Human cultures are as much a product of the human genome (and epigenome) as are individual human beings. Genes influence “human nature” and human nature influences culture (and the reverse). Charles Darwin guessed this 150 years ago, but only recently has scientific evidence reached a critical mass in support of a general model of multilevel selection. Multilevel selection is a set of dynamic and recursive interactions between various “units” of natural selection such as individual selection and group selection.
“A unit of selection is a biological entity within the hierarchy of biological organization (e.g. self-reproducing molecules, genes, cells, individuals, groups, species) that is subject to natural selection. For several decades there has been intense debate among evolutionary biologists about the extent to which evolution has been shaped by selective pressures acting at these different levels. (Wikipedia)
In theory such co-evolutinary relationships between units of selection could extend from the molecular level all the way to the biosphere as a whole. Mathematical models for such generic co-evolution are works in progress, with the current concentration of effort directed at the individual-group level. In “The Social Conquest of Earth” (amazon.com), Dr. E. O. Wilson (Wikipedia) describes for a broad audience the available evidence for an individual-group model of multilevel selection including its ecological and social aspects. Among other things, multilevel selection offers a framework for understanding the evolutionary origins of the “varieties of human experience”, including the effects of natural variation and selection on different “phenotypes” of human personality, morality, and culture. As a rule of thumb (an admitted oversimplification), Wilson attributes “selfish” characteristics to individual selection and altruistic or cooperative characteristics to group selection. The constant, dynamic tension between these “magnetic poles” of our nature may account for much of our cognitive and cultural dissonance. I’ll close my introduction to this topic with the final words of Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address:
“We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Charlie Rose interviewing Dr. Edward Wilson (two-minute excerpt): http://youtu.be/j4Ltmy4DvNg
Related PRA 2.0 posts
Related articles & books
- Evolution “for the Good of the Group”: The process known as group selection was once accepted unthinkingly, then was widely discredited; it’s time for a more discriminating assessment by David Sloan Wilson and Edward O. Wilson
- Eusociality? A Review of Edward O Wilson’s The Social Conquest of Earth (dinmerican.wordpress.com)
- Altruism and the New Enlightenment, An interview with E.O. Wilson (slate.com)
- On Human Nature, an earlier (1979) Pulitzer Prize-winning book by E. O. Wilson. (Wikipedia)
- The Co-Intelligence Institute works to further the understanding and development of co-intelligence. It focuses on catalyzing co-intelligence in the realms of politics, governance, economics and conscious evolution of ourselves and our social systems. We research, network, advocate, and help organize leading-edge experiments and conversations in order to weave what is possible into new, wiser forms of civilization.
- Born This Way? by Jonathan Haidt (reason.com) Nature, nurture, narratives, and the making of our political personalities.
- Charting the Course of Socioeconomic Evolution (onthespiral.com) “Lorenz thought that the world is knowable, but it is knowable through the categories of the knower, which were shaped by evolution. So evolutionary adaptation by natural selection results in a partial correspondence, a kind of isomorphism between the structure of the world and the organization of the knower. On that account, organisms do not make theories of the world, they are theories of the world.” – Sam Bowles paraphrasing Conrad Lorenz
- The Better Angels of Our Nature, (Amazon.com) 2011 book by Steven Pinker (Wikipedia)
- Evolutionary Ethics (Wikipedia)
Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma contains strategies that dominate any evolutionary opponent (www.pnas.org ) The two-player Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma game is a model for both sentient and evolutionary behaviors, especially including the emergence of cooperation. It is generally assumed that there exists no simple ultimatum strategy whereby one player can enforce a unilateral claim to an unfair share of rewards. Here, we show that such strategies unexpectedly do exist. In particular, a player X who is witting of these strategies can (i) deterministically set her opponent Y’s score, independently of his strategy or response, or (ii) enforce an extortionate linear relation between her and his scores. Against such a player, an evolutionary player’s best response is to accede to the extortion. Only a player with a theory of mind about his opponent can do better, in which case Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma is an Ultimatum Game.
- The Science of Morality (Wikipedia)
- Culture War (Wikipedia)
- The Republican Brain: Why Even Educated Conservatives Deny Science — and Reality (AlterNet)
- Introduction on Individuality, Relationality, and Collectivity (P2P Foundation), Cooperative Individualism — reconciling the dual faces of human identity
- The REAL Reason Conservatives Always Win (www.cognitivepolicyworks.com) When two groups compete, the one with the most social cohesion wins in the long run.
Historical Origins of Inequality (p2pfoundation.net)
On the Microbial Frontier, Cooperation Thrives (quantamagazine.org)
How Will the 99% Deal with 70 Million Psychopaths? (www.cognitivepolicyworks.com)What can we do collectively to contain and manage this small minority of people who are driven by selfish motives with no concern for others?
- Video Symposium: The Social Conquest of Earth (fora.tv)
- Dr. Wilson interviewed on C-SPAN Book TV with Q&A
- Human Nature (youtube.com) Dr. Robert Sapolsky and Dr. Gabor Maté, 32 minute intro snippet from ‘ZEITGEIST MOVING FORWARD’ (good clip, no endorsement of Zeitgeist movement intended)
The Empathic Civilisation, “Empathy is the invisible hand”
- TIMN in 20 minutes: social evolution — past, present, and future, (YouTube.com) This video offers an overview of the TIMN framework: its focus on social evolution (past, present, future), its construction around four cardinal forms of organization (tribes, institutions, markets, networks), its system dynamics, and its future implications.
- Thom Hartmann interviews Chris Mooney about The Republican Brain:
“Jonathan Haidt, psychology professor at the University of Virginia, presents his thoughts on the current political and social divisions that he contends separate the Left and the Right. The social psychologist examines the origins of these fissures and explains that people’s moral intuition, the initial perceptions we have of others, propagates the idea that people who view the world differently from how we do are wrong.” (full video)
Video excerpt (10 min):
“Bill Moyers and moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt talk about the psychological underpinnings of our contentious culture, why we can’t trust our own opinions, and the demonizing of our adversaries.”
Know Then Thyself
by Alexander Pope
Know then thyself, presume not God to scan The proper study of mankind is man. Placed on this isthmus of a middle state, A being darkly wise, and rudely great: With too much knowledge for the sceptic side, With too much weakness for the stoic’s pride, He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest; In doubt to deem himself a God, or beast; In doubt his mind and body to prefer; Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err; Alike in ignorance, his reason such, Whether he thinks to little, or too much; Chaos of thought and passion, all confus’d; Still by himself, abus’d or disabus’d; Created half to rise and half to fall; Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all, Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d; The glory, jest and riddle of the world.
TIMN in 20 minutes: social evolution — past, present, and future, (YouTube.com) This video offers an overview of the TIMN framework: its focus on social evolution (past, present, future), its construction around four cardinal forms of organization (tribes, institutions, markets, networks), its system dynamics, and its future implications.