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Thread: Implications of cultural norms on human evolution

  1. Top | #11
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    ...though occasionally, imitating an action without understanding the why does result in hilariously ineffective behaviour too: https://imgur.com/gallery/SVhJjjm, or this one:

  2. Top | #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jokodo View Post
    More on the point of your question, which I interpret to mean something along the lines "what are the cognitive adaptations and innate predispositions that enable humans to pick up culture": Apes don't ape, humans do, but only sometimes.
    That's an interesting question, but I'm more interested in our predisposition to follow custom and, for lack of a better term, default to authority (cultural norms). My assumption is that an animal which does exactly as expected and told by it's dominant culture will have more reproductive success than one which doesn't. To me this implies that our evolution as a species has a kind of directionality, for lack of a better term, that is pointed at a cognitive makeup for defaulting to authority, or cultural norms. IOW, the person who has a mental make-up which believes in culture (nationalism, religion, politics) with sincerity will be the more likely case than the person who doesn't. I think this would imply that our cognitive make-up, averaged out, may be a fairly stable constant across time.

    Based on that assumption I'm interested in defining what this constant is. What does the 'average' man, or 'average' woman look like? And how does that inform things like politics, religion, etc.

    Some terminology first: what most animals, including our closest relatives do when they see a conspecific or human operate a widget is they focus on the widget to find out its properties, not on the operator. E.g. when you press a button, their take home is that the device has a button that can be pressed to achieve an outcome, and if interested try to get the same outcome using the device's properties. That is called goal emulation. An alternative would be blind imitation - copying the how, the action you performed on the device, with the outcome secondary. That we could call blind means imitation, and for a time it was believed this is what humans do instinctively. The actual strategy of humans appears to be more nuanced, though, what some researchers call "rational imitation": Humans, like other animals, do reconstruct an agent's goal and will try to bring about the same outcome any way they see fit unless they get cues that the how is important.

    There was a seminal study in the 80s purporting to find that human infants as young as 14 months will blindly copy an inefficient way to reach a goal ((blind) means imitation), e.g. activate a novel toy with their forehead instead of the hand (goal emulation) when that's what the presenter did. More recent research has shown this to be true only conditionally: If the presenter has their hands wrapped in a blanket (unlike the child) making them unavailable, or if they don't establish communication, the children will use the more efficient hand action. But when the presenter first establishes eye contact and talks to the child, and when they could have easily used their hands instead, children assign relevance to the how and also operate it with their head - their take home in these situations is that the how is relevant, that "this is how we do it" even if the reasons elude them. Here is an interesting 2002 Nature paper where they found that infants copy the head action 70% of the time when the presenter had their hands free (i.e. could have used them instead but chose not to), but only 20% of the time when they had a good reason not to use their hands: Rational imitation in preverbal infants (full text version: http://web.mit.edu/~hyora/Public/URO...ure%202002.pdf), and a more recent one discussing the role of communication in triggering imitation: https://www.sciencedirect.com/scienc...22096512002445
    If you are interested, you can dig deeper into this discussion by following those papers' trails, ie. backward to the references they cite and forward to the articles citing them.

    Another interesting read is this book: The Evolved Apprentice

    That's an interesting way to put it - better safe than sorry. Maybe many of us are naturally attuned to follow social norms because that serves as a better general purpose cognitive tool than to think about ways in which to act outside the norm. IOW, many of us have a cognitive make-up that defaults to the custom which has more adaptive power than one that doesn't. Too much critical thinking may lead to emancipation from custom - foregoing marriage, children, traditional lifeways. Too little critical thinking means we are not smart enough to understand what custom is, making us less likely to partner / have kids. Somewhere in between we have 'society at large' which is adept at feeling faith in, and following norms.
    I'm not sure you fully get my thrift. What I'm saying is that what you call "custom" is not so much a thing in itself as it is a side effect of our uniquely human learning strategy that is independently valuable - a homo habilis toolmaker initiate lacking the understanding of solid-state physics to deduce the ideal angle to hit a raw stone is overall better off copying what he sees an experienced toolmaker do than use his understanding of the world to get from a pebble to a stone knife with his own means. Rational imitation is what enables the transmission of technology from one generation to the other without requiring the trainee to fully understand the why, and thus a prerequisite to any kind of material culture to speak of. That it also leads the transmission of arbitrary customs is a side effect of this independently selected learning strategy. Intelligence, as far as I can tell, is fully orthogonal to this discussion. Failing to make use of this learning strategy doesn't make you more intelligent, it only makes you overall less efficient at what you do even as it allows you to skip some unnecessary purely habitual actions.

    It's also not something "many of us" do, it's something we people as a rule and opposed to chimps do in general.
    Granted. I think you could extend this argument and say that some cultural customs could be framed as 'irrational', or with no real logic. Religion is a great example. To the person who works on pure logic childrearing could also be seen as irrational as well - why spend extra resources and work harder when we can just not do that. So if we assume that people default to authority most of the time, it's likely that following these 'irrational' endeavors will be more likely as well. The truly efficient learner realizes they don't need to follow custom at all, but then falls out of the gene pool. I think this further points to the 'directionality' I mentioned above. Not a 'purposeful' directionality, but rather a kind of phenotypic constant that we follow.

  3. Top | #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post

    That's an interesting question, but I'm more interested in our predisposition to follow custom and, for lack of a better term, default to authority (cultural norms). My assumption is that an animal which does exactly as expected and told by it's dominant culture will have more reproductive success than one which doesn't. To me this implies that our evolution as a species has a kind of directionality, for lack of a better term, that is pointed at a cognitive makeup for defaulting to authority, or cultural norms. IOW, the person who has a mental make-up which believes in culture (nationalism, religion, politics) with sincerity will be the more likely case than the person who doesn't. I think this would imply that our cognitive make-up, averaged out, may be a fairly stable constant across time.

    Based on that assumption I'm interested in defining what this constant is. What does the 'average' man, or 'average' woman look like? And how does that inform things like politics, religion, etc.

    Some terminology first: what most animals, including our closest relatives do when they see a conspecific or human operate a widget is they focus on the widget to find out its properties, not on the operator. E.g. when you press a button, their take home is that the device has a button that can be pressed to achieve an outcome, and if interested try to get the same outcome using the device's properties. That is called goal emulation. An alternative would be blind imitation - copying the how, the action you performed on the device, with the outcome secondary. That we could call blind means imitation, and for a time it was believed this is what humans do instinctively. The actual strategy of humans appears to be more nuanced, though, what some researchers call "rational imitation": Humans, like other animals, do reconstruct an agent's goal and will try to bring about the same outcome any way they see fit unless they get cues that the how is important.

    There was a seminal study in the 80s purporting to find that human infants as young as 14 months will blindly copy an inefficient way to reach a goal ((blind) means imitation), e.g. activate a novel toy with their forehead instead of the hand (goal emulation) when that's what the presenter did. More recent research has shown this to be true only conditionally: If the presenter has their hands wrapped in a blanket (unlike the child) making them unavailable, or if they don't establish communication, the children will use the more efficient hand action. But when the presenter first establishes eye contact and talks to the child, and when they could have easily used their hands instead, children assign relevance to the how and also operate it with their head - their take home in these situations is that the how is relevant, that "this is how we do it" even if the reasons elude them. Here is an interesting 2002 Nature paper where they found that infants copy the head action 70% of the time when the presenter had their hands free (i.e. could have used them instead but chose not to), but only 20% of the time when they had a good reason not to use their hands: Rational imitation in preverbal infants (full text version: http://web.mit.edu/~hyora/Public/URO...ure%202002.pdf), and a more recent one discussing the role of communication in triggering imitation: https://www.sciencedirect.com/scienc...22096512002445
    If you are interested, you can dig deeper into this discussion by following those papers' trails, ie. backward to the references they cite and forward to the articles citing them.

    Another interesting read is this book: The Evolved Apprentice



    I'm not sure you fully get my thrift. What I'm saying is that what you call "custom" is not so much a thing in itself as it is a side effect of our uniquely human learning strategy that is independently valuable - a homo habilis toolmaker initiate lacking the understanding of solid-state physics to deduce the ideal angle to hit a raw stone is overall better off copying what he sees an experienced toolmaker do than use his understanding of the world to get from a pebble to a stone knife with his own means. Rational imitation is what enables the transmission of technology from one generation to the other without requiring the trainee to fully understand the why, and thus a prerequisite to any kind of material culture to speak of. That it also leads the transmission of arbitrary customs is a side effect of this independently selected learning strategy. Intelligence, as far as I can tell, is fully orthogonal to this discussion. Failing to make use of this learning strategy doesn't make you more intelligent, it only makes you overall less efficient at what you do even as it allows you to skip some unnecessary purely habitual actions.

    It's also not something "many of us" do, it's something we people as a rule and opposed to chimps do in general.
    Granted. I think you could extend this argument and say that some cultural customs could be framed as 'irrational', or with no real logic. Religion is a great example. To the person who works on pure logic childrearing could also be seen as irrational as well - why spend extra resources and work harder when we can just not do that. So if we assume that people default to authority most of the time, it's likely that following these 'irrational' endeavors will be more likely as well. The truly efficient learner realizes they don't need to follow custom at all, but then falls out of the gene pool. I think this further points to the 'directionality' I mentioned above. Not a 'purposeful' directionality, but rather a kind of phenotypic constant that we follow.
    Well it didn't take long from "I'm going to avoid making any claims or bold statements" to peddling your same little teleological pet theory again.

  4. Top | #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jokodo View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post

    That's an interesting question, but I'm more interested in our predisposition to follow custom and, for lack of a better term, default to authority (cultural norms). My assumption is that an animal which does exactly as expected and told by it's dominant culture will have more reproductive success than one which doesn't. To me this implies that our evolution as a species has a kind of directionality, for lack of a better term, that is pointed at a cognitive makeup for defaulting to authority, or cultural norms. IOW, the person who has a mental make-up which believes in culture (nationalism, religion, politics) with sincerity will be the more likely case than the person who doesn't. I think this would imply that our cognitive make-up, averaged out, may be a fairly stable constant across time.

    Based on that assumption I'm interested in defining what this constant is. What does the 'average' man, or 'average' woman look like? And how does that inform things like politics, religion, etc.

    Some terminology first: what most animals, including our closest relatives do when they see a conspecific or human operate a widget is they focus on the widget to find out its properties, not on the operator. E.g. when you press a button, their take home is that the device has a button that can be pressed to achieve an outcome, and if interested try to get the same outcome using the device's properties. That is called goal emulation. An alternative would be blind imitation - copying the how, the action you performed on the device, with the outcome secondary. That we could call blind means imitation, and for a time it was believed this is what humans do instinctively. The actual strategy of humans appears to be more nuanced, though, what some researchers call "rational imitation": Humans, like other animals, do reconstruct an agent's goal and will try to bring about the same outcome any way they see fit unless they get cues that the how is important.

    There was a seminal study in the 80s purporting to find that human infants as young as 14 months will blindly copy an inefficient way to reach a goal ((blind) means imitation), e.g. activate a novel toy with their forehead instead of the hand (goal emulation) when that's what the presenter did. More recent research has shown this to be true only conditionally: If the presenter has their hands wrapped in a blanket (unlike the child) making them unavailable, or if they don't establish communication, the children will use the more efficient hand action. But when the presenter first establishes eye contact and talks to the child, and when they could have easily used their hands instead, children assign relevance to the how and also operate it with their head - their take home in these situations is that the how is relevant, that "this is how we do it" even if the reasons elude them. Here is an interesting 2002 Nature paper where they found that infants copy the head action 70% of the time when the presenter had their hands free (i.e. could have used them instead but chose not to), but only 20% of the time when they had a good reason not to use their hands: Rational imitation in preverbal infants (full text version: http://web.mit.edu/~hyora/Public/URO...ure%202002.pdf), and a more recent one discussing the role of communication in triggering imitation: https://www.sciencedirect.com/scienc...22096512002445
    If you are interested, you can dig deeper into this discussion by following those papers' trails, ie. backward to the references they cite and forward to the articles citing them.

    Another interesting read is this book: The Evolved Apprentice



    I'm not sure you fully get my thrift. What I'm saying is that what you call "custom" is not so much a thing in itself as it is a side effect of our uniquely human learning strategy that is independently valuable - a homo habilis toolmaker initiate lacking the understanding of solid-state physics to deduce the ideal angle to hit a raw stone is overall better off copying what he sees an experienced toolmaker do than use his understanding of the world to get from a pebble to a stone knife with his own means. Rational imitation is what enables the transmission of technology from one generation to the other without requiring the trainee to fully understand the why, and thus a prerequisite to any kind of material culture to speak of. That it also leads the transmission of arbitrary customs is a side effect of this independently selected learning strategy. Intelligence, as far as I can tell, is fully orthogonal to this discussion. Failing to make use of this learning strategy doesn't make you more intelligent, it only makes you overall less efficient at what you do even as it allows you to skip some unnecessary purely habitual actions.

    It's also not something "many of us" do, it's something we people as a rule and opposed to chimps do in general.
    Granted. I think you could extend this argument and say that some cultural customs could be framed as 'irrational', or with no real logic. Religion is a great example. To the person who works on pure logic childrearing could also be seen as irrational as well - why spend extra resources and work harder when we can just not do that. So if we assume that people default to authority most of the time, it's likely that following these 'irrational' endeavors will be more likely as well. The truly efficient learner realizes they don't need to follow custom at all, but then falls out of the gene pool. I think this further points to the 'directionality' I mentioned above. Not a 'purposeful' directionality, but rather a kind of phenotypic constant that we follow.
    Well it didn't take long from "I'm going to avoid making any claims or bold statements" to peddling your same little teleological pet theory again.
    Well, feel free to critique my post. But don't read too far into 'directionality', because I'm sure you're reading it the wrong way. It's certainly not teleological.

  5. Top | #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post

    That's an interesting question, but I'm more interested in our predisposition to follow custom and, for lack of a better term, default to authority (cultural norms).
    That's what I'm addressing: Our "predisposition to follow custom" might very well largely be the byproduct of our predisposition to learn from others and pick up the way things are done even without fully understanding their ultimate rationale. Far from being irrational or dumb, this is a very useful capacity: A palaeolithic toolmaker or an iron age peasant who is not also an expert solid-state physicist/soil ecologist (most weren't) would be generally ill advised to completely reject established traditional techniques of stone tool making/ploughing just because he doesn't understand why they are supposed to be superior.

    You seem to be assuming your conclusion - that following (arbitrary) cultural norms is a thing in itself, independently selected.

    My assumption is that an animal which does exactly as expected and told by it's dominant culture will have more reproductive success than one which doesn't. To me this implies that our evolution as a species has a kind of directionality, for lack of a better term, that is pointed at a cognitive makeup for defaulting to authority, or cultural norms. IOW, the person who has a mental make-up which believes in culture (nationalism, religion, politics) with sincerity will be the more likely case than the person who doesn't. I think this would imply that our cognitive make-up, averaged out, may be a fairly stable constant across time.
    There are good reasons to believe that our cognitive make-up (whatever part of it is innate and not learned) is a fairly stable constant across time, but this isn't one of them. If anything the opposite: our propensity to pick up ideas not rooted in personal experience but transmitted from others could mean that the worldviews and mental universes emerging even in near-identical environments can significantly differ.

    Of course, instead of "cognitive makeup" you may mean intelligence, conceptualized as a one-dimensional/linear quantitative variable. If so, just say so and don't beat around the bush. Don't pretend this is some new and fresh discussion when you're beating the same old dead horse with seen before.


    Based on that assumption I'm interested in defining what this constant is. What does the 'average' man, or 'average' woman look like? And how does that inform things like politics, religion, etc.
    There is a lot to be learnt about these questions from developmental and cognitive biology/ psychology - what ideas are easy and what are hard to conceptualize, how people learn and how much of it involves copying vs. reconstruction with an existing mental toolset based on inferred goals and purposes certainly does shape the possibility space for systems of politics, religion etc. that can plausibly emerge.

    Framing it with the reduced toolset of naive pop EvoPsy where every manifest trait is assumed without question to be directly selected for, and reducing the complex issue that is "human cognitive makeup" to a one-dimensional quantitative variable, IQ, isn't going to help though.


    Some terminology first: what most animals, including our closest relatives do when they see a conspecific or human operate a widget is they focus on the widget to find out its properties, not on the operator. E.g. when you press a button, their take home is that the device has a button that can be pressed to achieve an outcome, and if interested try to get the same outcome using the device's properties. That is called goal emulation. An alternative would be blind imitation - copying the how, the action you performed on the device, with the outcome secondary. That we could call blind means imitation, and for a time it was believed this is what humans do instinctively. The actual strategy of humans appears to be more nuanced, though, what some researchers call "rational imitation": Humans, like other animals, do reconstruct an agent's goal and will try to bring about the same outcome any way they see fit unless they get cues that the how is important.

    There was a seminal study in the 80s purporting to find that human infants as young as 14 months will blindly copy an inefficient way to reach a goal ((blind) means imitation), e.g. activate a novel toy with their forehead instead of the hand (goal emulation) when that's what the presenter did. More recent research has shown this to be true only conditionally: If the presenter has their hands wrapped in a blanket (unlike the child) making them unavailable, or if they don't establish communication, the children will use the more efficient hand action. But when the presenter first establishes eye contact and talks to the child, and when they could have easily used their hands instead, children assign relevance to the how and also operate it with their head - their take home in these situations is that the how is relevant, that "this is how we do it" even if the reasons elude them. Here is an interesting 2002 Nature paper where they found that infants copy the head action 70% of the time when the presenter had their hands free (i.e. could have used them instead but chose not to), but only 20% of the time when they had a good reason not to use their hands: Rational imitation in preverbal infants (full text version: http://web.mit.edu/~hyora/Public/URO...ure%202002.pdf), and a more recent one discussing the role of communication in triggering imitation: https://www.sciencedirect.com/scienc...22096512002445
    If you are interested, you can dig deeper into this discussion by following those papers' trails, ie. backward to the references they cite and forward to the articles citing them.

    Another interesting read is this book: The Evolved Apprentice



    I'm not sure you fully get my thrift. What I'm saying is that what you call "custom" is not so much a thing in itself as it is a side effect of our uniquely human learning strategy that is independently valuable - a homo habilis toolmaker initiate lacking the understanding of solid-state physics to deduce the ideal angle to hit a raw stone is overall better off copying what he sees an experienced toolmaker do than use his understanding of the world to get from a pebble to a stone knife with his own means. Rational imitation is what enables the transmission of technology from one generation to the other without requiring the trainee to fully understand the why, and thus a prerequisite to any kind of material culture to speak of. That it also leads the transmission of arbitrary customs is a side effect of this independently selected learning strategy. Intelligence, as far as I can tell, is fully orthogonal to this discussion. Failing to make use of this learning strategy doesn't make you more intelligent, it only makes you overall less efficient at what you do even as it allows you to skip some unnecessary purely habitual actions.

    It's also not something "many of us" do, it's something we people as a rule and opposed to chimps do in general.
    Granted. I think you could extend this argument and say that some cultural customs could be framed as 'irrational', or with no real logic.
    All cultural customs could be framed as 'irrational'. To the iron-age peasant without a PhD in soil biology, there is no real logic to plowing his field either. If he'd derived from first principles how and why doing so enhances his yields, we wouldn't call it a custom anymore than we call breathing a custom.

    Religion is a great example. To the person who works on pure logic childrearing could also be seen as irrational as well - why spend extra resources and work harder when we can just not do that.
    Applying the same "pure logic", the only logical conclusion would be to lay down and die - I mean, why spend extra resources and work harder when you can just not do that?

    So if we assume that people default to authority most of the time, it's likely that following these 'irrational' endeavors will be more likely as well. The truly efficient learner realizes they don't need to follow custom at all, but then falls out of the gene pool.
    Your truly efficient learner would have to be omniscient to reliably and universally distinguish arbitrary customs and useful bits of technology the science behind which they don't understand - and if you're omniscient, what do you need to learn in the first place?

    Our learning strategy may well be in a kind of sweet spot - enough faithful replication to allow the accumulation and preservation of opaque knowledge, but enough noise to prevent stasis - to allow for rapid cultural evolution within the limits posed by our cognitive biology, in a similar fashion to how DNA replication its in a sweet spot to allow biological evolution. But if you have an argument to relate this to intelligence you have yet to present it.
    Last edited by Jokodo; 03-04-2020 at 02:10 PM.

  6. Top | #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jokodo View Post
    That's what I'm addressing: Our "predisposition to follow custom" might very well largely be the byproduct of our predisposition to learn from others and pick up the way things are done even without fully understanding their ultimate rationale. Far from being irrational or dumb, this is a very useful capacity: A palaeolithic toolmaker or an iron age peasant who is not also an expert solid-state physicist/soil ecologist (most weren't) would be generally ill advised to completely reject established traditional techniques of stone tool making/ploughing just because he doesn't understand why they are supposed to be superior.

    You seem to be assuming your conclusion - that following (arbitrary) cultural norms is a thing in itself, independently selected.
    I wouldn't get too hung up on me using the term irrational, but I would presume there is a limit to the reproductive value of being able to look beyond these norms, and possibly also a positive reproductive benefit of not being able to look beyond them. I say mental make-up instead of a kind of g-intelligence factor because I'd assume there is more going on than ipso facto rationality. For someone who is emotionally invested in children, it's not just a rational choice being made, it's more of a world-view and mental/emotional predisposition to child-rearing. So I wouldn't assume those who are more likely to have kids are irrational, but I would assume that there is a positive correlation between reproductive success and following norms. Those who are more emotionally invested in the story so to speak, will be more motivated to achieve that story, than those not.

    That's not to say that following norms is independently selected for, but mathematically the majority of us will always be norm followers because of the correlation between norms / reproduction.

    There are good reasons to believe that our cognitive make-up (whatever part of it is innate and not learned) is a fairly stable constant across time, but this isn't one of them. If anything the opposite: our propensity to pick up ideas not rooted in personal experience but transmitted from others could mean that the worldviews and mental universes emerging even in near-identical environments can significantly differ.

    Of course, instead of "cognitive makeup" you may mean intelligence, conceptualized as a one-dimensional/linear quantitative variable. If so, just say so and don't beat around the bush. Don't pretend this is some new and fresh discussion when you're beating the same old dead horse with seen before.
    I'm not discussing world-view, or intelligence as a linear quantitative variable, although I can see where you would get that impression. Sure that might be a part of it, but more broadly I'm interested in the evolution of the human mind as a whole.

    What, for instance, causes the modern African to believe fervently in Nationalism even though their government is a parasite? What causes the sports fan to be emotionally invested in their team, even though it's an arbitrary group of players working for a business? Why are people unable to see through religion without an enormous amount of prompting and scientific research?

    The primary question is whether these realities are malleable and changeable, or do they point to something inherent in us across time.

    Our learning strategy may well be in a kind of sweet spot - enough faithful replication to allow the accumulation and preservation of opaque knowledge, but enough noise to prevent stasis - to allow for rapid cultural evolution within the limits posed by our cognitive biology, in a similar fashion to how DNA replication its in a sweet spot to allow biological evolution. But if you have an argument to relate this to intelligence you have yet to present it.
    That puts it better than I could. Truthfully I've deliberately left 'intelligence' out of it because I think you are correct - it is much more complicated than that. Running with my own sweeping generalizations I'd say that propensity for logic is overrated. It's better to be the person who is intuitive and who naturally enjoys the act of living. Not just for reproduction, but for all things.

    So on an evolutionary scale of the gene / individual, it's better to be emotive and social. But when we try to scale this trait to macro-systems it causes an inherent flaw in those systems. We're trying to build systems which work for the collective, while being run by units who work for themselves.

  7. Top | #17
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    It's kind of tiresome the way you gloss over pretty much everything I've said, but I'm going to give it another try.

    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post

    I wouldn't get too hung up on me using the term irrational, but I would presume there is a limit to the reproductive value of being able to look beyond these norms, and possibly also a positive reproductive benefit of not being able to look beyond them.
    Well, contrary to what you're trying to say below, "not being able to look beyond" here does sound like a lacking capacity, not a different inclination. Same when you said in an earlier post "Too much critical thinking may lead to emancipation from custom - foregoing marriage, children, traditional lifeways. Too little critical thinking means we are not smart enough to understand what custom is, making us less likely to partner / have kids".

    Rejecting out of hand every bit of conventional wisdom whose rationale you don't get is going to kill you through starvation long before it kills you, or makes you die childless, through being ostracized or lacking the desire to form a family. You're still treating Following Arbitrary Cultural Norms as a thing in itself and totally different from picking up opaque technological knowledge you couldn't derive yourself, when the two rest on the very same cognitive mechanisms. Unless you're omniscient, you can't have one without the other, at least to some degree. This also means that the null hypothesis is that "following cultural norms" (where you seem to restrict the term to arbitrary customs) is not independently selected. In order to have an argument that it is, and thus for a discussion of what might be its benefits to make sense, you first need to reject the null hypothesis, namely that it is a side product of the mechanisms that allow us to make use of others' experiences without fully replicating them. You could do that by demonstrating that it rests on different cognitive mechanisms, or that it is dissociated, where some people are impaired at one but fully fluent at the other. Of course, that kind of dissociation in itself doesn't prove that Following Cultural Norms should be elevated to the status of selected trait - it could be (and likely is) the composite outcome of several other features, the learning strategy being just one.

    Until you do that, your question may not be all that different from asking for the selective benefit of being able to ride a bike. Of course, there are plethora of evolved capacities that play a smaller or larger role in enabling us to ride a bike, many of which have clear adaptive benefits and plausible selectionist explanations - but our "evolved bike-riding-capacity" isn't a thing in itself, as demonstrated among others by the fact that people without a single cyclist among their ancestors pick it up as easily as the Dutch.

    I say mental make-up instead of a kind of g-intelligence factor because I'd assume there is more going on than ipso facto rationality. For someone who is emotionally invested in children, it's not just a rational choice being made, it's more of a world-view and mental/emotional predisposition to child-rearing. So I wouldn't assume those who are more likely to have kids are irrational, but I would assume that there is a positive correlation between reproductive success and following norms. Those who are more emotionally invested in the story so to speak, will be more motivated to achieve that story, than those not.

    That's not to say that following norms is independently selected for, but mathematically the majority of us will always be norm followers because of the correlation between norms / reproduction.



    I'm not discussing world-view, or intelligence as a linear quantitative variable, although I can see where you would get that impression. Sure that might be a part of it, but more broadly I'm interested in the evolution of the human mind as a whole.

    What, for instance, causes the modern African to believe fervently in Nationalism even though their government is a parasite?
    To the extent that this is true (I don't know that modern Africans believe in nationalism more fervently than residents of other continents), this actually shows malleability, rather than the opposite. Nationalism in its modern sense is an incredibly young phenomenon. Medieval warriors didn't kill for their country, they killed out of interpersonal obligations - they owed it to their landlord who again owed it to the king - in the case of knights; or because they were paid for killing in the case of mercenaries; or because their families were held hostage and would be made to suffer, or because it was their only way to raise their station in a society with a rigid class system where what you would become in life was almost entirely determined at birth. The nation state as we understand it (along with universal conscription) only emerged after the French revolution in Europe, and African nation states are much younger that that still.

    What causes the sports fan to be emotionally invested in their team, even though it's an arbitrary group of players working for a business? Why are people unable to see through religion without an enormous amount of prompting and scientific research?
    Because from the perspective of the individual learner who is a human with limited knowledge, not an idealized omniscient agent, religion is not categorically different from other opaque culturally transmitted knowledge. To someone who has never heard of the soil microbiome or the nitrogen cycle, plowing is every bit as magic as rain dances. That makes defaulting to accepting common wisdom a good survival strategy even without a direct benefit to accepting cultural norms in a narrow sense.


    The primary question is whether these realities are malleable and changeable, or do they point to something inherent in us across time.
    Differentiating between in-groups and out-groups does not rely on cultural norms - baboons and chimpanzees do it too - even ants, for fuck's sake. In short, it is universal among social animals, as nearly as any biological trait is. Culture can shape who is categorized as what, and the very fact that large and abstract entities such as the "nation", where 99.9% are people you've never met, can be conceptualized as the in-group shows a high degree of malleability, and gives hope that given the right circumstances, a majority of people might some day soon conceptualize of humanity as it's in-group.


    Our learning strategy may well be in a kind of sweet spot - enough faithful replication to allow the accumulation and preservation of opaque knowledge, but enough noise to prevent stasis - to allow for rapid cultural evolution within the limits posed by our cognitive biology, in a similar fashion to how DNA replication its in a sweet spot to allow biological evolution. But if you have an argument to relate this to intelligence you have yet to present it.
    That puts it better than I could. Truthfully I've deliberately left 'intelligence' out of it because I think you are correct - it is much more complicated than that. Running with my own sweeping generalizations I'd say that propensity for logic is overrated. It's better to be the person who is intuitive and who naturally enjoys the act of living. Not just for reproduction, but for all things.

    So on an evolutionary scale of the gene / individual, it's better to be emotive and social.
    There again this funny idea that rationality is in conflict with being "emotive and social". I vaguely remember citing studies that reported a weak but significant positive correlation between IQ and social intelligence last time you brought this up in the "Why does IQ cluster around 100 points?" thread. You chose to ignore that point.
    Last edited by Jokodo; 03-05-2020 at 11:28 AM.

  8. Top | #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jokodo View Post
    Well, contrary to what you're trying to say below, "not being able to look beyond" here does sound like a lacking capacity, not a different inclination. Same when you said in an earlier post "Too much critical thinking may lead to emancipation from custom - foregoing marriage, children, traditional lifeways. Too little critical thinking means we are not smart enough to understand what custom is, making us less likely to partner / have kids".

    Rejecting out of hand every bit of conventional wisdom whose rationale you don't get is going to kill you through starvation long before it kills you, or makes you die childless, through being ostracized or lacking the desire to form a family. You're still treating Following Arbitrary Cultural Norms as a thing in itself and totally different from picking up opaque technological knowledge you couldn't derive yourself, when the two rest on the very same cognitive mechanisms. Unless you're omniscient, you can't have one without the other, at least to some degree. This also means that the null hypothesis is that "following cultural norms" (where you seem to restrict the term to arbitrary customs) is not independently selected. In order to have an argument that it is, and thus for a discussion of what might be its benefits to make sense, you first need to reject the null hypothesis, namely that it is a side product of the mechanisms that allow us to make use of others' experiences without fully replicating them. You could do that by demonstrating that it rests on different cognitive mechanisms, or that it is dissociated, where some people are impaired at one but fully fluent at the other. Of course, that kind of dissociation in itself doesn't prove that Following Cultural Norms should be elevated to the status of selected trait - it could be (and likely is) the composite outcome of several other features, the learning strategy being just one.

    Until you do that, your question may not be all that different from asking for the selective benefit of being able to ride a bike. Of course, there are plethora of evolved capacities that play a smaller or larger role in enabling us to ride a bike, many of which have clear adaptive benefits and plausible selectionist explanations - but our "evolved bike-riding-capacity" isn't a thing in itself, as demonstrated among others by the fact that people without a single cyclist among their ancestors pick it up as easily as the Dutch.
    Right maybe I didn't make it make it clear enough that I agreed with this point. I mentioned a correlation between not following norms and reproductive success, not causation. So maybe a better way to phrase it would be that our propensity for following norms has adaptive value.

    To the extent that this is true (I don't know that modern Africans believe in nationalism more fervently than residents of other continents), this actually shows malleability, rather than the opposite. Nationalism in its modern sense is an incredibly young phenomenon. Medieval warriors didn't kill for their country, they killed out of interpersonal obligations - they owed it to their landlord who again owed it to the king - in the case of knights; or because they were paid for killing in the case of mercenaries; or because their families were held hostage and would be made to suffer, or because it was their only way to raise their station in a society with a rigid class system where what you would become in life was almost entirely determined at birth. The nation state as we understand it (along with universal conscription) only emerged after the French revolution in Europe, and African nation states are much younger that that still.
    This shows malleability in what we will adhere to but not necessarily malleability in our propensity to adhere to it. You are absolutely correct that how we interact with norms is fluid and changeable, but I think it could be said that there is a basic propensity to be interior to the norm. That's not any kind of argument against what you're saying, I'm not interested in what we're likely to do, I'm interested in what we are. So your point here is a great indicator of that.

    Differentiating between in-groups and out-groups does not rely on cultural norms - baboons and chimpanzees do it too - even ants, for fuck's sake. In short, it is universal among social animals, as nearly as any biological trait is. Culture can shape who is categorized as what, and the very fact that large and abstract entities such as the "nation", where 99.9% are people you've never met, can be conceptualized as the in-group shows a high degree of malleability, and gives hope that given the right circumstances, a majority of people might some day soon conceptualize of humanity as it's in-group.
    That's a fair point.

    There again this funny idea that rationality is in conflict with being "emotive and social". I vaguely remember citing studies that reported a weak but significant positive correlation between IQ and social intelligence last time you brought this up in the "Why does IQ cluster around 100 points?" thread. You chose to ignore that point.
    I can understand why we're dwelling on this point, because maybe it is a part of the discussion, but I really am trying to move away from the emotion-reason dichotomy, for exactly the reason you describe. Maybe you can say that our propensity to follow norm means that there is an upper limit on hard reasoning ability. But I don't think the argument should be framed from the perspective that there is something inherently virtuous about reasoning skills. That's how our culture classically describes it, but if we can move away from the notion that people should be a rational animal than I think what we actually are will make more sense.

    Namely, there are other qualities which make us distinctly human, with no need to cake on abstract concepts like what is or isn't superior. So far what I can grok from your prior descriptions is that - fundamentally - people are oriented to pick up and replicate norms. I should go back and read the study you mentioned earlier.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post

    Right maybe I didn't make it make it clear enough that I agreed with this point. I mentioned a correlation between not following norms and reproductive success, not causation. So maybe a better way to phrase it would be that our propensity for following norms has adaptive value.
    So we agree that to an iron age farmer, plowing is almost as magic as rain dances, and a plausible evolutionary explanation why we tend to pick up the latter is that if we reject the former, we end up dead at a young age?

    If so, the discussion about how rejecting norms might lead us to abstain from forming families is purely speculative. The proposition that not following norms may lead us to reject a family and kids and thus leave us to die alone when we're old is not a necessary ingredient to explaining the existence of (and our propensity to adhere to) those norms if we have independent reason to believe that not following norms will likely lead us to starve to death in a harsh winter/unusually long dry season long before that. It thus falls victim to Occam's razor. You can still speculate about it, but doing so isn't very scientific.

    This shows malleability in what we will adhere to but not necessarily malleability in our propensity to adhere to it. You are absolutely correct that how we interact with norms is fluid and changeable, but I think it could be said that there is a basic propensity to be interior to the norm. That's not any kind of argument against what you're saying, I'm not interested in what we're likely to do, I'm interested in what we are. So your point here is a great indicator of that.
    Sure, but if/when there is little limitation in what norms can look like (beyond those posed by other aspects of our cognitive biology), the mere fact that we tend to adhere to them does little to impose boundaries on what kind of societies we can form. That's in contradiction to what you said in your last post, namely " when we try to scale this trait to macro-systems it causes an inherent flaw in those systems".


    Differentiating between in-groups and out-groups does not rely on cultural norms - baboons and chimpanzees do it too - even ants, for fuck's sake. In short, it is universal among social animals, as nearly as any biological trait is. Culture can shape who is categorized as what, and the very fact that large and abstract entities such as the "nation", where 99.9% are people you've never met, can be conceptualized as the in-group shows a high degree of malleability, and gives hope that given the right circumstances, a majority of people might some day soon conceptualize of humanity as it's in-group.
    That's a fair point.

    There again this funny idea that rationality is in conflict with being "emotive and social". I vaguely remember citing studies that reported a weak but significant positive correlation between IQ and social intelligence last time you brought this up in the "Why does IQ cluster around 100 points?" thread. You chose to ignore that point.
    I can understand why we're dwelling on this point, because maybe it is a part of the discussion, but I really am trying to move away from the emotion-reason dichotomy, for exactly the reason you describe. Maybe you can say that our propensity to follow norm means that there is an upper limit on hard reasoning ability. But I don't think the argument should be framed from the perspective that there is something inherently virtuous about reasoning skills. That's how our culture classically describes it, but if we can move away from the notion that people should be a rational animal than I think what we actually are will make more sense.

    Namely, there are other qualities which make us distinctly human, with no need to cake on abstract concepts like what is or isn't superior. So far what I can grok from your prior descriptions is that - fundamentally - people are oriented to pick up and replicate norms. I should go back and read the study you mentioned earlier.
    Go ahead!

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    Somewhat related - Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development - implies a similar thing. That is most of us follow conventional norms.

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