Human Cooperation and Mimetic Theory

I would like to talk here about my view of René Girard’s mimetic theory. This is a social science theory strongly supported by Peter Thiel.

At first I questioned this theory, because I think imitation, if it is near-instinctive behavior for all human beings, then its earlier version should also exist in the process of biological evolution. For example, we should at least find the instinct of imitation in mammals such as gorillas, monkeys, mice and so on, that is, to find evidence that imitation exists as a biological algorithm that is beneficial to biological survival.

But now I have found the evidence, so I now stand in support of Thiel and Girard. For example, gorillas are always in a social cluster with hierarchy and privileges, and the often unfair system of social relations still works well (in fact, this is an effective algorithm¹ for existence). What we need to ask is, what is the mechanism that allows all gorillas to comply with their code of conduct faultlessly? For example, low-level gorillas politely accept high-level gorillas unreasonably occupy more food, more female gorillas, more honors, and gorilla who used to be a common gorilla always become arrogant and cruel after becoming the king. It seems that one of the most important mechanisms is the imitation. Low-level gorillas will imitate other low-level gorillas, realizing that they are all similar or even the same. They will fight with their imitated targets, but never fight with the king. Only when a gorilla realizes he is as strong and as powerful as a gorilla king, then he will imitate the gorilla king’ desires (because he realizes they are the same), desires more food, more female gorillas, more honors, then conflict arises and the solution to the conflict is violence – through a battle, they re-establish who the king is.

In fact, this kind of situations are so common in the animal world that we can not ignore this as a fact that this algorithm of imitation acts as a basic algorithm in social groups of many higher organisms, and imitation is likely to become an instinct for social animals. The evocation of imitation requires that the individual realizes that he is just the same as the midiator of desires (such as the gorilla king), and then he imitate midiator’s desires, and then this situation evolves into conflict, due to the finiteness of objects of desires, or the exclusiveness of power etc. The solution to the problem of imitation conflicts is often to push the conflicts to the extreme.

Let’s talk about the situation of present people. On the one hand, modern democratic politics and its laws regard all individuals as identical; on the other hand, they use rationality (at least partial rationality) and limited collective violence to determine and punish violators of the rules set by the people. From the perspectives of collective behavior, game theory and evolution of biology, seems that it is the minimal-cost way to maintain the stability of the group, promote the ordered cooperation and competition of the group by imitating others that are similar or the same.

I hope to find a scientific basis for mimetic theory that based on game theory, complex system theory and mathematics. And this theory will be one of the basic perspectives on my study of human cooperation.

Note 1: I believe in a scientific philosophical theory called existence and algorithms theory. This theory developed by myself. In this theory, existences are the existent subjects that can run “algorithms”, the subjects that follows some inherent rules. A good example is cellular automaton, a single cell in a cellular automaton system is an existence, and a cell cluster in which is also an existence that follows some certain rules, or we say, algorithms. Similarly, an atom, a cell, a cell group, a man, a human group, a nation cluster and so on, these are all existences.


I am trying to contact Dr. MA Nowak and Dr. DG Rand for my research on human cooperation for UBI movement. And I guess you will be interested in my thoughts. So here you are (captured from the email):

My research originates from a thinking that, is war a necessary part of human life? Soon I began to think some related questions, including “why people are divided into different nations or states?” And so on.

My basic view is that all these questions are human cooperation issues. The limited resources are only superficial reasons. The fundamental reason is that human beings’ cooperation ability is limited. As a result, human beings can’t rapidly produce or create things through effective cooperation to meet the growing needs of mankind. People have to compete for limited existing things, Thus causing the war. However, despite the limited capacity of human cooperation, human beings are still able to cooperate effectively and sustainably in a limited-size group of people that manifest themselves as nations, countries or members of the same religion. And wars are always adjusting human groups’ relations, or removing groups that are not strong enough to compete (usually they are eliminated because of their poor ability to cooperate). The potential benefits of human cooperation are so immeasurable, so human life improves when the whole human cooperation ability progresses, because of much more things produced or created. While mankind pursues a better life, human cooperation is always enhanced. This is the inertia of human cooperation. More effective cooperation means more efficient production and more rapid innovation that truly and continuously solve the demand of mankind, not human beings (such as war).

In the end I formed an anthropological or historical point of view: the essence of why mankind became mankind lies in cooperation, and human history is the history of cooperation. The general evolution of history is the history of the emergences, applications and improvements of languages, currencies, religions, institutions, nations, transportations and communications.

The emergence of language allowed human beings to go beyond the biological limits of cooperation, enabling mankind to organize the largest group of cooperation in nature and with more flexibility than ever before. The emergency and application of characters make human cooperation go beyond space and time constraints, and mankind can cooperate with people from far away or the future.

The second truly great revolution of human cooperation is the emergence of currency. This is the first large-scale, distributed and decentralized exchange system designed by human beings, and it’s one of the earliest and most successful stories created by mankind. Money makes it unnecessary for mankind to accept orders for division and cooperation in a small, easily accessible community, but to deal with locals and merchants from afar according to each other’s needs. The revolutionary nature of this revolution lies in the fact that human cooperation is no longer based on direct contact with each other, but on the common story that built mutual trust. This story transcended out of the foundation of previous cooperation, and it’s free, flexible and decentralized.

Nations, religions, states, institutions and even the entire culture are the main common objects of anthropological and historical studies. It is my understanding that these are all procedures, rituals, products, or the carrier of these for human cooperation. Among them, the nations and the states are due to the limited cooperation ability of human, the restriction comes from the poor transportation, inconvenient communication, different language, conflicting beliefs and so on. In fact, the connotation of cooperation is that talented people do what they could and get their returns. This requires the respect and protection of private property and the free exchange. In order to realize this, a corresponding institution system is needed to be built to protect it. Each religion often presupposes a meaning of existence, and humans always hope that their lives are meaningful. Because they share the same presupposed meanings and believe a common story, they can cooperate more effectively. The contemporary presupposed meaning is that people always seek a better life by earning more wealth. To achieve this, there is no doubt that people need to join the cooperation network, and if they choose not to cooperate, they can’t even survive.

My understanding of personal wealth is that when personal wealth exceeds a certain limit, wealth is not a personal property in the normal sense, but represents a person’s power to allocate resources. If a person has the ability to earn a great deal of wealth far beyond the individual’s spending capacity, he undoubtedly should have bigger power of allocating resources, because he knows better how to use resources efficiently. People should not hate someone out of jealousy, they just don’t have that ability. This is actually a point of view of human cooperation: we should make sure that people can play their talents, we should raise this possibility. There is no doubt that capitalism accomplishes this well incidentally. In fact, the liberal socioeconomic system is also one of the greatest creations in the history of human cooperation, because it is a decentralized, flexible and effective system of cooperation.

After the widespread use of language and money, and with the appropriate system of protection (but not the cessation of institutional improvement), the main obstacles to human cooperation have become poor transportation, inconvenient communication, different language, conflicting beliefs and many more. For a better life, mankind built stronger transportation and communication networks, studied each other’s languages, and preached the religion of capitalism. These are the themes of human history since modern times.

Naturally, I learned about your work while doing the research. I hope for your help in completing this research: I plan to write an anthropological or historical book for the entire human cooperation and take a closer look at how it evolved. I plan to assign values ​​to the level of human cooperation, assign values ​​to the entire human race and various human groups (nations / states), and explore the relationship between the development level of human cooperation and the social and economic development level. This requires us design an algorithm that considers factors include languages, currencies, religions, institutions, states, nations, transportations and communications, and it can be a reliable evaluation of human cooperation level.

I read your text that can be found online carefully. I have formed a vague cognition of the five rules that proposed by you: ​​the direct reciprocity corresponds the face-to-face oral language and the function of goods exchange, indirect reciprocity corresponds to verbal gossip (that is, two persons talk about stories of others, or a person write down others’ stories and spread them) or the function of characters, spatial selection and group selection generally reflect the factors that restrict cooperation to a wider area such as poor transportation and communication, so cooperation is confined to a small space or a small group, and of course there are competitions between different cooperation groups, kin selection also reflects the distribution of people’s ability to cooperate in the ties of blood, reflects people’s selfishness and so on. If the transportation and communication capabilities make great progress, the scope and degree of human cooperation will increase greatly. Modern transport networks, especially modern communication technologies, have greatly expanded human cooperation capacity and promoted human beings’ tolerance.

I hope to systematically study these ideas of you, and I’ll try to extend them to this social science study.

My ultimate goal is to end the cooperation at this stage, which needs to first peak the cooperation at this stage. I’ve made some preparations for the end of this, though this preparation may not play a major role in 50 years: I have established a social organization called UBIforALL( that aims to promote the process of universal basic income. My thought is different from the international mainstream movement of UBI, I think that in the process of UBI we can’t give up people those who have fallen behind in modernization process, especially in Africa. So my organization will mainly devote to study how to promote the development of underdeveloped areas while promoting UBI. The network of cooperation should cover those backward regions, because if we don’t help them integrate into the cooperation network, they will be in an another group from us, then there will be conflicts and even wars between them and us. The war that happened over the past few thousand years was precisely because mankind’s cooperation ability didn’t penetrate each other. Middle East issue, terrorism, I think their essences are that they have not integrated into our cooperation networ. We can’t allow Africa or other areas to become the next center of violence.

As for why I said I hope to end this stage of cooperation, because at the end of this stage, fully automation and fully global integration will be realized, and all of we human beings can get lifelong UBI, then all humans can live well without work, that means they don’t need to join the cooperation network. So that they can follow the inner voice to seek the meaning of their existences. The truth of existence is something I have been seeking. I hope everyone can join the ranks of the explorers. However, when I see that the existing cooperation network forces everyone to take a part in, when I see that everyone is forced to accept the presupposition, I realized that I need to promote this transition. Although I am not sure if other people are real or not, as real as my mind is. UBI will lead mankind to the ultimate freedom – I think that human beings are not free as long as they still live in a collective imagination, the imagination of banknotes, companies, countries and so on. Humans should follow their inner voices, even if the sound makes him entertain to death, it’s better than live in the presupposition defined by the outside world.