Monday, January 12, 2009

Honours Thesis

This is sitting as a printed copy gathering dust on a library shelf at my old university, so I thought I might as well pust it here for those with an interest in evolution, altrusim, memes, Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine and Dennett's work. When it it's archived, hopefully google will still lead people to it (although I don't have any porn in it, so probably not...).

The Paradox of Altruism

0 The Paradox of Altruism Can the Meme Concept Contribute to the Explanation of the existence of Altruism? by Theo Jef Clark, BEd, BSc A thesis submitted as partial fulfilment for the Degree of Bachelor of Science with Honours in the Faculty of Science, Griffith University, Queensland. 1 Abstract One of the cental theoretical problems of sociobiology is the 'paradox of altruism'. How can altruists survive when the selfish can take advantage of them? I examine the three favoured biological theories for the evolution of altruism, and show that they fail to completely explain human altruism. Susan Blackmore in her book The Meme Machine, argues that it can be explained by the evolution of units of culture, memes. I will give detailed consideration to her claims, and advance some of my own. My own claims mainly consist of the major role group selection (of memes) has had in the evolution of altruism. I find that if we accept meme theory, then memetic group selection has considerable explanatory power. I also analyse meme theory as a general, scientific, causal explanation (specifically the ontology of cause and effect as proposed in some recent philosophy of science). This is important because when we are trying to explain a phenomenon, we search for its cause. If we find the cause, we have then explained why the phenomenon has come to be. Altruism is one such phenomenon, and memes for altruism seem to potentially offer a genuine causal explanation to the 'paradox of altruism'. 2 Declaration This work has not previously been submitted for a degree or diploma in any university. Also, to the best of my knowledge, no material in this dissertation has been previously published except where due reference is made. Signed: Date: Place: 3 Contents PREFACE ........................................................................................................................................................... 4 INTRODUCTION: THE PROBLEM STATED.......................................................................................... 7 The ‘Paradox of Altruism’...........................................................................................................................7 Human Nature.............................................................................................................................................9 Evolutionary Theory ..................................................................................................................................10 Ends and Means ........................................................................................................................................13 Hobbes vs Rousseau...................................................................................................................................14 CHAPTER 1: THE BIOLOGICAL ACCOUNT OF ALTRUISM ............................................................... 17 Kin Selection..............................................................................................................................................17 Reciprocal Altruism and Tit-for-Tat ..........................................................................................................19 Group Selection .........................................................................................................................................21 What Remains to be Explained? ................................................................................................................25 CHAPTER 2: THE NEW REPLICATOR................................................................................................ 29 The Misunderstood Metaphor....................................................................................................................31 Familial Evasion and Dipteran Mastication..............................................................................................32 Replication and Lamarckian Acquisition ..................................................................................................34 CHAPTER 3: THE MEMETIC ACCOUNT OF ALTRUISM .................................................................... 38 Memetic and Genetic Interaction ..............................................................................................................39 Kev and Gav...............................................................................................................................................41 Greed is Good! ...........................................................................................................................................42 The Coevolution of Memes and Genes.......................................................................................................43 A Modest Altruistic Act..............................................................................................................................46 The Ultimate Altruistic Act ........................................................................................................................48 Group Selection Revisited ..........................................................................................................................52 CHAPTER 4: EXPLANATION AND CAUSATION ................................................................................. 58 The Ontology of Cause...............................................................................................................................58 Wittgenstein's Meme..................................................................................................................................61 Information Transfer.................................................................................................................................63 CONCLUSION: HAS THE 'PARADOX' BEEN RESOLVED?.................................................................. 68 A Possible History of Altruism ..................................................................................................................69 The Real Question .....................................................................................................................................72 BIBLIOGRAPHY................................................................................................................................................. 74 INDEX.............................................................................................................................................................. 81 4 Preface My original intention with this work was for it to be an evaluation of the 'paradox of altruism' and the theories that have attempted to resolve it. The hypothesis advanced by Susan Blackmore in The Meme Machine was the inspiration and was to be the main focus of this dissertation. As the writing and research on this subject advanced, however, I started to develop ideas (or rather memes) of my own. As consequence, I have not only evaluated current evolutionary theories of altruism, but also thrown in my own 'ten cents worth' as it were, and forwarded hypotheses of my own. Of most note, is the major role I have given group selection (of memes) in the evolution of altruism. This was not my original aim. Indeed, I had always considered group selection to be at best an extremely minor force in evolution. It still probably is when it comes to biological evolution, but as my work progressed it became apparent that memetic group selection has considerable explanatory power. Consequently, this thesis is not only an examination of the 'paradox of altruism'; it also builds upon current theories. There are a few points to note regarding the consistency of referencing in this thesis. If there is no page number given, it is for one of three reasons: 1. I have taken some references from The Science Show on the ABC's Radio National as well as the documentary series Evolution. So there is obviously no page number to give. For example, '(Dawkins, 2000)' is a reference to The Science Show. (Transcripts are available from the ABC's web site.) 2. '(Forge, 2002a)' refers to a chapter from his yet to be published book Science and Responsibility, and '(Forge, 2002b)' refers to a personal communication with my supervisor John Forge. 3. All other references without page numbers are from online material. 5 Otherwise all references have page numbers. I use quite a few footnotes for either interesting digressions that may or may not be directly relevant to the main text, or to qualify or add to a point that I am making. This thesis is grounded in the world of science, yet it is essentially philosophical. Thus parts of it are quite speculative. This, I believe, is what makes the most interesting science writing – the most interesting. Many of the authors in the bibliography who do this have been my inspiration. With regard to writing about biology and evolution, of most note are Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Stephen Jay Gould, Matt Ridley, Edward Wilson, and of course the man who started it all, Charles Darwin. To them I give my thanks and to the reader I highly recommend their works. They understand (or understood) that good science has never been just about unearthing 'facts'. It is about unearthing our place in the cosmos. Philosophy ignorant of science is often vacuous – it lacks the 'knowledge' to find the wisdom it so boldly proclaims to love. And science ignorant of philosophy is often insipid and soporific – it lacks the 'wisdom' to know what knowledge is worth knowing. Though I have been inspired by the writings of those above, inspiration has its greatest effect when it is personal. First and foremost, I would like to thank my supervisor Assoc. Prof. John Forge for, not only his encouragement and support, but also for his ability to see the 'overall picture' and place things in the right context and the right order. (And also for giving me the freedom to tackle the topic of my choice in my own way.) I also would like to thank my parents, Jef and Kathy Clark, for their genes and memes, without which I would not have been able to write this. In particular my father for his help in clarifying some of my ideas. He has always been my intellectual sounding board, and even when I was 'knee high to a grasshopper' he has always treated me as capable of understanding the most interesting and important ideas of science and philosophy. I also need to thank two friends, Evan Chalk and Ben Retschlag. Both of them helped shape and select many of the memes in this thesis, and Evan started me down this path by lending me his copy of Matt Ridley's The Origins of Virtue and buying me a copy of The Meme Machine as a birthday present. Knowing these two has tripled my research capabilities. The one person who I owe the greatest thanks, who inspires me to be the best I can, is my beautiful wife Catherine. She has given me incredible support, not just in my academic endeavours, but in all the areas of my life. May we pass on many memes (and maybe some genes) in the years to come. 6 7 Introduction: The Problem Stated "[With Darwin] Nature became a seething slum, with everyone scrambling to get out, rushing to break from the rat-pack. Only the few survived, bettering themselves by creating new dynasties. Most remained trapped on the breadline, destined to struggle futilely, neighbours elbowing one another aside to get ahead, the weak trampled underfoot." (Adrian Desmond & James Moore, 1991: 449). "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest." (Adam Smith, 1776: 27). "It is extremely doubtful whether the offspring of the more sympathetic and benevolent parents, or of those who were the most faithful to their comrades, would be reared in greater numbers than the children of selfish and treacherous parents belonging to the same tribe. He who was ready to sacrifice his life, as many a savage has been, rather than betray his comrades, would often leave no offspring to inherit his noble nature. The bravest men, who were always willing to come to the front in war, and who freely risked their lives for others, would on an average perish in larger numbers than other men. Therefore it hardly seems probable, that the number of men gifted with such virtues, or that the standard of their excellence, could be increased through natural selection, that is, by the survival of the fittest..." (Charles Darwin, 1871: 130). The ‘Paradox of Altruism’ A young man, riding his horse in the country, comes across a leper. Perhaps feeling a sense of pity, he springs from his horse, throws his arms around the leper and kisses his hand. He gives the man what money he can afford and rides on, beginning what would become a long vocation in aiding lepers (Chesterson, 1923: 60). Swearing off all worldly goods, this same man then lived with a self-inflicted paucity of possessions compared to even the most wretched and downtrodden; he grovelled for the blackest and worst bread he could get and even swapped clothes with a beggar (Chesterson, 8 1923: 76-77). How do we explain such altruism? For this young man was indeed an altruist throughout his entire life. I’m not sure that it is possible to explain altruism of the likes of St Francis of Assisi,1 but the example of his life leads to the more general question: "Why are humans altruistic?" Not all humans are altruistic of course, but we can still ask why are some humans altruistic and, at the very least, why do most humans seem to have some kind of altruistic tendency? The answer may seem obvious to many people, but for biologists and philosophers who have an understanding of Darwinian theory, the 'paradox of altruism' is a seemingly grave problem. Indeed, it can been can be seen as the central theoretical problem with regards to the biological basis of behaviour (Wilson, 1975: 3). It is the central problem because altruism is an act performed by an individual that increases another individual's welfare, at the expense of its own (Dawkins, 1976: 4).2 Within the ‘nature is red in tooth and claw’ Darwinian paradigm, altruism is a behaviour that, seemingly, should not be able to evolve as an adaptive strategy. Yet, unless we think altruism is a frequently occurring ‘accident’, apparently it has. What kind of account/explanation have evolutionary theorists attempted to build? If altruism was restricted to only certain periods of time, and to only certain locations, it would then appear that altruism is only a product of specific local factors, such as culture, economics, religious beliefs, etc. However, altruism seems to be universal, in that it can be seen in some shape or form in all human societies (Ridley, 1996: 6-7). We need a form of explanation which accounts for this. As we shall see, humans are the products of evolution. So any explanation needs to take into account of, or at least not be in direct conflict with, Darwinian theory. 1 There are many incidents in his life that led to such extreme altruism, including religious dreams and visions, which he believed dictated his destiny, that of a life of altruism. Sadly, and ironically, the order which St. Francis founded, the Franciscans, came to represent much of what he despised, including the direction of the Inquisition in many countries. Of course, many notable men were Franciscans: Roger Bacon, Duns Scotus and William of Occam (Russell, 1946: 442-443). 2 This accords well with our usual understanding of what an altruist is, namely, someone who puts the interests of other before his or her own. Altruistic acts need to be distinguished from acts that would be considered morally right or wrong, for moral acts normally encompass everyone's interests, including the agent (Singer, 1993: 11-12). From the universal standpoint, the perspective of an ethicist, altruistic acts can seem superfluous. 9 Human Nature Central to the evolutionary perspective is the following premise – there is a fundamental human nature. This fundamental nature is elusive, as culture plays such a large role in shaping behaviour. But there must be a fundamental human nature, or (as pointed out by Ridley 1993: 3 & 1996: 6) a psychiatrist would not be able to assume that a patient understands love, envy, fear, anger, laughter, dreaming etc., which are universal themes in all human cultures. In 1945, the American anthropologist George P. Murdock listed the universals of culture for every one of the hundreds of societies studied at that time. He found that there were sixty-seven universals, including cooking, sport, gift-giving, medicine, luck superstition, religious ritual, games... the list goes on (Wilson, 1998: 162). There seems to be a core base of behaviours and emotions that are not solely the products of culture. These fundamentals are simply the product of being human. Once we accept this, we must also accept that this fundamental nature is a product of human evolutionary history.3 Humans are products of evolution. We still have, as David Buss calls it, stone-age minds in a modern environment. He comes to this belief because human recorded history is an 'eye blink' compared to human evolutionary history. For the last several million years our hominid ancestors (including our direct Homo sapien ancestors) lived in hunter-gatherer groups (Buss, 2000). From this line of reasoning, we can conclude that our brains have been adapted to suit this lifestyle, and have only just recently (comparatively speaking) been thrust into this new non-hunter-gatherer world of our creation. There simply hasn't been enough time for natural selection to work on civilised humans in any discernible way.4 Another way of demonstrating this is by considering the percentage of hominid evolution that has not been of the hunter-gatherer variety. Hominids separated from ancestral apes between 10 and 6 million years ago and the first stone artefacts date 3 Though not all these behaviours are necessarily the products of evolution (Wilson, 1998: 162). 4 Some minor evolutionary changes have occurred. 70% of Western Europeans by descent have a lactose tolerance, compared to only 30% of non-Europeans. Evolutionary theory suggests that because Dairy production started in Western Europe a few thousand years ago, Western Europeans have evolved a tolerance for lactose to a greater extent than nonEuropeans (Ridley, 1999: 192-193). Of course, psychological changes are not minor. 10 back to about 2.4 or 2.5 million years (Klein, 1989: 399-403). These ancestral species were hunter-gatherers. Agricultural food production and animal domestication only began about 11,000 years ago (Diamond, 1997: 86). Using these figures (2.5 million and 11,000) we can see that from the Stone Age to the present, humans have only used agriculture for 0.44 percent of this time. 99.56 percent of hominid evolution has consisted of groups that hunt and gather. Even if I am extremely conservative and only consider the evolution of anatomically modern humans, coming into existence between 200,000 and 50,000 years ago (Klein, 1989: 344), taking the value between these two numbers (125,000 years), 91.2 percent of modern human evolution has been spent in hunter-gatherer societies. This is merely another way of emphasising Buss's point; though our societies may be modern, our baser instincts are not. They are the products of our evolutionary history.5 Evolutionary Theory In order for this paradox to make any sense, one needs a firm understanding of Darwin’s evolutionary theory of descent with modification by means of natural selection. Put in an explicit form, biological evolution by natural selection requires the following three conditions: Condition 1: Variation – Individuals within a species (as well as species themselves) vary in many ways. Offspring vary amongst themselves, and are not carbon copies of an archetype. Condition 2: Hereditary – Some of the variations in characteristics that affect survival and reproductive success are transmitted to offspring. Condition 3: Competition – All organisms tend to be superfecund. They produce more offspring than can possibly survive, due to the fact that there are a limited number of resources for individuals to compete for (nature is finite). When these conditions are met, we have the inevitable consequence: 5 A recent article in Nature has argued that the gene FOXP2 (specifically the human allele) is essential to the development of language. Emphasising that language is a prerequisite for the development of complex culture, they believe that the human FOXP2 allele became dominant within the last 200,000 years of human history (Enard, W. et al., 2002: 869-871). That is, the evolution of language coincided with the evolution of anatomically modern humans. This may be the birth date of (the yet to be introduced) memes. 11 Process and Result 1: Adaptation – Individuals survive and reproduce with varying degrees of success. The reason why some are more successful is the principle of Natural Selection. If many offspring must die, then statistically, on average, survivors will tend to be individuals whose characteristics are best 'adapted' to the local environment. Process and Result 2: Divergence and Speciation – Since heredity in organisms exists, the offspring will tend to resemble their surviving parents. The surviving parents have the successful characteristics and thus, over time, the general population will come to resemble the most successful procreators. The accumulation of successful characteristics over time produces evolutionary change.6 Given that both physical and behavioural variation amongst individuals within a species occurs, there will be some variations that give survival and reproductive advantages to the individuals who have them. Thanks to hereditary, over time these advantages will accumulate in the general population by natural selection. That is, nature ‘selects’ the individuals who are the best adapted, to survive and reproduce. If a certain behaviour gives an organism a survival and reproductive advantage, then it will be selected for. Given this, how could altruism evolve when we know it increases the welfare of another at the expense of the individual who is performing the altruistic act? Altruistic acts are disadvantageous to the survival and reproduction of the organism that performs them. Performing an altruistic act decreases the organism’s fitness and in ‘the struggle for existence’, only the fit will survive. The 'fact' of altruistic human behaviour, combined with the acceptance of the above principles, leads to the 'paradox of altruism'. Before we move on, it is important to understand what, exactly, is meant by the term 'fitness'. A plain and simple definition for fitness is how well an organism is adapted. Though fitness can be conceptually useful (which is why I use it), it is actually unnecessary for explaining evolution by natural selection. Darwin never used the expression, 'survival of the fittest' in the first edition of The Origin; it was coined by 6 This outline of natural selection is from (Clark, 2002). 12 Herbert Spencer (Ruse, 1999: 208).7 In my outline of evolution by natural selection there was also no mention of fitness. The concept of fitness, it has been argued, has a fundamental problem – it is essentially tautological. The definition of fitness 'begs the question'. Karl Popper claimed that the statement 'survival of the fittest', actually means, 'survival of those who survive', which tells us nothing (Popper, 1972: 241-242). This is because fitness is defined as surviving. According to Popper, even adaptation runs the risk of tautology. Thus a large part of Darwinian theory, Popper concluded, was not empirical, but based on a logical truism (Popper, 1972: 69). Defining the adaptation and fitness of an organism simply as having qualities that allowed it to survive is a mistake. It says nothing about the niche an organism inhabits nor the instincts it displays which affect survival and reproduction. With these qualifications, natural selection, 'survival of the fittest', is empirical. One can hypothesise on the adaptive advantage or disadvantage of a particular characteristic of an organism, its 'fitness', in its environment. As we will see, this is exactly what evolutionary biologists do, and have done, with great success. With regards to the 'paradox of altruism', fitness is an extremely useful concept, simply because of its lack of prolixity. It enables clarity and precision with evolutionary explanations.8 How can we give an evolutionary account of altruism? Certainly there are many examples of the seemingly unavoidable and nasty consequence of the 'struggle for existence' and Howard Bloom provides them in The Lucifer Principle: a pride of lions slaughtering a gazelle, sea birds feasting on thousands of freshly hatched turtles with less than a dozen making it to the safety of the ocean, and warring troupes of 7 As a matter of fact, Darwin didn't particularly like the word evolution, which literally means unfolding, as it implies some sort of progress or goal. Darwinian evolution, as we now call it, was in Darwin's vernacular, 'descent with modification'. As with 'survival of the fittest' the word evolution gained currency through promotion by Spencer (Gould, 1996: 137). 8 We could say, for example: "With two or more organisms competing with each other, on average, the organism with the greatest fitness will win. In general, therefore, we would expect selfish organisms to out-compete altruists, as performing an altruistic act decreases the altruist's fitness". We can reframe this explanation replacing 'fitness' with 'adaptation'. "With two or more organisms competing with each other, on average, the organism that is best adapted will win. In general, therefore, we would expect selfish organisms to out-compete altruists as selfish organisms' instincts and behaviours are better adapted to their social environment. Altruists, through their behaviour, give selfish organisms survival and reproductive advantages." The second explanation is less preferable because, not only is it convoluted, it required greater effort on my part to write it than did the first. As long as we are aware of the potential for tautology when we frame our evolutionary explanations, especially for behaviour, fitness is a useful concept. 13 chimpanzees killing males of a rival group for their sexually active females. With good reason he entitled his chapter, Mother Nature, the Bloody Bitch (1995: 23-29). The simple logic of natural selection would seem to dictate the inevitable descent into discordant behaviour. As Robert Wright explains (perhaps somewhat overstating the case): Think of it: zillions and zillions of organisms running around, each under the same hypnotic spell of a single truth, all these truths identical, and all logically incompatible with one another: "My hereditary material is the most important material on earth; its survival justifies your frustration, pain, even death." And you are one of these organisms, living your life in the thrall of a logical absurdity (1994: 338). With this we enter the domain of sociobiology. Sociobiologists argue that first and foremost, the social behaviour of animals is firmly under the control of genes. Through natural selection, this behaviour has been shaped into forms that give survival and reproductive advantages to animals. Sociobiologists take the view (rightly I believe) that although humans seem to be able to make conscious decisions and have culture; we are, nevertheless, still animals (Ruse & Wilson, 1985: 50).9 'Sociobiology' is a term coined by Edward Wilson (in his book Sociobiology (1975)). Wilson saw the role of sociobiology as that of placing the social sciences within a biological framework (Wilson, 1976: 342). It seeks to explain behaviour, by showing it as an adapted strategy to secure the fitness (survival and replication) of the individual and their genes (Rosenberg, 1998: 892). As pointed out by Robert Wright (2000): "There’s one commandment of natural selection, which is do anything it takes to keep your genes into the next generation. That’s not a commandment that I think we should try to live by... [But] that is the logic that shaped all life on this planet, including ours, and we really can’t profess to know ourselves in any profound way unless we understand Darwinian theory". As humans are Darwinian creatures, and as most of us act altruistically at one time or another, the 'paradox of altruism' applies directly to us. Ends and Means 9 Sociobiology applied to humans is now generally called evolutionary psychology – theories about human psychology grounded within the Darwinian paradigm. For the sake of simplicity I will still refer to evolutionary psychology as sociobiology. 14 My intention in this dissertation is to examine the three favoured biological theories for the evolution of altruism, and show that they fail to completely explain human altruism. The reason for the inadequacies of these explanations is that culture has such a large affect on human behaviour. Though we cannot explain human altruism completely when we limit evolutionary explanations to the world of biology, Susan Blackmore in her book The Meme Machine (1999a), argues that it can be explained by the evolution of units of culture, memes. I will give detailed consideration to her claims, and advance some of my own. I will try to be sympathetic to meme theory and grant Blackmore (and others) the ‘benefit of the doubt’ and give them a 'fair go'. This is done in order to see the kinds of memetic explanations that may be possible. Meme theory offers a refreshingly different way to dissect culture. As a method of breaking culture down into discrete units, memetics seems to have the potential to be a causal account of altruism. This thesis is comprised of this introduction, four chapters and the conclusion. Chapter one examines the current thinking in evolutionary biology with regards to the evolution of altruism. Specifically, I look at the successes and the shortcomings of kin selection, reciprocal altruism and group selection. Chapter two gives a brief history of the concept of memes and examples of some of the kinds of problems meme theory seeks to explain.10 Chapter three delves further into meme theory – part exegesis, part extension – of Blackmore’s memetic theory of altruism. It consists of the main arguments for the memetic account of altruism. As a result, it is the longest chapter. Chapter four consists of an analysis of meme theory as a general, scientific, causal explanation (specifically the ontology of cause and effect as proposed in some recent philosophy of science). We are then able to judge whether it is possible that memes are the 'cause' of much human altruism. The conclusion is a recapitulation and reiteration of the main points of the thesis. This includes my own account of a possible history of the evolution of altruism in humans and whether or not the 'paradox' can finally be laid to rest. Hobbes vs Rousseau The central question of this dissertation then, is this: 10 NB: Parts of this chapter are drawn from my book review of Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine in Australian Rationalist (Clark, 2000). 15 If 'do anything it takes to propel your genes into the next generation' is the one commandment of natural selection, and human psychology has been shaped by natural selection, and natural selection more often than not is 'red in tooth and claw', then how can we explain any altruistic behaviour, let alone human morality? This became an important question once we understood that human beings are Darwinian creatures. Altruism can be seen as the basis of a moral sense in humans; a sense of right and wrong. The evolution of altruism was an essential precursor to the development of social cohesion, which in turn has led to morality and ethics. The implication of evolutionary theory is that given our understanding of how altruism evolved, can we say that we are truly altruistic? And, depending on this answer, can we say we are truly moral?11 Was Hobbes correct in Leviaththan? Without the protection of society, government, and laws; in a natural state, is there: "... continuall feare [sic], and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore [sic], nasty, brutish, and short" (Hobbes, 1651: 186)? Or was Rousseau correct in believing that in a natural state men are compassionate, good, assist those who are suffering and live a life free of misery (Rousseau, 1754: 162-166)? I must admit to stacking the deck in this introduction, in that it would seem (with our Darwinian goggles on at least) we must agree with Hobbes. However, there are ideas in evolutionary biology that argue the opposite. Perhaps Rousseau was closer to the truth? Hobbes and Rousseau were both writing without the benefit of Darwin's theory, and so we cannot expect their understanding of the natural world to be on par with our own. Yet, in many ways, they were both correct. The paradox of altruism is that logically we would expect Hobbes to be right. In nature, as governed by natural selection, it would seem that life should be nasty, brutish, and short. But evidently, when we go and look for ourselves, Rousseau's beliefs are not without merit. There are plenty of examples of compassion – of the strong assisting the weak. 11 Indeed, as I mentioned in a previous footnote, an altruist is not necessarily moral. If one was to take the deontological view of Kant – where a moral action is one that is done from a respect for duty – one is not moral even if one is naturally inclined to perform a moral act. To be moral, it must be done out of a sense of duty for the act itself (Popkin & Stroll, 1993: 45). If we hold this view, we would consider an act of altruism such as saving a child from a house fire moral, only if it was performed because the altruist felt it was their duty to do so, not merely as an act of instinct. Although altruistic acts and moral acts are not necessarily the same, without a basis of altruism it is hard to imagine that we would have the concepts of morality and ethics at all. 16 As we shall see, in a given system of evolving behavioural strategies, often it is the altruistic ones which fare the best. This conclusion works for both biologically and culturally based altruism. Most people understand that evolutionary theory applies to biology, which in turn leads to the conclusion that biologically based behaviour must, at least to some degree, be the product of evolutionary processes. But I said cultural as well as biological. If there are universals of human culture, and assuming the majority of these universals are the product of human nature, then when we find differences in cultures, they are not likely to be biologically based. They may still be, however, the product of a Darwinian process. But this is getting ahead of myself. Before we examine the memetic theory of altruism, we must see where the state of play now lies with the biological account. 17 Chapter 1: The Biological Account of Altruism "There’s one commandment of natural selection, which is do anything it takes to keep your genes into the next generation ...that is the logic that shaped all life on this planet." (Robert Wright, 2000). "We must however acknowledge as it seems to me, man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his godlike intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of solar system, with all these exalted powers, man still bears in his bodily frame, the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." (Charles Darwin, 1871: 619) Now that I have outlined the 'paradox of altruism' we need to look at the various solutions to it, that have been proposed within the Darwinian worldview. There are three main contenders, all of which could in fact be at work together. That is, they are not mutually exclusive. They are kin selection, reciprocal altruism and group selection (Segerstrale, 2000: 53). The purpose of this chapter then, is this: by examining these attempts at explaining the evolution of altruism, we shall see how they have only been partially successful; hence the problem still remains. Once this has been established, as we still are lacking a complete explanation for altruism, we have reason enough to give careful consideration to other evolutionary accounts. In this case we will go on to consider the evolution culture, of memes. Kin Selection Kin selection was the first and most obvious breakthrough to the 'paradox' resulting from the idea that what really counts in terms of fitness and survival of the fittest, is not the survival of the organism itself, but the number of copies of its genes that are brought into existence. Understanding evolution in this way leads to the conclusion that the best way to ensure the propagation of one’s genes, may not just be by having 18 children. Genes can make it into the next generation by way of relatives such as nephews, nieces, brothers, sisters, etc. This can be a very effective way of bringing more genes into the world, as has been successfully demonstrated with ants and bees (Ridley, 2000). The biologist J.B.S. Haldane was once asked if he would risk death by drowning to save his own brother. "No," replied Haldane, "but I would to save two brothers or eight cousins." (cited by Morton, 2000).12 Though this was a facetious reply, the answer was a good illustration of the principle behind kin selection. If a behaviour that is costly to an individual but benefits its relatives (such as sharing food with siblings), is coded for by a gene (or genes), it will increase its frequency in the gene pool by natural selection, because the individual's relatives, more likely than not, will carry the same gene themselves. Genetically based altruism can evolve as long as the cost of the altruistic behaviour is offset by its benefit to relatives (Okasha, 2002: 139). The units of selection are the genes. Altruistic acts towards kin are considered merely as strategies that increase the likelihood of genetic replication. Here is an evolutionary explanation for the saying 'blood is thicker than water'.13 Humans tend to love and value family to a greater extent than non-family, so we can see this as a form of kin selection. Of course, true kin selection only requires altruistic behaviour to be aimed at relatives. Given this, how do we then explain altruistic behaviour of humans and other animals towards non-relatives? Robert Trivers developed the idea of reciprocal altruism, an answer that covers many scenarios, and certainly seems to be one of the most promising answers to the 'paradox of altruism'. 12 I am reminded of the Christian parable of the father left with a similar choice. His fishing boat is sinking, and on it is his son and his son's friend, both who cannot swim. The father, left with the choice of saving one or the other, against kin selection, opts to save his son's friend. What possible reason could he have for such a strange choice? He yells to his son: "I'll see you in heaven son! Your soul is already saved as you are a Christian." He didn't know if his son's friend was a Christian, so on the chance that he wasn't, he saved him in order to save his soul. 13 It is important to note that the strategy of kin selection (in its strictest sense) does not automatically apply and indeed is quite rare (Dennett, 1995: 478). A large number of animals including – praying mantises, some birds, wild dogs and pigs – practice siblicide and kill their own brothers and sisters. The current thinking is that parents deliberately produce too many offspring for the limited resources, thus fierce competition has led to siblicide (Millar & Lambart, 2000: 30). Even so, the idea of kin selection has been well establish with many species. 19 Reciprocal Altruism and Tit-for-Tat Richard Dawkins uses vampire bats as an example of reciprocal altruism. These bats go out at night and look for an animal to suck blood from. If a bat is lucky and manages to find an animal, it usually engorges itself and has much more blood than it actually needs. There are other nights when a bat will come home hungry having not found any blood. This can be fatal as they need constant topping up in order to survive. This situation is tailor-made for reciprocal altruism. There is a lot to be gained by the bats who have a lot of blood, if they give some to the bats who do not. They can expect to get paid back by those same individuals on another night when the luck has been reversed (Dawkins, 2000). Reciprocal altruism of this kind is a real life example of a game theory strategy known as Tit-for-Tat.14 Tit-for-tat has its origins in a game called the Prisoner's Dilemma (this explanation is based on Nicholson, 2002: 254). It goes by the name Prisoner's Dilemma because the best known way to explain this game is to imagine a situation where two prisoners have been caught for the same crime; they are faced with the choice of giving evidence against each other to reduce their sentence. If neither of them ‘defect’ (acting in a fashion that is unfavourable to another individual, in this case giving evidence against the other person), due to lack of evidence, they can only be convicted on a lesser charge (a two year sentence). If one defects he will get a 'slap on the wrist' (six month sentence), as long as the other one stays quiet (who will be charged for all the crime and get ten years).15 Of course, if they both defect, they will both be charged for the crime (and get three years each). The mathematical representation of this dilemma can be seen in the following payoff matrix: 14 Game theory is a method of analysing the strategies of 'actors' in situations of potential cooperation or conflict (Dowding, 1999: 348). 15 Throughout this dissertation I have chosen to use the impersonal masculine pronoun, 'he' or 'him', rather than 'he/she' or 'him/her'. I have done this simply because I prefer to use the normal 'evolved' English vernacular, rather than the awkward or inelegant construction sometimes mandated by self-appointed controllers of speech and writing. As Irish writer Brigid Brophy says, it is a product of: "...leaden literalness of mind... [and] their tin ear and insensibility to the metaphorical contents of language." (cited in Fowler's Modern English Usage.) I could also have alternated between 'she' and 'he' in order to avoid offending those who care, but this would have been somewhat disingenuous. To me at least, it has never implied that one is biased towards a particular sex, it just happens to be the nature of the English language. Just as it is the nature of the French and German languages for all nouns to fall into specific gender groups. The simplest solution to this rather pointless manifestation of 'political correctness' is for male writers to use 'he', 'him', and for female writers to use 'she', 'her'. This also has the bonus 20 B - Defect A – Defect A – Stay Silent A: 3 years B: 3 years A: 10 years B: 6 months B – Stay Silent A: 6 months B: 10 years A: 2 years B: 2 years In a one-off situation the rational thing for either individual to do is to defect, as there is potential to given only a minor sentence of 6 months. If you stay silent there is potential to be held accountable for the full crime and face 10 years in prison. To people studying the Prisoner's Dilemma it seemed that it would be completely irrational to cooperate, yet when it was tested, more often than not, people did cooperate (Ridley, 1996: 59). The idea that it is rational to defect was turned on its head in a series of computer tournaments held by political scientist Robert Axelrod, which in turn became the guiding mathematical principles of work in sociobiology, pioneered most significantly by John Maynard Smith, Robert Trivers and William Hamilton. Axelrod set up a tournament of Prisoner's Dilemma games where each different strategy played against every other strategy 200 times. Each possible outcome (both stay silent, both defect and one defect/other silent) were given points. A strategy earned five points if it defected and the other stayed silent, and zero points when the opposite occurred. They both earned three points each if they both stayed silent, and they both earned one point each if they both defected. The strategy that accumulated the most points by the end was the winner (Ridley, 1996: 60). Anatol Rapoport submitted the simplest strategy of all, which went on to be the winner. Tit-for-Tat was his strategy and it became justifiably famous. As a strategy, the first move of Tit-for-Tat is to cooperate (i.e., stay silent). It then simply does whatever the other strategy did last time (Ridley, 1996: 60). Tit-for-Tat always holds its own and it 'encourages' cooperation. Dawkins points out that Tit-for-Tat is another word for reciprocal altruism. It cooperates until the other strategy plays defect; it then retaliates by playing defect, so it could be called a ‘defection alert punishing strategy’. It is outcome of allowing easy identification of the gender of the writer (in those cases where the first name, e.g., 'Kim', could be either male or female). 21 fundamentally cooperative but it won't be taken advantage of.16 Axelrod concluded that interactions like the Prisoner’s Dilemma and an unconscious strategy like Tit-forTat, are going on in the natural world and in the human world all the time (Dawkins, 2000).17 It is important to remember that these kinds of strategies (kin selection and reciprocal altruism) are generally unconscious. Dawkins developed the metaphor of a two-tier calculator as an explanation. The example he uses to illustrate this is of the unconscious, yet highly complicated, calculations that are done to catch a cricket ball. When it comes to calculating costs and benefits of altruism it can be done at a conscious level. Or, as with catching the ball, it can be done at an unconscious level. When bats and other animals do reciprocal altruism 'calculations', they are doing them unconsciously. Natural selection has tailored their brains over many generations to come up with the right decision, given the right circumstances. Humans presumably also have an unconscious calculator, but it can be confusing, as we have superimposed upon it the conscious calculator, which society and culture has played a significant part in shaping (Dawkins, 2000).18 Group Selection Group selection is: "...natural selection based on the differential fitness of groups." (Sober & Wilson, 1998: 37). With regard to altruism specifically, groups with altruistic individuals will out-compete groups made up of selfish individuals. The world, therefore, becomes populated with groups of altruists. On the surface, this seems reasonable enough, but ever since George Williams published his classic book Adaptation and Natural Selection in 1966, group selection has generally been seen as 16 Though reciprocal altruism is fundamentally cooperative, it does not really count as 'pure' altruism. The altruist is only temporarily decreasing his own welfare (the individual will benefit in the long run, whereas with kin selection the individual may not). Like a bank account, he is making a deposit on the promise of a profitable return in the future. In this way, reciprocal altruism seems to explain the evolution of cooperation, rather than the evolution of (pure) altruism. 17 Given the chance, does one cut in front of a long queue? Does one deal with a conflict by stonewalling or compromising? How does one respond to annoying fundraisers? Each of these cases is similar in nature to the prisoner's dilemma: is one best off behaving selfishly? (Macrone, 1995: 117). 18 This 'superposition' of culture we will turn to with the theory of memetics in the following chapters. 22 implausible, especially when trying to account for the evolution of altruism (Sober & Wilson, 1998: 5). The argument against group selection as an explanation for the evolution of altruism is quite simple. In a group of altruists there may be one individual who refuses to be altruistic, he is selfish. He can then benefit from the altruism of others, and gain in fitness, but does not commit any act of altruism himself that would lower his fitness. He gains everything and loses nothing. This means he is more likely to survive and have more children. Given that his selfishness is a genetic tendency, each of these children has an even chance of inheriting his selfishness.19 This in turn means they will have a greater fitness than the altruists will. Like the parent, on average, they will also survive for longer and have more children. After several generations the altruists will be completely overrun by the selfish types (Dawkins, 1976: 7-8). Even though altruistic groups may out-compete selfish groups, they are open to exploitation from the inside (subversion from within) and are doomed to failure.20 Recently a more complex picture of group selection has been advanced. In 1998, Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson published Unto Others, which argued that group selection played a major role in the evolution of altruism, especially in humans. Leaving aside, for the moment, their arguments for group selection and human altruism, how can group selection work at all, given the criticisms that have been levelled at it? In order to appreciate Sober and Wilson’s argument we need to consider one of their examples in some detail, so I shall have to ask the reader for patience and perseverance. Sober and Wilson ask us to consider the life cycle of the parasite Dicrocoelium dendriticum. It spends the adult stage of its life cycle in the livers of cows and sheep. The eggs of the parasite exit with the faeces of the host mammal. The faeces, in turn, are eaten by land snails, which then become the hosts for the asexual stage of the parasite’s life cycle. Two generations are spent inside the snail before the parasite transforms into the next stage, the cercaria, which leaves the snail and is eaten by 19 As with all arguments involving 'genes for this' and 'genes for that', we need not worry about the specific way this gene has come about. The 'gene for selfishness' could be a recessive relative to the 'gene for altruism' or it could be a mutation. Either way the argument works. 20 Not only this, but many accounts of group selection can be reinterpreted as individual or gene selection (Dawkins, 1976: 169). 23 ants. Each ant ingests approximately 50 parasites. Once inside, one parasite enters into the ant's brain (the subesophagal ganglion) where it forms a cyst, called the 'brain worm'. The parasite, as the brain worm, changes the ant's behaviour; it makes it spend more time on the tips of grass blades. The consequence of this is that the ant is more likely to be eaten by livestock. As such, the parasites (that are inside the ants that are eaten) are more likely to be able to start off a new lifecycle in the liver a host mammal. The parasite that becomes the brain worm altruistically sacrifices itself for the other 49 parasites, so they can restart the whole process again in the liver of the animal that eats the ant (Sober & Wilson, 1998: 18). Sober and Wilson use group selection to explain the evolution of the altruistic brain worm. Imagine that the population contains two types of parasites, A (altruistic) and S (selfish), with only the A types 'willing' to turn into the sacrificial brain worm. We will start off with only S types and assume that the average snail eats five parasite eggs. In one particular snail, five parasites are eaten, but one is a 'mutant', the first A type. During asexual reproduction in this snail, the population increases to 50, with the relative frequency of A types to S types remaining unchanged. As such, in the next stage of the parasite’s life cycle an ant will eat 10 A types and 40 S types from this snail. At this point in time, the whole parasite population lives in a large number of isolated groups (the ants). The group size in each ant is 50. The vast majority of groups consisting of only S types, but one group has 40 S types and 10 A types. Now the advantage of being in the group containing the A types becomes apparent. One of them will make the altruistic sacrifice and become a brain worm, This parasite dies and the population is reduced to 40 S types and 9 A types. Obviously at the individual level, A types will be selected against because they have the lower fitness within the group. But we can now calculate the fitness at the group level (Sober & Wilson, 1998: 27-30). Though some ants will be eaten by livestock even if they don't have the brain worm, an ant that has it will have a higher probability of being eaten. The fitness of the group with the worm, therefore, is higher than the fitness of groups without the worm. All the remaining parasites that are ingested by the livestock have the same number of offspring. This altruistic trait increases fitness through survival, rather than fecundity. To see if altruism can evolve this way, the fitness of the altruistic trait within the groups needs to be weighed against the fitness between groups. With this comparison we will see which level of selection prevails (Sober & Wilson, 1998: 27-30). 24 A types will always have a greater chance of being eaten by the livestock, but one of them will always have to make the ultimate sacrifice. S types will sometimes find themselves in groups containing A types, and as such get a free ride, but they will also find themselves in groups with only S types and have less chance of being ingested by the livestock. Sober and Wilson go on to show that even a modest increase in the chance of being eaten – a benefit for the group – can outweigh the suicidal behaviour of the one altruist – the individual cost. The decline of A types within single groups is outweighed by the increase of A types globally (Sober & Wilson, 1998: 27-30). This is a behaviour that is difficult, if not impossible, to explain from the individual or genetic level of selection, but turns out to be quite easy to explain as a (genetic) group level selection. This kind of group selection occurs in special circumstances. The groups need to be isolated when it comes to the benefits of altruism, but they then need to compete in the formation of new groups. The brain worm is only of benefit to the other individuals in its own group, and the groups with brain worms out-compete the groups without them (Sober & Wilson, 1998: 27-30).21 The late Stephen Jay Gould clearly captured the nature of group selection: ...the frequency of altruistic alleles can increase within a species, so long as the rate of differential survival and propagation of demes with altruistic members (by group selection) overcome the admitted decline in frequency of altruists within successful demes by organismic selection. The overall frequency may rise within the species even while the frequency within each surviving deme declines (2002: 648).22 As we can see, this is a complex process. Given the complexity of the conditions needed for group selection to be the primary mechanism for the evolution of altruism (conditions that are necessary for it to be able to handle subversion from within) it is fairly restricted in its explanatory scope. Sober and Wilson's argument for the 21 The actual details of the evolution of the brain worm are unknown. Are some parasites selfish and some altruistic? The required empirical studies have not been performed (Sober & Wilson, 1998: 30), and as such, Sober and Wilson's work remains an untested but, nevertheless, convincing thought experiment. It seems there are certain circumstances under which altruism can evolve by group selection. 22 Demes are a subdivision of a population, typically breeding mainly within the group. 25 evolution of altruism in humans goes further than this. But we will leave it for the moment and come back to it in chapter three. What Remains to be Explained? Given what we know of kin selection and reciprocal altruism, how can we explain altruistic behaviour that has no foreseeable advantage to our genes or us?23 For example, human blood donation involves strangers giving blood to strangers. Ridley (1996: 138) still views these acts as a form of reciprocal altruism, not with the benefactor of the act, but with others who learn of it. Altruistic acts of this type enhance the reputation of the altruist, which is of benefit in the long run. Richard Alexander considers it to be an act of 'indirect reciprocity'. Donors may feel a sense of social obligation and a sense of social approval for what they are doing. They are giving blood for indirect benefit. Donors are only really altruistic (apparently) if they keep their donation a secret. But even these secret acts need further examination, because of the possibility that by convincing themselves they are selfless, private donors may become better able to convey an appearance of selflessness to others.24 In other words, being an altruist enhances one's (good) reputation, which is to one's advantage (Alexander, 1987: 160).25 Even if there is some truth to this explanation, it certainly doesn't explain all altruistic acts. What about a case where the altruist knows they will have to die to save a nonrelative, yet they still commit the act? A soldier jumping on a grenade to save the life of a comrade is difficult to explain from the standard sociobiological line of reasoning.26 James Wilson offers a more general explanation for many acts of altruism. He suggests that the psychological predispositions evolution has selected, 23 Or (of course) of advantage to the group. The examples I give next may be of advantage to the group, but if they are not genetically predisposed acts, then it is not biological group selection. 24 This kind of argument, on closer examination, is quite specious. The hypothesis, that ultimately we are all selfish, has been ‘immunised’ from any kind of opposing evidence. No matter what the act of altruism, proponents build increasingly convoluted stories to support their hypothesis. 25 Of course, even with this explanation, we are still faced with the problem of why these acts enhance the altruist's reputation in the first place. Ergo, this 'solution' only pushes us back to the need of another explanation. 26 We will come back to this question in Chapter three. 26 such as kin-selection and reciprocal altruism, will by necessity not be precise with regard to human behaviour, simply because we have complex brains that can not only perform complex tasks, but imagine them as well. This predisposition manifests itself in attachment, not only to kin (especially offspring), but to non-kin and other creatures and things we anthropomorphise as well (Wilson, 1994: 16). Our basic instinct is to look out for relatives and those who will reciprocate with us, but our complex nature has created a situation where we unconsciously do the same for others when there is no possible benefit to us. Blackmore asks us if explanations like this are adequate (Blackmore, 1999a: 152). She thinks not and, on the whole, I agree with her. As she points out, altruism is deeply embedded in human lives, including altruistic careers such as nursing, social work, psychotherapy, looking after delinquent children, etc., careers that are often poorly paid, not only financially, but in terms of social status also. The reasons people choose to do these jobs (besides necessity; i.e., if the job is their only opportunity for employment) cannot be for financial or genetic gain (that is, the increase in likelihood of reproductive success). The reasons they give tend to be psychological – it makes them feel good, and so on. This, as argued by Wilson, could be explained as the byproduct of kin selection, reciprocal altruism and group selection, but Blackmore argues against this. Natural selection being ruthless and the cost of such generosity being high, these behaviours, if based on genetic tendencies, would most likely be removed from the gene pool (Blackmore, 1999a: 153-154). It is important to understand what it meant by terms such as 'genetic tendencies', 'psychological predispositions' and 'unconscious calculations'. They are what Edward Wilson calls 'epigenetic rules' (Ruse & Wilson, 1985: 51). Epigenetic rules are the regularities of sensory perception and mental development, prescribed by genes, which animate and channel the acquisition of culture (Wilson, 1998: 173). Though they do not lock us into ant-like behaviour, they enable us to learn rapidly, things such as a fear of heights and snakes (Ruse & Wilson, 1985: 51). Noam Chomsky's theory of Universal grammar – that the circuitry of children’s brains allows them to learn their parents' language (Pinker, 1994: 538) – is another example of an epigenetic rule. Wilson recognises two types of epigenetic rules. Primary ones are the automatic filtering and coding of stimuli by the brain. That is, the unconscious 'decisions' our brain makes are simply the result of following primary epigenetic rules. Past experience only has a minor role in shaping these rules. Secondary epigenetic rules 27 are the regularities in the integration of large amounts of information. Drawing from past experience, perception, memory and emotional colouring, secondary rules lead the mind to predisposed 'decisions' by the choice of certain ideas over others (Wilson, 1998: 166). Epigenetic rules are determined by genes, but to a certain extent they are malleable (the secondary ones at least). A brain is the product of the genotype that codes for it, but the phenotype, to a certain degree, can be altered by the environment it is exposed to: the ideas, the culture, the people it meets. From the sociobiological perspective, these epigenetic rules must have been shaped by evolution. People do not execute them via conscious calculation; they follow their feelings, which have been designed as the 'logic executors' of natural selection (Wright, 1994: 190). For scientists in this field, working out exactly what these epigenetic rules are will be quite a difficult, but certainly not impossible, task. The future Darwin predicted is finally here: In the distant future I see open fields of far more important researches. Psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by graduation. Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history (Darwin, 1859: 458). Though the biological mechanisms of kin selection, reciprocal altruism and group selection, combined with the idea of epigenetic rules, seem to offer some resolution to the 'paradox of altruism', we are still left with anomalies. These explanations may well cover the evolution of altruism in non-human animals and may well explain many of our underlying altruistic tendencies. They do not, however, seem to cover all altruistic acts sufficiently. Kin selection doesn't explain altruistic behaviour of humans and other animals towards non-relatives. Reciprocal altruism, advanced to cover these gaps in our understanding (besides not actually being altruistic overall), doesn't explain cases where the altruist dies to benefit a non-relative. And group selection may explain some of these acts (as with Dicrocoelium dendriticum), but given the complexity of the conditions needed for group selection to be at work (necessary conditions for it to be able to handle subversion from within) it is fairly limited as an explanation. Added to this is the problem that group selection, when conceived of solely in biological terms, certainly doesn't help explain very many specific acts of altruism. 28 Given this, it would seem that further explanation is required. This is exactly what Susan Blackmore has attempted in The Meme Machine (1999a). She argues along the same line. These biological explanations, though extensive and often sound, only take us so far; they don't explain the 'oddities of human altruism' (Blackmore, 1999a: 152). Oddities such as blood donation to anonymous recipients (as already mentioned), leaving a large tip at a restaurant you will never visit again, going overseas to give aid to a famine affected country, handing in found items to lost property, cleaning up rubbish left by another person, recycling, the list could go on... (Blackmore, 1999a: 152). If we accept this point, that the 'paradox of altruism' is yet to be completely resolved, then we must also accept that further explanation is required. This will be the purview of the remainder of this thesis, which also brings into focus the major component (the fulcrum if you will) of this dissertation – the evolution of culture, specifically, units of culture – memes. 29 Chapter 2: The New Replicator "Most of what is unusual about man can be summed up in one word: 'culture'." (Richard Dawkins, 1976: 189) " soon as the progenitors of man became social (and this probably occurred at a very early period), the principle of imitation, and reason, and experience would have increased... Now, if some one man in a tribe, more sagacious than the others, invented a new snare or weapon, or other means of attack or defence, the plainest self-interest, without the assistance of much reasoning power, would prompt the other members to imitate him; and all would thus profit. ...If the new invention were an important one, the tribe would increase in number, spread, and supplant other tribes." (Charles Darwin, 1871: 129) 'Meme' was coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. That book forcefully argues the neo-Darwinian case – that evolution occurs, not at the species or individual level, but at the level of genes. Genes are to be viewed as 'replicators' whose only 'goal' is to make copies of themselves. This is based on William Hamilton's idea of 'inclusive fitness', that what really counts in biological evolution is not the survival of the organism itself, but the number of copies of its genes that are brought into existence. Dawkins explains how genes evolve and build 'vehicles', namely organisms, by natural selection. Dawkins' intention, when he conceived of memes, was to demonstrate that Darwinian thinking need not be limited to biology, and that biology might not be the only explanation for human behaviour. In his own words: "As an enthusiastic Darwinian, I have been dissatisfied with explanations that my fellowenthusiasts have offered for human behaviour". (Dawkins, 1976: 191). The fellow enthusiasts to whom he refers, sociobiologists, attempt to explain animal (including human) behaviour within a Darwinian paradigm. Dawkins' point is that sociobiology can only go so far in offering explanations for human behaviour. It can explain the evolution of our basic psychology but not of our sophisticated, complex and varied cultures. Memes are offered as a neo-Darwinian account of cultural 30 evolution. Dawkins affirms that he is an enthusiastic Darwinian, and it is certainly not the case that he doesn't believe in sociobiology. He just believes that his colleagues have been rather myopic in their Darwinian thinking. Darwinism is too big a theory to be confined to genes. We need to have memes as well as genes. Memes are the unit of cultural replication, analogous to genes, the unit of biological replication (Dawkins, 1976: 191-192). Memes must be passed on, between individuals and across generations, by some other mechanism than that used by genes (Hoelzel, 1999: 517). This is not just a figurative analogy with genes, but a literal one. Both genes and memes are replicators, and as such they both obey the laws of natural selection exactly (Dennett, 1991: 202). Natural selection is 'substrate neutral'. Memes and genes are different replicators evolving in different media at different rates (Dennett, 1991: 202).27 What, specifically, are these units of culture that are passed on? Ideas such as the wheel, the alphabet, calculus, evolution by natural selection; other kinds of cultural artefacts such as Greensleeves, The Odyssey, chess, are all distinct memorable units of culture, they are memes (Dennett, 1995: 344). According to Blackmore, memes are everything that is learned through imitating someone else (Blackmore, 1999a: 6-7). Dawkins coined these units of cultural replication 'memes', because he considered them units of imitation, and 'mimeme' comes from the Greek for 'that which is imitated'. He then abbreviated 'mimeme' to 'meme' because it sounds a bit like 'gene' (Dawkins, 1976: 192). Imitation is understood in the very broadest sense. It can be as basic as remembering the gist of someone's story, but not every single action and word. Any idea, story, joke, song, belief or fad, etc., that an individual picks up from someone else or tells another, is a meme (Blackmore, 1999a: 6-7). Memes are semantic rather than syntactic. Memes are not about exact syntactic replication, but rather, semantic replication – the replication of meaning (Dennett, 1995: 356). Just as only good genes survive and replicate due to natural selection, only good memes survive and replicate. By 'good', it is simply meant that they are good at being replicated. This is tautological, 27 Most assume (myself included) that memes replicate with far greater speed than genes. This is not necessarily the case. Viruses and bacteria reproduce with far greater frequency than most memes (Hull, 2000: 55). As for the problem at hand, human altruism, we are only considering human evolution, so it is safe to say that memes replicate with a greater frequency than human genes. 31 so I'll qualify this by saying that this is a generalisation for all memes. There could be any number of reasons why one particular meme is better at being replicated than another. Some reasons are obvious, some are not. In this dissertation, therefore, I will attempt to explicate some of Blackmore's reasons, and to build some of my own. As meme theory is a Darwinian view of culture, it is important to see how far the analogy with gene can be (or rather, should be) taken. Indeed, some argue that the analogy is not there to be made at all, that cultural evolution is 'Lamarckian' not Darwinian. The rest of this chapter then, will not only consider how analogous gene and meme are, but will also illustrate the kinds of arguments forwarded by meme theorists. The first analogy to take account of is a direct one – 'selfish gene' and 'selfish meme'. The Misunderstood Metaphor At the outset, it is important to be aware of one particular source of misunderstanding. There has been, in the past, a good deal of confusion when discussing works on neoDarwinism such as The Selfish Gene. When talking about memes and genes, authors have found it convenient, for the sake of lucidity, to use a particular rhetorical device and write in shorthand. 'Selfish gene' is a metaphor, as Dawkins explains: Throughout this book, I have emphasised that we must not think of genes as conscious, purposeful agents. Blind natural selection, however, makes them behave rather as if they were purposeful, and it has been convenient, as a shorthand, to refer to genes in the language of purpose. For example, when we say 'genes are trying to increase their numbers in future gene pools', what we really mean is ‘those genes that behave in such a way as to increase their numbers in future gene pools tend to be the genes whose effect we see in the world'. Just as we have found it convenient to think of genes as active agents, working purposefully for their own survival, perhaps it might be convenient to think of memes in the same way. In neither case must we get mystical about it. In both cases the idea of purpose is only a metaphor, but we have already seen what a fruitful metaphor it is in the case of genes. We have even used words like 'selfish' and 'ruthless' of genes, knowing full well it is only a figure of speech. Can we, in exactly the same spirit, look for selfish or ruthless memes? (Dawkins, 1976: 196). 32 This is very important when we are discussing memes. Generally when we think about culture, we think about how it benefits the human being and the human society the culture is a part of. A meme, on the other hand, does not necessarily spread because it is beneficial to its host (though this will obviously help rather than hinder the meme). It spreads when it has a property such that it is helpful to itself. This is the sense in which the word 'selfish' is meant when referring to memes (and genes).28 Blackmore's book offers the first serious, all-embracing account of culture in terms of memes.29 One of her main lines of argument is to point out the shortcomings of sociobiological explanations and then advance a memetic account, which seemingly offers a better explanation. The first part of her approach is quite successful, as sociobiology is hard pressed in attempting to explain specific human behaviours as being for the benefit of successful genetic replication. The memetic view, on the other hand, explains many of these behaviours as 'benefiting' the replication of memes. In many situations such an approach, as she shows, does not have to make the giant leaps in reasoning that the traditional sociobiological explanations have had to make. To get an idea of the kind of explanation offered by the meme thesis, I will now look at an example. Familial Evasion and Dipteran Mastication Celibacy is something that sociobiologists have been hard pressed to find an evolutionary explanation for. If human psychology, driven by biology, has one main goal – pass on genes – and this goal is reflected in society, in our customs and behaviour; how do we then explain celibacy? Blackmore points out that biological explanations for this phenomenon are not impossible. A celibate man or woman might be better able to promote the survival of their genes by looking after their siblings or nephews and nieces (kin selection). But what about a celibate priest in a wealthy 28 An important point to note is that all memes (the successful ones at least) are 'selfish', in that they 'want' to be copied. But there are also memes 'for selfish behaviour' and memes 'for altruistic behaviour', of which I will be referring to later. 29 There are other books devoted to memes, Richard Brodie's Virus of the Mind – The New Science of the Meme (1996), Aaron Lynch's Thought Contagion – How Belief Spreads through Society (1996), and of course Dennett takes up the 'meme meme' in Consciousness Explained and Darwin's Dangerous Idea. But I think Blackmore's work stands out thanks to its comprehensive scope and development of the theory. She also devotes two chapters exclusively to the 'paradox of altruism'. 33 society? He would have no need to care for other family members (Blackmore, 1999a: 138). Richard Dawkins' account of the memetic explanation of religious celibacy argues that the success of a meme may depend on the time and effort people spend on spreading it. From the point of view of the meme, doing anything else other than spreading the meme is a waste of time.30 If a priest was married and as a consequence had to spend time with his wife and children, he would not be able to spend as much time propagating religious memes. With this we have the beginnings of a memetic explanation for celibacy. It explains why a meme such as celibacy, which goes against the human sexual (and thus genetic) instinct, could manage to survive and replicate itself. Once created, this meme gets a lot more time devoted to it than other memes do (Dawkins, 1976: 198-199).31 The idea that the success of a meme, on average, depends on the amount of time and effort people spend spreading it, obviously makes sense. 'Mr Formulate' may come up with one of the greatest theories of all time, but if he doesn't spend any time telling people about it, it won't spread.32 Another type of argument, used to show the worth of memes, is of the genes-vsmemes kind. Sociobiologists argue that 'genes hold culture on a leash'. Cultural characteristics evolved in the service of our genes. Genes are the driving force of human culture. Blackmore believes that once a second replicator was on the scene, more often than not the situation was (and is) reversed. Memes are the main driving force of cultural evolution and, not only this, quite often they can be the driving force of biological evolution as well (Blackmore, 1999a: 119-120). She gives one small example of the ability of a new idea (meme) that would change the behaviour of a creature and thus become a new selection pressure on a species. Imagine a salamander-like creature that eats flies. The biological selection pressure on this creature is to be able to reach higher than the other individuals, out-competing 30 This is what is meant by 'selfish meme' (and gene). We have to take the 'meme's eye view'. 31 Of course, a priest could have it both ways and surreptitiously visit the local brothel. 32 The classic case being that of Gregor Mendel and his revolutionary discoveries, which only came to light after his death (Dawkins, 1976: 34). This meme eventually succeeded because of its worth as a scientific theory, but it certainly would have gotten off to a flying start had Mendel 'advertised' it. 34 them for the flies. Selection favours those with genes that give them the longest reach. Now suppose one of these creatures comes across the 'idea' of jumping to get the flies (either by 'thinking' of it first or seeing something else jump). It can now outcompete all the non-jumping creatures easily. All things being equal, those who don't take up the meme of jumping will starve. Of those who survive by taking on this new meme, the selection pressure of jumping will favour creatures with the genes for strong legs and good jumping skills (Blackmore, 1999a: 116-117). This new meme has been the driving force of genetic evolution.33 Replication and Lamarckian Acquisition As already mentioned, genes and memes are replicators. In order to make sense of meme theory; I now need to make clear the attributes of memes that classify them as replicators. Dawkins argues that evolution by natural selection can only work on things that replicate, things that make copies of themselves (Dawkins, 1986: 158). The biological replicator is the gene.34 The cultural replicator is the meme. To be successful, replicators must have certain properties. There needs to be a certain amount of fidelity – accurate copying (otherwise it could hardly be said to be a replicator). But there must be occasional copying errors to provide the variation that natural selection works on (Dawkins, 1986: 158). They also need to have a property that has an influence on the likelihood of them being replicated. That is, those that are more likely to be replicated will out-compete those that are less likely to be replicated (Dawkins, 1986: 158). The fecund will triumph over the barren. They must also be reasonably long lived. The longer they survive, the more copies of themselves they will make (Blackmore, 1999a: 100). Genes have all these properties, which is why they have been such successful replicators (Blackmore, 1999a: 100). Do memes also have these properties? Blackmore believes so. They are 'inherited' when we copy someone else's action, or pass on an idea or story, print a book, or broadcast on the radio. Memes vary, simply 33 As occurred with the lactose tolerance. The meme of dairy farming became a biological selection pressure (Laland & Odling-Smee, 2000:136). 34 Though technically it is DNA that replicates, where genes are made of DNA. But it is genes that produce effects in the world and it is these effects (specifically altruistic ones) that we are interested in. Thus genes are the 'unit' of replication – the smallest amount of hereditary information on which there is selection (Williams, 1966: 25). 35 because humans have a less than perfect memory. And there is memetic selection. We hear many different things each day, read many different things, are exposed to many different ideas and we remember (and pass on) few of them (Blackmore, 1999b: 41). Though memes and genes are both replicators, there are differences between the two. These differences are sufficient enough, some argue, to discredit the idea that Darwinian theory can be applied to cultural evolution. Alfred Russel Wallace believed that cultural evolution was 'Lamarckian' (Ramachandran & Blakeslee, 1998: 190). Other notable people, including Stephen Gould, have also argued this point. As we move forward in time, culture inherits acquired characteristics and evolves. "Any cultural knowledge acquired in one generation can be directly passed on to the next by what we call, in a most noble word, education." (Gould, 1996: 222). The concept of Lamarckian evolution has long been discredited in biology. The inheritance of acquired characteristics does not happen.35 Blacksmiths' sons are not born with bigger muscles in their arms than other children. This is because the genotype of the parents is what is inherited by the children, not the phenotype. Culture, on the other hand, does seem to be Lamarckian. If this is the case, some see it as a problem for memetics (Blackmore, 1999a: 59).36 Given that meme is the analogue of gene, people have attempted to find a similar analogue for cultural genotype and cultural phenotype in order to ascertain whether cultural evolution is indeed Lamarckian. Blackmore manages to sidestep this criticism by arguing that the analogy between memes and genes only goes so far. She asks us to imagine how we could learn to make a particular soup. By analogy, the soup itself is the phenotype and the recipe is the genotype. One way to learn how to make it is to watch it being made, and then make it ourselves (copying the phenotype). Another is to get a copy of the recipe and then make it ourselves (copying the genotype). With the first method, there is potential for Lamarckian inheritance. The person we watch make the soup may make a mistake and add too much salt, which 35 Though there may be some minor exceptions. The book Lamarck's Signature – How Retrogenes are Changing Darwin's Natural Selection Paradigm (1998) by Steele, Lindley and Blanden, argues the neo-Lamarckian case. 36 Gould goes even further, wishing that we wouldn’t even speak of cultural evolution. "Using the same term – evolution – for both natural and cultural history obfuscates far more than it enlightens... I do wish that the term 'cultural evolution' would drop from use." (Gould, 1996: 219220). 36 we will then copy when we make the soup. That is, we have replicated the phenotype which has acquired different characteristics to the genotype. In the true teleological sense of evolution as envisioned by Lamarck, the person we copy may deliberately add too much salt, striving to make the soup taste better, a modification that we then adhere to as well. With the second method, using a copy of the recipe, the inheritance is non-Lamarckian. Even if a mistake is made in cooking the soup, inadvertently making the soup taste better, this characteristic will not be passed on as it is not in the recipe. In this sense, memes can be both Darwinian and Lamarckian in their evolution (Blackmore, 1999a: 61). Blackmore argues that this can start to get confusing, so we should use different terminology for memes. For this she coins 'copy-the-instructions', for the Darwinian (or rather, Weismannian) process, and 'copy-the-product', for the Lamarckian process. The reason why we should not characterise one as Darwinian and the other as Lamarckian is that, unlike the clear-cut example of cooking soup, in general, the two modes of replication may be inextricably mixed (Blackmore, 1999a: 61-62). In asking us to not refer to memetic evolution as Lamarckian (which I do believe makes good sense) Blackmore is invoking 'Campbell's Rule'. The theory of evolution describes the creation of design through the competition between differing replicating entities. Genes are one kind of replicator and memes another. Evolutionary theory applies to both, but the specific details of how each replicator works, more than likely, will be different (Blackmore, 1999a: 17).37 Though the ideas of both Darwin and Lamarck were originally developed to explain biological evolution, Darwinian evolution works for any replicator and replicators do not need to behave in exactly the same way. "Memetics at present remains linked conceptually but not ontologically to biology." (Aunger, 2000: 8). Memes provide a whole new way of looking at culture – a Darwinian view of culture with the meme as the replicator. The main difference between memetics and other ways of trying to understand culture, is that it forces us to take the 'meme's eye view' (Blackmore, 1999a: 37). We have to look at culture from the point of view of culture itself. This novel idea is an essential aspect of memetics. Given that memes are replicators we can then apply Darwinian theory to the study of culture. This does 37 This rule was named after American psychologist Donald Campbell, who saw the analogy between biological and cultural evolution in 1965, but realised it did not have to be exact (Blackmore, 1999a: 17). 37 make a certain amount of sense, in that once an idea is 'born', it no longer relies on its originator, it is a thing unto itself. Independent of its creator, an idea – a meme – in the true Darwinian sense, evolves by descent with modification, struggling for existence, adapting to its environment, competing against rivals and spreading through the 'meme pool'.38 Here we have the basics of memetics. 38 Bertrand Russell makes a similar point when discussing Greek metaphysics in History of Western Philosophy. "Progress in metaphysics, so far as it has existed, has consisted in a gradual refinement of all these hypotheses, a development of their implications, and a reformulation of each to meet the objections urged by adherents of rival hypotheses... Now almost all the hypotheses that have dominated modern philosophy were first thought of by the Greeks... I shall regard them [the Greeks] as giving birth to theories which have had an independent life and growth, and which, though at first somewhat infantile, have proved capable of surviving and developing throughout more than two thousand years." (1946: 57). 38 Chapter 3: The Memetic Account of Altruism "...if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go a mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you." (Matthew 5.39-42). "When two tribes of primeval man, living in the same country, came into competition, if (other circumstances being equal) the one tribe included a great number of courageous, sympathetic and faithful members, who were always ready to warn each other of danger, to aid and defend each other, this tribe would succeed better and conquer the other... Selfish and contentious people will not cohere, and without coherence nothing can be effected. A tribe rich in the above qualities would spread and be victorious over other tribes: but in the course of time it would, judging from all past history, be in its turn overcome by some other tribe still more highly endowed. Thus the social and moral qualities would tend slowly to advance and be diffused throughout the world." (Charles Darwin, 1871: 130) Now that we have covered the basics of memetics, a brief recapitulation is required (regarding the progress evolutionary theorists have made in relation to the 'paradox of altruism') in order to see where memetics can be of help. As we saw in Chapter one, evolutionary theorists have proposed three types of mechanisms for the evolution of altruism: kin selection, reciprocal altruism and group selection (Segerstrale, 2000: 53). These three theories, in their own way, seem to account for all altruistic acts in the animal world – but what about human altruism? We are obviously altruistic creatures, yet we are also Darwinian creatures. If this is the case, then these three theories should be able to take into account all acts of human altruism. But if there is one thing that makes humans different from other animals, it is culture (Dawkins, 1976: 189). In light of this, and though many sociobiological explanations for human altruism are 39 convincing (specifically for unconscious acts that can be explained in biological terms), many of these explanations tend to be stretched for other aspects of human altruism. The memetic account of altruism, as argued by Susan Blackmore in The Meme Machine, takes into account human culture in terms of the Darwinian paradigm. This is what I will now turn to. According to Blackmore, until now there have only been two real explanations for human altruistic behaviour. The first, based on the findings of sociobiology, is that all behaviour comes back to a genetic basis, and acts of (almost) inexplicable altruism (in terms of a neo-Darwinian account) are 'mistakes' made by epigenetic rules (1999a: 154). The reason we make the mistakes is because we execute evolutionary logic, not by a conscious calculator, but by our feelings which have been designed by our evolutionary history as logic executors (Wright, 1994: 190). They are not big enough mistakes (apparently) for natural selection to remove from the human gene pool. The second explanation for human altruism has been to try and elevate humans above being 'mere animals' and argue that humans have a true morality, an independent (from our biology) moral conscience or spiritual essence which overcomes the inherent selfishness of our genes (Blackmore, 1999a: 154). Blackmore claims that we can find a third explanation. The answer to the types of altruism that sociobology is stretched to explain is memetic; simply because some of the most successful memes are those that involve altruistic, cooperative, and generous ways of behaving (Blackmore, 1999a: 154). Memetic and Genetic Interaction Dawkins argued in The Selfish Gene that Darwinism is too big a theory to be confined to genes (1976: 191).39 Genes are obviously important in shaping human behaviour, but they interact with culture, and this interaction is ill understood. The application of Darwinian theory to culture in an effort to find a scientifically acceptable explanation for all aspects of human altruism needs to take this interaction into account. A particular kind of explanation stems from this, the essence of which I have summarised as follows: 39 In this sense, memes can be deemed as a facet of 'Universal Darwinism'. 40 Human brains have in-built innate biological predispositions – epigenetic rules – that have been shaped by evolution. The principles of sociobiology offer valid and testable explanations for these epigenetic rules. Rules that form the basis of human psychology, including general altruistic tendencies. This is the ground floor of explanations for altruistic behaviour. These types of explanations, however, are stretched a long way when attempting to explain specific acts of altruism; acts that appear to have no sound biological explanation. Most sociobiologists argue that these kinds of acts are 'mistakes' that are not costly enough for natural selection to remove. There is another Darwinian account of altruism that does not resort to calling these acts mistakes. It is the memetic account. Given this outline, the core of this problem is akin to a description given by Edward Wilson in his book Consilience: We know that virtually all of human behaviour is transmitted by culture. We also know that biology has an important effect on the origin of culture and its transmission. The question remaining is how biology and culture interact, and in particular how they interact across all societies to create the commonalities of human nature (1998: 138). Human behaviour is neither solely genetic, nor cultural. Locke believed that the mind was a tabula rasa – a white paper. He believed that ideas came from experience and that these ideas supply the material of thinking; ergo, they are the foundation of knowledge (Locke, 1690: 212-122). He was partially correct. Though the mind is not a tabula rasa, ideas do come from experience, including the experience of the ideas themselves. It is just that the epigenetic rules that shape our minds can, to a certain extent, affect which of these ideas we like and how they are used. In this vein, Wilson goes on to say that the majority of people who believe in gene-culture evolution (or in Blackmore's terminology, gene-meme coevolution) would agree with the following proposition: Culture is created by the communal mind, and each mind in turn is the product of the genetically structured human brain. Genes and culture are therefore inseverably linked. But the linkage is flexible, to a degree still mostly unmeasured (1998: 139). One of the best ways to think about the ways in which memes and genes interact, I believe, is to employ an analogy with computers. Brains are the hardware and memes 41 are the 'virtual machines' – that is, the software (Dennett, 1991: 210). The hardware is made up of epigenetic rules, which means that it can run certain types of virtual machines with greater ease (or rather, increased likelihood of success) than others. But with greater and greater programming, with the build up of certain kinds of virtual machines; new virtual machines, that initially would not have been able to be 'installed', can 'run' in the brain. The nature of the human brain means certain types of memes have the best chance of being picked up, but with sufficient exposure to many different memes, this biological nature can be overcome or over exaggerated. In terms of the problem at hand – human altruism – there can be little doubt that it is a product of epigenetic rules, as well as culture, or rather, memes.40 Our brains have some underlying altruistic tendencies, but with the addition of memes these tendencies can be suppressed, or as we shall see, exaggerated. As Wilson points out, the proportion of the influence of genes and memes is unmeasured (and perhaps unmeasurable) (1998:139). This is certainly the case with altruism, and this state of affairs has not changed with Blackmore's book. But what she has done is to strongly argue the cultural aspect of altruism, independent (to a degree) from biology but still within the Darwinian paradigm. This in itself is something new. Leaving the problem of proportion aside (though remembering that in the end, it could actually be the most interesting and important problem) it is time to focus on Blackmore's memetic account of altruism. Kev and Gav After discussing the successes and failures of sociobiology in solving the 'paradox of altruism' (1999a: 147-154), Blackmore begins her argument by posing her stock question: "Imagine a world full of brains, and far more memes than can actually find homes. Which memes are more likely to find a safe home and get passed on again?" She suggests that some of the most successful memes will be altruistic, cooperative and generous in nature (Blackmore, 1999a: 154). Her mechanism for the spread and dominance of such memes is demonstrated with a simple thought experiment. 40 Wilson came up with and used to use the term 'culturgen', but has since (somewhat magnanimously) declared 'meme' the victorious locution (though his definition of 'meme' is physiologically specific – it is a node of semantic memory and its associated brain activity) (Wilson, 1998: 149). 42 She asks us to imagine two people, Kevin and Gavin. Kevin is a nice guy. He is kind and thoughtful. He is generous with his time, throws good parties, buys people drinks and sends out birthday cards. If his friends are in trouble he helps them out. Gavin, on the other hand, is the opposite. He is mean and selfish. He resents buying drinks for others, thinks birthday cards are a waste of money, doesn't throw parties and if any of the few friends he has are in trouble, he always seems to have something more important to attend to. Who, all other aspects being equal (perhaps they are identical twins?), will spread the most memes? It seems a safe assumption that Kevin will, simply because he will have more friends. As a consequence, he spends more time with more people, which means he will expose them to his memes more often than Gavin would expose people to his memes (Blackmore, 1999a: 154-155). On top of this, psychological studies have shown that people are more likely to be influenced and persuaded by people they like, rather than people they dislike (Blackmore, 1999a: 155). Included in the memes that make up Kevin – the memes he exposes to others – are his altruistic memes. Blackmore summarises her argument in the following way: ... if people are altruistic they become popular, because they are popular they are copied, and because they are copied their memes spread more widely than the memes of not-so-altruistic people, including the altruism memes themselves. This provides a mechanism for spreading altruistic behaviour (Blackmore, 1999a: 155, original italics.). Greed is Good! Blackmore argues that ‘we imitate people we like’ as a general rule for the spread of altruism, because more often than not we like people who are altruistic towards us. Therefore, we copy their memes for altruism. I suggest that while this is not wrong, it is a little simplistic. It is not that we imitate people we like, we imitate people we want to be like. It may be the case that often we want to be like people we like, but not necessarily so. Sometimes we may want to be like people who have status, wealth, resources, etc., which were garnered through selfish behaviour. Surely then, this will propagate memes for selfishness. A more general rule for the spread of memes would be, 'we imitate people we want to be like'. Blackmore is not entirely wrong with her mechanism, but she has missed an important point. This is a point that adds to the complexity of the overall picture, and of most significance, it is a more realistic mechanism for why memes spread. 43 I am reminded of the Eighties meme, 'greed is good', propagated by Michael Douglas in the film Wall Street. How far would an altruist go in the corporate world? Let's use Kevin and Gavin again. With out a doubt, socially, Kevin is the winner. He has far more genuine friends. But in the corporate world I don't think it would be beyond belief to suppose that Gavin might do better. Surely selfish Gavin would take advantage of altruistic Kevin. He would get Kevin to cover up his mistakes, 'borrow' Kevin's ideas, ask Kevin for favours but never return them, 'stab him in the back', etc. Gavin would easily 'climb the ladder' at the expense of Kevin. In the corporate world, following the more general rule that we imitate people we want to be like; if we want to get to the top (ergo; we want to be like Gavin) and Gavin had to crush Kevin (and many others) underneath to get there, then this behaviour is what we will imitate. We will pick up (and then pass on) memes for selfishness. Though Kevin may end up loathing Gavin, he might also want to be like him – want to imitate him – simply because Gavin has been successful, which is how Kevin wishes to be also. The only kind of altruism that I can imagine would fare well in the corporate world would be of the reciprocal kind. As Hume noted in A Teatise of Human Nature: I learn to do service to another, without bearing him any real kindness: because I foresee, that he will return my service, in expectation of another of the same kind, and in order to maintain the same correspondence of good offices with me or others. And accordingly, after I have serv'd [sic] him and he is in possession of the advantage arising from my action, he is induc'd [sic] to perform his part, as foreseeing the consequences of his refusal (1740: 521). The Coevolution of Memes and Genes Returning to Blackmore's account, she then goes on to speculate on the initial evolution of memes for altruism. This time we imagine two hunter-gatherers, Kev and Gav. As before, Kev is the altruist and Gav is not. As Kev has genes which have been shaped by kin-selection and reciprocal altruism to a greater extent than Gav's, Kev shares his meat with the surrounding tribe members and Gav does not. Applying her mechanism for altruism, it follows that Kev will spread more memes – his style of quiver, his style of clothes and ways of behaving, etc. – including the altruistic memes (Blackmore, 1999: 157). These memes for altruistic behaviour are initially the product 44 of epigenetic rules These rules provide the basis, but memes are born of them and begin to take on a 'life of their own'. Are such explanations helpful? Can we not still explain it in the sociobiological terms of human psychology and evolutionary 'mistakes'? It seems to me that generally, we need to be able to rule out epigenetic rule 'mistakes' as an explanation for specific acts, otherwise a memetic explanation has little to offer. If we can't, memetics would be reduced (at best) to a trivial footnote of sociobiology (Blackmore, 1999a: 116). At the very least, we need to be able to show that in some circumstances altruistic memes act in spite of epigenetic rules. What evidence is there for this, specifically with regards to altruism? There actually shouldn't be a great deal of evidence of memes opposing genes, as memes that work with genes are generally going to have an advantage over memes that do not. Of course, if a memetic account is valid, there should at least be some instances of this, otherwise sociobiological based altruism will suffice. Blackmore uses as an example 'potlatch', a practice of native Americans and some other tribal groups, where opposing groups try to out-do each other with acts of generosity by giving away or even destroying extravagant gifts. This is not like ordinary reciprocal altruism, where both parties tend to benefit. With potlatch, in material terms, everyone loses (Blackmore, 1999a: 159). This means survival may be less likely, and as such, the meme of potlatch is counter to any biological interest. While Blackmore does suggests that we could regard the tradition of potlatch as a parasitic meme, unfortunately that is as far as her account goes. She doesn't offer a reason as to how it could be successful, given its obvious disadvantages (Blackmore, 1999a: 159).41 Given that examples of memes and genes in conflict are likely to be rare, generally we can expect meme-gene coevolution. If Kev is the more popular because of his altruistic memes, it also means he will be more likely than Gav to attract members of the opposite sex for the purpose of begetting offspring. As such, memes for altruism would spread along with genes for altruism (Blackmore, 1999a: 160). Here we have a positive feedback loop. Genes for altruism give rise to memes for altruism. Memes spread quickly through the population compared to genes (in that human behaviour is 41 Speculation is simple enough. Perhaps it could be the product of a meme for giving gifts gone awry, under the influence of a positive feedback loop similar in nature to the evolution of the Peacock's tail? 45 somewhat malleable and even those without epigenetic altruism rules would still, in all likelihood, be influenced by altruistic memes). Memes now influence mate choice, and altruistic people are more attractive. Over time this would lead to a greater number of individuals in the population with genes for altruism, which in turn would facilitate an even greater spread of altruistic memes, and so on. Blackmore sees this process as memetic driving (Blackmore, 1999a: 160), but I think it must be a case of memes and genes driving each other. As previously mentioned, the proportion of the influence of genes and memes is unmeasured (Wilson, 1998: 139). In this case, and often in others, it probably is memes doing a lot of the driving as they can replicate with a higher frequency. But in saying this, it should also be recognised that certain memes may be constrained by epigenetic rules. Our brains are the environment in which memes are selected, and it is an environment that to a certain extent is 'hard-wired'. An analogy might be that of the non-living parts of an ecosystem and their relationships to the biota of that system. The biota is constrained by the geography of the system, the terrain and climate, etc. But given enough time, the biota can influence and change the geographical features of an ecosystem; even the climate of the entire planet was changed by the evolution of various organisms. The same can be said for meme-gene interactions. Memes are constrained by genes, but given enough time they can also cause dramatic genetic evolution.42 Many acts of altruism may have evolved by meme-gene coevolution. Blackmore goes on to argue that modern humans we can ignore meme-gene coevolution, even though there still is interaction (Blackmore, 1999a: 162). This is because over short time periods, memes can evolve quite dramatically, whereas genes cannot. The influence of natural and sexual selection on genetic predispositions for altruism is negligible over a century (say), as we are only talking about a few generations, but memes go through innumerable generations in the same period of time.43 Altruistic memes, therefore, should be greater in their effect than altruistic genes. 42 Memes can also have a massive effect on geography, climate, etc. Driving cars, building factories, cutting down forests, turning on air conditioners (all arguably memes, or the products of memes) have changed the atmosphere so much that the climate of the globe is predicted to change dramatically as well (McKibben, 1990: 45) 43 Remembering my analogy that the non-living parts of an ecosystem (the brain) may constrain the biota (the memes) of that system. 46 This kind of reasoning is for the evolution and spread of general altruistic tendencies. In this way, it is not a great deal different to the overall sociobiological account. If the memetic account is to be of use, it should be able to give us explanations for specific acts of altruism. Dawkins (1976) does this (with hypothetical genes). He uses specific behavioural strategies (applied to animals) and argues how they evolved. Blackmore, on the other hand, argues for general altruistic tendencies. This in itself is not necessarily an error, but arguments for specific memes are more convincing. When speaking about the general attributes of human nature, such as 'being nice means you will be popular' (as with Kevin), she isn't really telling us something that we didn't already know. For this reason, this insight could seem a little trivial. Dawkins' strategy of using thought experiments involving specific 'genes for behaviour' is far more potent, as it allows us to take the 'gene's eye view' and see why such a behaviour would be so adaptively effective. To be fair, Blackmore does start to look at specific memes for altruism in the next chapter The Altruism Trick, but not to the same extent or with the same force as Dawkins. Given all this, I am left to conclude that epigenetic rules may be able to explain the underlying tendency to be altruistic, but memetics should be able to make further progress and explain why one specific meme has been more successful than another. When looking at altruism memetically, we need to realise that only certain kinds of memes for altruism and certain kinds of memes for selfishness are likely to be successful. A memetic account of altruism needs to be able to identify the properties of these successful memes. Not only for memes for altruistic behaviour, but also memes for selfish behaviour. Sociobiologists have demonstrated how a gene for altruism or a gene for selfishness could spread through a population. Should it not be possible to apply similar techniques in order to understand the propagation of a meme for altruism and a meme for selfishness? With this in mind, I have constructed a thought experiment regarding a specific meme for altruism. A Modest Altruistic Act Consider a meme for holding doors open for other people, especially those who are unknown to us. The 'anti-meme' of this (by which I mean the behaviour which is its complete opposite) is pushing past people to get into or out of a building. I will consider the fight over 'space' in a human brain between these two opposing memes. As they are opposing each other, there is only a position for one of them in the 47 particular niche of a human brain. For the sake of brevity I shall refer to them from this point on as P (the 'Polite meme') and R (the 'Rude meme'). We can consider P to be an oddity of human altruism, as it is for the benefit of strangers – we cannot assume that they will pay us back in the future. Though it would be possible to house both of these memes concurrently (the decision to be polite or rude could depend on mood or if the person is late, and so on) for the sake of this thought experiment we will assume that these two behaviours are typically found in different individuals. That is, if one adheres to P then one would generally not be predisposed to R, and vice-versa. I will now explore the competition between these two memes by considering the case of 'Joe Average'. Joe Average has the same number of memes for altruistic behaviour as he does for selfish behaviour. He was raised in the country, in a town named Trustworthyville, where there were no such things as doors (as everybody trusted everybody). Thus our friend Joe Average had never experienced P or R. At the tender young age of 15, Joe went on his first trip to the city. He experienced two things on his entrance and exit through a door into and out of a building. On the way in, a man rudely pushed past him. Joe experienced R. On the way back out, another man held the door open for him. Joe experienced P. This happened several times throughout the day. There was no obvious correlation between the two memes and the age, or gender of the people whose behaviour Joe witnessed, or the direction Joe was travelling. Joe has absolutely no one who can tell him which meme he should 'take on'. So which meme will have the most chance of being replicated in Joe's brain and consequently shape his behaviour? To answer this we should go back and ask Blackmore's question. "Imagine a world full of brains, and far more memes than can possibly find homes. Which memes are more likely to find a safe home and get passed on again?" We will assume, as argued above, that there is room in Joe's brain for only one of these memes, either P or R. Joe's 'memeplex'44 is unbiased in this matter, so the environment in his brain, made up of other memes is equally hospitable to both these 44 Dawkins initially used the terminology ‘coadapted meme complex’ to describe all the memes that have adapted and coevolved together. If you have a meme for ‘carbon emissions cause global warming’ (say) you are more likely to have a meme for using public transport and walking, than one for driving everywhere you go. (Assuming you believe global warming is a bad thing of course!) This is the ‘environmental memeplex’. ‘Coadapted meme complex’ has since undergone a memetic selection itself, to the more snazzy, ‘memeplex’ (Dawkins, 1999: xiv). 48 memes. How will he 'decide' which meme to accept? If we go along with Blackmore and hold that people tend to imitate nice people, or people they like, then there would be a greater likelihood that P will be successful over R. Joe is hardly going to like the individuals who rudely push by him and he will most likely like people who open doors for him. In a person whose memeplex is not heavily biased towards memes for altruism or memes for selfishness, the 'Polite meme' is more likely to have success than the 'Rude meme'.45 This is a very simple model of the competition between two specific acts. Of course, often an essential ingredient may be left out using simple models. But we need to start with the uncomplicated before we move up to the complicated. Simple models are used to give us a general idea of how a system might work. Once this has been covered, models can be upgraded to include greater complexity to give us a more accurate picture of the system (Sober & Wilson, 1998: 22). This is the kind of advantage a memetic account may have to offer though. We could be able to analyse specific acts of altruism that are based on culture rather than biology, with a level of understanding that so far has been absent in all other accounts. The Ultimate Altruistic Act Let's make Kevin join the army. Why would he throw himself on a hand-grenade to save an unrelated fellow soldier? This has no obvious genetic advantage. He obviously won't be able to reproduce. He isn't related to the other soldier so his genes won't make it into the next generation by kin selection. Reciprocal altruism seems somewhat unlikely (Kevin is dead after all). And (biological) group selection is doubtful, because not only does there need to be a genetic basis for this behaviour, even if there is, the genes of altruistic Kevin die with him (assuming he has no children). But in terms of memetic fitness, such a sacrifice is fantastic for this particular altruistic meme. Genes can only be transmitted vertically from the parent to the offspring. Memes, on the other hand, can be transferred horizontally. They are not restricted by biological lineages. With Kevin's death, therefore, all his genes become extinct, but not necessarily all his memes, and certainly not the meme for suicidal sacrifice. As Dawkin's noted with religious celibacy, the success of a meme is likely to be directly 45 In 1993 I lived in the Seychelles (in the Indian Ocean) where the Rude meme was dominant. Obviously the reason why one meme becomes dominant over another is going to be of greater complexity than my account. 49 correlated to the amount of time spent spreading it. Stories will be told over generations about Private Kevin's heroic act. He will be upheld as the ideal soldier, a movie may even be made about him. From the meme's point of view, Kevin's act couldn't have been of greater value.46 This kind of example involves modern memetic altruism, as opposed to altruistic acts that would have initially been based solely in biology. It presupposes altruistic epigenetic rules, but goes beyond this, arguing for an already complex meme pool from which new kinds of altruistic memes can arise. Behaviours of this kind would not survive simply as instinctive biological acts. The animal world is one that is dominated by genes. It generally operates in the absence of a separate and influential culture. If one could find an example in the animal world that is comparable to Kevin sacrificing himself as above, then the memetic theory of altruism (certainly for this particular act) would be in trouble. This kind of act is pervasive in human culture. At the very least, if it is not actually often performed, it is ubiquitous in human mythology and storytelling. Sacrificing oneself for others is generally held to be a moral act of the highest order. But this kind of act will only occur in an environment that is greatly influenced by culture, not just genes. Indeed, this kind of act is unheard of in the human world when culture is less complex. In his book Guns, Germs and Steel (1997), Jared Diamond discusses why states usually triumph over smaller groups (tribes and the like) in war. The most obvious reason is the superior size, and more advanced weapons and technology of states, compared to that of smaller groups. States also have a centralised command that can direct resources with great efficacy. Perhaps a less significant reason, but of interest to our discussion, is that official religions and patriotic fervour often encourage soldiers to fight suicidally for their state (Diamond, 1997: 281). A classic example is the Battle of Thermopylae (480 B.C.). 46 One can offer counter arguments to this. Wouldn't people watching the act be horrified? Is there actually any evidence that such behaviour is imitated? In regards to the first objection, I would agree that the people witnessing the act may be horrified, but they would also be extremely grateful (I would assume) as their lives were saved. Though the meme might not 'infect' them, that is, entice them to perform the act, they would at least spread it by telling the anecdote of Kevin's sacrifice. Moving to the second objection, I would submit that suicide bombers and Kamikaze pilots are evidence for the imitation of such behaviour. These answers are not necessarily what actually happens, but these objections and my responses are of the sort that can be put to the test. 50 Thermopylae was a narrow mountain pass through which the invading Persian army would have to navigate in order to conquer Greece. A small Greek force of around 5000 troops, commanded by the Spartan king, Leonidas, was charged with the task of holding the Persians at Thermoplyae. The Greeks held the pass for three days until the Persians were guided around their position by a Greek traitor. Sending the majority of his troops to safety, Leonidas remained behind with 300 Spartan troops in order to delay the Persians. They were eventually overcome, with every Spartan making the supreme altruistic sacrifice of death (Hammond, 1959: 231-236). In themselves acts like this are remarkable, but consider the actual mindset of the Spartans. Two men had been absent as they were affected with a disease of the eyes, a symptom of which is near blindness. One of them forced his helot (a slave of the state) to lead him to the battle, where he was promptly despatched to 'the house of Hades'. The other, thinking himself too ill, didn't fight. On his return to Sparta he was deemed ignominious. No one would speak to him as he was branded a coward (Russell, 1946: 116).47 It seems that in Spartan society, even an illness (including one that obviously meant the afflicted individual would be next to useless in a battle) was not a good enough excuse to avoid suicidally sacrificing oneself. I believe the Spartan's had a motto along the lines of: "Come back with your shield, or on it!" The willingness of citizens of modern states to behave in such fashion is at odds with much of human history. Private Kevin's act of heroism would be almost incomprehensible to the members of a band or tribe. Diamond claims that in all his encounters with native New Guineans, they maintain that in all their previous acts of tribal warfare, tribal patriotism, suicidal charges and deliberate strategies that carry a high risk of injury or death, are unheard of (1997: 282).48 So why and how did such a behaviour only evolve in large groups? I doubt the explanation is purely biological – that it is an epigenetic rule – given that human groups can behave very differently without being genetically different, and differences in behaviour can develop in extremely short periods of time (Sober & Wilson, 1998: 149).49 As with private Kevin act of self-sacrifice, I will now consider this behaviour to 47 A year later he made up for his supposed pusillanimity by dying in another battle. 48 Note that this contradicts Darwin's claim which I previously cited: "He who was ready to sacrifice his life, as many a savage has been..." 49 If one was to take healthy babies from their countries of birth and swap them around, they could all learn the 'non-native' languages, count, use tools, etc. The essentially human parts of 51 be a meme (arguably the most altruistic meme of all). It makes sense that a meme of this sort could only flourish in a large population. In small bands and tribes, there are less resources for memes (brains, books etc.). The competition for these resources, therefore, is far fiercer. It then follows that any meme that significantly reduces the quantity of resources will find the going tough. In a band of 20, for example, if one person sacrifices himself for the rest, 1/20th of the population is eliminated and only 19 people are actually exposed to the meme. Whereas when Kevin throws himself on a grenade, he reduces the population by 1/20 million (if he was an Australian, say) and could potentially spread his memes to far more than 20 million people (if a movie is made). From this we can see that for memes of this kind, when the population increases, the meme becomes less harmful (proportionally) and can spread even further. This is all well and good, but now we must ask ourselves: "Why would such a behaviour be seen as a good thing in the first place?" This is a fair question that deserves an answer. Obviously, once it became associated with religious memes that suggest this sacrifice has its reward in the afterlife (such as martyrdom), it has a great chance of being replicated (the Middle East as a case in point). How did it initially come about (and how does it still exist) without theistic conviction? One possible reason I can hypothesise is that in a small group (again a band of 20), the sacrifice of one individual, at the most, could save 19 others, and more than likely would only save a few. From the point of view of those left behind, though they would be grateful, they might not see the utility of such a sacrifice. After all, why kill yourself just to save a few other people? It may as well be them rather than you.50 But the utility of such a sacrifice becomes far more obvious if one individual saves hundreds of others, or more (or hundreds saving thousands, as with the battle of Thermopylae). Given the human ego, given that stories of such bravery will be told and retold, others who are left behind may see this kind of action as their route to immortality. If given the opportunity, they may make a similar sacrifice and start the cycle again. As Darwin noted: our intelligence were in place before our anatomically modern human ancestors spread throughout the globe (Pinker, 2001). That is, behavioural differences among human groups are cultural, not biological. This is why group selection driven only by biology is unlikely to be the explanation. 50 This is not an ethical position to take, but a rational one for the purely self-interested. 52 A man who was not impelled by any deep, instinctive feeling, to sacrifice his life for the good of others, yet was roused to such actions by a sense of glory, would by his example excite the same wish for glory in other men, and would strengthen by exercise the noble feeling of admiration (1871: 132). For this to occur it is essential for the sacrifice to be made within a large enough society. Who knows where the 'largeness threshold' lies, but I suspect that it would need to be in the hundreds, if not thousands of citizens. Treating this phenomenon as a meme, it is possible to come up with quite a plausible explanation for its evolution. Group Selection Revisited This is memetic spread within the society itself, but as Diamond has argued, this meme may give the survival advantage to the group that has it over the group that doesn't (when they are involved in direct conflict). It will be especially powerful when combined with religious memes. Peter Singer makes this point too: But when most members of a group believe that to die in battle for the survival of the group is to go straight to a realm of eternal bliss, the group will be more formidable in war than other groups who can offer their soldiers no comparable spur to self sacrifice. Paradoxically, even the soldiers who hold this false belief may be less likely to die in war than the soldiers of other societies that lack the belief; for armies made up of soldiers who fight without fear of dying are more likely to be victorious, and victorious armies suffer fewer casualties than those that they rout (1993: 103). A meme, primarily, doesn't survive and spread for the benefit of the group. It is only of benefit to itself. But if a meme does have a property that makes it of benefit to an individual or to the group, it has an advantage over one that doesn't. I have shown how the meme for suicidal sacrifice could spread within the group, even though it is obviously disadvantageous to many of the individuals who make up the group. But it does have a 'bonus property' of being beneficial when the group competes against other groups that lack the suicidal sacrifice meme. This is memetic group selection. As we saw with the brain worm, group selection can occur when the benefit for the group outweighs the individual cost. The suicidal sacrifice trait gives the group that has it a 53 greater chance of surviving than a group that doesn't. The altruistic group will more than likely win, and the memes and genes of the losing group will become extinct. Blackmore agrees with this kind of reasoning. She sees the group as a very large 'meme vehicle' and does contend that group selection of memes could be quite a significant force. However, she only actually applies memetic group selection to religions. Her argument for the memetic selection of religious beliefs is parallel to my own for the group selection of altruism. The meme for suicidal sacrifice gives advantage to the group when they are in violent conflict (Blackmore, 1999a: 198-200). I think Blackmore has made an error with her memetic account of altruism by missing a major part of the story – memetic group selection. This error is puzzling given that she does apply group selection to religions. Leaving this query aside, I will now return to Sober and Wilson's account of the evolution of altruism via group selection, this time for humans. As we shall see, their account is not at odds with the memetic one. In the second chapter I used the parasite Dicrocoelium dendriticum to illustrate how group selection could account for some forms of altruism. Group selection with Dicrocoelium dendriticum was purely biological, but Sober and Wilson argue that with humans, much of group selection is culturally driven, specifically by social norms which delineate acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Within-group selfishness is punished if is considered unacceptable behaviour. "In most human social groups, cultural transmission is guided by a set of norms that identify what counts as acceptable behaviour." (Sober & Wilson, 1998: 150). In terms of prescribing behaviour, social norms seem little different to memes.51 Consider one of their examples. They propose two imaginary cultures, squibs and squabs. Squibs follow the social norms: be altruistic to fellow squibs, punish those who don't, and punish those who fail to punish. Squabs follow the norm: solve your own problems. In any between-group competition, the squibs will obviously outperform the squabs. Thanks to the squibs' norms (or rather, memes) they will not be exploited from within, as cheaters and 51 Even if Sober and Wilson would not agree that social norms and memes are the same (when it comes to prescribing behaviour), at the very least they conclude that altruism and group selection with humans is driven by culture, as well as genes (1998: 149). 54 freeloaders will be punished.52 If every year there is movement between groups, squibs who become squabs are exploited unless they change their ways and squabs who become squibs are punished unless they change their ways. People are good at changing their ways so the group differences have a greater stability than the individual differences (Sober & Wilson, 1998: 151). We could call this phenomenon 'social inertia'. Given this, within the group it then seems arbitrary as to which social norm prevails. However, within a world of squibs and squabs who compete in the formation of new groups, the squibs will win. The reason is that: "Within-group selection can favour any behaviour, depending on the social norm of the group. Between-group selection favours only social norms that lead to functionally adaptive groups." (Sober & Wilson, 1998: 152). Squibs cannot be subverted from within thanks to punishment of unacceptable behaviour, and when squibs compete as a group against squabs, they have a greater chance of being the victor. Computer modelling has demonstrated that altruists do well by forming into groups with each other, but selfish types do not. Selfish types do well by evolving long dispersal distances, spreading out towards the altruistic 'suckers' and avoiding other selfish types. Altruists fare better by clustering together in groups (Netting, 2002). As we have seen, Sober and Wilson argue that one of the most important conditions for group selection of altruism is competition for the formation of new groups. If groups split up and reform, with altruists seeking out other altruists (as computer models have shown), they are protecting themselves from 'subversion from within'. With humans, biology has given most of us the potential to be altruistic, but culture can subdue or reinforce this instinct. If human groups split up and reform, with the reformation based on people with memes for altruism seeking out other altruists, altruism should flourish. This is not a difficult proposition to agree with. The majority of us seek out like-minded individuals for companions. I am reminded of an episode of The Simpsons. We are given a history lesson on the foundation of Springfield (the Simpsons' home town) and 52 Sober and Wilson point out that this then requires investigation of the evolution of punishment. At the end of the investigation we should find that it is a behaviour that benefits the group at a minor cost to the individual, which is not a problem if the individual cost is sufficiently small (1998: 151). Of course, in some ways punishment just seems like a more developed form of reciprocal altruism. 55 their neighbouring town (and bitter rivals) Shelbyville. The settlers originally came as one large group to form a town and start new lives together. When they arrived, a dispute broke out (about the laws by which they would live) between two factions. One faction wanted to live as good, moral Christians, while the other faction wanted to get drunk all the time and marry their cousins. Like-minded people had sought each other out until they eventually formed rival factions, with the first group going on to form Springfield and the second Shelbyville. This fictitious (and amusing) example demonstrates the group sorting of memes – in this case, memes for Christian morality and memes for getting drunk and marrying cousins.53 But it is also a general argument for the group selection of memes, when one set of memes give advantages to the group when they are competing against another. Memetic group selection could be a major reason why we see such a high prevalence of altruism in human societies today. Splitting up and reforming, as well as selfreinforcing memes (social norms) protect groups from 'subversion from within', and in direct competition, altruistic groups are likely to fare better than selfish groups. It is important to be aware of what I am not arguing. Group selection is often thought of as 'for the good of the species', as if animals are making a deliberate and reasoned choice. This is clearly untrue. I am speaking of group selection as the differential fitness between groups engaged in competition. As we have seen, memetic group selection is significantly different to genetic group selection. The genes of an altruist suffer when engaged in within-group competition, but this is not necessarily the case with their memes. Thanks to horizontal transmission, memes are not bound to their 'vehicle'. We have many different types of memes for altruism. When looking at specific acts of altruism, memetics may be a useful analytic tool. However, it needs to be acknowledged that examples as I have just given are extremely simplified. This simplification is necessary if we are to have a starting point. The real world is likely to be far more elaborate. This is only natural when we think about the complex interplay of human culture, let alone when epigenetic rules are thrown into the mix. The reason we have such memes in the first place is because of the epigenetic rules that create the 'geographical features' of the environment that is our brain, and the other memes 53 Darwin succumbed to this meme and married his cousin Emma Wedgwood (Desmond & Moore, 1991: 279). (I don't think he drank too much though.) 56 already residing there, the other 'biota'. As Edward Wilson pointed out, the extent of the influence of genes and memes on human behaviour is unmeasured (1998: 139). Blackmore has begun to provide the basics of a memetic theory of altruism. The next step would be to actually conduct empirical research, to try and quantify the influence of genes and memes on altruistic behaviour. A memetic theory of altruism needs to take into account accepted biological principles and then go further. For species other than humans, species that lack culture, evolutionary explanations for altruism (kin selection, reciprocal altruism and group selection) are sound (even if there is yet a general consensus). As an explanation for the basis of human psychology, again, these evolutionary accounts are sound. But there it is apparent that there are gaps in our understanding of human altruism, gaps that the memetic explanation seems to be able to fill. Human culture is amazingly complex – so complex that many social scientists have given up on a quantitative approach to understanding it. They favour a holistic, qualitative description. But the human brain is also amazingly complex, for example, and incredible progress has been made in neuroscience by breaking down the complex whole into analysable chunks, forging ahead bit by bit (Laland & Brown 2002: 43). This is precisely what meme theory offers. Though I have been concerned with altruism only, memetics could offer new insights into the history of human culture. Jarred Diamond, in his epilogue to Guns, Germs and Steel, discusses the nature of historical research. This discipline of history is generally considered to not be a science. But this is if we take a narrow view of what it is that science does. He asks us to recall that the word 'science' comes from the Latin word scientia, which means 'knowledge'. This knowledge should to be obtained by whatever methods are appropriate to the field of investigation. Historical sciences share many features, but the four he singles out are methodology, causation, prediction and complexity. The investigation of history is primarily concerned with, not historical 'facts', but chains of causes (Diamond, 1997: 420-422). Given that history is about explaining chains of causes, does investigating history from the 'meme's eye view' help with this? In order to come to a conclusion on whether the memetic account is worth serious consideration, it is necessary to say something on memetics as a whole. Is it a solid, causal, evolutionary account of culture? How can memes 'cause' things to happen? If memes do offer a solid causal explanation for why things are as they are, in this case for why we have altruism, then memetics should be taken seriously. This will be the focus of Chapter four. 57 58 Chapter 4: Explanation and Causation "When I see, for instance, a Billiard-ball moving in a straight line towards another; even suppose motion in the second ball should by accident be suggested to me, as the result of their contact or impulse; may I not conceive, that a hundred different events might as well follow from that cause? May not both these balls remain at absolute rest? May not the first ball return in a straight line, or leap off from the second in any line or direction? All these suppositions are consistent and conceivable. Why then should we give preference to one, which is no more consistent or conceivable than the rest? All our reasonings [sic] a priori will never be able to shew [sic] us any foundation for this preference." (David Hume, 1748: 26-27).54 "So there is a world out there, independent of us, waiting to be discovered. The things out there in the world are called phenomena, and most would agree that science has at least two principle aims, that of predicting and explaining these phenomena." (Wesley Salmon, 1978: 684). "...I mean by nature, only the aggregate action and product of many natural laws, and by laws the sequence of events as ascertained by us." (Charles Darwin, 1859: 64). The Ontology of Cause Generally when we are trying to explain a phenomenon, we search for its cause. If we find the cause, we have then explained why the phenomenon has come to be, or why it is the case. This seems simple enough. Science, at the very least, is based on a 54 Of course, though Hume's argument may be epistemologically sound, following it to its logical conclusion leads to some strange beliefs. One which no-one could actually believe (including Hume I'd be willing to bet) is that when at a firing range, one should hold the same preference for pointing a loaded gun at one's own head as one holds for pointing it at the target, and firing it! Ironically, sometimes being logical would lead one to be irrational. 59 belief in cause and effect, or so common sense would have us believe.55 Hume argued that we are actually mistaken in our belief about cause and effect. If we observe that event A is followed by event B, we may feel that there must be some property of A which causes B, but all we actually see is the contiguity and succession of the events (Popkin & Stroll, 1993: 265). "We have no other notion of cause and effect, but that of certain objects, which have been always conjoin'd [sic] together, and which in all past instances have been found inseparable. We cannot penetrate into the reason of the conjunction. We only observe the thing itself, and always find that from the constant conjunction the objects acquire an union in the imagination." (Hume, 1740: 93). We cannot actually say that one event caused another. All we know for sure is that one event is correlated to another. For this Hume coined the term 'constant conjunction'. That is, when we see that one event alway 'causes' another, what we are really seeing is that one event has always been 'constantly conjoined' to the other. As a consequence, we have no reason to believe that one caused the other, or that they will continue to be 'constantly conjoined' in the future (Popkin & Stroll, 1993: 268).56 The reason we do believe in cause and effect is not because cause and effect are the actual way of nature; we believe because of the psychological habits of human nature (Popkin & Stroll, 1993: 272). If we agree with Hume, then how can we have science, let alone argue that these perhaps non-physical entities, memes, do anything at all?57 How can they be the 'cause' of altruism? Recall that 'Joe Average' came into contact with two memes on his first journey to the city. The Polite meme (P) and the Rude meme (R). If we accept Hume's argument and we observe Joe being polite after he had observed P, there is only one conclusion we can draw. Joe's observation of the polite behaviour, and then the subsequent polite behaviour of Joe, were merely 'conjoined'. For this reason, with 55 With the one notable exception being quantum mechanics. 56I call this the 'sh_t happens' account (pardon my descent into scatology). There is no way to explain why something occurred, or to predict when it will occur again. "Sh_t just happens man!" 57 With regards to science, some still hold Hume's view. The scientific 'fact' that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius, means, that it has been observed many times that an impression, called water boiling, has been constantly conjoined with another impression, a thermometer reading 100 degrees Celsius. Scientific information doesn't tell us about relationships in nature, it tells us about regular sequences that have been observed. On the basis of these observations we expect and predict (without actually having a better reason than psychological habit) that the same conjunctions will occur in the future (Popkin & Stroll, 1993: 272). 60 regard to my overall account of P, all we can say is: "It has been observed that, in general, people who come into contact with polite behaviour tend to behave politely themselves". Thus we have no explanation, in terms of any real connection between cause and effect, for why polite behaviour spreads, and certainly no room for an intermediary entity such as the meme. If science is just about telling us what was observed, it is deeply unsatisfying – we are robbed of any prospect of genuine scientific explanations. This is where I shall turn to some recent philosophy of science, with the hope of finding a satisfactory account of causality, which I can then apply to meme theory. What we seem to need for a scientific explanation is a connection between cause and effect. Wesley Salmon contends that a scientific explanation is the state of affairs of something fitting into or being a part of a pattern in the world, where the pattern is constituted by at least one causal process (Forge, 1999: 10). A process is the real physical connection between cause and effect. For example, the heat from the flame of a gas stove excites the molecules in the water via the iron atoms in the bottom of the pan. This is a process where every step from the cause, the flame, can be traced to the effect, boiling water. This view has come to be known as the ‘ontic’ account of explanation. It is thoroughly realist and rests on an ontology that is designed to answer the question: "Just what is a causal process?" (Forge, 2002b). Needless to say, Salmon's ratiocination of his ontology of cause and effect is complex. It is not in the purview of this dissertation to critically examine his views in any detail.58 What I intend to do is use his ontology to argue that memes fulfil the criteria of a genuine causal processes. They have the potential to be a genuine scientific account of culture, and specifically of altruism. I will begin with some detailed examples before I move on to the generalities of the memetic account. 58 For this I would suggest (Forge, 1999: Chapter 2). 61 Wittgenstein's Meme ...I taught a young woman who affected an unusual habit. When asked a question which required deep thought, she would screw her eyes tight shut, jerk her head down to her chest and then freeze for up to half a minute before looking up, opening her eyes, and answering the question with fluency and intelligence. I was amused by this, and did an imitation of it to divert my colleagues after dinner. Among them was a distinguished Oxford philosopher. As soon as he saw my imitation, he immediately said: "That's Wittgenstein! Is her surname _______ by any chance?" Taken aback, I said that it was. "I thought so", said my colleague. "Both her parents are professional philosophers and devoted followers of Wittgenstein." The gesture had passed from the great philosopher, via one or both of her parents to my pupil. I suppose that, although my further imitation was done in jest, I must count myself as a fourth-generation transmitter of that gesture. And who knows where Wittgenstein got it? (Dawkins, 1999: vii). Dawkins' example illustrates how memes are transmitted and what they transmit. Wittgenstein's gesture has been transmitted from Wittgenstein to the pupil's parents, to the pupil, and then to Dawkins by imitation. Thus imitation is how it has been transmitted. But the imitation itself is not the meme. The gesture is. The information of how to do the gesture is what is transmitted. In Dawkins' account, through imitation, information has been transferred visually. But we know that it must be information that is transmitted, because we don't need to see someone else do it to take up 'Wittgenstein's meme' ourselves. Reading Dawkins' description of it should be enough for us to take it up, and Dawkins' written description is information in the most literal sense. As we will see, information is extremely important if we are to consider memetics as a genuine causal account. According to Salmon, causal processes transmit 'structure', or energy and momentum or 'information' from one spatio-temporal location to another (Forge, 1999: 19). The important word to note here is 'information'. Dawkins originally termed meme as: "...a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation." (Dawkins, 1976: 192). When discussing exactly what memes are, Blackmore and others do not give careful enough ontological distinction between how memes are transmitted and what they transmit. As I have shown with Dawkins' example, the meme is information that, generally, is transmitted by imitation. But Blackmore and Dawkins commonly speak of memes as units of imitation: 62 A meme is anything that is copied from person to person by imitation. It comes from the Greek for that which is imitated. So the idea is that if you pass anything on from person to person, copying it, that counts as a meme. So, for example, songs, stories, habits, ways of doing things, like the clothes you wear, driving on the left or the right, the kind of foods you eat, these are things you do because you’ve picked them up from other people, so they all count as memes (Blackmore, 2000). Here we can see that Blackmore is actually proposing how memes are transmitted. What a meme is, on the other hand, is a distinct memorable unit of culture (Dennett, 1995: 344) Units of culture such as the examples Blackmore uses are units of information. Imitation is how memes are transmitted (remembering this is only when a meme is transferred directly from person to person and not via another medium such as a book, or indeed a thesis) and information is what they transmit.59 Even though it is information, we cannot yet be sure that it is a genuine causal process. There are two ways, in principle, by which it is possible to demarcate causal processes from 'pseudo-processes' – how causal processes are transmitted through space-time and what they transmit (Forge, 2002a). As for how causal processes are transmitted, the theory holds that the transmissions must be continuous, with no discontinuities or 'jumps' in space-time. Unfortunately this is not enough to be sure that it is a genuinely causal process, as 'pseudo-processes' can also be continuous. Therefore we need to look at what causal processes transmit – in this case, information. Salmon argues that given causal processes transmit information, we should be able to 'mark' a process by modifying it, to see if the modification is transmitted. This 'marking principal' serves to demarcate causal process from pseudo-processes, as the latter cannot be marked (Forge, 2002a). Can the marking principle be used to see if memes are genuine causal processes? I believe so. For example, I could 'do Wittgenstein' the correct way to half the people I 59 I think Dawkins and Blackmore would agree with this point. "[A meme] is a new replicator; that is a new kind of information that can be copied with variation and selection." (Blackmore, 2000). "At its heart [evolution] is the information that is copied, or the replicator." (Blackmore, 1999b: 40). It is just that such careful ontological distinction wasn't really necessary for their purposes. However, it is important apropos memes being genuine causal processes. Also worth noting is that the online Journal of Memetics has the sub-title Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission. 63 meet and make up my own version of it (a slight variation like poking my tongue out as well) for the other half. If this new version spreads along with the old then it should fulfil the criteria of the marking principle. For a given process, if it can be interfered with, or marked, such that the structure, etc., that it transmits is modified, then that process is a genuine causal process (Forge, 1999: 19). I don't believe it is too much of a stretch of the imagination to presume that both versions of Wittgenstein's meme would spread. If this is the case, we have a genuine causal process, as one version of the meme has been marked. However, there is a problem with this. If no one ever bothered to imitate my variation, it would seem that the process had not been marked. We would conclude, therefore, the meme is not a genuine causal process. Blackmore's soup might be a better example. The soup, consisting of ingredients that make up the recipe, is literally information. As with Wittgenstein's gesture, person B can learn how to make this recipe from person A by 'copy-the-product' or 'copy-the-instruction'. The first method is via visual and auditory information. B watches A make it and then makes it himself. The second method works via written information. B gets a copy of the recipe from A and then makes it himself. With either method A can 'mark' the process by making a change to the recipe. He could add too much salt, for example. B will then copy this change when he makes the soup. This fulfils the 'marking criteria'. If a process can be marked, such that the information that it transmits is modified, then that process is a genuine causal process. These processes of memetic replication, either 'copy the product' or 'copy the instruction', are genuine causal processes. It is not very surprising that this is a causal process. Though this may seem mundane, it has laid the foundation for a further, more interesting and more speculative application of Salmon's ontology. Information Transfer Things are 'causal agents' if they are originators of causal chains and not merely 'passers on' of causes. They are 'uncaused causers' (Forge, 2002a). The 'uncaused causer' is the first cause in a new causal chain. It is the initial cause in the chain of causal events we are interested in explaining.60 Could memes be causal agents of this 60 The ‘uncaused causer’, though an Aristotelian notion, is not the ‘unmoved mover’ of Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas – the first ever cause in the universe. The uncaused causer obviously 64 type? Are they 'uncaused causers'? We have seen that they fulfil the 'marking criteria', therefore they are genuine causal processes. But we need more than this. We need to know how they actually cause behaviour. Specifically, the way they cause acts of altruism. Before I speculate on how a meme for altruism causes altruistic behaviour, it is worthwhile to examine how genes cause things to happen – to examine genes as 'causal agents'. Genetics has had a head start on memetics. We know far more about how genes work than how memes work. The causal genetic account has greater detail – a mass of empirical evidence – compared to the causal memetic account I will speculate upon. Analysing genetics in this way may suggest a future direction for memetics, or at least give us some idea of what a causal memetic account should look like. We certainly know that genes pass the marking criteria. For example, scientists have inserted the 'antifreeze' genes from flounders into the genetic code of tomatoes, which then protects the tomatoes from frost damage (Rifkin, 1998: 81). A process (normal reproduction) has been marked, such that the information that is transmitted (the DNA) is modified (the addition of the flounder gene). We know that genes are a part of a genuine causal process. How do they work specifically? Genes are made up of DNA (deoxyribose nucleic acid). Inside the nucleus of a cell, a particular nitrogen-base sequence of DNA controls precisely what proteins are formed in the cytoplasm. By controlling the synthesis of proteins, DNA determines what chemical reactions take place in the cell (Morgan, et al., 1991: 854). The chemical reactions of cells affect the chemical reactions of the body. A small chemical change to the way a particular molecule forms can produce a considerable effect on the phenotype (Morgan, et al., 1991: 845). Here we have a detailed account of the way genes cause phenotypic effects. DNA is information that tells the cell what kind of proteins to form. This, in turn, governs the chemical reactions in the cell, which then produces a phenotypic effect. The gene is the 'uncaused causer' in the chain of causal events we are trying to explain. A causal memetic account should be somewhat similar. If a meme is a causal agent, there needs to be a connection between the meme and the behaviour it 'causes'. Memes, therefore, need to be antecedent to the behaviour. Suppose we wish to know why someone has behaved as they have. Why, for had a cause of its own, but in terms of the phenomenon that we are attempting to explain, the uncaused causer's cause is irrelevant. 65 example, did Private Kevin act in the way he did and suicidally sacrifice himself by jumping on the hand-grenade? A causal explanation might go something like this. The meme for suicidal sacrifice, travelling via language, writing or images (on TV etc.) transmits ‘structure’ in the form of information, which changes the patterns of neural activity in Kevin's brain. (If this explanation is valid, one has to show that information does alter brain activity.) From this we would need to demonstrate that these new patterns of neural activity are what 'makes up Kevin's mind' and, given the right condition (war), produce his act of suicidal sacrifice.61 What goes on in Kevin's brain is a matter for neuroscience and other specialist disciplines to solve. We are not in a position to give a detailed description of human action in terms of the underlying brain processes. Though we don't know exactly how it works, evidence suggests that acts are the products of various chemical and physical brain processes. These are causal processes (Forge, 2002a). "Mental phenomena, all mental phenomena whether conscious or unconscious, visual or auditory, pains, tickles, itches, thoughts, indeed, all of our mental life, are caused by processes going on in the brain... mental phenomena are just features of the brain..." (Searle, 1984: 18). Dawkins sees this point. Going back to the analogy with genes, there ought to be something equivalent to DNA. Genes are the unit of replication but DNA is the actual information that is transmitted.62 When a meme is passed on from one individual to another, something is reproduced from brain to brain. We don’t yet know what that something is (besides information), but there must be 'something' there (Dawkins, 2000). The arrangement of data in the brains of the two individuals should be recognisably similar, just as the two thoughts of the two individuals are recognisably similar. Memes get passed from person to person to person to person. If the semantic content of the meme is not distorted as it goes down the line (which definitely happens, most, if not all of the time) there must be some material explanation. 61 As with genes, there is not likely to be a one-to-one correlation with the meme and the behaviour. The behaviour will be caused by the interaction of many memes and epigenetic rules. For the sake of simplicity I have ignored this complication, understanding that in principal, arguments for 'memes for this' and 'memes for that' would work for one meme or for entire memeplexes. 62 "In evolutionary theory, a gene could be defined as any hereditary information for which there is favourable or unfavourable selection..." (Williams, 1966: 25, emphasis added). 66 Dawkins suggests, again by analogy with genes, that we are in the pre-Watson and Crick phase of genetics. We know from Mendelian genetics that something gets passed on – we just don’t know what it is (besides hereditary information). Memes still await their Watson and Crick (Dawkins, 2000).63 My account of why Kevin sacrificed himself is an immediate causal explanation. We can give it greater depth depending on how complete an explanation we require. We could trace the history of the meme back to a previous act of suicidal sacrifice (the Spartans at Thermoplyae, for example), to see how Kevin came in contact with it at all. Where we start from, in terms of causes, depends on what we are trying to explain. If we want to know: "Why did Kevin act as he did at that particular moment?" then we probably don't need to trace the history of that meme all the way back to Sparta and beyond. The explanation I gave above is sufficient. But if we are trying to give an explanation for the question: "Why would anyone act as Kevin did at all?", we need to not only trace the history of the meme, but find (evolutionary) explanations for its occurrence in the first place. If our explanations are correct we must show that the processes that figure in a (correct) causal explanation are causally responsible for the occurrence (Forge, 2002a). Memetic altruism may be an even more powerful force than genetic altruism, in view of the fact that causal processes more readily transmit memes than genes. There is only one natural way that genetic information can be transferred – reproduction – vertical transmission from parent to offspring. Using non-genetic means of transmission, memes can not only be transmitted vertically, but also horizontally, to non-relatives. At least in theory, memes conform to the causal account. Given our present understanding of the operations of the brain, I have shown how memes 'cause' behaviour. That is, a meme transmits information, which changes the patterns of neural activity in the brain, which then 'makes up the mind' and produces the act. This is the 'little picture' of a causal/memetic account. The 'big picture' is the overall evolution of altruism. It follows that the overall evolution of altruism is made up of lots 63 Others also believe that memes will ultimately have a physical basis. Robert Aunger thinks that memes are patterns of electrical discharges in neural networks in the brain. These patterns can be reproduced, they can be passed along to other networks and they can group together to form larger units (Morton, 2000). The reader may recall that in a previous footnote I mentioned Edward Wilson's definition of memes. He defines them specifically by a supposed physiology. A meme is a node of semantic memory and its associated brain activity (Wilson, 1998: 149). 67 of 'little pictures'. If, as with Kevin's act of altruism, we can explain all these 'little pictures', the 'big picture', the evolution of altruism becomes a solid, causal (therefore, potentially scientific) evolutionary account. 68 Conclusion: Has the 'Paradox' Been Resolved? "Scratch an 'altruist' and watch a 'hypocrite' bleed." (Michael Ghiselin – cited by Ridley, 1996: 68). "It was assumed formally by philosophers of the derivative school of morals that the foundation of morality lay in a form of Selfishness [sic]... the reproach is removed of laying the foundation of the noblest part of our nature in the base principle of selfishness; unless, indeed, the satisfaction which every animal feels, when it follows its proper instincts, and the dissatisfaction felt when prevented, be called selfish." (Charles Darwin, 1871: 120-121). Now it is time to reflect. We have seen that altruism, though initially a paradox, is not really so. The apparent paradox arises because the principle of natural selection, when first comprehended, does seem to suggest that the nasty and selfish will prevail. "What a book a Devil's Chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low & horridly cruel works of nature" Darwin once wrote in a letter to friend Joseph Hooker (cited in Desmond & Moore, 1991: 449). With greater understanding of the evolutionary process, biologists realised that given the right conditions, altruists could indeed fare well, often even better than the selfish. Altruism could evolve through the mechanisms of kin selection, reciprocal altruism and group selection. As we have seen, these explanations are powerful and convincing, yet they only take us part of the way. We understand why altruism seems to be a fundamental part of human nature, but we cannot adequately account for the 'oddities' of human altruism or for many specific altruistic acts. This is where memetics provides potentially valuable insights. Blackmore argues that people who are altruistic are generally well liked, which leads to them being imitated, including imitation of their altruism. Memes for altruism spread better than memes for selfishness, not only because we like altruists, but also 69 because we don't like people who are selfish. This view, though not entirely wrong, I found to be simplistic. I have argued that we tend to imitate people we want to be like, people we hold in high regard. In a dog-eat-dog environment, such as a corporation, many people are not pure altruists. They may be altruistic to a point, but they also require similar behaviour from the other people they interact with (i.e., reciprocal altruism). Memes for pure altruism that allow the holder to be taken advantage of will be exploited by memes for selfish behaviour. They will, therefore, not fare well in the 'memepool'. However, in some cases the altruistic act has a large memetic pay-off. When this is the case, and even if the act of altruism results in the death of the person who exhibits the behaviour (as with Private Kevin's act of heroism when he threw himself on the grenade), it should spread through the population with ease. If it is of benefit to the group, and this benefit outweighs the cost to the individual, then a meme for altruism, even at the level of 'the supreme sacrifice', will also be successful. So, has the 'paradox' been completely resolved? It would be arrogant for anyone to answer "yes" to this question. However, I am sufficiently convinced that memetics does provide another avenue to explore, perhaps even a further step in the right direction. Though I couldn't possibly claim that a memetic explanation is 'true', I can at least speculate on a plausible evolutionary story that has the potential to explain the emergence of altruism as we now see it in modern humans. My account is purely speculative, but the purpose of it is to demonstrate the possibility of a complete account that includes memes.64 A Possible History of Altruism For the sake of argument we will consider a hypothetical group of pre-hominid ancestors consisting of selfless altruists. In the account to follow, when there is a change in strategy of a member of a group, I call this change a 'mutation'. This is a broad usage – the new strategy may be a genetic mutation or it may not. 'Mutations' could also arise through the introduction into the group of an outsider, or simply because it is a fairly obvious strategy.65 64 For the sake of simplicity I am ignoring biological group selection, though it could have been a component of this historical account. 65 As pointed out by Dennett, in every culture so far dicovered, hunters throw the spear pointy end first. We would not think that there is a pointy end first gene, just that it is the most obvious strategy (1995: 486). 70 1. In the beginning the group is made up of altruists so everything is working well. Everyone is helping everyone else. But this leaves the group wide open to 'subversion from within'. 2. There is a mutation that brings a selfish individual into the group. This, consequently, begins the subversion from within. The selfish type monopolises all the resources and has greater fitness than the altruists. Sure enough, soon more selfish types are produced and eventually the altruists are all but wiped out. 3. A group made up of only selfish individuals will not be successful for too long. The inherent 'dog-eat-dog' competition of this group leads to the monopolisation of resources by a powerful few. This produces a decrease in the overall population size. A mutation now produces a 'gene' that predisposes individuals to be altruistic to other individuals with the same gene. It is likely that individuals with the same gene are from the same family. Thus kin-selection is 'born'. A family that looks out for each other, but ignores non-relatives in the group, out-competes the selfish types. As a family they can gain greater control of the resources, ensuring the fitness of their gene pool. 4. Another mutation occurs. It gives individuals with it the ability to remember the past deeds of others. This enables the strategy of reciprocal altruism to develop. Individuals with this mutation are the most successful. In the kin selectionist group, reciprocal altruism builds mutually beneficial relationships with relatives as well as nonrelatives. If reciprocal altruists do come into contact with selfish types, they will not be taken advantage of. Reciprocal altruists perform acts that are of mutual benefit to each other in the long term. Reciprocal altruists maximise their access to resources and have greater fitness than others. Here we have the origin of non-familial cooperation. 5. All these behaviours can be seen, predominantly, as the products of epigenetic rules. Once culture developed to a sufficient point, especially once language evolved, cultural evolution became a significant force in the evolution of human altruism. Memes and genes are now coevolving and do so via complex causal processes. In general, individuals with memes for altruism are more popular than individuals with memes for selfishness. Altruists are more likely to attract members of the opposite sex. Memes for altruism, therefore, spread along with genes for altruism. Over time 71 this leads to a greater number of individuals in the population with genes for altruism, which in turn leads to an even greater spread of memes for altruism. Memetic altruism may be an even more powerful force than genetic altruism, in view of the fact that causal processes more readily transmit memes than genes. There is only one way which genetic information can be transferred – reproduction – vertical transmission from parent to offspring. Using non-genetic means of transmission, memes not only have the vertical means of reproduction, but are also transferred horizontally to nonrelatives. Those who are not genetically predisposed to be altruists, but wish to be popular, may simply copy memes for altruism. Memes that promote the survival of the group also play a significant role in the evolution of altruism. When two or more groups of humans violently interact, those groups with memes for altruism, such as fighting to the death on behalf of the group, (all else being equal) are likely to fare better. Not only this, but with competition for the formation of new groups, altruists will do better because memes for altruism lead to functionally adaptive groups whereas memes for selfishness do not. Group selection has played a major role in the evolution of altruism in humans. Not biological group selection (though it too may have played a role), but cultural group selection. For humans, natural selection therefore not only occurs at the genetic level, as with other animals, but at the cultural level, with memes. If we accept this explanation, it is not solely genes or solely memes that have produced human altruism. It is a self-reinforcing conglomeration of both. Genes for altruism took to the stage first, but once memes were born thanks to language and the ability to imitate, memes for altruism developed. Genes and memes for altruism have coevolved, driving each other. This Darwinian process is the 'engine' that has given rise to the extraordinary variety of altruism we see today. With careful ontological distinction it became clear that imitation is how memes are transmitted and information is what they transmit. Therefore, memes are genuine causal processes, because causal processes transmit 'structure', or energy and momentum or 'information' from one spatio-temporal location to another. This information changes the patterns of neural activity in the brain, which 'makes up the mind' and produces the act. This process (the information changing patterns of neural activity in the brain) is the real physical connection between the cause (the meme) and the effect (the behaviour). 72 Memes are an interesting idea because they may help us fill the apparent gaps in our understanding of how something so paradoxical as altruism could have evolved. Kin selection doesn't explain altruistic behaviour of humans and other animals towards non-relatives. Reciprocal altruism doesn't explain cases where the altruist dies to benefit a non-relative. Group selection may explain some of these acts (as with Dicrocoelium dendriticum), but given the complexity of the conditions needed for group selection to function (necessary conditions for it to be able to handle subversion from within) it is fairly limited as an explanation. There are 'oddities' of human altruism that have yet to be resolved by the standard sociobiological account. Added to this is the problem that these accounts do not always offer explanation for specific acts of altruism. It is often argued that these specific acts are based on general altruistic tendencies, sometimes they are seen as evolutionary 'mistakes'. I have (hopefully) shown that these explanations, though not wrong, can be taken further by the memetic account. This account does not aim to supersede the biological theories that have come before it; it aims to add to them. The evolutionary account of altruism is on a firm biological foundation, but it can be developed further to include the evolution of culture. The Real Question How altruism evolved is not actually the question that fascinates people the most. It is whether or not we can say that we are truly altruistic, and then from that, can we say that we are truly moral? To some, the idea that in the end, altruism is just another strategy for securing fitness (either genetic or memetic), is a seemingly woebegone message. Pure altruism is a figment of our imagination. As Randolph Nesse explains: "Understanding this discovery can undermine commitment to morality – it seems silly to restrain oneself if moral behaviour is just another strategy for advancing the interests of one's genes. Some students, I am embarrassed to say, have left my course with a naive notion of selfish gene theory that seemed to them to justify selfish behaviour, despite my best efforts to explain the naturalistic fallacy". (1994: 654). Though I can understand Nesse's point (and agree that justifying behaviour by arguing from biology is to invoke the 'naturalistic fallacy'), this view is actually misguided. Michael Ruse and Edward Wilson suggest that this error is often made simply because ample distinction has not been made between individuals and genes. Biologically there are acts of 'pure' altruism. 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ABC Radio National. 22 January. 81 Index A adaptation.................................................. 11 Alexander, Richard ............................. 24, 72 altruism ... 1, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 29, 31, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 57, 58, 62, 64, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70 ants ................................................ 17, 21, 22 Aristotle...................................................... 61 Axelrod, Robert ......................................... 19 B bacteria ...................................................... 29 bees ........................................................... 17 behaviour (acts) ...7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 17, 21, 23, 24, 25, 26, 28, 31, 32, 38, 39, 41, 42, 43, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 52, 53, 54, 57, 58, 62, 63, 64, 67, 69, 70 biota, analogy with memes ................ 44, 54 Blackmore ................................................... 1 Blackmore, Susan....4, 12, 13, 25, 26, 27, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 51, 54, 59, 60, 61, 66, 72, 73 blood donation..................................... 24, 26 Bloom, Howard.................................... 11, 72 brain .21, 22, 23, 25, 39, 40, 44, 45, 46, 51, 54, 63, 64, 69 Buss, David ....................................... 8, 9, 72 C Campbell, Donald ..................................... 35 causer, uncaused................................ 61, 62 causes...................................55, 57, 61, 62, 64 celibacy................................................ 31, 47 Chomsky, Noam ....................................... 25 Christianity........................................... 17, 53 computers............................................ 19, 53 constant conjunction................................. 57 cooperation.......................................... 18, 19 ' 'copy-the-instructions' ......................... 35, 61 'copy-the-product'................................ 35, 61 C culture ... 7, 8, 9, 12, 15, 16, 20, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 34, 37, 38, 39, 40, 47, 48, 52, 53, 54, 55, 58, 60, 67, 68, 70 D Darwin, Charles5, 6, 9, 10, 16, 26, 31, 35, 49, 53, 66, 72, 73, 74 Dawkins, Richard .. 4, 5, 7, 18, 19, 20, 21, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 37, 38, 44, 45, 46, 59, 60, 63, 64, 73 defection, strategy of ..........................18, 19 Dennett, Daniel...5, 17, 29, 31, 39, 60, 67, 73 Desmond, Adrian.................................53, 66 Diamond, Jared ................... 8, 48, 49, 51, 55 DNA................................................ 33, 62, 63 ' 'dog-eat-dog' competition .......................67, 68 E effects............................................ See causes environment (social, physical, etc.) ....8, 10, 11, 26, 35, 44, 46, 48, 54, 67 epigenetic rules 25, 26, 38, 39, 40, 42, 43, 44, 45, 48, 54, 63, 68 evolution1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 32, 33, 34, 35, 37, 38, 39, 42, 43, 44, 50, 52, 60, 64, 68, 69, 70 evolutionary psychologySee sociobiology. See sociobiology F fitness, genetic and memetic . 10, 11, 12, 16, 20, 21, 22, 28, 47, 68, 70 Forge, John..... 4, 5, 58, 59, 60, 61, 63, 64, 73 G game theory...............See prisoner's dilemma genes. 5, 12, 13, 16, 17, 24, 25, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 38, 39, 40, 42, 43, 44, 47, 48, 51, 52, 54, 62, 63, 64, 68, 69, 70 Gould, Stephen Jay ................ 5, 10, 23, 34, 74 group selection ...4, 13, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 37, 47, 49, 51, 52, 53, 54, 66, 67, 69, 70 H Haldane, J. B. S ........................................17 Hamilton, William................................19, 28 Hobbes, Thomas ........................... 13, 14, 74 hominids.............................................8, 9, 67 Hooker, Joseph .........................................66 human nature ................ 8, 15, 39, 45, 57, 66 Hume, David ............................. 42, 56, 57, 74 hunter-gatherers ..................................8, 9, 42 I imitation ........................29, 48, 59, 60, 66, 69 information..25, 34, 57, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 69 1 inheritance .................................................. 34 ' 'Joe Average' ......................................... 46, 57 K Kant, Immanuel......................................... 14 kin selection 13, 16, 17, 20, 24, 25, 26, 31, 37, 47, 54, 66, 70 L lactose.................................................... 8, 33 Lamarckian evolution.................30, 33, 34, 35 Leonidas .................................................... 48 liver ............................................................ 22 Locke, John ................................................. 39 M Maynard Smith, John ............................... 19 Meme Machine............................................ 1 memeplex.................................................. 46 memes.. 4, 5, 9, 13, 16, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 63, 64, 66, 67, 68, 69, 71 memetics ........................................See memes Mendel, Gregor ......................................... 32 mind............................... 25, 39, 45, 63, 64, 69 Moore, James ...... See Desmond, Adrian. See Desmond, Adrian morality .................................7, 14, 38, 48, 53 N natural selection...8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, 17, 20, 26, 28, 29, 30, 33, 38, 39, 66, 69 neuroscience.......................................... 54, 63 New Guineans, native .............................. 49 O ontic account ............................................. 58 ' 'paradox of altruism', the .. 4, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, 17, 26, 27, 31, 37, 40, 66, 67 P parasite .......................................... 21, 22, 52 phenotype...................................... 26, 34, 62 philosophy ................................. 5, 13, 36, 58 Pinker, Steven............................... 25, 49, 75 Popper, Karl ........................................ 11, 76 potlatch ...................................................... 43 Prisoner's Dilemma....................... 18, 19, 20 processes, causal .........................See causes Q quantum mechanics ................................. 56 R Rapoport, Anatol .......................................19 reciprocal altruism. 13, 16, 18, 20, 24, 25, 37, 42, 43, 54, 66, 67, 68 religions................................................48, 51 replicators ................................ 28, 29, 33, 35 Ridley, Matt.............5, 7, 8, 17, 19, 24, 66, 76 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques ............. 13, 14, 76 Ruse, Michael ...................... 10, 12, 25, 70, 76 Russell, Bertrand....................... 7, 35, 49, 77 S Salmon, Wesley ...........56, 58, 59, 60, 61, 77 science ........................... 5, 13, 55, 56, 57, 58 selfishness ..11, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 30, 31, 32, 40, 41, 45, 46, 53, 54, 66, 67, 68, 70, 71 semantic, memes are ............. 29, 40, 63, 64 siblicide ......................................................17 Simpsons, The (TV show) ........................53 Singer, Peter..........................................7, 51 Smith, Adam................................................6 Sober, Elliott ..... 20, 21, 22, 23, 47, 49, 52, 53 social norms................................... 52, 53, 54 sociobiology ...... 12, 13, 19, 28, 31, 38, 40, 43 Sparta...................................................48, 49 Spencer, Herbert .......................................10 squibs and squabs...............................52, 53 St Francis of Assisi ...............................7, 72 St Thomas Aquinas...................................61 Stone Age ....................................................9 suicidal sacrifice ................ 23, 49, 51, 63, 64 survival of the fittest......See natural selection T tabula rasa ..................................................39 Thermopylae, battle of........................48, 50 Tit-for-Tat ..................See Prisoner's Dilemma tribes .....................................................42, 49 Trivers, Robert.....................................17, 19 V vampire bats..............................................18 variation ......................................... 10, 33, 60 viruses........................................................29 W Wall Street (film) .........................................41 war.................................................. 48, 51, 63 Wedgwood, Emma....................................53 Williams, George .................... 20, 34, 63, 77 Wilson, David Sloan ..........See Sober, Elliott Wilson, Edward. O .. 5, 7, 8, 12, 20, 25, 39, 40, 44, 54, 64, 70, 76, 77 Wilson, James.....................................24, 25 Wittgenstein, Ludwig..................... 59, 60, 61 Wright, Robert ........11, 12, 16, 26, 38, 77, 78