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So much is starting to make sense! 
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Post So much is starting to make sense!
After reading the first 59 pages of this book things I always wondered about are beginning to make sense. I don't want to spoil the book so I'll wait a few days to make my first real posts in the thread. I really love Howard Blooms writing style! While Jared Diamond throws one piece of data at you after another, Howard Bloom concentrates on a broader perspective. The big picture is illuminated.

My goal will be to read the book through once quickly and then go back and begin some research into his works cited. Howard Bloom provides a ton of additional reading selections if you were to want to delve deeper into any particular aspect of his theory.

I look forward to some awesome conversations with you guys!

Chris

Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 10/30/05 4:11 pm



Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:07 pm
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Post Re: So much is starting to make sense!
"History is the environment of the meme."

Chris

Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 10/30/05 4:13 pm



Sat Nov 02, 2002 12:54 pm
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Post Re: So much is starting to make sense!
"History is the environment of the meme."

That is a quote from the book? Ok, I'll won't judge 'til I read the book, but I suspect I'm likely to have a few bones to pick with Bloom.




Sun Nov 03, 2002 5:58 pm
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Post Re: So much is starting to make sense!
Ani:

I sure hope you get the book and participate in the discussion! And Dr. Bloom has agreed to attend our chat during the first week of January 2003.

Chris

Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 10/30/05 4:13 pm



Sun Nov 03, 2002 6:11 pm
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Post Re: So much is starting to make sense!
You guys are all over the place already. I'm not sure where to add this so I picked the most recent thread.

I like the fact that everyone is not just nodding their head in unanimous agreement on this book so far. I remember not agreeing with everything in it myself. This gives us a strong starting point for discussion. Dissent is good.

On the question raised about evolution - I agree that a particular mechanism has not been proven to allow evolution on a group scale. However, I also agree that this is how social creatures do indeed evolve. Consider the fact that with humans individuals do not survive in a vacuum. It may be possible for a few generations, but over evolutionary timescales groups survive, not individuals.

Groups do not have a specific genetic makeup that is passed on to their decendants. Groups have tendancies towards particular genetic traits that are passed on. A group with a good genetic mix is more likely to survive for the long haul than a more homegenous group even if we think that the individuals in that group all tend toward a "more ideal" model.

For example, since having read this book a few years ago, I've come across a similar sounding argument as to how homosexuality could still be prevalent in humanity even if the trait is purely genetic. Consider the fact that in any tribal group, not all members produce offspring. The offspring have a better chance of survival if there are more resources devoted toward their care. Adult members of the tribe who have little chance of producing additional offspring and yet are related enough to have an interest in the affairs of the group are a major asset.

I'm enjoying this book again and once again finding it thought provoking.

Steve




Sun Nov 03, 2002 11:57 pm
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Post Re: So much is starting to make sense!
Steve:

Quote:
It may be possible for a few generations, but over evolutionary timescales groups survive, not individuals.


Cells within the human body are continuously dying, being sloughed off, and replenishing. Their life span is short relative to the tissues of which they are a part. Move upwards to tissues, organs, systems and finally complete organisms and it all becomes relative. The larger organism always outlives the subcomponents.

Humans outlive their cells. Social groups, religions or memes outlive their members or adherents. So where is the actual biological process of evolution taking place? Clearly at the cellular or genetic level, and also at the level of the organism, but does it occur in the superorganism? Obviously, if groups are to be studied as a superorganism, the mechanism of change must not be biological. How are humans connected to one another? The only way is through our communications or cerebrally.

I'm only on page 120 so I have yet to completely put all the pieces of his theory together, but I am beginning to think his point is as follows. The superorganism of the social group does indeed evolve, but the mechanism of change is the meme. If a meme is instilled in the brains of a social groups members enough, it can influence significantly their actions. Their actions control the evolution of the group.

Dr. Bloom provides examples where subcomponents (people) of a superorganism (social group) act in a fashion clearly detrimental to their own self-preservation. The only explanation for their actions is that a controlling or influential meme (nationalism) has provided a motivator for their actions.

You mentioned homosexuality and I had a comment. Someone once presented this to me and it stuck. Perhaps mother nature selects for a certain percentage of human offspring to be homosexual. In hunter-gatherer times it might be of survival benefit for a small percentage of the males to be homosexual. These males would not join in the hunt, but could easily stay behind and protect the females and children of the group from rival tribes. The males out on the hunt wouldn't have to fear their women were going to be raped either.

But how would we explain female homosexuals?

Chris

Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 10/30/05 4:11 pm



Mon Nov 04, 2002 2:32 am
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Post Re: So much is starting to make sense!
Interesting... in the context of what you proposed, female homosexuality could be an unintended side effect. It could be that the genes in charge are the same for males and females and that it would be better to have some of both sexes born with the genes than none at all.

I disagree with the notion that they are the ones who stay behind though. I don't think that rape within the group is neccessarily a large issue. Humans in the tribal state operate more like our relatives the other primates. The group supports a few privileged members at the top of the social hierarchy. These are the members that are allowed to breed. Stepping over the line and attempting to breed (rape) out of that hierarchy has grave consequences.

In this situation, both males and females who have no interest in sex for breeding would be extremely valuable assets to the group. There is no danger of them trying to usurp the favored position of those at the top and yet they are free to perform any tasks required to assist the group.

I couldn't help but wonder if the person who proposed the scenario you mentioned put it that way because of our western cultural bias that homosexual males are not up to par with the "normal" males. In most societal groups, the more skilled and brave went out on the hunt and those left behind to protect were usually too young or too old to participate.

Steve




Mon Nov 04, 2002 8:58 am
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Post Re: So much is starting to make sense!
Steve:

Quote:
It could be that the genes in charge are the same for males and females...


I wonder if testosterone is the culprit. Male homosexuals might have lower levels of testosterone.

Nope, just looked it up and find that not to be the case. Hmmmm

Here is what I found:

Quote:
It was originally assumed that homosexuality resulted from the individual lacking the male hormone testosterone and thereby being influenced by circulating female hormones. So testosterone supplements were given to homosexuals and while sexual desire was increased, the object of that desire did not change in any way.


Interesting. My theory is shot. Ok, so I suppose the point of differentiation is at the genetic level not hormonal level. And further reading seems to support this notion, although nailing down the exact source of homosexuality is not integral to this discussion.

We're really discussing the why of homosexuality as opposed to the how. But I still posit that rape could be an important element.

Quote:
I disagree with the notion that they are the ones who stay behind though. I don't think that rape within the group is neccessarily a large issue. Humans in the tribal state operate more like our relatives the other primates. The group supports a few privileged members at the top of the social hierarchy. These are the members that are allowed to breed. Stepping over the line and attempting to breed (rape) out of that hierarchy has grave consequences.


Dr. Bloom covers this topic in the chapter entitled, "Fighting For The Priviledge To Procreate."

Let me start by saying that the danger comes from within and without. The male in a pair bond must fear the advances of other males within his social group, especially when he is away from his mate, and also fear the advances of males from rival bands when he is away. From reading The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris I get the impression that the scientific community attributes the origin of the pair bond to this very real danger. A female who is monogamous and devoted for life to her mate is less of a risk than an uncommitted and promiscuous female. This applies to modern pair bonding too.

While it is true that the "group supports a few priviledged members at the top of the social hierarchy," I think there will always be challengers to the dominant males authority and right to the females. Just as their is infidelity in an unfortunately high percentage of todays marriages, it has always been so.

What male feels 100% comfortable leaving town while their wife stays home with a heterosexual friend? Use your imagination and think of all the possible scenarios. Sure love and trust go a long way, but the probability of infidelity is obviously higher than if this friend were a homosexual male.

And my idea about male homosexuals having less testosterone has proven false, so I imagine these males would indeed be ideal companions and protectors of the females as the heterosexual and more agressive males were on the hunt. By companions I mean strong and able bodies that can handle the more physical duties of a primitve social groups daily activities...along with friendship. By protector I mean against roaming bands of aggressive young males out to sow their seed.

Dr. Bloom says:

Quote:
Then the newly triumphant members of the younger generation execute an atrocity. They wade into the screaming females, grabbing babies left and right. They swing the infants against the trees, smash them against the groun, bite their heads, and crush their skulls. They kill and kill. When the orgy of bloodlust is over, not an infant remains. Yet the females in their sexual primae are completely unhurt.


I imagine this is a factor. I would assume that the young, weak, or old and feeble would be next to useless in defending against a roving band of hormonally charged males. While there is strength in numbers, a small group of punk kids would have little difficulty overcoming an entire nursury or nursing home. The same goes for in hunter-gatherer times. A rival group of young males could devastate a camp of young or old humans.

Wouldn't it be far better to have adult or mature and healthy males there to stand their ground against agressors? Now, here comes my own personal bias and possibly ignorance, but I have always found homosexual men to be far less agressive than their heterosexual counterparts. I've attributed this effeminate nature to a lower level of testosterone, or a higher level of estrogen. I might do some reading on the subject in order to move away from biases and towards a more academic understanding of the abundantly clear behavioral differences between the hetero and homosexual human male. One could argue that a rival band of young hormonally-driven males could also lay waste to an equal-sized band of effeminate males. Or could they?

Chris

Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 10/30/05 4:13 pm



Mon Nov 04, 2002 1:38 pm
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Post Re: So much is starting to make sense!
I think your bias is showing through. The thing is, as a society we generally don't tend to notice the gay men who are not 'effeminate'. Check out the latest issue of ESPN magazine for the profile on the ex-NFL player who came out of the closet. He was a lineman - that's a real warrior's job.

Anyway, I think I'm not disagreeing as much as it seems. The best hunters would go out on the hunt. You could argue many scenarios over which tactic was the best. Some would say that it would be best for the leader to stay at home while others hunted for him, but that may have resulted in the appearance of weakness. You could say that leaving behind a trusted ally, whether gay or straight, would be the safest, but that may have resulted in a subpar hunt.

It all comes down to the relative importance of all these things. Certainly, a straight male left behind to guard may have been tempted to avail himself of the ladies at home, but what would be the consequences when the leader and his powerful hunters arrived back in the camp?

So as not to cload the issue, I'll only address the issue of gay men. Regardless as to whether they stayed behind to guard or went along to hunt, the existence of adult males who were completely capable, but effectively removed from the power struggles was a good thing. In fact, a number of males like these could shift the balance of power behind the scenes through which of the hetero males they deceided to ally with.

As you said, "the danger comes from within and without". These members of the group would lessen the danger from within.




Mon Nov 04, 2002 6:15 pm
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Post Re: So much is starting to make sense!
I can see where homosexuality would be beneficial to the social group. Protection of the females within a harem without sexual competition was the reason for masters to emasculate male slaves. In many ancient civilizations (and even in some cultures in modern times) a male slave would be treated very poorly or killed unless he was castrated. Eunuchs would serve closely with their masters often becoming very prominent within the social group. It was valued as a privileged position even though it meant that they would not reproduce and their genes would not be carried on. Homosexuality could very well be nature's way of accomplishing this.

Cheryl

Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 10/30/05 4:14 pm



Tue Nov 05, 2002 1:28 pm
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Post Re: So much is starting to make sense!
Quote:
I sure hope you get the book and participate in the discussion!


I should be getting the book in the next day or two, so hopefully will soon have more to contribute than just blind comments.

Speaking of speaking blindly... As far as the question of how a homosexuality gene(s) could persist in a population, I don't think one needs an elaborate explanation of selective pressures and behavioral/social advantages. Unless the society is fully accepting of homosexuality as having a role in society (show me that society!), I don't think homosexuals would necessarily reproduce at a lower frequency than heterosexuals.

I would also question the notion of roving marauders that target females, i.e. going on a raid in order to rape, since my impression is that raiding parties primarilly target males. In other words, the typical tactic (if we assume getting access to females is the idea) seems to be direct confrontation to take out the warriors first rather than sneaking in behind enemy lines as it were (perhaps suggesting that territory/resources are more of concern than reproduction). I suspect most of those confrontations would occur well away from the group's camp, lessening the need for home security.

As a counter to a correlation to aggression and/or need for protection, it's interesting to look at the contrast in behavior between chimps and bonobos where sex (heterosexual and homosexual) appears to be a way of strengthening bonds or re-establishing stressed bonds within the group. Again, suggesting that homosexuality may be primarilly a social issue rather than a reproductive one.




Tue Nov 05, 2002 2:11 pm
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Post Re: So much is starting to make sense!
Quote:
Evolution does not select for anything. Ever. Natural selection is a negative process which can only cull the unfit.


I understand what you are saying and agree in principle. Natural selection is indeed a culling process; however, it is only one part of the evolutionary process. Variation, selection, amplification. The net result is what Dawkins calls "the illusion of design". An allele which causes its body to do a critical task more effectively than another will spread in the population, and it is a handy shortcut to say it (the function related to that allele) has been selected "for".

Quote:
Traits only persist in a population if they do not kill the organism (or prove deletrious). That might seem like an overly fine distinction, but it's a crucial one.


I'm afraid this is an overstatement. There are a number of ways in which deletirous traits persist; sometimes they are linked to other traits, sometimes their deletirous effect is not sufficeint to get them selected out. The converse is true and important, though: natural selection cannot select a trait out if it is not fatal or sufficiently deletirous to impact survival rates




Sat Nov 09, 2002 7:26 pm
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Post Re: So much is starting to make sense!
Quote:
A survival strategy is not the same thing as a reproductive strategy.

Survival of individuals is one of the tools that genes use to get themselves replicated. From the point of view of the gene, survival and reproduction are inextricably linked.

Consider r-strategy and K-strategy organisms. Is one right and one wrong? No, they are just different ways of balancing the reproduction/individual survival formula. If they work (in preserving copies of the genes that make them happen), then they persist. If not, they don't. In the current biosphere we have a multitude of examples of each extreme and many shades in between.

BY THE WAY: I don't mean to be pugnacious either, and I genuinely appreciate your analysis and insight.




Sat Nov 09, 2002 7:38 pm
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Post Re: So much is starting to make sense!
You guys are making it clear I need to read Dawkin's "The Selfish Gene" soon. "The Blind Watchmaker" and "Unweaving the Rainbow" were both excellent, as you probably know and agree, but so many people refer to "The Selfish Gene." I just checked Amazon.com and its only $8.71.

Oh, by the way...this is an email I received recently:




HOW WE BELIEVE BOOK SPECIAL & WHY PEOPLE BELIEVE WEIRD THINGS SPECIAL

Recall earlier this summer we had a $5.00 special on the paperback edition of
Why People Believe Weird Things because the publisher is bringing out a new
edition of the book this fall. We shall continue this $5.00 special through
the end of October.

My publisher is now doing the same thing with my book How We Believe: The
Search for God in an Age of Science. They have remaindered the hardback first
edition, which means they shred them. I hate to see paper go to waste like
that, so we bought up the remainders of the hardback edition. (The paperback
edition is out and also available.) The hardback edition normally sells for
$24.95. The paperback edition is $14.95.

You can now purchase the hardback first edition for $9.95.
And you can still purchase the paperback edition of Weird Things for $5.00.

They make good skeptical gifts as well, with the celebration of Newton's
birthday coming up this December 25!

Just go to www.skeptic.com and place the order (both books appear on the
right side of the home page). The normal price will appear on the form (it's
all computerized), but we will only charge you the discounted price.





Some of you might want to take advantage of this discount.

Chris

Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 10/30/05 4:12 pm



Sat Nov 09, 2002 10:53 pm
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Post Re: So much is starting to make sense!
Quote:
Natural selection is indeed a culling process; however, it is only one part of the evolutionary process. Variation, selection, amplification. The net result is what Dawkins calls "the illusion of design".


Right, but those aspects are always either explicitly or implicity included in the concept of selection.

Dawkins has done some excellent work in population genetics, but he makes a serious mistake when he posits it as a causal influence. Population genetics is a statistical description which can tell us a great deal about what we can expect to see, but it says nothing about the actual causes of the effects and patterns.

Selection, including variation, etc., is still insufficient to explain everything in the evolutionary process. It definitely goes a long way, but it is only a part of the whole deal.

Quote:
I'm afraid this is an overstatement. There are a number of ways in which deletirous traits persist; sometimes they are linked to other traits, sometimes their deletirous effect is not sufficeint to get them selected out.


Yes, but I don't think it's much of an overstatement.

If selection cannot exert any pressure on a trait, then it cannot be called a deletrious trait - same goes for beneficial traits (though there, I think it's important to note that selection exerts zero pressure on a beneficial trait). The trait is deletrious only in a future context, but selection cannot anticipate the future so the trait enjoys the same freedom from pressure as a beneficial one. This is basically the idea behind S.J. Gould's concepts of exaptations (and neutral traits in general).

In the case of beneficial traits, selection does not drive their evolution forward because they are beneficial. Rather those traits only undergo adaptive change by virtue of the elimination of less beneficial (read deletrious in comparison) traits. In the absence of differential fitness, nothing happens in an evolutionary sense because selection can only work against traits with a negative effect - which is what we see with drift. The emergence and/or persistence of traits through drift is in no way an adaptive phenomenon. In other words, it may be convenient to put things in terms of selecting "for" a trait, but it is a misleading way of saying it.

Quote:
Survival of individuals is one of the tools that genes use to get themselves replicated. From the point of view of the gene, survival and reproduction are inextricably linked.


From the point of view of the gene, there is no such thing as reproduction or survival. There is only replication (by agents external to the gene) and static existence; so while they may be the fuel and/or parts, they are not the engine. In other words, you can't have a selfish gene, you can only have a tag-along gene. Again, that replicating/reproducing processes will inevitably dominate is a statistical law, not an actual force or "motive" driving genes to use the system of which they are a constituent.




Thu Nov 14, 2002 4:34 pm
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CummingsThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar WildeGod Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher HitchensThe Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama Paradise Lost by John Milton Bad Money by Kevin PhillipsThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson BurnettGodless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists by Dan BarkerThe Things They Carried by Tim O'BrienThe Limits of Power by Andrew BacevichLolita by Vladimir NabokovOrlando by Virginia Woolf On Being Certain by Robert A. Burton50 reasons people give for believing in a god by Guy P. HarrisonWalden: Or, Life in the Woods by Henry David ThoreauExile and the Kingdom by Albert CamusOur Inner Ape by Frans de WaalYour Inner Fish by Neil ShubinNo Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthyThe Age of American Unreason by Susan JacobyTen Theories of Human Nature by Leslie Stevenson & David HabermanHeart of Darkness by Joseph ConradThe Stuff of Thought by Stephen PinkerA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled HosseiniThe Lucifer Effect by Philip ZimbardoResponsibility and Judgment by Hannah ArendtInterventions by Noam ChomskyGodless in America by George A. RickerReligious Expression and the American Constitution by Franklyn S. HaimanDeep Economy by Phil McKibbenThe God Delusion by Richard DawkinsThe Third Chimpanzee by Jared DiamondThe Woman in the Dunes by Abe KoboEvolution vs. Creationism by Eugenie C. ScottThe Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael PollanI, Claudius by Robert GravesBreaking The Spell by Daniel C. DennettA Peace to End All Peace by David FromkinThe Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey NiffeneggerThe End of Faith by Sam HarrisEnder's Game by Orson Scott CardThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark HaddonValue and Virtue in a Godless Universe by Erik J. WielenbergThe March by E. L DoctorowThe Ethical Brain by Michael GazzanigaFreethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan JacobyCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared DiamondThe Battle for God by Karen ArmstrongThe Future of Life by Edward O. WilsonWhat is Good? by A. C. GraylingCivilization and Its Enemies by Lee HarrisPale Blue Dot by Carl SaganHow We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God by Michael ShermerLooking for Spinoza by Antonio DamasioLies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al FrankenThe Red Queen by Matt RidleyThe Blank Slate by Stephen PinkerUnweaving the Rainbow by Richard DawkinsAtheism: A Reader edited by S.T. JoshiGlobal Brain by Howard BloomThe Lucifer Principle by Howard BloomGuns, Germs and Steel by Jared DiamondThe Demon-Haunted World by Carl SaganBury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee BrownFuture Shock by Alvin Toffler

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