The Theory of Individual Selection and Its Flaws

This is an excerpt from The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History by Howard Bloom (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997). Reprinted by permission from the author.

The Theory of Individual Selection and Its Flaws

Richard Dawkins’s theory is a powerful tool for cracking the mysteries of the cosmos, but it has a limitation. In reality, genes were never the loners that Dawkins makes them out to be. Though he labels them “selfish,” even he is forced to admit that genes were compelled to coagulate in teams, just as their minions—from termites to humans—would later be.

Current evolutionary theory, known as “neo-Darwinism,” says that preservation of his genes is the first priority of the individual: preservation for himself, his children, and for his remaining relatives. And, as the examples in previous chapters show, when it comes to children, at least, that view has much evidence to support it. Yet it is missing something vital in the human experience. When Rudolph Valentino died, numerous women committed suicide.[63] Survival for themselves and their immediate families was the last thing on their minds.

Underlying the notion of genetic selfishness is another, even more basic assumption: the theory of individual selection. According to the theory of individual selection, when it comes to picking and pruning, evolution sorts creatures one at a time. Hence, the most potent impulse in the makeup of every micro- and macrobeast is the drive for personal survival.

But, somewhere deep inside, each of us knows that individual survival is not his only raison d’être. So thoroughly is that fact built into us that we find it in our physical structure. We come complete at birth with an arsenal of survival weapons, but we’re also equipped with devices that can negate our existence. These are our self-destruct mechanisms.

In 1945, the Japanese had been fighting American soldiers for three and a half years. They had known they could not lose. Their gods had made them a superior people.[64] They had swept through China and the Pacific Islands in the thirties like an avenging wind, taking vast territories, conquering hordes of “inferior” peoples, showing the heaven-given supremacy of their race. The enemy who faced them was a contemptible lot, unblessed by the divinity that buoyed Japan, and crippled by racial impurity.

Yet the mongrels from the West were accomplishing the unthinkable. They were beating down the warriors of Japan. By the time the Americans reached Okinawa, the Japanese could see that heaven had deserted them. The shame was unendurable. Four thousand Japanese killed themselves in Okinawa’s underground naval headquarters. Another thirty thousand military men and civilians threw themselves from a nearby cliff.[65]

On the Japanese mainland, pilots volunteered to keep the American marines in Okinawa from getting supplies. Those flyers were promised honor and death. Their mission was to guide their planes to the enemy and stay at the controls as the explosive-laden aircraft slammed into the enemy’s ships. “I will be doing my duty by dying,” they wrote in final letters to their families. Fifteen thousand of them fulfilled that fatal obligation. One commentator, describing the kamikaze experience forty years later, explained that “Japan is a society of groups, not individuals.”

To us the kamikazes’ ultimate devotion seems baffling, alien, something that could never happen here; but it has happened here. Patrick Henry was declaring his loyalty to his fellow revolutionaries and their cause when he said, “Give me liberty or give me death.” He was confessing that the social organism of which he was a part was more important than his own existence.

Suicides in 1929, the year of the Great Crash, tended to be flamboyant and highly publicized. There was the head of the Rochester Gas and Electric Company who asphyxiated himself with his firm’s chief product; the two stock speculators who flung themselves from a New York City roof hand in hand; and the investor who poured flammable liquid on himself and lit a match.[66] But these were exceptions, not the rule. However, from 1930–33, once the Depression hit its stride, the number of suicides skyrocketed. In 1932 alone, it tripled.[67] The men and women who killed themselves contributed very little to their own survival or to that of their closest relatives.

Back in 1897, the seminal French sociologist Emile Durkheim compiled a set of statistics that demonstrated the rise of self-inflicted deaths after the market crashes of 1873 and 1882, and coined the term “altruistic suicide.” Durkheim seemed to sense that beneath the surface, the suicide was destroying himself to rid the wider social group of a burden.[68] Sociologist and ethnologist Marcel Mauss, a relative and follower of Durkheim, was even more specific. He noted an occasional “violent negation of the instinct for self-preservation by the social instinct.”[69]

If our actions are geared to increasing the odds that our personal genes or those of our near relatives will make it into the next generation, what is the reason for suicide’s existence? And what about the other bits of death-in-life built into the human psyche? Why do humans get depressed? Why do they sometimes feel like crawling off into a corner and dying? There is an answer, but it doesn’t quite square with the notion of genes fighting for themselves no matter what. We are part of a larger organism and occasionally find ourselves expendable in its interests.

This idea is not very fashionable at the moment. Evolutionists, myself included, believe that competition is vital to the creation of new species. The beast with the bigger brain, the sharper claw, or the cleverer way of building a nest outdoes his or her clumsier rival and has more children. His offspring inherit his advantageous cranial capacity, natural weaponry, or architectural skill and in turn have plentiful broods of their own. Within a few hundred thousand generations, the creatures with the anatomical or mental advantages have outbred their dull-witted or blunt-pawed rivals. Less favored creatures may easily find themselves extinct. According to the current evolutionary party line, this competition takes place between individuals. The idea that it could occur between groups has been resoundingly dismissed because of a chain of arbitrary twists in the history of evolutionary theory.

The concept of evolving life dawned long before the publication of Charles Darwin’s theories. In roughly 580 B.C., the Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus declared that life had not been created by the gods but had emerged by natural means from water.[70] Twenty-three hundred years later, Enlightenment thinkers like France’s Georges-Louis Buffon reinterpreted petrified oddities formerly dismissed as stone tongues and dragon’s teeth. The objects, the audacious naturalists said, were parts of fossilized creatures from a previous era. Using the latest theories of geology, Buffon and his fellow iconoclasts demonstrated that placement of fossils in the rocky strata suggested primitive creatures had occupied the earth far before the supposed biblical date of Creation and had progressed to increasing levels of complexity as they’d moved from their birthplace in the seas to footholds on dry land.

Meanwhile, Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis, another scholar who preceded Darwin by a hundred years, worked out a remarkably prescient theory explaining how advances from one species to another might occur. Even Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus Darwin anticipated his younger relative by more than half a century, putting forth an evolutionary overview in his Zoonomia (1796). But it was Darwin’s meticulous fact gathering,[71] his family connections, and his methodical campaign to win over the scientific community that finally reoriented the thinking of specialists and laymen alike. (Darwin kept a checklist of influential thinkers, then used his social ties to bring them on board one by one.) As a result, Darwin’s 1859 Origin of the Species created a splash so great that its propositions were even the subject of newspaper cartoons.

Twenty-seven years earlier, Darwin’s evolutionary thinking had been thrown into high gear when a book called An Essay on the Principle of Population brought the young naturalist’s attention to the hyperactive output of the replicatory system. The essay was the work of Thomas Robert Malthus, a pessimistic English clergyman who had proposed in 1798 that food supplies increase at a sluggish arithmetic rate, while population explodes in a geometric progression, making mass death through starvation inevitable. Population excess of this magnitude, Darwin concluded, would create competition for survival. And the creatures best suited to get the most out of a hostile environment would be the contestants who survived.

Hence Nature would prune her flock like the breeders of sheep near the Kentish country home where Darwin did most of his writing. These careful squires selected for reproduction only the animals that were the hardiest and produced the most wool. A culling of this sort performed by nature, if continued over eons, would produce radical changes in a species. Because of the similarities between the methods of gentleman farmers and the less tender mechanisms of competition in the wild, Darwin dubbed the results of the battle for survival “natural selection.”

Darwin saw competition taking place at several levels, including that which occurs between individuals and that which occurs between groups. When discussing ants, he acknowledged that evolution could easily induce individuals to sacrifice their self-interest to that of the larger social unit.[72] In his later writings, he proposed that a similar process occurs among human beings.[73]

In the 1930s, a new school of “population geneticists” led by men like J. B. S. Haldane and Sewall Wright cranked out theories whose arcane mathematical formulas gave evolutionists the sense that they were making the climb from Darwin’s mere observation and speculation to the higher scientific ground normally occupied primarily by those most envied practitioners of the discipline, physicists. The popularity of Haldane and Wright’s algebraic hypotheses grew despite a substantial flaw: they were not strongly supported by empirical evidence. Equally disturbing, each of the formulations seemed based in large part on the premise that the individual is the basic unit of evolutionary change. Competition between groups had been hustled off the stage.

Then, in 1962, the Scottish ecologist V. C. Wynne-Edwards, a careful observer of his country’s native red grouse, concluded that these birds sometimes sacrificed their reproductive privileges to keep their flock from starvation. The grouse, Wynne-Edwards contended, gauged the amount of food the moors could provide each year and adjusted their behavior accordingly, delaying breeding when supplies looked meager or even opting for total chastity.[74] The interests of the group, concluded Wynne-Edwards, overrode those of the individual.

The backlash to the University of Aberdeen professor’s heresy was immediate and intense. Scientists like G. C. Williams and David Lack declared that group selection was “all but impossible.”[75] And august theorists like W. D. Hamilton and R. L. Trivers explained away the “altruistic” tendencies Wynne-Edwards had discerned by generating a new mathematical system, the theory of kin selection, that said that individuals would only sacrifice their own interests in favor of others if the others in question were relatives, creatures who possessed similar sets of genes.[76] In other words, self-sacrifice represented an individualistic gene selfishly protecting a copy of itself.

The newly consolidated theories of individual and kin selection were hailed as major achievements and became biological dogma. Wynne-Edwards’s carefully reasoned theory, based on decades of fact gathering in the field, was tossed aside as a disreputable aberration. The Scotsman spent fourteen years in the heather gathering fresh information, tabulated the resulting statistics, and published the conclusions in his 1986 work Evolution through Group Selection. The book was virtually ignored.[77]

However, in the late eighties, an uneasy sense that evolution may not be limited to the level of the individual organism or gene showed signs of inching toward science’s peripheral vision. Stephen Jay Gould puzzled over the fact that there’s too great a variety of seemingly useless genes lurking in the chromosome—more than one would statistically expect if each gene were subjected to extermination by natural selection.[78] Some genes, he concluded, seem to be “invisible to selective pressures.” Competition between groups could account for the conundrum, since the group preserves a wide variety of individuals incapable of surviving on their own; however, Gould sidestepped considering this option. Though he was forced to acknowledge that not all selection takes place on the individual level, he contended that selection transpires below that level between gene fragments and above that level between species. Gould assiduously avoided mentioning the possible importance of social groups.

California State University’s David J. Depew and Bruce H. Weber, on the other hand, asserted forthrightly that “a group … can be considered as an ‘individual’” and that “the population level remains primary” as a unit of selection. But their brief observation, buried in a work on an unrelated subject, went unnoticed.[79]

E. O. Wilson, in his keystone book Sociobiology, cites numerous examples of behavior in which individuals sacrifice themselves for the good of the larger whole. But current theory continues to explain these away by claiming that members of the group who give up their lives do it to protect brothers, sisters, and cousins who share bits of the same genetic legacy.

Much of the enthusiasm over the theory of kin selection comes from W. D. Hamilton’s brilliant mathematical demonstration of how genetic relatedness might account for the cohesion of bees, wasps, and other Hymenoptera in a hive. However, recent evidence shows that Hamilton’s 1964 notion doesn’t always mesh with the real world. Tropical wasps live together in cooperative colonics and function as a social unit. Most of the females become workers and give up on having offspring of their own, working not in their own interests or that of their kin, but in the interests of the group. Yet they do not show the high degree of family relationship—i.e., genetic similarity—predicted by Hamilton.[80]

In many cases, human beings who willingly form squadrons, march off, and fight to the death have no genes in common at all. In fact, during the American Civil War, relatives squaring off on opposite sides did not protect those who shared their genes; instead, they threatened to destroy them.

Even more damning, women in a murderous frame of mind usually do away with their own children.[81] Researcher Donald T. Lunde says, “[A]lmost all infants who are killed are killed by their mothers.”[82] These mothers wipe out the very offspring who would carry their genes into the next generation. (The next favorite target of a married woman is her husband or lover.) And these grim facts of life are not restricted to the United States. Murderers in the former Soviet Union, Hong Kong, and Britain also show a predilection for killing those who share their genes.[83]

Kin selectionists have had a difficult time explaining yet another mystery: why among some social animals a few members of the herd will stand up and shriek when a predator approaches, even at the risk of making themselves obvious to the predator and becoming his first meal. For example, a herd of Thompson’s gazelles is grazing quietly in an open East African field. A hungry leopard approaches quietly from downwind, holding its body low in the tall grass. Suddenly, a gazelle raises her head, cocks her ear, and freezes. A snapping sound has aroused her suspicions. Looking around, she spots the silhouette of the leopard’s head. What does she do? To enhance her own survival and that of her genes, her best strategy would be to move to the center of the herd, making herself as unobtrusive as possible. The leopard would then pick off some unsuspecting and unrelated creature on the herd’s periphery. The gazelle’s worst move, on the other hand, would be to draw attention. Research shows that predators almost invariably go for a herd animal that is acting differently from the rest.[84]

But the gazelle who has just spotted the clawed creature does not quietly blend into the bunch. She breaks into a strange run punctuated by abrupt jumps into the air. Her behavior alerts her herd-mates to the prowling cat. One after another, they join the running and jumping. The leopard, thrown off by the commotion, eventually gives up and walks away.[85]

The Thompson’s gazelle is not alone. Social animals of all kinds—mammals and birds alike—shriek, thump, or jump to warn their companions of an impending attack. Every one of the shriekers takes the chance that its warning gesture will make it the first victim of the hunter’s assault. The theory of kin selection says the jumping or thumping animal is protecting its relatives. In a small number of cases, this hypothesis has worked out brilliantly, but in many others, it has been a failure. Large groups of animals do not just consist of brothers, sisters, and cousins. In fact, mobs like the flocks of birds that migrate thousands of miles each spring and fall seem to contain very few close relatives at all.[86] Yet members of the flock still shriek a warning when a hungry raider approaches. Why do these creatures choose to make themselves conspicuous?

A stealthy meat eater will have an easy time creeping up on a group whose members dare not act as lookouts for their neighbors. That social band’s days on the savannah are numbered. But the aggregation whose participants court destruction by shrieking is primed for self-defense. An occasional individual may suffer, but the group will live to face another day.[87]

Individual selectionists have made a heroic effort to deal with the problem of altruism via the concept of kin selection. But there is a more subtle challenge to the primacy of personal survival that they haven’t yet dared tackle: intropunitive behavior. In the 1950s, psychologist Harry Harlow at the University of Wisconsin wanted to see how necessary the love of a mother and friends were to humans. He couldn’t wrench newborn babies from their mothers’ arms and raise them in isolation cages, but he could do the next best thing. He tried the experiment on newborn monkeys. The simians raised without social contact frequently sat in a corner of their cage, curled into a ball, their eyes staring emptily into space, and chewed at their own skin, gouging themselves until they bled. That is intropunitive behavior.[88]

When you feel like kicking yourself around the block, you are in the grip of the intropunitive force. At times, whole herds of humans have unleashed this impulse in an orgy of self-punishment. Once a year, during the festival of Muharram, the Shiite men of the Middle East parade through the streets pulling out their hair, lacerating their scalps with swords, covering themselves in their own blood, and even injuring themselves with wounds that kill.[89]

Occasionally, the imagination can cooperate with the intropunitive emotions to make the mind a living hell. Some extreme Christian fundamentalists see demons and Satan lurking in every shadow. Their imaginations have created creatures that constantly threaten to torment them. The slightest slip from the true path, they feel, can send Satan’s minions writhing through every vein of their body. These visions of dancing demons do little to enhance an individual’s survival or that of his genes. In fact, during the first thousand years of Christianity, many of the devout swore there was one sure way to avoid Satan’s seductive embrace: chastity. A few castrated themselves; others withdrew to the cloister and swore off sex forever. Most of these died childless.[90]

In a sense, there are demons lurking in the human flesh ready to explode with activity. They are biologically built-in self-destruct mechanisms. A talented advertising executive in New York was suffering from an unusual problem: phobia of cancer. He didn’t have cancer, but his fear of it had practically incapacitated him. One night, he called all his friends at three o’clock in the morning in a panic, convinced that numerous vessels in his brain had hemorrhaged and that blood was filling his sinus passages to the point of a fatal explosion. Finally, one friend took him to the emergency room of a local hospital, where he was diagnosed as having a minor virus that gave him a stuffed nose. The next day, the executive fell into a panic again, certain that his nose was about to burst and kill him.

Something was running rampant through his psyche, tormenting this man; but it wasn’t a physical disease in the standard sense of the term. The tormentor was a set of self-destruct processes that wait within us for their day of use. In the case of the man with the cancer phobia, the day had arrived, in part, because his career as a successful executive had come to a sudden halt a year earlier when the company for which he’d been working shut down.

Wynne-Edwards has demonstrated that red grouse on the moors of Scotland compete with each other at the beginning of the season for territory. The winners end up comfortably fed and mated, but the losers usually die of predation or disease. The deaths, says Wynne-Edwards, are “the aftereffects of social exclusion.”[91]

In the body, each cell comes equipped with a mechanism for what scientists call “apoptosis,” “programmed cell death,” “an intrinsic cell suicide program” that researchers at University College in London say must be actively restrained from going into action by positive feedback indicating the cell is necessary to the larger organism.[92] When a hospital patient is forced to spend months in bed, seldom using his legs, many of the legs’ constituent cells, sensing that they are no longer needed, dwindle to mere shadows of their former selves. Others simply disappear.[93] When a human spends weeks or months in space, his heart no longer has to labor mightily, pumping blood upward in defiance of gravity’s force. The heart shrinks dramatically[94] as the cells that no longer deem themselves of value scale down to an existence just one step removed from death. The individual is a cell in the social superorganism. When he feels he is no longer necessary to the larger group, he, too, begins to wither away.

As we’ll see more clearly in later chapters, the demons driving the advertising executive mad were the circuits of social disposal, “intrinsic suicide programs” similar to those that remove cells whose lives are no longer needed by the larger social beast. If our instincts were geared solely to the survival of ourselves and our relatives, such internal demons could not exist.[95]

Excerpted from The Lucifer Principle by Howard Bloom. Copyright © Howard Bloom, 1997. All rights reserved.

[63] Suicide was so popular among Valentino’s bereaved fans that even two years after his death, women were still sending letters that read like this one: “How can we go on in this life when you are in the hereafter? My life is empty, a void, send me a sign that you want me in heaven and I will join you there” (Irving Shulman, Valentino [New York: Simon and Schuster, Trident Press, 1967], 25, 370). See also New Encyclopaedia Britannica 12:243.

[64] For the manner in which the Japanese viewed their superiority as a blessing from their gods, see Edwin O. Reischauer, The Japanese (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press, 1981), 217–19; and W. G. Beasley, The Meiji Restoration (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1972), 75.

[65] John Toland, The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire (New York: Random House, 1970).

[66] John Kenneth Galbraith, The Great Crash: 1929 (1954; Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1988), 128–30.

[67] William Manchester, The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of America—1932–1972 (New York: Bantam Books, 1974), 55.

[68] Emile Durkheim, Suicide: A Study in Sociology, trans. John A. Spaulding and George Simpson (New York: Free Press, 1951), 217, 241; Walter T. Martin, “Theories of Variation in the Suicide Rate,” in Suicide, ed. Jack Gibbs (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), 76–77; and T. O. Beidelman, “Emile Durkheim,” in Academic American Encyclopedia (Danbury, Conn.: Groher, 1985), 6:306.

[69] Marcel Mauss, Sociology and Psychology: Essays by Marcel Mauss, trans. Ben Brewster (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979), 19–20. These essays were delivered in the 1920s.

[70] P. Diamandopoulos, “Thales of Miletus,” in Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Paul Edwards (New York: Macmillan, 1967), 8:97.

[71] Alan Moorehead, Darwin and the Beagle (Newport Beach, Calif.: Books on Tape, 1969).

[72] Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, ed. J. W. Burrow (London: Penguin Books, 1968), 257. (Originally published in 1 859.)

[73] Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (London: John Murray, 1871), 93.

[74] V. C. Wynne-Edwards, Animal Dispersion in Relation to Social Behavior (New York: Hafner, 1962).

[75] David L. Hull, Science as a Process: An evolutionary Account of the Social and Conceptual Development of Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 210. For a further summation of the attacks on Wynne-Edwards and individual selection, see Eric Alden Smith and Bruce Winterhalder. “Natural Selection and Decision-Making: Some Fundamental Principles,” in Evolutionary Ecology and Human Behavior, ed. Eric Alden Smith and Bruce Winterhalder (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1992), 29–32. One of the primary arguments used to dismiss Wynne-Edwards and group selection has been that competition between groups is not sufficiently frequent to be statistically significant. Yet Charles Janson, associate professor of ecology and evolution at SUNY Stony Brook, cites “the frequency of between-group contests” as one of “the two major ecological benefits of large social groups” among primates. And he makes this assertion in a book that repeatedly expresses the obligatory skepticism about group selection (Charles Janson, “Evolutionary Ecology of Primate Social Structure,” in E. A. Smith and Winterhalder, Evolutionary Ecology and Human Behavior, 106, 109).

[76] For J. B. S. Haldane’s early suggestions of the concept of kin selection, see Hull, Science as a Process, 60.

[77] V. C. Wynne-Edwards, personal correspondence with the author.

[78] Stephen Jay Gould, Hen’s Teeth and Horses’ Toes (New York: W. W. Norton, 1984).

[79] For Depew and Weber’s assertions that “there is a plurality of biological units and levels at which and between which … evolutionary processes can act,” see David J. Depew and Bruce H. Weber, “Consequences of Nonequilibrium Thermodynamics for Darwinism,” in Weber, Depew, and J. D. Smith, Entropy, Information, and Evolution, 318, 326, 334–35, 338–39. For other tentative approaches to these ideas, see also: Leo W. Buss, The Evolution of Individuality (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987), viii, 171; Dorion Sagan, “What Narcissus Saw: The Oceanic ‘I’/’Eye,’” in The Reality Club, ed. John Brockman (New York: Lynx Books, 1988), 204–6; and Hull, Science as a Process, 59, 402. Meanwhile, David P. Barash sums up the state of mainstream scientific thought on group versus individual selection in Sociobiology and Behavior, 70–79.

[80] David C. Queller, Joan E. Strassman, and Colin R. Hughes, “Genetic Relatedness in Colonies of Tropical Wasps with Multiple Queens,” Science, November 1988, 1155–57.

[81] Donald T. Lunde, Murder and Madness (San Francisco: San Francisco Book Co., 1976), 5.

[82] Lunde, Murder and Madness, 5; see also Lunde, Murder and Madness, 98–99.

[83] Lunde, Murder and Madness, 45. Martin Daly and Margo Wilson attempt to address this problem with a model based on kin and individual selection in “Evolutionary Social Psychology and Family Homicide” (Science, 28 October 1988, 519–23). Unfortunately, their hypothesis is tortuous and assiduously avoids the frequency with which women kill their own children. Daniel G. Freedman presents a much more convincing approach in Human Sociobiology, 22.

[84] Douglass H. Morse, Behavioral Mechanisms in Ecology (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980), 123–24.

[85] Donald R. Griffin, Animal Thinking (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), 78–82; and Bernhard Grzimek, Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1972), 13:295.

[86] “Little precise information exists about the relatedness of the members of most natural populations” (Morse, Behavioral Mechanisms in Ecology, 119–20); “Temporary seasonal groups, such as wintering flocks of migratory sparrows … are unlikely to be composed of closely related individuals” (Morse, Behavioral Mechanisms in Ecology, 122).

[87] For a different approach to the problem of self-sacrifice, see Herbert A. Simon, “A Mechanism for Social Selection and Successful Altruism,” Science, 21 December 1990, 1665–68.

[88] H. F. Harlow and M. K. Harlow, “Social Deprivation in Monkeys,” 138; H. F. Harlow and G. Griffin, “Rhesus Monkeys,” 99–105; H. F. Harlow, Learning to Love, 113; Ernest R. Hilgard, Psychology in America: A Historical Survey (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987), 400; and Allan M. Schrier, “Harry F. Harlow,” Academic American Encyclopedia 10: 50–51.

[89] For a detailed description of the festival of Muharram, see Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power, trans. Carol Stewart (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984), 146–54.

[90] For a thorough history of early Christianity’s love affair with celibacy, see Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988).

[91] V. C. Wynne-Edwards, Evolution through Group Selection (Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1986), 87, 91–93.

[92] Marcia Barinaga, “Cell Suicide: By ICE Not Fire,” Science, 11 February 1994, 754–56; Martin C. Raff et al., “Programmed Cell Death and the Control of Cell Survival: Lessons from the Nervous System,” Science, 29 October 1993, 695 99; M. Stroll, “Genes Determine When Cells Live or Die,” Science News, 11 April 1992, 230; and Gabrielle Strobel, “Guardian Genes,” Science News, 15 January 1994, 44–45.

[93] Danny A. Riley of the Medical College of Wisconsin, who ran an experiment with five rats in the Soviet Cosmos satellite, discovered that when weightlessness renders excess musculature unnecessary, “muscles not only shrink but also lose blood vessels, nerve connections and even their own cells.” These disturbingly deleterious effects showed up in only two weeks (“Muscles in Space Forfeit More than Fibers,” Science News, 29 October 1988, 277).

[94] According to Soviet research, confirmed in the author’s personal communication with NASA.

[95] The Native American Crow tribe ritually lopped off the joint of one finger. The Sioux ran thongs under their pectoral muscles, then were hoisted toward the sky until a muscle tore. African tribes have mutilated themselves with ritual scarifications, while the primitive tribes of Malaysia have indulged in painful piercing and distension of the earlobes. How could there possibly be an adaptive value to these practices? Quite simple. By opening wounds in the body, the rituals invited infection. Those who survived the deliberate breach in the body’s protective barriers and overcame the resultant microbial invasion had immune systems that would stand their progeny in good stead. Most of the rites’ that sliced through the fortress of the skin took place as part of the ceremony that allowed young males or females to pass into adulthood, when sexual activity is permitted and reproduction becomes a possibility. Those who didn’t survive the ordeal did not get to reproduce. For the individual, self-mutilation was not a great way to ensure survival, but it was an effective way to raise the overall health of the group (for information on the Crow Indians, see Dudley Young, Origins of the Sacred: The Ecstasies of Love and War [New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991], 223; for Malaysia, see Redmond O’Hanlon, Into the Heart of Borneo [Edinburgh: Salamander Press Edinburgh, 1984]).

Howard Bloom has been called “next in a lineage of seminal thinkers that includes Newton, Darwin, Einstein, [and] Freud” by Britain’s Channel4 TV, “the next Stephen Hawking” by Gear Magazine, and “The Buckminster Fuller and Arthur C. Clarke of the new millennium” by Buckminster Fuller’s archivist. Bloom is the author of The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History (“mesmerizing” – The Washington Post), Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century (“reassuring and sobering” – The New Yorker), The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism (“Impressive, stimulating, and tremendously enjoyable.” James Fallows, National Correspondent, The Atlantic), The God Problem: How A Godless Cosmos Creates (“Bloom’s argument will rock your world.” Barbara Ehrenreich), How I Accidentally Started the Sixties (“a monumental, epic, glorious literary achievement.” Timothy Leary), and The Muhammad Code: How a Desert Prophet Gave You ISIS, al Qaeda, and Boko Haram – or How Muhammad Invented Jihad (“a terrifying book… the best book I’ve read on Islam,” David Swindle, PJ Media).

Bloom explains that his field is “mass behaviour, from the mass behaviour of quarks to the mass behaviour of human beings.” That specialisation gives him a wide scope. His scientific work has been published in:, the leading pre-print site in advanced theoretical physics and mathematics; PhysicaPlus, another physics journal; Across Species Comparisons and Psychopathology; New Ideas in Psychology; The Journal of Space Philosophy; and in the book series: Research in Biopolitics. In 2005, Bloom lectured an international conference of quantum physicists in Moscow – Quantum Informatics 2006 – on why everything they know about Schrodinger’s Equation is wrong, and the concepts Bloom introduced were later used in a book proposing a new approach to quantum physics, Constructive Physics, by Moscow University’s Yuri Ozhigov.

Bloom’s second book Global Brain was the subject of an Office of the Secretary of Defense symposium in 2010, with participants from the State Department, the Energy Department, DARPA, IBM, and MIT. Bloom is founder and head of the Space Development Steering Committee, a group that includes astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Edgar Mitchell (the sixth man on the moon), and members from the National Science Foundation and NASA. He has debated one-on-one with senior officials from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Gaza’s Hamas on Iran’s global Arab-language Alalam TV News Network. He has also dissected headline issues on Saudi Arabia’s KSA2-TV and on Iran’s global English language Press-TV. And he has probed the untold story of the Syrian Civil War with Nancy Kissinger.

In addition, Bloom’s work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, Knight-Ridder Financial News Service, the Village Voice, and Cosmopolitan Magazine. He has appeared 199 times for up to five hours on 500 radio stations on the highest-rated overnight talk radio station in North America, Clear Channel’s Coast to Coast AM, discussing everything from the biome in the gut and the evolution of the stars to the mechanism of the Great Recession of 2008 and North Korea’s rocket programme.

Bloom has his own YouTube series, Howard the Humongous, which gets up to 790,000 views per installment. His website,, has had between four and five million hits. Follow him on Twitter at @HowardxBloom.

The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History
By Howard Bloom
Atlantic Monthly Press (March 13, 1997)
ISBN-10: 0871136643
ISBN-13: 978-0871136640

The Wild Rants of Howard Bloom: Challenges the Assumptions of Science

TEDxMidTownNY – Howard Bloom – Every Poison is a Paradise in Waiting

The Incredible Journey of Howard Bloom | Full Interview

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