By Howard Bloom


The five main concepts-


Concept number one:

The principle of self-organizing systems  - replicators – bits of structure that function as minifactories, assembling raw materials, then churning out intricate products.  These natural assembly units (genes are one example) crank out their goods so cheaply that the end results are appallingly expendable.  Among those expendable products are you and me.


Concept number two:

We are not the rugged individuals we would like to be.  We are, instead, disposable parts of a being much larger than ourselves.


Concept number three:

The meme, a self-replicating cluster of ideas.  Thanks to a handful of biological tricks, these visions become the glue that holds together civilizations, giving each culture its distinctive shape, making some intolerant of dissent and others open to diversity.  They are the tools with which we unlock the forces of nature.  Our visions bestow the dream of peace, but they also turn us into killers.


Concept number four:

The neural net.  The group mind whose eccentric mode of operation manipulates our emotions and turns us into components of a massive learning machine.


Concept number five:

The pecking order.  The naturalist who discovered this dominance hierarchy in a Norwegian farmyard called it the key to despotism.  Pecking orders exist among men, monkeys, wasps, and even nations.  They help explain why the danger of barbarians is real and why the assumptions of our foreign policies are often wrong.


The five main parts of the social learning machine


1)      Conformity enforcers stamp similarities into a group to give it an identity (especially when faced with adversity) to make sure that the group speaks a common language. 

In humans this involves, among other things, a myriad of cruelties in the service of a shared world view which shapes the babies brain, and changes the way adults see (one group’s reality is another’s mass insanity).


2)      Diversity generators.  Each individual represents a hypothesis in the communal mind.  You can see this in the immune system.  Each antibody is a guess.  Different personality types are also on reserve.  Odd folks often supercharge our history.

3)      Inner judges are biological built ins that continually take our measure, rewarding us when our contribution seems to be of value and punishing us when our guesswork proves unwelcome or way off the mark.  These give us serotonin or stress hormones that sabatoge our immune system and energy.

4)      Resource shifters range from social systems to mass emotions. – but all shunt resources ruches admiration and influence to those who provide what the group needs.  Jesus summarized it thus, “To he who hath it shall be given; from he who hath not, even what he hath shall be taken away.”

5)      Intergroup tournaments go from friendly games and corporate competition to terrorist raids.  They create innovations and strategies that create the fun of winning AND survival.






Psychoneuroimmunology is a good word he uses.


Rene Spitz showed that up to 90 % of foundling home babies raised with excellent food, bedding, and sanitation but without love and cuddling died.


Harry Harlow showed monkeys without parents sat in cages whimpering and picked their skin and flesh till they bled.


Robert Sapolsky discovered how wil baboons who couldn’t gain status in their tribe were flooded with hormonal poisons which killed off their brain cells.


Apoptosis is a string of self-destruct mechanisms in nearly every cell.


Some complex adaptive systems, like rain forests, are biological.  Others, like human economies, are social.  And the ones computer scientists work with are usually electronic.  Neural networks and immune systems are particularly good examples.


A few of the T cells discover that their weaponry allows them to snag and disable the attackers.  These champions are allowed to reproduce with explosive speed. 


In the computerized neural net, nodes whose guesswork contributes to the solution with more electrical energy and with connections of a problem are far-flung skein of switch points they can join.


Rats in cages.  ½ can control the turning off of shocks.  ½ gets it turned off at the same time, but doesn’t control it.  The rats without control are scrawny, unkempt, and ulcerated.  The others plump and fit.


How could this internally inflicted damage aid the victims in projecting their precious genes into the next generation?  Apparently no one asked..


Grouse who lose in the power struggles loses the mating season battles and die over winter.


It is time to give up rigid individual selection as incompatible with group selection.



            ---------4.55 Billion b.c. to 1 billion bc-----------


12 billion years ago was the big bang.  First came quarks, neutrinos, photons electrons, then the quark trimvirates known as protons and neutrons.


Neutrons cannot sustain themselves for more than 10.3 minutes. They formed the two proton two neutron helium nucleus.  Those that didn’t died.  Those that did are immortal.


Protons, seem to be able to survive alone.  Flitting electrons were over whelmed by an electrical charge they needed to share.  Protons found these elemental sprites irresistible.  More marriages.


Those with unfinished valence shells connected and formed molecules to dust into celestial shards to asteroids, stars, solar systems galaxies.


One of the products of this inorganic copulation was life. Cynobacteria  are the earliest life. These prokaryotes had division of labor.  ATP was in existence.


 In communities these microbes made Stromatolites.  These had IQ!  They would rove when no food.  Modern bacteria still shift from pioneers to colonizers and back to pioneers again, leaving ripples of concentric circles.


They did so with attractor and repulsion cues.  Some send out chemical messages saying “avoid me” others say come to me and multiply.


They swapped genetic material like humans trading computer programs.  This is molecular gossip.



            ------------3.5 Billion bc to 520 million bc-------------------


2.2 billion bc came the early large eukaryotes.  Current theory says eukaryotic cells began as bacteria that took in fellow bacteria as boarders.


Oxygen was toxic to these early cells.  But mitrochondria gulped the Oxygen.

Cyclic AMP (short for adenosine monophosphate).  CAMP adjusts membranes, turns on energy producers, activates enzyme and can change a cell’s speed and direction. 


The average eukaryotic cell was ten times the size of a prokaryote.  Some 1000s of times.


All could detect chemical gradients.  But some developed photoreceptors on the flagella near the mouths.


Cell division introduced mutation and sex created more eukaryotic novelties.  Leaving a cell immobilized through its pregnancy was dangerous.  (bait and couldn’t seek food).  Thus begins multicellularity and the male female divide. And the body building cells being different from the sex cells.


Some of the earliest multicelled found were seaweeds (1.6 billion ago).  One clam was found from 720 million ago.  The early mollusk had a heart with three chambers.


Trilobites – army helmets of 600-500 million ago – had heads, eyes, sensory antannau, and all indications of a nervous system centralized in a brain.  Extrapolating from their living cousins (seahorse) the piles they are found in are probably remnants from when they’d get together, leave their shells, and mate and split.


Cells communicate with each other very well.  But multicelled don’t.  Our memory of needs and gains went inside the body.  It took a billion years to get back out.



            ----720 million bc to 65 million bc -----------


In roughly 2.1 billion bc eukaryotes had lost their worldwide mind.  Could they now evolve another of a very different kind?


Cells make proteins and swap genetic info easily.

720 million ago memory (the same system we and drosophilia use) starts. It takes time to digest (requiring repetition and rest).


When memory appeared, this opened the way for meme: a habit, a technique, a twist of feeling, a sense of thing, which easily flips from brain to brain.


500 million ago most of our ancestors appeared in the “Cambrian explosion”.Eurypterids were part of this and were the first life forms to walk on land. They are the ancestors of scorpions and had:

a central nervous system complete with a brain.

A focal ganglionic cable similar to our spinal chord.

And an extensive lace of wiring which controlled their legs, mouth, gut and all in between

AND six inch eyes!


This all allowed learning.  Octopus shocked when a teddy bear is outside of their encasement get afraid of the teddy bear: LEARINGING!

Now a second octopus watches the first.  It gets it too!  Without shock.  In fact, it will learn fear faster via imitation than if shocked on its own. 


This is a primordial meme, no genetic information was exchanged.


Schooling is a pivotal defense for fish.  If you trick guppies into falling for a different color than normal male and others see it, they will prefer the same.


Crayfish and lobsters and insects come around 300 million bc.  In crustaceans the pecking order shows up.  Lobsters go around at night looking for showdowns with other lobsters.  After a pushing match, the winner crustacean struts on the tips of his toes, the loser slinks subserviently backward.  The victor’s confidence comes from serotonin.  The results are mirrored in food distribution.


Bees will figure out an arithmetic progression if you move their food source twice as far away each day.  This is like an SAT  question.


Returning bees do the waggle dance.  Others must verify their discovery.  They choose to search leads based on the length of the dance.  They pool average inputs and the mass mind makes calculations beyond any single bee’s capacity.


To make the yearly 50 lbs of nectar bees must make over 4 million trips and go 12 million miles (482 flights around the world)



            -------complex adaptive systems in Jurassic days--------------


75 percent of westerners live in cities.  Mexico’s percentage went from 25% to 70% in two generations.  Why do we have this passion for congregation?


130 million years ago, the fossils of early birds show they were probably already in flocks.  The larger the flock the larger the area they must migrate to feed and the more prone to famine.  Why do they join?  INFORMATION


Ravens isolated, then shown meat, find a roost and tell all about it.  Then come back leading others.  Roost as information sharing hub. 


journey to the heart of a learning machine

Research from boardrooms to celebrity imitation show that the collective learning machine achieves its feats by using five elements. 

1)      conformity enforcers

2)      diversity generators

3)      inner-judges

4)      resource shifters

5)      intergroup tournaments









  1. Bacterial colonies utilize the conformity enforcer of the genome.  Which, among other things, imposes a common language so that every member of the community responds to the same chemical and molecular vocabulary.
  2. Bascillus colonies are riddled with diversity generators.  Other bacteria adopt an entirely different metabolic mode.  To them the excrement is caviar.  By snacking heartily on toxic waste, they prevent the colony from killing itself.

More diversity generators kick in when the colony’s glut runs out.  As famine approaches, individuals send out a “body odor” that says “spread out, flee, explore.”

  1. At this stage individual pioneers are the mercy of the third element of a complex adaptive system: inner-judges.  After sending out repulsion signals, the unfortunate losers reorganizes its genome in preparation for the self-dissolution of lysis – a lonely death.
  2. element of the complex adaptive system enters the petri dish: resource shifters.  Bacteria stranded in the desert are stripped of food , of popularity, and most important from the point view of the group brain, robbed of imitators.  Meanwhile, those that  find an overflowing buffet eat their fill and command the attention, emulation, and protection of a gathering multitude.


Neo-Darwinism said that bacteria stumble from one innovation to another by accident.

Ben-Jacob says “the genome makes calculations and changes itself according to the outcome.”

Severl researchers testing bacterial adaptivity have tormented  colonies with problems so overwhelming that they dwarf any individual bacterium’s solo computational powers.


An individual bacterium can crank nourishment out of this unpalatable medication only if it undergoes a step-by-step sequence of two genetic breakthroughs, one of which entails taking a giant step backward.  The odds of pulling this off through random mutation are 1 in ten thousand billion billion.  Yet E. coli consistently manage it.


  1. Intergroup tournaments.  Two bateria groups in a petri dish do chemical warfare on each other.


5 MAMMALS AND THE FURTHER RISE OF MIND 210 Million bc to 4 million bc


Memes come in two stripes:

Implicit, those which belong to the animal brain;

Explicit, those which depend on human neural add-ons.


Mammals appeared approximately 210 million years ago.  209 million years ago sex appeared.


So that creatures do not miss their tryst by a month or two , the beings must interlock their moves.  Courtship struts and tournaments set individuals to a public timer. 


With mammals came another network plug-in: parent-offspring linkage in a high-speed data trade. 


Among love-em and leave-em egg layers, whose broods hatched on their own, life could be short and crude.  But nipple-to-mouth dining required that mothers stay alive to supply food.  Longer life and drawn-out immaturity stretched the time when young and old were joined together, thus opening an adaptive opportunity. 


Then 65 million years ago, the asteroid hit us.  For socially networked animals with larger brains, catastrophe was rife with possibilities.  Mammals no longer had to hide in bodies smaller than a dinosnack and in holes too small for a dino paw.


Whereas chimps are being wiped out.  Baboons are spreading like cockroaches.  Why?  A vastly superior social web.  Predators usually get one.  Some baboons with toy with nearly everything.  At night, as honeybees, baboons get together and swap their “ideas” about the direction in which the richest food sources can be found.


One groups even learned from another to dig for salt near a watering hole.


Elephants being shot during the day started to be nocturnal.  These ones still are.


Dunbar showed that the larger the social group, the larger the cerebral cortex of each member.  This is clear in bats of various sociability.



            -----------------65 million bc to 30,000 bc---------------------

Behavioral memes, contagious ways of doing things, have knitted separate species into multitalented teams.


Zebras, crop the roughtest and tallest grasses, food too tough for wildebeests to eat.  This browsing exposes tender mid-height shoots upon which wildebeests can make their feast.  By the time the gazelles show up, the turf is sufficiently low to offer their favorite dish, ground-hugging greenery.  The grasses repay the pruning with fresh shoots and leaves.


Chimps pass on stick usage.


2.7 million years ago, Homo habilis began to crank out implements from stones and bones. Their brain was ½ our size.  But apparently had Broca’s area.  This allowed verbal memes (not just behavioral)


 A million years later, homo erectus made stone blades.


By 500,000 this technology had spread from Europe to China.  Fire had spread all over by 400,000 years ago.


But it wasn’t until between 200,000 and 100,000 bc that tool making showed signs of full-tilt, regional originality.  This coincides with a 20% boost in brain power.  Which arrives with Homo Sapien.




What in the world is reality?

Canadian neurologist Wilder Penfield’s studies are often cited by those who believe reality is something we can grab hold of and bite.


We have several different versions of what happened the night Lincoln was shot, from eye witnesses.


If you shine a light and play a faint tone over and over again, then turn on the light in utter silence, the mind will hear a tone that isn’t there.


Cells in the retina scrap 75% of light that enters the eye.  They diddle mercilessly with what is left.

Then it takes the data from 125 million neurons and crunches it down to the one million neuron optic nerve.  It goes through the thalamus where its mixed with all other input data. 


Plato said our spirit was divided between spirit reason and appetite.  Split brain patients bear the concept of split out.  Sexy coworkers make the split brain apparent.


Some think the final word comes from the left hemisphere




The greater the spryness of a massive enterprise, the  more internal communication it takes to support the teamwork of its parts.  For example, in all but the simplest plants and animals only 5 % of DNA is dedicated to manufacturing proteins.  95% do organization and administration.


80% of the cerebral cortex connects with other neurons, not with the outside world.

Individuals spend most of their time communicating with each other, not exploring their environment for meals.


Your limbic system aids in showing what to keep in memory.  What are you aware of now?  What of the other rooms?  What makes you sure they exist?  Only  your memory.


Almost every thing you “know” at any given second is a mere ghost held in memory.


“How fast was the white sports car going when it passed the barn while traveling along the country road?”  Several days later 17% said they’d seen a barn.

Shown another film and asked about the blonde driving the car that hit the bike, many couldn’t believe the brunette in the film was the same when it was shown again.


Asch got 75% to bleat in chorus with the herd.  When quizzed after, many said they had actually seen the mismatched lines as equal. 


Some did it out of self doubt.  Some lacked nerve to disagree.  Their eyes must have been playing tricks on them  they thought. 


Conformity enforced had tyrannized their vision and speech.

People have also misdesignated colors.

When they were asked they saw the appropriate afterimage. 


Babies lose 2/3rds of their language ability.  The 50% of neurons that don’t get used do apoptosis. 


Children less than a year old who see another child hurt show all the signs of undergoing the same pain.


When one year olds notice that another child’s eyes have fixated on an object, they swivel around to focus on that thing themselves.  If they don’t  see what’s so interesting, they look back to check the direction of the other child’s  gaze and make sure they‘ve got it right.


Children will change words and tastes to blend in (like ashe’s subjects) when in contrary groups.


When one person in a group expresses something negative about an outsider, how the rest of the group goes depends on the second person. 


And the ancients of our tribe exert enormous impact on what we become.


Though the same size, parents consistently describe baby girls as softer, smaller and less attentive.  Even femal students evaluating papers gave them higher marks when they thought a boy had written them.


Every word we use carries etymological histories and ontological assumptions.  We cannot distinguish  between reindeer hides, but others can.


Before the 1920s, the concept of “sibling rivalry” wasn’t in our vocabulary and didn’t show in  child rearing manuals.


Tribes starved that did not define fish as food.  We starve cause we don’t see insects as food.


For centuries people didn’t realize that Galen’s books described pigs and monkeys.



The offspring of humans are not alone at inflicting cruelty.  Gangs of young monkeys will harass mothers and form raids that carry out raids for revenge or fun.  Injured baboons are harassed and isolated.


Remember a networked learning machine’s most basic rule:  Strengthen those connections  that succeed, weaken those that fail.


At two months infants prefer attractive to unattractive faces.  We fawn on those we consider beautiful, overrate their intelligence and are eager to be their friends.


By twenty months, babies have a rich vocabulary for denigrating deviance.  They hate messed up wall paper and ripped clothes – they are incensed when things are “yucky”, “boo-boos”, “brokey” and “dirty”.


23% of school children have been attacked violently.  Some of the conformity patrol carry knives and guns.  There are more subtle forms of cruelty. 5-10% have no friends.


Unattractive children, ones with different religions, funny names, are tormented.  Those who do better are tormented, as do those who do worse. [THIS MEANS that AP classes, where the mean is success, are needed.]


Female  camp trendsetters are wicked conformity enforcers.  Jr. High girls are evil.  The rich must wear the right clothes in the right clubs to succeed.  In Llasa and tribes Darwin noticed laughter at others misfortune.  If anyone falls “they laugh for hours”.


In a study a man with a large birthmark was less likely to get help if in trouble on a subway.


Humiliation is one of the most common causes of childhood and teen suicide.  The puritans used “gazing stocks”.  By Victorian times, large anonymous cities shamed their children internally by sending them into their rooms.



            --------------The huddle and the squabble – group fission --------


Conformit gives the complex adaptive system called a social group stability.  But to adapt, the system needs a hefty dollop of something else too:  originality.


The diversity sex produces provides innumerable advantages.


Ironically, Conformity is strengthened when it’s shored up by its “enemy”- diversity.

Bacteria create amazing variation.  They out number us.


Women and men can’t resist the appeal of strangers from outside their group.  The fruit of their promiscuity is an influx of genes.




One wave after another of human ancestors trekked from Africa all over the world.  Why did they spread out?


It is possible to deduce that it was “creative bickering”.  The more alike in form and habit incects are the more likely they are to be enemies.  The greatest danger to man is man.

They have a hankering for the same sites, food and foraging space. 


E O Wilson noticed a group of fish in 12,000 years went from being very diverse separate species.


Yanamamo tribes grow until they reach three hundred members or so, then break into arguments between blood relatives.


The tendency to fight those alike when times get tough is a cardinal rule of “the selfish gene”.


In the Yanamamo the biggest clashes are between family members.



When food is plentiful bacteria call out to their bretheren to share.  But when it is scarce, the chemical message is “Keep your distance – get away”.  It drives colonies to fan out. 


People in good moods tend to engage in prosocial behavior.  Those in the absense of joy cut themselves off.  Shown a depressing film we avoid each other.  If a couple is having problems and one member attempts to do something comforting it is often seen as an attack.


Hot college students are more likely to shock others. 

American race riots happen when people are hot.



During the 2 million years when upright walkers fan out toward distant coasts, tools stayed the same.  By roughly 40,000 bc fresh innovations showered the scene.  Among them the spear thrower.


One result was population explosion. Creative bickering led to differentiation via clothing jewelry, etc.  Other hunting animals could use urine and musk glands to spray their territories with special scents.


77,000 years ago and 60,000 years ago early humans in Australia started circle rock symbols.  Sculptures and words probably were symbols that expressed differences and created conformity.


Other differences were likely to have appeared, including one it is currently unfashionable to contemplate – a minor retooling of each band’s genes. 

Different values would have led to each group having a separate vision of the Mr. Right.


Deviants  go away and adonises gain access to women and food.


Experiences with laboratory animals and guard dogs like pit bulls and Dobermans shows aggression is a highly cultivatable trait.


Just as the Yanomamo breed aggression in, the Eskimo breed it out.  One is rarely at war, the other always.


Anthropologists have noted how a splinter culture’s choice of sexual mate changes breast and penis shape.



            ---------------------8000 BC TO 3000 BC------------------

There is a power in the push and pull of opposites.  Roughly 130,000 years ago, the diversity generator of creative bickering drove tribes to run an artificial creases down their centers.


 There was hair splitting ahoy.In a sense each member of a Bear clan was one-half bear as well as one-half man.


10,000 years ago there was a quantum leap.  Cities were a quantum leap in tactical defense.


Jericho’s mortarless boulder walls, built when most humans were still living in huts and caves, were 6.5 feet thick and four times the height of a Neolithic man.  They were surrounded by a trench 9 feet deep and 27 feet wide. 


10,000 years later Michelangelo and L Da Vinci still had the same sort of fortifications.


With in the walls [read: membrane] specialization could happen.  This made the cities very attractive.


The abundance of food means that the city was not necessary  for survival.  One of four rooms in Catal Huyuk were shrines.  There were no agricultural motifs.  The tabernacle had the skulls of long-horned bulls.

The bull was a testosterone symbol.


Neolithic females kept sex from men to get them to give them meat (its been suggested)  The bull had the power to pierce. 


These towns were specialized trading hubs.  Economic competition sprang up.  They relied on agricultural workers, but started trading distant ideas.  Swelling choices created diversity, that traveled along trade routes and were incorporated via conformity enforcers.


A city was like a neural ganglion.


In Catal Huyuk each nuclear family’s two-room suite was completely self-contained, walled of with its own kitchen and sleeping nooks.


In a tribal society each member had been a generalist.  One group became  the priests.  A pampered elite.  

The priests lived in their own part of town, inhabited more spacious buildings than their fellow citizens.  None of the 200 priestly quarters in Catal Huyuk showed they did any work (cooking even).    They admired themselves in obsidian mirrors.  Their jewelry contain beads with holes too fine for penetration by a needle made by modern steel.


Soon all professions segregated themselves into little enclaves.  Weavers in one district, potters in another.


Groups create their own customs and fissure off.  But within the walls of the city, they did not fissure off, only  differentiate.  And competition between groups made cities cauldrons of creation.  The groups vied as subcultures for the post of fashion / cultural leader.