April 14th, 2011

Human Trip Tropes

In an earlier post, I summarized my rules of whether humans migrate and how:

(1) People don't move.
(2) If they do move, then they stay put.
(3) They go with people they know.

I'm going to post a few more:

(1) If there is a road, people are more likely to travel along the road than across fields or through forests. (The road could be a foot path.)

(2) They are more likely to travel along a road to a destination on that road than they are to follow that road to a branch, then go along that road to a destination. The more turns involved, the less likely they are to go there. (<-- That is not a joke.)

(3) They are more likely to travel along a road to a destination that they have been to before. They're only likely to go somewhere new based on a description (or with a guide) if they've seen someone come _back_ from that description (or from that guide) and it all turned out okay. (<-- Seriously, I'm not making any of this up.)

If you are an ordinary person living in a world of a few houses, you'll go absolutely everywhere in sight of and a close walk of those houses (this is actually the principle behind another set of rules which can be summed up as: Before the mid nineteenth century, there was no such thing as privacy for ordinary people), unless someone stops you (physically or by believable threat of violence). _And_ you probably won't go anywhere else. There will be a person or people in your world who _do_ go somewhere else (possibly quite a long ways away, even by our standards), but you don't have a lot to do with that person and neither do most people you know.

If you are a not-ordinary person living in a world of a few houses, you will not marry someone from nearby but you will marry someone very closely related to you -- they'll just happen to also be a not-ordinary person living in a world of a few houses and so forth and so on.

From the perspective of ordinary people living in a world of way more than a few houses, not to mention high schools and automobiles, if we know anything at all about the world described above, we know about it because the not-ordinary person is a friend of ours who went there with the Peace Corps and/or an NGO, or because we read a centuries old letter or journal or whatever written by someone not-ordinary. It is, therefore, quite difficult to make sense of this. We can, however, make an effort.

(1) can be thought of as "People will take a much longer route that involves familiar roads by preference to a shorter, unfamiliar route."

(2) can be thought of as, "We go back to our old doctor/dentist/hair stylist/etc., even after we move 20 miles away (or, in extreme cases, a thousand miles away)"

(3) can be thought of as going on vacation to the same place(s) year after year, until our friends convince us that Aruba (or wherever) is totally amazing and we have to go there yes we do.

There's a really, brutally obvious exception to all these rules, and it's That Guy Who Always Knows the Shortcut and Refuses to Ask for Directions. I'm willing to allow for the possibility of a few crazy people out there, altho I would note that if they are really breaking all these rules all the time, they're acting more like the guy from _Into the Wild_ than they are like, say, Marco Polo.

And how reproductively successful are those guys, anyway?

When I read people writing descriptions from anthropology or history or whatever of how people lived their lives and found other people to reproduce with, I see nothing, and I do mean _nothing_ but support for these rules. I didn't come up with these rules from some Idealized Platonic Fantasy World in My Head about How People Should Act. I came up with them as a way to summarize what I encountered. But when I read people trying to write up little computer probability models of how people move around and find other people to reproduce with, they systematically break every single rule.

All that? All that is _normal_. That's just people. Okay. It's bothering me some that so many of the programmers claim they are being conservative when they are being the opposite of conservative, but I was a young programmer once; I've done that, too.

What I can't quite get a handle on are the innumerate anthropologists who accept the results of the inhuman programming. The assumptions going into the models are all _dead flat completely wrong_ and where they could sort of be right, the input parameters are lunatic. And I mean that by the belief set of the innumerate anthropologists. Yet they are accepting the results. And the programmers seem to really believe their models are somehow related to what the anthropologists are doing, _even when they say they decided to ignore all the anthropology and history_. These people are _scoffing_ at each other, and then backslapping because they agree on the results.


IMO, of course.

Riffing on Henry Adams

In _Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres_, (available via google books), Henry Adams on page 14 or thereabouts writes:

"The aristocratic Norman names still survive in part, and if we look up their origin here we shall generally find them in villages so remote and insignificant that their place can hardly be found on any ordinary map; but the common people had no surnames, and cannot be traced, although for every noble whose name or blood survive in England or in Normandy, we must reckon hundreds of peasants. Since the generation which followed William to England in 1066, we can reckon twenty-eight or thirty from father to son, and, if you care to figure up the sum, you will find that you had about two hundred and fifty million arithmetical ancestors living in the middle of the eleventh century. The whole population of England and northern France may then have numbered five million, but if it were fifty it would not much affect the certainty that, if you have any English blood at all, you have also Norman. If we could go back and live again in all our two hundred and fifty million arithmetical ancestors of the eleventh century, we should find ourselves doing many surprising things, but among the rest we should pretty certainly be ploughing up most of the fields of the Cotentin and Calvados; going to mass in every parish church in Normandy; rendering military service to every lord, spiritual or temporal, in all this region; and helping to build the Abbey Church at Mont-Saint-Michel. From the roof of the Cathedral of Coutances over yonder, one may look away over the hills and woods, the farms and fields of Normandy, and so familiar, so homelike are they, one can almost take oath that in this, or the other, or in all, one knew life once and has never so fully known it since."

Adams waxes nostalgic for before we were in such a backwater. Really, you can read it. I refuse to reproduce it further.

A small portion of this passage is quoted in Shoumatoff's _Mountain of Names_ on page 234.

In Rohde, Olson, Chang (2004) in Nature, as quoted in Nature's press release at:


"No matter the languages we speak or the colour of our skin, we share ancestors with those who planted rice on the banks of the Yangtze, who first domesticated horses on the steppes of the Ukraine, who hunted giant sloths in the forests of North and South America, and who laboured to build the Great Pyramid of Khufu."

The language is recognizably the same.

The argument presented from Adams, through Murchie/Shoumatoff/Rohde et al, Brian Pears and others, is the same: random mating, exponential growth of ancestors limited by actual population size at any given point in history, handwave to claim that there are no isolated populations. The politics is similar as well: we are all (closely) related. But just underneath that warm fuzzy feeling of, hey, how closely related we are is that disturbing attempt to assimilate to one group the history and accomplishments of another group, through demonstration that all groups are connected (by a "close" common ancestor or ancestors).

That's not quite so warm and fuzzy. That's colonizing. Altho I'm now seriously waiting for someone to produce a similar quote from some Chinese, Egyptian or Vedic source, just to show that Adams _wasn't_ the first person to produce this argument but rather one in a line so ancient you could "in God's memory" trace it back to some chatty concestors of us and the chimps, hundreds of thousands of generations ago. After all, it's becoming increasingly clear that the first-cousin-or-not argument has been going on for all of recorded history (at least), with essentially the same arguments rallied on all possible sides.