Thursday 17 September 2015

Does group selection provide a realistic hope for escape from Mouse Utopia?

If we consider the scenario of Mouse Utopia - i.e. a massive reduction in human fitness due to mutation accumulation due to the removal of the main mechanism of generation-by-generation, mutation-purging natural selection (mainly the reduction of average child mortality from probably more than fifty percent to one or a few percent) - then there seems little or no grounds for realistic hope of avoiding a mega-death outcome.

(...Indeed, not merely mega- but a giga-death outcome, involving not just millions but billions of humans - because there are currently about seven billion humans compared to the recent historical global population of about one billion - and the Mouse Utopia scenario predicts that human fitness will drop below historical levels; presumably implying a lower than historical population. )

One particularly worrisome aspect is that the mutation driven incremental decline of human capability (due to an increase in human pathology) creates a positive feedback situation in which humans presumably would get less-and-less-capable of solving the multiple damaging consequences of mutation accumulation; including the problem of mutation accumulations itself.

This, at least, seems almost inescapable from the perspective of individual level selection; but if group selection mechanisms are real and applicable (as I believe they are), then it may be that behaviours will emerge that tend to counteract mutation accumulation, and avert the mutational meltdown positive feedback cycle.

But group selection is rather poorly understood, and perhaps works by multiple pathways. At any rate, by comparison with individual-level selection, group selection would appear to be ('as if) goal-directed, cognitive in nature, altruistic, and with foresight to look beyond short term individual reproductive disadvantage to long term group genetic benefit.

(Group selection may actually, or may not, actually be these things - teleological, cognitive, altruistic, predictive - but at any rate, this is how it would appear to us.)

So group selection might lead to a variety of quasi-purposive mutation-purging, fitness enhancing outcomes. These would not, of course, necessarily be conscious - indeed would likely be more effective if unconscious.

Possible examples might be an instinctive self-elimination of heavily mutated individuals from reproduction - varieties of genetic suicide. So, ordinary individual selection might tend to reduce reproduction of heavily mutated individuals due to them suffering from the effects of pathology - but in addition there might be some kind of system of internal monitoring of mutation load which made heavily mutated individuals 'give-up', lose interest in reproduction, avoid reproduction - perhaps at extremes allow themselves to die from starvation, infection or some other cause?

This would amount to a kind of apoptosis at the organism level (apoptosis is the biological process of cell-suicide, which may be triggered in genetically-damaged cells - for example to reduce the incidence of cancers). 

Alternatively, group selection may lead to the emergence of a higher incidence of the kind of human individuals who - by their dispositions and behaviours - have the best chance of solving the mutation accumulation problem in some way. For instance, it might lead to an increased number of problem-solving

WD Hamilton believed-in and wrote about such mechanisms of positive self-elimination, and argued that their existence is theoretically-predicted as well as consistent with some observation - so we should not regard them as implausible - even though they not well understood, and hard to discriminate from the passive consequences of mutational damage.

(Of course, group selection is not - contrary to some views - nicer than individual level selection; because group selection involves in some way the sacrifice of the individual for the genetic benefit the group.)

Nonetheless, if group selection is active, a range of such possibilities may already be at work, or may become more powerful - and this may affect the development and outcome of the Mouse Utopia scenario to a greater or lesser extent.  

Note: Some of these ideas were developed in conversation with Michael A Woodley of Menie, to whom acknowledgement and credit is due. 

Mouse Utopia from mutational meltdown foreseen by Science Fiction

Thanks to Adam Greenwood for discovering this science fiction short story called Spacemaster, published in 1965 by James H Schmitz - which very clearly foresees a Mouse Utopia scenario of mutation accumulation, meltdown and extinction of humans, due to insufficient natural selection.

But, added to what he had been shown from Vinence's incredible ship, there had been enough he understood to present the story of the genetic collapse of Man -- or Spacemaster's version of it. It was not too implausible. The death seed of multitudinous abnormal genes had been planted in the race before it set out to explore and inhabit the galaxy, and with the expansion their rate of development increased. For another long time, improving medical skills maintained the appearance of a balance; it had become very much less easy for civilized Man to die even under a heavy genetic burden. But since he continued to give short shrift to any government audacious enough to make the attempt of regulating his breeding preferences, that burden also continued to grow. A point regularly came where medical knowledge, great as it might be, was suddenly shown to be no longer capable of the human repair work needed now to keep some specific civilization on its feet. The lethal genes, the innumerable minor mutations, had established at last a subnormal population, chronically sick and beginning to decrease rapidly in numbers. Spacemaster's charts indicated that this period, once entered, was not prolonged. When there were simply not enough healthy minds and bodies left to attend to the requirements of existence, the final descent became catastrophically swift and was irreversible. On Liot, Haddan had been living through the last years of such a period, modified only by Spacemaster's intervention. Spacemaster, with its supermachines and superscience, had come into existence as an organization almost too late to act as more than humanity's undertakers. Liot had been the last of all islands of galactic civilization. In less than fifteen centuries, the race had gone everywhere from its peak of achievement and expansion to near-extinction.

Chapter 6 Spacemaster from

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Psychiatric aspects of Mouse Utopia

Note: The meaning of 'mouse utopia' can be seen in various posts on my Intelligence, Personality & Genius blog:

The thesis is that we are already living in mouse Utopia, and that this will become more and more apparent until its reality will become... well, I was going to say 'undeniable' but that is silly: people can and do deny the most obvious things, and the process of population wide and cumulative mutational damage of the genome is certainly not obvious; but rather, at present, invisible.

So Mouse Utopia will never be undeniable, and indeed it is likely that the vast majority of mankind will never know what has hit them, and continues to hit them; nor will it ever be easy to disentangle the effects of genetic damage from other causes of maladaptive behaviour and disease. But at any rate, let's just say that the hypothesis of mutational accumulation in the human species will presumably gather more and more consistent evidence as time goes by.

What will life be like in Mouse Utopia? In The Narrow Roads of Gene Land Volume 2, WD Hamilton partially described that world in a chapter entitled The Hospitals are coming, and that is perhaps a good starting point - the idea that everyone will be damaged and most will be sick, in one way or another; so that life will resemble a hospital in which (some of) the less-sick (or the damaged but not-yet sick) tend the more-sick, as best they may - in intervals between doing whatever it takes to stay alive.

But this is not by any means an unusual or unprecedented situation for humans through much of the history of the species. For much of the time, Malthusian mechanisms have been in force, and populations have been limited by various combinations of starvation and infectious disease. Infections - in particular - have sometimes been endemic at a high prevalence, so that the majority or even all of the population might be suffering from, be affected by, some chronic parasitic disease - but at a relatively low degree of severity.

And with respect to the Mouse Utopia society being a Hospital, it is important to recognize that much of the pathology will be psychiatric rather than physical - this can be seen from the fact that the problems of the original Mouse Utopia were most behavioural rather than physical; and it follows from the fact that the highly complex human brain is exceptionally sensitive to random mutational damage.

Intelligence is probably damaged by mutation accumulation in an incremental and quantitative fashion - the more mutations, the more the lowering of intelligence. Therefore, decline of intelligence as mutations accumulate is likely to be relative smooth (rather than step-like).

But intelligence is 'general' intelligence, and is unusual in being a general attribute of cognitive function - it roughly corresponds to speed of processing, or coordinated functional efficiency. By contrast, most psychological functions are specific; and genetic damage is likely to be more qualitative and either step-like, or all-or-nothing.

What I think would happen, is that accumulating mutation damage would most likely show-up as varieties of specific brain functional damage leading to specific behavioural impairments of a social and sexual type - in a general context of continuing declining intelligence. (See reference below)

The kind of damage I am talking about represents a decline in functional adaptation of the human organism to its environment (its sexual, social and surrounding environment) - that is, a loss of effective functionality. This represents a decline in fitness, but not just relative fitness (because it is happening throughout the population) - it is a decline in group fitness - ultimately in species fitness.

If fitness is measured in terms of the capacity to raise sufficient viable offspring in a given environment; then the sexual and social changes induced by mutation accumulation will be such as to reduce the probability of doing this: partly by damage causing reduced brain processing speed and efficiency (detectable as reduced intelligence) and partly by damage causing specific functional impairments (detectable as sexual and social pathologies).

So, Mouse Utopia will be not so much be a hospital of sick people with the less sick tending the more sick; but more like the less crazy looking after the more crazy: a case of the lunatics have taken over the asylum because there is nobody left but the lunatics - so everyone in Mouse Utopia is mad, more-or-less; but with the sanest and most sensible people in charge.

At least, that would be optimal.

If the world is a psychiatric hospital where everyone is socio-sexually dysfunctional to some extent, then the people running the hospital ought to be the most coherent of the patients. Indeed, sanity is probably more of a priority than high intelligence - since a moderately intelligent coherent person (at least arguably) makes a better leader than a more highly intelligent crazy.

However, for the past fifty years and increasingly, we have been getting a taste of something different; and most nations and large organizations are now being run by - not the least impaired people - but energetic incoherent semi-lunatics; because in a mass media democracy, that is what the more-seriously-crazed majority seem to want.

Democracy as a system for choosing government has never made much sense; mass democracy in a mass media addicted world makes even less sense; democracy in a lunatic asylum is... crazy.

Sunday 13 September 2015

Use of the imagination in scientific psychology - a personal example

In saying that imagination is the primary aspect of true understanding, an example might be helpful. When I was working on my book Psychiatry and the Human Condition:

I decided not to include any theories about illnesses which I had been unable to confirm by imagination.

Imagination was not the term I used at the time; I instead called it phenomenology and introspection. Phenomenology is the term for the subjective description of psychological symptoms - e.g. what it is like to experience an hallucination, an endogenously depressed mood etc.

So, in my discussions of psychiatric phenomena and the effects of psychotropic drugs, I only wrote about theories which I had been able to enact imaginatively in myself - by examining my inner state and extrapolating from personal experience.

For example, in discussing mania I drew on experiences of staying up all night - when working as a doctor on call, or on a transatlantic flight - and the different stages about how it felt. For depression I had experiences of glandular fever and influenza, and recovering from them. For psychotic states I had memories of dreams, and the brief hypnagogic hallucinations when dropping off to sleep.

For psychotropic drugs, I had the 'advantage' of having taken many of the therapeutic classes of agents as attempted (and failed) curative or preventive treatments for migraine. Since I never found an effective preventive agent, I went through quite a large number of therapeutic trials before giving up. In addition I had for several years been very attentive to the effects of any drugs I was taking for anything: for example the antihistamines taken for treating Hay Fever, or introspectively studying the effects of simple pain killers, and how they got rid of pain.

So I had a kind of 'library' of knowledge about how drugs affect the way I feel, and this - combined with scientific knowledge about drugs and their effects - meant that I had a basis for understanding what drugs might to to psychiatric illness.

This amounted to an imaginative knowledge of psychiatric phenomena - and clarifies that imagination can be understood in terms of looking-within and becoming aware of subjective feelings.

The value of imagination was both at the beginning and at the end of theorizing. In the first place, phenomenology provided the primary basis of theories of how diseases may be caused, what is their essence, and of drug actions.

Then, after the theory was developed and elaborated and tested against the existing scientific literature using normal 'scientific' knowledge; phenomenology also provided a final test of plausibility and adequacy - could I imagine, could I experience within myself, the hypothetical cause or illness or treatment? If I could enact the proposed mechanism in imaginative experience, then the hypothesis would be allowed to stand - but if I could not enact them, then I would eliminate the hypothesis.

For example, the book was delayed for a few months by my initial inability to imagine experiencing mania - and this was helped by discussing mania empathically with someone who had experienced it and remembered the experience (by 'empathically', I mean in such a way that I could feel and experience what that person felt). Only when I could imagine myself as manic, and then imagine how that mania might be treated - how the manic inner state could be alleviated by inner change, could I finish the book.

This, then, is an actual example of how imagination can work - in a scientific context. Of course, when I wrote the book I mostly left-out the subjective and imaginative aspects - or used them only as illustrative examples. So the published Psychiatry and the Human Condition book is written and justified almost as if everything in it comes from the scientific literature and with reference to the experience of eminent psychiatrists and other objective and publicly available sources of information.

However, in reality, in terms of scientific creativity - the imagination was primary. It was primary in terms of generating hypotheses, and also exercised a veto in terms of testing hypotheses.