[ExI] extropy-chat Digest, Vol 81, Issue 8

Keith Henson hkeithhenson at gmail.com
Sun Jun 6 18:59:26 UTC 2010

On Sun, Jun 6, 2010 at 5:00 AM,  John Clark <jonkc at bellsouth.net> wrote:

> On Jun 3, 2010, at 10:43 PM, Keith Henson wrote:
>> I make a case that the ability to hold a religion comes from the ability to be infected with a xenophobic meme where the function of the infection is to sync a tribe's warriors up for a do or die attempt to kill neighbors in times of ecological stress.
> Maybe, but there might be a simpler explanation. In general it would be a Evolutionary advantage for children to listen to and believe what adults, particularly parents, have to say; don't eat those berries they will kill you, don't swim in that river there are crocodiles, etc. Most people may not be born with innate religious feelings but some are, and they teach their children that belief, and when they grow up they in turn teach their children that belief too. They do it because most people have this usually advantageous tendency to believe into adulthood whatever they were taught as children. And so screwy religious ideas that start small propagate.

While there is a evolutionary based trait to learn the business of
surviving in a particular area, it is clear to me that different
mechanisms are involved in being infected with and strongly motivated
by xenophobic religious memes.  Particularly, this behavior is under
the control of a switch.  The switch is turned off by perception of
positive future economic (originally ecological) prospects.

I had to invoke Hamilton's rule and do a detailed genetic accounting
to account for the evolution of these traits.  You have to take a gene
view because as Damien Broderick noted:
> Yes, but the odd thing about screwy religious ideas is how vehemently
> and murderously they can be held. You can deny the Tooth Fairy without
> too many people losing control on the spot and shooting you dead, but do
> a simple sketch of a non-Presbyterian prophet and many of his followers
> will go bugfuck crazy and hack you to death while setting random cars on
> fire.

In the environment in which this behavioral mechanism evolved, going
"bugfuck crazy" and attacking neighbors was taking a 50% chance (on
average) of getting killed.  For this mechanism to be positively
selected you have to include the genes carried by the female offspring
of the killed warriors *and* the alternative to going "bugfuck crazy"
has to be worse, for example starving in a famine next year because
the economic (ecological) prospects look rotten.

> Of course this is an outlet for backed-up hormones and political
> grievances, but somehow religion has a singular capacity to fire up
> superstimuli uber-releasers. Keith's kill-the-Other evolutionary psych
> story is clearly part of what's going on, but that seems to me likely to
> be a side consequence of something far more deeply rooted in group and
> individual psychology (along the lines of informing a drunk redneck that
> his mother is a 'ho).

I don't know how strongly these might be connected.  Maintaining
status in a group seems to me to be under continuous selection, not
the episodic effects of wars.

Spike comments:

> I partially agree with both, but there is another element missing in both
> notions above.  Religion produces a mild "high" of endorphines.  It can be
> like a "rave" but without the actual chemicals.  I looked up on the internet
> regarding what the heck is a "rave," so now I know everything about it, a
> veritable "rave" expert I am.

I make the case in "sex, drugs and cults" for an evolved mechanism I
refer to as "capture-bonding."  This is the psychological mechanism
that causes Stockholm syndrome.  It was selected as a result of
millions of years of women being captured from one little tribe to
another.  Women who were able to adapt to being captured (at times
with their children being killed in front of them) became ancestors,
our ancestors.  Those who were not became breakfast.  If the numbers
were similar to the Yanomano, 10% of our female ancestors went through
this filter.  (Males were normally just killed.)  The mechanism almost
certainly includes release of endorphins.  (See Patty Hearst's

Ten percent per generation is a *very* strong selection, so all of us
have these mechanisms to various degrees.

I am on less certain grounds here but I think the side effects partial
activation of the capture-bonding mechanism includes the bonding
people get from military basic training, bonding in hazing,
paradoxical bonding in battered wife syndrome and BDSM.

If the full blown activation of the xenophobic meme/war mechanism has
people going "bugfuck crazy" then the partial activation of the
mechanism as religious behavior in less stressed times could well
cause the release of endorphins and maybe dopamine.

> Secondly as I have commented here before, church is a highly sexually
> charged environment.  It really is, I am not kidding.  Church is a singles
> bar for married people.

I am not surprised.  There is a strong connection between war and sex
and I make the connection that religions (or memes in that class) are
part of the causal path to wars.

Please keep in mind the EP viewpoint that typical human behavior is
the result of evolutionary selection for the behavior or else the
behavior is a side effect of some behavior that *was* selected.
(Corner case being something fixed by genetic drift.)  I would be most
interested if someone can make a case that the EP viewpoint is not



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