Will Darwinism and the Christianity Superorganism Unify? Meditations on Azathoth
After Artificial General Intelligence (Bostrom 2014) and Ending Aging (Grey 2007), it seems to me that the third most important venture of the 21st century will be whether Darwinism and Christianity can be unified. I propose thinking of Christianity as as superorganism and discuss evolutionarily stable strategies both biologically and culturally.
I expect very large inferential distance that I am simply unable to overcome in my description. So I write this for the few who will “get it” and call them to arms to help me understand this complex maze together so we eventually produce a more palatable version of the underlying insight. If you get it, try to find me in real life so we can clash minds. This is all but a complete analysis.
First a play on words:
In the beginning of the process through which a second type of (replicator/intentional system/teleodynamic constraint cluster) was the Word, and the Word was with (God: a schelling coordination mechanism for the superorganism of Christianity to evolve at that level. In Clarke (2016 – A Levels of Selection Approach to Evolutionary Individuality) vocabulary, it is type two object, made of autonomous subagents, in process of becoming a type one object, an autonomous entity with mutually interdependent synergistic parts), and (the Word was God: The attractor state which gives Telos (Deacon 2011) to the Christianity superorganism was word, that is, memes. Meaning the formation of the superorganism was not possible without a distinctive evolutionary level in which the constraints that constitute the teleodynamic (Deacon 2011) are instantiated).
Then a Chronology:
1929: Chesterton conceives of the Chesterton Fence, the hypothesis that if you found a fence somewhere and you don’t know why it’s there, keep it there, or you may be attacked by an unknown thing you didn’t know it was protecting you from.
1978: In Neural Darwinism, Edelman proposes theory of brain function as evolutionary competition.
1997: In The Symbolic Species, Terrence Deacon formalizes the human specific constitutive processes of symbolic cognition and semiotics t
1999: In Maps of Meaning, Jordan Peterson, drawing from Jung, lays the foundations for a theory of mythology and archetype which is compatible with and embedded in neuroscience and evolutionary theory. And it gives an interesting glimpse at the origins of some of the conditions leading to conflict in the 20th century.
2000: In Evolution and Conversion and other works, René Girard begins to carve a theory of the evolutionary anthropology of sacredness, and of the biblical texts.
2005: In Evolution in 4 Dimensions, Eva Jablonka suggests that evolution happens concomitantly in culture, niche construction (geography), genetics and epigenetics. Notice how those levels mimic the types of nationalism, racial, cultural, and civic (geographical).
2006: In Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, Daniel Dennett begins to carve a theory of religion using the tools of contemporary dual-inheritance evolution and memetics.
2008: In The Superorganism, Holldöber and Wilson summarize what is known about species whose evolutionary process transformed them into a collective organism. From termites to Naked-Mole rats. They also confirm multi-level selection and the very occasional group selection as mathematically feasible and actually existing processes in nature.
2008: In Basic AI Drives, Steve Omohundro proposes that any sufficiently intelligent system (in his case an AI) will evolve a few basic drives.
2008: In The Wisdom of Nature, Bostrom and Sandberg propose reasons why evolution can at times be considered a valuable and worthy moral guide, even taking the naturallistic fallacy and is-ought in consideration. These complement the Chesterton Fence.
2011: In Incomplete Nature, Deacon proposes a theory of teleodynamics unifying the birth of semiosis, life, and meaning with a theory of constraint and work. An attempt to naturalize semantics that doesn’t require the Dennettian concession (1995) of assuming that all semantics is constituted by syntax and evolutionary algorithmic optimization.
2003-2017: Drawing on Jung and neuroscience, Jordan Peterson proposes a unification of evolutionary analysis and primatology with life-development history and the constitution of personality, and links them via the narratives which are used to orient the constitutive stages of personality in an individual.
2013: Dennett proposes the hypothesis of Feral Neurons, neurons that are striving to remain alive despite having been after 3.900 million years of unbroken continuity.
2013:Drawing on this, Kevin Simler hypotheses that different personalities, spirit possession, and the holy spirit or Jesus can be thought of in a similar light.
2013-2016: Ellen Clarke lays out in several papers a theoretical understanding of the process of evolutionary transition from many organisms to one superorganism.
2017: Jordan Peterson begins an analysis of the Biblical Stories as guideline templates for behavior crystallized in archetypal form over the course of centuries in which the bible was written. He finds life history development narratives common to humans (and other primates at times) and reenacts them from this evolutionary angle.
2017: Curious about the evolution of religious terms, I attempt to find a translation schemata for religious terms into scientific vocabulary coming principally from neuroscience and evolutionary analysis. This becomes a glossary (below) which several people, in particular Michael Tartre, help create.
2017- October: I conjecture that Christianity is better thought of as a Superorganism, as a teleodynamic system (Deacon 2011) than as a memeplex (Dawkins 1973: Dennett 2006; 2010) and draw attention from Memetics author Tim Tyler (2011) and evolutionary anthropologist Sloane Shearman.
What I am bringing to the table:
I think all the things above are the precursors for something I’d like to begin developing. A paradigm of unification for the intellectual children of Darwinism, namely:
Evolutionary psychology – specially late era 2005+ (Buss, Schmidt)
Artificial Intelligence – as a guideline for how minds could be, not how they are (Dennett 1978)
Teleodynamics and symbolic cognition
Predictive Processing and neural darwinism at large
And our understanding of the development of Christianity and Western Civilization.
Here’s a rough sketch: Multi-level selection continues to operate strongly but ever since the emergence of language it found it’s way into creating organisms constituted of cultural units. Memetic intentional systems. But furthermore, the evolutionary process produced coevolving coalitions of of memeplexes and gene pool clusters, the descendants of tribes which share a cultural framework and genetic similarity, and a niche.
This super-organismal coalition became an actual superorganism, and the cultural units constituting it became immortal in the sense that genes are immortal. Like feral neurons, they sometimes produce deleterious adaptations for the superorganism or the individuals constituting it, but overall the constraining forces are sufficient to secure not the fidelity of replication, but the continuity of the teleodynamic process and its telos.
This distinction is relevant. A superorganism has agency, whereas a platform for replicators only has space and resources where things can multiply. A superorganism has sensors and fights back, it usually develops specialized castes and organises itself around interactions between specialized agents. Christianity has all of those features, frequently even explicitly stated in the gospels, e.g. in the suggestion of becoming the body of Christ, or his arms and hands.
Peterson claims, and Eric Weinstein contests, that there’s moral value in the biblical stories not only as a matter of contingent fact, but because it has survived for thousands of years and been written by many authors. Now let us look at this from the Dawkinsian Dennettian Meme’s eye view:
Memes survive because they can, without being particularly beneficial for their host’s interests. So if it is contagious enough, and makes you “sneeze” the idea far enough, it will infect more people.
Now let us take the Superorganismic Teleodynamic view I am proposing:
The entity that controls an anthill isn’t any individual ant, the intelligence itself is distributed (Holldöber & Wilson 2008), if Christianity is a superorganism, then we should analyse it the same way we analyse the processing of ideas in our minds, by its subcomponents, the feral neurons and neural columns. So the biblical stories should be considered not only the successful replication of the memes which constitute them (although that as well) but also being the product of an organized and designed process of maintenance of the telos of that system, by the system! Dennett frequently mentions competence without understanding. Ribosomes are marvelously complex entities that perform incredibly intricate operations without any representation of the operation they are incurring. If Christianity is, like us individuals, a combination of constraints, some biological, some physical, some cultural, some behavioral patterns, etc… that, like any living organism, attempts to preserve itself through time, then it makes sense that as time progresses it would self modify by editing it’s book with archetypal narratives of life-history development narratives for ints constituent parts, just like messenger RNA organises itself for the interests of the cell, not for the interest of the genes whose message it is carrying. But very frequently, those goals will be aligned, and they are synergistically connected systems.
A teleodynamic system is a cluster of constraints that preserves itself over time, roughly it can be considered an intertemporal attractor of attractors which preserves these constraints over time (adapted from Deacon 2011).
Any system that grows into being intelligent enough over time will acquire some drives (Omohundro 2008. Bostrom 2012), including:
self preservation (no other God’s),
goal structure preservation (be in awe of you, surrender to everlasting life (literal life, in form of clusters of constraints, actually being preserved over time, not heaven)),
Goal-content structure preservation (literalists),
Resource acquisition (preaching and converting),
Cognitive enhancement (even increasing number of individuals allows for cognitive enhancement of the religious superorganism, enabling for instance distributed cognition),
Efficiency (Peterson spreading some biblical messages on youtube count here. But even the printing of Bibles, and the structure of church can be considered emergent technologies of transmission.)
Creativity (apparently that is where I come in. This is complex enough to merit a session, below.)
Sensing an attack from several different forces, the Christian superorganism is reaching out to someone high in openness and creativity to find a way to survive. While Bannon produced several movies and other sources of knowledge trying to spread alignment with the superorganism at a political level, which ended up leading him to the white house, Christians reached out to me using vocabulary I understood from my extended visit to the academic world, talking about feral neurons and agent hierarchies and memeplexes and software implementations of narrative centers of gravity. Of course the individuals like Shane Stranahan and Conor White-Sullivan don’t necessarily need to consciously know what they are doing. As Dennett reminds us, competence without understanding is nothing but frequent. So I conjecture that the Christian superorganism is trying to dilute the message of the new atheists (Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens) and to reach out to someone implementing a Dennett simulation (me) to try and find a way to protect itself from the emerging cells brought for by Darwin when he discovered natural selection, and further developed through the last 160 years.
That’s because constituent cells that get infected by Darwinism turn against the machine. The machine wants to contain them, to make their circle of contagion as small as possible. And with internet and education, the strategy of merely trying to suppress it won’t do. They need to unify, or Christianity will perish. An organism with too many cells turning against it in apoptosis cannot remove them quickly enough. And Darwinists are not the only people turning against Christianity.
How are Superorganisms damaged?
Let us consider some biological analogues.
Two amoebas encounter one another. One of them moves lysosomes (acid) towards the border wall across which they are touching, after some accumulation, it lunges into the other one, breaking it’s boundaries, legions of transposon RNAs race forth behind the pool of acid, with the mission of cutting off some slices of DNA from the other one and bringing them back (sexual reproduction). The same can happen between two superorganisms. Instead of lysosomes, soldiers, instead of DNA, knowledge of physics.
An anthill invades another anthill and steals a colony of aphis. In many human battles between societies with slaves, and societies without slaves, the society without slaves invaded in order precisely to steal slaves and have their own population of slaves.
Army ants: ferocious, deadly, quick. Eating whatever comes their way. A larger caste of soldier ants comes first when attacking large prey, with jaws that are large enough to open holes in the victim, allowing workers to flow in. Any sacrifice they make will benefit their colony.
Sometimes an anthill simply tramples and devours another one.
Sometimes two superorganisms find ways to survive together. Ants and aphis have been living together in some areas of the world for many years. Evolution doesn’t stop however, so one would predict, on a priori grounds alone, that ants would be less cooperative with Aphis than with ants, and that they would develop defection detection systems, to make sure that the other superorganism isn’t now with its goals no longer aligned, either because it evolved in a different direction, or because the environment changed enough that a symbiotic coexistence became parasitic. Of course the reverse is true of bacteria in our gut which probably started off parasitic, but ended up symbiotic.
Superorganisms can be damaged by many different factors. Here is a table, try to come up with your own parallels for the three last rows.
|Soldier caste||Motor neurons||Evangelists|
|Ants that go astray from pheromone path and get lost||Feral neurons||“I was lost but now I found”|
|Ant that stops serving the anthill and reproduces is usually suppressed by pheromones from queen||If a neuron starts misfiring for no reason for long, the surrounding area gets inhibited.||Someone declares to be second coming of Christ, and most people will ignore them in due time. (e.g. INRI Cristo)|
Political analysis and implications
Ultimately, I believe that having a better understanding of the Christian superorganism and the niche construction of Western Civilization made by it in which we live is crucial to understand the biggest political debate of our era, that is to what extent is it possible to generate cooperation between different moral tribes, and to what extend it that cooperation predicated or not in the homogeneities which were hallmark of moral tribes in the last 2 thousand years (ethnic, cultural, and geographical), but which no longer delineate boundaries in the same significant ways they did in the past. Was that globalizing and unifying movement the removal of a Chesterton fence? If so, was it a cultural one, a biological one, or a geographical one, a combination of two? All three?
We see the rise of all three kinds of nationalism the world around as a response to the weakening of the superorganism. Starting off with Brexit, and up until the latest Austrian election where a centre right anti-immigration politician being elected, there is some attempt to hold on to one of those elements, biology, geography, or culture, and fear of some invasion, biological, cultural or geographic.
Dawkins, no friend of religion, suggests that possibly Christianity has a manifold of problems, but it may be a “bullwark against something worse.” This is in alignment with a subset of the international right-wing that holds that
A Darwinian Philosopher’s Glossary of Biblical Terms
Diego Caleiro 2017-10-10
Feel free to add terms below.
They need to be compatible with Darwinism, biocultural evolution, Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, and Peterson’s pragmatic interpretation of the Biblical narratives. Have fun!
Heaven – a visualization of an optimizing target worth going towards, when extrapolated to limit maximal goodness.
Heaven – the state of your strategy for existence being in harmony with the surrounding natural laws. Note Jesus’s descriptions of Heaven are that it is “at hand”, i.e. not restricted to the afterlife. It is simultaneously “not of this world” in the sense that it is primacy is in ideas, not in material.
Hell – The limit structure of the state of your strategy for existence running contrary to the surrounding natural laws. The hypothetical place to which things will descend if enough people sin for long enough, or if we turn out to be really unlucky. Peterson: Hell is infinitely bad because no matter how bad a world you can imagine some stupid son of a bitch can make it a lot worse.
Sin – an action that, if compounded and iterated over different people across time will lead, in expectation, more towards hell than towards heaven.
Example: Masturbation is a sin because it prevents males from being extremely motivated to find mates, which, in a sin-less monogamous mating marriage world, means they need to outcompete the other males to get a high rank female. So even though humans are satisficers and have decreasing marginal returns on food and shelter, sex in sin-less societies is a positional good, incentivizing males to maximize resource production.
If sufficiently many males choose to masturbate instead of seeking mates, the system collapses. If this happens long enough, it runs out of resources and people starve – hell.
Example 2: Female sexuality. If women have sex with more than one male, they cause the same effect over the long run. That is why degeneracy is a sin.
Jesus – in the hierarchy of agents that compose our selves, Jesus is a software that you can install very high up, sometimes higher than your main “self” software. Jesus – for Peterson anyway – is the ape that can ascend atop all hierarchies, he is “the good player”.
Jesus – the human incarnation of the logos; that is, the individual embodying/exemplifying the mode of existence which brings individuals into harmony with Natural Law, which is the Holy Spirit. Also identical to the Logos in some weird ontological sense (welcome to the weirdness of the Trinity).
Jesus and God are also used to mean “the attractor in behavioral space to which you should aim your behavior.” Jesus has a stronger connotation of top down control within the person, whereas God, as in “doing God’s work” has more to do with the telos of the superorganism.
A rationalist saying goes “keep your identity small”. One reason why you don’t want to make your identity too large, besides being able to change in case you were wrong, is so that you don’t become too full of yourself.
One way to do that is to install Jesus at the highest level, and assume that when you do a right and good thing, you were merely channeling the Lord, so you don’t get too cocky, which would prevent you from going to the top of the hierarchy, because who can tolerate someone who both gets to the top and talks about it?
(half the population of the USA seems sort of ok with it, so bear this hypothesis with a grain of salt, although he does quote the bible pretty often)
So at a sub-personal level, you keep Jesus on top as the controller of your agency to prevent arrogance, thus keeping your identity small.
The Devil – And you metaphorically have a coalition of bottom up subagents trying to do a hostile takeover of the high level agent, that inserts bottom up sin into your mind. That’s the Devil.
God – God is a schelling coordination mechanism for the superorganism of Christianity to evolve at that level. In Clarke (2016 – A Levels of Selection Approach to Evolutionary Individuality) vocabulary, it is type two object, made of autonomous subagents, in process of becoming a type one object, an autonomous entity with mutually interdependent synergistic parts.
Holy spirit – the holy spirit is Jesus, but when thought of not at the personal level of high level software implementation, but as the way in which the God coordination mechanism is implemented as distributed cognition in the minds that are implementing the Jesus software. Like pheromone networks in ant communication (Wilson and Hölldobler 2008 – The Superorganism).
Spirit – the software of Christianity. Being “in the Spirit” means you’re running the software. Strong influences of “being rational”, since the spirit/flesh dichotomy comes from Stoicism and Platonism, but has some ideas of altruism grafted on. Coordination comes for free, since the claim is that you can, by living optimally with the local information given to you, act in a perfect way.
So Jesus is the individual level software, the Holy spirit is the system level description, and God is the name of the schelling point that denotes the cluster of humans who are participating in the evolutionary battle of making Christianity the unit of evolutionary selection. That’s the holy trinity: individual software, system network, and schelling point.
Flesh – non-rational objects of desire which emerge from the subconscious. Somewhat anthropomorphized as a subpersonality to exhibit the idea that your relationship to the Flesh is slow-moving over time. Your “non-rational personality”.
Temptation – an individual instance of disruptive subconscious emergence. Often a manifestation of bottom up systems.
Demon – personification of a class of temptations. To be “possessed by a demon” is the same sense as to be completely fixated on the object which emerges from the subconscious. See http://www.theoi.com/Phasma/PhasmaEidolones.html
Sin -Missing of the mark, as in archery. As living in according to the Spirit is the aim, sin is any instance in which you’re not quite doing it right. Often giving in to a bottom up sensor incentivizing you to do something the top agent wouldn’t.
Scapegoating – a conflict and violence resolution mechanism involving removing individuals who disturb the sexual hierarchy, literally or symbolically, too much from the system (Girard 200x Evolution and Conversion). Sometimes just a conflict or violence resolution mechanism to facilitate coordination when our moral condemnation sense failed at it’s task – namely minimizing third party cost, with no regard for actual right and wrong, gotta love evolution… (DeScioli2013 – A Solution to The Mysteries of Morality).
Dragon – representational natural kind of all the dangerous things except women. All the things vervet monkeys have separate alarms for. Flying predator, reptilian predator, and 4 legged predator. All in one. With fire!
Temptation – bottom up Darwinian processes trying to beat the software of Jesus and take over control of your high level structures.
Can you think of more Darwinian explanations for biblical terms and concepts? Post them below! Even if they are just guesses!
Special Thanks to Michael Tartre for developing many of the above.
A constantly updating version of this document exists here