The Brain Science of Not Grokking Evolution

How Thoughts are Formed:

For how things work, how thoughts are formed in the brain, we have some idea of the materials involved, much detail regarding chemical processes – and a lot of analogies.

In some contexts, the brain has pathways, in the context of depression and addiction, we speak of getting caught on a looping path, or of progressively falling into the same patterns of thought, thought to indicate the overuse of a single “pathway.” I have been trying to use this one lately, I have used it a fair bit, and I wanted to for the current blog, but you can’t prove anything starting with a single dubious analogy, can you, I need to at least diversify, if I can’t transcend it.

In Pinker’s brain science tomes, we have modules, or demons, little portions of thought, an addition demon, a subtraction one, one for fighting and one for flight, one for putting a thing on top of another thing, a lot of multipurpose generic thought segments or components that we string together to make a thought or a sentence or a life. He postulates that we also possess a completely unmoored “universal processing” module by which we are able to reason through new situations that our species has never evolved for, citing mathematics and such as evidence of its existence, but this as well as a million other less universal ones, not instead, I think. Perhaps we are born assuming it’s all the universal one, and perhaps we think much of our ideology comes from there, but I’m here to show a major way that this is not the case, that ideology is more basic, made up of simpler demons, using the modules of the brain in the same way everything else does.

I know Freud and other psychologists have their analogies as well, and some folks assign not only identities within the “personality,” as Freud did, but assign them voices too and speak of internal parliaments, but this is a different breakdown, each voice a whole person and we might still be left wondering how each of their thoughts are formed. It doesn’t map onto Pinker’s modules, which are functions, not whole voices. Too, we may wonder how the “ego,” forms its thoughts, etc. the same way.

I’m sorry – only two, modules and pathways?

“Pathways,” has a quirk, an understood one, I don’t think there is a cursor tracing thoughts from point A to point B, away from one ear and towards the other, if it’s a “path,” it’s not spatial but temporal, chemical processes happening over time to take us from one metaphorical “place,” to another. I think I was wrong to use this model so much, “module,” may serve my purposes better after all, but it isn’t a bit temporal, doesn’t seem to move at all!

Perhaps I will change it up, perhaps I’ll be as generic as possible, but you know what is a module of speech or thought that moves is Dawkins’ “meme,” and perhaps the meme is not the module or the pathway, but the product of that structure? The thing I am trying to name in the brain is the collection of cells and processes that produces a meme, say the addition meme, or the flight meme, or the “maybe it’s behind something,” meme – touch the module, it gives you a meme with which to build your thought or your sentence.

It’s difficult, all these things overlap, the modules analogy I’m making mirrors parts of speech, a sentence is a series of components, subjects and objects and verbs, and a thought is a series of modules or pathways mirroring subjects and objects and verbs. We can say, “the dog chased the cat,” and we have modules or some building block or other of thought for each thing, a brain part or process to match each of “dog,” “chased,” and “cat,” and these units can be refitted for wolves and sheep and even Russia and Crimea – analogies prove the point, that there are forms for things, one size fits all memes that we apply to many things and boiler plating these is how sentences and thoughts are created. Ah, here’s a thought, sometimes when a situation does seem new and we have to choose a meme to understand it, apply existing memes to a new thing, we make a poor choice, and that is not the best or most appropriate module for that situation.

This is the point here, however, so before I launch into it, I’d like to produce an example you already know. You know, so you don’t have to take my word for it.

And why stretch it? I’ve already invoked the dreaded wolves and sheep? – nah, no, that’s too fraught. A simple one – ah, “shark infested waters?” I think a lot of us have heard this one lately, that creatures do not “infest,” their own homes! That perhaps “infestation,” is the wrong meme to apply to this situation. Of course it’s  . . . interested. The person calls that an infestation is trying to say the ocean is their home, but the wrong, interested meme gets past us often enough, doesn’t it?

How Thoughts are Protected:

Or, how language maps to thoughts: the word is not the meme.

The word is the label for the meme, in your language, and in your time and place. A rose by any other name. Every culture with a language that knows a rose has a different word, but the rose – and the mental meme – have their own reality beyond the word, and this is the point, if we re-named the rose something else, the flower and the mental meme would not change. Were we to learn that a rose is in fact not a plant but an alarmingly complicated chameleon, then perhaps the thing and the brain unit for “rose,” would have to change, but it doesn’t work the other way about, the word is only a label for the meme in your brain, which is only some bit of brain language for the object.

This is why new, politically correct language is not a meaningful endeavour: labels are not only not the thing, but they are not even the representation of the thing in your brain, only a label for that and changing the word does not, as we hope, change anything inside the brain, indeed, just as saying it in French would not. This argument goes to identities and genders and everything else we try to fix with new language, but I am not going to iterate all that, I am going to go to what I think is the mother of all the PC language failures, “consequences,” in childrearing, followed by perhaps the father, evolution.

This application of  . . . code, I guess, this level of interpretation protects evolved, inherited memes, after all the brain and the person must function in the absence of language too, the  brain couldn’t maintain anything if it could all simply be talked away. I guess where this is heading is if we want to change anything, we don’t change the part of the code everyone sees but leave the new symbols matched to the same old things, meaning use it in all the same places and sentences as the old word, you take control of the mapping – we don’t ask people who may still think of a shark’s existence as an infestation to learn to say “shark inhabited,” if we know they still want to kill them all, we work to educate, remove the fear, and the language follows. We would locate the error by which this person thinks they own the ocean, correct that, and they will stop saying “infested,” when they realize it’s not their kitchen and sharks are not cockroaches and they would apply a more appropriate meme, shark country, or something.

Again, unless someone has an interest in it, then sharks are cockroaches, or ants?

If you felt you had to be in the ocean, though, and had to be exactly where the sharks are hungriest and most numerous, though, perhaps you would say, “infested.” We apply the meme that brings us results, like survival (I don’t mean survival from sharks so directly, it’s not the sharks made this necessary for you, but your employers, I mean to say, “survival of our employment”). The wrong meme is probably not often an accident; you’d think natural selection would either select an accident or weed those out. It’s a form of tech, or engineering, manipulating this layer of thought and existence to our own ends. But it also keeps us at bay when we try to change language for some social improvement, lets us think we’re changing things while the brain keeps everything running to the evolved status quo.

It’s been a long time since I typed this one, about how we stopped saying “punishments” for children after Dr. Spock and started saying “consequences,” instead, and changed almost nothing, punishment already means consequences, it’s only a little more passively voiced this way, and of course, some huge percentage of people still self report spanking, eighty-five or something. Literally the same hands on the same bottoms, different code symbol, same mental meme, same external world and actions. Gentle parenting would have us move from the cause and artificial effect meme both the words reference and to a different function altogether with no contrived “effect,” at all and then neither word would apply.

A teaching meme, perhaps instead. D’ya think?

New words are a dodge, a trick played on us by our species’ memory, by the bureaucracy of biology, where we simply replace the puppet leader figure and none of the machines of state. We live life, thinking the code is the message, blissfully unaware of the formatting beneath, in the evolved memes.

OK, if that was the mother – fitting, I think – then evolution is perhaps not the father, but the great granddaddy of language to meme failures, at least today.

It doesn’t belong among the origin stories at all.

The Human Nature Meme:

The Human Nature idea, with it’s coresident one of creation, is an extension of to quote an archaic term, Man the Maker, or Bob the Builder, using a too-modern one: there isn’t a thing, you make the thing, now there’s a thing, generally with a made-for purpose. This is what we have applied to our species and to the world, we are here, so perhaps something made us, so perhaps we have a purpose (a single, specific purpose, like an axe) and we were made to be this and so we are this. You make an axe, it’s an axe until someone unmakes it. Tools would seem to be the meme for this single purpose, or “Nature,” idea, the Nature of an axe is such and such, and it goes to, “So Grasshopper, what is the Nature of you?”

This is where I get lost, it has this aspect, for sure, the “Natures,” meme, of inferring a single vector, an essence, a single idea like a tool – but on the other hand, people reference if for anything and everything. This “essence,” apparently has the entire gamut of human behaviour in it, from the best to the worst . . . I can’t square it, clearly, “Natures,” are the wrong meme for a living, complex thing like us. Evolution is much better.

But it’s just a word, a symbol. If we just replace “creation,” and “Human Nature,” with “evolution,” we are not changing anything, even in our minds.

And I’m afraid we do. A lot.

For one thing, creation and human nature are old, who knows how old, maybe as old as humans. When we think about those things, existence even, these are the brain paths or modules we engage, when we think about why we are the way we are, we use the “what were we made for” meme and origins are presumed to explain why we are what we are now in this meme (paradigm), as opposed to what is making us this way right now, today.

Evolution answers that last question, not the first two.

Creation is an origins/purpose/Natures meme, the questions and the answers, and it follows the format of that brain module – but these are not the memes for living creatures. For that, we need memes of growth and change and environment and processes functioning right now. An example? Of Using “evolution” words but “creation,” memes – my usual: your “chimpanzee genetic legacy,” is a “Nature.”

We split from them five million years ago – does evolution not include change? History (and more specifically The Dawn of Everything) shows that things change a lot, much faster than that. Whole societies move in and out of “chimpanzee” aggression at merely historical speeds, and suggests, I’m sorry, that the entire primatology as proto-humans meme is nonsense, based in an all too common misunderstanding of deep time.

The Creation and Natures memes are old – but I don’t suppose the chimps have them. That’s probably a human development. Today’s problems have today causes in the meme of reality, of causes and natural effects, that is evolution. For God’s sake, people, humans have human problems. Perhaps you have noticed, no other animal does? Not chimpanzees either?

All is in motion in evolution; if we grokked it, we would stop searching for “initial conditions,” as there are none, or viewed another way, none that are still in effect or relevant. There are only “conditions,” and it matters what they are now, or a minute ago, not what they may have been a very long time ago. In the other meme, if we were created and had some “Nature,’ conditions may not matter at all, and having paved paradise after Darwin and Wallace’s deaths, it would seem that evolution has not revolutionized the world as it probably should. It is clear that we think we are somehow beyond all conditions. Evolution is self-evident in matters of living things, while creation is not evident in any way whatever.

But this fiction, this is the human disorder and the human magic, what makes us tragically different, and it is ingrained in our brains, this obsession with origins and justifying unnatural human practises with it, the denial of the self-evident change that occurs in the human world. It is less about some positive effect of a creationist belief, I’m thinking, and more about displacing the belief in change and growth, I fear, denying the damage we cause. Diverting thought away from evolution, our ongoing self-creation, and any damage we wreak upon one another. Of course it works, “Human Nature,” can be exactly all that damage, and when you show up twisted and broken, this will have always been your “Nature,” – and the innocence of your childhood was a lie: you were always this broken crime looking for a place to happen.

In this way, thoughts are protected, obvious fictions like creation remain in effect despite the truer thing having been discovered, the new idea is reduced to only being a new word for an old brain path, and we still use that circuit when we ponder ourselves. It is partially, hugely perhaps simple inertia, that the new idea’s word has to begin life trying to fit into the same conversations the old one did, but of course, the creation module in your brain evolved for a reason – not saying a “good,” reason, saying a reason we need to check – and it is protecting itself, like any living thing it is trying to grow and live and perhaps propagate.

So maybe it’s taking on more work than it should, or maybe we are diverting too much work there “on purpose,” not to say always consciously. Hey.

We’ve been making tools longer than cultivating, is this still true?

So the toolmaker’s creation myth is a little older than evolution – which I suppose might be the farmer’s “myth?”

As I said, there are better memes with which to understand and explain ourselves, ones of change and growth and environmental interactions, they exist, but which memes we use for what, this is perhaps a way to see the problem. Again, the choice is interested generally, but that way lies the truth, interested for what, why, now we’re chasing some knowledge. An administration problem, perhaps a corrupt administration problem, from a modern, can we stop the end of the world perspective. It’s easy to make the case in text though, hard to effect any real change, how could we hope to give that work, pondering whys and wherefores to the correct department in the brain? Why would the world reward and maintain its going to the wrong one?

Again, I’m sorry, guesses and analogies may be all we have.

My answer to this is Antisocialization Theory, of course, like Chagnon’s warrior society (except that the elite white obviously play too, or how are they winning), or Yellowbeard’s admonishment to his goody two shoes son that you’ll never get any killing done if you go about thinking all the time. That, I’m afraid is the interest we have to expose.

I think I can give up on solving the whole world with this one too, I guess I can stop now. I hope there was something in it for y’all. Be careful out there.


April 28th., 2023

2 thoughts on “The Brain Science of Not Grokking Evolution

  1. Jeff/neighsayer May 1, 2023 / 11:13 am

    this is clearly someone’s first visit to my blog, and clearly they didn’t read this on either – “Human Nature,” doesn’t win the arguments with me, K. On your bike.


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