The Primitive Social Network

March 16, 2011

The other week I was pondering over the immensely complex notion of Karma… Over the last year or so I have spoken to several well versed Buddhist practitioners about what Karma is exactly… And during our discussions I couldn’t help but notice one comment that cropped up time and again with each of them. Usually I wouldn’t have thought that much about it if they had known each other… Or even if they had had the same teacher… However, each of these practitioners were from very different Buddhist “schools” and did not even share any of the same teachers. Thus, when they said what they said, I knew that it was something to heed, to take note of…

What they said was this… “If you think, at any time, that you understand what Karma is… Then the chances are that you don’t.” This important point stuck with me… Leaving me somewhat humbled in my unenlightened state of mind, and I became very cautious about using basic concepts to describe something that was probably unfathomable to someone like myself… Either that, or it shifted so subtly, but surely, from one situation to the next, that never could it become a definite, text-book like certitude, let alone a conceptual understanding. While turning this over and over again in my mind, I found myself remembering how chaos once seemed when I first came across it earlier in the Lorenz attractor… A sort of knowledge that some system existed within certain parameters, and yet, one could never quite predict exactly what it was going to do next… Or in the case of Karma, one could perhaps never quite discern the outcome – probably due to the inherent complexity of all the factors within the dynamics of the system – of life.

Whether or not I will ever get a deeply intuitive grasp of Karma – one that is devoid of any conceptual “boxing-in” or limiting notions – has yet to be seen. However, just the other week I stumbled across this article in the New Scientist magazine… And I felt that somewhere in there, one could see how the nature of mind – via a type of memetic understanding – might allow/explain how such a notion as Karma might unfold and affect individuals within a social group OR a social dynamic. Perhaps having read some of the earlier blogs contained within the pages of this website, it might well be seen that human beings, on the whole, are easily be swayed into doing things that are untoward to their fellow sentient beings here on Earth. And here, in the marmot case study, we can again see that even animals are prone to inheriting social behaviour from one other, just like humans seem to copy their actions from each other… Spreading memes from one to another.

Another thing that the Buddhist practitioners whom I spoke with mentioned, was that we all had a chance to change our Karma. Perhaps this is what We – as human beings – now need to address, especially as our excuse for predation pressure no longer really applies to our present state of cultural existence. Once we wholly grasp that what we do to others is, in a way, memetically programming others – predisposing them to perform similar type actions within their social groupings – then perhaps we might well see that a wholesome evolution lies with mindful awareness of how unique each social situation really is… And how we should be so aware of every action that we perform in front of anyone else. Then, with this mindful sense of interconnectedness, perhaps we can begin to evolve beyond the old scores of “tit-for-tat” i.e. such as the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, and weave a new dream of open hearted connection that inspires balance and peace, free from violence and a need to be avenged… Making the notions of war, self-centred importance and greed obsolete. Then we can side-step any problems that might be looming in the supposed end game.

The Primitive Social Network: Bullying Required

Someone gets bullied in every society. It’s bad luck on the victims, but in primitive social groups they might do best to put up with it. If the advantages of group living outweigh the costs of being bullied, evolution might leave some animals resigned to their victim status, thus stabilising the group.

To find out if this is so, Daniel Blumstein of the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues studied a population of yellow-bellied marmots living in the Rocky mountains in Colorado. These large rodents have a primitive society: they live in fixed groups, but do not cooperate in the way that many primates and other highly social animals do.

Facebook For Marmots

Blumstein’s team monitored them between 2003 and 2008, keeping records of who interacted with whom and so building up a social network for the group. They also mapped the marmots’ family relationships. By putting the two datasets together, they worked out whether the marmots inherited their social behaviour and positions from their parents.

To their surprise, they found that marmots did not inherit social behaviours that they performed themselves, but they did inherit actions that others performed towards them. “The things they do to others are not inherited, but the things that others do to them are,” Blumstein says. In particular, “the tendency to be victimised is inherited”.

What’s more, well-connected marmots lived longer and reproduced more, even if their social connections put them on the receiving end of aggression. “Interacting with others is valuable, even if the interactions are nasty,” Blumstein says.

Inherited Victimisation

“It’s a surprising result, and I’m not entirely sure how to explain it,” says Julia Lehmann of Roehampton University in London, who was not involved in the study.

Lehmann thinks that animals form groups because sticking together reduces the risk from predators. “As long as the predation pressure keeps up, the group stays together,” she says.

As a result, low-ranking marmots might evolve to cope with being victimised, because it’s better than being eaten. “Staying alive is the most important thing,” Lehmann says.

Blumstein thinks researchers have focused too much on friendly interactions when they study how groups evolved. “We need to think more about the role of aggression,” he says.

by Michael Marshall

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1009882107

To find out where I sourced this article from, please click here.

To find out more about the author of this article, please click here.

OR to visit the author’s website, please do so by clicking here.

To find out more about the New Scientist magazine, please visit their home page by clicking here.

3 Responses to “The Primitive Social Network”

  1. happyseaurchin said

    i like the karma-lorenz attractor connection :)

    gombrich says karma is intention
    i represent intention as a vector with direction an magnitude in some kind of virtual space
    and hence complex dynamics occur as a result from multiple intention vectors

    my 2 bits worth :)

  2. rust said

    Hi Karl
    You do realise that to head your interesting column with the cautionary ‘Are we functioning properly?’ is to kind of predicate your subsequent statements with perhaps a little too much self-conscious concern for what is (what, culturally? biologically? psychologically?) proper. And then who’s to judge what is proper? Proper because it works? Works for whom? Could it not be that because we are simply here, in consciousness, we are indeed functioning properly. And then even apparent ‘distortions’ in functioning – an illness, say – have a legitimacy about them because they represent self-experience taking on a (usually temporary) tighter, more unified focus (upon the illness) for a time. While the background scenery, unhampered by your distracted concern/focus on things closer at hand, can be changed.
    Also, your Buddhist friends (on karma) are basically restating Taoist ‘doctrine’, viz, that the Way that can be told of is not the unvarying Way (#1) . . . and, a little later, those who know do not speak, those who speak do not know (#56).
    Your 16 March posting (Primitive Social Network) contains, if I may say so, a number of debateable ‘observations’, both yours and your quoted investigators. Well, let’s say observations that could be interpreted or understood in quite different ways. We’re each an observer, remember.
    But thanks for the stimulation your writing presents; keep it up, but be gentle on yourself.
    Yours
    Russell

    • Hey Russell,

      Many thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog. It’s alway much appreciated and gives me time to re-evaluate any crazy or deluded notions that I might have about things.

      To answer some of your questions:

      “You do realise that to head your interesting column with the cautionary ‘Are we functioning properly?’ is to kind of predicate your subsequent statements with perhaps a little too much self-conscious concern for what is (what, culturally? biologically? psychologically?) proper.”

      Yes… You are right if you take that statement to be asking whether we functioning/operating properly. Saying that… My intention with that question was more to do with probing the idea of a mathematical function i.e. a function of life that means we do our best to survive, rather than kill ourselves off.

      “And then who’s to judge what is proper? Proper because it works? Works for whom?”

      Proper in the sense that survival allows us to continue living… That is, unless there many of us who don’t want to live… Then why not not think about this. But yes… It should be noted always, that this is only a humble opinion of mine that arose from a memetic contract of self-obsessed needs and modes of interaction with others here on Earth.

      “Could it not be that because we are simply here, in consciousness, we are indeed functioning properly.”

      So true… You’ve hit the nail on the head!

      “And then even apparent ‘distortions’ in functioning – an illness, say – have a legitimacy about them because they represent self-experience taking on a (usually temporary) tighter, more unified focus (upon the illness) for a time.”

      I couldn’t comment on this part, as I don’t understand what you mean by “tighter”… Perhaps what you call “tighter” is really nothing more than a natural way of being… Albeit, being ill? I think we both have a basic understanding of the reality underneath these social constructed modes of linguistic thinking and thought. Though I see us both ‘falling’ into the same ‘traps’ here.

      “Also, your Buddhist friends (on karma) are basically restating Taoist ‘doctrine’, viz, that the Way that can be told of is not the unvarying Way (#1) . . . and, a little later, those who know do not speak, those who speak do not know (#56).”

      Yes. This is very true too. However, I quote Nagarjuna, “Ultimate truth cannot be taught without basis on relative truth.” And as it is ultimate truth that I seek for sake of all sentient beings, this is my temporarily deluded way of pondering on it.

      “Your 16 March posting (Primitive Social Network) contains, if I may say so, a number of debateable ‘observations’, both yours and your quoted investigators. Well, let’s say observations that could be interpreted or understood in quite different ways. We’re each an observer, remember.”

      Sure… I agree with you… And have written a blog on this here: http://polynomial.me.uk/2010/05/25/perceptive-differences-who-is-right/

      “But thanks for the stimulation your writing presents; keep it up, but be gentle on yourself.”

      Thanks for your input… And am glad you found some stimulation here. As for being gentle with myself… I always am.

      Many kind regards,

      Karl

      Hi Karl
You do realise that to head your interesting column with the cautionary ‘Are we functioning properly?’ is to kind of predicate your subsequent statements with perhaps a little too much self-conscious concern for what is (what, culturally? biologically? psychologically?) proper. And then who’s to judge what is proper? Proper because it works? Works for whom? Could it not be that because we are simply here, in consciousness, we are indeed functioning properly. And then even apparent ‘distortions’ in functioning – an illness, say – have a legitimacy about them because they represent self-experience taking on a (usually temporary) tighter, more unified focus (upon the illness) for a time. While the background scenery, unhampered by your distracted concern/focus on things closer at hand, can be changed.
Also, your Buddhist friends (on karma) are basically restating Taoist ‘doctrine’, viz, that the Way that can be told of is not the unvarying Way (#1) . . . and, a little later, those who know do not speak, those who speak do not know (#56).
Your 16 March posting (Primitive Social Network) contains, if I may say so, a number of debateable ‘observations’, both yours and your quoted investigators. Well, let’s say observations that could be interpreted or understood in quite different ways. We’re each an observer, remember.
But thanks for the stimulation your writing presents; keep it up, but be gentle on yourself.
Yours
Russell

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