[ExI] hard science

Tara Maya tara at taramayastales.com
Sun Feb 16 18:53:57 UTC 2014

On Feb 16, 2014, at 4:11 AM, Anders Sandberg <anders at aleph.se> wrote:

> Not necessarily. As a gay person I am pretty happy to note the existence of many more with my orientation, despite our on average low fertility rate. There is a theory that the genetic predisposition towards homosexuality does confer a fitness advantage to relatives, although I think much more can be ascribed to the great flexibility of the mammalian mind - if a species' brains can learn a lot of behaviours it will on average be good for fitness, even if some individuals choose not to reproduce.  
> Medieval monks did not have many children, yet the social selection pressures for becoming a monk made the institution thrive for millennia. They bred pretty well memetically.

I am intrigued by the idea that memes might be a competing reproductive system with genes. I'm not convinced we've proven it yet. 

Take the role of the Church. There are two rival theories, both congruent with sociobiology:

1. The Church actually INCREASED the genetic success of followers: in exchange for a very small number of celibate workers (1-2% of the population) they tirelessly advocated for early, monogamous marriage and against birth control and infanticide, arguably increasing family size. That would have more than made up for the few priests they took "out of circulation," as it were. 


2. The Church acted like a memetic virus, and DECREASED the genetic success of its followers, but increased its memetic success so greatly by creating full time vectors (celebrate priests devoted full time to creating memetic offspring -- converts -- rather than wasting money and time investing in their own biological offspring) that it spread anyway. In this theory, religion is like a parasite that debilitates the host, yet must not be too successful (like the Shakers) as it also depends on the continued survival of the host.

I would very much to like to do a historical study of the Church to test the theory of whether families who had monks and nuns in them actually thrived and had more surviving children because of it. Probably the study would have to be of noble families only, since generally there aren't enough birth records before the 1500s to compare. 

Throughout European history, at least the 1500 years that I studied, between 10 and 20 percent of any given generation never married and reproduced. These numbers tend to swamp out the effect of celibate or gay individuals. That said, it doesn't mean that they didn't contribute to the fitness of their families. 

The record is replete with "maiden aunts" and, more occasionally, "rich uncles" who lavished care on nephews and nieces. The nuclear family is very old in European history. It dates to at least 1000 C.E. If there were other adults in the household it was usually either a surviving grandparent or a maiden aunt, who might have been from the paternal OR maternal side. Usually these aunts or uncles had married but lost their spouse without offspring. (Or lost their children too.) 

These families may indeed have done a better job to concentrate the investment of three (or more) rather than two adults on the same batch of children, especially when the infant mortality rate was so high, and especially among the poor, for whom a set-back like unemployment could mean homelessness and starvation.

Finally, humans have the innate ability to love children, which may have sociobiological origins, even if it is applied in ways that defy immediate gain. Take the story of the Quaker man who lost his wife and half dozen children to disease. He went on to run a home for foundlings and orphans. He never converted any of those foundlings to Quakerism, so neither his genes nor his memes were passed on, but from his diary, it is clear that he cared dearly for them.

His project was so successful that the English state decided to try something similar. In time, the places they build became known as Workhouses and Poorhouses. Those were not run by Quakers, and quickly became synonymous with abuse and exploitation. 

Which brings my argument full circle. Are individuals able to care for others' children as dearly as their own? Yes, clearly. But over the long term, to put the care of children into the hands of indifferent bureaucrats has always been a disaster.

Tara Maya
Blog  |  Twitter  |  Facebook  |  Amazon  |  Goodreads

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.extropy.org/pipermail/extropy-chat/attachments/20140216/71fd091b/attachment.html>

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list