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May 08, 2004
Mike over at 2 blowhards has a post up where he muses upon religion, religious feeling, and traditional vs. "quasi-religion" (economism, scientism, etc.). I have read a lot of books on religion in the context of psychology, sociology and biology in the past year. Here are the general viewpoints that I found:
As time passes, I am moving toward a synthetic view. Atran & co. have convinced me that religion is "normal," that is it an emergent property of various cognitive domains, so there is no "God module," nor is there a particular gene that causes the "abnormal" mental states that might characterize religion (I believe mystical ecstatic experience is probably atypical, no matter the charisma these individuals accrue to themselves). Stark's thesis works in the context of places like the United States where horizontal change, that is, conversion, is rife, and people are relatively free of social constraints or stigma when switching religions. Wilson's ideas are more appropriate to organically integrated societies like India, or with minorities that are insulated by social distance from the majority, like Jews. Diamond's idea that religion is used by the elite to manipulate the masses is obviously true, but it seems likely religious feeling pre-dated complex societies, and I see no evidence that more stratified societies are "more religious" than hunter-gather peoples, unless you define religion has having to do with temples, priests and complex theological dogmas. There is some truth to all the above viewpoints, and I think one thing that they indicate is that some things that might be considered "religion" or fillling the "religion-shaped-hole" don't really fall under that umbrella.
For example, I have often wondered if Communism could be thought of as a "religion." Diamond and Wilson might not object, in that it basically seems to be a system that the elite uses to manipulate the masses. There is collective action and sacralization of founding fathers. It does have "religion like" tendencies. But, it seems that after the fall of Communism as the dominant political ideology in places like the former Sovient Union, it had few adherents. Where Stark would say that Communism could not provide "supernatural goods and services," Atran would say it does not satisfy the need for "collective identity" solidified by a "counter-intuitive supernatural agent." I think Stark and Atran are basically right, if we look at humans as "black boxes," rather than their psychological motives and needs, Communism seems like a religion, but it mimics certain aspects of large organized religions, rather than being rooted in religious instincts.
The "theories of religion" might be less important for a positive evaluation of what is a religion, and how religions interact, than in eliminating pretenders to the throne, and excluding certain theoretical models.
Judge Orders Couple Not to Have Children
CNN reports "Judge Orders Couple Not to Have Children". Amazing.
When I was working on Unnatural Selection, I ruled out this sort of government action as politically impossible.
Wake up call? Let's hope so. I know people will comment that one of this couple's children could be the next Mozart, but let's be realistic; isn't it statistically far more likely that this couple's children will end up just like them, having lots of kids which have to be raised by society...
GNXPers - comments?
A Question on Migration and Assimilation
Hi! I'm Randy McDonald, a long-time GNXP reader whose writings have occasionally been linked to from GNXP. I'd like to thank Razib for giving me this guest account.
I'm interested in the dynamics of migration and assimilation, in a variety of settings, historical and contemporary, Western and non-Western, on their own terms and. GNXP readers are a well-read and well-educated lot, and it's always interesting to get feedback and comments from them, as I did here.
I'd like to ask GNXP readers a question in two parts.
1. How do they think current immigration waves in North America and Europe differ from previous waves (gastarbeiter in Europe, the turn-of-the-century wave in North America)?
2. What do they think are the particular dangers or problems of the current waves?
Evolutionarily Stable Strategies and the Strategy Set
I see that the selection of major terms in evolutionary biology (right side of the home page) now includes an introduction to the concept of the Evolutionarily Stable Strategy (ESS). This is useful as far as it goes, but like many brief accounts of ESS theory I think it is unclear on one important point...
In evolutionary game theory, like game theory generally, a game is defined primarily by the set of available strategies and payoffs. (Other important aspects are the number of players, whether plays are single or repeated, and the state of knowledge of the players.)
A strategy is essentially an option available to a player. It may either prescribe a single action (a pure strategy) or more than one action, each to be played with a certain probability (a mixed strategy). The set of strategies available to the players is the strategy set of the game in question. For every possible combination of strategies the players may adopt, there is a definite payoff for each player. If the strategy set or payoffs are altered, this is not a move in the game but a change of the game.
As usually defined, an ESS is a strategy such that, if all the members of a population adopt it, no mutant strategy can invade (John Maynard Smith, Evolution and the Theory of Games, p. 204). What is not always clearly stated (even by JMS) is that the mutant strategy must be selected from the strategy set. For game theorists this may be taken for granted, but for the non-expert it may lead to misunderstandings.
For example, suppose the ‘game’ is a contest between two stags, and the strategy set (based on observation of stag behaviour) contains two pure strategies: (A) lock antlers and push, or (B) try to stab the opponent in the neck. The strategy set also contains the mixed strategies consisting of actions (A) and (B) to be performed with probabilities p and (1 - p), for any p from 0 to 1. Payoffs for the matrix of pure strategies are estimated from observations. It may then be calculated that there is one or more ESS, e.g. there may be an ESS with a mixed strategy of performing (A) with probability .6 and (B) with probability .4. This means that the population will be in evolutionary equilibrium if all stags have genes inducing them to adopt this mixed strategy. If this is the case, any mutation which causes a stag to adopt some other strategy in the available strategy set (e.g. performing (A) with probability .7 and (B) with probability .3) will be selected against. In this sense the population cannot be ‘invaded’ by any mutant gene.
This does not mean that no conceivable mutant could invade. For example, a mutation which improved the efficiency of technique (B) would change the payoffs of the game, which might well invalidate the previous ESS. Or there might be a mutation for a completely different fighting technique, such as biting or kicking. If these proved more effective than (A) and (B), the mutant gene would rapidly invade the population.
The essential point is that the ESS is always relative to a given strategy set and payoffs. For game theorists this may be so obvious as hardly to need stating, but for the rest of us it may be worth emphasising.
May 07, 2004
Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. thinks that multiculturalism is "bunk" and that immigrants should assimilate to their new surroundings by learning to speak English. The presentation may be a bit brusque, but the general sentiments span the political spectrum. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. has spoken in more measured tones to the same effect. Personally, I suspect that many persons who do not wish to be "insensitive" on both the Left and Right are also the very same people who would argue for reinstitution of the draft to unify American culture and breakdown the barriers between the citizenry. They must realize the cross-purposes that they work toward now and then.
But, I have made my opinion on this topic clear many a time, I believe that assimilation is the path to national survival, etc. etc. etc. Now I want to focus on the topic of "diversity training," something that a state representative believes that the governor of Maryland needs to go through. Nevermind the Maoist strain of thinking this suggests, that people need to be "re-educated." How about really teaching diversity? There is a lot of ethnological diversity out there. I have talked to way too many Argentines who have been presented with burritos as a dinner to remind them of their homeland when they are being hosted as exchange students. Hindus asked about whether they worship Muhammed and Muslims asked whether they worship cows. Japanese who are assumed to be experts on Feng-Shui and Frenchmen who are asked about their king.
"Diversity training" as it is implemented in this day and age is all about the substance of style, words like "ignorance" are flung about, but very little is done to enlighten anyone. America is not a reflection of the diversity of the world, rather, it is a very peculiar re-interpretation of the true diversity. "Asians" from India to Hokkadio become "Asian-American," Mayan peasants and German Argentines become "Hispanic," while African Americans construct a mythical "Mother Africa" that exists as a unitary whole, fractured only by the intrustion of European colonialism...the dream goes on....
The Draft is a Stupid Idea
Anyone who advocates a return of the draft, under any conditions short of grave and imminent national peril, is at best a misguided idiot, and at worst a totalitarian thug.
Couldn't agree more. Sending people off to die against their will in the name of egalitarianism is one of the worst ideas I can think of. Not that risking a draft by insisting that we install democracy in Iraq as ideological neoconservatives do is a good idea either...
Appeals for the reinstatement of the draft are symptomatic of what it is I find least attractive about liberalism, the attitude that not only should the state treat all its citizens as equals before the law (an unexceptionable notion), but that all individuals are interchangeable for any purpose whatsoever, like pawns on a checkers board.
Read Abiola's full post here.
Just saw the first episode of Spartans tonight, a three part series that will trace the rise and apogee of the militaristic city-state. In some ways, Sparta might be envisaged as the original proposition nation, built around abstract values that the whole society worked toward, and was defined by. Spartans were anti-materialistic, socially and sexually egalitarian, and yet they terrorized and bestialized the majority helot population so they could extract their labor to free themselves for battle to such an extreme extent that the term helot is synonymous with serf.
Oh, and the presenter is kind of cute, she seems to be a Michael Wood with breasts in a red dress.
Update: OK, so this was blogged last year, that is, Bettany's virtues.
May 06, 2004
The Moral Animal (part n)
Michael Shermer is interviewed about his new book The Science of Good and Evil : Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule.
Adaptive sexual selection
From The Economist piece:
Don't blame tits-men for their shallowness, blame evolution!
Of course, that begs the question, why do any women have small breasts or wider waists? There is some evidence that women with higher waist-to-hip ratios have more sons than daughters, so there might be evolutionarily stable strategies at play. That might explain the anecdotal impression that many people have that average body shapes differ by population.
May 04, 2004
If you don't agree with my political agenda, you're a racist!
President Bush is now calling those who are skeptical of the idea that democracy will magically crop up in Iraq in the next couple of years racist. (via Steve Sailer):
There's a lot of people in the world who don't believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren't necessarily -- are a different color than white can self-govern.
Bush's statement not only uses the tactics of the hard left, but is utterly ridiculous. First of all, Bush assumes that everyone MUST be the same and that to believe otherwise is racist. But he makes another assumption--that the nonexistence of any racial differences means that Iraq can (fairly) easily become a democracy. That is utter nonsense as well. It took hundreds of years for European countries to go from medieval hellholes to quasi-democracies.
The examples of Germany and Japan that neocons like to bring up are also fallacious. Germany was already a Western country and one that had had a democratic system under the Weimar Republic. Even Japan had begun adopting some Western ideas as early as the late 19th century, and it certainly didn't hurt either that Japan's emporer-worship was thoroughly discredited when it was defeated in WWII. However, there is absolutely no Western or democratic tradition in today's Iraq, and the radical Islam that dominates Iraq today is not going to be discredited there anytime soon.
Importantly, no country with Iraq's per capita GDP has become a democracy. The idea that Iraq can become a democracy anytime soon is foolish, and it seems to me that Bush is trying to cover up his mindless idealism with charges of racism.
Update: I would also recommend this article by George Will (also linked from Sailer's site).
May 03, 2004
IQ vs. Gore voting?
Matthew Yglesias points me to this interesting table that plots IQ, income and Gore/Bush voting of each state. I don't have time to comment in detail on this, but if you read The Almanac of American Politics, you'll note that it's a long time observation that the Democratic party has a bimodal educational distribution, while Republicans tend to have one mode in the center of the spectrum. A few years back I trolled through exit polls on CNN's AllPolitics site and found weird things like that John Kerry did better among the higher income brackets against William Weld (the popular liberal Republican governor of Mass. in the 1990s) when the latter challenged Kerry for his Senate seat. In contrast, in places like Alabama, there was an extremely strong skew toward the Republicans as one moved up the income quartiles. The moral is that be cautious of national generalities in a polity of ~300 million.
Update: As suggested by some readers, the above table is a hoax. From Steve Sailer:
Update II: Steve Sailer has some real data that is topical.
Who is going schizo?
Conclusions (wrapped up in a thousand caveats):
Music & the universal man
Over at The World on PRI there was a story (audio file!) about the fact that some of the lyrics on the Enigma song Return to Innocence were sampled from a Taiwanese aboriginal in the 1970s. Now, I'm tone deaf, and pretty unmusical (in contrast to most of my family), but I've always found that much of the music produced by "primitive" people struck me as mellifluous as that of "modern" music. The story notes that many Western artists are looking through archives of "tribal" music to find "new sounds."
Which gets me back to my post about religion where Pascal Boyer made an analogy with music-that not everyone displays the same fondness or facility for the behavior, but everyone recognizes it, and within certain parameters, we all (humans) can distinguish it from more random nosies. There is likely no "music" module, rather, it is an emergent property of the interaction between various universal congitive domains, and the parameters set by these domains result in a common channel of musicality. Also, like language, but unlike say mathematics, we probably aren't going to "improve" on what "primitive" peoples have been creating for thousands of years, rather, we will simply build more complex overlays upon the basic substrate. And so, when humans listen to bards singing songs from alien cultures, the beauty of it (if not the information content) resonates, because we share the same aesthetic bedrock, even if the details are different, just as religious devotion has similarities, invariant of the god being idolized.
My webhost moved the site to a new box overnight (that explains why I lost 3 entries). In any case, the site should be somewhat faster to load from now on.
Things that make you say, hhhmmm....
Three cheers for the Anglosphere's salubrious affect on Jewish intelligence!
The problem with "memeplexes"
Another illustration of the reality that humans can re-work almost anything in their own image. The idea of "memeplexes" is problematic for me when a complex of ideas, "A," can imply beliefs B or C or D or E or F...and so forth.
With an evangelical in the White House and the strength of social conservatism over the past general in the United States, it is a common truism that there is a religious revival, a "Great Awakening," going on in the United States. Below is some data that suggests this might not be so:
Of course, the American public can be a bit confusing sometimes, for a the past 50 years, about half of the population has also rejected evolutionary theory in the context of humans beings, and a majority have supported the teaching of "Creation Science" in the public schools.
US losing its dominance in science?
Is the US losing its dominance in science? A few points:
So, I suspect that America will still be in a class above its weight because of a steady migration of innovative thinkers who want more freedom to take risks.
May 02, 2004
Sex in the City (Chicago)
This column by David Brooks reports on recently published book about sexual networks (and habits) in Chicago (read chapter 1 online). Nothing too surprising, people stay with "their own kind" and don't venture into unfamiliar territory.
But that go me wondering, has anyone done research about the preferences that people express on online "personals" databases? When people use these services, they are usually "matched" with people who fit their selected preferences, which means the normal person never gets to see a good cross-section.
the Meme Machine
I'm going to have more to say about this later, but for now let me recommend The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore. This is an important book. Any book recommended by Richard Dawkins is going to be good, but in addition to being interesting and entertaining, this book paves new ground in a very productive direction. Armed with this new hammer, all sorts of things start looking like nails. I've recently found myself explaining the behavior of people, business strategy, even my own emotions in terms of memetics.
Some overt memetic sexual selection: the NYTimes reports on Different Sizes for Different Regions. Why evolve attractive physical characteristics when you can simply modify yourself? People are reshaping themselves, poking holes and branding themselves, even changing their gender, all for what? Genetic fulfillment? No. Memetic fulfillment.
These days, memes rule.
If this seems like weird disconnected stuff, please stay tuned. I plan to discuss memetics in more detail...