Category Archives: cultural evolution

Divine transport

From this article. Now if we can only interpret trance states postmetaphysically. The religions that formed around trance states in the article, though evolutionarily adaptive at the time, have solidified into metaphysical dogma and are no longer adaptive to our world today. It though does beckon us to create postmetaphysical rituals with music, dance, invocation, incense etc. so that we can bond together via embodiment instead of just intellectually.

“So there is a need for a new idea, and coming to the fore now is an old one revisited, revised and rendered more testable. It reaches back a century to the French sociologist Émile Durkheim who observed that social activities create a kind of buzz that he called effervescence. Effervescence is generated when humans come together to make music or perform rituals, an experience that lingers when the ceremonies are over. The suggestion, therefore, is that collective experiences that are religious or religious-like unify groups and create the energy to sustain them.”

“The explanation is resurfacing in what can be called the trance theory of religious origins, which proposes that our palaeolithic ancestors hit on effervescence upon finding that they could induce altered states of consciousness. Research to test and develop this idea is underway in a multidisciplinary team led by Dunbar at the University of Oxford. The approach appeals to him, in part, because it seems to capture a crucial aspect of religious phenomena missing in suggestions about punishing gods or dangerous spirits. ‘It is not about the fine details of theology,’ Dunbar told me, ‘but is about the raw feelings of experience, and that this raw-feelings element has a transcendental mystical component – something that is only fully experienced in trance states.'”

“Dunbar believes that a few hundred thousand years ago, archaic humans took a step that ramped up this capacity. They started deliberately to make music, dance and sing. When the synchronised and collective nature of these practices became sufficiently intense, individuals likely entered trance states in which they experienced not only this-worldly splendour but otherworldly intrigue. They encountered ancestors, spirits and fantastic beasts, now known as therianthropes. These immersive journeys were extraordinarily compelling. What you might call religiosity was born. It stuck partly because it also helped to ease tensions and bond groups, via the endorphin surges produced in trance states. In other words, altered states proved evolutionarily advantageous: the awoken human desire for ecstasy simultaneously prompted a social revolution because it meant that social groups could grow to much larger sizes via the shared intensity of heightened experiences.”

“Meaning-making, the transcendent, and openness to revelation and discovery are core parts of the human niche and central to our evolutionary success. […] The trance hypothesis is neutral about the truth claims of religions whether you believe or don’t, though it does suggest that transcendent states of mind are meaningful to human beings and can evolve into religious systems of belief.”

Does altruism exist?

A question posed by this round table discussion with David Sloan Wilson, Kurt Johnson, Barbara Marx Hubbard,  Richard Clugston,  Zachary Stein, David Korten, Rev. Mac Legerton, Kevin Brabazon,  Doug King, Mike Morrell, Ken Wilber. 

Table of Contents

– Introduction: Science in a Spiritual Key, by David Sloan Wilson and Kurt Johnson

– Synopsis of Does Altruism Exist? Culture Genes and the Welfare of Others, by David Sloan Wilson

– Commentary 1: The Sacred and the Secular Can Unite on Altruism, by Kurt Johnson

– Commentary 2: When It Comes to Climate Change, Altruism Better Exist, By Richard Clugston

– Commentary 3: The Wolves of Wall Street and Superorganisms: How Social Justice Should Mimic Our Cells, by Barbara Marx Hubbard, Zachary Stein, and Marc Gafni

– Commentary 4: “Does Altruism Exist?” Wrong Question; Right Answer, by David Korten

– Commentary 5: Insects Model their Societies on Altruism. We need to become Planetary Altruists, by Rev. Mac Legerton

– Commentary 6: Altruism Comes with Age, by Kevin Brabazon

– Commentary 7: Altruism’s Path and the Rebirth of Spirituality, by Doug King and Mike Morrell

– Commentary 8: Altruism and Integral Spirituality, by Ken Wilber

– Discussion Questions about Does Altruism Exist?

– Reply to Commentaries on Does Altruism Exist?: Integrating Science and Spirituality through Action, by David Sloan Wilson




More on Haidt

Continuing this previous post:

I’m looking at the section “conclusion and critique” of Haidt starting on p. 31. Gibbs appreciates that we should account for our earlier human history and more primitive brain centers in describing morality. But to limit it to these structures and history at the expense of later brain structures and evolutionary development is another thing.

“The negative skew in Haidt’s descriptive work discourages study in moral psychology of higher reaches of morality such as rational moral reflection, empathy for the plight of entire out-groups, moral courage, and the cultivation of responsible, mature moral agency —broadly, study of ‘the scope of human possibilities, of what people can do morally, if they are prepared, through development and education, to approach life’s important issues in a thoughtful way’” (34).

Several neuroscientific studies make clear which parts of the brain are emphasized in liberals and conservatives. The amygdala (indicative of fight or flight fear) is a much older evolutionary brain structure, while the anterior cingulate cortex (higher thinking functions) much newer. Hence there is neuroscientific brain evidence for the evolution of morality per Kohlberg. Haidt admits that conservative morality is rooted in these more evolutionary earlier brain structures, and liberal morality in the newer structures.

The newer neocortex then coordinates and integrates the older brain functions so that the latter do not dominate and send us backward in evolution. It’s not that liberals don’t have the conservative moral traits like Haidt claims; it’s that those earlier evolutionary traits are now modified under neocortex control. Yes, there is a value judgment involved here, but it’s supported by evolutionary science, not ideology.

The abstract from “Neural correlates or post-conventional moral reasoning”:

“Going back to Kohlberg, moral development research affirms that people progress through different stages of moral reasoning as cognitive abilities mature. Individuals at a lower level of moral reasoning judge moral issues mainly based on self-interest (personal interests schema) or based on adherence to laws and rules (maintaining norms schema), whereas individuals at the post-conventional level judge moral issues based on deeper principles and shared ideals. However, the extent to which moral development is reflected in structural brain architecture remains unknown. To investigate this question, we used voxel-based morphometry and examined the brain structure in a sample of 67 Master of Business Administration (MBA) students. Subjects completed the Defining Issues Test (DIT-2) which measures moral development in terms of cognitive schema preference. Results demonstrate that subjects at the post-conventional level of moral reasoning were characterized by increased gray matter volume in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, compared with subjects at a lower level of moral reasoning. Our findings support an important role for both cognitive and emotional processes in moral reasoning and provide first evidence for individual differences in brain structure according to the stages of moral reasoning first proposed by Kohlberg decades ago.”

From Mendez, M. (2017). “A neurology of the conservative-liberal dimension of political ideology.” The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.

“Differences in political ideology are a major source of human disagreement and conflict. There is increasing evidence that neurobiological mechanisms mediate individual differences in political ideology through effects on a conservative-liberal axis. This review summarizes personality, evolutionary and genetic, cognitive, neuroimaging, and neurological studies of conservatism-liberalism and discusses how they might affect political ideology. What emerges from this highly variable literature is evidence for a normal right-sided cconservative-complex’ involving structures sensitive to negativity bias, threat, disgust, and avoidance.”

The dirty secret of capitalism

And the way forward. Granted it’s not full-blown collaborative commons but more like a healthy social democracy of the kind Sanders promotes and Scandinavia has. But I think it’s a necessary stepping stone on that road. The blurb:

“Rising inequality and growing political instability are the direct result of decades of bad economic theory, says entrepreneur Nick Hanauer. In a visionary talk, he dismantles the mantra that ‘greed is good’ — an idea he describes as not only morally corrosive, but also scientifically wrong — and lays out a new theory of economics powered by reciprocity and cooperation.”

Team human and the commons economy

To go with the last post, here’s an article by Douglas Rushkoff noting that optimizing human well-being should be its base. Some excerpts:

“The commons is a conscious implementation of reciprocal altruism. Reciprocal altruists, whether human or ape, reward those who cooperate with others and punish those who defect. A commons works the same way. A resource such as a lake or a field, or a monetary system, is understood as a shared asset. The pastures of medieval England were treated as a commons. It wasn’t a free-for-all, but a carefully negotiated and enforced system. People brought their flocks to graze in mutually agreed- upon schedules. Violation of the rules was punished, either with penalties or exclusion.

“The commons is not a winner-takes-all economy, but an all-take-the-winnings economy. Shared ownership encourages shared responsibility, which in turn engenders a longer-term perspective on business practices. Nothing can be externalized to some ‘other’ player, because everyone is part of the same trust, drinking from the same well.”

40 year update on memes

From this piece:

“There is not one, but at least four, hereditary systems recognized by biologists today. Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb lay this out clearly in their 2006 book, Evolution in Four Dimensions, as they walk through the research literature on genetics, epigenetics, behavioral repertoires, and symbolic culture as four distinct pathways where traits are ‘heritable’ in appropriately defined fashion.”

“Specifically, I am thinking of three areas where significant progress has been made during the last forty years: the birth of complexity science in the early 1980’s, developments in the study of human conceptualization and cognitive linguistics since the mid-70’s, and the explosion of digital media in the age of personal computers and later via the internet.”

“Applied to meme theory, this body of tools and techniques [cognitive linguistics] demonstrates that researchers across many fields have found value in the perspective that culture can be studied as information patterns that arise in a variety of social settings routinely and with modular elements that are readily discernible in each new instance. The claim that information patterns do not replicate is contradicted by the evidence for image-schematic structures.”

Bezos projects capitalism into space

Yes, space exploration is critical but we need to do it for the right reasons. And Bezos and other futurists want it without awareness or regard for the socio-economic system that has created hell on earth. So dump the earth and take our destruction into space? How about we change our worldview and socio-economic system and do it for the right reasons? And invest most of our time, energy and money into saving this world?

“The saying ‘it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism’ is very clear in Bezos’ future imaginings. He is unable to challenge the capitalist system from which he’s derived so much wealth. Thus the only positive future he can imagine involves leaving the only planet habitable to human beings. […] We don’t need space colonies; we need to get rid of billionaires and let the future be decided collectively, instead of letting a few powerful men rule the world.”

Their are alternatives to capitalism consistent with the above. As but one example see “From capitalism to the collaborative commons” in this journal issue.

Book: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

In his new book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David J. Epstein investigates the significant advantages of generalized cognitive skills for success in a complex world. We’ve heard and read many praises for narrow expertise in both humans and AIs (Watson, Alpha Go, etc.). In both humans and AIs, however, narrow+deep expertise does not translate to adaptiveness when reality presents novel challenges, as it does constantly. 

As you ingest this highly readable, non-technical book, please add your observations to the comments below. 

New journal: Human Arenas

Linked here. The blurb:

The aim of this journal concerns the interdisciplinary study of higher psychological functions (as topic of a general theory of psyche from the perspective of cultural psychology) in human goal-oriented liminal phenomena in ordinary and extraordinary life conditions. The journal is organized around topics and arenas of human activity, rather than the traditional boundaries of academic disciplines. It will explore human arenas from the point of view of historical foundations, methodology, epistemology, and the intersection of disciplines. Human Arenas promotes an innovative mix of theoretical and empirical studies, as well as qualitative and quantitative approaches based on “small data,” that is, the analysis of crucial and meaningful data, rather than the inductive accumulation of large empirical “evidence.”

Topics of interest include:

·         Human arenas of movement (moving, changing, developing, crossing borders and horizons, utopia, crisis, resistance, schooling)

·         Human arenas of creation (imagining, fictionality, music, sensuality, drawing, dancing, playing, affectivating, anticipating, eating and cooking, loving, ambivalence)

·         Human arenas of regulation (religion, rituals, semiosis, constructing/destroying/deforming, killing, believing, caring, value, cultivating, dwelling, blocking/facilitating, inhibiting/promoting, coordinating collective action, ornamenting, voicing/silencing)

The journal itself is the arena for the development of theoretical foundations and empirical horizons of a general theory of human psyche, from a counter-hegemonic and peripheral perspective, meant to foster continuous dialogue with any kind of mainstream. The vision of the journal is to provide an interdisciplinary space for debate, in which psychology can learn from other disciplines, and other social and behavioral sciences (e.g. archeology, anthropology, biosemiotics, philosophy, medicine, natural sciences, ecology, humanomics, aesthetics, sociology, art, history, etc.) can learn from psychology. The journal will support the development of general formal models of human phenomena, also by reflecting upon processes of abduction, generalization and theorization.

Cultural and genetic evolution

From this article:

“The idea that humans have cognitive instincts is a cornerstone of evolutionary psychology, pioneered by Leda Cosmides, John Tooby and Steven Pinker in the 1990s. […] This all seems plausible and intuitive, doesn’t it? The trouble is, the evidence behind it is dubious. In fact, if we look closely, it’s apparent that evolutionary psychology is due for an overhaul. Rather than hard-wired cognitive instincts, our heads are much more likely to be populated by cognitive gadgets, tinkered and toyed with over successive generations. Culture is responsible not just for the grist of the mind – what we do and make – but for fabricating its mills, the very way the mind works.”

“The evidence for cognitive instincts is now so weak that we need a whole new way of capturing what’s distinctive about the human mind. The founders of evolutionary psychology were right when they said that the secret of our success is computational mechanisms – thinking machines – specialised for particular tasks. But these devices, including imitation, mind-reading, language and many others, are not hard-wired. Nor were they designed by genetic evolution. Rather, humans’ thinking machines are built in childhood through social interaction, and were fashioned by cultural, not genetic, evolution. What makes our minds unique are not cognitive instincts but cognitive gadgets.”

“The mind of a newborn human baby is not a blank slate. Like other animals, we are born with – we genetically inherit – a huge range of abilities and assumptions about the world. We’re endowed with capacities to memorise sequences, to control our impulses, to learn associations between events, and to hold several things in mind while we work on them. […] These skills and beliefs are part of the ‘genetic starter kit’ for mature human cognition. They are crucial because they direct our attention to other people, and act as cranes in the construction of new thinking machines. But they are not blueprints for Big Special cognitive mechanisms such as imitation, mind-reading and language.”

“To be fair, evolutionary psychology did something crucially important. It showed that viewing the mind as a kind of software running on the brain’s hardware can advance our understanding of the origins of human cognition. Now it’s time to take a further step: to recognise that our distinctively human apps have been created by cultural, not genetic, evolution.”