Wilson, E.O. On Human Nature. Harvard College. 1978.
Glossary (pg 213)
Autocatalysis: The Process in which the products of a reaction serve as catalysts, that is, they speed up the rate of the same reaction that produced them and cause it to accelerate.
Hypertrophy: The extreme development of a preexisting structure. The elephant’s tusk, for example, represents the hypertrophic enlargement and change in shape through evolution of a tooth that originally had an ordinary form. In this book it is suggested that most kinds of human social behavior are hypertrophic forms or original, simpler responses that were of more direct adaptive advantage in hunter-gatherer and primitively agricultural societies.
Scientific materialism: The view that all phenomenon in the universe, including the human mind, have a material basis, are subject to the same physical laws, and can be most deeply understood by scientific analysis.
Sociobiology: The scientific study of the biological basis of all forms of social behavior in all kinds of organisms, including humans.
(x) Culture evolves in a response to environmental and historical contingencies, as common sense suggests, but its trajectories are powerfully guided by the inborn biases of human nature. This view was encapsulated in the new discipline of sociobiology, which in its human applications was later re-christened evolutionary psychology (but remains sociobiology nonetheless).
(x) The conundrum of human nature can be solved only if scientific explanations embrace both the how (neuroscience) and why (evolutionary biology) of brain action, with the two axes of explanation fitted together.
(xiv) The mental process is the product of a brain shaped by the hammer of natural selection upon the anvil of nature.
(xvi) Sociobiology [same as/closely related to evolutionary psychology] is a scientific discipline, the systematic study of the biological basis of all forms of social behavior in organisms, including humans. As an ensemble of working theories, it even encompasses the possibility of a blank slate brain, recognizing that in order to flatten our innate predispositions to achieve such a brain would require a great deal of evolution involving a large number of genes. In other words, the theory of a blank slate is at base an intensely sociobiological idea, albeit wrong.
(xx) Sociobiology is the extension of population biology and evolutionary theory to social organization.
Ch 1. Dilemma
(1) If the brain is a machine of ten billion nerve cells and the mind can somehow be explained as the summed activity of a finite number of chemical and electrical reactions, boundaries limit the human prospect - we are biological and our souls cannot fly free. If humankind evolved by Darwinian natural selection, genetic chance and environmental necessity, not God, made the species. Deity can still be sought in the origin of the ultimate units of matter, in quarks and electron shells, but not in the origin of species. However much we embellish that stark conclusion with metaphor and imagery, it remains the philosophical legacy of the last century of scientific research.
(2) To the extent that the new [scientific] naturalism is true, its pursuit seems certain to generate two great spiritual dilemmas. The first is that no species, ours included, possesses a purpose beyond the imperatives created by its genetic history…If the brain evolved by natural selection, even the capacities to select particular esthetic judgments and religious beliefs must have arisen by the same mechanistic process. They are either direct adaptations to past environments in which the ancestral human populations evolved or at most constructions thrown up secondarily by deeper, less visible activities that were once adaptive in this stricter, biological sense.
(3) The first dilemma, in a word, is that we have no particular place to go. The species lacks any goal external to its own biological nature. It could be that in the next hundred years humankind will thread the needles of technology and politics, solve the energy and materials crises, avert nuclear war, and control reproduction. The world can at least hope for a stable ecosystem and a well-nourished population. But what then?…Traditional religious beliefs have been eroded, not so much by humiliating disproofs of their mythologies as by the growing awareness that beliefs are really enabling mechanisms for survival.
- “no particular place to go” is found in the cyclical cycles of nature based societies, while it is in direct opposition to, and cannot be found (ideologically) in the “linear progress” of modern Western history.
- mystery does not mean that we should posit supernatural entities/creators, but just that we can posit them.
- “what then?” is only asked in cultures with linear progress and transcendent gods, where the separation from Nature, from the “garden,” has created an alienation that can only be remedied by a return to ecologically sustainable ways of life (and not remedied, of course, by more frantic industrial “progress”).
(4) The danger implicit in the first dilemma is the rapid dissolution of transcendental goals toward which societies can organize their energies. Those goals, the the true moral equivalents of war, have faded…In order to search for a new morality based upon a more truthful definition of man, it is necessary to look inward, to dissect the machinery of the mind and to retrace its evolutionary history. But that effort, I predict, will uncover the second dilemma, which is the choice that must be made among the ethical premises inherent in man’s biological nature.
- Neitszche’s “God is dead.” All ideologies can be deconstructed by the same force of reason that constructed them, therefore they are fragile, and in the end, baseless sophistry.
(5) At the point, let me state in briefest terms the basis of the second dilemma, while I defer its supporting argument to the next chapter: innate censors and motivators exist in the brain that deeply and unconsciously affect our ethical premises; from these roots, morality evolved as instinct. If that perception is correct, science may soon be in a position to investigate the very origin and meaning of human values, from which all ethical pronouncements and much of political practice flow.
- on the other hand, “We only know about 1% of what the brain is doing,” Emad Eskandar, neurosurgery professor, Harvard. (NY Times, “First, Do No Harm” video in “The Icepick as a Psychiatric Cure, 4/17/17).
- “We don’t know why the brain does what it does, we only know about the mechanisms. For the rest you can only write poems,” Chomsky, Understanding Power.
Ch 2. Heredity
(16) Thousands of species are highly social. The most advanced among them constitute what I have called the three pinnacles of social evolution in animals: the corals, bryozoans, and other colony forming invertebrates; the social insects, including ants, wasps, bees, and termites; and the social fish, birds, and mammals. The communal beings of the three pinnacles are among the principal objects of the new discipline of sociobiology, defined as the systematic study of the biological basis of all forms of social behavior, in all kinds of organisms, including man…The enterprise has old roots. Much of its basic information and some of its most vital ideas have come from ethology, the study of whole patterns of behavior of organisms under natural conditions. Ethology was pioneered by Julian Huxley, Karl von Frisch, Konrad Lorenz, Nikolas Tinbergen, and a few others.
(17) Sociobiologists consider man as though seen through the front end of a telescope, at a greater distance and temporarily diminished in size, in order to view him simultaneously with an array of other social experiments. They attempt to place humankind in its proper place in a catalog of the social species on Earth..
This macroscopic view has certain advantages over the traditional anthropocentrism of the social sciences. In fact, no intellectual vice is more crippling than defiantly self-indulgent anthropomorphism. I am reminded of the the clever way Robert Norzick makes this point when he constructs an argument in favor of vegetarianism. Human being, he notes, justify the eating of meat on the grounds that the animals we kill are too far below us in sensitivity and intelligence to bear comparison. It follows that if representatives of a truly superior extraterrestrial species were to visit Earth and apply the same criterion, they could proceed to eat us in good conscience. By the same token, scientists among these aliens might find human beings uninteresting, our intelligence weak, our passions unsurprising, our social organization of a kind already frequently encountered on other planets. To our chagrin they might then focus on the ants, because these little creatures, with their haplodiploid form of sex determination and bizarre female caste systems, are the truly novel productions of the Earth with reference to the Galaxy.
(21) “In a sense, human genes have surrendered their primacy in human evolution to an entirely new, nonbiological or superorganic agent, culture. However, it should not be forgotten that this agent is entirely dependent on the human genotype,” Theodosius Dobzhansky.
- culture is the new, fundamental agent of human evolution, but culture has arisen from biology/reactions to environmental needs.
(31) By conventional evolutionary measures and the principal criteria of psychology we are not alone, we have a little brother species. The points of similarity between human and chimpanzee social behavior, when joined with the compelling anatomical and biochemical traces of relatively recent genetic divergence, form a body of evidence too strong to be dismissed as coincidence. I now believe that they are based at least in part on the possession of identical genes.
- chimps/humans share 96% of same genes (http://news.nationalgeographic.comnews2005/08/0831_050831_chimp_genes.html
(34) We can be fairly certain that most of the genetic evolution of human social behavior occurred over the five million years prior to civilization, when the species consisted of sparse, relatively immobile populations of hunter-gatherers. On the other hand, by far the greater part of cultural evolution has occurred since the origin of agriculture and cities approximately 10,000 years ago. Although genetic evolution of some kind continued during this latter, historical sprint, it cannot have fashioned more than a tiny fraction of the traits of human nature. Otherwise surviving hunter-gatherer people would differ genetically to a significant degree from people in advanced industrial nations, but this is demonstrably not the case. It follows that human sociobiology can be most directly tested in studies of hunter-gatherer societies and the most persistent preliterate herding and agricultural societies. As a result, anthropology rather than sociology or economics is the social science closest to sociobiology. It is in anthropology that the genetic theory of human nature can be most directly pursued.
- behavioral changes (both environmental and cultural) beget genetic mutations beget behavioral changes, therefore, singularly causation by either is impossible (a la “dependent origination” as is Buddhism).
(40) The Bedi Sikhs, the highest ranking priestly subcaste of the Punjab, were known as Kuri-Mar, the daughter slayers. They destroyed virtually all female infants and invested everything in raising sons who would marry women from lower castes [pre 19th century].
Ch 3. Development
(55) We have at last come to the key phrase: genetic determinism. On its interpretation depends the entire relation between biology and the social sciences. To those who wish to reject the implications of sociobiology out of hand, it means that development is insect-like, confined to a single channel, running from a given set of genes to the corresponding single predestined patterns of behavior.
- which is unlikely in the cultural complexities of humankind.
(56) The only way to run accurately and successfully through a life cycle in a matter of days is by instinct, a sequence of rigid behaviors programmed by the genes to unfold swiftly and unerringly from birth to the final act of oviposition [egg-laying].
- but isn’t time (‘days’) relative, i.e. “dog years”? don’t rocks form “in a matter of days”?
- how is this sentence not 100% applicable to humans?
(56) The channels of human mental development, in contrast, are circuitous and variable. Rather than specify a single trait, human genes prescribe the capacity to develop a certain array of traits.
- error of anthropocentrist self-fulfilling prophecy. aliens, observing inhabitants of earth, might disagree.
(60) Scientists as diverse in their philosophies as Konrad Lorenz, Robert A. Hinde, and B.F. Skinner have often stressed that no sharp boundary exists between the inherited and the acquired. It has become apparent that we need new descriptive techniques to replace the archaic distinction between nature and nurture.
- see note under pg 34. see Berman’s paradox, J.R. Saul’s equilibrium, S Diamond’s connote vs denote..
- the impulse for singular causes arise in the limits of language (and thought) and linear reason (logic, etc)..
(70) In all periods of life there is an equally powerful urge to dichotomize, to classify other human beings into two artificially sharpened categories. We seem able to be fully comfortable only when the remainder of humanity can be labelled as members versus nonmembers, kin versus nonkin, friend versus foe. Erik Erikson has written on the proneness of people everywhere to perform pseudospeciation, the reduction of alien societies to the status of inferior species, not fully human, who can be degraded without conscience. Even the gentle San of the Kalahari call themselves the !Kung - the human beings. These and other of the all-too-human predispositions make complete sense only when vaulted in the coinage of generic advantage. Like the appealing springtime songs ofmale birds that serve to defend territories and to advertise aggression, they possess an esthetic those true, deadly meaning is at tifrst concealed fro our conscious minds.
- dichotomize, taxonomies, hierarchize…to the point of xenophobia. what can be categorized within the framework of our own cultural understandings are deemed as real/worthy of protection, everything else is not real/worthy only of being destroyed - out of the existence that that our own ideologies cannot, by definition, make fit.
Ch 4. Emergence
(71) If biology is destiny, as Freud once told us, what becomes of free will? It is tempting to think that deep within the brain lives a soul, a free agent that takes account of the body's experience but travels around the cranium on its own accord, reflecting, planning, and pulling the levers of the neuromotor machinery. The great paradox of determinism and free will, which has held the attention of the wisest philosophers and psychologists for generations, can be phrased in more biological terms as follows: if our genes are inherited and our environment is a train of physical events set in motion before we were born, how can there be a truly independent agent within the brain? The agent itself is created by the interaction of the genes and the environment. It would appear that our freedom is only a self-delusion.
(73) because of mathematical in determinancy and the uncertainty principle, it may be a law of nature that no nervous system is capable of acquiring enough knowledge to significantly predict the future of any other intelligent system in detail. Nor can intelligent minds gain enough self-knowledge to know their own future, capture fate, and in this sense eliminate free will.
(74) Consciousness consists of immense numbers of simultaneous and coordinated, symbolic representations by the participating
neurons of the brain's neocortex. Yet to classify consciousness as the action of organic machinery is in no way to under estimate its power.
(75) Since the mind recreates reality from the abstractions of sense impressions, it can equally well simulate reality by recall and fantasy. The brain invents stories and runs imagined and remembered events back and forth through time: destroying enemies, embracing
lovers, carving tools from blocks of steel, traveling easily into the realms of myth and perfection.
(75) The cardinal mystery of neurobiology is not self-love or dreams of immortality but intentionality. What is the prime mover, the weaver who guides the flashing shuttles [of neurons, etc]?
(76) Most significantly of all, schemata within the brain could serve as the physical basis of will. An organism can be guided in its actions by a feedback loop: a sequence of messages from the sense organs to the brain schemata back to the sense organs and on around again until the schemata "satisfy" themselves that the correct action has been completed. The mind could be a republic of such schemata, programmed to compete among themselves for control of the decision centers, individually waxing or waning in power in response to the relative urgency of the physiological needs of the body being signaled to the conscious mind through the brain stem and midbrain. Will might be the outcome of the competition, requiring the action of neither a "little man" nor any other external agent. There is no proof that
the mind works in just this way. For the moment suffice it to note that the basic mechanisms do exist; feedback loops, for example, control most of our automatic behavior. It is entirely possible that the will — the soul, if you wish — emerged through the evolution of physiological mechanisms. But, clearly, such mechanisms are far more complex than anything else on earth.
(77) The mind is too complicated a structure, and human social relations affect its decisions in too intricate and variable a manner, for the detailed histories of individual human beings to be predicted in advance by the individuals affected or by other human beings. You and I are consequently free and responsible persons in this fundamental sense.
(78) Despite the imposing holistic traditions of Durkheim in sociology and Radcliffe-Brown in anthropology, cultures are not superorganisms that evolve by their own dynamics. Rather, cultural change is the statistical product of the separate behavioral responses of large numbers of human beings who cope as best they can with social existence.
When societies are viewed strictly as populations, the relationship between culture and heredity can be defined more precisely. Human social evolution proceeds along a dual track of inheritance: cultural and biological. Cultural evolution is Lamarckian and very fast, whereas biological evolution is Darwinian and usually very slow.
Lamarckian evolution would proceed by the inheritance of acquired characteristics, the transmission to offspring of traits acquired during the lifetime of the parent. When the French biologist Jean Baptiste de Lamarck proposed the idea in 1809, he believed that biological evolution occurred in just such a manner. He suggested, for example, that when giraffes stretch their necks to feed on taller trees, their offspring acquire longer necks even without such an effort; and when storks stretch their legs to keep their bellies dry, their offspring inherit longer legs in the same direct way. Lamarckism has been entirely discounted as the basis of biological evolution, but of course it is precisely what happens in the case of cultural evolution.
- speed of Lamarckian (cultural here) evolution vs slowness Darwinian (biological) evolution
- because of conscious awareness - intentionality
(82) If it is true that history is guided to a more than negligible extent by the biological evolution that preceded it, valuable clues to its course can be found by studying the contemporary societies whose culture and economic practices most closely approximate those that prevailed during prehistory. These are the hunter-gatherers: the Australian aboriginals, Kalahari San, African pygmies, Andaman Negritos, Eskimos, and other peoples who depend entirely on the capture of animals and harvesting of free-growing plant material. Over one hundred such cultures still survive. Few contain over ten thousand members, and almost all are in danger of assimilation into surrounding cultures or outright extinction. Anthropologists, being fully aware of the great theoretical significance of these primitive cultures, are now pitted in a race against time to record them before they disappear.
Hunter-gatherers share many traits that are directly adaptive to their rugged way of life. They form bands of a hundred or less that roam over large home ranges and often divide or rejoin each other in the search for food. A group comprising twenty-five individuals typically occupies between one thousand and three thousand square kilometers, an area comparable to the home range of a wolf pack of the same size but a hundred times greater than what a troop of exclusively vegetarian gorillas would occupy. Parts of the ranges are sometimes defended as territories, especially those containing rich and reliable sources of food. Intertribal aggression, escalating in some cultures to limited warfare, is common enough to be regarded as a general characteristic of hunter-gatherer social behavior.
(83) Among the many carnivores patrolling the natural environment, primitive men are unusual in capturing prey larger than themselves. Although many of the animals they pursue are small — lying within the combined size range of mice, birds, and lizards — no great creature is immune. Walruses, giraffes, kudu, and elephants fall to the snares and hand-carved weapons of the hunters. The only other mammalian carnivores that take outsized prey are lions, hyenas, wolves, and African wild dogs. Each of these species has an exceptionally advanced social life, prominently featuring the pursuit of prey in coordinated packs. The two traits, large prey size and social hunting, are unquestionably linked. Lions, which are the only social members of the cat family, double their catch when hunting in prides. In addition they are able to subdue the largest and most difficult prey, including giraffes and adult male buffalos, which are almost invulnerable to single predators. Primitive men are ecological analogs of lions, wolves, and hyenas. Alone among the primates, with the marginal exception of the chimpanzees, they have adopted pack hunting in the pursuit of big game. And they resemble four-footed carnivores more than other primates by virtue of habitually slaughtering surplus prey, storing food, feeding solid food to their young, dividing labor, practicing cannibalism, and interacting aggressively with competing species. Bones and stone tools dug from ancient campsites in Africa, Europe, and Asia indicate that this way of life persisted for a million years or longer and was abandoned in most societies only during the last few thousands of years. Thus the selection pressures of hunter-gatherer existence have persisted for over 99 percent of human genetic evolution.
(84) This apparent correlation between ecology and behavior brings us to the prevailing theory of the origin of human social behavior. It consists of a series of interlocking reconstructions that have been fashioned from bits of fossil evidence, extrapolations back through time from hunter-gatherer societies, and comparisons with other living primate species. The core of the theory is what I referred to in my earlier book Sociobiology as the autocatalysis model. Autocatalysis is a term that originated in chemistry; it means any process that increases in speed according to the amount of the products it has created. The longer the process runs, the greater its speed. By this conception the earliest men or man-apes started to walk erect when they came to spend most or all of their time on the ground. Their hands were freed, the manufacture and handling of artifacts were made easier, and intelligence grew as the tool-using habit improved. With mental capacity and the tendency to use artifacts increasing through mutual reinforcement, the entire materials-based culture expanded. Now the species moved onto the dual track of evolution: genetic evolution by natural selection enlarged the capacity for culture, and culture enhanced the genetic fitness of those who made maximum use of it. Cooperation during hunting was perfected and provided a new impetus for the evolution of intelligence, which in turn permitted still more sophistication in tool using, and so on through repeated cycles of causation. The sharing of game and other food contributed to the honing of social skills. In modern hunter-gatherer bands, it is an occasion for constant palavering and maneuvering.
(85) The natural selection generated by such exchanges might have been enhanced by the more sophisticated social behavior required by the female's nearly continuous sexual accessibility. Because a high level of cooperation exists within the band, sexual selection would be linked with hunting prowess, leadership, skill at tool making, and other visible attributes that contribute to the strength of the family and the male band. At the same time aggressiveness would have to be restrained and the phylogenetically ancient forms of overt primate dominance replaced by complex social skills. Young males would find it profitable to fit into the group by controlling their sexuality and aggression and awaiting their turn at leadership. The dominant male in these early hominid societies was consequently most likely to possess a mosaic of qualities that reflect the necessities of compromise. Robin Fox has suggested the following portrait: "Controlled, cunning, cooperative, attractive to the ladies, good with the children, relaxed, tough, eloquent, skillful, knowledgeable and proficient in self-defense and hunting." Because there would have been a continuously reciprocating relationship between the more sophisticated social traits and breeding success, social evolution could continue indefinitely without additional selective pressures from the environment.
- compromise: as in Berman’s paradox (Wandering God) and J.R. Saul’s equilibrium (The Unconscious Civilization).
(86) Child care would have been improved by close social bonding between individual males, who left the domicile to hunt larger game, and individual females, who kept the children and conducted most of the foraging for vegetable food. In a sense, love was added to
sex. Many of the peculiar details of human sexual behavior and domestic life flow easily from this basic division of labor. But such details are not essential to the autocatalysis model. They are appended to the evolutionary story only because they are displayed by virtually all hunter-gatherer societies.
Autocatalytic reactions never expand to infinity, and biological processes themselves normally change through time to slow growth and eventually bring it to a halt. But almost miraculously, this has not yet happened in human evolution. The increase in brain size and refinement of stone artifacts point to an unbroken advance in mental ability over the last two to three million years. During this crucial period the brain evolved in either one great surge or a series of alternating surges and plateaus. No organ in the history of life has grown faster. When true men diverged from the ancestral man-apes, the brain added one cubic inch — about a tablespoonful — every hundred thousand years. The rate was maintained until about one quarter of a million years ago, when, at about the time of the appearance of the modern species Homo sapiens, it tapered off. Physical growth was then supplanted by an increasingly prominent cultural evolution. With the appearance of the Mousterian tool culture of the Neanderthal man some seventy-five thousand years ago, cultural change gathered momentum, giving rise in Europe to the Upper Paleolithic culture of Cro-Magnon man about forty thousand years before the present. Starting about ten thousand years ago agriculture was invented and spread, populations increased enormously in density, and the primitive hunter-gatherer bands gave way locally to the relentless growth of tribes, chiefdoms, and states. Finally, after a.d. 1400 European-based civilization shifted gears again, and the growth of knowledge and technology accelerated to world-altering levels.
(88) There is no reason to believe that during this final sprint to the space age there has been a cessation in the evolution of either mental
capacity or the predilection toward special social behaviors. The theory of population genetics and experiments on other organisms show that substantial changes can occur in the span of less than 100 generations, which for man reaches back only to the time of the Roman Empire. Two thousand generations, roughly the time since typical Homo sapiens invaded Europe, is enough time to create new species
and to mold their anatomy and behavior in major ways. Although we do not know how much mental evolution has actually occurred, it would be premature to assume that modern civilizations have been built entirely on genetic capital accumulated during the long haul of the Ice Age.
That capital is nevertheless very large. It seems safe to assume that the greater part of the changes that transpired in the interval from the hunter-gatherer life of forty thousand years ago to the first glimmerings of civilization in the Sumerian city states, and virtually all of the changes from Sumer to Europe, were created by cultural rather than genetic evolution. The question of interest, then, is the extent to which the hereditary qualities of hunter-gatherer existence have influenced the course of subsequent cultural evolution.
I believe that the influence has been substantial. In evidence is the fact that the emergence of civilization has everywhere followed a definable sequence. As societies grew in size from the tiny hunter-gatherer bands, the complexity of their organization increased by the addition of features that appeared in a fairly consistent order. As band changed to tribe, true male leaders appeared and gained dominance, alliances between neighboring groups were strengthened and formalized, and rituals marking the changes of season became general. With still denser populations came the attributes of generic chiefdom: the formal distinction of rank according to membership in families, the hereditary consolidation of leadership, a sharper division of labor, and the redistribution of wealth under the control of the ruling elite. As chiefdoms gave rise in turn to cities and states, these basic qualities were intensified. The hereditary status of the elite
was sanctified by religious beliefs. Craft specialization formed the basis for stratifying the remainder of society into classes. Religion and law were codified, armies assembled, and bureaucracies expanded. Irrigation systems and agriculture were perfected, and as a
consequence populations grew still denser. At the apogee of the state's evolution, architecture was monumental, and the ruling classes were exalted as a pseudospecies. The sacred rites of statehood became the central focus of religion.
(89) In my opinion the key to the emergence of civilization is hypertrophy, the extreme growth of pre-existing structures. Like the teeth of the baby elephant that lengthen into tusks, and the cranial bones of the male elk that sprout into astonishing great antlers, the basic social responses of the hunter-gatherers have metamorphosed from relatively modest environmental adaptations into unexpectedly elaborate, even monstrous forms in more advanced societies. Yet the directions this change can take and its final products are constrained by the genetically influenced behavioral predispositions that constituted the earlier, simpler adaptations of preliterate human beings.
- because cultural evolution moves faster than biological evolution. autocatalysis + hypertrophy..
(92) Most and perhaps all of the other prevailing characteristics of modern societies can be identified as hypertrophic modifications of the biologically meaningful institutions of hunter-gatherer bands and early tribal states. Nationalism and racism, to take two examples, are the
culturally nurtured outgrowths of simple tribalism. Where the Nyae Nyae !Kung speak of themselves as perfect and clean and other !Kung people as alien murderers who use deadly poisons, civilizations have raised self-love to the rank of high culture, exalted themselves by
divine sanction and diminished others with elaborately falsified written histories.
Even the beneficiaries of the hypertrophy have found it difficult to cope with extreme cultural change, because they are sociobio-
logically equipped only for an earlier, simpler existence. Where the hunter-gatherer fills at most one or two informal roles out of only several available, his literate counterpart in an industrial society must choose ten or more out of thousands, and replace one set with another at different periods of his life or even at different times of the day. Furthermore, each occupation —the physician, the judge, the teacher, the waitress — is played just so, regardless of the true workings of the mind behind the persona. Significant deviations in performance are interpreted by others as a sign of mental incapacity and unreliability. Daily life is a compromised blend of posturing for the sake of role-playing and of varying degrees of self-revelation. Under these stressful conditions even the "true" self cannot be precisely defined.
- Sartre’s “playing at” being a waiter, etc..
- xenophobia: refined (“civilized”) tribalism
(93) Early human beings, as I have said, filled a special ecological niche: they were the carnivorous primates of the African plains.
(96) The fraction of Americans working in occupations concerned primarily with information has increased from 20 to nearly 50 percent of the work force .
Ch 5. Aggression
(104) I suspect that if hamadryas baboons had nuclear weapons, they would destroy the world in a week.
(115) One village studied by Chagnon was raided twenty-five times in nineteen months by neighboring villages. One quarter of all Yanomamo men die in battle, but the surviving warriors are often wildly successful in the game of reproduction. The founder of one bloc of villages had forty-five children by eight wives. His sons were also prolific, so that approximately 75 percent of all of the sizable population in the village bloc were his descendants.
(116) Keith Otterbein, [The Evolution of War] an anthropologist, has studied quantitatively the variables affecting warlike behavior in forty-six cultures, from the relatively unsophisticated Tiwi and Jivaro to more advanced societies such as the Egyptians, Aztecs, Hawaiians, and Japanese. His main conclusions will cause no great surprise: as societies become centralized and complex, they develop more sophisticated military organizations and techniques of battle, and the greater their military sophistication, the more likely they are to expand their territories and to displace competing cultures.
(117) In Abba Eban's memorable words on the occasion of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, men use reason as a last resort.
(119) To recapitulate the total argument, human aggression cannot be explained as either a dark-angelic flaw or a bestial instinct. Nor is it the pathological symptom of upbringing in a cruel environment. Human beings are strongly predisposed to respond with unreasoning hatred to external threats and to escalate their hostility sufficiently to overwhelm the source of the threat by a respectably wide margin of safety. Our brains do appear to be programmed to the following extent: we are inclined to partition other people into friends and aliens, in the same sense that birds are inclined to learn territorial songs and to navigate by the polar constellations. We tend to fear deeply the actions of strangers and to solve conflict by aggression. These learning rules are most likely to have evolved during the past hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution and, thus, to have conferred a biological advantage on those who conformed to them with the greatest fidelity.
Ch 6. Sex
(125) It pays males to be aggressive, hasty, fickle, and undiscriminating. In theory it is more profitable for females to be coy, to hold back until they can identify males with the best genes.
(126) About three fourths of all human societies permit the taking of multiple wives, and most of them encourage the practice by law and custom. In contrast, marriage to multiple husbands is sanctioned in less than one percent of societies…
Because women are commonly treated by men as a limiting resource and hence as valued property, they are the beneficiaries of hypergamy, the practice of marrying upward in social position. Polygyny and hypergamy are essentially complimentary strategies. In diverse cultures men pursue and acquire, while women are protected and bartered.
(128) The physical and temperamental differences between men and women have been amplified by culture into universal male dominance. History records not a single society in which women have controlled the political and economic lives of men. Even when queens and empresses ruled, their intermediaries remained primarily male…Men have traditionally assumed the positions of chieftains, shamans, judges, and warriors. Their modern technocratic counterparts rule the industrial states and head the corporations and churches.
(138) We know in particular that the earliest true men, at least back to Homo Habilis, two to three million years ago, differed from other primates in two respects: they ranged away from the forest habitats of their ancestors, and they hunted game. The animals they captured included antelopes, elephants, and other large mammals not exploited by the mostly vegetarian apes and monkeys. These slender little people, the size of modern twelve year olds, were devoid of fangs and claws and almost certainly slower in foot than the four legged animals around them. They could have succeeded in their new way of life only be relying on tools and sophisticated cooperative behavior.
(141) The biological significance of sex has been misinterpreted by the theoreticians of Judaism and Christianity. To this day the Roman Catholic church asserts that the primary role of sexual behavior is the insemination of wives by husbands. In his 1968 encyclical Humane Vitae, which was reaffirmed by a mandate from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1976, Pope Paul VI prohibits the use of any form of birth control except abstinence at ovulation. Also condemned are all “genital acts” outside the framework of marriage. Masturbation is not a normal part of erotic development; it is an “intrinsically and seriously disordered act.”
(142) All that we can surmise of humankind’s genetic history argues for a more liberal sexual morality, in which sexual practices are to be regarded first as bonding devices and only second as means for procreation.
(142) That the moral sentinels of Western culture have condemned homosexuals is understandable. Judeo-Christian morality is based on the Old Testament, written by the prophets of an aggressive pastoral nation whose success was based on rapid and orderly population growth enhanced by repeated episodes of territorial conquest. The prescriptions of Leviticus are tailored to this specialized existence. They include the following: “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman: that is an abomination.” This biblical logic seems consistent with a simplistic view of natural law when population growth is at a premium, since the overriding purpose of sexual behavior under such circumstances will seem to be the procreation of children. Most Americans still follow the archaic prescription, even though their demographic goals are now entirely different from those of the early Israelites. Homosexuals must be fundamentally deviant, the reasoning goes, because their behavior does not produce children.
Ch 7. Altruism
(162) There is a principle in political science knows as Director’s Law, which states that income in a society is distributed to the benefit of the class that controls the government.
(167) Can the cultural evolution of higher ethical values gain a direction and momentum of its own and completely replace genetic evolution? I think not. The genes hold culture on a leash. The leash is very long, but inevitable values will be constrained in accordance with their effects on the human gene pool. The brain is the product of evolution. Human behavior - like the deepest capacities for emotional response which drive and guide it - is the circuitous technique by which human genetic material has been and will be kept intact. Morality has no other demonstrable ultimate function.
- yet, as in note from pg 34: - behavioral changes (both environmental and cultural) beget genetic mutations beget behavioral changes, therefore, singularly causation by either is impossible (a la “dependent origination” as is Buddhism).
- chicken or the egg: why are genes the “prime mover,” original cause, when they are affected by behavioral/environmental changes??
Ch 8. Religion
(169) The predisposition to religious belief is the most complex and powerful force in the human mind and in all probability an ineradicable part of human nature. Emile Durkheim, an agnostic, characterized religious practice as the consecration of the group and the core of society. It is one of the universals of social behavior, taking recognizable from in every society from hunter-gatherer bands to socialist republics. Its rudiments go back at least to the bone alters and finery rites of Neanderthal man. At Shanidar, Iraq, sixty thousand years ago, Neanderthal people decorated a grave with seven species of flowers having medical and economic value, perhaps to honor a shaman. Since that time, according to the anthropologist Anthony F.C. Wallace, mankind has produced on the order of 100 thousand religions.
(172) Our schizophrenic societies progress by knowledge but survive on inspiration derived from the very beliefs which that knowledge erodes.
(184) An unthinking submission to the communal will remains among the most emotionally potent virtues among “good” people in the mainstream of society. “Jesus is the answer” is the contemporary equivalent of Deus Vult, the rallying cry of the First Crusade. God wills it…We must now inquire: Is the readiness to be indoctrinated a neurologically based learning rule that evolved through the selection of clans competing one against the other?
- J.R. Saul, The Unconscious Civilization
- the most powerful impulse in human behavior is the desire to belong to a/the group
(188) The highest forms of religious practice , examined more closely, can be seen to confer biological advantage. Above all they congeal identity. In the midst of the chaotic and potentially disorienting experiences each person undergoes daily, religion classifies him, provides him with unquestioned membership in a group claiming great powers, and by this means gives him a driving purpose in life compatible with his self interest. His strength is the strength of the group, his guide the sacred covenant. The theologian and sociologist Hans J. Mol has aptly termed this key process the “sacralization of identity.” The mind is predisposed - one can speculate that learning rules are physiologically programmed - to participate in a few processes of sacralization which in combination generate the institutions of organized religion.
- religion congeals/sacralizes/codifies communal cooperation - that which gives biologically inferior early humans (no fangs, no claws, physically slower, etc) the edge over competing species.
(189) Belief in high gods is not universal. Among 81 hunter-gatherer societies surveyed by John W.M. Whiting, only 28, or 35 percent, included high gods in their sacred traditions. The concept of an active, moral God who created the world is even less widespread. Furthermore, this concept most commonly arises with a pastoral way of life. The greater the dependence on herding, the more likely the belief in a shepherd god of the Judeo-Christian type. In other kinds of society the belief occurs in 10 percent or less of those whose religion is known.
The God of monotheistic religions is always male; this strong patriarchal tendency has several cultural sources. Pastoral societies are highly mobile, tightly organized, and often militant, all features that tip the balance toward male authority. It is also significant that herding, the main economic base, is primarily the responsibility of men. Because the Hebrews were originally a herding people, the Bible describes God as a shepherd and the chosen people as his sheep. Islam, one of the strictest of all monotheistic faiths, grew to early power among the herding people of the Arabian peninsula.
(192) As I have tried to show, sociobiology can account for the very origin of mythology by the principle of natural selection acting on the genetically evolving material structure of the human brain.
Ch 9. Hope
(195) The first dilemma [The first is that no species, ours included, possesses a purpose beyond the imperatives created by its genetic history; and that we have ‘no place to go’] has been created by the seemingly fatal deterioration of the myths of traditional religion and its secular equivalents, principal among which are ideologies based on a Marxian interpretation of history. The price of these failures has been a loss of moral consensus, a greater sense of helplessness about the human condition and a shrinking of concern back toward the self and the immediate future [shrinking from communal, long term (cyclical) intentions to individual/selfish, short term (linear) intentions]. The intellectual solution of the first dilemma can be achieved by a deeper and more courageous examination of human nature that combines the findings of biology with those of the social sciences. The mind will be more precisely explained as an epiphenomenon of the neuronal machinery of the brain. That machinery is in turn the product of genetic evolution by natural selection acting on human populations for hundreds of thousands of years in their ancient environments. By a judicious extension of the methods and ideas of neurobiology, ethology, and sociobiology a proper foundation can be laid for the social sciences, and the discontinuity still separating the natural sciences on the one side and the social sciences and humanities on the other might be erased.
If this solution to the first dilemma proves even partially correct, it will lead directly to the the second dilemma: the conscious choices that must be made among our innate mental propensities [ie, innate censors and motivators exist in the brain that deeply and unconsciously affect our ethical premises; from these roots, morality evolved as instinct]…Human nature is, moreover, a hodgepodge of special genetic adaptations to an environment largely vanished, the world of the Ice-Age hunter-gatherers. Modern life, as rich and rapidly changing as it appears to those caught in it, is nevertheless only a mosaic of cultural hypertrophies [the extreme growth of pre-existing structures, pg 89] of the archaic behavioral adaptations. And at the center of the second dilemma is found a circularity: we are forced to choose among the elements of human nature by reference to value systems which these same elements created in an evolutionary age now long vanished.
(197) Because natural selection has acted on the behavior of individuals who benefit themselves and their immediate relatives, human nature bends us to the imperatives of selfishness and tribalism. But a more detached view of the long range course of evolution should allow us to see beyond the blind decision making process of natural selection and to envision the history and future of our own genes against die background of the entire human species. A word already in use intuitively defines this view: nobility. Had dinosaurs grasped the concept they might have survived. They might have been us.
(199) Our societies are based on the mammalian plan: the individual strives for personal reproductive success foremost and that of his immediate kin secondarily; further grudging cooperation represents a compromise struck in order to enjoy the benefits of group membership. A rational ant - let us imagine for a moment that ants and other social insects had succeeded in evolving high intelligence - would find such an arrangement biologically unsound and the very concept of individual freedom intrinsically evil. We will accede to universal rights because power is too fluid in advanced technological societies to circumvent this mammalian imperative; the long-term consequences of inequity will always be visibly dangerous to its temporary beneficiaries. I suggest that an understanding of its raw biological causation will be more compelling in the end than any rationalization contrived by culture to reinforce and euphemize it.
- although perhaps as species become more “rational,” they necessarily become less communal. Rationality comes from self awareness, which is the beginning of individual selfishness.
(200) Recent evidence suggests that dreams are produced when giant fibers in the brainstem fire upward through the brain during sleep, stirring the cerebral cortex to activity. In the absence of ordinary sensory information from the outside, the cortex responds by calling up images from the memory banks and fabricating plausible stories. In an analogous manner the mind will always create morality, religion, and mythology and empower them with emotional force. When blind ideologies and religious beliefs are stripped away, others are quickly manufactured as replacements. If the cerebral cortex is rigidly trained in the techniques of critical analysis and packed with tested information, it will reorder all that into some form of morality, religion, and mythology. If the mind is instructed that its pararational activity cannot be combined with the rational, it will divide itself into two compartments so that both activities can continue to flourish side by side.
The mythopoeic drive can be harnessed to learning and the rational search for human progress if we finally concede that scientific materialism is itself a mythology defined in the noble sense. So let me give again the reasons why I consider the scientific ethos superior to religion: its repeated triumphs in explaining and controlling the physical world; its self-correcting nature open to all competent to devise and conduct the tests; its readiness to examine all subjects sacred and profane; and now the possibility of explaining traditional religion by the mechanistic models of evolutionary biology. The last achievement will by crucial. If religion, including the dogmatic secular ideologies, can be systematically analyzed and explained as a product of the brain’s evolution, its power as an external source of morality will be gone forever and the solution of the second dilemma will have become a practical necessity.
- is this current global ecological crisis a “triumph”??
- but the idea that “controlling” nature is a supreme goal of human reason is, of course, a devastating, wrong, and suicidal one to human unreason (i.e. life itself - physical, mental, spiritual).
(203) Every epic needs a hero: the mind will do. Even astronomers, accustomed to thinking about ten billion galaxies and and distances just short of infinity, must agree that the human brain is the most complex device that we know and the crossroads of investigation by every major natural science. The social scientists and humanistic scholars, not omitting theologians, will eventually have to concede that scientific naturalism is destined to alter the foundations of their systematic inquiry by redefining the mental process itself.
- the “human mind” as the hero that emerges from the big bang is exactly the catestrophic hubris that we must escape, if we are to save our evolutionary lives on this planet.
(205) As knowledge grows, science must increasingly become the stimulus to imagination.
Such a view will undoubtedly be opposed as elitist by some who regard economic and social problems as everywhere overriding. There is an element of truth in that objection. Can anything really matter while people starve in the Sahel in India and rot in prisons of Argentina and the Soviet Union? In response it can be asked, do we want to know, in depth and for all time, why we care? And when these problems are solved, what then? The stated purpose of governments everywhere is human fulfillment in some sense higher than animal survival. In almost all socialist revolutions the goals of highest priority, next to consecration of the revolution, are education, science, and technology - the combination that leads inexorably back to the first and second dilemmas.
- “the stated purpose of governments” is unfortunately much different than the actual purpose. “Civilization proceeds by oppression at home and conquest abroad,” first line in S Diamond’s In Search of the Primitive. The actual purpose then is the human fulfillment of a tiny portion of the rich, combined with the violent oppression and conquest of everyone else/the majority. Therefore, the stated/implied goals of revolution must be seriously rethought, broadened.
(206) Above all, I am not suggesting that scientific naturalism be used as an alternative form of organized religion…Humanists show a touching faith in the power of knowledge and the idea of evolutionary progress over the minds of men. I am suggesting a modification of scientific humanism through the recognition that the mental processes of religious belief - consecration of personal and group identity, attention to charismatic leaders, mythopoeism, and others - represent programmed predispositions whose self sufficient components were incorporated into the neural apparatus of the brain by thousands of generations of genetic evolutionAs such they are powerful, ineradicable, and at the center of human social existence. They are also structured to a degree not previously appreciated by most philosophers. I suggest further that scientific materialism must accommodate them on two levels: as a scientific puzzle of great complexity and interest, and as a source of energies that can be shifted in new directions when scientific materialism itself is accepted as the more powerful mythology.
That transition will proceed at an accelerated rate. Man’s destiny is to know, if only because societies with knowledge culturally dominate societies that lack it. Luddites and anti-intellectuals do not master the differential equations of thermodynamics or the biochemical cures of illness. They stay in thatched huts and die young. Cultures with unifying goals will learn more rapidly than those that lack them, and an autocatalytic growth of learning will follow because scientific materialism is the only mythology that can manufacture great goals fro the sustained pursuit of pure knowledge.
- “man’s destiny is to know…culturally dominate.. ” therefore, cultural domination is the implied goal??!!
- And what happens when things are “mastered”? Forests are cut down, entire nations are murdered. Cultural dominance/ hegemony/homogeny is as bad for the planet as the destruction of environmental diversity. Doesn’t the former cause the latter??
- “pure knowledge” of what?? Christian crusaders/explorers of the West could claim the same thing - pure knowledge of God. A scientific mission system would not be better than the archaic (but still thriving) Christian one. Both result in the “thatched hut” cultures dying and a catastrophic cultural hegemony.
- is it possible to discover all the amazing laws of nature without destroying the planet?? So far, by observing this single petri dish experiment called planet earth, the answer is no.