Mean exactly what they sound like: Fear of the new and Love of the new.
They aren’t cute made-up words, they are technical terms from biology. Animal ethologists (they study behavior) coined them because they needed to describe a common trait variation. Within a species, there are individuals who exhibit an openness to novelty. They try different foods, different hunting or mating techniques, for example. This is Neophilia.
The only way we could notice this is against a background of “by the book ” individuals. These are not risk-takers, these are the ones who define “normal behavior “. Whenever an animal’s general survival strategy and behavior is described, it ‘s the story of the Neophobes. But the deeper story is that Neophiles, while they live risky and often unsuccessful lives as individuals are key to survival and evolution.
In fact, it’s likely that that the pattern lived out by the neophobes was initiated by neophiles. First, the neophile may simply hit upon a more successful approach, and thrive. Second, when the species experiences a crisis in food or health or predation, the neophiles are likelier to be “the resistant strain ” that survives. These are the two main reasons for subspecies variations. So if you imagine this heretical thought; that life, rather than being the 100% dumb luck festival of the neo-Darwinians, has strategic algorithms for success, then these observations make perfect sense. Where or how these exist and operate is not my problem here. When patterns predictably exist in nature there are underlying causes to be found. If you follow this blog you know that my vaguely mystical point of view is not pointing to a “god did it ” conclusion and is not content with a “mere coincidence ” explanation.1
Virtually all observed species demonstrate neophobia and neophilia right up to ourselves. Life generates a majority of neophobes in all species, preferring the larger segment of every population to be “law-abiding” in the sense of sticking to the field-tested, empirically proven survival script. Picturesquely, this is like when we cross a stream with stepping stones: Most of the weight is on the back leg while you experimentally test the certainty of another rock.
But life never gives up playing creatively around the edges. Quirky experimenters are not natures damaged “factory seconds ” they are a calculated cost/benefit experiment for the species. Neophiles, across species, are the plucky, eccentric little test pilots. Mostly this doesn’t end especially well for the neophilic individual, who is by nature less successful at following the rules. Neophiles are sort of fuck-ups judged by the by species rules, But it is going to be them finding the new edibles, the nesting innovation, etc. In a bad time of harsh weather, shrinking resources, or new competition the neophobes become the “stupid ones” as they robotically carry out the increasingly useless and irrelevant survival routine.
It’s telling that even though evolutionary eccentricities may well damage the sexual appeal of Neophiles they don’t die out leaving only the rule followers. I’m convinced there’s a percentage algorithm way beyond my ken that “views” Neophiles as an essential aspect of a higher-order survival script which is located in the I don’t fookin’ know and operates through I haven’t a god damn clue.
In the human race, generally speaking, individuals with neophilia are “neurovarious” to attempt coining a word. The vanguard being ADHD and high functioning eccentricities that are goofy but don’t set off pathology alarms. Obviously, ASD people are the essential core of technology innovation and development that has altered our species behavior scripts countless times.
At the culture and political level, conservatives are by definition Neophobes in most areas while progressives trend MORE neophilic… There are ways that each group can host aspects of the other. A libertarian conservative like Elon Musk is certainly neophilic in many ways and certain left-wingers who oppose vaccination, for example, are certainly neophobic. Overall though, they play the basic roles of preservation vs exploration. As usual, we don’t notice the higher-level organization behind this because as human individuals we don’t perceive the reality of the “body ” that we are cells in any better than our own body’s cells understand who we are. It’s worth mentioning that this nearsighted tight focus as an individual (not seeing the bigger picture) is a “law-abiding” neophobic trait reinforced culturally. Psychedelic drugs were slapped down so hard in the 20th century because they represented a huge threat to the group stability conferred by a tightly limited POV. Conservatives are neophobic guardians of the smaller picture: The individual, the small town, the way it used to be. Progressives are more neophilic by imagining the needs of larger groups of less closely related people…the bigger picture. There are still bigger pictures ahead.
Interesting Articles, some fun stuff: Animal Innovation
1 The answer that “God did it ” is a terminal anti-science statement because it doesn’t lead to questions. It’s basically a “so why don ‘t we just all go home? ” conclusion. And it ‘s self-referential because in the beginning was the agenda and the agenda builds acceptable outcomes for questions before the questions are even asked. The question has no more chance of going somewhere unexpected than a hamster in a habitrail. On the other side, while science is not a religion, it always has acceptable paradigms (which define the unacceptable ones) in place as well. The agenda is that results must be congruent with acceptable within the current paradigms. All interesting research results (in evolutionary studies) must go and kneel briefly at the altar of sheer randomness.