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Sunday, March 27, 2005

Concurrence and March Madness

A friend of mine, a Georgia Tech fan, said last night to a Louisville fan, "Yeah, y'all put it to us pretty good the other day."

The Louisville guy: "It wasn't exactly hard. We had you beat by the end of the first half."

My friend (following a deferential sigh), "Well, now that we're out, I'm rooting for you guys. I think you have a great shot."

The Louisville guy: "Yeah, it's gonna be tough, but we're up to it."

I always crack up when I hear these kinds of exchanges. It strikes me as comical that people who neither play or know anyone who plays on the team they like afford themselves honorary membership on the extended roster. Maybe it's because I really could care less who wins, precisely because I'm not playing and don't know anyone playing. It may also be because I think I know what's going on and I find it highly entertaining to watch.

You see, these people are fans, which is short for fanatic. I won't say that all sports fans are fanatical, but some of them definitely are. Anyhow, as the extended roster, their job is ideally to create a happening that will give the team that extra something. I believe a happening occurs when mass concurrence is achieved.

Over the years, it has dawned on me that something simpler, something more powerful may be behind the human tendency to cooperate, which, as we should all know, is one of the main reasons we are here. It has long been thought that the benefits of reciprocal altruism were sufficient to catch natural selection's eye. But what if humans developed the need to concur with one another, to get to the kind of emotional tightness where they feel one another's pain, long before the tendency to account for favors done and favors owed? Would that not have spawned all the cooperative behavior, including reciprocal altruism, that led Homo sapiens to outlast all other hominids? To my knowledge, no one else is talking about this, which means it is pure conjecture. However, even if we can't say the quest for concurrence is among the grandest and most universal of human emotional drives, I think we can use the concept as a tool for talking about how humans interact with one another. March Madness is a perfect example.

As I stood at a bar watching the Illinois-Villanova game come to its exciting conclusion, I observed, captivated, as the concurrence in the room mounted. Sitting at the bar, the folks were into the game. They were in groups of two to five or six, and they were very much emotionally connected to each other. Eyes glued to the screen as the play unfolded. A guy scores and they either erupt with high fives and cheers, or they groan and then quickly begin to reassure each other. As the game drew to its final minutes, and Illinois started coming back, the concurrence started to expand. People standing behind the people sitting at the bar started becoming concurrent with each other and the true fans. The high five ritual got longer and longer, as each person had more people to high five. Then, by the last shot of regular play, the whole bar was singularly focused on the TV screens. A tie! Overtime! Pandemonium. Disbelief coupled with visceral elation. A happening was officially underway. It continued right up to the last second of the game, and lasted for at least another ten minutes.

What an experience. You really can feel it, the energy in the air, the emotional highs and lows, all of it, and it feels good. It's like being one of the few in on an inside joke that has been heard by many. That feeling, I think, is nothing more than the result of our drive to concurrence achieving its goal. It is not unlike the relationship between an orgasm and the emotional drive to reproduce. (Remember that our emotions are physiological and neurological programs designed to get us to do things that facilitate our survival and reproduction. Our feelings are the conscious experiences that follow the execution of those programs.) If I'm right, then we have an answer to why people become sports fans.

Being in attendance at a happening is not common for most people, sports fans included, so we can't assume that this is the primary motivator. However, there is significant concurrence to be had even in small groups watching the game at a person's house, and the same is true at the water cooler the next day. Indeed, the quest for concurrence is really about one on one and small group relationships. But, like most of our caveman emotions, it doesn't know when to quit. Add more people feeling each other's pain and the feeling intensifies, sometimes culminating in a happening. The point is that people who appoint themselves standing as part of the extended roster do so because it affords them easy access to concurrence. This is useful information.

Try this if you're not much of a sports fan. Pick a person you know to be a big fan of a particular team and start paying attention to how his team is doing. (We'll assume he's a male, for obvious reasons). Then, the next time you see him, mention that you caught such and such game, and oh what a nail-biter, and watch his ears perk up. Unless he's a jerk, you will have established a baseline level of concurrence with him, a level that affords you less scrutiny and more acceptance than you would ordinarily enjoy. It's uncanny how consistently this works. I've never done it to manipulate someone. I just overhear sports discussions and am not above regurgitating a factoid or two later to strike up a conversation with someone I don't know well. (The curse of the extrovert, I guess. ) The interesting thing is that you can expand this concept to explain why people align with most any group.

At the end of the day, the big universal is that we all want to belong, and this need is about as genetic as it gets. The tool that creates belonging is concurrence, and it is on display all around us. March Madness is just an apt illustration. I just hope my guys score more runs than their guys.


Blogger Eye Doc said...

I think you're pretty much on target. It's amazing how many people live vicariously through sports teams.

It was the Illinois-Arizona game though, not Illinois-Villanova.

3/28/2005 05:26:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You seem to be nailing the significance of concurrence and how that is the primary drive that led to reciprocal altruism, however, I believe you're dancing all around a key piece of the puzzle by relying on genetics and evolutionary psychology as your theoretical basis.

In The Selfish Gene, a work of evolutionary psychology, Richard Dawkins hints at the idea of another replicator which he coins as a "meme," and this idea has been developed by Susan Blackmore of Oxford University and others. As the story goes, natural selection created the mind, which created ideas and ways of doing things (memes) that began replicating in other minds largely independent of genes.

This is not to say that there is not a genetic case for reciprocal altruism or concurrence, but rather that the genetic case is only one small piece of the puzzle in comparison to the memetic analysis.

Although memes and genes don't operate in exactly the same ways, replication is the most fundamental compmonent of each. You are right in comparing the emotional feeling of concurrence to that of orgasm, because concurrence is to our memes what sexual intercourse is to our genes.

Once freed from the idea that our genes are the almighty, omnipotent dictators of our actions (or even our emotions), we have in place the theoretical framework to explain why the drive for concurrence (deep, almost spiritual connection with other people) can operate somewhat independently from (and sometimes at odds with) our genetic drives.

3/28/2005 06:22:00 PM

Blogger alice said...

As I was composing comments on the "sanctity of life" post I was checking to see if what I was writing was correct according to the scientists. One idea I checked was whether the idea that life is sacred was a human universal. Itself it is not, but there were enough ideas which surround this elevation of human life such as fear of death, belief in the supernatural,death rituals that I thought it would be a safe bet to confer some status upon that idea.

While I was investigating, I looked up "god" in "The Selfish Gene" (how do you italicize?). Dawkins says the survival value of the god meme in the meme pool results from its great psychological appeal....rectification of injustices, "everlasting arms", plausible answer to the questions of existence.

So are human universals the result of meme replication? And has anyone ever looked at whether a meme can be eliminated from the human menome and how long it takes?

And can we infer that memes survive because they are fit, more fit than others? And if that is true the god meme is very fit indeed.

3/29/2005 11:05:00 AM

Blogger Chris Wilson said...

You pose an interesting question. I'm familiar with memes, but I don't think they play into concurrence the way you do.

First of all, the assumption is that, in ancestral times, human genes gave rise to certain physiological responses to the external (and maybe internal) world. Some of these physiological responses (also known as emotions) were successful at ensuring survival and reproduction; others were not. The assertion I am making is that physiological responses that prompted individuals to attempt to concur with one another, to establish close emotional ties similar to those shared with kin, were the winners when the dust settled.

I am also saying that those emotions have persisted and are still with us today, driving a great deal of our behavior. I would say that any memes related to cooperation and concurrence are *by-products* of the underlying genetics of the situation, just as the meme "being rich is a good thing" is a reflection of our status-seeking genetic machinery.

So, the genetics is the *lion's share* of the explanation behind concurrence. Even if, absurdly, humans could no longer communicate ideas/memes (by speaking, writing, or gesturing), my hypothesis holds that they would still seek concurrence. The *vast* majority of them.

"Once freed from the idea that our genes are the almighty, omnipotent dictators of our actions (or even our emotions), we have in place the theoretical framework to explain why the drive for concurrence (deep, almost spiritual connection with other people) can operate somewhat independently from (and sometimes at odds with) our genetic drives."

Our sentiments here are almost aligned. I agree that our genes are not almighty, *but only when we deliberately oppose them.* And I agree that there appears a framework from which to judge the merits of concurrence on their own. That framework is reason.

To Alice:

The idea that life is sacred is embarrasingly Western. In areas of the world, where things aren't as posh as here, life and death are practical matters first and foremost. Many people in Africa don't have the luxury to ruminate over end of life dilemmas. Death is a common part of their reality. Mothers who can't feed all their children have to *decide* which one starves. In my view,the sanctity of life, a meme for sure, was invented out of whole cloth by religion.

In fact, the whole meme concept can get messy fast. Memes are defined as discrete or bite-sized, if you will, ideas. Take the idea that the world is flat. That meme does not exist in many minds today. Or does it? The world *is* flat, in some places. The ocean as far as you can see is pretty flat on a calm day. The point is that you have to keep qualifying a particular idea to actually get to where its discrete enough to say it evolves, which is where fitness comes in. Once you get your meme properly defined, you can determine whether it is fit. But, wouldn't you agree that the only way to properly define is to do so in terms of its fitness? So we're saying that a meme is the smallest unit of an idea that can be either fit or unfit, and it is defined as that which is fit or unfit. Seems eerily like a tautology, a circular argument.

If we say a meme is an idea that can evolve, and then we ask the question: what is an idea that can evolve? The answer is... a meme. It's almost like saying, either it will rain or it won't.

I'm not saying memetics is crap. I'm just saying it's a useful tool in thinking about ideas. Beyond that, and maybe this shows my ignorance, I don't know what you can do with it. Of course, that never stopped me before.

As for whether human universals are the result of memes, I must say resoundingly no. Human universals are the results of genes, the only things we all share (99%, remember). Their manifestation may be *modified* by memes, but the underlying cause is our genes. Indeed, the point of this site is to spread memes related to the nastiness (sometimes, often times) of our genes in this modern world, and to spread memes related to how to harness them to achieve our rationally conceived desires.

3/30/2005 01:37:00 AM

Blogger Chris Wilson said...

Ha. Illinois-Arizona. I swear that wasn't intentional. Somehow Villanove stuck in my head. Now that I think about it, the Villanova game was going on another TV, which by the way was abandoned as the happening took hold.

3/30/2005 01:39:00 AM

Blogger alice said...

"The idea that life is sacred is embarrasingly Western. In areas of the world, where things aren't as posh as here, life and death are practical matters first and foremost. Many people in Africa don't have the luxury to ruminate over end of life dilemmas. Death is a common part of their reality."

Perhaps we need to define "sacred".
I am going to choose for my purpose the fifth definition in Webster's "regarded with reverence" and the sixth "secured against violation".

You seem to be quite an authority on the behavior of Africans. You have refered often to their beliefs, customs and lifestyles. First of all, what part of Africa are you refering to? It's a big continent and there are, I believe all socioeconomic levels represented.

Second, with the abundance of my ignorance, I will assert that African cultures do hold human life sacred. Unfortunately, their cultures have been beseiged for the past hundreds of years with conquest and colonization so that their cultures have not been able to flourish and act as they normally would.

Under the most dire of circumstances, people will bury their dead. This simple act shows respect and regard. It is only by matter of degree that we indulge this tendency with feeding tubes and life prolonging procedures.

And so perhaps I am agreeing with you in a way, and perhaps we can conclude that the more affluent the culture the more resources are spent on lives which are marginal.

3/30/2005 10:32:00 AM

Blogger alice said...

I just read an article in REASON about the fleecing of communities by owners of sports franchises. Cities are told that by building new sports complexes they stand to increase revenues in their communities. In the article it states that this is almost never the case. Now the courts will be getting involved and team owners are being put on notice that they will no longer be allowed to lie about this to get what they want. This is good.

I live in a city which has been held ransom by two teams, the Padres and the Chargers.While I do love football and all of the concurrence which exists during a winning year (it's been ten years since the Chargers had one, with the exception of last year) I am completely sickened by the state of professional sports.

Maybe I can just chalk the whole thing up to the high price of concurrence. As a culture attains more affluence the cost goes up. It would be so much cheaper if we all just went on a picnic together.

3/31/2005 10:52:00 AM

Blogger Chris Wilson said...

"You seem to be quite an authority on the behavior of Africans. You have refered often to their beliefs, customs and lifestyles. First of all, what part of Africa are you refering to? It's a big continent and there are, I believe all socioeconomic levels represented."

I don't know if I'm an authority, but I've read a good bit about tribal Africans, mainly by way of the psych and sociology books that often use them as "control" groups to explore what humans are like without western culture. I could pull a few books off the shelf to give you some names of the tribes, but it'll suffice to say that they all come from sub-saharan Africa, particularly in areas like Togo, Nigeria, Sudan, and Ethiopia.

"Second, with the abundance of my ignorance, I will assert that African cultures do hold human life sacred."

I think most of have to plead ignorance on this one (I've only been to Tunisia, which more resembles Iraq than Nigeria), but I get the feeling that tribal Africans can't afford to consider life sacred - it'd just hurt too bad. I'd say that Africans, like most all humans, hold *particular* lives sacred. That is to say that they care deeply for their loved ones. However, I'd be shocked if they held life, in a generic sense, as sacred. I think the notion that life is sacred is one of those things that comes with prosperity - maybe like lactose intolerance.

4/01/2005 10:53:00 PM

Blogger Chris Wilson said...

The cult of the athlete is all about status, so it's interesting to see how status and concurrence look when they're on steroids. The marketplace for professional sports talent appears to have no ceiling, and I think this is because the contests can generate such powerful concurrence that there will often be more demand than supply. Then, add to that the conspicuous consumption angle, which is nothing more than people using their wealth (real or fake) to garner status, and the whole thing spins out of control. Some boob will willingly pay $1000 for a ticket to the Super Bowl - he's killing two birds with one stone - he gets to be a part of a high concurrence event *and* he gets to feel good about his place on the social totem pole (since he can afford what most folks cannot).

4/01/2005 11:05:00 PM

Blogger alice said...

You can imagine how horrible it would be to have me in a class. Always with my hand up, always saying "but, but, but"

It seems to me that tribal life would be far more intimate than what we have in our world and therefore each member of the tribe would be a more cherished individual. In fact tribal members are probably more genetically related than we are to other members of our society.

It seems hard to say anything much about their lives because at this time in history, they can't live as they were adapted to. They are an anachronism, on their way out and therefore are living on the edge of extinction.

4/01/2005 11:11:00 PM

Blogger Chris Wilson said...

I would agree that in tribal life, people have larger "inner circles." Their family members don't leave, for the most part. However, a large component of tribal life is the set of rules that govern the tribe, and an important subset is the rules that deal with conflict resolution. The elders of the tribe adjudicate matters, and the focus is more on practicality than on any abstract notion that life, no one's in particular, is in inherently sacred.

I read a book that Richard Dawkins recommends in his latest, The Devil's Chaplain. It is called Red Strangers by Elsbeth Huxley, and it is unfortunately pretty hard to find. I ended up buying it used through the UK version of Amazon.com. Anyway, though it is a work of fiction, it is widely regarded as a keen insight into the kind of tribal life that is typical in many parts of Africa. This, and much of what I read in Paul Ekman's Emotions Revealed, are what lead me to the conclusions I've drawn.

4/02/2005 02:10:00 AM

Blogger Chris Wilson said...

Oh, and this:

"It seems hard to say anything much about their lives because at this time in history, they can't live as they were adapted to."

Sure they can. Just not all of them. A significant percentage of them don't make it. This is as it has always been for them. Though the world has certainly encroached upon them, they live as they were adapted to live. They are skilled at gethering food and making shelter and at protecting themselves from dangers, just like humans were for tens of thousands of years before them. And just like generations long before them, the environment took its toll on their numbers. Drought, natural disasters, diseases, animals, and evildoers continue to inflict casualties upon tribal people. This is precisely why anthropologists are so keen to study them - they are a window into the past of our species.

Interestingly enough, it is we who are not living as we were adapted to live. Our bodies were not designed for the processed crap we eat and for the sedentary lifestyles we lead. Fortunately, for all involved, our genes don't require much of us - just to live long enough to reproduce.

4/02/2005 02:24:00 AM

Blogger alice said...

Somehow March Madness has morphed into Sanctity of Life. Oh well it's all the same thing.

So which is it mein herr? Is sanctity of life embarassing or progressive?

Earlier on when I first arrived at this blog, people were discussing the sorry state of Social Security. What I consider to be a more addressable and important problem is the run away cost of Medicare/Medicaid. Tied up with that problem is the fact that modern medicine can keep almost anyone alive. The need for a cost/benefit analysis of procedures done at or near the end of life is great.

But there is no one to do this analysis. As soon as guidelines would be made up, some lawyer or AARP would yell "discrimination".There is probably no way to agree when it is prudent to pull the plug on life saving/prolonging procedures. Just as Terri's parents demonstrated, hope, irrational though it may be, springs eternal.

Have you ever read, "Brit-Think, Ameri-Think" (still can't figure out how to italicize) Very funny book, "The Brits know that death is inevitable, Americans think it's optional."

All of this stuff is part of our culture. How do you extract one part? It's like operating on Jello. The best we can hope for is a slow evolution towards more rational thinking. Hard to do with religion in the way.

What I can't understand is if people believe there is a heaven why do they hold on so hard to this life on earth? Maybe they have some serious doubts.

"Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky."

4/02/2005 10:33:00 AM

Blogger Robert said...

Having zero training in biology and even less interest in sports, I’ll withhold comment about the post’s topic. However, I’m fascinated by the comment thread. On my blog, I posted on the culture of life. In it I attempted to use the Bible to demonstrate the contradictions of the “religious right”.

Alice, to italicize, type <> immediately before and after the word(s) that you choose. Important: a lowercase “i” must be between the brackets. For the latter, use “/i”. An example of this is directly above the "comment entry" section (ie HTML tags). I hope this helps. ;)

4/02/2005 09:49:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is obvious that we have an almost innate tendency for tribalism, and it also obvious that being a member of the mega tribe, known as humans, does allay the insecurities of most members of our species, or encourage us to work for the betterment of our species. This is in contrast to how we can become motivated to work for the betterment of our immediate “tribe” of friends and relatives.

This being the case, I would be interested in the views of others, who are of the Darwinian left, right and centre. I say this, because it is argued that because of our inability to work towards the good of our species, or even our countries, because of the size factor, the form of capitalism known as economic “rationalism” serves us best.

In other words, it is said that self-interest, encourages us to work to better ourselves, whereas forms of socialism, such as Marxism, do not offer us sufficient incentive, as raising our standard of living through such a huge collective does not motivate people to work and improve their standard of living.

But, being an Australian in his 53rd year, I have seen a monumental decline in our standard of living over the last 30 years, since our world has become globalised and our economic system has become less regulated, more corporatised and thus more unfriendly to workers and small businesses. (economic rationalism)

Yet our Government tells us that we are wealthier than ever before, because we can buy more gadgets with our pay packets. And although food is about the same price as it was in the fifties and sixties, and we now pay less for Third World clothing, Australians have never had greater job insecurity, nor have those that have work been forced to work so hard.

We also find that house prices are prohibitive for young people, and most of them work in casual employment. In other words, as far as I am concerned, economic “rationalism” has caused our standard of living to decline dramatically.

I recently met with a group of young ecorat economists, who were absolutely convinced we were on the right track, and tried in vain to bring in evolutionary philosophy and psychology to justify their stance. I found I may as well have been talking to a bunch of fundamental Christians, as they were out of touch with reality and had virtually no knowledge of other forms of socialism or capitalism, other than those that have been tried so far.

They had no knowledge of alternate economists like the late Ernst Schumacher, or how it could be married into some of Bill Mollison’s ideas. They had not even heard of these folk.

5/02/2005 07:56:00 PM


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