From: Klair L Spencer (
Date: Tue Oct 21 1997 - 00:36:18 BST

Sorry, I've had a delay getting back to you via e-mail but right now I
have been immersed in lots of reading and very little analyzing.
Luckily, your points left me doing an awful lot of further thinking,
which is a great help!

> "One way for genes to solve the problem of making predictions in rather
> unpredictable environments is to build in a capacity for learning" (p.57)

And this is where the big questions for cognitive psychology start.

I agree that our ability to learn is quite amazing. If I can follow
Dawkins' argument that gradual cumulative natural selection played out
over hundreds of millions of years can account for the existence of the
eye then perhaps I unwittingly seem to have accounted for neurons and a
basic feedback capacity.

P.S. Can you reiterate your ideas on 'modus ponens' and 'modus tolens'
as this might help me here and I stupidly didn't make notes on it in
the first lecture.

Dawkins tells us a little about the neurone having been 'discovered'
early in animal evolution (p.48) and gives an example of a sea

I admit I'm still not sure whether I can follow a coherent picture from
the basic elements in the primeval soup through to the evolution of a
neurone/ neuron in my own mind although Dawkins' account is pretty

Unfortunately, the Selfish Gene mentions "the evolutionary 'invention'
of memory" p.50 in a quite blas manner as if it is already explained.
We have managed to reverse engineer some sort of memory and learning
capacities with our digital computers but that still doesn't explain
how they evolved. According to Dawkins, even the biggest
improbabilities don't seem quite so miraculous when played out over
hundreds of millions of evolutionary years and when we extend our
boundaries of plausibility this way, perhaps (and only perhaps!) it is
not so surprising that learning evolved.

You said that Dawkins' meme analogy "allows no difference between an
idea that propagates because it is correct and an idea that propagates
because a dictator forces everyone to adopt it."

Why should it matter how memes came to exist in the meme pool, (the
manner by which they became successful in the criteria of longevity,
fecundity and accuracy of replication)? Does it matter in biological
evolutionary theory whether a gene ends up in an embryo through the
normal meiotic process or through 'meiotic drive'?

Genes came to be in the gene pool because of the replicator. How the
replicator came into existence has still not necessarily been answered
in my mind either.

In what ways has cognition freed itself from its deterministic,
biological, adaptation-based origins? (If it HAS freed itself: Has it?)

Let me get back to you on that one!

Define the Prisoner's Dilemma.

Prisoner's Dilemma is for me associated with the puzzle of altruism or
even perhaps the cooperation of ultimately selfish genes. Of course
there must be conditions for such a predicament and consequences.
Imagine a very heavy rock in a desert under which is a bag of gold
pieces. I know where this rock is but am unable to lift it by myself
although I imagine that with help from another person of at least equal
strength and size I could do so.

Being a student I could well do with the money so I ask my friend Karen
to come and give me a hand. Now in my little rose tinted world we would
both trundle off, find the rock, get the gold pieces, split them
between us and live our final year off as happy little students. This
would be the reward for both of us cooperating. Unfortunately though
this is not the only possible outcome. Karen might for some reason want
all the money for herself. We could both lift the rock off the ground,
she could let go of the rock first so either I fell or it fell on me,
grab the bag and run leaving me injured in the desert. She would then
get an even bigger reward than the previous scenario and I would have
the punishment for having trusted the fact that I had her full
cooperation and be left injured in the desert.

Or, the scenario could be the other way round, I could merely pretend
that I was going to share the gold, use her help to lift the rock up,
grab the bag myself and leave her. Or we could both have the same
dastardly plan and both let go of the rock too early, injuring both of
us and meaning that we cannot get the gold without enlisting further
help. Of course there are many more possibilities in this example but
this has just enabled me to draw up some alternative strategies and

If I was logical about the matter, I should not aim to cooperate with
Karen but to exploit her, as this will yield the greatest benefit to

Prisoner's dilemma is a question of strategies. However for a strategy
to remain successful, it must do well when it dominates a climate and
although to exploit is clearly the strategy that can lead to the
biggest payoff, this depends on there being a sucker to exploit. In a
climate full of exploiters, there would be no payoff and a punishment
such as that above may be incurred.

So although exploiting is a good strategy when taken opportunistically
and when the other person is a 'sucker', it is not an Evolutionary
Stable Strategy, which is explained very well in the chapter "Nice Guys
finish first"

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Tue Feb 13 2001 - 16:23:08 GMT