The Living Thing / Notebooks :


“Selfishness” versus “altruism” in ecology, evolutionary biology, economics, game theory, moral philosophy. Group selection, cancer, eusociality. Possible grounding Genetic, social, individual and other kinds of learning, and their interactions. Levels of selection and inheritance (group/gene/individual/whatever). Ethnic signifiers.

See also altruism, evolution, getting along.

Foragers and farmers

Germs and cooperation

Is culture just a side effect of the struggle to avoid disease? A cute hypothesis told popsci-style:

If you were to live in such a pathogenically diverse place, you and your family would likely develop a resistance or immunity to your local parasites. But that defense might be useless if you were to move in with a group just a short distance away—or if a stranger, carrying a foreign pathogen load, were to insinuate himself into your clan. In such places, then, it would be important for neighboring groups to be able to tell the difference between “us” and “them.” With that thought in mind, Thornhill and his colleagues made a prediction: that regions with a balkanized landscape of localized parasites would in turn display a balkanized landscape of localized customs and conspicuous cultural differences among human populations—dialects, unique religious displays, distinctive art and music, and the like. While there is much more research to be done, early findings suggest that—particularly when it comes to the development of local languages and religions—pathogen stress does appear to spawn cultural diversity.

The potential for confounding should be clear in this one, but it’s worth looking into. I am curious about the correlations they found, even if I am a priori skeptical of the causation that is their hypothesis.


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