27 Dec ’14: CONVERSION

Since time immemorial history is littered with accounts of conflict between individuals or groups arising out of an apparent faith based moral imperative to convert or, at times, eliminate those with a different interpretation of their theistic or atheistic conviction.
Have you had someone try to ‘convert’ you, and how did you react?

If anyone comes to me and tries to convert me I say to them, very explicitly, that I seems highly unlikely that I will be swayed by their arguments, and it is far more probable that they will start to seriously question faith if they continue to converse with me. And I give them the choice. Some stay a few minutes, most leave quite quickly, a few have left their church following those conversations.

I don’t go out of my way to convert anyone, just work with those who come to me.

[followed by]


When, like me, one looks at all things from an evolutionary perspective, there are many evolutionary pressures involved in the question “WHY do some belief systems (or do they all?) seem to require converting or eliminating others?“.

In order to survive, ideas must be able to replicate.

There are many possible replicant strategies, as we see in nature with genetic replicators. Some put a little energy into a lot of offspring (like most plants – many small seeds or small fruit), and there is a huge spectrum to those that put a lot of energy into very few offspring. In the plant world, coconuts are toward the few end of the spectrum, pine trees toward the many end. We humans are right out towards the few end of the spectrum.

Modes of thought can be looked looked at in the same way – as life forms evolving in the world of human minds – being passed from one to another, some taking root and surviving others dying out. Some like simple viruses can infect a mind quickly and effectively cripple or kill the host, but manage to propagate to some other host before the original dies or runs out of resources. Some are much more complex forms, that take many years to transmit (within humans the subset of scientific philosophers are even further towards the few end – it takes decades of work). The variations on a theme are endless (infinite).

All modes of thought have to have sufficient mechanisms and contexts to survive and reproduce, in some fashion (or they go extinct).

The invention of writing allows some modes of thought to skip generations, or transmit without physical contact across great space.

So there are many competing factors, at many different levels, that go into determining the phenotypic expression of behaviour (the behaviours that actually get to express, of the many possible behaviours available to that specific mind at any specific instant).

Human beings are not singular entities in the replicating patterns of behaviour sense, we are each much more each like entire ecologies.

Understanding that fact, is the major thing that I got from reading Dawkins 1976 classic (The Selfish Gene). It was mid 1978 when I read it, and everything changed for me that day. I read it twice that first day. Then I started playing with some numbers. I started working with different sorts of strategies, to see how they played out. I looked around at genetic life forms, and saw the amazing diversity of strategies that can coexist with only minor variations in environments. I looked at functions of frequencies of expression with time. I started to visualise in my head complex topologies of probability functions of interacting strategies over space, time, environment. Recall that three years prior I had seen clearly that indefinite life extension was a logical possibility, so my attention had already been on to the other risk factors to survival, once aging is removed for 3 years at that point. So I had already been deeply into that enquiry with philosophers, theologians, politicians and people of all walks of life, before discovering (through Dawkins) the works of Robert Axelrod and John Maynard-Smith and many others.

When you bring the work of Stephen Wolfram to the context of the domain of evolutionary strategies – the vistas that my mind creates are amazing – I can spend hours examining them – more like just gazing at them, “walking through them, looking at the landscapes, looking under some of the pebbles”.

It is so difficult to pass on to another even the vaguest hint of the models that my brain creates for me, in instants. I have tried a couple of times to write one down in detail that another could follow – after a week of work on one attempt I gave up, as in reviewing what I had written, it was clearly a work of many years, and I had already come to the conclusion that that particular form wasn’t all that interesting, as it became unstable after a few hundred years.

So in a sense one can view “beliefs” as life forms struggling to survive.

And in another sense one can view any given individual as a whole ecosystem of beliefs competing for expression in any instant, with multiple simultaneous levels of expression possible.

And in another sense, it is possible to view evolution from the perspective that all major advances in evolution are characterised by the emergence of new levels of cooperation, and the attendant strategies that make such cooperation stable over space (variations in the mix of strategic environments) and time (the interactions of those strategies). This can happen both within specific individuals, and between sets of individuals – both levels are important.

To survive all strategies must replicate.

And any given human being is an example of at least twenty levels of cooperating strategies surviving together – and some are many more than twenty levels – with many thousands of strategic organisms involved in the ecology that is the individual.

And in this context I love the quote from Walt Whitman “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
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