in unison, "Hey, Mike you've got it!" I do, however, think that an idea that goes so far in explaining why we are so remorselessly gobbling up the planet and the relentless rise of depression up the World Heath Organisation's list of diseases that seriously impact on quality of life, deserves a great deal more investigative effort than I am able to supply.

 

As to these being "old" concepts, in a broad sense you are right. I have traced references to the lethal effects of failure-related depression back to the ancient Greeks. Further, the use of the term "thanatos", from which thanatic derives, is closely associated with Freud and his notion of the death instinct. However Fred's life-long attempts to tie this back into basic biology failed. This for the very obvious reason that nobody could see how evolved processes which brought forward death could be adaptive in an evolutionary sense. This is where I do claim originality and it was that which got me into print. Frankly, I do not believe that resistance to the idea is grounded in any inherent weakness with it; rather the difficulties lie in a problem Richard Alexander identified years ago:

 

"In all likelihood, no theory about anything extrinsic in the universe will ever hold as much intrigue, or encounter as much resistance, as a theory about ourselves. It may be the ultimate irony that the more such theory explains, the more difficult it will be to gain widespread acceptance".

 

Comments please.

 

I don't think its a nice or not nice idea, I think things work more neutrally and that w/e. Everything isn't tied to some single thing, some things just couldn't exist if what you were saying was completely true. It is true that a lot of people are not so kind to other people because of some kind of competitiveness, but just as there those people, there are people who don't compete at all, don't expect to be famous, don't expect to make money or etc and are still altruistic. Really, there's no grand thing determining our every action, we can chose to do whatever we want, and in fact a lot of things seem to do what they want, which is why things might seem to work the way your describing at times.

Edited by questionposter
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't think its a nice or not nice idea, I think things work more neutrally and that w/e. Everything isn't tied to some single thing, some things just couldn't exist if what you were saying was completely true. It is true that a lot of people are not so kind to other people because of some kind of competitiveness, but just as there those people, there are people who don't compete at all, don't expect to be famous, don't expect to make money or etc and are still altruistic. Really, there's no grand thing determining our every action, we can chose to do whatever we want, and in fact a lot of things seem to do what they want, which is why things might seem to work the way your describing at times.

This post has been edited by questionposter: 7 January 2012 - 05:53 PM

 

I read what you are saying as the standard "strawman" attack on selfish genery i.e. if genes act as if they were selfish, their carriers must all be selfish and, as clearly not all humans are selfish, anything based on the selfish gene thesis must be wrong. In my view this is a wholly false view, its refutation not helped by Dawkins' decision to switch to selfish animals about a third in to The Selfish Gene. As I have already written above, my "human motivation of a T shirt" is: Compete, complement, deviate or die, which I think just about covers all the various possibilities you have listed. The sole consideration is "Don't do things that your feel will wreck the mating prospect of your kin, unless you are confident that you can personally make up the genetic losses". It has always been a puzzle to evolutionary theorists why in countries such as the US and the UK, the populations of which have a very wide genetic background, it is still possible to produce individuals willing to make the supreme sacrifice in a military context. Whilst I am in no sense saying that the consideration of family reputation is the sole consideration in the minds of such brave people, it does explain the behaviours' evolutionary persistence. It is at its clearest amongst terrorist organisations which employ suicide bombers. These should be evolutionary no-nos. However it turns out that amongst the societies which support their action, the family stock arises enormously as to do the marital prospects of kin. Conversely, amongst, for example, the Palestinians, where individuals are found to have spied for Israel, not only are they killed, but their wider family are shunned. If you an want example from literature, in the Wimslow Boy, by Terrence Rattigan, once a young man at naval college is dismissed having been falsely accused of theft (this was closely based on a real event) the sister's fiance immediately dumps her. The whole thing turns upon the values of the wider group. I have just read the wonderful "Once a Warrior King" by David Donavan which centres on his service in Vietnam. As he makes clear, once public opinion swung against the war, it was the warriors who were vilified, and those not wishing to be drafted who started to enjoy widespread support. I suspect that in WW2, post pearl harbour, only the most crudely self-serving would have sought to dodge the draft and they and their families would have paid a very high price.

 

One other area in which we differ fundamentally is that of personal choice. As I have already said, I think consciousness spends much of its time rationalising to itself decisions that have already been made elsewhere in the brain. Indeed, on a TV programme I saw on Saturday which involved serious neuroscientists being interviewed about what brain scans told us about human responses to paintings, films etc, one guy casually mention that his work had shown only 15% of brain activity was in the areas now associated with consciousness. Elsewhere the decision centres that were running the organism pre-consciousness are still getting on with their jobs.

 

 

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't think its a nice or not nice idea, I think things work more neutrally and that w/e. Everything isn't tied to some single thing, some things just couldn't exist if what you were saying was completely true. It is true that a lot of people are not so kind to other people because of some kind of competitiveness, but just as there those people, there are people who don't compete at all, don't expect to be famous, don't expect to make money or etc and are still altruistic. Really, there's no grand thing determining our every action, we can chose to do whatever we want, and in fact a lot of things seem to do what they want, which is why things might seem to work the way your describing at times.

This post has been edited by questionposter: 7 January 2012 - 05:53 PM

 

I read what you are saying as the standard "strawman" attack on selfish genery i.e. if genes act as if they were selfish, their carriers must all be selfish and, as clearly not all humans are selfish, anything based on the selfish gene thesis must be wrong. In my view this is a wholly false view, its refutation not helped by Dawkins' decision to switch to selfish animals about a third in to The Selfish Gene. As I have already written above, my "human motivation of a T shirt" is: Compete, complement, deviate or die, which I think just about covers all the various possibilities you have listed. The sole consideration is "Don't do things that your feel will wreck the mating prospect of your kin, unless you are confident that you can personally make up the genetic losses". It has always been a puzzle to evolutionary theorists why in countries such as the US and the UK, the populations of which have a very wide genetic background, it is still possible to produce individuals willing to make the supreme sacrifice in a military context. Whilst I am in no sense saying that the consideration of family reputation is the sole consideration in the minds of such brave people, it does explain the behaviours' evolutionary persistence. It is at its clearest amongst terrorist organisations which employ suicide bombers. These should be evolutionary no-nos. However it turns out that amongst the societies which support their action, the family stock arises enormously as to do the marital prospects of kin. Conversely, amongst, for example, the Palestinians, where individuals are found to have spied for Israel, not only are they killed, but their wider family are shunned. If you an want example from literature, in the Wimslow Boy, by Terrence Rattigan, once a young man at naval college is dismissed having been falsely accused of theft (this was closely based on a real event) the sister's fiance immediately dumps her. The whole thing turns upon the values of the wider group. I have just read the wonderful "Once a Warrior King" by David Donavan which centres on his service in Vietnam. As he makes clear, once public opinion swung against the war, it was the warriors who were vilified, and those not wishing to be drafted who started to enjoy widespread support. I suspect that in WW2, post pearl harbour, only the most crudely self-serving would have sought to dodge the draft and they and their families would have paid a very high price.

 

One other area in which we differ fundamentally is that of personal choice. As I have already said, I think consciousness spends much of its time rationalising to itself decisions that have already been made elsewhere in the brain. Indeed, on a TV programme I saw on Saturday which involved serious neuroscientists being interviewed about what brain scans told us about human responses to paintings, films etc, one guy casually mention that his work had shown only 15% of brain activity was in the areas now associated with consciousness. Elsewhere the decision centres that were running the organism pre-consciousness are still getting on with their jobs.

 

 

 

 

 

I don't think your quite understanding what I'm saying because I didn't intentionally use a straw man if I did at all, I'm saying things just aren't as concrete and deterministic as your saying, they just can't be in order for the universe to be the way it is. There's mechanisms that I guess seem to "determine" some of our actions such has breathing, and there's complex chemical reactions that can compel you to do something, there's no "mystical evolution force" that automatically says all life in the universe is a certain way or has to do anything, and it's this mistake that often makes nihilism just as bad as religious extremism. Your brain isn't a cohesive thing, it's a composite of many many cells, it's actually hard for millions of organisms to decide one thing. Usually what just ends up happening with a lot of people and I guess animals in general is they get into habits and don't realize they are into those habits, and that's largely what I think those "mechanisms" you you specifically are talking about are. Those habits could be as simple as typing or looking around in similar patterns, taking a shower, etc, but you can change them if you notice them.

Edited by questionposter
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't think your quite understanding what I'm saying because I didn't intentionally use a straw man if I did at all, I'm saying things just aren't as concrete and deterministic as your saying, they just can't be in order for the universe to be the way it is. There's mechanisms that I guess seem to "determine" some of our actions such has breathing, and there's complex chemical reactions that can compel you to do something, there's no "mystical evolution force" that automatically says all life in the universe is a certain way or has to do anything, and it's this mistake that often makes nihilism just as bad as religious extremism. Your brain isn't a cohesive thing, it's a composite of many many cells, it's actually hard for millions of organisms to decide one thing. Usually what just ends up happening with a lot of people and I guess animals in general is they get into habits and don't realize they are into those habits, and that's largely what I think those "mechanisms" you you specifically are talking about are. Those habits could be as simple as typing or looking around in similar patterns, taking a shower, etc, but you can change them if you notice them.

 

B.F. Skinner is alive and well, but now trading under the name "questionposter"! [:)] I had thought the idea that we were no more than bundles of learned behaviours was long since dead, but seemingly not. That said, I certainly do not believe that we are entirely coherent wholes. Indeed, one of the arguments I use to support my argument that "conscious" is not more than a second level, evolutionary bolt-on is that we have what some call our sixth sense, the proper name of which is now eluding me (pro...ception?) which fools consciousness into believing it is running the show. When injury or a viral infection destroys the relevant "software", victims have the extraordinary sensation of feeling total detached from their bodies with the latter going about its business as usual.

 

What your model misses out is the crucial importance of motivation or "drives". This is not to say that I believe in some mystical life force; it is simple that natural selection will strongly favour any organism which is driven to pursue goals which are themselves conducive to the replication of the genes that encode the drives. Ultimately it is entirely circular and without any kind of higher level purpose; the only thing is, from an evolutionary perspective, in FW Taylor's immortal words, "It works".

Edited by Mike Waller
Link to comment
Share on other sites

B.F. Skinner is alive and well, but now trading under the name "questionposter"! [:)] I had thought the idea that we were no more than bundles of learned behaviours was long since dead, but seemingly not. That said, I certainly do not believe that we are entirely coherent wholes. Indeed, one of the arguments I use to support my argument that "conscious" is not more than a second level, evolutionary bolt-on is that we have what some call our sixth sense, the proper name of which is now eluding me (pro...ception?) which fools consciousness into believing it is running the show. When injury or a viral infection destroys the relevant "software", victims have the extraordinary sensation of feeling total detached from their bodies with the latter going about its business as usual.

 

What your model misses out is the crucial importance of motivation or "drives". This is not to say that I believe in some mystical life force; it is simple that natural selection will strongly favour any organism which is driven to pursue goals which are themselves conducive to the replication of the genes that encode the drives. Ultimately it is entirely circular and without any kind of higher level purpose; the only thing is, from an evolutionary perspective, in FW Taylor's immortal words, "It works".

 

Well first, what? I don't know "skinner", and 2: What huh? Duh? Of course things are going to be more likely to survive if they have compulsions like not wanting to die, now I don't even see what the fuss is about, you can ignore that if you want or not ignore it. The only thing I can really say that you describing when you apply consciousness is what I was saying before about habits, only with what your talking about its just a habit of not consciously thinking about things, which many people can break out of.

Edited by questionposter
Link to comment
Share on other sites

http://en.wikipedia....iki/Tit_for_tat

 

tit for tat is very effective especially if there are many other players using that stategy

 

but it fails completely if everyone else is cheating each other.

 

under those circumstance cheating is the only winning strategy.

 

Altruism and selfishness are both required for surviving, or at least surviving well, often times more than others. Tiger's have more selfishness but they wouldn't ever reproduce if they were always competitive, and with ants or I guess other hive-mind bugs have more altruism but the same can be said about them being selfish.

Edited by questionposter
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well first, what? I don't know "skinner", and 2: What huh? Duh? Of course things are going to be more likely to survive if they have compulsions like not wanting to die, now I don't even see what the fuss is about, you can ignore that if you want or not ignore it. The only thing I can really say that you describing when you apply consciousness is what I was saying before about habits, only with what your talking about its just a habit of not consciously thinking about things, which many people can break out of.

 

Worth googling B F Skinner who was once so well known that he was said to have the third most recognised name in the US. BTW, the word I was looking for was "proprioception".

 

Altruism and selfishness are both required for surviving, or at least surviving well, often times more than others. Tiger's have more selfishness but they wouldn't ever reproduce if they were always competitive, and with ants or I guess other hive-mind bugs have more altruism but the same can be said about them being selfish.

 

From the theoretical standpoint, the problem with altruism is that it has always seemed vulnerable to cheating. As in "You scratch my back and then I'll clear off". Here, I think, reputation in general and familial reputation in particular have a crucial role to play. By cheating, individuals demonstrate their unreliability and also advertise the fact their kin may have similar characteristics. In contrast and within bounds, displays of altruism can have a very positive effect on potential mates. Our family pet was a rather nervous female whippet. We once had her with us on a fairly crowded London underground train. To keep her out of the way of other people's feet, my then recently married son carried her in his arms, talking to her as he did so. According to him, when he looked up he had become a centre of human female attention to an extent he had never previously enjoyed. We reached the conclusion that his new admirers were subconsciously reasoning that "If he's that good with a dog, what would he be like as a dad?". My son was somewhat chagrined, having discovered the aphoristical effects of a whippet a few months too late!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

From the theoretical standpoint, the problem with altruism is that it has always seemed vulnerable to cheating. As in "You scratch my back and then I'll clear off". Here, I think, reputation in general and familial reputation in particular have a crucial role to play. By cheating, individuals demonstrate their unreliability and also advertise the fact their kin may have similar characteristics. In contrast and within bounds, displays of altruism can have a very positive effect on potential mates. Our family pet was a rather nervous female whippet. We once had her with us on a fairly crowded London underground train. To keep her out of the way of other people's feet, my then recently married son carried her in his arms, talking to her as he did so. According to him, when he looked up he had become a centre of human female attention to an extent he had never previously enjoyed. We reached the conclusion that his new admirers were subconsciously reasoning that "If he's that good with a dog, what would he be like as a dad?". My son was somewhat chagrined, having discovered the aphoristical effects of a whippet a few months too late!

 

People usually cheat altruistic people when they are afraid of their own survival to a high point even if it's not fear they're feeling, but think it's something they need to do to survive, but that's not to say altruism isn't good or doesn't work at all. The human race wouldn't be anywhere if we couldn't selflessly help each other from time to time, and it would largely reduce survival rate. Your making way too big of a deal of these subconscious mechanisms, and because there's nothing actually determining what living things must do and indeed there is scientifically determinism can't exist (as far as we know right now), all things living things do themselves have to in some way be related to a conscious choice, otherwise they wouldn't do much anything (since there isn't much to "determine." what they do). It's arguable if this applies to bacterium and if they are actually alive or just chemical reactions, but I don't see how we could have the consciousness we have today without starting from somewhere, and there's even evidence for a progression of consciousness through evolution as we look at the actions and brains of other animals. Did you know it was recently discovered that rats can show compassion?

Edited by questionposter
Link to comment
Share on other sites

People usually cheat altruistic people when they are afraid of their own survival to a high point even if it's not fear they're feeling, but think it's something they need to do to survive, but that's not to say altruism isn't good or doesn't work at all. The human race wouldn't be anywhere if we couldn't selflessly help each other from time to time, and it would largely reduce survival rate. Your making way too big of a deal of these subconscious mechanisms, and because there's nothing actually determining what living things must do and indeed there is scientifically determinism can't exist (as far as we know right now), all things living things do themselves have to in some way be related to a conscious choice, otherwise they wouldn't do much anything (since there isn't much to "determine." what they do). It's arguable if this applies to bacterium and if they are actually alive or just chemical reactions, but I don't see how we could have the consciousness we have today without starting from somewhere, and there's even evidence for a progression of consciousness through evolution as we look at the actions and brains of other animals. Did you know it was recently discovered that rats can show compassion?

 

That rats show compassion comes as no surprise to me. What worked with my son, no doubt works for rats. If compassion is a good indicator of being what we would call a caring mate, then males or females who happen to be attracted by it will select caring mates and thus out-breed rivals who do not have a similar taste for the compassionate. Obviously, this being the equivalent of an arms race, there will be individuals who give displays of compassion to secure mates and then do not follow through. In HG Wells' "The History of Mr Polly" there is an episode where having seemed sweetness and light during their courtship, Mr Polly's first wife - once the nuptials are over - growls at him, "You've 'ad your fun, now you've got to pay". Once again, checking out the characteristics of the potential mate's close kin before committing, is a very smart idea.

 

Regarding consciousness and free-will, I think we may have to agree to differ. For my money, what you have to say is not grounded in scientific discovery, but in a form of self-delusion that natural selection has strongly favoured. By this I mean that consciousness makes a better contribution to the welfare of the organism as a whole if it is brought to believe, falsely, that it is in charge. Indeed I find it hard to see why you do not find the nature of proprioception as compelling in this context as I do. Once it has been shown - as it has - that the body continues on in its merry way after the software that makes it appear to consciousness that it is running the show has been knocked out, surely it is game over?

 

It also seems to me more and more obvious what the practical purpose of consciousness is. About a month ago I hear an academic who has devoted her life to the study of the crow family, say that they, too, demonstrate self-awareness and a basic theory of mind. The reason why seems to me clear. Like us they are opportunistic problem solvers; and that means that they have to think of ways of exploiting novel situations. One example I have recently seen is birds dropping hard shelled objects on roads for cars to crush. Some even showed a preference for pedestrian crossings where interruptions to traffic made it easier to recover the contents. In working such things out, a sense of self must be a sine qua non. I mean by this that coming up with such a strategy requires the mental manipulation of self in relation to factors such as food source, problem shell, cars, roads etc. No doubt animals who, no matter how hazily, start on this process of mentally manipulating self in relation to objective and potential tools have an adaptive edge over conspecifics who do not. There is also an obvious upside limit: too big a brain and you cannot get off the ground!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That rats show compassion comes as no surprise to me. What worked with my son, no doubt works for rats. If compassion is a good indicator of being what we would call a caring mate, then males or females who happen to be attracted by it will select caring mates and thus out-breed rivals who do not have a similar taste for the compassionate. Obviously, this being the equivalent of an arms race, there will be individuals who give displays of compassion to secure mates and then do not follow through. In HG Wells' "The History of Mr Polly" there is an episode where having seemed sweetness and light during their courtship, Mr Polly's first wife - once the nuptials are over - growls at him, "You've 'ad your fun, now you've got to pay". Once again, checking out the characteristics of the potential mate's close kin before committing, is a very smart idea.

 

Regarding consciousness and free-will, I think we may have to agree to differ. For my money, what you have to say is not grounded in scientific discovery, but in a form of self-delusion that natural selection has strongly favoured. By this I mean that consciousness makes a better contribution to the welfare of the organism as a whole if it is brought to believe, falsely, that it is in charge. Indeed I find it hard to see why you do not find the nature of proprioception as compelling in this context as I do. Once it has been shown - as it has - that the body continues on in its merry way after the software that makes it appear to consciousness that it is running the show has been knocked out, surely it is game over?

 

It also seems to me more and more obvious what the practical purpose of consciousness is. About a month ago I hear an academic who has devoted her life to the study of the crow family, say that they, too, demonstrate self-awareness and a basic theory of mind. The reason why seems to me clear. Like us they are opportunistic problem solvers; and that means that they have to think of ways of exploiting novel situations. One example I have recently seen is birds dropping hard shelled objects on roads for cars to crush. Some even showed a preference for pedestrian crossings where interruptions to traffic made it easier to recover the contents. In working such things out, a sense of self must be a sine qua non. I mean by this that coming up with such a strategy requires the mental manipulation of self in relation to factors such as food source, problem shell, cars, roads etc. No doubt animals who, no matter how hazily, start on this process of mentally manipulating self in relation to objective and potential tools have an adaptive edge over conspecifics who do not. There is also an obvious upside limit: too big a brain and you cannot get off the ground!

 

Sub-consciousness learns form your consciousness, not the other way around. If you consciously repeat a pattern, then your sub-consciousness will try and make compulsions to repeat that pattern to save energy that would otherwise go to consciously thinking of doing it again. It just is illogical that the choices of an organism would be "determined" by something or would have to follow only specific guidelines when the universe itself is not deterministic (as shown in quantum mechanics). I even use to think things were more deterministic, similar to you. But, there is nothing to determine that everything has to revolve around survival, so it doesn't, life is free to make whatever it wants of itself. Things happen to be better for surviving in completely random ways, and that's it, there is no arms race. Mutations are completely random, they don't have to automatically make something only follow specific actions, and they don't anyway or revolve around anything at all. Also, rats don't have to show compassion to just female rats, and why would female rats even care about that anyway? Rats wouldn't be that sophisticated as to care if another rat could show compassion to other rats (excluding the mate).

There is also another piece of evidence which is being able to view sub-conscious layers from your conscious perspective. If you can view that your sub-conscious is causing compulsions to affect your conscious decisions, then your conscious can't be that, so your consciousness cannot be those compulsions or those things causing compulsions, you would have to be above them. It is the same principal as "you cannot be in that chair if your staring at it from over here".

 

The notion that your consciousness is tricking itself into thinking it exists is illogical. That's like saying that something doesn't exist because it exists.

Edited by questionposter
Link to comment
Share on other sites

People usually cheat altruistic people when they are afraid of their own survival to a high point even if it's not fear they're feeling, but think it's something they need to do to survive, but that's not to say altruism isn't good or doesn't work at all. The human race wouldn't be anywhere if we couldn't selflessly help each other from time to time, and it would largely reduce survival rate. Your making way too big of a deal of these subconscious mechanisms, and because there's nothing actually determining what living things must do and indeed there is scientifically determinism can't exist (as far as we know right now), all things living things do themselves have to in some way be related to a conscious choice, otherwise they wouldn't do much anything (since there isn't much to "determine." what they do). It's arguable if this applies to bacterium and if they are actually alive or just chemical reactions, but I don't see how we could have the consciousness we have today without starting from somewhere, and there's even evidence for a progression of consciousness through evolution as we look at the actions and brains of other animals. Did you know it was recently discovered that rats can show compassion?

 

 

You now have two answers for the price of one! I didn't think that yesterday's had got through. Will deal with your latest response in a couple of days.

 

If you seriously think that cheating only arises when personal survival is at stake, I suggest that you reflect of the film “Wall Street” and the actuality of the 2008 banking crisis. That said, I repeat again, I am not arguing from a simplistic selfish gene = selfish people perspective. My central thesis is that we come hard wired to seek the approval of significant others in order that they will think well of both us and our kin in the context of mate selection. If we perceive ourselves to have seriously failed in this endeavour, then similarly hard-wired process speed our exit from the gene pool. However, what constitutes success is not predetermined. For opportunistic problem-solvers such as ourselves that would be maladaptive. Pre- the ice ages, muscle-bound heroes may well have been every girl’s dream, but when falling temperatures started to undermine old certainties, mates with the bigger brains that produced new ways of coping became the flavour of the month. That, I think, is why what is known as the great encaphalization coincided with the ice age. Indeed, in our own time, at what price did what we now know as “computer nerds” trade in the mating game before we realised that they were the new masters of the universe? So, too, with compassion. Seemingly not much admired amongst the Spartans, but if my son’s experience is anything to go by, attractive to at least some modern women. Nor should we be surprised if female rats share a similar taste. If some prospective mates happen to be drawn to displays of compassion and such displays prove to be good indicators of effective parenting, then compassion will become a fixed characteristic. If they do not, then compassion will not come to the fore. Consciousness has very little to do with this other than being the route through which a pre-disposition towards compassion can be directed towards classes of external objects not previously benefiaries. Even here, its role is more analogous to the company’s training officer than its CEO.

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You now have two answers for the price of one! I didn't think that yesterday's had got through. Will deal with your latest response in a couple of days.

 

If you seriously think that cheating only arises when personal survival is at stake, I suggest that you reflect of the film "Wall Street" and the actuality of the 2008 banking crisis. That said, I repeat again, I am not arguing from a simplistic selfish gene = selfish people perspective. My central thesis is that we come hard wired to seek the approval of significant others in order that they will think well of both us and our kin in the context of mate selection. If we perceive ourselves to have seriously failed in this endeavour, then similarly hard-wired process speed our exit from the gene pool. However, what constitutes success is not predetermined. For opportunistic problem-solvers such as ourselves that would be maladaptive. Pre- the ice ages, muscle-bound heroes may well have been every girl's dream, but when falling temperatures started to undermine old certainties, mates with the bigger brains that produced new ways of coping became the flavour of the month. That, I think, is why what is known as the great encaphalization coincided with the ice age. Indeed, in our own time, at what price did what we now know as "computer nerds" trade in the mating game before we realised that they were the new masters of the universe? So, too, with compassion. Seemingly not much admired amongst the Spartans, but if my son's experience is anything to go by, attractive to at least some modern women. Nor should we be surprised if female rats share a similar taste. If some prospective mates happen to be drawn to displays of compassion and such displays prove to be good indicators of effective parenting, then compassion will become a fixed characteristic. If they do not, then compassion will not come to the fore. Consciousness has very little to do with this other than being the route through which a pre-disposition towards compassion can be directed towards classes of external objects not previously benefiaries. Even here, its role is more analogous to the company's training officer than its CEO.

 

 

 

I know things work logically, but they aren't deterministic. Things like your brain just can't just be a set of "cause and effect" reactions because that would mean determinism exists which quantum mechanics has shown doesn't exist. Sure, you could have an entire thought process triggered by an emotional response from chemicals released by the perception of something along with the information being passed through some mechanisms that get registered "suggesting" what to do, but not only is that not actually a deterministic process, but the thoughts themselves are not a chemical reaction. How your describing the way life works just doesn't make sense, or at the very least astronomically improbable. Do you know how improbable it would be for every single gene and action to be automatically geared towards one single thing (survival)? Neither do I, I can't comprehend that big of a number in the denominator.

Once again, there is nothing that is actually "making" thoughts happen or even "making" anything be geared for survival, some things just happen to make you lucky, and since those things are part of the universe, they cannot be deterministic and they don't have to cause specifically squat.

I already understand what your saying, and how "selfish genes doesn't equal selfish people", but things just can't work in as simple of a manner as your describing, at least not in this universe. Things don't have to be geared towards anything, genes don't have to cause anything, things don't have to need or not need to survive. Actually, let's just look at that part. Do things "need" to survive? No, not for any particular reason (although to living things, the answer may differ), or at least not for the universe on a universal scale. The universe could go on without life , so why would there be a component of the universe which cares about life to determine what it does and what actions it has to be geared towards if it doesn't matter to the universe?

And then, if you say it's just a coincidence, then that means there could very easily be other life where what your saying doesn't apply.

Edited by questionposter
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I know things work logically, but they aren't deterministic. Things like your brain just can't just be a set of "cause and effect" reactions because that would mean determinism exists which quantum mechanics has shown doesn't exist. Sure, you could have an entire thought process triggered by an emotional response from chemicals released by the perception of something along with the information being passed through some mechanisms that get registered "suggesting" what to do, but not only is that not actually a deterministic process, but the thoughts themselves are not a chemical reaction. How your describing the way life works just doesn't make sense, or at the very least astronomically improbable. Do you know how improbable it would be for every single gene and action to be automatically geared towards one single thing (survival)? Neither do I, I can't comprehend that big of a number in the denominator.

Once again, there is nothing that is actually "making" thoughts happen or even "making" anything be geared for survival, some things just happen to make you lucky, and since those things are part of the universe, they cannot be deterministic and they don't have to cause specifically squat.

I already understand what your saying, and how "selfish genes doesn't equal selfish people", but things just can't work in as simple of a manner as your describing, at least not in this universe. Things don't have to be geared towards anything, genes don't have to cause anything, things don't have to need or not need to survive. Actually, let's just look at that part. Do things "need" to survive? No, not for any particular reason (although to living things, the answer may differ), or at least not for the universe on a universal scale. The universe could go on without life , so why would there be a component of the universe which cares about life to determine what it does and what actions it has to be geared towards if it doesn't matter to the universe?

And then, if you say it's just a coincidence, then that means there could very easily be other life where what your saying doesn't apply.

 

 

I think that you are straying into the realm of metaphysics and leaving science behind. Yes, in the world of very small things quantum mechanics holds sway and fundamentality challenges that which we hold to be reality. However, in the world in which we seem to have our being Newtonian physics and the laws of cause and effect seem to have pretty powerful predictive capabilities. You have two choices (a) take your line and conclude that causality is an illusion and that we live in world of random and ultimately inexplicable events; or (b) take the view that it is the business of theoretical physicists and kindred scientific workers to struggle towards a reconciliation between QM and NP whilst the rest of us strive to continue making the immense progress in our understanding of the world that has been achieved in the last 400 years, not least by a belief in cause and effect and the significance of experimental replication. And surely it is obvious that neither position can secure a knock blow over the other. My inclination is to think that you are reaching back over 2000 years to Plato's theory of the cave which postulated that we can never know anything with any degree of certainty; you think I am identifying patterns where none exist. As I have always though Plato's cave a clever put ultimately pointless mind game, I am never likely to warm towards your 21st century reformulation. Nor would I think that any other hard-nosed neo-darwinist would feel any better disposed to your point of view.

 

What I should stress is that my approach is so prosaic that I do not buy in to any of the notions you hang round my neck in the final paragraph. I do not think that life is either essential or inevitable, or that it is necessarily driven by some will to survive. My basic premise is that that genes are the only known currency of evolution and that if a gene- a mindless speck of DNA - happens to code for something that will lead to its reproduction generation after generation, it will, self evidently, so replicate. A gene that does not so code will- equally self-evidently - not replicate. The whole thing is entirely without higher purpose, but to those of us with an enquiring mind it explains an great deal about the world in which we operate. More specifically, I think it explains why we seem so hag-driven to succeed in terms largely derived from others or pay an horrendous physiological price if we fail to do so.

Edited by Mike Waller
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.