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The Hidden Origins of Ideas

4 Post author: cleonid 28 March 2009 02:27AM


It is well known that people tend to inherit their world view toghether with their genes.  Buddhists are born to the Buddhists, Muslims are born to the Muslims and Republicans are born to the Republicans. While rejecting Predestination, a XVI century catholic could be fairly certain that, unlike hell-bound pagans in the Amazonian forests, most of his descendants would also be catholics.

Naturally independent minds can occasionally break with the tradition. A catholic, finding the Pope’s stance on Predestination inconsistent with the Scriptures, might turn to Protestantism. Hence, the invention of the printing press that made Bibles widely available may have been the root cause of the Reformation. Similarly, the spread of literacy to the lower classes may have eroded the influence of the church and popularized the secular ideologies, such as Marxism.

But could it be that when we break with the traditional mode of thinking, we are driven not by superior intellects or newly acquired knowledge, but rather by something we are not even aware of? Let’s take as an example the spread of seemingly unrelated ideologies of Protestantism and Marxism.




From left to right: The european countries painted blue are those with Germanic majority, those with large numbers of protestants (>45% of all believers), and those where communists electoral vote failed to rise above 10% within the last 60 years.

While the maps are not identical, there seems to be a strong correlation between peoples’ ethnic origins, their religious histories and the openness to the communist ideas. Of course, correlation does not imply causation. However, strong correlation between our views and those of people with a similar background, may suggest that factors other than logic are responsible for them. Unless, as in my case, a similar background means smarter/ more virtuous/ more rational/ getting secret revelations from Omega/… (circle the right answer).



Comments (7)

Comment author: jimrandomh 28 March 2009 03:51:14AM 13 points [-]

How many maps did you look at and discard before choosing those three?

Comment author: ciphergoth 28 March 2009 09:01:40AM 2 points [-]

Real rationalists use scattergrams.

Comment author: Yvain 28 March 2009 11:51:11AM *  8 points [-]

This is important stuff. Compare this post to Tom's observation that almost all Less Wrong readers are white 20-something males with a science degree.

Comment author: cleonid 28 March 2009 02:08:07PM *  5 points [-]

“our impressions are created by which countries have the most land area”

If you simply do the number count, you still find the correlation at more than 5 sigma level. I doubt that most people would care to read the full statistical analysis, which is why I’ve just shown the maps.

“Considering two completely arbitrary numbers (45%, 10%),”

Any thresholds I would use to color the maps might seem arbitrary. The reason I chose 45 and 10, rather than anything else, are large divides that exist between the two groups of countries. I found no countries that fall in the ranges of 20-45 and 6-10% (it follows that using any other threshold within these ranges does not affect the coloring).

"grouping together East and West Germany”

Taking historical considerations into account rather than taking the present borders would give me too much liberty to play with the data. The overall result, however, might be the enhancement of the effect. For instance, the current outliers – Protestant Finland and catholic Austria and Belgium might be explained by their history (in the former Protestantism was forced by the ruling Swedes, in the latter the initially successful Protestantism was suppressed by Habsburgs, the catholic champions of Europe).

"most variables in Europe tend to be somewhat continuous geographically”

Dependence of our opinions on seemingly unrelated factors, such as geographic origins, is what I wanted to explore.

Comment author: taw 28 March 2009 11:58:36AM 5 points [-]

Considering two completely arbitrary numbers (45%, 10%), taking percentage of Protestant relative to believers not population, very vague concept of "Marxism" (all social democratic parties are somewhat Marx-influenced, and you only picked those), your grouping together East and West Germany, even through in this context they're very much not, and that most variables in Europe tend to be somewhat continuous geographically ... You have so many free variables to manipulate here you can make it perfectly align with popularity of Pokemon vs Dora the Explorer, or pop vs techno.

Comment author: ciphergoth 28 March 2009 12:12:44PM 5 points [-]

Also note that the maps do all differ from each other, and our impressions are created by which countries have the most land area - it doesn't even use a population cartogram.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 29 March 2009 04:10:10AM 3 points [-]

I agree with your larger point. But in my mind, Germans, Protestantism over Catholicism, and rejection of communism are all correlated with... logic.