[ExI] Function of religions

Keith Henson hkeithhenson at gmail.com
Tue Sep 28 17:14:08 UTC 2010

2010/9/28 Darren Greer <darren.greer3 at gmail.com>:
> Keith wrote:

> "In that case you missed the main point of the article."

> That is very likely. It was when I first joined this group and I was (and
> still am) on a pretty steep learning curve. Not just for transhumanism, but
> for the science in general. But I've developed this nascent love affair with
> evolutionary psychology. It makes sense to me and explains a lot that prior
> to my discovery of these ideas remained a kind of mystery, even in the
> context of the basic principles of evolution as I was taught them in school.
> Any good books to recommend on the subject? For a newcomer? I've been
> reading stuff on the Internet but I still prefer a real book in my hands for
> dedicated reading.

It's old but still good place to start on EP, Robert Wright's Moral
Animal.  Library may have it, or you can get a used copy for a few

All the books of Matt Ridley http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Ridley
are good.  I particularly like Origins of Virtue.  David Buss' work is
respected and readable Buss, D.M., "The Evolution Of Desire:
Strategies Of Human Mating". Basic Books, 1995.

For the academic, Barkow, J., Cosmides, L. & Tooby, J., (Eds.) (1992).
The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of
culture. New York: Oxford University Press.  The part by these three
might be on the internet.  It was some years ago.

Of course, "The Selfish Gene" by Dawkins is foundational to EP.
Concepts like inclusive fitness are essential to understanding how
evolution is now understood to work.

If you get through those, I have made a few contributions, Sex, drugs
and cults from 2002 and Evolutionary Psychology, Memes and the Origin
of War (2006).

> I do appreciate the time people take on here to add their ideas and correct
> obvious errors. I make a lot of them, I know. But I process stuff by writing
> things down, and even if I'm wrong, it helps to express them and be
> corrected and asked to reconsider in light of new information than to keep
> it locked up in my head and take it as gospel.
> I will revisit the Clark study.

Clark has added several papers to his research page recently.  They
are worth reading.

The EP approach is that human psychological traits were set in the
EEA, defined as pre agriculture.  Clark add to that in that there was
dire selection, about as intense as what turned wild foxes into tame
ones, in the last few hundred years.  I also think there was heavy
selection for traits that made people into never satisfied farmers in
northern climates.


> Darren
> On Mon, Sep 27, 2010 at 12:53 PM, Keith Henson <hkeithhenson at gmail.com>
> wrote:
>> On Mon, Sep 27, 2010 at 8:00 AM, spike <spike66 at att.net> wrote:
>> snip
>> > We have seen a religion become considered almost as a race, so that
>> > criticism of it has become the practical equivalent to racism.  How did
>> > that
>> > happen?
>> >
>> > So the temptation is to get one's philosophy redefined as a religion,
>> > even
>> > if it really isn't one.  I recognize the temptation, but my ethical
>> > intuition tells me this is wrong.
>> Spike, we need to consider why humans have religions at all.  But
>> first it is a feature of top predators that their numbers are
>> ultimately limited by self predation.  Lions are a good example, they
>> evolved the pride social organization as a response to lions killing
>> lions.  Chimps are largely immune to predation and their numbers are
>> limited by group on group war.
>> The line that led to humans escaped predation by the big cats a long
>> time ago so there has been plenty of time for evolution to act.  Human
>> populations grow till they stress the ability of the ecosystem to
>> support them.  Then a behavioral switch flips, they organize and and
>> kill "the others."
>> Religion, even if it isn't always easy to see, is based on xenophobic
>> memes that are part of the organizational process leading to wars.
>> Since a lot of populations around the world are under
>> ecosystem/economic/ecological stress, mostly from accumulated
>> population growth, it's no wonder that religious memes have become
>> more of an influential factor.
>> Now the logical thing would be to strongly restrain the birth rate and
>> make ever effort to grow the economy in a way that did not depend on
>> rapid depletion of resources.  But for reasons involving the
>> conflicting interest of genes and the persons they are in, "war mode"
>> makes people irrational.
>> I think it is possible to get economic growth ahead of population
>> growth and shut off the drift of so many populations into "war mode."
>> As you know, I work on ways to solve the energy/carbon problems,
>> trying to keep my own ego out of the analysis.  Unfortunately there
>> are very few people trying to solve the problems.
>> I don't hold out a lot of hope for the intermediate future (before the
>> singularity).  Chances are the world will see a really drastic
>> population reduction in a lot of places over the next few decades.
>> Keith
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