Tag Archives: evolution

Phylomemy of the Synoptic Gospels

Warning: prepare for a hyperlink BONANZA.




1. the development or evolution of a particular group of memes.
2. the evolutionary history of a group of memes, especially as depicted in a family tree.

Say what you want about Richard Dawkins, but the meme idea he presented in The Selfish Gene is pure genius. Especially astute was his observation that memes mutate and compete in the same ways as genes, even if their modes of propagation differ.

Religion, the greatest meme in recorded history, is prone to the same indels and evolutionary branchings as genes. For example, consider the image below, which exudes a distinct sense of monophyly; relative to the book of Mark, Luke and Matthew exhibit orthology as well as adaptive radiation.

found on: https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/9f/Relationship_between_synoptic_gospels.png/461px-Relationship_between_synoptic_gospels.png

As shown above, while large portions of Mark exist in both Luke and Matthew, the same proportionality does not apply in reverse; Luke and Matthew contain considerable amounts of unique information not present in Mark. Mark, for instance, begins with Jesus’s baptism and makes no mention of his early life. Luke is the only gospel to contain adoration by shepherds at the Nativity of Jesus, and only Matthew mentions Herod’s “Massacre of the Innocents“.

Given these features of the synoptic gospels, most biblical scholars agree that Mark was probably the earliest (some also hypothesize that it is the most accurate) biblical rendition of Jesus’s life (a hypothesis known as Markan priority). Three hypothetical “lost” texts/oral traditions have also been proposed to explain unique material in Luke and Matthew; these are called Q, M, and L.

The Two-Source Hypothesis

found on: http://gegrammena.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/two-source-hypothesis.jpg?w=255&h=226The Two-Source Hypothesis posits that a lost document (called Q) contained the extra material found in Luke and Matthew. If this was indeed the case, Luke and Matthew are fraternally related as progeny unto two parents: Mark and Q. Using literalistic genetic analogies, alleles of Q got passed to Luke that were not passed to Matthew and vice versa. The same is true of Mark, though in lesser extent.

So here’s where things get complicated with regard to the gene-meme analogy. Depending on the source complexity of memes, they can be modeled via genetic or speciation frameworks. Operating within a purely Markan priority model, Luke and Matthew can be seen as offshoot derived species of a common ancestor: Mark. However, by incorporating Q, a species-level representation ceases to be perfectly analogous to traditional, branching cladogenesis. Instead, a form of reticular hybridization presents itself; members of different “species” hybridize to form conglomerate meme offspring–in this case, Luke and Matthew.

The Four Document Hypothesis

found on: https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/95/Streeter%27s_the_Four_Document_Hypothesis.PNG

A second, more convoluted take on the phylomemy of Luke and Matthew is the Four Document Hypothesis, diagrammed above. Under this model, hypothetical L and M documents or oral traditions contribute unique elements to Luke and Matthew, respectively, in addition to the more common traits derived from Mark and Q. This hypothesis also permits wiggle room for an Antiochian Document and Document of Infancy, which would contribute respectively to Matthew and Luke via reticular hybridization (like everything else here, it seems). When it comes to memes, those that persevere appear to be the amalgamative ones.

Certainly, memes may often survive by hybridizing; however, no single gospel includes all the information contained within Mark, Matthew, and Luke (partly because incredible storytelling discontinuities and other inconsistencies would result). This is where adaptive radiation comes into play; speciation of the parent memes occurs as a result of adaptive necessity.

Back in the day, there wasn’t a single audience for Christian memes, but many, including Romans, Christians, Jews, and other groups. The Gospel of Mark and Gospel of Luke are thought to appeal to the Christian audiences, with Mark serving as a baseline of educational tidbits and Luke as a sort of “expansion pack” that also frames Romans in a positive light. Matthew, by contrast, hearkens strongly to the Jewish cause, poising Jesus as the prophesied Jewish Messiah and portraying his roots in a similar fashion to Moses’s (i.e. the “Massacre of the Innocents” mentioned earlier). The distillation of these three gospels from multiple and reticularly hybridizing parts, it would seem, is a function of broadened environmental adaptability, just as we see in evolutionary biology. The more audiences are appealed to, the more likely meme survival becomes.

Of course, nowadays, memes take on slightly different forms. Evolution is cool like that.

found on: https://i1.wp.com/i11.photobucket.com/albums/a196/Aragon101/RaptorJesus-vs-FSM2.jpg

Look at this idiot

Look at this idiot. He looks ridiculous!

found on: https://i1.wp.com/cichlid.umd.edu/cichlidlabs/kocherlab/EvolutionaryGeneticsRC/stalkeye.jpg

Honestly, what on Earth compelled this moron to have eyes protruding at the apexes of stalks perpendicular to its body?

Now see, here’s a reasonable fruit fly, with its eyes no further from head than need be:

found on: https://i1.wp.com/www.copyright-free-pictures.org.uk/insects/fly.jpg

And then take one more look at the stalk-eyed fruit fly:



Perhaps you’re thinking, “Aw, that trait was selected because it’s advantageous in the fruit fly’s environment.” Seriously though, I can conceive of no possible advantage to these eyes. They’re really more of an obstacle than anything else.

As it turns out, the force to blame is a mutation in female fruit flies. Said mutation spurs these insects to prefer males with eyes that stick out. This preference emerged even before there were any stalk-eyed males, but as soon as those males started appearing (again, random mutations at work), ALL the ladies preferred them, and then subsequent generations were born with progressively longer and longer stalks. In essence, the only advantage offered by the stalks has to do with sexual selection, and the only reason they haven’t died out is because the stalks aren’t sufficiently disadvantageous as to render the flies totally discombobulated.

The female preference bias is probably at work in many birds, especially those species in which males have absurdly flagrant features and females do not (peacocks being the most obvious example). It is amusingly evident in ducks, though in a purely structural (as opposed to observationally preferable) way. Female ducks have, over time, developed increasingly convoluted vaginas, thus hindering all but the mightiest would-be penises from getting very far. As such, in strange divergence from most birds (most male birds transmit semen using multi-purpose cavities called cloacas), ducks have evolved ballistic penises of generationally increasing convolution proportional to that of the females’ vaginas. These organs come in the most outrageous corkscrew shapes:

found on: https://i2.wp.com/www.wired.com/images_blogs/wiredscience/2010/08/duckpenis.jpg

So, to all men who’ve inherited undesirable traits from your fathers: you know they’re not to blame.

Conventional Misconceptions: Logic vs. Emotion

Not only is the logic vs. emotion contention one of the most overplayed themes in Hollywood: logic and emotion aren’t even at odds to begin with.

The original Star Trek series hinges on the logic vs. emotion card, as do most stories centered on conflict between man and machine. Let’s consider I, Robot as an example. The protagonist, Detective Spooner, hates robots because one saved his life in in place of a child’s (only one person could be saved, and Spooner had a greater probability of survival). This was the logical choice within the framework of the Three Laws since the First Law mandates that no robot may allow a human to come to harm through inaction. Spooner finds “doing the math” according to the Three Laws to be cold, heartless, etc., and assigns the word “logical” as a pejorative to describe such computation. However, what he fails to recognize is that his so-called “illogical” or emotional response to the situation also follows the guidelines of a logical framework. His bias is simply against the limitations caused by the Three Laws, not logic itself.

found on: https://i0.wp.com/www.amcostarica.com/irobot080904.jpg

Let’s discuss this notion of a logical framework for emotions a little more, just so it’s clear. The emotions poised in stories as opposites to the rigid nuts and bolts that comprise logic tend to be compassion, hope, love– the goopy, fluffy stuff that we as a species exult even if it doesn’t make sense when examined through a traditionally “logical” lens. Compassionate self-sacrifice is deemed illogical (though commendable). Hope in the face of adverse likelihood, too, is filed under illogical. When a man’s spouse raves that his long nights at the office must be symptoms of some lewd affair despite lack of any evidence, he dubs her frenzied, love-borne behavior illogical. These assessments, however, are the illogical ones in this fray; emotional behaviors possess both evolutionary and physiological logic.

As to evolutionary logic: species acquire adaptations that promote survival. Thus, emotions emerge down the line to help ensure survival. Compassionate self-sacrifice helps ensure the survival of fellow species members, and therefore the group as a whole–not just the individual. On a physiological level, this entails the development of instinctual motivation for compassionate behavior (activation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex while performing altruistic acts is a prominent example). Already, we can glimpse a set of precepts for humans:

1. Natural selection demands adaptation.

2. Emotions are logical adaptations for motivating bonding, which encourages procreation and group survival for social animals.

3. As social animals, it is logical that humans must abide evolutionarily-selected emotional phenotypes varying in expression along a standard normal curve.

4. Emotions are mediated via a combination of neural and endocrine systems which respond to stimuli in a logical, albeit complex, manner.

found on: https://i1.wp.com/www.acampbell.ukfsn.org/acupuncture/articles/papez.jpg

Within this model, compassion, hope, love, and their less-admired opposites are all perfectly logical. If emotions weren’t logical, they’d manifest randomly and be of no adaptive use whatsoever. This is a core assumption in establishing locus of control in psychotherapy; instead of allowing people to feel governed by tyrannically unpredictable emotional flights, they are encouraged to trace the origins of said emotions to help manage anger and so on. So the next time you watch some Terminator-esque film where the villains are villains because they’re logical and the heroes are heroes because they “think with their hearts”, just remember: the villains are actually villains because they adhere to a logical framework that produces actions audiences disapprove of.

A related sidenote:

Chant the tabloid-reading mouth breathers: “What about serial killers? They’re purely logical, remorseless, cold, machine-like pseudo-people with no emotions at all!” Wrong. Humanity’s collective fascination (be it abhorrent or titillated) with sociopathy stems from our favorable bias towards the cherished emotions mentioned earlier: compassion, hope, love, and so on. Most of us experience these emotions in some measure, but sociopaths strangely lack them. But that’s all it is: statistical strangeness. They exists on one end of the normal curve of emotional phenotypes and possess neural differences from the general public that explain their behavior logically. Sociopaths do experience other feelings–anger, sadness, joy, etc.–and are thus not emotionless, simply empathically deficient.

Adding up to ADD

In a stand-up routine, Lewis Black rails that the crawlers on news channels cause ADD. If, below news being read to us, something bombards us with fleeting, unrelated tidbits, of course we have ADD.

Good for chuckles, to be sure, but there’s also a valid point here. I remember reading somewhere that the average American 11 year-old has knows more information than did the average adult back in the Mayflower days (citation needed, I know). By extension, the average American 11 year-old recognizes thousands of musical tunes, whereas the average pilgrim probably knew fewer than 30 (if they were even permitted such an indulgence as music at all). If you think about it, the modern era is a battleground for information selection with copious sums of music, movies, television shows, YouTube videos, internet memes, and endless other media competing for our attention.

found on: https://i1.wp.com/blog.sellsiusrealestate.com/wp-content/blog-deficit-disorder-badd.gif

With regard to ADD, we cannot assume that hyperstimulating environments cause increased births with insufficient attentional abilities. There simply have not been adequate generations to precipitate any such change in genomics. Clearly, if any variable ought to be examined, it’s nurture on a single generation basis (no need for an excessive evolutionary time course). Human beings presumably have had attentional capacities ranging along a standard normal curve for millenia. In environments containing regular levels of stimuli (relative to a natural environ typical of prehistoric human ancestors), people acclimate favorably to settings requiring focus; there’s no precedent for development as though there are too many stimuli to process. As such, fewer individuals stand out as having difficulty managing focused tasks. Without superfluous stimuli constantly flooding their senses, they develop into functional adults without obvious learning problems.

This creates a model of increased environmental attentional demands ~ increased probability of adaptation by limited attention. Only the truly worthy stimuli get focused on, and everything else can be rapidly flipped through like a paperback novel. In a climate of dense information maelstroms, this is adaptive. In the classroom, of course, it is a hindrance.

So ultimately, ADD may very well be this: some proportion of people have a propensity to adapt to growing stimulatory demands by their brain literally limiting their attentional capacity to accommodate for a more competitive information arena. They must be a) more selective and b) able to jump from stimulus to stimulus rapidly without getting too involved. Quick assessments must be made to maintain the economy of attentional energies when processing vast sums of data. Like stress-related ulcers, ADD disposition didn’t get agitated into a maladaptive state until vast industrialization occurred.

How to test this: ideally, you take identical twins and raise one in a simpler, less media-dominated environment. The other is raised in your average middle class setting with ample access to television, internet, and so on. Compare the onset or exhibition of attentional traits.

Nervous Crossroads

Ever wonder why the left side of your brain controls the right side of your body? So have I. And so have a few neuroscientists whom I’ve asked. None have an answer, much less a good one. The internet has proven to be equally uninformative on the topic: many sources are quick to tell you about the crisscrossing of sensorimotor information flow, but none address its evolutionary advantage. I mean, really, why does it make any sense (har) for sensorimotor tracts to be crossed?

Perhaps this decussation stems from the lateralization of visual processing, which DOES make sense. Light entering the eye passes through the lens and then hits the opposite side of the retina. Spatially, it’s logical for such visual stimuli to get relayed to the brain hemisphere closest to the stimulus receipt site, which occurs contralateral to the stimulus. Evolutionarily, it would be advantageous for motor and sensory information related to a particular field of vision to coincide anatomically with the processing of that field.

This could be bollocks, of course. Take a species without any visual organs (not including species with ancestral visual organs, like cave fish who have vestigial eyes) and demonstrate contralateral connectivity of sensorimotor information and brain hemisphere, and you’ve got yourself a negation on this theory. Until then, folks.