Finishing Up Matt Ridley’s "Nature via Nurture"

Over my short vacation in the Black Hills, I completed my reading and note-taking of Nature via Nurture by Matt Ridley. Ridley’s work is one of three books given to me by summer reading by my genetic politics instructor. It was also the simplest written. It reframes issues seen elsewhere in a more accessible way, and gives some unique thoughts on its own.

The five chapters I read were:

6. Formative Years
7. Learning Lessons
8. Conundrums of Culture
9. The Seven Meanings of “Gene”
10. A Budget of Paradoxical Morals

(The book’s epilogue had no “note-worthy” aspects, at least from my perspective.)


(Some interesting SysAdmin comments below, as well…)

If you care, read on!

Topic: Timeline
“The attributes of speech appear so late that some anthropologists have been tempted to infer that language was a recent invention, appearing as recently as 70,000 years ago.” (Ridley 219)
“the FOXP2 mutation of less than 200,000 years ago represents not the moment that language itself was invented but the moment that language could be expressed through the mouth as well as through the hands.” (Ridley 219)
“Shortly after the time of the Nariokotome boy, about 1.6 million years ago, there appeared on Earth a magnificent tool: the Acheulean hand ax.” (Ridley 222)
“[The hand ax] lasted a million years: it was still in use just half a million years ago.” (Ridley 223)
“the Upper Paleolithic revolution, sometimes known as the “great leap forward.” Around 50,000 years ago in Europe, painting, body adornment, trading over long distances, artifacts of clay and bone, and elaborate new stone designs all seem to appear at once.” (Ridley 224-225)
“Sally McBreaty and Alison Brooks have argued that the fossil record supports a very gradual, piecemeal revolution in Africa starting almost 300,000 years ago… McBrearty and Brooks place the invention of long-distance trade at 130,000 years ago, for instance, on the basis of the discovery at two sites in Tanzania of pieces of obsidian (volcanic glass) used to make spear points. This obsidian came from the Rift Valley in Kenya, more than 200 miles away.” (Ridley 225)
compare to previous notes:

“…it can take another several hundred [200 generations * 20 years / generation = 4 TYA) to several thousand [9000 generations * 20 years/generation = 180 TYA] generations for the population to adapt to the new environment — depending on whether a new mutation is required.” (Buller 56)
“The invention of agriculture some 10,000 years (four hundred generations) ago; the industrialization of Western societies some 200 years (eight generations) ago…” (Buller 57-58)
“Surprisingly, the fossil record suggests that there has been a rather steep decline in the size of the human brain during the past 15,000 years, partly but not wholly reflecting a shrinking body that seems to have accompanied the arrival of dense and “civilized” human settlements.” (Ridley 35)

Topic: Developmental Pathway-Dependency
To the extent that people are products of nurture, i the narrowly parental sense of the word, they are largely the products of early and irreversible events (Ridley 151)
“newborn ducklings of either mallard of wood wood ducks had a preference for their own species [but then Gottlieb] muted the ducklings themselves by operating on their vocal cards while they were still in the egg. Now the ducklings, on hatching, had no preference for their own species of mother.” (Ridley 154)
“it takes several generations for humans to switch between thrifty and affluent phenotypes” (Ridley 156) (SysAdmin/4GW implications?)
“The comforting belief that nurture is more malleable than nature relies partly on the mistaken notion that nurture is what happens after birth and nature is what happens before birth.” (Ridley 157-158)
“mice with extra BDNF went through the critical period faster. Their brains set two weeks after eye opening instead of three. This was the first demonstration that a critical period could be adjusted artificially… In the mice lacking GAD65, the scientists could bring on plasticity with diazepam at any time, even during adulthood. But only once.” (Ridley 166)
“Huang and Maffei had stumbled on an extraordinary fact:a gene that could substitute for aspects of experience. One of the roles of experience is apparently not to fine-tune the brain but merely to switch on the BDNF gene.” (Ridley 166-167)
“Astonishingly, marriage to a childhood associate was 2.65 times as likely to end in divorce as an arranged marriage to an unfamiliar partner… this was true only of sim-puahs [Taiwanese Arranged Brides] adopted at the age of three or younger.” (Ridley 172)

Topic: Memory & Learning
“For the mind to scribble on the sheet, it must have dopamine neurons specially designed to respond to surprise.” (Ridley 179)
“the acquisition of a memory is distinct from its retrieval; different genes are needed in different parts of the brain.” (Ridley 181) (The idea of multiple pathways was mentioned in Human Cognition and and Instruction)
“learning consists of strengthening connections that are frequently in use.” (Ridley 196)
Lev Semenovich Vygotsky pointed out in the 1920s that to describe an isolated human mind is to miss the point. Human minds are never isolated… He has recently become a fashionable figure in educational psychology and some corners of anthropology. For my purposes, however, his most important insight is his insistence on a link between the use of tools and language.” (Ridley 208) (Vygotsky’s theories were discussed in UNL’s HCI course, but sadly I do not have notes over him directly)
“The evolutionary psychologist Sarah Hrdy has hypothesized that juvenile human beings are “designed” by their past to expect to be reared communally rather than in a nuclear family.” (Ridley 246) (also implications regarding family liberation in SysAdmin work)
“Parents treat their children very different according to the personalities of their children.” (Ridley 252) (how does this effect justification for SysAdmin work. Also, look at from the angle of authoritarian parenting v. authoritative parenting)
“Learning is not a backpack [children] carry from one environment to another; it is specific to the context.” (Ridley 254) (see earlier notes on context specific recall, and similar criticism of critique-oriented classical education).
“Endless hours of practice are what it takes to play tennis or the violin well, but the people who have an appetite for endless hours of practice are the ones with a slight aptitude and an appetite for practice.” (Ridley 260) (see similar findings on Coming Anarchy: Sacrifices)

Topic: Memetics
“there seems little doubt that chimpanzees are capable of culture… There are more than 50 known cultural traditions of this kind across Africa, and each is learned by careful observation by youngsters (adult immigrants to a troop find it harder to learn local customs).” (Ridley 209)
“Genetic factors are predisposing the way people create to “crimogenic environments.” (Ridley 253) (implication: criminal memes are correlated to both criminal environments and criminal genotypes. replace “criminal” with “insurgent,” and this should still be true)
“Translated into human terms it would imply that some children can be virtually orphaned and are none of the worse for it; others need to be very well nurtured by their parents to turn out normal — the difference lies in the genes.” (Ridley 255) (similar to SysAdmin’s obligation to genetically at-risk citizenry?)
“Children do not see themselves as apprentice adults. They are tyring to be good at being children, which means finding a niche within groups of peers…” (Ridley 256) (implication: childhood memes should spread along flat networks)
“Conformity is indeed a feature of human society, at all ages. The more rivalry there is between groups, the more people will conform to the norms of their own group.” (Ridley 257) (implication: importance of economic opportunities to domestic peace. See Barnett’s “all terrorism is local)
“Since the limbic system is, roughly speaking, an unconscious area, this makes good sense. The decision to do something is made by your brain before you are aware of it… This suggests that volition is unconscious.” (Ridley 273) (implication: SysAdmin work aimed at eradicating bad memes should focus on limbic, not conscious, “beliefs.” How does this fit in with public diplomacy?)

Topic: SysAdmin
“Perhaps race is a proxy for membership in coalitions. In other words, in modern America, people pay so much attention to race because they instinctively identity people of other races being members of other tribes or coalitions. Tooby and Cosmides asked their colleague Robert Kurzban to test this evolutionary theory by a simple experiment…” (Ridley 265) (the next two paragraphs are extremely interesting. See my reaction to Dr. Kurzban’s visit to UNL for similar findings)

Topic: Leftism
“Lenin could undoubtedly see that the success of communism rested on an assumption that human nature could be trained to a new system.” (Ridley 185)
“the study of human heredity was equated with the rival creed of fascism.” (Ridley 186)
“Yet it was increasingly obvious to Russian scientists — though not to many foreign biologists, who continued to apologize for Lysenko — that the man was a nut.” (Ridley 187)
“It being with a letter to the New York Review of Books signed by a committee calling itself the Sociobiology Study Group. Among the 16 signatories were two of Wilson’s colleagues at Harvard and (he thought) friends: Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin… Lewontin accused him of reflecting “the ideologies of the bourgeois revolutions of the eighteenth century,” “bourgeois” being a standard term of abuse among Marxists” (Ridley 243-244)
“[The Nazi Konrad Lorenz‘s] argument’s survived the war, to be reiterated in less emotive terms in his book Civilized Man’s Eight Deadly Sins, first published in 1973. This book combined Lorenz’s earlyier concerns about human degeneration caused by the relaxation of natural selection with newer and more fashionable concerns about the state of the environment.” (Ridley 176)

Topic: Human Exceptionalism
“To see human behavior dethroned from its supremacy and described in the same terms as ant’s’ behavior was as insulting to the pride of the species as to see the Earth demoted to a planet.” (Ridley 244)

Topic: Homosexuality
“The 1990s saw a series of studies that revived the idea of homosexuality as a “biological” rather than a psychological condition, as a destiny rather than a choice… Homosexuality is an early, probably prenatal, and irreversible preference.” (Ridley 160)
“The immune reaction of the mother, primed by the first male fetuses, grows stronger with each male pregnancy. If it is mild, it causes only as light reduction in birth weight; if strong, it caues a marked reduction in birth weight and an increased probability of homosexuality (Ridley 161-162)
“homosexuality look sas through it is inherited through the female line” (Ridley 162)

Topic: Sex Selection
“The writer Marek Hohn’s explanation is that hand axes were not really practical tools at all, but the first jewelry: ornaments made by males showing off to females.” (Ridley 223)
“If people from differnet cltures are asked to judge the beauty of women from photographs of the women’s faces, a surprising degree of censensus emerges: Americans pick the same Chinese faces as Chinese people do; and Chinese pick the same Americna faces a Americans do.” (Ridley 263) (this is probably more truer the more coarse the categories are)

Topic: Neural Networks
“Connectionist [neural] networks, suitably designed, are capable of learning regularities of the world in a manner that looks a bit like the way the brain works…. If damaged, or “lesioned,” they seem to make mistakes similar to those made by people who have had strokes. Some connectionists feel that they have taken the first steps toward re-creating the basic workings of the brain.” (Ridley 197)
“Neurons in the brain are hearing back from the recipient even before they have finished sending messages. The response alters the messages they send, which in turn alters the response, and so on. This idea is fundamental to many theories of consciousness.” (Ridley 274)

Topic: Old Theories
“[B.F. Sknner’s designed utopia] still exists: it is called Walden Dos, and it is lear Los Horcones in Mexico.” (Ridley 200)
“Ethnic groups do retaind istcint skull shapes even after assimilation into a new country. [Franz Boas‘s] interpretation was influneced by wishful thinking.” (Ridley 204)
“Margaret Mead…. had been duped by a handful of prank-playing young women during her all to brief visit to the island [and] Samoa in the 1920s was if anything slightly more censorious aboux sex than America.” (Ridley 204)

Topic: Definitions
critical period — the window during which environment acts irreversibly upon the development of behavior.” (Ridley 153)
diplacement (doing something else when prevent from doing what is desired)” (Ridley 153)
releasers (the environmental triggers of instinct) (Ridley 153)
fixed action patterns (subprograms of an instinct) (Ridley 153)
prepared learning… almost the exact opposite of imprinting.. the animal cna learn to fear a snake very easily, for instance, but finds it hard to learn to fear a flower.” (Ridley 192)
Omnia cultura ex cultura [was Emile Durkheim‘s theory that] social phenomena could be explained by social facts alone.” (Ridley 205)
selective sweep… elbowing all other versions of the gene aside in short order.” (Ridley 215) (retrovirus to end insurgency?)

Appendix D. Objective Tests

Note: This is an excerpt from a draft of my thesis, A Computer Model of National Behavior. The introduction and table of contents are also available

Appendix D. Objective Tests

D.1 Objective Test Descriptions

The simulation was checked against three objective tests. They measured the nation displacement, state displacement, and internal validity. Nation displacement is a measure of the degree to which the predominant nation in different places changed. State displacement is a measure of the degree to which the predominant state in different places changed. Internal validity demonstrates the difference between runs, and with that how consistent the output is.

Four nations were considered for every test. These included the British, German, Italian, and Polish nations. These nations were predetermined before the simulation code was written.

The displacement tests were considered successful if the simulation results matched known history. The results for all tests are interesting. Three of the national displacement tests were successful. In matrix form:

  Nation Displacement Test

State Displacement Test
British Pass Pass
German Pass Fail
Italian Pass Fail
Polish Marginally Pass Fail

For the national displacement test for the British, German, and Italian nations, no variance between reality and the simulation develop during the run.

For the state displacement test for German, Italian, and Polish, there was a great deal of variance. Specifically, total variation for those nations occurred by 1962, 1962, and 1961 respectively.

Regarding the national displacement test, it is argued that all nations pass the test, three completely and one marginally, since the model accurately captures the behavior of nations. The simulation was specifically designed to be a simulation of nations. An explanation of the special case of the Polish nation is on the following pages.

Regarding the state displacement test, it is clear that the model does not accurately model the behavior of states. That is, it does not correctly show how state behaviors emerge from national behaviors. The sole example is the British nation, whose behavior is completely correct throughout the simulation. The report then discusses this surprising result.

The report also investigates internal validity. Internal validity measures how much the simulation agrees with itself. A simulation that gives very different results each time would have little internal validity. The simulation exhibits internal validity, though issues with two specific nations, Italian and Polish, are troublesome. They pass by an absolute measure, but are much less internally valid than the British and German nations. The report then analyzes the ways changing how the data is interpreted effects the internal validity results.

Finally, the report mentions two unanticipated objective findings. Both point to areas of improvement. One relates to incomplete data in 5.7% of places, and the other relates to incomplete data reporting. The consequences of both are quickly discussed and it is recommended that these issues be resolved before future research is attempted.

Computer Science Thesis Index