Thursday, May 30, 2013

What next?

  Sethren, that’s the Jeroan taxonomy dealt with.  So what? you will say.  Just stood up like that, it don’t amount to a can of beans.  Why you should say that in an American accent, sethren, I do not know, but you do, you do.  And I have no quarrel with a can of beans.
  Taxonomies are powerful things.  None more powerful than Linnaeus’s, who gave us the whole kingdom of biological life, laid out just so.  And from the other end of the telescope, Mendel, who gave us something just this side of nothing, but an infinitesimal so powerful that it can anatomise all that Linnaeus named.
  And then there is Jorge Luis Borges.  Here is his taxonomy of animals, which I’m sure you know, but has that strange quality, that every time you come across it, there seems to be something there that was not there before, while the list is no longer, and nothing is missing:
(a) belonging to the emperor,
(b) embalmed,
(c) tame,
(d) sucking pigs,
(e) sirens,
(f) fabulous,
(g) stray dogs,
(h) included in the present classification,
(i) frenzied,
(j) innumerable,
(k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush,
(l) et cetera,
(m) having just broken the water pitcher,
(n) that from a long way off look like flies.

  This may at first seem unscientific.  However its purport is to demonstrate that a constant of all taxonomies is fallibility.
  I have suggested
Demon    thing    act    concept    map narrative    praxis    Culture
and you, sethren, could well ask, but then, what kind of thing in your taxonomy is a scientific law, or a mathematical proof, or a rule of thumb such as that of a good man of Cork, John Punch: “entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem”.
  I could try, sethren, like the scholasticists of old, or like Procrustes, to fit these succinct, recognisable, bounded and coherent cells of the metaverse into the Jeroan taxonomy, thus:
  A scientific law is the sequential coupling and obligate linkage of  a series of concepts, any of which may and probably will themselves be composed of a series of concepts, possibly recursively until, once you get down to simple enough concepts, demons begin to appear; ergo, a concept (in the sense of the Jeroan taxonomy).
  Same goes for a mathematical proof.
  And for a rule of thumb.
  But that is all trivial circularity, sethren.  What we need to do next is to explore the ways in which the descriptees of this taxonomy, collectively evoculture, co-exist with and within the collective of human organisms.  The space that they configure is the metaverse, which is continuous, through the nexus of all functioning human neural substrates, with the rest of the universe.  Evoculture must account for not just stone knapping and sewing, but family, friendship, art and science, agriculture and warfare, love and hate.  All right, all right, sethren, do not flee.  Quite right, this is the work of ages, and I do not intend to even attempt it, especially as summer has now been deferred until at least July and we may all die of vitamin D deficiency before the sun shines again.  While our fuckhead Prime Minister talks of more wars and his soft pink lust for fracking.  Evoculture must account not only for the wonderful in humankind, but also for the criminals who have superseded bankers, and the political class.
  What I shall try to do, sethren, and that very briefly, is to delineate, not with a fine camel hair brush, but with a yard broom dipped in road grime, some ways in which evoculture might account for human nature a lot better than sociology or religion does.  And I am too pessimistic (though not about the political class), for tomorrow the sun shines.  A pic-nic, maybe, sethren.  Away with you, while I call up Fortnum & Mason upon my phone.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Neither group nor kin: how altruism arises in Homo sapiens

Moi - in altruisitic mode
  Sethren, I have spent the night in study.
  You must excuse me if I forego the usual honeyed pleasantries.  I'm fucked.
  Here is the final word on group selection.  The red herring is rotten, good only for compost.  Group selection is merely a convenient trope magicked up by sociologists and the religious.
  A group is not an entity.  It is a conceptual envelope, permeable and polymorphous, that bags up individuals, typifying them by certain shapes, behaviours or other categorising concepts.
What needs explaining:
  Population viscosity (low dispersal) can cause altruism (relatedness) but also intra-group competition (proximity).  Don't let it bother you that this seems opaque.  I have compressed an apparent contradiction, soundly expressed, until it is almost empty of meaning.  It is merely a flag for the sort of conundrum Groupies pretend can be explained only by Group Evolution.  In fact, all human behaviour which is not an expression of innate structures, ultimately genetically and epigenetically determined, is a derivative of culture (think the difference between blinking and wiping your arse, sethren).  Quite, sether Sampath.
How altruism arises in the Homo sapiens organism.
  Altruism is a misleading word, redolent of human sentiment such as “Greater love hath no man [sic] than this, that he will lay down his life for his friend”.
  When a prairie dog or whatever it is gives a warning of an approaching eagle, it is not laying down its life for its kin group.  It is merely genetically predisposed (variation) to shriek when it sees a predator coming.  That is all.  If the putative [shriek when you see a predator] gene is recessive, it may be carried by a large proportion of the shrieker's kin, who will adventitiously have benefited from its warning.  If the eagle then zaps it, the shrieker will not have died altruistically, it will have died from responding sub-optimally to a dynamic episode in its material environment.  But it may well not die anyway.  The eagle guidance system may be switched to vision, not hearing.  The shrieker may not be the closest dawg to the predator.  Also, the shrieker clearly saw it coming, and may have time to shriek and take evasive action.
  I don’t at the moment have to hand the several pages of equations that prove this.  I must tidy my desk.
  Of course all the dawgs in the shrieker's vicinity may not be kin, and they will benefit anyway.  The whole group benefits.   But it beats me, sethren, how you could possibly argue that selection on the shrieking trait is by the group.
So, how altruism arises in the Homo sapiens organism.
  Two Homo sapiens organisms lifting a stone — by the way, for this explanation, cultural evolution has to be taken seriously, not just as phatic gobshite. 

  Two Homo sapiens organisms lifting a stone.  There arises in one of them (variation) a genetic and epigenetic tendency with a [lift a stone when another Homo sapiens organisms lifts a stone, and make it the same stone] attractor (here is a place where mirror neurons might be useful); but the attractor, once the stone has been lifted, becomes part of evoculture, as an act in the metaverse (in the senses used in the Jeroan taxonomy of evoculture).  It is on the act that selection in the metaverse can be made.  The results of the act, which in this case can be made by, minimally, two humans, may become part of the physical environment; a shelter, an arrow head.  This alteration of the environment (result of an act which was the result of a predisposition in the organism) may in turn select on the organism, and other organisms like it.  But it is the act, which may become part of a praxis (in the Jeroan taxonomy) such as building or stone knapping, or indeed of a superordinate praxis, co-operation, which may differentially benefit any human organism whose ideoverse includes that act.
Note that it would be inexplicable if the concept (let’s lift the stone together) preceded, in evolutionary space, the act (one human lifts a stone when another lifts a stone, and it is the same stone).
  If you actually accept cultural evolution (see note on phatic gobshite above), then in Homo sapiens there is no necessity to explain cooperation as something evolving at the level of the group.  Reiteration and variation of ideas, behaviour, things, take place only at the level of the neural substrate.  The processes of each neural substrate are an individual ideoverse, and each ideoverse, in an E=mc2 universe, is in a continuum with the metaverse and with the world.  The third evolutionary stage, selection, can take place in a number of spaces; the ideoverse where the reiteration with variation initially took place; another ideoverse; the solid world (a better mousetrap, perhaps).
  Anything else is sociology or religious bias.
  I realise that some new terminology may sound sci-fi/religious bonkers.  In fact it is, I hope, quite practical, and an attempt to get away from camouflaged essentialism.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Pentecostal bicycle

  Sethren, I have gone up to the mountain. Not Sinai, but Malham Cove, where many pilgrims were gathered for Whit Sunday.  And I saw miracles of nature, the breeding Peregrine, skylarks, the mountain viola, and the great heights dominated by the silver limestone pavement.  I saw from afar the line, no wider than the span of your arms, sethren, where the argentine North West, with its limestone and emerald grass, becomes the dun of Yorkshire, millstone grit.  And from a young couple I heard one of those fragments of wisdom which exemplified, in that ancient landscape below its big sky, the difference between the culture of man and the culture of woman:
Eve:          …something that I can enjoy as well.
Adam:      Well as far as I’m concerned, it’s a can of bollocks.
Middle Craven Fault, right of ladder of fields up to horizon
  And on those heights I contemplated the big question, can evolution proceed at the level of the group? which as I’ve said on more than one occasion seems to me to be heresy.  And it occurred to me that what those heretics are in fact talking about is the horizontal transmission of culture, as it might be in biological life, in the incorporation of one form into another; as mitochondria into our own cells; or like gene exchange, the slicing and splicing of the chromosome.  And it bethought me this text, snipped and spliced, might be appropriate to Whit Monday, the season when the Pentecostal fire leapt across the multitude and across horizons, from disciple to disciple of the last Jewish Prophet, a case of horizontal culture transmission if ever there was one, but also vertical, since whence can this fire have come, save from the temples of Zoroaster:

  “Take the bicycle.  From the second half of the Nineteenth Century, the basic layout and structure of the bicycle has been unchanged.  And yet from then to now there have been a succession  of variations, thousands if not millions (depending on scale and how you count) which have led from the first mechanically propelled human powered two-wheel-in-line vehicle, to the huge spectrum of bicycles in the world today.  And one can plot divergent lines of bicycle descent.  One variant is for racing at speeds of 50 kph, another is for riding over rocks and tree roots, another for performing gravity-defying aerial tricks, and another for going shopping in an elegant dress; very different roles; all fulfilled by the same two wheels and triangular with beams structure.  All these can be put in one phylogenetic tree.
  However there is an area where these mutations are very different from most of those in biological life.  Though in the early evolution of life extraneous bits (such as mitochondria) were incorporated into complex organisms, the structural material did not suddenly change with the totality that it is inclined to in contemporary material production.  The airframes of aeroplanes were made of wood and fabric, with a few bits of metal.  Then aluminium predominated.  Now significant fractions are made of composite materials, fibres, ceramics.  Bikes were made of steel, and now they’re made of aluminium or carbon fibre.  No animal swaps the substance of its skeleton for another over a matter of years in this way.  The environment where the bicycle reproduces cannot be a merely passive matrix, as the real world is for biological life.
  As well as materials, substructures are suddenly imported.  Thus the environment where reproduction takes place must have within it active processes, proactive agents.  The change from the dandy horse, which you sat astride and ran with, to the velocipede with cranks and pedals attached to the front wheel, to the roller chain transmission, these were not small steps, they were, in evolutionary terms, unaccountable leaps.
  And that is the matter to be investigated, in the search for an  evidence-based case for Evoculture being an evolutionary process which lives in obligate symbiosis with homo sapiens; a symbiosis in which each partner has evolved in roughly alternate steps over a very short period of evolutionary time, each in turn hoisting the other up by the bootstraps; brain mutation, evolution of Evoculture, further brain mutation, further evolution of Evoculture, following each other in expansive, exponential succession and success.
  The line of descent, the variations that proceed in a certain order and not randomly, the divergence of lines (as between the all-terrain and road bike) suggest that when a mutated bike comes into the world, it is the product of another bike.  But what aspect of another bike is it a product of?  Clearly not of the physical, in-the-world bicycle.  We are quite clear that a bicycle does not produce another bicycle.  It is equally clear that the bicycle ridden by today’s champions could not have evolved  solely in the brains of human beings.  There would have been not the slightest chance of the modern race bike existing if the idea had merely been developed and refined in and between brains, without the parallel development of bikes-in-the-world.  There is something about bikes-in-the-world that reproduces further, and different, bikes-in-the-world.  It’s not the bike itself, not the physical thing.  So what is it?  The answer is going to be a formulation, a word denoting one of many bounded but open areas of the metaverse; a praxis.  What produces another bicycle from the bicycle-in-the-world is the praxis of the generic bicycle to which the ideoverse of the designer has open access.”

  Go in peace, sethren.  May the flames spread, and keep a drowsy emperor awake.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Group selection poleaxed

Not a red herring - Britannica 1911

  Sethren, there is a little more to say on Praxis, but there is a beast lurking beyond the ringroad, a lumpen beast, shapeless, miasmic, rough, slouching towards us, to be born again and again in each ideoverse if we only let it in, for that is the way of the evolution of culture; not truth, but successful reproduction; and that beast is not the AntiChrist, nor Baal nor Beelzebub, but group selection.  Or what is often known as group selection, in the same way as any heresy can be called by an innocuous name, Intelligent Design or Christianity (if you’re Jewish, sether, if you’re Jewish).
  Group selection is okay as long as you know what's being inferred.  If people operate in groups by which they are to an extent definable, then the aggregate of the evolutionary processes in that group may result in it being selected over another group.  Though to demonstrate that with any degree of detailed accuracy would be a long and complex task.  In principle it would be thus:  (GP is a praxis that has evolved in or been adopted by the group)

The four possible outcomes

   GP (e.g. scientific medicine) is selected, and increases the competitive survivability of its host Homo sapiens population.
  GP (e.g. Messianic religion with added suicide) is selected and decreases the survivability of its host Homo sapiens population.
  GP (e.g. Messianic religion with added suicide) is not selected and its absence increases the survivability of its host Homo sapiens population.
  GP (e.g. scientific medicine) is not selected and its absence decreases the survivability of its host Homo sapiens population.

  I will not go into the caveats which should apply when describing this immensely powerful feature of cultural evolution as “group selection”.  Fucking obvious, so elegantly and correctly put, as always, sether.
  No, the heresy is when the term “group selection” is used to suggest that the evolutionary process takes place at the level of the group.  And there are much wiser and even more learned men than me who make this mistake, sethren.  No, no, please, spare my blushes.  I know, I know, seemingly boundless.  But you must stretch your credulity (no, no, sether, not there) to the extent that it can encompass the knowledge that there are those beyond the Huddersfield ringroad who think I am an uneducated twat.  If that.  Enough.  I will now, with a brief wave of my wand (no, sether Albert, for fuck’s sake), demonstrate the illusion of evolution at the level of the group.
  We shall start with that unimpeachable source of scientific data, the BBC nature programme.  You know, sethren, the generic one about life in the oceans, whales slapping their tails, an Orca skim-boarding out of the surf, grabbing a baby seal, and retiring again to the foam to play catchy with it.  And then the shoaling sardines, attacked from the air and from the deep, gannets, whales, porpoises exploding with gaping maws from every direction.  And the sardines shoal, tighter and tighter, breaking formation radially at just the last moment.
  The Group Selectionists say, shoaling only works as a group activity, by definition.  Therefore it must have evolved as a group thing.  (it’s useful to spot the place where a well camouflaged “and then a miracle happened” can lurk.  By definition is just such a cover.)
  Here’s a model of the actual process.  There are something like twenty seven members of the herring family in European waters that can be called, for commercial purposes, sardine.  We’ll take the red herring.  It is a pelagic species, feeding on drifting shoals of small organisms.  It used to forage on its own, oh Best Beloved, but one day an algorithm evolved in a red herring’s brain which caused it to swim more or less in the direction of the nearest other red herring.  This was annoying for the other red herring, but the first red herring didn’t notice it had become an irritant.  And by and by it mated, despite its social awkwardness, and there is the advantage that a herring can produce a lot of eggs, and in the next generation this following-the-closest behaviour proved productive, because a dispersed but coherent group of herrings can search more efficiently than a lone individual.  You see where we’re going here.  Clearly the algorithm has to be just right.  Shoulder to shoulder is no good.  On the other hand you don’t want to get out of sight of everybody else.  Now I suggest that that algorithm has a good chance of being selected in subsequent generations of red herring.
  Then come the predators, as in the BBC nature programme.  Within an individual red herring the original mutation mutated again (okay, there must be a difference between “a miracle happened” and accepting a given.  No, sether, have you not been listening at all.  How that given occurred is what I’ve been on about all through the dark months of the winter which is not the summer winter.  Okay?)  So then the mutation mutated, and there was added a distance/velocity/size vector.  (Because there fucking was.  That’s how.)  And the bigger the distance/velocity/size vector, the closer you got to the nearest other red herring.  Okay, it was more complicated than that, routines were running that would require complex mathematics to reproduce, whereby the algorithm took into account all other red herrings within sight.  And while we’re about it, we’ll add another.  When the distance/velocity/size vector was coming straight at you, at the very last moment (additional algorithm, sether) you turned a pre-set number of degrees, (I don’t know, 45, 90, selection would have defined it) away from the axis of the vector.  (I don’t now whether a vector can have an axis, sether, I’m an unlettered twat, remember).  I don’t know that, either.  If the vector is pointing straight up your own axis, you just guess.  Any which way is better than the way you’re going.
  That’s how the behaviour of a group evolves sethren.  Always and invariably.  Tomorrow back to praxis.    Okay, off you fuck.