The previous chapter presents a speculation to account for the rise and fall of civilizations. I will now consider other factors that may contribute to their fall. In this and the next chapter I call attention to a troubling situation: there seem to be two types of people in today's world, and their ways of thinking, and their values, are the source of "polarizing" conflicts in academia, politics, foreign relations and everyday life. It may be important to understand the origin of this two‑sided facet of human "ways of thinking," for, as I claim, they may play a role in the fall of civilizations.
Review of Brain Evolution
In this section I will review material in previous chapters concerning brain specializations, and present them in a way that serves my present purpose of understanding why today's civilization appears to consist of a continuum of people at the ends of which are two distinct and incompatible types. The activities of people at the extremes tend to produce what has been referred to as "Two Cultures."
If we go back far enough in our human ancestry, we will find that the left cerebral cortex, or left brain, LB was identical to our right cerebral cortex, or right brain, RB. By having essentially identical brain halves our remote ancestors benefited from a form of redundancy that was valuable in case of injury to one side. Although a slight specialization for sequential tasks probably developed in the left brain of our pre‑human ancestors, left brain specializations began a dramatic evolution sometime in the Pleistocene, possibly 200,000 or 300,000 years ago, perhaps in response to an environmental opportunity presented by one of the interglacial warmings that have been occurring at approximately 100,000 year intervals for the past half million years. To first order, RB remained unchanged while LB began to allocate small areas for new, specific tasks. The ability to talk, as a supplement to gestures, evolved in LB's frontal lobe (Broca's Area), which was accompanied by the evolution of an ability to comprehend speech in LB's temporal lobe (Wernicke's Area). Eventually the left side also developed a capability for logic, a form of sequential thinking that requires the type of neural architecture involved in language. Logical thought is most effective when emotional intrusions are minimized. Hence, we may assume that as LB's capacities for logic evolved it became somewhat disconnected from the limbic system, where emotions originate.Modern man's LB owes its "power" to repeated triumphs of wresting control from RB on matters that were best performed by newly‑evolving LB modules. Logic is more powerful than intuition when novel situations are encountered. Novel situations and opportunities must have been frequent during climate transitions, such as occurred at the close of the last glaciation, approximately 12,000 years ago, and during the previous interglacial, occurring 129,000 to 116,000 years ago.
Whereas brain modules appear to "work together" to the untrained eye, a more likely dynamic is that they form an elaborate system of competing modules. Every situation encountered is "presented" to modules, and any module that "recognizes" the situation is an invitation for it to become aroused (anthropomorphically speaking); if the module “recognizes” the situation, it seeks activation from the "reticular activation system," or RAS. The RAS chooses a "winner" from among the competing modules (based on past experiences, presumably, as well as inborn predispositions), and the RAS grants authority to one module. That module is given access to the frontal lobe modules for formulating behavior and commanding it (via the motor strip). The winning module’s recommended specific behavior (such as saying or doing something) is then implemented.This modular arrangement makes good sense from the gene's perspective. Indeed, the more one thinks about it the more impossible any alternative seems to be. Consider any given brain circuit; there will be one gene that has the greatest effect upon it, a second gene that has the second‑greatest effect, and so forth. The gene with the greatest effect on this one circuit is unlikely to affect ALL other brain circuits with which this circuit interacts, which will also be true for the other genes that affect the circuit under consideration. Therefore, if this one circuit works with the others harmoniously it will not be due to the genes that create the one circuit; rather, it will be due to the forces of natural selection that pass judgment on genes that create new circuits (and modify existing ones). The genes for any one circuit do not "know" about the other circuits, even though they can work harmoniously with them.
We humans are observers of the product of the many brain circuits, and we should resist the temptation to attribute the apparent harmony of mental performance to a harmony of genetic design. Any harmony that we observe is probably illusory, since it can be produced, as it most likely is, by a competition of modules with a continuous unfolding of winners.Why was LB the site for mutations conferring the new capabilities of language, logic and other sequential tasks (if you remember reading this material from a previous chapter, then skip this paragraph)? One speculation attributes it to a subtle difference in LB's role for our arboreal ancestors. LB commands the right hand, which long ago, due to some random selection, took on the task of reaching for fruit while the left hand stabilized the body by holding onto a branch. Picking fruit involves a sequence of actions, which led to the development of small neural regions devoted to each sub‑task and their integration with each other. Since neural connections within the small neural region relied upon short‑distance communication, the neuron axons in these regions required less myelinization (reliance upon a fatty tissue covering of the axon to provide electrical insulation for better communication to distant neurons). The genes for LB development became more adept at producing small neural networks that were less myelinized (having less of the myelin "white matter," thus accounting for LB's appearance of having a more grayish color). These small neural networks accomplished specialized tasks with a neural activity that was more‑or‑less independent of neighboring areas. When an LB neural network area finished its task it would communicate a "result" to specific other areas, which in turn also tended to be independent and specialized in their operation. Thus, LB lost the "holistic" nature of the right, as it specialized in mastering sequences of specific sub‑tasks that were connected to each other for the accomplishment of an overall task ‑ such as talking or comprehending speech.
LB's new specializations rendered it suitable for playing supporting roles when RB recognized specific situations requiring the specialized performance. LB paid a price for becoming a specialist. For example, when it assumed responsibility for language it lost some ability for monitoring body part position in relation to the immediate physical environment. This task is now performed almost exclusively by RB's "inferior parietal lobule," a region that is a homologous counterpart to the Wernicke language area in LB. So, as RB became dependent on LB for language, LB became dependent upon RB for graceful movement. So far, in this brief recapitulation of the evolution of LB, we can view the two brain halves as working together.RB did not have to understand how LB did what it was specialized to do (nor could it); RB merely had to trust it to do what it was good at doing, and RB called upon it when the situation required. The use of "logic" to understand novel situations is an LB specialty. RB must be baffled by what the left is doing when it thinks through a sequence of logical operations. (Similarly, LB would be just as baffled by how the right side instantly recognizes a face.) Since RB is a more fully‑connected neural network system, it would seem to be well suited to recognizing when a situation requires LB help. When RB makes this determination, it hands control to an LB region for the duration of the specific task. At least this may be the way things started out when the LB specializations first began to evolve.
When a human invents a new tool, he uses it for pre‑existing purposes. However, the tool is also available for use to accomplish other tasks, perhaps tasks that existed before the tool existed. I view the new LB specializations in the same way. The brain did not evolve to comprehend reality; rather, the little reality that it does comprehend, between the many distorted comprehensions, is due to the fact that a better understanding of some realities were useful to the survival of our ancestor's genes. We can speculate that the human brain's greater ability to understand the world around it is an unintended consequence of an original need to perform specific sequential tasks. For example, the rewards of allocating the right hand for the task of reaching for fruit led to the evolution of sequential structures in LB, which allowed language to develop, which led to the making of sophisticated tools, which helped to create categories for placing and using words, which is the basis for abstract thought, which may eventually allow humans to achieve liberation from their genetic enslavement. What a wonderful outcome of the prosaic task of reaching for fruit.My assertion that the sequential abilities of LB were used by RB to accomplish long‑standing tasks more successfully is consistent with the notion that the cerebral cortex itself, both left and right sides, is used by sub‑cortical structures for the more effective accomplishment of pre‑existing goals of survival and reproduction. Thus, the limbic system mobilizes the more recently evolved cerebral cortex by “driving it,” invoking emotions as necessary, to engage the world in ways that lead to the creation and raising of offspring carrying the genes that assembled the individual and his close relatives.
The brain was not intended to aid in comprehending reality, per se, and the genes can be excused for not anticipating that LB would someday figure out that the individual is enslaved by its genes – a central message of this book. This unintended achievement is due to LB's prefrontal cortex, the part of the frontal lobes forward of the motor strip. Both the left and right prefrontal cortices have grown in size at an amazing rate in relation to the rest of the brain, during the past half million years. Interestingly, the prefrontal areas do not contribute to the component of intelligence measured by IQ tests. Rather, the prefrontal cortex works with the limbic system to produce elaborate planning capability, or "executive function." It is likely that “what if” scenarios are orchestrated by the prefrontal cortex, and are evaluated by the underlying limbic system ‑ to assure that genetic goals are being served when a plan is adopted. I speculate that LB is less restrained by the limbic system, in order to rely upon logic when creating "what if" scenarios, and to subject these hypothetical scenarios to objective criteria for establishing the truth of a novel situation.Because LB is better suited to comprehend situations requiring logical analysis, it would have frequently found itself in situations where it recognized a problem that RB was totally unaware of. LB needed to take action, yet RB was unable to endorse LB's call for action since it did not "comprehend" the problem. To the extent that survival (of the genes) depended upon LB being allowed to act when RB didn't comprehend the need for it, there would be a need for some level of trust in LB's compelling request to take charge in dealing with a matter that only it could handle. The trust would have to reside in both RB and the reticular activating system (RAS). Perhaps it became more efficient for LB to initiate actions without RB's consent, with a direct appeal to RAS. This would eventually lead to trouble for RB.
In a primitive setting there may have been very few situations requiring LB's specialized understanding. However, the more capable that LB became, the more the new world created by LB needed LB solutions. LB’s new world included sophisticated weapons and tools, horticulture, animal domestication, and the formulation of logical strategies for both everyday living and inter‑tribal warfare. RB would be calling upon LB to act more and more, and allowing LB to unilaterally decide to act for a growing number of situations in the emerging new world of LB's creation. It is inevitable that as LB assumed more initiative in recognizing situations that needed LB attention, LB would have assumed responsibility for responding without consulting RB. The harmony that existed between RB and LB was at risk of being upset, the more so as the new "upstart" LB assumed more roles and a greater importance in surviving the challenges of the late Pleistocene. Occasional LB/RB disputes of authority may have become common during the Holocene.The disputes would not be between the entire LB and the entire RB; they would be between specific parts of LB and a large, diffuse part of RB. Recall that RB is a more fully-connected neural network, whereas LB consists of many specialized, task‑specific neural networks. RB recognizes situations from the totality of the sensory input, but isolated modules within LB recognize situations needing LB attention.
Since niches in the tribal setting tended to be of either an artisan type or the non‑artisan type, I believe that eventually people were "born with a predisposition" to occupy one of these two niche categories. It is quite possible that most people are born with the ability to take a reading of the environment and develop in the direction of one or the other niche type. It would make sense if the brain circuits that "take readings" of the environment, and hence of the relative merits for differing ontological development paths, also take into account the strengths (predispositions) that the individual inherited. (This whole process in which an individual's development unfolds in some way that approximately optimizes its usefulness to the genes within is a daunting subject, but it must be studied by future generations of sociobiologists.) In this way, I suggest, individuals are born with a predisposition for developing into one of two types: the sequential‑style artisan type, or the holistic‑style primal type. The rest of this chapter is concerned with the differences between these two types of adults and their implications for the fate of civilizations.RBS and LBS Defined
In English there has been a longstanding use of the terms "head" and "heart" to signify two distinct ways of thinking and of "being." There is an unending flow of movies and books based on the conflict of the head and the heart, so since the terms are in such widespread use it should be unnecessary to define them. However, it is now obvious that the common term "head" is somehow associated with the perspective of the left brain, LB, while "heart" is somehow associated with the perspective of the right brain, RB.I am tempted to present specific speculations about the neural mechanism that accounts for this dual association. For example, I could suggest that the "head" person's LB dominates his RB, forcing RB to play a supporting role; and that the "heart" person has an opposite dominance/support role relationship. Or I could suggest that the "head" person's LB asserts itself without RB permission, like an intrusive, uninvited guest, whereas the "heart" person's LB is not assertive in this manner. As an alternative, I could allege that the "head" person's RB is more similar to an LB, and the two hemispheres work together because they do not have conflicting values and life agendas; whereas the "heart" person has two RBs that work together in similar harmony. As a final speculation, which I tend to favor, I could invoke the prefrontal cortical areas, and state that the "head" person's LB prefrontal cortex has a stronger inhibition of the RB prefrontal cortex compared to the opposite inhibition, rendering LB's more closely connected LB posterior lobes a greater "voice" in perceiving the world and determining behavior; whereas the "heart" person has an opposite prefrontal lobe inhibition pattern, giving the RB posterior lobe perceptions of the world greater voice and a stronger influence over behavior.
I will not take a position on these alternative theories, as I believe the neurosciences are not yet advanced enough to warrant a preference for any of the foregoing. Indeed, perhaps none of the hypotheses I've identified are true. Or maybe several apply. It is not necessary for us to know why so many people tend to fall into the "head" and "heart" categories in order for me to proceed toward an important goal of this book. I merely ask the reader to accept that with some people it is possible to categorize them as tending to belong at the "head" end of a spectrum of traits, while others belong at the "heart" end of the same spectrum, acknowledging that most people are somewhere between the two extremes. (Anyone reading this far is a “head” person; the heart people would have discontinued in disgust during Chapter 1.)
I also ask that the reader to consider the possibility that some people are born with a predisposition toward one or the other type, or with a predisposition to be a specific blend of the two extremes. And finally, I ask the reader to accept that those at the "head" end of the spectrum are a product of recent evolution, meaning that people having the "head" predisposition were less common the farther back in our ancestry we go. This last assertion is essentially a "thought experiment," since I cannot think of any way to prove it using data from the archeological record. The last point also has a corollary, worth stating, which is that "heart" people have "always" existed. Again, the archeological record probably cannot be used to support that assertion. However, I think that both of the alleged head/heart trends over evolutionary time are reasonable, possibly self‑evident, and I shall risk making no further argument to support it as I proceed with my larger argument.I am going to use the terms RBS and LBS as shorthand for "Right Brain Style" and "Left Brain Style" to refer to the beliefs and ways of experiencing life by the "heart" and "head" people. By my subjective reckoning, LBS people are much rarer than RBS people, and most people are a mixture of the two extreme types. To estimate their numbers it will be convenient to make use of readily available polls of religious belief. I shall use "disbelief in God" as a proxy parameter for identifying LBS people (which admittedly neglects culture's influence upon an individual's religious beliefs). One could also use "disbelief in immortality, or spirits, or astrology" but these questions are less frequently included in polls. Based on the frequency of atheism in the American population, only 4% of people are LBS (and 0.8% are hard‑core LBS). The 4% estimate may strike some as too small; I agree, and cite that since the atheism rate in
Europeis greater than in the the 4% value has probably been influenced by the traditional strength of religion in the United States from the country's founding (Hofstadter, 1969). Perhaps 5 to 10% would be a better estimate for the LBS rate among the Western world's population. Among elite groups of professionals the LBS rate is higher. For example, among physical scientists who are members of the U.S. of the Sciences, the rate of disbelief in God rises from the general population's 4% to an impressive 79%! (Larson and Witham, 1998). National Academy
In order to describe a conjecture on the evolution of the human LBS/RBS distribution I will describe how one might measure an individual for the purpose of scoring him for placement on an LBS/RBS spectrum. Let us begin with IQ tests to illustrate how a person's LBS/RBS score might be measured. Every IQ test that I'm aware of has many subtests, and these are usually averaged in two groups. The two groups were devised before LB/RB studies showed that brain competencies are lateralized. Nevertheless, it is clear that one part probes mostly RB posterior lobe function while the other probes mostly LB posterior lobe function. For example, the "verbal" and "performance" scores for the WAIS and Wookcock‑Johnson tests are crude measures of competence of the posterior lobes of LB and RB, respectively. With sufficient motivation I am sure that someone experienced in psychological testing could devise an objective measure that scores how LB and RB posterior lobe competencies are employed by the frontal lobes to produce the subjectively recognized RBS and LBS individual. In addition to a reworking of existing subtests, such as the WAIS and Luria Neuropsychological Investigation, I would suggest including questions about belief in angels, ghosts, spirits, communicating with the dead, telepathy, precognition, prayer, voodoo, astrology, touch therapy, life after death, and God. Assuming an effective LBS/RBS test could be devised, it would then be possible to imagine the "thought experiment" of testing a population of people from different times in our evolutionary past.
Evolution of LBSIf pressed to estimate when LBS people began to appear, I would say approximately 200,000 years ago, which is before the split of the three principal races of man: African, Asian and Caucasian (Rushton, 1995). Before then, everyone was all "heart." It may be worth illustrating how the population distribution across an LBS/RBS spectrum evolved from before the appearance of brain lateralization to the present. I rather think the change was not a "shift" but rather the rise of one "wing" of a distribution. The population distribution change would have been "driven" by the existence of niches that were newly within reach of being occupied by an otherwise slowly evolving human species.
The following two figures are meant to illustrate an imaginary experiment in which our primitive ancestors are measured by a LBS/RBS test and scored on a LBS/RBS spectrum. Figure 13.01 shows what might have been measured prior to the exploitation of artisan niches, let us say 300,000 years ago, before our cerebral hemispheres were greatly lateralized. At this time the only niches being exploited required "LBS minus RBS scores" in the 70 to 90 point region, which in this illustration is well matched by the population distribution.
Figure 13.02 shows a hypothetical population distribution after new niches appeared and began to be exploited by a subset of the population. The new niches might have been the use of language in hunting, toolmaking, horticulture, animal domestication, animal breeding, construction of food cache buildings, or anything requiring nearly full‑time dedication and requiring conceptual thought or sequential thinking modes. I have indicated that the population distribution is not symmetrical, but has a bulge at the high "LBS minus RBS" end of the spectrum. When comparing individuals from the two ends of the spectrum there would be a stark contrast, and it would be tempting to say that they represent two distinct "types." The population distribution does not have to be noticeably bimodal for this impression to exist.
Figure 13.01 Hypothetical distribution of primitive population on an imaginary LBS/RBS spectrum. The boxes along the baseline represent niches that exist and can be feasibly exploited at this stage of human evolution.
Figure 13.02 Hypothetical distribution after new niches appear, perhaps associated with a climate change, showing how the population distribution might change in response to the new opportunities for niche exploitation. The right-most symbols represent "artisan" niches requiring a sequential type of thinking that only a left brain can perform.I suspect that if a valid LBS/RBS test could be devised, results from today would produce a distribution resembling this figure. The two cultures would be represented by scientists, engineers and lawyers having jobs located by the right-most symbols, whereas salesmen, entertainers and the rest of the population would have jobs represented by the other symbols.
The conditions that favor the evolution of LBS are cultures rich with niches for the analytically inclined, which are abundant in today's technical world. In previous generations a Bill Gates would have been a lackey to a king, an artisan “on call” for odd jobs the king assigned. Just as people are born with different abilities for scoring well on IQ tests, it is inevitable that people are born with different predispositions for being LBS versus RBS. I believe that some people are thus pre‑adapted to become LBS, and prosper within a culture that rewards LBS, whereas in others the vast majority would be destined for life as RBS, or something in between.
Those people who are genetically predisposed to being strongly RBS will be forever resentful of the minority of strongly LBS people among them, especially if the culture rewards LBS talent as much as it does today. The vast majority of people will merely feel "uneasy" about the presence of strongly LBS people. This inherent resentment of one type for the other is hinted at in C. P. Snow's book The Two Cultures (1961). It is also possible to gain insight into the dilemma posed by LBS individuals in a predominantly RBS society by reading between the lines in Resentment Against Achievement (Sheaffer, 1988), Anti-Intellectualism inIn today's Western culture, dominated by the products of LBS achievements, it is easy to portray primitive people as primitive. Such pronouncements may not be welcomed by the RBS majority, for they recognize a resemblance of their outlook with that of the primitive. For example, RBS people tend to see all things in terms of the animate, whereas LBS people tend to see things in inanimate terms (cf. Ch. 2). The primitive, who is by inclination an adherent of an RBS world view, imagines that spirits reside in the trees, the wind, lightning, and all other natural phenomena. They conceive of the "forest as parent" and "a giving environment, in the same way as one's kin are giving" (Bird, 1990). The Inuit "typically view their world as imbued with human qualities of will and purpose" (Riddington, 1982). American Indians in pre-Columbian times also view the world as controlled by spirits (Aleshire, 2001).
(Hofstadter, 1969) and The Great Roob Revolution (Price, 1970). America
In contrast, the scientist has cleansed his world view of these ancient spirits, and he tries to perceive things as mechanistic (this attribution is for the hard‑core LBS scientist, who is more likely to be found among the elite, high‑achieving scientist population). The hard‑core LBS person is a reductionist, who automatically perceives all phenomena as the inevitable unfolding of a mechanistic universe (only a minority of high‑achieving scientists would object to this characterization). If you like what you're reading, then you, like the author, are extremely LBS.As an aside I will present an amusing example of the differences between the approaches to understanding something by an LBS and an RBS person. It occurred at a conference on "Imagination and the Adapted Mind: The Prehistory and Future of Poetry, Fiction and Related Arts," UCSB, August 26‑29, 1999. The invited speakers seem to have been intentionally drawn from the core of the opposing “two cultures” camps. It was amusing for me to watch a hard‑core RBS participant's consternation over the fact that inanimate objects enter our mouth, and inanimate objects leave at the other end, yet "we ourselves are animate." For him that was a dilemma, requiring appeal to the magic of words, which he provided, referring to "transubstantiation" ‑ as if this magical invocation explained something and solved his dilemma. But it is only a dilemma for the RBS person. For me, a hard‑core LBS person, all so‑called animate objects are more accurately to be thought of as "inanimate automatons." We are composed of the same atoms as everything else, and no magic transubstantiation occurs when the atoms of food and water enter or are incorporated into our bodies. Those atoms are subject to the same laws of nature that moved them before they became part of this exalted entity we call human. The RBS person, being unaccustomed to thinking of the human body as a mechanism, would naturally be troubled by this trivial phenomenon.
The modern world rewards left‑brained styles of thinking more than at any previous time. The LBS people of today appear to be "pre‑adapted" to our times. But pre‑adaptations do not exist by intention. Either they are accidents, in which a small opportunity is exploited by a novel mutation, or a wide niche is exploited gradually by a series of mutations, each adding an increment of capability to the first. I am wondering if the gradual evolution of LB specializations, which underlies lateralization, is in fact a case of the latter. For example, imagine an evolutionary scenario in which a sequential brain circuit enables a toolmaker to produce better spearheads than his brothers, and his genes are rewarded. Next, that line of men who have the slightly more sequential brain circuit in their LB, which the tribe may designate as their official toolmaker, undergoes another mutation that further improves his toolmaking ability ‑ he might simply demystify the stone that he works with. By this process he may lose the belief that the stone has feelings, and is hurt when struck, or that the stone wishes to be elsewhere, or that the stone will invoke the spirits of his stone relatives to wreak revenge upon the heartless chipper ‑ and this is an asset for performing his toolmaking task. We now have someone who not only tends to depersonalize the stone he must work with, which frees him to handle the inanimate stone better, but a person who tends to demystify in general. He is more likely to perceive the wind as really not caring about humans. He might be inclined to discard the many spirits that so preoccupy his fellow tribesmen - and if he is smart he will keep these new beliefs to himself.
What I am proposing is an evolutionary selection and maintenance of a specific type of variation within a species, for there are reasons the majority of tribesmen should maintain their spirit‑styled outlook. Spirits, I shall assume, are a short‑hand way of enabling people to deal with each other, and the majority of tribesmen are faced with having to compete with their fellow men rather than the stones to which the lonely toolmaker is relegated. I view the toolmaker as heralding an era of the division of labor. He is the prototype for the artisan, who occupies the broader tribal niche of improving weapons, inventing new ones (like the bow and arrow), refining horticulture, building food storage huts, domesticating animals, inventing the pastoral way of life, and later, irrigation, wheeled carts, atomic bombs, the internet and nanotechnology. The opening up of artisan niches, starting with the toolmaker, provided ever greater rewards to the man who viewed nature as spiritless, or inanimate. The human answer to this ever‑growing opportunity was to invest more in left‑brained circuitry specialization for dealing with the inanimate world. These lucky new people may have paid a price in being less apt in dealing with human relationships, but this would often be mitigated by a tribal understanding that these people were "different" and should be left alone to do their artisan work. They may have been looked upon as childish, or unmanly, since they were probably exempt from pillaging and other proud warrior exploits. The tribal chief might have thought of the artisans the way people later thought of the herds of animals that they domesticated: they had to be "kept" because they were useful to the tribe.This speculation, that some people are naturally LBS, is meant to explain why the two cultures phenomenon is so pronounced. It suggests that some people are fated at birth to occupy either one of the small but growing number of LBS niches, or instead to occupy the many though decreasing number of RBS niches. Other people, being only partly inclined to artisan niches, could go either way in their personal development, and they would be wise to take a reading of the likely rewards for competing career paths when they make their (unconscious) life's path decision.
The Threat of Individual LiberationThe evolution of capable prefrontal lobes, and a newly‑fashioned LB specialized for analytical insight, obviously helped our ancestral genes survive. This much can be safely concluded by merely citing that we have the hardware in question. But new tools can sometimes cut in two directions, metaphorically. A brain that can put two and two together can theoretically put itself to uses that are subversive from the perspective of the genes; such an individual is at risk of liberating himself from the enslavement of "being a tool for the community"; he may think taboo thoughts of "becoming the captain of one's own ship, enslaved to no one." The toolmaker is at risk of “walking away” from his assigned role as a tool for the tribe!
A creative prefrontal lobe might ponder scenarios in which the individual essentially "thumbed its nose" at the tribe by going off into the woods to live a simpler life? Before the creation of super-tribes, which offered specialized niches for strangers to fill, this way of thinking would have been suicidal. But during the past 12,000 years, during our present Holocene interglacial, some options for walking away from the genetic agenda have become feasible, and should be a real "concern" to the genes.Let's review the main theme of this book, as presented in the Introduction. For each hypothetical behavior that has an innate component, we are to make an evaluation from the perspective of the genes, and then make an evaluation from the perspective of the individual. We must invent the concept "individual welfare," or "individual best interests," to continue this experiment. I shall infer its essence by presenting just two brief examples of thought experiments to illustrate the concept "outlaw genes." A larger set of examples, with fuller explanations, is presented in Chapter 13.
The individual who invests in raising offspring is embarking upon a long‑term and exhausting life course. Sex leads to babies, and for women this means the commitment of a life of parental enslavement. For "dutiful" fathers, sex and babies can lead to a similar enslavement. If a man or a woman gave thought to this situation, and instead decided to pursue an individual‑fulfilling life of aesthetic pleasures ("smelling the roses," watching sunsets, appreciating music) that person could in theory lead a less exhausting and more tranquil and fulfilling life.For my second example, consider the young man who is expected to participate as a warrior in raids of neighboring tribes (or nations, if our locus is the Holocene). Marauding, pillaging and engaging in battle are dangerous activities. The individual who says "no" to tribal offensive campaigns, thereby flaunting unthinking patriotism, and who can successfully avoid combat without paying the price of humiliation, would be safeguarding his best interests.
Let us now pretend that we can calculate outcomes of various actions, and ascribe to them some quantified measure of Individual Welfare Value, IWV. Let us also suppose that we are able to identify how strongly each gene contributes, under average conditions, to eliciting each action. I have in mind a model for generating behavior in which a person's genotype interacts with his Environment to produce an expressed Phenotype, or GEP, a process best described by Symons (1979) and treated in Chapter 6. By adopting some average environment we can in theory calculate 1) the probability that a given gene will elicit the action under question, through the GEP analysis, and 2) the effect of this action upon the frequency of genes in the future genome. This allows us to link an action to a measure I will call Genetic Survival Value, or GSV. If we can do these things, then we can plot a point corresponding to that gene in IWV and GSV space. To wit, refer to Fig. 12.03, first presented in the Introduction and reproduced here.
Since the concept of "outlaw gene" is so important, its explanation is worth repeating. In the figure we have four quadrants. The upper‑right quadrant is where the actions elicited by most genes reside, as they provide value to both genetic survival and individual welfare – such as breathing and eating. The lower‑left quadrant contains mutant mistakes, and genes that elicit such actions should survive no longer than the individuals who carry them. Genes in the upper‑left quadrant are unlikely to exist, except by mutational accident, since there is no way for Nature to code for an action that destroys the code. The most interesting quadrant is the one in the lower‑right. The actions found here are actions that should be selected by Nature just as strongly as for those in the upper‑right quadrant since they benefit the genes that code for them; but the actions in this lower‑right quadrant exist in the face of harm done to individual welfare. This is the quadrant that motivated my interest in sociobiology on
February 23, 1963, when I first created the figure.
Figure 12.03. Gene Value and Individual Welfare scatter diagram.The "outlaw genes" are the ones found in the lower‑right quadrant. There is no way for natural processes to eliminate outlaw genes. Indeed, natural processes will reward them when they mutate into existence, and if they conflict with other genes a balance will naturally be struck. The balance could involve some form of accommodation, such as making the individual believe that the actions in question are attractive. The more common solution, however, is for the genes to invent emotional rewards that are meant to overcome any logical hesitation that might exist by individuals who are otherwise unconvinced by the instinctive imperative. Short of taking evolution into our own hands, humans will be burdened forever by the "victimization" that outlaw genes perpetrate upon the individuals they make.
An LB individual might chance upon the thought that some things everybody does are not in a person’s best personal interest, and if his social setting provides a way to avoid the unwanted action he might actually plunge into self‑liberation by resisting the instinctive, self-defeating act. For example, a woman might choose to not have children, or a man might find a way to avoid going to war. Horrors, if the genes allowed these acts of individual liberation to continue! So, given that liberated people would have fewer offspring, we should expect to see some evidence that a tendency to think liberated thoughts would be discouraged by the genes, or that thinking the way the genes "want" us to think would be attractive. Is there any such evidence?
The Two Cultures
Anyone who today reads C. P. Snow's The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (1961) would be struck by resemblances of Snow’s descriptions to LB and RB styles of thinking. During the 1980s neuropsychologists were making headlines for research that revealed LB/RB differences, due mostly to the study of split‑brain patients who had their interconnecting corpus callosum surgically cut to control epileptic seizures. Snow contrasted "literature academics" with scientists, as they seemed to epitomize the extremes of a continuum based on his personal experience. His work during previous decades had placed him in contact both groups, and he became fascinated by their differences and their inability to communicate. Not only could they not communicate, they didn't want to. It was mostly the literati who shunned the scientists, and made disparaging remarks about them, while the scientists went about their work full of optimism that their importance was on the ascendance and they were eclipsing their rivals.The word “rivals” is apt, because, as the previous sections of this chapter have made clear, I claim we are really talking about people who think with an LB style versus those who think with an RB style, which are products of rival brain circuits. The community of RBS intellectuals have frequently "made fun of" LBS people, as if they needed to discredit them in order to compete with them. I recall from my college days a prankster's sign posted on an arch of an engineering building that read "All my life I wanted to be an engineer; and now I are one!" At the time, I realized the point, and found it funny in a bittersweet way (I was enrolled in the
at the time). But now I have a better appreciation of the motives for the humor. Schoolof Engineering
The field of anthropology was "hijacked" by Franz Boas early in the 20th Century. His student disciples, Margaret Meade, Ruth Benedict, and others, worked with Marxist zeal to discredit the influence of genes on behavior. The main determinants of behavior were supposed to be the wretched influences of a corrupt society acting upon an innocent and malleable human nature. Anthropology is still undergoing turmoil, as the forces of rational LBS people seek to rescue it from a century of RBS abuse. The apologists for the RBS suppression of nature‑oriented investigators have occasionally revealed their motivation; they were afraid of the political ramifications if it was generally believed that badness in people is inevitable.The latest RBS campaign to discredit LBS thought has various names, the most common being "political correctness," "deconstructionism" and "postmodernism." Again, there is a Marxist heritage to these new thought enforcers (Ellis, 1997; MacDonald, 1998). Their argument hinges upon a grain of truth, but exploited beyond reasonableness. At the most fundamental level, so the argument goes, all things are inherently meaningless and without value, and anyone who espouses a belief is deluding himself that his belief can be measured against someone else's belief. Hence, science is just one more pompous and fashionable belief system, and it is used to hoodwink the general public. Consequently, someone from the humanities should feel free to challenge anything sacred in science, such as gravity, the conservation of energy, and all manner of physical law. And therefore all LBS people are charlatans! Yet, amazingly, their RBS beliefs somehow escape their "fundamental meaningless law," and RBS beliefs remain unscathed. Therefore, all RBS people are Truth Tellers! Ellis (1997) states that "In the span of less than a generation, university humanities departments have experienced an almost unbelievable reversal of attitudes, now attacking and undermining what had previously been considered the best and most worthy in the western tradition." It is fitting that the most corrupt field of study is "literary criticism," the field that C. P. Snow chose as exemplifying the culture opposed to science. The demise of the humanities during the second half of the 20th Century is so bizarre, and out of control, that it's an easy subject to get worked up over. I shall refrain from the temptation, in the interest of pursuing a bigger subject (see Weinberg, 2001 for science-based rebuttals to postmodernism.)
It is no coincidence that the early 20th Century hijacking of anthropology, and the late 20th Century hijacking of humanities departments, has been inspired by Marxist intellectuals. Marxism and communism are political expressions of "collectivism." Individualism has been in conflict with collectivism for as long as human history has been recorded. The Eastern cultures are strongly collectivist. It should be no surprise thatHigh achievers have probably always sensed a resentment of their successes by those less able or less motivated. Robert Sheaffer (1988) wrote Resentment Against Achievement: Understanding the Assault Upon Ability to document this interesting social phenomenon. He writes that "Throughout recorded human history the ebb and flow of the love of achievement and the resentment against its successes have been major forces behind the rise and fall of civilizations and empires… Ahievement‑oriented values like tolerance, liberty, and the freedom of the individual to work hard and enjoy the fruits of his labor provide the motivation necessary for a civilization to grow and flourish."
embraced communism, and remains today the staunchest holdout and defender of communism. Remember that the LBS individual is prone to think subversive thoughts, and discover new ways of viewing the underlying motives for the collective force of societies. I claim that the genes are most likely to find the RBS‑prone person a fitting candidate for enforcing the collective (genetic) agenda by monitoring the errant wanderings of LBS intellectuals. Sensing that RBS vigilantes are watching them, LBS interlopers are always looking over their shoulder for the enforcers of gene interests. China
A superficial assessment of how the genes should perceive achievers might challenge my thesis that the resentful are working on behalf of the genes. But consider that what the achievers are really resenting, and the fear the genes are really responding to, is that the achievers are those unpredictable LBS artisans who can't be trusted to stay loyal to the tribe. A person who leaves the service of the genes to pursue individual goals is not an asset to the genes; rather, such a person is a threat to the genes because his example might inspire others to do the same, and thereby threaten a wholesale abandonment of the collective genetic agenda. Lo to him who dares write a book urging individuals to seek liberation from their genetic enslavement!
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