Friday, 20 November 2015

Negative emotionality, hyper-emotionality and hypo-emotionality as potenital causes of depression

Bruce G Charlton and Joseph Shaw

The broad diagnostic category of DSM Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) was established in 1980 – in practice it seems that MDD can be interpreted as inclusive of patients with a wide range of dysphoric feelings including depression, anxiety, mood swings and emotional blunting/ unemotionality [Watson 1988a, Nutt 2007]. In other words, depressive symptoms may be regarded as a consequence of more than one emotional state; rather as pain may be a consequence of many causes [Charlton 2009].

It has been argued that Major Depressive Disorder is therefore heterogeneous, and can be subdivided into at least three groups, each characterised by a distinctive emotional state.

Negative-emotionality (Negative-E) describes the most obviously depressive group, who mainly experience strong negative emotionality such as misery, anxiety, guilt, fatigue etc.

A second group would be Hyper-emotional (Hyper-E) who experience strong emotions in both negative and positive directions (e.g. they are emotionally unstable, hyper-responsive, subject to mood swings).

A third group would be Hypo-emotional (Hypo-E), with weak or blunted emotions in both negative and positive directions (e.g. they are ‘flat’, demotivated, unresponsive) [REF 1 Charlton].

These states may be characterized by each having a different pattern of
1. emotional strength and 2. Emotional direction (i.e. positive/ negative, both or neither).

As a first test of this hypothesis we conducted an internet survey on 251 subjects recruited through advertisements posted on several depression-related online communities (;;; Strength of depressive symptoms was measured using the Beck Depression Inventory [Beck et al 1961], while the strength and directionality of emotions was measured the PANAS (Positive and Negative Affect Scale) [Watson 1988b].

217 subjects were classified into groups of Controls, Negative-, Hyper- and Hypo-Emotionality by using the Positive-Affect (PA) and Negative-Affect NA) sub-divisions of PANAS:

Controls n=27, Lowest 25% NA, Highest 25% PA
Negative-E n=50, Highest 50% NA, Lowest 50% PA
Hyper-E n=76, Highest 50% NA, Highest 50% PA
Hypo-E n=64, Lowest 50%NA, Lowest 50% PA

Severity of depressive symptoms are shown in Table 1:

BDI Mean
BDI       SD
Positive-E Control

The results show that despite the ‘control group’ being in the Mild range for depressive symptoms on the BDI; all three of the hypothesized emotionality groups scored were significantly more severe in depressive symptoms than Controls; indeed within the ‘Severe’ depressive symptoms range for BDI scores.

These preliminary results seem clear and consistent with the hypothesis that depressive symptoms may be a consequence of at least three different emotional patterns – Negative-E, Hyper-E and Hypo-E. This conclusion, of course, requires replication in a clinical subject sample evaluated by face-to-face diagnostic interviewing. If correct, one potential implication may be that different emotionality sub-types could benefit from a different therapeutic approach; for example Hyper-E from a trial of serotoninergic agents, and Hypo-E from noradrenaline/ dopaminergic agents [Nutt et al 2007; Charlton 2009]. 


Watson, D., Clark, L. A., & Carey, G. (1988a). Positive and negative affectivity and their relation to anxiety and depressive disorders. Journal of Abnormal Psychology97, 346.

Nutt, D., Demyttenaere, K., Janka, Z., Aarre, T., Bourin, M., Canonico, P. L., … & Stahl, S. (2007). The other face of depression, reduced positive affect: the role of catecholamines in causation and cure. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 21, 461-471.

Charlton, B. G. (2009). A model for self-treatment of four sub-types of symptomatic ‘depression’ using non-prescription agents: neuroticism (anxiety and emotional instability); malaise (fatigue and painful symptoms); demotivation (anhedonia) and seasonal affective disorder ‘SAD’. Medical Hypotheses72, 1-7.

Beck, A. T., Ward, C., & Mendelson, M.  (1961). Beck depression inventory (BDI). Archives of General Psychiatry4, 561-571.

Watson, D., Clark, L. A., & Tellegen, A. (1988b). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: the PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology54, 1063.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Genius as the ultimate altruist

Genius emerges from individualism - the genius just is an individual who is significantly and personally responsible for some major human accomplishment.

So the seedbed of genius is a society, or a kind of person, who is individualistic - and such societies and persons have been absent for much of human history. When the individual feels himself to be immersed in the group - genius is not possible; only when persons are self-aware, at least somewhat differentiated from their social group is genius possible.

This is presumably partly a matter of genetic change - but it is surely a matter of historical and cultural change: to all appearance, there has been evolution (in the sense of change) of consciousness. Socrates would not have been possible in most of the human world up to that time - perhaps in no other part of the human world until some parts of Ancient Greece?

But the genius is Altruistic as well as individualistic - and I mean, here, altruistic in terms of differential reproductive success (or 'fitness'). The average genius seems, as a matter of measurement, to have lower than average reproductive success - especially when we consider that throughout most of human history it was necessary to produce more than four children for the minimum replacement number of two of them to survive to adulthood in a sufficiently healthy state to reproduce. Not many geniuses had five children; many had none.

And aside from the estimated numbers; it is clear that the genius has less than usual interest in social and sexual success - and that this is intrinsic to genius, since the genius must have (at least during the years of his greatest accomplishment) a focus on his work that is intense and often obsessive - and such an investment of time, energy and resources entails a major shift in priorities away from those of normal (non genius) people.

Consider the sheer impact of a genius - of that one single person. The impact of a genius on the reproductive success of his group may orders of magnitude faster and greater than that of any possible person operating via natural selection. Some high status men may have had hundreds of children; but some geniuses have affected the survival and reproduction of millions of people.

As a recent example, Alan Turing (presumably) had no children and made zero genetic impact on the species; but without him the German Enigma code would not have been solved and the 1939-45 World war would have lasted longer and the casualties on the Allied side would have been significantly greater - without Turing the development of the computer would also have been delayed or impaired, with large and widespread effects.

My point is that (when his work is beneficial) a genius has an effect on a broad population of genetically unrelated and mostly unknown people which far outstrips the genetic level of impact. So the genius is both an individual yet, in effect, he is 'working for' other people (in the sense that any personal gains he may make from his work are likewise utterly dwarfed by his contributions to the larger group).

The situation therefore seems to be that when there occurs an increase in the incidence of genius, this arises from a human population in which individualism has been intensified; but that the genius does not pursue individualistic goals for individual benefit - it is as if the genius had been called-forth or created by the group in order to serve the group (not just his kin, not just those in the group who have a relationship - but a much wider group).

It is as if the genius is set up so that as an individualistic-individual, he willingly and by choice and effort, sacrifices his own (relatively modest) chance of genetic success in altruistically attempting to generate a much greater success in terms of survival and reproduction of his group.

Since altruism in biology is defined as acting to increase the reproductive success of other at cost to oneself, this makes the genius the ultimate altruist.

Monday, 9 November 2015

General properties of Group Selection and the 'group mind' (in relation to the adaptive production of geniuses)

The major function of group selection is presumably directly to promote the sustained reproductive success (lineal survival) of the group, in face of the spontaneous tendency for random change to promote the individual (and other lower level, below group) levels of selection.

For example, group selection would be of value in sustaining the cell in face of the tendency of cell components (for example the nucleus, or of evolvable organelles such as the mitochondria, chloroplast or centriole) to become 'free-riders' or parasites (taking net reproductive benefits from the cell, while contributing less than this to the cell, or nothing, or actively-harming the probability of the survival and ultimately reproduction of the cell).

A more clear cut example is the individual specialized cell in the context of a multicellular organism; there is a tendency for individual cells to evolve towards 'opting out' of the coordinated cooperation of the whole organism  - and taking more than they give. This is termed neoplastic change, and the tendency is what leads to cancers - cancers constitute an internally-generated cellular parasite.

But the main posited role for group selection has been in the context of animal society - especially in social animals (social insects such as ants or bees, and social mammals such as many primates including Man - as well as other mammals with differentiated social roles such as naked mole rats or meerkats).

The problem for the sustained survival of social animals over many generations is that individuals tend to evolve to enhance their personal reproductive success at the expense of the group - taking benefits from social living while avoiding the costs and duties of social living - thereby destroying the social structure.

The fact that social animals are known to have existed over many generations is evidence that his problem has been solved historically - and the underpinning mechanism is usually regarded to be kin selection (aka inclusive fitness) together with reciprocity (the mutual benefits of cooperation).

The difficulty with such individual level mechanisms as kin selection is that they must themselves evolve in a context where the spontaneous tendency is for adaptations to be lost - on top of the spontaneous tendency for kin selection and reciprocity to be damaged by spontaneous mutations. In other words it is very difficult to evolve a high level mechanism of social living on top of all the other layers of cooperation at sub-cellular and cellular levels - all of which are vulnerable to destruction by spontaneous mutations.

This is presumably one reason why social animals have been a late arrival on the evolutionary scene, in the past couple of hundred thousand years - however, once a stable and sustainable adaptation had arisen to enforce sociality, these animals have more-or-less taken over the earth by becoming the dominant species. Thus ants and termites dominate the tropical regions (in terms of biomass) while more recently humans have come to dominate the temperate zones.

Clearly sociality is a tremendous advantage - the difficulties are in evolving it, and sustaining it in the face of continued spontaneous mutations with each generation; and the tendency of sub-lethal deleterious mutations to accumulate generation-upon-generation; plus any environmental change and variety which is itself a consequence of the high adaptiveness of these species.

However, the very success of social animals, their dominance, would be expected to contain the seeds of destruction - since the conditions for free-riding and parasitism are greatly increased by the expansion in numbers and the relative autonomy from environmental constraints such as food supply and predation.

(This can be seen very clearly in modern human society, where the large surplus of modern economies above subsistence allows for unprecedented levels of parasitic behaviour by individuals, and also groups - such as bureaucracies.)

A successful social species can therefore find itself in the situation when the main proximate constraint on reproductive success is competition within the species - and this creates many niches for more-or-less parasitic and exploitative behaviours (the individual profiting at the expense of the group).

In the short-term, the fastest and most secure route to enhanced reproductive success is to exploit other humans (rather than cooperate with them) - and this would tend to destroy the social structure by reproductively favouring the least social individual animals.

Group selection entails that the group has an identity, that this identity must have integrity over time, and that it be transmissible between generations. This group identity must be able to sustain itself and should also be potentially further-adaptive to some extent.

Group identity needs to be of a cognitive and behavioural nature - in other words there must be strategizing knowledge and also some kind of reasoning from this knowledge. In sum, group selection requires a group identity; and group identity requires a teleology, aim or purpose; and that purpose should 'know' (with better than random probability) how to implement itself in individuals within that group.

This is probably the basis of the intense modern suspicion of and hostility to group selection - this idea that group selection entails something like a group purpose, memory and 'mind' - which superficially sounds like a non-biological, maybe even supernatural, kind of thing.
However, social animals are based on communications between networks of individuals, and the idea of conceptualizing the complex interactions of individuals in terms of being a type of 'computational' or 'cognitive' process is actually fairly mainstream - for instance in the theories of complex systems, the mathematics of chaos and complexity and elsewhere.

So, in principle, there is no reason to exclude the possibility that webs of complexly interacting social animals can be considered as higher level, group entities - which have a tendency to sustain and reproduce themselves.

Furthermore, these networks of communications fall into patterns, and these patterns may be self-sustaining and with a tendency to expand - so there is a potential mechanism for non-genetic inter-generation transmission.

In other words, the group-level entity is a pattern of communications which is both influenced by and also influences the communications (and behaviours) of the individual components of that patter: the individual organisms. And this pattern of communications will tend to fall into relatively stable forms, forms that resist change.

(Such a stability of forms is something which has cropped up in many areas of science over more than 2000 years - since at least the time of Aristotle with his elaboration of a finite number of archetypal 'forms' or relatively stable conformations into which all things will tend to 'fall; modern conceptualizations of the same basic idea include 'strange attractors' and 'morphic fields'.)

I do not see any fatal difficulty in supposing that relatively stable and 'cognitive' patterns of inter-individual, group communications would be transmissible between generations of social animals - given that these generations are overlapping (with new group members incrementally arriving and maturing, while others are leaving and dying - but without a break in the continuity of communications).

Such a concept of 'group mind' would have implicit purpose (survival and self-propagation) implemented by problem solving and strategizing properties including memory and intelligent processing.

Therefore, in principle, this group mind entity could identify problems among individuals within the group, and (to a significant extent) suppress selfishness at the individual level - also it could foresee (with better than random probability) the need for (or potential benefits from) certain types of individual which would be useful to the group survival and reproduction. Then individuals of this type might be induced to arise from the group - perhaps by the kind of developmental switching posited by Life History theory.

So, for the putative example of genius - it seems possible that the group mind might detect and appreciate the need for, or potential benefits from, an increase in the production of geniuses (i.e. those individuals characterized by what I have termed an Endogenous personality comprising a triad of high intelligence, intuitive thinking and inner motivation).

Having calculated that such individuals would probably be of value to the group - it seems possible that either the developmental trajectory of individuals might be directed towards becoming a genius - or more fundamentally that suitable pairs of individual parents (especially those characterized by high intelligence - low mutational load) might (perhaps by broadly 'epigenetic' means, by affecting gene switching, activation, suppression etc) lead to the sexual conception of more potential geniuses who are designed to benefit the group survival and reproduction, even when this tends to reduce the probability of reproductive success in the individual geniuses.

So this above scheme could, in broad brush terms, provide a group selection mechanism by which the group benefits of genius might be acquired when the group circumstances require, despite that many or most geniuses have below average reproductive success due to their energies and efforts being directed at non-reproductive, non-social goals.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Sexual selection has been done mostly by the bride's parents - i.e. middle aged couples - hence it is much more economically-rational, and culturally sensitive, than is generally supposed

Mate choice, throughout human evolutionary history, has been mostly done by parents, that is by middle aged people - and especially the woman's parents:

Therefore, there has not been much in the way of natural selection for women to be good at choosing their sexual partners or husbands - and it should not be surprising if modern women are in fact not good at this.

(Which, clearly, they aren't.)

This means that it is not a valid test of sexual selection in humans to ask young women to rate men for attractiveness - from an evolutionary perspective this is all but irrelevant.

If modern young women happen to prefer to choose 'hot' young men as sexual partners or husbands (charming men, dominant men, men with strong jaws and big shoulders and narrow hips in a V-shape, 'guns' or 'six pack' etc...) this kind of preference is highly likely to be a contingent and ephemeral cultural artefact - resulting from women's instinctive susceptibility to peer pressure, as amplified and distorted by the modern mass media.

The fact is that modern young women - instinctively speaking, in terms of evolved adaptations - haven't a clue about how to choose a good sexual or marriage partner! Indeed - why should they? since such preferences had little or no impact on human evolutionary history.

(Sex outside of marriage may lead to children being born, but in the past - in a context of average child mortality rates of more than a half - these children lacking the support and resources of a long-term marriage type relationship would almost certainly have died before maturity, and/ or been unhealthy and low in status.)

To test for what traits have been sexually selected, a far better test would be to ask middle aged parents to choose what kind of men they would want as a husband for their daughter - because that decision is the one that was under strong selective pressure over many generations.

I think it would be found that parents chose - on average - rationally, on the basis of whatever (unglamorous!) traits best indicated a faithful, steady and good provider for their grandchildren.

In other words, sexual selection as it actually was would quite often (in many types of economy - although not all situations) favour 'Dads' not 'Cads' - and if their daughters found the Dad type of man was not much of a turn-on... well so what! There are more important things when life is harsh and very few children survive to maturity.

Under most ancestral conditions, the sexual preferences of young women would not make any difference - one way or the other.

Reference: Apostolou, M. (2012). Sexual selection under parental choice: Evidence from sixteen historical societies. Evolutionary Psychology, 10, 504-518. This paper makes clear why, in traditional societies, Dads need not fear spousal infidelity with Cads. Apostolou looked at the level of punishment when a woman is discovered to have committed adultery. Three levels were coded: No punishment/ light punishment; moderate (!) punishments including beating and divorce; severe punishment such as beating to death. No punishment/  light punishment were found in 5 out of 54 of agropastoral societies; while severe punishments for adultery were found in about two-thirds of these societies - a large majority of 35 out of 54.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

The relationship between Asperger's syndrome and Genius

Asperger's syndrome arose to public awareness very quickly during the 1990s, and without a clear or coherent underlying basis. It has remained as a kind of short-hand way of describing boys and men of high intelligence who are socially uninterested but instead focus upon abstract, nerdy or geeky topics.

It has been noticed that many of the archetypal geniuses of the past seem to be, more or less, of this type: for example, Alan Turing was depicted as such in the recent movie The Imitation Game - and this links Asperger's to the cult English actor Benedict Cumberbatch's other famous role as Sherlock. Turing was, of course, a real-life Aspergery-genius; and Sherlock is a fictional example.

And the most famous media depiction of Asperger's is probably Sheldon Cooper in the sit-com Big Bang Theory - and this character refers to himself, and is often referred to by others, as a 'genius'. Much of the humour in the series comes from Sheldon's ineptness in social situations - he is blind to, as well as uninterested by, other people's intentions and emotions; he takes things literally instead of as they were meant.

But there is an ambiguity in the way that 'genius' is used in popular culture. Strictly, the term ought to mean creative intelligence - as seen in such Asperger's types as Turing, Isaac Newton and Kurt Godel; but it is perhaps more often used in popular culture to mean precocious ability in childhood; as when a young teenager excels in university admissions-type examinations.

Precocious intellectual ability is usually a predictor of high adult intelligence; and high adult intelligence is necessary to creative genius - but it is not sufficient. Most precocious children do not turn-out to be creative geniuses - merely adults of higher than average ability.

But some precocious children do turn out to be creative geniuses - the philosopher John Stewart Mill was a well documented example; and DNA structure discoverer James D Watson was notably precocious - appearing on a radio quiz for smart children, attending the elite University of Chicago at 15, and getting his PhD (supervised by a Nobel Laureate) at 22.

On the other hand, Watson's co-discoverer Francis Crick shows that some geniuses are not at all precocious, but on the contrary are late developers - Crick went to his second choice university, got a second class degrees, started and dropped out of two PhDs and changed fields's three times when in his mid thirties he finally found 'his problem' and became one of the greatest and most creative biologists of his generation. Einstein was also of this late-flowering type, although less extreme than Crick.

So preciosity cannot be equated with genius.

As well as high intelligence, genius also requires a personality type which I have termed the Endogenous personality

This is an intuitive, inner-motivated type of personality - and people who get called Asperger's are usually inner-motivated but they are not usually intuitive; indeed perhaps they are stereotypically ultra-logical and mistrusting of intuition.

And there is an ambiguity in the way that Asperger's is defined and discussed. Sometimes it is seen as a person with a deficit in social intelligence; at other times as someone with a lack of interest in social matters.

The difference can be important, because the genius is primarily someone who is (relatively) uninterested in social (including usually sexual) things - mainly because he is so intensely interested in his 'work' - is focused and concentrated on his work, pours most of his effort into work. The genius is best understood as specialized for creativity, rather than as merely having a deficit (although, in a sense, specialization in one area does almost inevitably show-up as at least a relative deficiency in other areas). 

Sometimes the Apserger's person is depicted at lacking in emotion - but if so, this would be fatal to genius.

Because the genius absolutely requires emotion in order to be creative at the highest level: he uses emotions in evaluating. (Intuition can be defined as using all aspects of psychology in thinking - not just reason and logic - therefore necessarily including the emotions.)

In sum: unemotional = uncreative; and the reason is that the emotions are necessarily used in creativity: creativity requires intuition; and emotions are part of intuition.

Therefore a Mr Logic or Mr Spock kind of person cannot be creative - and the same applies to a personal labelled as Asperger's who is lacking in emotion - he will not be able to use intuition.

Furthermore, lack of emotion also entails lack of inner motivation - it is our emotions which motivate us; and anything which blunts or reduces emotions will be demotivating (for example, the antipsychotic/ neuroleptic drugs are horribly demotivating, or more weakly the SSRI antidepressants).

And geniuses must be highly motivated if they are to accomplish work at the highest level.

In conclusion - the genius will often be an Asperger's type of person, in the sense that he will tend to be relatively un-interested by social and sexual relationships; as a side effect of being internally driven to focus and work on that which is his creative destiny (e. Shakespeare's poetry and plays, Rembrandt's painting, Beethoven's music, Einstein's physics - or whatever it may be).

So the true genius will usually appear to be Aspergers-like to the normal person.

On the other hand, most people with Asperger's syndrome are not geniuses (not even partial or potential geniuses), even when they have exceptionally high intelligence - because they lack the intuitive style of thinking which is vital for real creativity.


Here is some further background reading, to explain the reason why Asperger's syndrome and Genius share the trait of lack of interest in social matters.

The following passage comes from the chapter "Identifying the Genius" from my forthcoming book The Genius Famine - by Ed Dutton and Bruce G Charlton, University of Buckingham Press (2015, in the press).

The Asocial genius

Humans are social animals: most Men see the world through social spectacles.
But a genius is not like this. The genius does not have a single, stereotypical, positive personality type (because Endogenous personalities are very various in terms of traits such as likeableness, helpfulness, and personal warmth) – but geniuses are characterised by not being primarily social animals. A genius is one whose main focus and motivation is not social, nor sexual; but instead abstract, asocial – whether artistic, scientific, technical, or whatever it may be.
Could it then be that the genius uses for abstract thinking, those brain-systems which in most people are used for social intelligence? That in the genius the social intelligence system is wired-up to internal stimuli instead of to social situations? It seems that the genius deploys the social intelligence parts of the brain for other purposes – and that therefore the usual spontaneous motivation and attention that goes to social material is instead – automatically – being harnessed and deployed to deal with other and inner-generated material. This seems to us very likely; although such aspects of brain structure have not yet been reliably measured. But given that the genius brain seems to be hard-wired for both creativity and intelligence; it is plausible that this may be made possible by functional re-deployment of at least some aspects of social/ sexual circuitry.
So, it is not that geniuses lack social intelligence (the genius is not ‘autistic’ in the sense of having a deficit or defect in social intelligence); rather that geniuses have all the ‘equipment’ necessary for social intelligence, but are ‘wired-up’ to use their social intelligence for other and not-social purposes.
Specifically, the genius’s social intelligence may be wired-up to internally-generated material (instead of attending to actual people in the environment and from memory). The spontaneous interest and concern with ‘‘other people’’ that is characteristic of most people is, in the genius, directed to whatever ‘abstract’ subject the genius has a vocation-for.
Another way of thinking about this is that the genius may be able to deploy extra ‘‘brain power’’ in problem solving, by ‘‘co-opting’’ the brain regions normally used for social intelligence. And not only brain power – but the distinctive ‘‘theory of mind’’ mode of thinking which characterises social intelligence. So the genius often thinks about ‘‘his subject’’ in a social-like way – as a world populated by entities with motivations and dispositions and each having a purpose.
Social intelligence could be much of what is creative about creativity; because to think about abstract things ‘anthropomorphically’ with social intelligence, or animistically as if they were sentient social agents, perhaps opens-up a new and probably more creative, intuitive and flexible way of thinking.[1]
The Endogenous personality also has very high intelligence. This may be apparent through good exam results in a ‘g’-loaded evaluation, but may require formal intelligence testing to detect, if the individual has either suffered from poor or absent education, or else lacks the conscientiousness to apply himself to his studies. And sometimes intelligence tests won’t do justice to the genius’s abilities.
That the intelligence of the Endogenous Personality can sometimes not be identified in a conventional way is of crucial importance. Often, the genius will have extremely pronounced abilities in one area of intelligence – such as verbal intelligence – but will be less skilled in other areas.

Einstein, for example, had such high mathematical abilities that he developed an original proof of Pythagoras’ theorem at the age of 12. However, his linguistic abilities were so deficient that he failed the entrance exam for the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.[2] Consequently, though an IQ test can capture general intelligence it will not necessarily be able to capture genuine genius.

So, the Endogenous personality may be recognized not just by their relative autonomy – that is, their lack of need for social validation and consequent lack of interest in social and sexual matters – but also by their high intelligence and positive motivation to do (or to find) ... whatever it is that they are equipped by their nature to do.

[1] Charlton, B. G. (2000). Psychiatry and the Human Condition. Oxford: Radcliffe.
[2] Miller, A. (1999). Albert Einstein. In M. Runco & S. Pritzker (Eds). Encyclopedia of Creativity. New York: Academic Press.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Rate of deleterious mutations per generation, expected decline in fitness per generation - estimates from Michael Lynch

From Michael Lynch. Rate, molecular spectrum and consequences of human mutation. PNAS 2010; 107: 961-8. 

What is the likely magnitude of the per-generation loss in human fitness caused by recurrent introduction of deleterious mutations? From the present results, we infer that an average human gamete acquires approximately 38 de novo base-substitution mutations, approximately three small insertion/deletions in complex sequence, and approximately one splicing mutation. Transposable-element insertions, microsatellite instabilities, and segmental duplications and deletions of total or partial gene sequences will almost certainly sum to several additional events per gamete, so it is likely that an average newborn acquires a total of 50 to 100 new mutations at the diploid level, a small subset of which must be deleterious.

The net fitness consequences of human mutations remain unclear and will likely continue to be a major challenge, but some general arguments allow an order-of-magnitude assessment of the situation. Using rather different approaches, Yampolsky et al. and Eyre-Walker et al. have derived similar estimates of the distribution of fitness effects of new amino acid altering base-substitution mutations: approximately 11% cause fractional reductions in heterozygote fitness with s < 10−5, 12% with 10−5 < s < 10−4, 50% with 10−4 < s < 10−2, and 27% with s > 10−2, with an overall average selective disadvantage of approximately 0.04. Only approximately 1.5% of the human genome consists of coding DNA and approximately 25% of coding sites are silent, so we expect approximately 0.86 novel amino acid altering mutations per newborn. Approximately 5% of such mutations will lead to nonsense mutations, many of which will likely be in the category of s > 10−2, but the remaining 95% will be missense in nature, with deleterious fitness effects averaging approximately 4% or less according to these results. Thus, with a complete relaxation of natural selection, the expected decline in fitness associated with mutations in coding DNA alone appears to be on the order of 1% to 3% per generation.

Less clear is the added contribution from other forms of mutations. The vast majority of point mutations reside outside of coding regions (on the order of 40 per gamete), and it is likely that most of these will have very minor fitness effects, with average s almost certainly << 10−2. Nevertheless, Eöry et al. make a compelling case that approximately 4% of intergenic, 15% of UTR, and 22% of silent sites are under weak purifying selection in humans, which is consistent with the arguments presented above for base-composition selection. Most major deletions and splicing mutations are probably highly deleterious, as they will generally render their host genes nonfunctional. Most transposable-element insertions and gene duplications appear to be at least weakly deleterious; the average deleterious effects of such mutations are likely to be at least 1% per event, and as noted earlier, at least one such event is likely to arise per zygote per generation. Thus, although there is considerable uncertainty in the preceding numbers, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the per-generation reduction in fitness due to recurrent mutation is at least 1% in humans and quite possibly as high as 5%.

Although such a mutational buildup would be unnoticeable on a generation timescale, over the course of a couple of centuries (approximately six generations), the consequences are likely to become serious, particularly if human activities cause an increase in the mutation rate itself (by increasing levels of environmental mutagens). A doubling in the mutation rate would imply a 2% to 10% decline in fitness per generation, and by extension, a 12% to 60% decline in 200 years... 

Unfortunately, it has become increasingly clear that most of the mutation load is associated with mutations with very small effects distributed at unpredictable locations over the entire genome, rendering the prospects for long-term management of the human gene pool by genetic counseling highly unlikely for all but perhaps a few hundred key loci underlying debilitating monogenic genetic disorders (such as those focused on in the present study)…

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Does group selection provide a realistic hope for escape from Mouse Utopia?

If we consider the scenario of Mouse Utopia - i.e. a massive reduction in human fitness due to mutation accumulation due to the removal of the main mechanism of generation-by-generation, mutation-purging natural selection (mainly the reduction of average child mortality from probably more than fifty percent to one or a few percent) - then there seems little or no grounds for realistic hope of avoiding a mega-death outcome.

(...Indeed, not merely mega- but a giga-death outcome, involving not just millions but billions of humans - because there are currently about seven billion humans compared to the recent historical global population of about one billion - and the Mouse Utopia scenario predicts that human fitness will drop below historical levels; presumably implying a lower than historical population. )

One particularly worrisome aspect is that the mutation driven incremental decline of human capability (due to an increase in human pathology) creates a positive feedback situation in which humans presumably would get less-and-less-capable of solving the multiple damaging consequences of mutation accumulation; including the problem of mutation accumulations itself.

This, at least, seems almost inescapable from the perspective of individual level selection; but if group selection mechanisms are real and applicable (as I believe they are), then it may be that behaviours will emerge that tend to counteract mutation accumulation, and avert the mutational meltdown positive feedback cycle.

But group selection is rather poorly understood, and perhaps works by multiple pathways. At any rate, by comparison with individual-level selection, group selection would appear to be ('as if) goal-directed, cognitive in nature, altruistic, and with foresight to look beyond short term individual reproductive disadvantage to long term group genetic benefit.

(Group selection may actually, or may not, actually be these things - teleological, cognitive, altruistic, predictive - but at any rate, this is how it would appear to us.)

So group selection might lead to a variety of quasi-purposive mutation-purging, fitness enhancing outcomes. These would not, of course, necessarily be conscious - indeed would likely be more effective if unconscious.

Possible examples might be an instinctive self-elimination of heavily mutated individuals from reproduction - varieties of genetic suicide. So, ordinary individual selection might tend to reduce reproduction of heavily mutated individuals due to them suffering from the effects of pathology - but in addition there might be some kind of system of internal monitoring of mutation load which made heavily mutated individuals 'give-up', lose interest in reproduction, avoid reproduction - perhaps at extremes allow themselves to die from starvation, infection or some other cause?

This would amount to a kind of apoptosis at the organism level (apoptosis is the biological process of cell-suicide, which may be triggered in genetically-damaged cells - for example to reduce the incidence of cancers). 

Alternatively, group selection may lead to the emergence of a higher incidence of the kind of human individuals who - by their dispositions and behaviours - have the best chance of solving the mutation accumulation problem in some way. For instance, it might lead to an increased number of problem-solving

WD Hamilton believed-in and wrote about such mechanisms of positive self-elimination, and argued that their existence is theoretically-predicted as well as consistent with some observation - so we should not regard them as implausible - even though they not well understood, and hard to discriminate from the passive consequences of mutational damage.

(Of course, group selection is not - contrary to some views - nicer than individual level selection; because group selection involves in some way the sacrifice of the individual for the genetic benefit the group.)

Nonetheless, if group selection is active, a range of such possibilities may already be at work, or may become more powerful - and this may affect the development and outcome of the Mouse Utopia scenario to a greater or lesser extent.  

Note: Some of these ideas were developed in conversation with Michael A Woodley of Menie, to whom acknowledgement and credit is due. 

Mouse Utopia from mutational meltdown foreseen by Science Fiction

Thanks to Adam Greenwood for discovering this science fiction short story called Spacemaster, published in 1965 by James H Schmitz - which very clearly foresees a Mouse Utopia scenario of mutation accumulation, meltdown and extinction of humans, due to insufficient natural selection.

But, added to what he had been shown from Vinence's incredible ship, there had been enough he understood to present the story of the genetic collapse of Man -- or Spacemaster's version of it. It was not too implausible. The death seed of multitudinous abnormal genes had been planted in the race before it set out to explore and inhabit the galaxy, and with the expansion their rate of development increased. For another long time, improving medical skills maintained the appearance of a balance; it had become very much less easy for civilized Man to die even under a heavy genetic burden. But since he continued to give short shrift to any government audacious enough to make the attempt of regulating his breeding preferences, that burden also continued to grow. A point regularly came where medical knowledge, great as it might be, was suddenly shown to be no longer capable of the human repair work needed now to keep some specific civilization on its feet. The lethal genes, the innumerable minor mutations, had established at last a subnormal population, chronically sick and beginning to decrease rapidly in numbers. Spacemaster's charts indicated that this period, once entered, was not prolonged. When there were simply not enough healthy minds and bodies left to attend to the requirements of existence, the final descent became catastrophically swift and was irreversible. On Liot, Haddan had been living through the last years of such a period, modified only by Spacemaster's intervention. Spacemaster, with its supermachines and superscience, had come into existence as an organization almost too late to act as more than humanity's undertakers. Liot had been the last of all islands of galactic civilization. In less than fifteen centuries, the race had gone everywhere from its peak of achievement and expansion to near-extinction.

Chapter 6 Spacemaster from

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Psychiatric aspects of Mouse Utopia

Note: The meaning of 'mouse utopia' can be seen in various posts on my Intelligence, Personality &amp; Genius blog:

The thesis is that we are already living in mouse Utopia, and that this will become more and more apparent until its reality will become... well, I was going to say 'undeniable' but that is silly: people can and do deny the most obvious things, and the process of population wide and cumulative mutational damage of the genome is certainly not obvious; but rather, at present, invisible.

So Mouse Utopia will never be undeniable, and indeed it is likely that the vast majority of mankind will never know what has hit them, and continues to hit them; nor will it ever be easy to disentangle the effects of genetic damage from other causes of maladaptive behaviour and disease. But at any rate, let's just say that the hypothesis of mutational accumulation in the human species will presumably gather more and more consistent evidence as time goes by.

What will life be like in Mouse Utopia? In The Narrow Roads of Gene Land Volume 2, WD Hamilton partially described that world in a chapter entitled The Hospitals are coming, and that is perhaps a good starting point - the idea that everyone will be damaged and most will be sick, in one way or another; so that life will resemble a hospital in which (some of) the less-sick (or the damaged but not-yet sick) tend the more-sick, as best they may - in intervals between doing whatever it takes to stay alive.

But this is not by any means an unusual or unprecedented situation for humans through much of the history of the species. For much of the time, Malthusian mechanisms have been in force, and populations have been limited by various combinations of starvation and infectious disease. Infections - in particular - have sometimes been endemic at a high prevalence, so that the majority or even all of the population might be suffering from, be affected by, some chronic parasitic disease - but at a relatively low degree of severity.

And with respect to the Mouse Utopia society being a Hospital, it is important to recognize that much of the pathology will be psychiatric rather than physical - this can be seen from the fact that the problems of the original Mouse Utopia were most behavioural rather than physical; and it follows from the fact that the highly complex human brain is exceptionally sensitive to random mutational damage.

Intelligence is probably damaged by mutation accumulation in an incremental and quantitative fashion - the more mutations, the more the lowering of intelligence. Therefore, decline of intelligence as mutations accumulate is likely to be relative smooth (rather than step-like).

But intelligence is 'general' intelligence, and is unusual in being a general attribute of cognitive function - it roughly corresponds to speed of processing, or coordinated functional efficiency. By contrast, most psychological functions are specific; and genetic damage is likely to be more qualitative and either step-like, or all-or-nothing.

What I think would happen, is that accumulating mutation damage would most likely show-up as varieties of specific brain functional damage leading to specific behavioural impairments of a social and sexual type - in a general context of continuing declining intelligence. (See reference below)

The kind of damage I am talking about represents a decline in functional adaptation of the human organism to its environment (its sexual, social and surrounding environment) - that is, a loss of effective functionality. This represents a decline in fitness, but not just relative fitness (because it is happening throughout the population) - it is a decline in group fitness - ultimately in species fitness.

If fitness is measured in terms of the capacity to raise sufficient viable offspring in a given environment; then the sexual and social changes induced by mutation accumulation will be such as to reduce the probability of doing this: partly by damage causing reduced brain processing speed and efficiency (detectable as reduced intelligence) and partly by damage causing specific functional impairments (detectable as sexual and social pathologies).

So, Mouse Utopia will be not so much be a hospital of sick people with the less sick tending the more sick; but more like the less crazy looking after the more crazy: a case of the lunatics have taken over the asylum because there is nobody left but the lunatics - so everyone in Mouse Utopia is mad, more-or-less; but with the sanest and most sensible people in charge.

At least, that would be optimal.

If the world is a psychiatric hospital where everyone is socio-sexually dysfunctional to some extent, then the people running the hospital ought to be the most coherent of the patients. Indeed, sanity is probably more of a priority than high intelligence - since a moderately intelligent coherent person (at least arguably) makes a better leader than a more highly intelligent crazy.

However, for the past fifty years and increasingly, we have been getting a taste of something different; and most nations and large organizations are now being run by - not the least impaired people - but energetic incoherent semi-lunatics; because in a mass media democracy, that is what the more-seriously-crazed majority seem to want.

Democracy as a system for choosing government has never made much sense; mass democracy in a mass media addicted world makes even less sense; democracy in a lunatic asylum is... crazy.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Use of the imagination in scientific psychology - a personal example

In saying that imagination is the primary aspect of true understanding, an example might be helpful. When I was working on my book Psychiatry and the Human Condition:

I decided not to include any theories about illnesses which I had been unable to confirm by imagination.

Imagination was not the term I used at the time; I instead called it phenomenology and introspection. Phenomenology is the term for the subjective description of psychological symptoms - e.g. what it is like to experience an hallucination, an endogenously depressed mood etc.

So, in my discussions of psychiatric phenomena and the effects of psychotropic drugs, I only wrote about theories which I had been able to enact imaginatively in myself - by examining my inner state and extrapolating from personal experience.

For example, in discussing mania I drew on experiences of staying up all night - when working as a doctor on call, or on a transatlantic flight - and the different stages about how it felt. For depression I had experiences of glandular fever and influenza, and recovering from them. For psychotic states I had memories of dreams, and the brief hypnagogic hallucinations when dropping off to sleep.

For psychotropic drugs, I had the 'advantage' of having taken many of the therapeutic classes of agents as attempted (and failed) curative or preventive treatments for migraine. Since I never found an effective preventive agent, I went through quite a large number of therapeutic trials before giving up. In addition I had for several years been very attentive to the effects of any drugs I was taking for anything: for example the antihistamines taken for treating Hay Fever, or introspectively studying the effects of simple pain killers, and how they got rid of pain.

So I had a kind of 'library' of knowledge about how drugs affect the way I feel, and this - combined with scientific knowledge about drugs and their effects - meant that I had a basis for understanding what drugs might to to psychiatric illness.

This amounted to an imaginative knowledge of psychiatric phenomena - and clarifies that imagination can be understood in terms of looking-within and becoming aware of subjective feelings.

The value of imagination was both at the beginning and at the end of theorizing. In the first place, phenomenology provided the primary basis of theories of how diseases may be caused, what is their essence, and of drug actions.

Then, after the theory was developed and elaborated and tested against the existing scientific literature using normal 'scientific' knowledge; phenomenology also provided a final test of plausibility and adequacy - could I imagine, could I experience within myself, the hypothetical cause or illness or treatment? If I could enact the proposed mechanism in imaginative experience, then the hypothesis would be allowed to stand - but if I could not enact them, then I would eliminate the hypothesis.

For example, the book was delayed for a few months by my initial inability to imagine experiencing mania - and this was helped by discussing mania empathically with someone who had experienced it and remembered the experience (by 'empathically', I mean in such a way that I could feel and experience what that person felt). Only when I could imagine myself as manic, and then imagine how that mania might be treated - how the manic inner state could be alleviated by inner change, could I finish the book.

This, then, is an actual example of how imagination can work - in a scientific context. Of course, when I wrote the book I mostly left-out the subjective and imaginative aspects - or used them only as illustrative examples. So the published Psychiatry and the Human Condition book is written and justified almost as if everything in it comes from the scientific literature and with reference to the experience of eminent psychiatrists and other objective and publicly available sources of information.

However, in reality, in terms of scientific creativity - the imagination was primary. It was primary in terms of generating hypotheses, and also exercised a veto in terms of testing hypotheses.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Boy Genius: Childhood signs of high intelligence related to the Endogenous personality

I have long been intrigued by the fact that I can sometimes tell that a child is of very high intelligence, even when I do not know the age of that child, and therefore have no basis for age-adjusted comparisons - and this sometimes happens when the child is not a prodigy, and has no exceptional ability. There is something about them that lets me know that they are of exceptional intelligence.

If intelligence is conceptualized as merely the upper range of a normal distribution curve of intellectual ability, then this should not be possible (except when the child's current ability is prodigious).

I have always assumed that being able to detect an intelligent child meant that what was truly being detected was not intellectual ability but personality; and I now think that what is being detected, what is detectable from early childhood, is the Endogenous personality.

The Endogenous personality is a package of high intelligence and a type of personality designed (by evolution) for creativity; in effect what is being detected is that the child has a brain specialized for a genius type role. What is being detected is not really the high intelligence so much as the other two aspects of the Creative Triad of high intelligence, inner-motivation and intuitive personality

In most children with high intelligence, their intelligence is only observable by making age-adjusted comparisons of their cognitive abilities because they have all different kinds of personality types.

But in the minority of children who are Endogenous personality types, the intelligence is part of a cluster of traits, and can be recognized from an early age - indeed, people with experience of a range of children (e.g. astute good school teachers) can recognize the Endogenous personality in young children at, say, six or seven years old.

In a sensible world, such children would be noticed, and treated as the different kind of people they are: people with some kind of creative destiny that, if discovered and allowed to develop, could benefit the rest of society.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Two ways of being highly intelligent - Good Genes or Endogenous personality

The usual way is that someone is intelligent (I mean within a population - I am not talking about the evolution of population differences) is by what is termed Good Genes: that is, having few faults or errors - the person has a normal brain but with nothing (or nothing much) wrong with it: in other words he has a low load of deleterious mutations (or, conversely, he is not suffering from mutation accumulation).

But there is another way - which is by having an Endogenous personality - which means that his brain is purposely designed (by group selection) to be creative, to make breakthroughs - he is, in sum, a genius (albeit very probably not a world historical genius; but a tribal or local genius). My assumption is that - if we could know this - we would see a brain wired-up to be intelligent.

Therefore the brain of an Endogenous personality has high intelligence not so much negatively from lack of mutations; as positively - because it is a brain specialized to be highly efficient for the purpose of creative discovery.

And this is why the genius has a special (Endogenous) personality. Usually personality and intelligence are almost distinct and little-correlated; but the brain of a genius is differently wired from a normal brain: it is a specialized and purposive brain, a lop-sided brain, a brain in which circuits usually used for social intelligence and reproductive success are co-opted to this purpose.

In sum, the brain of a genius is one that is specialized for creative discovery and both high intelligence and an 'inner-oriented' personality are features of this specialization.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Do you (really) understand intelligence? (Hardly anybody does)

I have recently been reading the likes of Owen Barfield, Rudolf Steiner and (excerpts from) Goethe on the nature of scientific thinking as it should be - and this has clarified for me that real science requires real understanding which requires bringing the subject to life in your mind so that your mind is actually thinking-it (thinking the entity, the object or more usually the process).

Therefore science requires understanding ,and understanding is qualitative not quantitative - understanding is not about description and measurement.

(These are possible when scientific understanding is utterly lacking; - they can even be done mechanically even, by a machine - although there must first be some-thing to draw-a-line-around that which is described or measured.)

Before science can be done, there must be this qualitative understanding of the phenomenon as an irreducible entity - not in terms of other things, but in terms of itself.

This kind of understanding is more lacking from intelligence research, even from the best of intelligence research, than in almost any field I have encountered (although Epidemiology runs it close) - indeed the lack of understanding of intelligence is often celebrated, and a 'theory-free' activity of intelligence description, measurement and correlation is put forward as - not merely an expedient or temporary necessity, but - the ideal.

People therefore misunderstand the IQ score as the reality, and intelligence as merely mathematically-derived from IQ scores.

But to understand intelligence requires understanding that a person may be of high intelligence and not have a high IQ score (no matter how validly, often and carefully the IQ is measured and calculated); and another person may have high IQ scores (measured in the best ways and by the best methods) yet not be of high intelligence ^.

This is a simple consequence of the fact that intelligence is not reducible to IQ score or any other measurement: it is an indivisible, qualitative entity.

Intelligence can be 'thought' hence understood - but understanding intelligence is like knowing a person (as compared with describing a person, their hair colour, height etc); getting to know intelligence is therefore like getting to know a person - it is a result of experience.

^ Highly intelligent people who do not score highly on IQ tests are easy to understand - because anything which reduces test performance could lead to this outcome: illness, pain, impaired consciousness and concentration from sleepiness, drugs, drug-withdrawal, mental illness... there are multiple causes, and some are chronic (long-lasting, perhaps life-long).

People with high IQ scores who are not of similarly high intelligence are familiar to anyone who has attended a highly-selective college or educational programme or who are members of intellectually 'elite' professions; since they make-up the majority of participants.  

Note added: The 'Flynn effect' - of rising average IQ scores in a context of reducing average real-intelligence - is an historical record of the emergence of more and more people with high IQ scores who do not have similarly high real intelligence - until now it seems likely that many or most people with among high IQ scorers do not have similarly high real-intelligence - and this applies especially at highly-educationally-selective institutions where Endogenous personalities are substantially selected-out. The correlation between IQ score and 'g' was much higher in the past (a century plus ago) than it is now. 

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

If humans are recapitulating mouse utopia, what is the approximate timescale for extinction?

In the Mouse Utopia experiment, an optimal environment with ample food, space, temperature, no predation etc. was created for 8 pairs of healthy breeding mice - but eventually the entire colony died, every single mouse - because after about two and a half years there were no more conceptions. The colony became sterile.

Before they died there were several phases

Phase A - 104 days - establishment of the mice in their new environment, then the first litters were born.

Phase B - up to day 315 - exponential population growth doubling every 55 days.

Phase C - from day 315-560 population growth abruptly slowed to a doubling time of 145 days.

Phase D - days 560-920; population stagnant with births just matching deaths. Emergence of many pathological behaviours.

Terminal Phase - population declining to zero. The last conception was about day 920, after which there were no more births, all females were menopausal, the colony aged and all of them died.

This is interpreted as a consequence of mutation accumulation leading to extinction from mutational meltdown:


As far as I can gather, mice are fully ready to reproduce at about 4 months, so the average generation time is probably about 5 months which is about 150 days.

So, starting with 104 days as zero - when reproduction began; we can convert the above timings into mouse generations

Phase B exponential growth doubling every 55 days lasted 201 days, = 1.3 mouse generations.

Phase C exponential growth doubling every 145 days lasted a further 245 days = 1.6 mouse generations.

So population growth phase in utopian conditions lasted only 3 mouse generations. 

Phase D of population stagnation phase lasted a further 360 days = 2.4 mouse generations

Therefore, the last conception (and de facto inevitable extinction) was 816 days after breeding commenced = 5.4 mouse generations.


Human generations are conventionally 25 years, although these have slowed to about 30 years in Western countries in the past several decades - but let us therefore give two values - one for 25 year, and the other for 30 year human generations.

If we start at 1850 as the date when the Industrial Revolution seems to have become certainly established and child mortality rates began to drop rapidly, and start counting generations from that point, and if humans were made like mice (which they are not!)...

We would then predict that human population growth phase (B & C) would last three generations up to 1925-1940 

And the stagnation phase (D) for another 2.4 generations - with 5.4 human generations taking us up to 1985-2012.


Well, clearly English people did not stop conceiving three years ago, because babies are still being born to native English - albeit not at a high rate!

I have previously guesstimated that the English situation  was that the slower growth phase c began in about 1920 (not about 1880) and the plateau phase began in about 1970) not 1930-ish

So maybe England is lagged about 40 years, because 1. we are not mice, and 2. our mouse utopia emerged only incrementally and was probably not complete until about 1950.

So we do not need to worry about mutational meltdown and de facto extinction (i.e. the final English child of English parents and ancestry being conceived) for, oh, another thirty or forty years...


Nonetheless, I draw the following lessons.

1. Assuming the decline and extinction of mouse utopia was due to mutation accumulation leading to mutational meltdown - then it happened very quickly indeed: only mouse 5.4 generations to the final conception, with half of that being stagnation.

2. The decline in rate of population increase after only 1.3m mouse generations suggests that the effect of relaxed natural selection and mutation accumulation leads to genetic damage immediately, in the very first generation.

3. Although humans (maturing over 14 years and with a natural life expectancy about 70 years) are built to last longer than mice (maturing over 4 months and living about 2 years) - this may mean that humans are more vulnerable to mutation accumulation - because we have a more prolonged and multi-phasic development and depend on extremely-complex brains which use many genes make and to function, and constitution large mutational targets.

4. In mouse utopia, the mouse environment, shelter, food, hygiene etc were all managed by humans - and did not depend on the mice doing anything much for themselves except east, sleep, fight, groom and reproduce (until they altogether lost interest in sex)- but humans depend on other humans for survival.

When the human population is damaged from mutation accumulation, this will destroy the 'utopian' environment. If this destruction is severe enough and comes early enough- then mutational meltdown will be avoided.

But if there is a generational lag - and utopia is maintained sufficiently that further mutational damage to younger generations continues to accumulate - then this will hasten the meltdown and extinction; because by the time utopia comes to an end, the younger generations will be unfit to survive the harsher conditions.

Have a nice day!