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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Synthesizing Stephen J. Gould's Beloved Punctuated Equilibrium with Stephen J. Gould's Detested Evolutionary Psychology

Alas, poor Man! Perhaps no other animal has suffered as he! These thousands of years have seen disaster upon disaster. No matter how far homo sapiens wandered, and no matter what tools they would make, their tribes were pursued and persecuted. No sooner was some spandrel or the other adapted into a functional module than another calamity befell them. The first creature in all time to be pursued by an adaptive killing machine composed of intelligent, networked agents, Man no sooner earned some rest from the death squads but that the ecological equilibrium would be punctuated again, and new and more deadly enemies would appear. Wherever he ran, Man was pursued by Man.

In my last reaction paper I expressed surprised that Buller would attack Pinker's use of the term "species" to mean humanity-as-it-exists, rather than the sum of all our relatives since our last common ancestor 150,000 years ago (443). I now understand that Buller attacked Pinker because a variation in the definition of "species" would allow Gouldian analysis to be used in defense of Evolutionary Psychology (EP).

Read more ...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

First Things on Evolutionary Psychology

I was happy that Mark of ZenPundit linked to the first section of this series of notes. The material is fascinating, though each author has his own temperament

  • Matt Ridley - enthralled
  • Steven Pinker - philippic
  • David Buller - "scholarly

Still, the multiple perspectives of the different authors is valuable, and I think the professor for this reading list.

I had intended a number of charts, but time pressure gets to me. Buller especially is slow going (he is an author that can definitely use visual aids, or just better writing ability), and I meant to have this page up yesterday. As it is, only one good one:

human evolution timeline_md


Read more ...

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Gods, Ghosts and Metaphors

Religion’s evolutionary landscape: Counterintuition,
commitment, compassion, communion
," by Scott Atran and Ara Norenzayan, to be published in Behaviorial and Brain Sciences, 2003, http://www.bbsonline.org/Preprints/Atran-12172002/Atran.pdf (latest version published Behavorial and Brain Sciences 2004, from Gene Expression).

Razbib links to a draft (the latest version is forty bucks!) by "Religion's Evolutionary Landscape" by Atran and Norzenzayan. Razbib is most interested in apparent, widespread acceptance of prototheology, or as he says

monotheists regularly aver belief in a god they can't really conceive of, and when psychologists have them tell stories about gods in an impromptu situation where they can't regurgitate stuff they've been drilled in the god(s) they describe is much more like a godling of the days of old than the omni-god of their theologians.

From my perspective, the article was most interesting for its unstated faith in modernity. For instance, the authors write that alternative models of religiosity are flawed because

They cannot
distinguish Marxism from monotheism, or secular ideologies from religious belief

Yet the distinction the authors are groping for, which relies on the existence of a "supernatural" world that differs from a natural one. Or as the authors write

Conceptions of the supernatural invariably involve the interruption or violation of universal cognitive principles that govern ordinary human perception and understanding of the everyday world.

The belief that the understanding the "supernatural" requires a different epistemology from understanding the "natural" one is far more modern, recent, and limited than the authors would believe.

As if to throw a bone for everyone, they even give Curtis of Phatic Communion something to chew on:

Science, like religion, uses metarepresentation in cosmology building, for example, in analogies where a familiar domain (e.g., solar systems, computers, genetic transmission) is used to model some initially less familiar system (e.g., atoms, mind/brains, ideational transmission). In fact, science and religion may use the same analogies; however, there is a difference in these uses. Science aims to reduce the analogy to factual description, where the terms of the analogy are finally specified, with no loose ends remaining and nothing
left in the dark: Atoms are scientifically like solar systems if and only both can be ultimately derived from the same set of natural laws. Whereas science seeks to kill the metaphor, religion strives to keep it poetic and endlessly open to further evocation. In religion, these ideas are never fully assimilated with factual and commonsensical beliefs, like a metaphor that metarepresents the earth as a mother but not quite, or an angel as a winged youth but not quite.

Read the whole thing.

02:39 Posted in Faith, Science | Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday, April 21, 2006

A Bright Shining Lie

"When we've been here ten thousand years...
bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise...
then when we've first begun."

- Amazing Grace (as sung by Sufjan Stevens)

"Nor is it to be thought (ran the text as Armitage mentally translated it) that man is either the oldest or the last of earth's masters, or that the common bulk of life and substance walks alone. .... By Their smell can men sometimes know Them near, but of Their semblance can no man know, saving only in the features of those They have begotten on mankind; and of those are there many sorts, differing in likeness from man's truest eidolon to that shape without sight or substance which is Them. "
- The Dunwich Horror, HP Lovecraft

"A tornado of sheer monstrosities seemed to be pouring over Ransom. Darting pillars willed with eyes, lightning pulsations of flame, talons and beaks and billowy masses of what suggested snow, volleyed through cubs and heptagons into an infinite black void. 'Stop it... stop it,' he yelled, and the scene cleared.


"They were taller than the Sorns, the giants whom he had met in Mars. They were perhaps thirty feet high. They were burning white like white-hot iron."

- Perelandra, C.S. Lewis

"We pried into the secrets of heaven, but found it filled with steadfast guards and blasts of fire. We would sit and quietly listen, seeking knowledge of the Divine, but whoever listens now will find a blaze of fire lying in wait for him. And we have no idea whether God intends ill or redemption for those who dwell here on earth."
- The Jinn (Koran 72:8-10)

"'You will not surely die,' the bright one said to the woman. 'For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'"
- The Fall of Man (Genesis 3:4-5)

"Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.

Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?

On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone-

while the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"

- The LORD Speaks (Job 38:4-7)

"How you have fallen from heaven,
O morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!"

- Isiah 14:12

"If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies."
- Jesus of Nazareth (John 8:42-44)

"Americans are not good at strategic thinking because our time horizons are too short and our chains of reasoning are too linear. We think end of quarter, end of day, range of the moment, hierarchy, chain of command, rigidly, categorical and compartmentalized, A to B to C. This makes us very adaptive in terms of tactics but you can win all the battles and still lose a war."
- Mark Safranski

"To the degree that this 'state' is not scale-free, or is rigid or functions through linear paths, the interactions of those within it are also rigid, linear, unable to adapt to new parameters -- at least, unable to adapt without also causing a change in the whole, or the 'state.'"
- Curtis Gale Weeks

Demons want to kill us


And Give Us Really, Really Ugly Office Buildings.

Read more ...

12:53 Posted in Faith, Science | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Csikszentmihalyi the Pseudoscientist?

"The Creative Personality," by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Psychology Today, July/August 1996, http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-19960701-000033.html.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a pioneering researcher in talent and expertise. His books Creativity and Flow are influential works, his thoughts on positive psychology have clear implications for meaningful conflict, and his work is mentioned from graduate courses to blogs.

Yet a short piece by him makes me wonder if he is a pseudoscientist.

Read more ...

Friday, February 24, 2006

Truth Extends Beyond the Borderlands of Science

"The Structure of Science," by Earnest Nagel, 1961.

"Conjectures and Refutations," by Karl Popper, 1963.

"Social Theory and Political Practice," by Brian Fay, 1975.

"The Restructuring of Social and Political Theory," by Richard Bernstein, 1976.

This is my first "reaction paper" for Scopes & Methods. The first third of this class has focused on how to write a research design. The rest focuses on the epistemology of political science.

The debating topic this week is 'Just look at all of the advances made by science and you’ll know that the only way to understand human behavior is to study it scientifically. We are limited to two double-spaced pages. I have been assigned to the contrary team.

Those interested in Karl Popper, by the way, may wish to check out the Popper-themed blog, Conjectures and Refutations.

Read more ...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Liberal Education, Part IV: The Mitochondrial Peace

"Don't let the forest grow over that path you came there by.
But you will, so...

So hurry up and run to the one that you love. "

Bright Eyes, "Make War"

"The devoted were wearing bracelets
to remind them why they came:
some concrete motivation
when the abstract could not do the same.
But if all that's left is duty, I'm falling on my sword;
at least then i would not serve an unseen distant Lord."

Pedro the Lion, "Secret of the Easy Yoke"

"Stay the way I am today and serve to more disaster...
He could tell a fairy tale that's happy ever after...
Just relax and green of grass will grow here for a change.
Maybe then we'll last a million years or more.. or more.. or more.."

Guster, "All The Way Up To Heaven"

"Have you ever tried to neck with an earwig?
Oh, your body is a home to your friends.
You've a tick for each nipple and a leech for each finger
And a parasitic love that never ends.

Do you have any love left for me?
I'm small, but that's a start.
Eat me up with your love.
Burrow your way to my heart."

Darkest of Hillside Thickets, "Burrow Your Way To My Heart"

Liberal education is a fertile land for ideologies. The Sahara was once fertile, too.

Read more ...

13:35 Posted in Education, Science | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

de Blij v. Parker, Part II: Climate Change

Mark Safranski of ZenPundit declared de Blij the winner in the first part of our de Blij v. Parker death-match on the cores of the world.

Next up is climate change:


Who will win this round?

Read more ...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

University of Pennsylvania Evolutionary Psychologist Visits UNL

Dr. Robert Kurzban, Professor of , at the University of Pennsylvania, a brilliant vertical and horizontal thinker whose work on evolutionary gaming has been noted in The Economist, speed dating by The Philadelphia Inquirer, stopped by 's Political Science Department today.

I was able to spend more than three hours with Dr. Kurzban. He talked informally in the morning with a small group of graduate students, and with a powerpoint in the afternoon with both graduate students and faculty.

Dr. Robert Kurzban, Evolutionary Psychologist, Genius

But first, quick notes of appreciation and warning. One of my TA responsibilities conflicted with the morning sessions. Fortunately, the professor I teach under and my fellow TA were able to arrange things so I was able to talk with Dr. Kurzban. Their professionalism, warmth, and kindness is typical of the vast majority of our department, and I am thankful for that. And last, I pre-emptively apologize if I recalled or reconstructed any of the details of Dr. Kurzban's talks incorrectly.

He was an amazing speaker, and I was very happy that I had the opportunity to hear him. Listening and talking to Dr. Kurzban made three very, very short hours.

Like Dr. Hibbing at the last "brownbag," Dr. Kurzban complained about academic silencing. While he did not explicitly name political correctness, he did say

  • Feminist scholars view evolutionary biological from a political perspective. Dr. Kurzban said "I don't care if you say 'This theory is stupid. It's not worth my time.' But saying 'This theory is a plot by The Man to keep women down' is not useful.'"
  • Graduate students at one university petitioned the academic Senate to prohibit evolutionary psychologocial texts from being assigned by any professor. This was instigated when one black collegian said the theory "challenged her identity."
  • Scientific American was cited as an example of critics confusing Evolutionary Psychology with Social Darwinism. As Dr. Kurzban said, "Social Darwinism was a political philosophy. Evolutionary Psychology is a scientific approach."

As far as substantive comments, Dr. Kurzban went over many areas

  • While sex recognition is hard-wired, race recognition probably isn't. For example, there is an experiment where two people, a white man and a black man, are having a conversation while walking down the street. For part of the conversation, the black man is behind a visual obstruction, and when he emerges from the other side, the black man's role is played by a white man. Many audience members do not realize that anything unusual happened.

    However, if the black man's role is replaced by a black woman, people immediately pick up on this. Dr Kurzban explained, "While it is important to know if something is prey, a predator, a mate, or a competitor, it's not important to know if something is "black" or "white."

  • Men are more cooperative than women. Dr. Kurzban talked about "competitive cooperation" as the basis for social cohesion. If a group of people are playing a game against each other, they will be fractious regardless of their gender make-up. However, if the players learn there is another group, all-male groups quickly settle their internal differences and cooperate with each other, without being told that they will be competing against the other group.

  • Racism exists as long as it is cheap. People can fall into racial roles when a group is playing with itself. However, once the other group is learned about, racial roles go away. The drive to prepare for competition against the out-group with the in-group by cooperating within the group overwhelms pre-existing racial treatment.

  • Women scramble social hierarchies. As part of their rapid cooperation in the face of competition, all-male groups establish a clear and consensual social order. This does not happen in mixed-sex or all-female groups. The situation in integrated or all-female groups is closer to anarchy, with no clear order-of-dominance ever being established.

  • Dancing, like martyrdom, is fun. Dr. Kurzban mentioned one area of research is why people like to dance. It can't merely because it is physical or a sexual metaphor, because many physical activities and sexual metaphors are not fun. Kurzban's opinion is that dancing is an evolved trait that encourages sexually integrated socialization.

    On Mark's behalf, I asked what is an evolutionary psychological reason for martyrdom. Dr. Kurzban first noted that nearly all martyrs are males, so the answer is probably some form of social cooperation. (As an aside, Kurzban didn't think it was an accident that the Jordanian female terrorist's belt "malfunctioned.") He mentioned that there probably was a kinship advantage for recognized martyrs, evolving over time in a world of small tribes. "Religious entrepreneurs" use this drive to further their beliefs.

    Kurzban noted that one theory is that traditionally weapons weren't violent enough to inflict death, so perhaps the evolutionary root of martyrdom is the same as the evolutionary root of bravery. However, given the wide variety of low-tech ways to kill people, he doubted this as an explanation.

  • People are sensitive to the worst free-riders. Dr. Kurzban described the "public goods" game, in which everyone was given some money, and they could pocket some of it or put it on the table. Money on the table was doubled after a round, but split evenly among all the players.

    In almost all situations, almost all of the money is pocketed.

    But, people become very cooperative when cooperation is nonrecoverable and they see how much the least-cooperative person has put in. So every player begins by putting $1 on the table, and wait until every other player has done the same. Then one brave player will put a second on the table, wait until his contribution is matched, and continue.

    On the second round of this, people could not contribute fast enough. Literally -- every player raced against the clock to put as much money on the table as they could. The only hold-up was when a particular player fell behind in the cooperation race - he would then have to throw more money on the table, which could take a second or two.

    The next best approach was when players could take money in or out, but still saw what the lowest-contributing player put in. Unlike where they saw what only the most contributing player put in, where almost everyone was a free rider, where they saw how the worst behaved the group was very cooperative. And the more rounds played, the more cooperative they became.

    This study was replicated in Japan with almost identical results. The graphs of the American game and the Japanese game were almost indistinguishable. Dr. Kurzban said this was a surprise to psychologies focusing on comparative cultural, who thought Japanese players would start out more cooperative than Americans, and after than learn cooperation at a slower rate.

  • People love to punish wrongdoers, especially when others are watching. Dr. Kurzban described a trust game, where Player A could split $20 between himself and Player B, or give it to Player B and have it double. Player B could then keep almost all the $40 for himself, or split it evenly with Player A.

    After Player A and Player B left, Player C was brought in as a "judge." In places were Player B kept most of the money for himself, ignoring the trusting Player A, Player C could use some of her money to punish Player C at a 3-to-1 ratio.

    This was done under three different conditions. In all three Player C would have to write down his judgement on a sheet of paper.

    1. Player C gave his answer through a complicated system that guaranteed no one would ever know if and how much he punished Player A. Player C's decision was completely anonymous.
    2. Player C wrote down if and how much he would punish Player A, knowing a researcher would look over the answer "just to make sure the paper was filled out correctly."
    3. Player C announced his decision in front of the other players

    In all three cases Player C tended to punish Player A. Player C punished the least when it was secret, a lot when just one researcher knew, and a little bit more than that when everyone knew.

    Interestingly, in several cases, when Player C had to publicly announce his decision, Player C lied. Out of thoughtlessness, Dr. Kurzban had left the paper as the "real" way to punish Player A, and the announcement was supposed to be merely reading from the paper. In the cases where Player C lied, Player C claimed to have spent more money punishing Player A than he actually did.

Dr. Kurzban addressed some other issues, as well. But those make a post for another time...

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Geographers New Map, Part III: Global Terrorism

Catholicgauze concludes his three part summary of a recent speech by Dr. Harm J. de Blij. Part I: Climate Change and Part II: China are also available, as is information about Dr. de Blij's new book, Why Geography Matters.

This is the last installment of my rundown of by Dr. de Blij. The final part of his speech was spent on global terrorism. The most disappointing thing about his discussion on part three was that he only had a total of five minutes left to communicate his ideas about terrorism.

Terrorism: A main point made by Dr. Blij is that the terrorism of today is unlike the anarchists terrorist of the turn of the last century. Those were unorganized trouble-makers with a penchant for killing heads of state. Terrorists of today are the tip of a well organized effort spanning continents. They rely on failed-states and geographic isolation to thrive.

Pakistan and the former Afghanistan provide a great example of Dr. de Blij's point. In the tribal areas communication is difficult so local control is a necessity. However, if the locals are crazies (in the words of Bishop Catholicgauze and not Dr. de Blij), it becomes a lot easier for a terrorist group like al Qaeda to set up shop.

A strong state which wishes to grow and connects into globalization would resist a reactionary group like al Qaeda and their ilk. It is then easier to understand why the same group that attacked the World Trade Center (al Qaeda) is actively trying to topple allies of the United States (the Republic of Iraq and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) and America itself. They need failed states so they grow like a cancer and then spread to other countries and if strong countries resist and retaliate, the cancer dies.

An example which concerns Dr. de Blij is Ethiopia. Ethiopia borders the troubled , the three Somalias, and Sudan.

Somalia, Somaliland, and Puntland

Ethiopia also is a gateway into Kenya and southern Africa with minimal interference from the Sahara Desert. Islamic terrorists have been slowly dragging Ethiopia into turmoil hoping to turn the whole horn of Africa into a giant center for operations. He citied the increase of Caucasian Chechens (who in a variety of reports I have learned are the most fanatical and “crazy” of all Jihadists) in not only Ethiopia, Iraq, and other hot spots but also those caught trying to bomb targets in South Africa. If a strong country like Ethiopia were to fall to the jackals of terrorism, nothing could stop them in the Horn of Africa.

As an aside Dr. Blij talked about the recent pirate raid on a cruise ship 100 miles off the coast of Somalia. He pointed out it would take a organized group with technology and intelligence to try to ambush a lone ship in the open ocean.

To wrap up his speech Dr. Blij stressed the importance of geography in planning. He blamed the current “mess” in Iraq to planners who knew nothing about the cultural geography of the country and pointed out how the position of Geographer has been empty at the State Department for years and has been vacant through many administrations. (Catholicgauze wishes to give a shout-out to anyone in the State Department and he offers nominates himself to the position of Head Geographer!)

Dr. Blij then wrapped up his speech by taking questions on China and Climate Change and went outside to sign books. I had other pressing affairs and had to skip out on the book signing. But I must stress he is correct in the assertion that the United States of America needs more geography education.

In the seven core areas of No Child Left Behind only one receives no geography funding. About half of the US school-attending population cannot locate Texas immediately on a map of the country and about a quarter of school-attending children cannot locate the Pacific Ocean on a map of the world (source: the latest NGS PSA). If our future leadership generations are more attuned to popular culture and illiterate when it comes to global affairs, apathy and false ideals like fascism or communism can easily led society astray down the tubes. It happened before to the British Empire and it can happen again. We need to stress a true liberal education with math, science, history, geography, and the arts. A well balanced citizenry will be better able to handle the problems that face us in the twenty-first century and beyond.

Great series, Catholicgauze!