On gold's intrinsic value


"The reason high[er gold] prices [haven't mobilised] above ground supply is because gold is monetary. There is not other commodity that behaves in this manner. Any commodity with around 60 years of annual new supply above ground would have a price close to zero." -Bron Suchecki

Gold has intrinsic value, but in a way that's not intuitively obvious. First, let's be clear that nothing really has value in itself, apart from what evolutionary forces have conferred upon it (or more precisely, conferred upon an organism's psychology) to better assist its survival and reproduction. So, a bucket of shit has no value (intrinsic or otherwise) to us, but a dung beetle would fight to the death over it. Similarly, sex is fun for all sentient organisms precisely because those who don't find sex pleasurable are likely to be weeded out of the gene pool. In this way, I think the way humans instinctively regard gold as valuable has to be an evolved trait. (You can say we like it because, e.g. it is shiny, but that begs the question: why do we like shininess?) Remember: human evolution, especially psychology/personality evolution, is surprisingly fast.


Any human in history and prehistory who didn't value gold would be at a competitive disadvantage, while those that really dug the stuff (literally and figuratively) would be selected for. (There could be group selection at work here too, a phenomenon whose nonexistence has been exaggerated).

Of course humans are a very malleable species. In North Korea, for example, you have arguably the highest IQ population in the world shedding tears over the death of a cruel and chinless midget. So, just as in Sweden they're trying to make urinating standing up illegal (this is true; it's apparently sexist that men get urinals), so in the Western world we've been inundated with propaganda that gold is a thing of the past, replaced by green linen. True, these cultural engineering experiments sometimes work to completion, but I have my money on human nature winning out in the end.

Only 3 charts this week. Silver closed at its lowest weekly point since November 2010. (Really!) I vowed not to trade silver back on May 6 (with the elegant proclamation that "the charts smell like farts"). (Don't ask me why I didn't short. I don't like shorting the metals, though I'm more likely to do so when they look "too" good than when they look bad, since I think they are likely manipulated to look bad right before they explode to the upside). This log chart looks headed to $22-23 (I was too lazy to include the linear chart from last week, where I circled the same point). That said, I am skeptical when the charts look this bad in such an obvious bull market. I would be surprised if silver can be pushed that far. But that's what the charts is saying.




With gold, I'm also waiting for the 144-day/ purple channel to be cleared. Limited return to risk shorting from here, and no need to try to be a hero and come in at the bottom. I'll wait.

 Though the brown channel on my monthly chart (coincident with the 21-month MA at $1569) continues to be solid support:

33 comments:

Warren James said...

This wil be interesting to watch the 2nd of the month, in theory the ECB euro mark-to-market value (of gold in Euros) will be lower than last quarter. I wonder how that works, do they have to retract stuff they printed?

Those charts don't make the metals price look so bad, but it would be nice to see some metals strength again. :)

GM Jenkins said...

Wait, what's this ECB stuff you speak of? I must be out of the loop - though in my defense I've been busy returning some artifacts to the Peruvian government. Just little souvenirs from Machu Picchu I won in a poker game, but apparently in violation of international law: an obsidian column, an astronomic clock, a mummified spleen - standard tourist gewgaws, but a bitch to transport overseas.

lords said...

GMJ wrote;
" that begs the question: why do we like shininess?"

Aldous Huxley (in The Doors of Perception I think) had a clear explanation of why the human mind so values shiny things and brights lights.

"Huxley deduces that precious stones are precious because they are the objects in the external world -- along with fire, stained glass, fireworks, pageantry, theatrical spectacle, Christmas-tree lights, rainbows, and sunlight -- which most nearly resemble the things that people see in the visionary world (232-35). Poets and storytellers, by giving us a mystic vision of these objects with gemlike qualities, bring us into contact with the visionary world and potentially stimulate our own visions within us."

GM Jenkins said...

Thanks for the Huxley citation, lords. That makes sense re: shiny things and bright lights, and can support the idea that we have an evolved instinct to value gold (i.e. vs. a learned or acculturated response), though gold's shiny aspect is just one of many characteristics the combined effect of which seems even more hard-wired to me. The same way we're hard-wired to see baby mammals as cute (Joseph Campbell explained this well in "Masks of God"), I think we're hard-wired to value gold, such that people who talk of gold like its just another commodity are like people raised to be sickened by puppies or something. My guess is such people secretly want to drown puppies and partake in all manner of iniquity.

lords said...

It might also explain why we find our smartphones and laptops and TVs so entrancing.

Slow Loris Larry said...

I beg to differ with GM who has opined, repeatitively now, on the supposed 'instinctive value' people have for gold as a result of evolutionary processes.

So, let me weigh in on the issue of the 'intrinsic value' of gold in general. I do so from the perspective of a professional anthropologist. In my opinion, one needn't invoke any biological (genetic) changes in humanity to explain gold's ornamental and monetary role in relatively recent human societies which have developed so extraordinarily over the past 10,000 years or so due to agricultural technologies and other innovations in increasing energy procurement and use. In fact, or at least in the opinion of many anthropologists, we humans are, as a species, apparently still best suited, temperamentally, to living in the sorts of hunting and gathering groups which were all that we knew as we evolved to be what we are physically, and psychologically. Not to mention culturally, of course.

For the last few centuries, many philosophers have taught those who pay any attention to them that there cannot be any practical meaning ascribed to the popular notion of 'intrinsic' value. Consider my cat, who appears to 'value' most of the food I dish out for her all the time. Some stuff she definitely likes more than other things, presumably because it tastes better to her on the basis of being more like what cats evolved to eat. Of course, she has no notion of how I come by what I give her, and why I don't give her more of what she so obviously relishes. Does her food have 'intrinsic value' to her? Not in my opinion, anyway, as even though she is a remarkably intelligent, for a cat that is, she does not possess the kind of mind that can grasp the concept that she needs food, even the kind that she doesn't particularly like, in order to provide her body and brain with nourishment, so that she can continue her cattish existence. So, her food lacks even any 'utility value' for her, as she cannot comprehend the notions of either utility or value. She only knows when she is hungry, and what she does and does not like to eat.

How does my cat's liking of at least some of her food relate to relatively recent human 'liking' for, and even obsession with, gold. Think of the value to King Harold II of a horse on the day before the Battle of Hastings. Certainly, a horse had value for him, as otherwise he would have had to walk all the way from one fight to another, just like his ordinary soldiers did. But, for him, horses were not scarce at the time, so even though one way or another he could obtain relatively nicer ones than anybody else in his Kingdom, they had only utilitarian and symbolic value to him, even though they could indeed be eaten if he was of a mind to. Then, a day later, he is reported, or at least imagined, to have offered his kingdom for a horse - any horse at all. But under the circumstances, it would seem that those who still had functioning horses valued their utility more than their obligations to someone who seemed to be losing the battle they were engaged in, and therefore had only a tenuous hold on his kingdom at the time.

Slow Loris Larry said...

What could 'intrinsic' value possibly be? (Continued)

Now, where does this little exercise get us in relation to the 'intrinsic' value of gold. Basically, following the philosophers, nothing has any 'intrinsic' value at all, not even life itself, as can be observed when some risk theirs for various reasons that give other things, God or Country for instance, even greater potential value, and yet other people purposely end their lives under circumstances that to others do not seem insufferable. So, like anything else, gold has no intrinsic value whatsoever, and of course cannot be eaten (except in minute forms that are easily swallowed).

So, why does gold have serious value for many of not most people, under more or less civilized circumstances. Well, it is pretty, and quite malleable, so it can be fashioned by skilled people into attractive ornaments. And, because it is relatively scarce, and was rather more scarce back in history (although perhaps not on a per capita basis), it had symbolic value in that not everyone could own it, or keep it, so those who had it and displayed it demonstrated their 'superiority' over those who couldn't obtain or protect it. Because of its scarcity and symbolic value in terms of social display of power over others, gold also came to have great utility value in terms of what one could get in exchange for it. In other words, it gained further value as a form of 'money' - an informal and eventually a formally 'valued' medium of exchange as economies developed beyond plunder and distant markets for commodities emerged. The same for the lesser historic monetary metals, silver and copper, although the latter had perhaps more utility value in terms of bronze weapons than as money, per se.

So what is the basis for the value that so many people still place on gold? The fundamental basis is the kind of minds people have that can imagine abstractions like 'value' to begin with, and create symbols of prestige and power, none of which cats can do. Our minds also allow us to conceive and organize highly complex stratified societies that can develop to immense size, in which the utilitarian advantages of special trade goods is recognized for obtaining what one cannot individually produce, or one's society itself cannot otherwise acquire. Those who posses real gold in this day and age, whether individuals, family dynasties, corporations, and countries or the banks belonging to them, obviously value it hightly, but perhaps for various differing reasons, in varying degrees, depending on their beliefs about what the future will bring in terms of what and how much gold can be exchanged for, not any imaginary 'intrinsic' value of the stuff itself. The one thing that you can say for certain is that enough holders of physical monetary metals value owning them more than they value the amount of fiat currency they could exchange their metal for at present prices, so they are withholding what they own from the existing bullion markets, despite the huge existing stores of gold. Of course, the fact that the markets largely trade in paper claims on often non-existent metal just could have something to do with the reluctance of owners to part with their physical metal. At least for now.

GM Jenkins said...

Hey SLL, thanks for the great insights. I can't say I object to any of the points you've raised. Cultural explanations (as well as the general psychological/philosophical architecture you describe) may very well be sufficient to account for the valuation of gold, historical and present (it certainly plays a large role). As such the law of parsimony would weigh against more speculative hypotheses like mine. But the law of parsimony is not foolproof, and just as instinct --> culture, the opposite is also possible, namely, culture --> instinct, modulated by evolution.

Warren James said...

Great discussion! Very important for exploring the rationalle and psychology behind gold holding and/or investing.

@GM, the ECB mark-to-market discussion is based on one of the tenets of freegoldianism. Basically the ECB holds gold on it's balance sheet and as a bank, the assets must match liabilities. For the last 10 years or so it's had a great run, since the mark-to-market value of gold has increased, which in theory the increased asset value allows them to let out a little more rope. There was one point where just before the end of the quarter, there was a sudden rise in the price of gold which ensured that the valuation from last quarter was not less than the current. That doesn't look like it will happen this quarter, so I wonder if it will be a precursor to anything.

This was one thesis among many that the contract gold price was being managed upwards, and it makes sense if you consider that it's essentially a free ride (and a policy tool) for our evil central bankster overlords (evil by the fact that they still seek to profit at the expense of the masses).

This is basically why the europeans have in-effect been bluffing most of this time. At any time they can just say 'screw it, we are buyers of physical gold at 10K an ounce' and then suddenly, 'oh, look at our balance sheet now, we can issue a bunch of euros, let's buy Spain..'.

If there's anything I'm learning more and more, it's that politics and human cultural movement/evolution outweigh everything in this whole gold/monetary/fiat story. As a society, we are kind of finding our feet as we morph into something different, but there are so many hidden layers of complexity which have been unearthed and which are constantly at play.

For now, I have contented myself with my new strategy which is simply to get the goverment's hand out of my, er, pocket. That's where I see the real preservation of capital to be most strongly played. Am quite enjoying this 'intrinsic' discussion and I won't interrupt further, please do carry on :)

mr pinnion said...

Great stuff guys.
May i suggest you read The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. It will answer all your questions on evolution an lots more.You cant look at anything the same way after you ve read and understood that book.

Why do us humans like gold so much?
Well,lots of ancient civilisations worshiped the Sun if i remember fight. I recon they did this because the shiny yellow ball in the sky kept them warm, made their crops grow and redused the odds of them bumping into things.
More importantly , humans who prefared the dark back then were a lot less succesfull at hunting so didnt survive as long as the sun lovers.
So i think we never evolved to like gold the metal.We just like the sunny look lof it. If gold was shit coloured ,i dont think there would be as many ornamental cups made out of it.
Added to the funky colour there is also the many usefull properties of the metal which you all know.
As mentioned powerfull people collected gold mainly because evolution had made it look good to us and you could make stuff out of it.
Another evolutionary basic response would have kicked in at that point. The ass-licking response. Humans that liked what the most powerfull member of the group liked, got on better than the make waves type.Survival was more likely if you got on with the alfer dudes of the world.
So no need to evolve a likeing for digging up gold. just need to like what the boss likes.
Same way that pale complections were thought to be more attractive hundreds of years ago because a suntan meant you worked the fields, and you were poor.Most powerfull people didnt get as much sun as were inside counting their gold all the time.No need to evolve a likeing for pale skin.
Fast forward to now.A 'healthy' suntan is thought to be more attrective than pale skin. Idea being that rich people can afford holidays in the sun, while palefaces like me cant. Again, no need to evolve a likeing for suntans. Just rely on the old ass-licking response of like what the most powerfull like or look like.

What else? Oh yes, the cute thing.
Humans that liked babied ( which are smaller/cuter versions of themselfs) tended to look after and pay more attension to them. Humans who hated the look of babies didnt look after them as well and got weeded out by evolution over time. Which is why small sample bottles of fabric conditioner look strangly cute for no apparent reason.The reason being, they trigger the 'like smaller versions of the usual big thing response.


I agree with most of SLL excellent comments.

I m afraid theres no such thing as group selection GM .Dawkins rips that idea apart good and propper.


Thats quite enough for now.
Hope this helps.
Regards
Ozzy

Jeanne d'Arc said...

(Great post, discussion, etc.)

Just one pointlessly pedantic and unhelpful comment from me, as the self-appointed protector of Shakespeare on Screwtape... ;-)

King Richard:
A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!

Catesby:
Withdraw, my lord; I'll help you to a horse.

King Richard:
Slave! I have set my life upon a cast,
And I will stand the hazard of the die.


Richard The Third Act 5, scene 4, 7–10


Poor old Harold II was too busy getting an arrow in his eye at the battle of Hastings, several centuries earlier, to be worried about his horseless state...

Slow Loris Larry said...

Dawkins' Selfish Gene' Sociobiology is very badly out of fashion, in academic circles, and has been so thoroughly discredited that it can never be revived. One comment from an ex-student of mine puts the knife into his whole argument: 'How do you know you got genes?' And the clincher: 'How do your genes know that they got you?'

Another old chestnut that has lacked any professional credibility for a long while now is the idea that human 'instincts' can explain anything at all about human social behavior. If we do have verifiable 'instincts' them come down to the way babies become toddlers as they strive to get up on their hind legs to move around, and then miraculously learn to talk like others around them. Note that I am referring to the pan-human innate ability to learn ANY language, not just some particular language. No other animal on earth can do that, and arguments rage in the academy as to whether or not our close evolutionary cousins, the Neanderthalers, had that ability.

In all other cases where human'instinct' is put forward as an explanation for any aspect of social behavior, it can be readily shown that 'culture', by which I mean what we learn as we grow up and live our lives, always trumps our 'nature'. Another way to say it is that it is our human nature (or 'instinct') to act on the basis or our cultural ideas (or theories) about how the world works and how other people might behave.

I bow to Jeanne d'Arc's far greater knowledge of English literature and history.

SLL

GM Jenkins said...

Good stuff, mr pinnion. Re: group selection, I'm aware Dawkins will die saying it's a myth but I've found his enemies (not too strong a word) on this topic to have compellign arguments. You might find this bloggingheads interview informative: http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/2361

SLL, you wrote: "Another old chestnut that has lacked any professional credibility for a long while now is the idea that human 'instincts' can explain anything at all about human social behavior." [emphasis added]

You can't possibly mean that. I agree humans are extremely malleable and when you say "'culture' always trumps our 'nature'" I would change "always" to "generally" and agree with you. (Though sometimes the energy required to culturally snuff out nature/instinct is prohibitive). But surely you need refer to nature/instincts to account for human universals. Culture doesn't appear in a vacuum - it is shaped by instinct (nor is it a one way street, since cultural mores can then act as mechanisms of selective pressure, weeding out certain instincts and amplifying others). Which is not to say the nature/instinct behind human universals can never be incentivized to disappear or redirected to different ends, but the fact that that's difficult reflects how important nature/instinct is.

mr pinnion said...

SLL.
I thought i agreed with your earlier comment, but maybe i just missunderstood them.
Your last comment shocked me.That obviously intelligent people such as yourself, can think that.

What GM Jenkins said.

And WTF?'How do you know you got genes?' And the clincher: 'How do your genes know that they got you?'
(shudder)

Nature or nurture? They are both important. Not sure it makes much sense asking which is more so.
A naturally violent man , if raised by irresponsible parents is likely to end up in jail as an adult. If he s raised by responsible parents he might learn to channel his violent instinct into a boxing career and be very succesfull.
In short , nature(your genes) determin who you are and how you WANT to act . Nurture INFLUENCES HOW you act.
As the monatery system breaks down i fear we all will see human nature more clearly.

Most humans are just animals with superiority complexes.

Regards
Ozzy

Överlevare said...

So HuffPost got the facts wrong... What a shocker. Urinating standing up is under no type of threat here in Sweden. What the LEft wanted to do was to install toilets that made it impossible to stand and pee. Don't ask me about the design.

Also noteworthy is these toilets were to be installed in the regional (basically the level of government that provides health care) facilities only.

Stupid and silly, yes. A move towards prohibition of traditional male urination, no.

Slow Loris Larry said...

I have been working 10 to 12 hour days, all seven days oif the week for a while now, trying to meet an impossible deadline that I was silly enough to agree to. So, until early this fine Sunday morning, I have simply not been able to steal the time to address the responses that my last post on this thread engendered. It has gone cold now, and maybe no one will ever read this, but just for the record I would like to make some final comments on the issues that grew out of GM’s post on the’ intrinsic’ value of gold. I will do so under three topics;

Genes and Us
To begin with, I need to apologise for using what was an old insider academic joke to try to make the following points. First, there are easily several billion people here on earth who are blissfully ignorant of the fact that they even have such things as ‘genes’ which some claim underlie, in various ways, their behaviours. Second, ‘genes’, as they are now understood by biologists and others who study and even attempt to manipulate them, are simply very complex organic molecules that are able to replicate themselves under certain circumstances, and which apparently code for the production of certain proteins inside living cells. It may make for a catchy title for a book to call them ‘selfish’, but that is clearly just a metaphor, and using metaphors to try to explain something is the weakest form of ‘argument’ according to logicians. Basically, what was/is lacking in the whole ‘Sociobiology’ flash in the pan was any coherent notion of the mechanisms that would have to exist to link specific genes to behaviours and the corresponding feedback loops from the behaviour of individual organisms to their genes. Supposedly, ‘selfish’ genes lead to the reproductive success of the organisms that carry them, but being mere molecules, they can neither know nor care if ones just like them become more numerous in a population. If any of you are of an age and situation to have ever had the pleasure to watch the early US television comic Flip Wilson, whose signature gag was to say ‘De Debbil made me do dat!’, you will understand how comical it is for someone to go around saying ‘My genes made me do that!’

Slow Loris Larry said...

I have been working 10 to 12 hour days, all seven days oif the week for a while now, trying to meet an impossible deadline that I was silly enough to agree to. So, until early this fine Sunday morning, I have simply not been able to steal the time to address the responses that my last post on this thread engendered. It has gone cold now, and maybe no one will ever read this, but just for the record I would like to make some final comments on the issues that grew out of GM’s post on the’ intrinsic’ value of gold. I will do so under three topics;

Genes and Us
To begin with, I need to apologise for using what was an old insider academic joke to try to make the following points. First, there are easily several billion people here on earth who are blissfully ignorant of the fact that they even have such things as ‘genes’ which some claim underlie, in various ways, their behaviours. Second, ‘genes’, as they are now understood by biologists and others who study and even attempt to manipulate them, are simply very complex organic molecules that are able to replicate themselves under certain circumstances, and which apparently code for the production of certain proteins inside living cells. It may make for a catchy title for a book to call them ‘selfish’, but that is clearly just a metaphor, and using metaphors to try to explain something is the weakest form of ‘argument’ according to logicians. Basically, what was/is lacking in the whole ‘Sociobiology’ flash in the pan was any coherent notion of the mechanisms that would have to exist to link specific genes to behaviours and the corresponding feedback loops from the behaviour of individual organisms to their genes. Supposedly, ‘selfish’ genes lead to the reproductive success of the organisms that carry them, but being mere molecules, they can neither know nor care if ones just like them become more numerous in a population. If any of you are of an age and situation to have ever had the pleasure to watch the early US television comic Flip Wilson, whose signature gag was to say ‘De Debbil made me do dat!’, you will understand how comical it is for someone to go around saying ‘My genes made me do that!’

Slow Loris Larry said...

Sorry to have posted Part I twice. Here is Part II

Nature and Nurture
Given my profession, I am reasonably well versed in arguments about the relative importance of our biological nature and our life experiences in influencing our behaviour, both individual and collective. Individual people (and other animals) do vary in their inherited talents and proclivities, and therefore to some extent can and will behave in some circumstances differently than others will. On the other hand, people throughout their lives have greatly varying experiences, even members of the same group or society, and even if we don’t always ‘learn from our experiences’, we do respond to them differently as a result. And, sorting out which of the two, or other factors, is most significant in understanding human behaviours, in general and in particular, is a legitimate and non-trivial undertaking; Long ago and far away, I once spent a few years of my professional career in attempting to come up with a coherent and usefully rationalised theory for the mental grammars underlying human social interaction and the decisions producing it. In the end I was rather satisfied with my results, but for various reasons I did not publicise them, although I did use them in my teaching thereafter. But, to provide a seemingly useful framework for describing the structure of human social behaviours, I needed to make some basic assumptions about what was going on in our minds and put limitations on the applicability of the results, the most basic of which was to claim that my models only applied to ‘normal human social behaviour’, with the caveat that if anyone had doubts about what was ‘normal’, they could just exclude what they thought was ‘not-normal’, and there would still be plenty of stuff that needed explaining, and that could be accounted for. And, within that framework, it is clear that what we learn as we grow up and participate in a society will trump our ‘instincts’ (whatever they are) in accounting for our human social behaviours. In other words, ‘it’s all in our minds, stupid!’ But, that said, we don’t all seem have the same kinds of minds. [See ‘Different Minds’ by Kate Ravilious in the 5 November 2011 issue of New Scientist]

Slow Loris Larry said...

And herewith, the final Part III

Slow Loris Larry said...

Got to learn how to do this!

Human Universals
That is not to say that there are not universal features of human behaviour in all societies that are not found in other animals and their social groups. That last stipulation disqualifies many items on Pinker’s laundry list on the site GM linked. A fellow graduate student, Donald Brown, published a book titled Human Universals a few decades ago which does a much better job of discussing those things that anthropologists have found in all human societies and that are unique to them. I don’t have the book at hand, so here are a few such things that come immediately to mind in addition to the ones I mentioned before about people ‘instinctually’ learning to walk upright and learning natural human languages (including signing by and with the profoundly deaf). Basically, our minds are theory generators, which invent all kinds of explanations for things we experience, or think we have experienced, which often include ‘other worldly’ mechanisms or powers, as well as supernational persons of various kinds and ‘natures’. People can, and do, make moral judgements on the basis of what they recognise as fair or wrong actions, under certain circumstances at any rate. Morality can produce ideas of authority, or the recognised (by some) right of certain people to tell others what to do and their corresponding duty to obey (not that they always will, of course). Although very limited in small scale societies, ideas of authority are still present, and as we know can be hugely elaborated in modern industrial nations. This ability to conceive of authority relations leads to laws, which are really just ‘standing orders’, and allows us to invent other large corporations, as well as universal small domestic corporations. They lead to the recognition of (various and different) kinship relationships (or kinds of relatives and rights and duties among them) that extend beyond parents and children and brothers and sisters, and which require incest prohibitions (of various kinds) to remain grammatically coherent. Human domestic economies are based on gender and age divisions of labour which can also be generalised and elaborated in trading systems and internationalised economies. I could go on, but those are the sorts of things that are universal in human societies, and which are made possible by the kinds of minds that are hosted by our hugely evolved and elaborated brains which of course develop only on the basis of our genetic heritage as a species, and because of what we individually inherit from our parents. These particularly human abilities and proclivities go far beyond having simple ‘likes and dislikes’, which as I pointed out, my cat also has.

mr pinnion said...

SLL

Firstly, respect is due to anyone who works 12 hour days ,all week for any length of time. I did 12 hours a day for 6 days last week and its not fun.

As for the rest of your argument, it s not worth me going into at length because we are so far apart, you might as well be trying to convince me the world is flat.
I could rip apart all your arguments with ease.I did so as i was reading them. But the speed i type , it would take a lifetime.More so if i checked for spelling mistakes.

I ll try and scratch the surface.

No matter where you go in the world poeple have the same facial expressions for displaying the same emotions.Smiles =happy , frown =sad etc. Thats instinct.Genes program smile when happy, frown when sad. If culture was as influential as you say then remote tribes in the amazon would have learned different expressions unique to their culture.But there the same the world over.

Identical twin studies are fascinating.Identical twins separated at birth and raised appart show massivley more similarities in their behavior , actions, job choice and so on , than normal twins.
That above example ALONE blows apart your arguments.

Richard Dawkins is the main man on this subject. His best work is the Selfish Gene IMHO (although he thinks his best work is The Extended Phenotype)
Read also The Nurture Assumption by Judith Rich Harris.

Regards
Ozzy

GM Jenkins said...

Thanks for responding, SLL. I appreciate your knack for framing concepts (as you've done throughout this thread) in a way that makes analysis more manageable. I think we're in wide agreement as to the predominance of culture in shaping human behavior (once you get past the baseline of behaviors that are impossible to extirpate (or, in other cases potentiate!) owing to genetically determined boundary points).

Getting back to the topic of the post, I think it bears repeating that the allure of gold is certainly not *primarily* an evolved trait. I was only suggesting the possibility that there may be a genetic component to our affinity for it. True or not, I don't know, but one's "visceral" reaction to gold (even before acculturation) can be viewed as a quantitative trait, and if there's *any* genetic component to a trait's variation whatsoever (which cannot be ruled out offhand in the case of one's reaction to gold independent of culture), one could technically breed for it to get stronger over generations. Natural selection is a lot slower than artificial selection at this task of course, but then culture works as an artificial selection mechanism. Of course, wolves didn't become dogs right away, but over thousands of years of selecting step by step for the slightly friendlier ones. (You would not want to leave a Pleistocene dog around with a baby in the room, or cave).

Re: the selfish gene: this unwieldy topic might be better discussed in person at the next Screwtape convention (such as over egg nog at the annual Gstaad Christmas Party, assuming we don't get sidetracked by the keynote speaker's topic; last year Harvey Organ lectured on Galois theory and had the place buzzing in intellectual exaltation). I'll say this about the selfish gene concpet though: as a purely materialist theory it runs into all the philosophical problems of materialism in general. But I don't agree with your specific criticism. You're right that a metaphor is never a dispositive explanation to a phenomenon, but in this case I think the term selfish gene is functioning as a shorthand abbreviation to a process that would take too long to repeat every time someone wanted to invoke the concept.

The idea is, every organism starts off as nothing but code: A's, T's, C's G's, plus epigenetic modifications and mitochondrial code. This set of code yields the proteins and thus the material reality that we all are. Whatever the external world is like, some permutations of that code will lead to successful replication of their protein vessels, others will not. So if a code is still around today, it is still around because it was "selfish" -- i.e. cared for nothing but its still being around. Of course, being nothing but chemical combinations, the code doesn't have any intentions or considerations: it either replicates or not. While I write this, there are certain stretches of my DNA (called transposons) that may be "cutting and pasting" themselves into new locations. If one lands in the APC gene in a cell in my colon, that would be a big success for it, as it would replicate itself much faster than my other colon cells. It would not be much of a success for me, though, as I would get colon cancer. That's where the selfish idea comes about, though I agree anthropomorphizing chemicals can also run the risk of leading thought astray.

Slow Loris Larry said...

Thanks for the responses.

I don't think that there are any basic issues on which GM and I are in any serious disagreement, apart from what started all this to begin with, which was his suggestion that gold has some kind of mysterious 'intrinsic' value due to physical evolutionary selection.

That just doesn't make any sense to me whatsoever.

GM Jenkins said...

That just doesn't make any sense to me whatsoever.

Well I hope the mechanism at least makes sense to you. All instincts, all "natural" inclinations and affinities (i.e. independent of culture) gain strength over time in accordance with evolutionary pressures. They don't start off strong - in fact they start off with only a mild genetic variability owing (generally) to random allele combinations that wander though generations via neutral drift. E.g. the normal distribution of infants' enjoyment for a given kind of baby food. But once selection comes into the picture, any adaptive trait's genetic component gets stronger and stronger very quickly as once-neutral apple preference alleles begin to proliferate in the gene pool exponentially and also interact with each other in a greater than merely additive way.

GM Jenkins said...

Överlevare - I apologize for slandering a nation on the basis of a HuffPo article. Lesson learned!

Slow Loris Larry said...

GM:

Just a final comment on the issue of gold's supposed 'intrinsic' value, and then a question for you.

If there has actually been some 'exponentially' growing genetically based {instinctual} human attraction to gold over the past few thousands of years, in some but my no means all parts of the globe, that would not be anything intrinsic to gold, it would have to be something intrinsic to those particular humans.

Would you be prepared to make the same argument about peoples' innate attraction to cowrie shells? After all, they are pretty, durable, and were used as money by many folks in many parts of the world, presumably long before metallurgy made the use of gold as money possible by political and commercial elites in certain limited agriculturally based 'civilisations'.

Louis Cypher said...

Just to throw in my two cents.....
Gold and Silver were, IMHO, given elevated status as money because of their physical properties. Reasonably hard wearing like most metals, malleable like most. Unlike most they were more rare and harder to find The clincher for these two metals was their beauty. Gold has a unique color that cannot easily be replicated. Throw in it's weight and it makes it easily identifiable. That makes it a very useful thing for accommodating trade.
Silver is the most reflective metal. Again, making it easy to easy to identify and accommodate trade.

I don't know if we have a Gold gene like we have a God gene but it doesn't seem that far fetched as Gold could be viewed as a concept. Much the same way as God can be viewed a physical entity. By that I mean the belief in something that may or may not exist (like God) is written in our DNA. It's possible that Gold as Money might be etched in there as well.

GM Jenkins said...

SLL, in fairness you're probably right; my position is a very easy one to defend, inasmuch as I'm simply saying it's not impossible. Hard for one to prove something is impossible, so it's really not a fair debate.

It might be unlikely, but I guess the motivation and jumping point of my idea was how for some people theres a certain sensual pleasure in handling physical gold that (though it might be a mere delusion) seems to work on a level beneath the consciousness, as all instincts do. Holding the equivalent in, say, ancient cowrie shells worth the same amount in bennybucks doesn't seem to operate on the same level and requires more cognitive work to appreciate.

I'm glad Louis is, if not on the same page, at least reading from the same book.

Warren James said...

I've enjoyed all the comments here. One quick real-world example - have you ever given a gold coin to a child to hold in their hand?

There's something about the size:weight ratio that trips them because they haven't commonly encountered something so dense - their curiosity is naturally sparked and then the shininess, fuss and intrigue add to the effect. Typically the child is reluctant to hand the coin back.

I think it's fair to say all these genetic/memetic/cultural/physical aspects play a part, with the added benefit of Gold having a relatively high 'oh, interesting' factor.

Slow Loris Larry said...

@ GM

Given your polite concession, I should probably leave it at that, but your last comments waved another huge red flag that I cannot ignore. Possibly someone who has been following our discussion may learn something if I remind you that in terms of standard scientific methodology, a hypothesis (or a theory) must be constructed and presented in such a manner that it is at least potentially falsifiable by new or re-evaluated evidence. If a supposedly explanatory idea cannot possibly be disproven, it is not worth anyone else's time to pursue, as no one could ever know if it was worthwhile or not. Science, and scientific careers, progress by disproving hypothesis, usually other scientists's, leaving only those standing that have yet to be disproved and discarded. So, contrary to your contention that it would be impossible to disprove your notion about instictual human attraction to gold, it is in fact not all that hard to dismiss it on various grounds, some of which I have covered. What no one could actually ever do is to prove in some way that ideas like those you originally propsed about evoltionary produced human attraction to gold are actually 'true'. At least in any valid scientific sense.

GM Jenkins said...

So, contrary to your contention that it would be impossible to disprove your notion about instinctual human attraction to gold,

Ah, I didn't say that; I think you're getting tangled up in semantics here SLL.

My thesis statement is this: "attraction to gold -- a quantitative trait with an obviously large environmental component -- also has a (relatively small) genetic component." By quantitative trait, I mean, of course, that one can quantify (by a variety of metrics) how much one enjoys accumulating (or even fondling) physical gold, and that such quantification will be distributed continuously, probably normally, with, say, the inimitable paper bug Kid Dynamite on the far left and our good friend Silvergoldsilver on the far right.

This thesis statement is by no means an unfalsifiable proposition (as you also point out). What I was getting at in my previous comment is that my *position* with respect to my thesis statement is not especially conducive to debate, because I'm merely saying that it "may" be true (i.e. it's not impossible that it's true), and i provided some very cursory evidence, mostly impressionistic, on its behalf. But if you're convinced my thesis isn't true, I won't object too strongly, as it's obviously highly speculative. My only objection would be to your saying "it can't possibly be true," i.e. it's impossible. I

But, in fact, you have said that again in your last comment, and you're dead wrong:

What no one could actually ever do is to prove in some way that ideas like those you originally proposed about evolutionarily-produced human attraction to gold are actually 'true'. At least in any valid scientific sense.

It is possible, and could be empirically tested in theory. Putting ethics and funding constraints aside for the purposes of illustration, one could harvest millions of eggs and fertilize them in vitro with millions of sperms from different fathers; the millions of infants could be raised in various environments, all with no exposure to gold. Then at various ages, one could expose different subsets of our human guinea pigs to all kinds of shiny things including gold, all kinds of heavy things including gold, etc., and measure by a variety of metrics (the time spent with gold vs. the other objects, or the desire to keep gold vs. other objects) a statistical over-representation of certain alleles in the gold-friendly group (or a regression looking for a correlation if the metric is continuous, such as "time spent with gold"). If we find anything, we could then seek to identify those alleles in the general population and see if carriers are more likely to be gold bugs. As a bonus, we could even make a chimp model, gorilla model (and fuck it, even a mouse model) and see if inserting the alleles into foreign genomes creates a predilection to gold (this would mean nothing if it failed, but be dispositive proof if it succeeded). Or else we could knock out these alleles via RNA-interference in, say Eric Sprott, (or insert them into John Nadler's DNA and -- scary thought -- clone him) and observe behavioral changes. Etc. Of course, there are simpler ways to conduct approximations of this experiment without requiring unlimited funds or going afoul of Institutional Review Boards. I'd start with a North Korean cohort :P

Slow Loris Larry said...

GM:

Well, if you put it that way, your hypothesis would be falsifiable (at least in principle).

So, let's call it a draw, and get on with more important things.

GM Jenkins said...

Yes, we are in agreement then. Certainly, gold is a far more profitable anthropological study than biological. My point here was that if a genetic element exists, it would make the argument that gold has zero "intrinsic" value (i.e. it's just a 5000 year tradition, soon to go the way of the Acheulean hand axe) less compelling.

To complete my thought from the previous comment, realistic (preliminary) experiments to search for genetic components to gold-buggery could be done as simply as calculating recurrence risk via twins separated at birth registers and questionnaires, or just a genome-wide association study on a homogenous population at large.