Benefits of bipedalism

What’s so useful about walking on two feet? A lot, actually. A twolegged primate can stand up and reach food (as chimps do) that a fourlegged primate would find challenging. A two-legged primate can move more efficiently between patches, since two-legged walking uses less energy than four-legged walking, and a bipedal ape can stand up to survey for danger (as meerkats do), which comes in handy in a savanna filled with carnivores. In addition, by standing upright, a two-legged primate exposes less of its body’s surface area directly to the hot African sun and thus requires about two-thirds the water of a similarly sized four-legged primate.

Robert L. Kelly, The Fifth Beginning, p. 25

August 31, 2023

Darwinian dynamics

We argue that the evolution of order in living systems and certain nonliving physical systems obeys a common fundamental principle which we call the Darwinian dynamic. Such ordered systems deviate greatly from the thermodynamic equiprobability rule according to which, for example, all nucleotide sequences of comparable length should be found in roughly equal abundance. We formulate the Darwinian dynamic by first considering how macroscopic order is generated in a simple nonbiological system far from the thermodynamic equilibrium. We then extend our consideration to short, replicating RNA molecules, which we assume to be like the earliest forms of life, and show that the underlying order-generating process is basically similar. The equation we use as an example of the Darwinian dynamic for these simple replicators contains variables that express the basic conditions necessary for the process of natural selection as conceived by Darwin: variation of type, heritability, and competition for limited resources. By starting with such uncomplicated systems, we believe we have clarified the essential elements of natural selection. Specifically, we show that the fitness of an RNA replicator (its per capita rate of increase) is a function of adaptive capacities which are intrinsic (in the sense that they are determined by the nucleotide sequence) and of the availability of resources. The three primary adaptive capacities are, we think, the capacity to replicate, the capacity to avoid decay, and the capacity to acquireand process resource

Bernstein et al (1983). Darwinian dynamics

August 31, 2023

This is how you pitch evolutionary game theory

All of life is a game and evolution by natural selection is no exception. Games have players, strategies, payoffs, and rules. In the game of life, organisms are the players, their heritable traits provide strategies, their births and deaths are the payoffs, and the environment sets the rules. The evolutionary game theory developed in this book provides the tools necessary for understanding many of Nature’s mysteries.

Vincent & Brown, Evolutionary Game Theory, Natural Selection, and Darwinian Dynamics

August 31, 2023

Ritual, Religion, and Reciprocity

In mobile forager social life, ritual, and the esoteric narratives associated with ritual, are in part vehicles for the transmission of norms. But they also play an experiential role, and in doing so they increase group cohesion and hence reduce the fragmenting effects of conflict and disagreement (Lewis 2013, Lewis 2016). So while ritual and religion are relevant to the stability of an economy of reciprocation through their role of transmitting norms and giving them authority, ritual is also relevant to the stability of these forager economies through their experiential effects. I have argued that an economy of reciprocation imposes real stresses on cohesion, and so I suggest that proto-religion emerged (or expanded in its social significance) in part as a response to these stresses. The performative aspects of these proto-religions were important for their powerful and bonding experiential effects. On this hypothesis, proto-religion consisted in multimodal performances of music, ritual and dance, often combined with experience-altering technologies. The experiential impacts of song, dance and performance were often supplemented and amplified by experience-altering drugs or by stressing the cognitive system in other ways: sleep deprivation, extremes of heat or cold (for example, Native American sweat lodges), sensory overload, exhaustion or just through the intensity of these emotionally charged events (Baumard and Boyer 2013). While mythic narratives play a central role in ethnographically documented small-world religious traditions, these are often experienced as part of collective, socially bonding, socially marked, mixed modality performance, and often in the grip of altered states of consciousness. Agents encounter these narratives, which are often themselves far from mundane, as part of a package of intense and unusual perceptual experiences, and often while they are themselves taking an active part in the total performance, themselves engaged in coordinated, entrained song, ritual and dance.

Kim Sterelny, The Pleistocene Social Contract, p. 89-90

August 31, 2023

Cooperation, Stability, and Scale

There is reason to suspect that [the transition from the relatively closed social world of a great ape residential group to the richly connected forager bands of ethnography ] was very gradual. Its initial roots may date back to the Heidelbergensians, at about 800 kya. But it was not complete until the very late Pleistocene (perhaps even later). For it is only then that we find evidence of active cooperation across residential groups, and perhaps of clan structures that transcend an individual forager band. The final transition began in the terminal Pleistocene (about 25 kya–12 kya) and in the early Holocene, with the origins of sedentary society. This led to an increase in social scale and social inequality. In trying to understand why cooperation is stable, scale, complexity and inequality all matter. For mechanisms that suffice to stabilize cooperation in small politically unstructured and relatively homogenous social environments breakdown in larger and more structured ones. Personal knowledge and trust can stabilize cooperation in small, intimate social environments but not larger and more differentiated ones. Continued cooperation is especially puzzling in social worlds that are not just larger but also hierarchically structured. For these seem to be cases where the profits of cooperation are largely hijacked by elites. In such cases, theory predicts the collapse of cooperation. The take-home message of this chapter is that culturally evolved tools—language, myth, ritual, explicit norms—play a central role in the stability of cooperation in the late Pleistocene shift in the economic foundations of cooperation, and an equally central role in the survival of the social contract through the final Pleistocene and early Holocene social revolutions.

Kim Sterelny, The Pleistocene Social Contract, p. 58

August 30, 2023

Benefits of Mindreading and Signaling

In many cases, the benefits of mindreading will have nothing to do with signaling, but the following are common situations in which signaling benefits (to receiver and/or sender) can emerge:

Behavioral Prediction: predicting the behavior of another.

Behavioral Stabilization: regulating other people’s behavior so that it becomes stable and predictable.

Trust Problems: discerning whether to approach a person, trust them with your property, expect that they will reciprocate your altruism, etc.

Commitment Problems: getting others to commit to a future action or having a reason to commit yourself to a future action.

Coordination Problems: figuring out how to work with others to jointly accomplish a goal or to work in parallel.

The first two categories are quite broad and include the latter three as special instances: predicting and shaping the behavior of others is a way to achieve trust, commitment, and coordination. But what does any of this have to do with belief signaling? Our behaviors are underpinned by beliefs, desires, values and emotions that contribute to solving these problems. Mindreading allows for the possibility of detecting and molding these mental states into signals. In turn, beliefs that signal tribal loyalties, self-assessments, values, worldviews, and the like allow us to even better anticipate the behavior of others and rely on them. This generates more robust networks of trust, commitment, and coordination.

Eric Funkhouser, Evolutionary psychology, learning, and belief signaling: design for natural and artificial systems

August 29, 2023