Monday, 30 November 2015

Religion as the proximate method of Group Selection in humans - implications of its removal

It seems reasonable to regard religion as the proximate method of group selection in humans - in other words, when humans groups compete and evolve group adaptations, these are instantiated by means of religions. Individual humans have adapted to live in a context of religion; and when religion is absent, human behaviour becomes maladaptive - because human instincts are 'designed' to function in a religious environment.

It has long been a consensus among (secular) social theorists that the main (secular) function of religion is social cohesion - that is, religion can enable larger and more complex forms of social functioning; including the stimulation and enforcement of motivation, altruism, long-termism.

Since all humans - until recently in The West - have evolved in the context of religion; therefore religion must, over multiple generations, have had gene-selective consequences that shaped individual instincts and behaviours.

Group selection entails that group behaviour be referenced to something outside the group. This is what groups cohere-around, organize around, cooperate to promote. Throughout history this 'something' has been religion - variously the spirits, the gods, or One God.

Since this has apparently been the case throughout all known history and stretching back into pre-history, individual humans have evolved to be coordinated by religion: religion is a built-in, innate expectation for each individual human; and if religion is absent, then individual behaviour lacks a necessary adaptive context.

Having been under group selection for so long, where each individual functioned as a 'component' part of a religious society; then individual level instincts will relatively have atrophied. So, remove the religion from an individual human being, and the behavioural rules and patterns lack context, and are maladaptive.

Individual humans absent religion are un-equipped to pursue their own reproductive success.

Religion is therefore the medium for, and regulation of, altruism - which is the propensity of individuals to sacrifice their own short-term comfort and pleasure, health, survival, and ultimately their reproductive success, to that of the group.

In sum: Humans just are adapted to serve the group via religious structures which reference individual behaviour to some-thing outside the group.

Clearly, 'the group' in group selection will be bounded - and cannot be scaled up or down, made larger or smaller, indefinitely; since there must be mechanisms for rewarding group-helpful, and suppressing group-harmful, behaviours - and such mechanisms (like status or material rewards, shaming or physically-coercive sanctions) differ between religions, and these do not scale indefinitely in either direction.

Group selection is strong: it must be stronger, in significant respects, than individual selection: group selection must be strong enough to overcome individual preferences.

This means that group selection operates to affect the nature and strength of individual preferences - individual preferences have until recently always operates in the context of religiously-mediated group imperatives; because, over many generations, selection will (overall) tend-to mould individual preferences significantly to serve the needs of the group.

While group selection has been significant on all humans everywhere and at all times; European populations (also probably East Asian populations, perhaps to an even greater extent?) have been strongly group selected for large-scale cohesion over many dozens of generations; so that the effects of group selection are more significant in those of European descent than in most other populations.

This implies that the selection effects of religion on individual behaviour has been more significant in those of European descent than in most other populations. 

European populations had Christianity as the proximate mechanism of group selection for hundreds of years; shaping the instinctual basis of the individuals. And Christianity must have been an extremely powerful mechanism of group selection, because it enabled what are, by world historical standards, very large cooperating groups persisting over multiple generations.

(By contrast, simple animistic religions are able to enforce cooperation of some scores of people; more complex totemistic religions can enable the cohesion of thousands; and the complex and literate Temple religion of Ancient Egypt enabled some millions of people to cohere for three thousand years! Christianity seems to have been similarly powerful to the ancient Egyptian religion, sustaining complex cooperation among millions of people.)

It may therefore be assumed that the people of Western nations inhabited by those of European descent evolved to become extremely dependent on Christianity in order to be adaptive.

These same people, with the same instincts that operated within a strongly Christian context for so many generations, now find themselves in a society from which Christianity has been (all but) deleted.

Individual behaviours now have a very different environment in which to operation - indeed, the environment is in multiple respects and increasingly anti-Christian. Little wonder that grossly maladaptive behaviour is currently rife - indeed mainstream.  

Sans religion, Western populations lack the instinctual basis for individual level survival and reproduction, since these instincts long since atrophied - and atrophied to a more extreme degree than in most populations.

Now basic instincts such as reproduction, group survival, defence, long-termism for group goals, self-sacrifice for the group are defective or absent. The interaction between individual instincts and the non-religious environment is producing multiple, population-lethal pathologies. Voluntary subfertility is nearly universal; native population-replacement is advocated and celebrated; maladaptive forms of sexuality are common and actively-promoted; self-mutilation is escalating, normal and admired; the clamour for on-demand, comfortable, 'assisted' suicide grows greater with each year...

Living without religion, but with a genetic makeup that had evolved to assume religion, to expect religion, and to live-within religion; the instinctual basis of Europeans, including their powers of evaluation and judgement, are revealed as both ineffective and inappropriate.

Of course, under current conditions and continuing present trends; eventually and after many generations individual level selection may lead to the evolution of new effective and appropriate instincts that aimed-at individual survival and reproduction - then, presumably, large scale societies would break down into much smaller competing units, since such individuals would have evolved to be resistant to the social cohesion mechanism of religion.

Alternatively, the adaptiveness of European populations may be strengthened by the restoration of Christianity.

The 'scientific method' of genius - Attention, Intuition, Imagination

THE big problem in the philosophy of science is: Where do valid hypotheses come from?

The problem is that the 'search space' for valid hypotheses is vast, and nearly all possible hypotheses are wrong.

So how do creative scientists discover true hypotheses - that is, hypotheses that are basically valid explanations, suitable for research and development by standard methods?

Another problem is that most of what gets called science is not primarily creative, but uses already-made/ discovered hypotheses to extrapolate and interpolate (fill the gaps between) their assumptions, by deploying fairly standard methods of 'trial and error' in the domain of 'research and development'.

In other words, creative science corresponds closely with what Thomas Kuhn termed 'revolutionary' science (although the creative and paradigm-changing 'revolution' is mostly at a much smaller and more specialized scale than the example Kuhn used); while non-creative science corresponds to what Kuhn termed 'normal' science.

In practice, I think creative science uses something like the following 'method':

1. Focus
2. Effort
3. Honesty

Focus: The scientists focuses on some problem or topic - this is in one sense chosen by the scientist; but in another sense the problem chooses the scientist: he is firstly gripped by a problem and secondly consents to work on it and thirdly he is able to do this.

Effort: The scientist then puts in a sustained and considerable effort directed at the problem. This requires motivation, since it is seldom that external influences will be pushing him to pick this specific problem, and to keep working on it in the face of distraction and discouragements.

Honesty: The scientist must be honest - he must want to know the truth, must behave truthfully, and must communicate his findings and beliefs truthfully. Creative science is difficult and rarely accomplished, and unless the individual is honest he will find it much quicker and easier to fake a discovery (more or less) than actually to make one; easier to hype or otherwise distort a discovery rather than to communicate it as clearly as possible.
     Also, an attitude of honesty is necessary in order that the phenomenon comes more clearly into view; to clear-away the clouds and distortions that obscure it. The ability to know is typically prevented by wishful thinking and other types of preconception - unless there is a honest desire to know the truth, then the truth will not be known.

Given the above general set-up - which as-it-were places the scientist into a position from which creative science can be done - what then is the micro-method of the creative scientist?

1. Attention
2. Intuition
3. Imagination

What happens with creative science is that the scientists is paging attention, is absorbed-by the phenomenon; then looking within himself (intuition) he apprehends the reality of the situation by his imagination.

In effect, the 'answer' appears in the scientists imagination - or, to put it more exactly, the answer is communicated to the scientist's imagination by non-perceptual means.

Negatively expressed, creative understanding does not come via the senses (vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell); it does not come via the perceptions; it does not come from memory.

How then does the answer arrive in the imagination? I imagine it as a process akin to sympathy or empathy - in which an understanding of the phenomenon induces the same phenomenon in the imagination (or rather some kind of 'model of the phenomenon).

This entails either that the scientist has some sort of built-in prior understanding which is elicited by the process of contemplating the phenomenon (rather as Plato said that 'learning' was actually a matter of making explicit what was already known) - or else that the understanding is communicated-to the imagination from some external source (which would correspond to 'inspiration').

So, the primary source of creative understanding is located in the imagination of the scientist, and by this account it is valid - the understanding is valid, albeit neither complete nor undistorted due to the constraint of any phenomenon being more complex than the finite representation of it in the imagination).

But so far, the understanding is 'subjective' in the sense of being private, inside the mind of the scientist - the scientist must then communicate this understanding into the public domain via language - and in doing this there will inevitably be selection, distortion and also the possibility of misunderstanding from those trying to understand the phenomenon from its public description.

That is about as far as I can go in describing what happens - and it leaves open (or, at least, open to dispute) some fundamental aspects of the problem - such as where the imaginative understanding comes from and what makes it valid.

It creates the apparent paradox, that real, creative science comes from outside science - but this is surely true, in the sense that this is also found in other creative realms such as literature, music and art.

I think it would be found that the above psychological description fits the actuality of valid discovery - when such things are known. In my own experience I have found that my successes at valid creative breakthroughs - such as 'the malaise theory of depression' came after a sustained period of focused attention and contemplation of a phenomenon to which I was spontaneously drawn.

And when I failed to make a breakthrough in understanding (for example, I have not been able t understand Anorexia Nervosa) this was because I was not spontaneously interested and had failed to regard the matter with sustained attention.

Plus, of course, there is no guarantee of my reaching an imaginative understanding of any given topic - since I may have may have been insufficient attention so far (and the breakthrough still lies in the future), or I may personally be incapable of understanding for numerous reasons - or the phenomenon may be too difficult for anyone to understand, or I may have failed to be sufficiently honest and devoted in the nature of my contemplation.

But my point here is that the true 'scientific method' for creative discovery is not an algorithm or protocol - following which will yield breakthroughs; but rather a psychological, and indeed somewhat mystical, thing.

And that it involves a match-up between the scientist and the phenomenon which could be termed 'destiny' - a scientist may have a destiny to solve a particular problem, or a limited set of problems - but others will not be possible for him, since he lacks not just competence, but the necessary deep-motivation absolutely required in order to embark on focused, effortful, sustained contemplation of a particular phenomenon - a thing that may be discovered, but cannot be manufactured or imposed.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Negative emotionality, hyper-emotionality and hypo-emotionality as potenital causes of depression

Bruce G Charlton and Joseph Shaw

The broad diagnostic category of DSM Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) was established in 1980 – in practice it seems that MDD can be interpreted as inclusive of patients with a wide range of dysphoric feelings including depression, anxiety, mood swings and emotional blunting/ unemotionality [Watson 1988a, Nutt 2007]. In other words, depressive symptoms may be regarded as a consequence of more than one emotional state; rather as pain may be a consequence of many causes [Charlton 2009].

It has been argued that Major Depressive Disorder is therefore heterogeneous, and can be subdivided into at least three groups, each characterised by a distinctive emotional state.

Negative-emotionality (Negative-E) describes the most obviously depressive group, who mainly experience strong negative emotionality such as misery, anxiety, guilt, fatigue etc.

A second group would be Hyper-emotional (Hyper-E) who experience strong emotions in both negative and positive directions (e.g. they are emotionally unstable, hyper-responsive, subject to mood swings).

A third group would be Hypo-emotional (Hypo-E), with weak or blunted emotions in both negative and positive directions (e.g. they are ‘flat’, demotivated, unresponsive) [REF 1 Charlton].

These states may be characterized by each having a different pattern of
1. emotional strength and 2. Emotional direction (i.e. positive/ negative, both or neither).

As a first test of this hypothesis we conducted an internet survey on 251 subjects recruited through advertisements posted on several depression-related online communities (;;; Strength of depressive symptoms was measured using the Beck Depression Inventory [Beck et al 1961], while the strength and directionality of emotions was measured the PANAS (Positive and Negative Affect Scale) [Watson 1988b].

217 subjects were classified into groups of Controls, Negative-, Hyper- and Hypo-Emotionality by using the Positive-Affect (PA) and Negative-Affect NA) sub-divisions of PANAS:

Controls n=27, Lowest 25% NA, Highest 25% PA
Negative-E n=50, Highest 50% NA, Lowest 50% PA
Hyper-E n=76, Highest 50% NA, Highest 50% PA
Hypo-E n=64, Lowest 50%NA, Lowest 50% PA

Severity of depressive symptoms are shown in Table 1:

BDI Mean
BDI       SD
Positive-E Control

The results show that despite the ‘control group’ being in the Mild range for depressive symptoms on the BDI; all three of the hypothesized emotionality groups scored were significantly more severe in depressive symptoms than Controls; indeed within the ‘Severe’ depressive symptoms range for BDI scores.

These preliminary results seem clear and consistent with the hypothesis that depressive symptoms may be a consequence of at least three different emotional patterns – Negative-E, Hyper-E and Hypo-E. This conclusion, of course, requires replication in a clinical subject sample evaluated by face-to-face diagnostic interviewing. If correct, one potential implication may be that different emotionality sub-types could benefit from a different therapeutic approach; for example Hyper-E from a trial of serotoninergic agents, and Hypo-E from noradrenaline/ dopaminergic agents [Nutt et al 2007; Charlton 2009]. 


Watson, D., Clark, L. A., & Carey, G. (1988a). Positive and negative affectivity and their relation to anxiety and depressive disorders. Journal of Abnormal Psychology97, 346.

Nutt, D., Demyttenaere, K., Janka, Z., Aarre, T., Bourin, M., Canonico, P. L., … & Stahl, S. (2007). The other face of depression, reduced positive affect: the role of catecholamines in causation and cure. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 21, 461-471.

Charlton, B. G. (2009). A model for self-treatment of four sub-types of symptomatic ‘depression’ using non-prescription agents: neuroticism (anxiety and emotional instability); malaise (fatigue and painful symptoms); demotivation (anhedonia) and seasonal affective disorder ‘SAD’. Medical Hypotheses72, 1-7.

Beck, A. T., Ward, C., & Mendelson, M.  (1961). Beck depression inventory (BDI). Archives of General Psychiatry4, 561-571.

Watson, D., Clark, L. A., & Tellegen, A. (1988b). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: the PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology54, 1063.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Genius as the ultimate altruist

Genius emerges from individualism - the genius just is an individual who is significantly and personally responsible for some major human accomplishment.

So the seedbed of genius is a society, or a kind of person, who is individualistic - and such societies and persons have been absent for much of human history. When the individual feels himself to be immersed in the group - genius is not possible; only when persons are self-aware, at least somewhat differentiated from their social group is genius possible.

This is presumably partly a matter of genetic change - but it is surely a matter of historical and cultural change: to all appearance, there has been evolution (in the sense of change) of consciousness. Socrates would not have been possible in most of the human world up to that time - perhaps in no other part of the human world until some parts of Ancient Greece?

But the genius is Altruistic as well as individualistic - and I mean, here, altruistic in terms of differential reproductive success (or 'fitness'). The average genius seems, as a matter of measurement, to have lower than average reproductive success - especially when we consider that throughout most of human history it was necessary to produce more than four children for the minimum replacement number of two of them to survive to adulthood in a sufficiently healthy state to reproduce. Not many geniuses had five children; many had none.

And aside from the estimated numbers; it is clear that the genius has less than usual interest in social and sexual success - and that this is intrinsic to genius, since the genius must have (at least during the years of his greatest accomplishment) a focus on his work that is intense and often obsessive - and such an investment of time, energy and resources entails a major shift in priorities away from those of normal (non genius) people.

Consider the sheer impact of a genius - of that one single person. The impact of a genius on the reproductive success of his group may orders of magnitude faster and greater than that of any possible person operating via natural selection. Some high status men may have had hundreds of children; but some geniuses have affected the survival and reproduction of millions of people.

As a recent example, Alan Turing (presumably) had no children and made zero genetic impact on the species; but without him the German Enigma code would not have been solved and the 1939-45 World war would have lasted longer and the casualties on the Allied side would have been significantly greater - without Turing the development of the computer would also have been delayed or impaired, with large and widespread effects.

My point is that (when his work is beneficial) a genius has an effect on a broad population of genetically unrelated and mostly unknown people which far outstrips the genetic level of impact. So the genius is both an individual yet, in effect, he is 'working for' other people (in the sense that any personal gains he may make from his work are likewise utterly dwarfed by his contributions to the larger group).

The situation therefore seems to be that when there occurs an increase in the incidence of genius, this arises from a human population in which individualism has been intensified; but that the genius does not pursue individualistic goals for individual benefit - it is as if the genius had been called-forth or created by the group in order to serve the group (not just his kin, not just those in the group who have a relationship - but a much wider group).

It is as if the genius is set up so that as an individualistic-individual, he willingly and by choice and effort, sacrifices his own (relatively modest) chance of genetic success in altruistically attempting to generate a much greater success in terms of survival and reproduction of his group.

Since altruism in biology is defined as acting to increase the reproductive success of other at cost to oneself, this makes the genius the ultimate altruist.

Monday, 9 November 2015

General properties of Group Selection and the 'group mind' (in relation to the adaptive production of geniuses)

The major function of group selection is presumably directly to promote the sustained reproductive success (lineal survival) of the group, in face of the spontaneous tendency for random change to promote the individual (and other lower level, below group) levels of selection.

For example, group selection would be of value in sustaining the cell in face of the tendency of cell components (for example the nucleus, or of evolvable organelles such as the mitochondria, chloroplast or centriole) to become 'free-riders' or parasites (taking net reproductive benefits from the cell, while contributing less than this to the cell, or nothing, or actively-harming the probability of the survival and ultimately reproduction of the cell).

A more clear cut example is the individual specialized cell in the context of a multicellular organism; there is a tendency for individual cells to evolve towards 'opting out' of the coordinated cooperation of the whole organism  - and taking more than they give. This is termed neoplastic change, and the tendency is what leads to cancers - cancers constitute an internally-generated cellular parasite.

But the main posited role for group selection has been in the context of animal society - especially in social animals (social insects such as ants or bees, and social mammals such as many primates including Man - as well as other mammals with differentiated social roles such as naked mole rats or meerkats).

The problem for the sustained survival of social animals over many generations is that individuals tend to evolve to enhance their personal reproductive success at the expense of the group - taking benefits from social living while avoiding the costs and duties of social living - thereby destroying the social structure.

The fact that social animals are known to have existed over many generations is evidence that his problem has been solved historically - and the underpinning mechanism is usually regarded to be kin selection (aka inclusive fitness) together with reciprocity (the mutual benefits of cooperation).

The difficulty with such individual level mechanisms as kin selection is that they must themselves evolve in a context where the spontaneous tendency is for adaptations to be lost - on top of the spontaneous tendency for kin selection and reciprocity to be damaged by spontaneous mutations. In other words it is very difficult to evolve a high level mechanism of social living on top of all the other layers of cooperation at sub-cellular and cellular levels - all of which are vulnerable to destruction by spontaneous mutations.

This is presumably one reason why social animals have been a late arrival on the evolutionary scene, in the past couple of hundred thousand years - however, once a stable and sustainable adaptation had arisen to enforce sociality, these animals have more-or-less taken over the earth by becoming the dominant species. Thus ants and termites dominate the tropical regions (in terms of biomass) while more recently humans have come to dominate the temperate zones.

Clearly sociality is a tremendous advantage - the difficulties are in evolving it, and sustaining it in the face of continued spontaneous mutations with each generation; and the tendency of sub-lethal deleterious mutations to accumulate generation-upon-generation; plus any environmental change and variety which is itself a consequence of the high adaptiveness of these species.

However, the very success of social animals, their dominance, would be expected to contain the seeds of destruction - since the conditions for free-riding and parasitism are greatly increased by the expansion in numbers and the relative autonomy from environmental constraints such as food supply and predation.

(This can be seen very clearly in modern human society, where the large surplus of modern economies above subsistence allows for unprecedented levels of parasitic behaviour by individuals, and also groups - such as bureaucracies.)

A successful social species can therefore find itself in the situation when the main proximate constraint on reproductive success is competition within the species - and this creates many niches for more-or-less parasitic and exploitative behaviours (the individual profiting at the expense of the group).

In the short-term, the fastest and most secure route to enhanced reproductive success is to exploit other humans (rather than cooperate with them) - and this would tend to destroy the social structure by reproductively favouring the least social individual animals.

Group selection entails that the group has an identity, that this identity must have integrity over time, and that it be transmissible between generations. This group identity must be able to sustain itself and should also be potentially further-adaptive to some extent.

Group identity needs to be of a cognitive and behavioural nature - in other words there must be strategizing knowledge and also some kind of reasoning from this knowledge. In sum, group selection requires a group identity; and group identity requires a teleology, aim or purpose; and that purpose should 'know' (with better than random probability) how to implement itself in individuals within that group.

This is probably the basis of the intense modern suspicion of and hostility to group selection - this idea that group selection entails something like a group purpose, memory and 'mind' - which superficially sounds like a non-biological, maybe even supernatural, kind of thing.
However, social animals are based on communications between networks of individuals, and the idea of conceptualizing the complex interactions of individuals in terms of being a type of 'computational' or 'cognitive' process is actually fairly mainstream - for instance in the theories of complex systems, the mathematics of chaos and complexity and elsewhere.

So, in principle, there is no reason to exclude the possibility that webs of complexly interacting social animals can be considered as higher level, group entities - which have a tendency to sustain and reproduce themselves.

Furthermore, these networks of communications fall into patterns, and these patterns may be self-sustaining and with a tendency to expand - so there is a potential mechanism for non-genetic inter-generation transmission.

In other words, the group-level entity is a pattern of communications which is both influenced by and also influences the communications (and behaviours) of the individual components of that patter: the individual organisms. And this pattern of communications will tend to fall into relatively stable forms, forms that resist change.

(Such a stability of forms is something which has cropped up in many areas of science over more than 2000 years - since at least the time of Aristotle with his elaboration of a finite number of archetypal 'forms' or relatively stable conformations into which all things will tend to 'fall; modern conceptualizations of the same basic idea include 'strange attractors' and 'morphic fields'.)

I do not see any fatal difficulty in supposing that relatively stable and 'cognitive' patterns of inter-individual, group communications would be transmissible between generations of social animals - given that these generations are overlapping (with new group members incrementally arriving and maturing, while others are leaving and dying - but without a break in the continuity of communications).

Such a concept of 'group mind' would have implicit purpose (survival and self-propagation) implemented by problem solving and strategizing properties including memory and intelligent processing.

Therefore, in principle, this group mind entity could identify problems among individuals within the group, and (to a significant extent) suppress selfishness at the individual level - also it could foresee (with better than random probability) the need for (or potential benefits from) certain types of individual which would be useful to the group survival and reproduction. Then individuals of this type might be induced to arise from the group - perhaps by the kind of developmental switching posited by Life History theory.

So, for the putative example of genius - it seems possible that the group mind might detect and appreciate the need for, or potential benefits from, an increase in the production of geniuses (i.e. those individuals characterized by what I have termed an Endogenous personality comprising a triad of high intelligence, intuitive thinking and inner motivation).

Having calculated that such individuals would probably be of value to the group - it seems possible that either the developmental trajectory of individuals might be directed towards becoming a genius - or more fundamentally that suitable pairs of individual parents (especially those characterized by high intelligence - low mutational load) might (perhaps by broadly 'epigenetic' means, by affecting gene switching, activation, suppression etc) lead to the sexual conception of more potential geniuses who are designed to benefit the group survival and reproduction, even when this tends to reduce the probability of reproductive success in the individual geniuses.

So this above scheme could, in broad brush terms, provide a group selection mechanism by which the group benefits of genius might be acquired when the group circumstances require, despite that many or most geniuses have below average reproductive success due to their energies and efforts being directed at non-reproductive, non-social goals.