Evolution/natural selection has a variety of obvious 'negative' upshots, for instance the paranoid tendencies so elegantly discussed in Error Management Theory or the ideas contained in the Savanna Principle. I place 'negative' in quotation marks, as this is of course a relative appraisal - as evolutionary theory dictates, these features are in a fundamental sense positive, but they can have various negative implications, in terms of human psychological disposition social constellations etc.

I'd like to get people's thoughts on the following points:

Group cohesion has a number of obvious advantages for survival/evolution. This includes believing the same things (not only from a religious point of view – the survival-orientated paranoia described by Error Management Theory should work best when it leads to a generally integrated set of beliefs and behaviour in a group of humans). Resistance to group behaviour and beliefs and the resulting unrest would thus be met with sanctions, as it is felt to be potentially harmful.

There is a somewhat sinister implication here: if group cohesion is best ensured by the establishment of a hierarchical social/power structure, then such power structures themselves (of which religion is one) become effective tools in ensuring group cohesion. Thus we encounter a worrying form of Error Management Theory at a higher social level –
even though ceding power to a ruling elite (political, religious, social, etc.) may be detrimental to the wellbeing of an individual (perhaps acutely so), it is nevertheless felt to be advantageous to the survival of a society (or humanity more generally).


The last distinction might itself be taken further, as such imperatives often lead to political or religious conflict (most obviously exemplified by wars between 'rival' societies and oppressive regimes enforcing social unity) which, although they cost the lives of many people, apply the ‘survival of the fittest’ dictum to groups rather than individuals, the most ‘forcefully resilient’ group having the best chance of survival, again favouring a high degree of social cohesion.


One could thus argue that evolution/natural selection is at the root of much that makes us 'messed up' as individuals and as societies, and that the sheer force of 'evolutionary instincts' makes it extremely difficult to work towards a more open-minded, aware and understanding state of affairs. As a final point, this raises the issue of a potential conflict between 'survival' and 'social progress' imperatives, the latter also being advantageous from an evolutionary point of view (although less immediately than the former). This would suggest a somewhat sinister dialectical exchange between two evolutionary processes.


Tags: error, evolution, management, theory

Views: 12

Replies to This Discussion

I'm not suggesting that evolution should somehow care about my wellbeing as an individual, simply that it is affected in contradictory ways by different processes. Perhaps my choice of words such as 'sinister' is somewhat inappropriate, but shouldn't really obscure my argument...
Ah, I see your point now - it's not my intention to highlight some sort of fundamental contradiction, on the contrary: clearly the processes at work are productive, but some of their implications seem to me to generate friction. (Note that I'm suggesting a 'dialectical exchange', not a contradiction.) Perhaps that too is productive - I'm trying to explore some aspects of the resulting situation. The 'goal to humanity' surely is its survival (isn't that the point?), and this manifests itself in differing ways, whose interaction is interesting and accounts for various aspects of human behaviour.

Thus (for example) the atheistic and religious worldviews both have advantages and disadvantages for survival of the species, which has implications for 'the way humans believe' and therefore how we act.
I find this interesting in itself and for its relevance to religious behaviour and the position of the atheist in contemporary society.
I'm not sure where you're identifying the suggestion of a 'goal' in my discussion of evolution - unless you mean my reference to the dialectics of social progress (i.e. progressive/dialectical morality). These obviously stand apart from evolution as such, but do have some relation: societies adapt to the circumstances they find themsleves in, and this adaptation is not random.
Hang on, we're getting into philosophical territory here - by 'goal to humanity' (which I'm quoting from your previous post, perhaps hence the confusion) I mean the 'goal' of evolution, or the function of evolution 'relative to' humanity. Have I missed some basic point of evolution here?
Multilevel selection seems perfectly plausible and coherent to me. The main criticism I frequently hear is that it explains nothing that can not be explained by kin selection. I disagree with that criticism and would make the inverse argument that kin selection explains nothing that can not be explained by multilevel selection. I think the case of uni-colonial ants exemplifies the point:
http://scienceblogs.com/primatediaries/2009/09/unicolonial_ants_pos...
Fascinating link, many thanks.
Just to reiterate Sigmond's earlier point, this thread is about what is real, not what we love.
That would be the hope, but the random reshuffling of the parent's gene's could just as easily combine the daddy's lack of beauty with the mommy's lack of intelligence.
...and a close examination of humanity lends some statistical weight to the latter as an active process... ;)
In Sigmund's original post:

>"One could thus argue that evolution/natural selection is at the root of much that makes us 'messed up' as individuals and as societies, and that the sheer force of 'evolutionary instincts' makes it extremely difficult to work towards a more open-minded, aware and understanding state of affairs."

Evolutionary Science is based on the presumption that, just like hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys, and immune systems, cognition has functional structure that has a genetic basis, and therefore evolved by natural selection. Thus “reason” (and our ability to solve problems) is a product of natural selection.

So like other organs and tissues, this functional structure should be universally shared amongst humans and should solve important problems of survival and reproduction. But there are contradictory tendencies in our reasoning that we (and philosophers) were long unable to resolve and which we speak of loosely. Now a convergence of evolutionary and cognitive science can help us understand the system in more detail.

While there is much that remains to be proven, broadly there is evidence that human “Reasoning” involves 2 distinct processes.

There's an older, somewhat automatic process that is largely unconscious and works via aroused attention & simple associations. It is quick and has advantages of being approximate to satisfy the needs from our evolutionary context, but it lacks flexibility.

Examples are: perception of color, ducking a fast moving object, orienting to sound or what we feel,
such as uttering expletives or grimacing when we stub our toe, or smiling at a pleasant memory.

A more recent evolutionary development is built on top of this and shows a continuum of ability in higher animals. Thus system is not automatic (and is perhaps conscious if we can agree on what that means) but effortful (cognitively difficult). This reasoning uses rule and model based processes that are slow, deliberative, & conscious.

We can see a comflict between the 2 systems in many situation. One is in the selective attention needed for reading a color word if there is incongruity. The Stroop test does this by showing the word "red" incongruently printed in green color. This color perception name recognition mismatch shows interference with explicit naming processing.

Thus human reason often is messed up and "fails” because it is part of a complex, inherited system that selection fit together from many pieces. Our minds are equipped with fast, useful gadgets/heuristics for survival and what these gadgets can be adapted for, such as simplifying cognitive effort. But we live in a very different environment than the one we evolved in.

Because we can't keep everything in mind and be deliberative and fast we come loaded with simplifiers or biases that historically eases the burden of deliberative things. These biases (Familiarity, Saliency, negativity, ignoring odds, framing a context that influences interpretation etc.) do an approximate job, but fail often and they can be gamed by other cognitive agents who know our cognitive biases so can influence our decision making away from reality. That new complex social environment has changed quiet a bit from the simpler social environment we evolved in. Thus changing how an issue is framed can change and even reverse interpretation and people have gotten very good at gaming this type of thing. All part of the weaknesses of a social mind.

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