Tuesday 24 June 2014

The Lop-sided genius - mutations, channelling K, and group selection


The idea of Life History (LH) is that organisms tend to have a default 'r' strategy of fast growth and sexual maturation leading to large numbers of offspring requiring minimal parental investment; but that natural selection can act on groups of organisms to enhance a 'K' strategy of LH which is characterized by slower growth and sexual maturity, smaller numbers of offspring, and a greater investment of parental resources per offspring.

So, among mammals, mice are r selected while humans are K selected - crudely r strategy is for quantity of offspring, while K is for higher quality of offspring. .

But a further aspect of LH theory is that within species there are a range of potential Life Histories - and the young organism may be able to respond to environmental conditions to channel development resources in various ways. For example if conditions are harsh and an early death seems likely, then resources are channeled in a relative r direction; while less stressful conditions may trigger a K strategy.

Michael A Woodley has suggested that the slow LH strategy of K is also a strategy for behavioural specialization - so that a more K-selected population of humans is also more likely to generate behavioural specialists - including cognitive specialists:  people with high and also highly- specialized types of intelligence.

In other words, K-selected populations are more likely to produce geniuses - because geniuses have a Lop-sided kind of cognitive activity; geniuses prioritize their special ability and do not put so much effort into the kind of social interactions and reproductive strategies (mating, courting, marriage, child rearing) which dominate the majority of people.


So geniuses have something wrong with them, from the perspective of individual reproductive success.

This might suggest that genius is simply a pathology, a rare disease, probably a particular set of genetic mutations - which happens to be useful by chance, in some particular times and places...

Alternatively, it may suggest that genius is group-selected - on the basis that it was geniuses which provided the breakthroughs which led to the industrial revolution and the consequent expansion of those European national populations which produced the geniuses (England, France, Greater Germany, Italy etc).

On this scheme, a genius does not - on average - benefit his own reproductive success; but a population which produces enough geniuses will benefits its own population level reproductive success.


SO, what are the ingredients of genius? The answer is twofold: high intelligence plus a high level of personality trait Psychoticism.

But what is Psychoticism, from the perspective of Life History? It can perhaps be seen as a rare result of Lop-sided K -  personality type which combines impairment in social domains (such as Agreeableness/ Empathizing, Conscientiousness, Social Conformity) with an autonomous/ selfish obsession with some other thing.

(Note: High Psychoticism is only rarely found in K-selected populations - there is probably an inverse correlation between the two variables - but it is that rare and strange combination of high K and moderately-high P which is required for creative genius.)

So the personality of a genius is defined, here, by default - by a strategic slow LH but not of the type which would tend to lead to social and sexual success, but instead where long term interest, enjoyment and effort are channelled into... something else.

Something else could be any of the possible domains of genius: mathematics, science, literature, invention, art and sculpture, economics, music... So when there are a lot of geniuses in a population, they are of various and multiple types.

(Although not all types, nor all types at equal frequency - since some populations start with an innately higher level of some talents, and lower levels of others - populations differ).


So, why Europe? Why was it Europe, and nowhere else, that made the industrial revolution?

First, there had to be something - or some things - in Europe which selected-for what it is that geniuses provide: selected-for the products of genius... especially things like inventions. 

To focus on inventions - geniuses do not need to be encouraged: genius does what genius does, and unless actively prevented genius will produce... But that is only half of what is needed: the society must notice what is produced, and value it, and exploit it.


So, if a society has geniuses, then the geniuses will be producing inventions. But only some societies will use these inventions.

IF a society does use inventions, and as a result the society expands (if the population grows from which the geniuses have arisen) then this would indirectly tend to sustain the production of geniuses.

How might this happen? Perhaps by allowing/ encouraging mutations to occur specifically in relation to some of the genes which sustain social intelligence, sexual selection and that kind of thing - and thereby channelling K into specific functional channels - to create a variety of Lop-sided geniuses who are independent of social pressures and motivated to focus on their special ability; rather than a population all-rounders who conform to societal norms.