I examine the relationship between evolutionary definitions of altruism that are based on fitness effects and psychological definitions that are based on the motives of the actor. I show that evolutionary altruism can be motivated by proximate mechanisms that are psychologically either altruistic or selfish. I also show that evolutionary definitions do rely upon motives as a metaphor in which the outcome of natural selection is compared to the decisions of a psychologically selfish (or altruistic) individual. Ignoring the precise nature (...) of both psychological and evolutionary definitions has obscured many important issues, including the biological roots of psychological altruism. (shrink)
What is the biological reason for gossip? For laughter? For the creation of art? Why do dogs have curly tails? What can microbes tell us about morality? These and many other questions are tackled by renowned evolutionist David Sloan Wilson in this witty and groundbreaking new book. With stories that entertain as much as they inform, Wilson outlines the basic principles of evolution and shows how, properly understood, they can illuminate the length and breadth of creation, from the origin of (...) life to the nature of religion. Now everyone can move beyond the sterile debates about creationism and intelligent design to share Darwin’s panoramic view of animal and human life, seamlessly connected to each other. Evolution, as Wilson explains, is not just about dinosaurs and human origins, but about why all species behave as they do—from beetles that devour their own young, to bees that function as a collective brain, to dogs that are smarter in some respects than our closest ape relatives. And basic evolutionary principles are also the foundation for humanity’s capacity for symbolic thought, culture, and morality. In example after example, Wilson sheds new light on Darwin’s grand theory and how it can be applied to daily life. By turns thoughtful, provocative, and daringly funny, Evolution for Everyone addresses some of the deepest philosophical and social issues of this or any age. In helping us come to a deeper understanding of human beings and our place in the world, it might also help us to improve that world. (shrink)
The naturalistic fallacy is mentionedfrequently by evolutionary psychologists as anerroneous way of thinking about the ethicalimplications of evolved behaviors. However,evolutionary psychologists are themselvesconfused about the naturalistic fallacy and useit inappropriately to forestall legitimateethical discussion. We briefly review what thenaturalistic fallacy is and why it is misusedby evolutionary psychologists. Then we attemptto show how the ethical implications of evolvedbehaviors can be discussed constructivelywithout impeding evolutionary psychologicalresearch. A key is to show how ethicalbehaviors, in addition to unethical behaviors,can evolve by natural selection.
The hypothesis of group selection fell victim to a seemingly devastating critique in 1960s evolutionary biology. In Unto Others (1998), we argue to the contrary, that group selection is a conceptually coherent and empirically well documented cause of evolution. We suggest, in addition, that it has been especially important in human evolution. In the second part of Unto Others, we consider the issue of psychological egoism and altruism -- do human beings have ultimate motives concerning the well-being of others? We (...) argue that previous psychological and philosophical work on this question has been inconclusive. We propose an evolutionary argument for the claim that human beings have altruistic ultimate motives. (shrink)
The primary outcome of natural selection is adaptation to an environment. The primary concern of epistemology is the acquistion of knowledge. Evolutionary epistemology must therefore draw a fundamental connection between adaptation and knowledge. Existing frameworks in evolutionary epistemology do this in two ways; (a) by treating adaptation as a form of knowledge, and (b) by treating the ability to acquire knowledge as a biologically evolved adaptation. I criticize both frameworks for failing to appreciate that mental representations can motivate behaviors that (...) are adaptive in the real world without themselves directly corresponding to the real world. I suggest a third framework in which mental representations are to reality as species are to ecosystems. This is a many-to-one relationship that predicts a diversity of adaptive representations in the minds of interacting people. As “species of thought”, mental representations share a number of properties with biological species, including isolating mechanisms that prevent them from blending with other representations. Species of thought also are amenable to the empirical methods that evolutionists use to study adaptation in biological species. Empirical studies of mental representations in everyday life might even be necessary for science to succeed as a normative “truth-seeking” discipline. (shrink)
Words such as selfish and altruistic that describe conduct toward self and others are notoriously ambiguous in everyday language. I argue that the ambiguity is caused, in part, by the coexistence of multiple belief systems that use the same words in different ways. Each belief system is a relatively coherent linguistic entity that provides a guide for human behavior. It is therefore a functional entity with design features that dictate specific word meaning. Since different belief systems guide human behavior in (...) different directions, specific word meanings cannot be maintained across belief systems. Other sources of linguistic ambiguity include i) functional ambiguity that increases the effectiveness of a belief system, ii) ambiguity between belief systems that are functionally identical but historically distinct, and iii) active interference between belief systems. I illustrate these points with a natural history study of the word selfish and related words in everyday language. In general, language and the thought that it represents should be studied in the same way that ecologists study multi-species communities. (shrink)
Many evolutionary models assume that behaviors are caused directly by genes. An implication is that behavioral uniformity should be found only in groups that are genetically uniform. Yet, the members of human social groups often behave in a uniform fashion, despite the fact that they are genetically diverse. Behavioral uniformity can occur through a variety of psychological mechanisms and social processes, such as imitation, consensus decision making, or the imposition of social norms. We present a series of models in which (...) genes code for social transmission rules, which in turn govern the behaviors that are adopted. Transmission rules can evolve in randomly formed groups that concentrate phenotypic variation at the between-group level, favoring the evolution of altruistic behaviors and other group-advantageous traits. In addition, a direct bias toward adopting altruistic behaviors can evolve. Our models begin to show how group selection can be a strong force in human evolution, despite the absence of extreme genetic variation among groups. (shrink)
Norms have a strong influence on human social interactions, but the emotions and actions associated with norm-breaking events have not been systematically studied. We asked subjects to imagine themselves in a conflict situation and then to report how they would feel, how they would act, and how they would imagine the feelings and actions of their opponent. By altering the fictional scenario that they were asked to imagine (weak vs. strong norm) and the perspective of the subject (norm-breaker vs. the (...) one whose norm has been violated), the emotions and actions associated with norm-breaking events could be examined. We tested the following hypotheses: (1) norms create emotional asymmetries that resolve conflicts in otherwise symmetrical contest situations; (2) sex differences exist in response to norm-breaking events, with males more prone to violence than females; (3) individual differences exist in response to norm-breaking events, along the lines predicted by theoretical models; and (4) emotions and actions attributed to one’s opponent are distorted in ways that can be interpreted as adaptive for the believer. In addition to these basic hypotheses, we address more subtle issues concerning the particular emotions provoked by norm-breaking events, the degree to which emotional response is fine-tuned to the situation, and the degree to which emotional response correlates with anticipated behavioral response. We discuss the relevance of our study to the general study of emotions and the use of fictional scenarios as a research method in addition to the study of norms from an evolutionary perspective. (shrink)
Group selection is increasingly being viewed as an important force in human evolution. This paper examines the views of R.D. Alexander, one of the most influential thinkers about human behavior from an evolutionary perspective, on the subject of group selection. Alexander's general conception of evolution is based on the gene-centered approach of G.C. Williams, but he has also emphasized a potential role for group selection in the evolution of individual genomes and in human evolution. Alexander's views are internally inconsistent and (...) underestimate the importance of group selection. Specific themes that Alexander has developed in his account of human evolution are important but are best understood within the framework of multilevel selection theory. From this perspective, Alexander's views on moral systems are not the radical departure from conventional views that he claims, but remain radical in another way more compatible with conventional views. (shrink)
We address the following issues raised by the commentators of our target article and book: (1) the problem of multiple perspectives; (2) how to define group selection; (3) distinguishing between the concepts of altruism and organism; (4) genetic versus cultural group selection; (5) the dark side of group selection; (6) the relationship between psychological and evolutionary altruism; (7) the question of whether the psychological questions can be answered; (8) psychological experiments. We thank the contributors for their commentaries, which provide a (...) diverse agenda for future study of evolution and morality. Our response will follow the organization of our book, distinguishing between evolutionary issues that concern fitness effects and psychological issues that concern motives. (shrink)
Cooperation can evolve in the context of cognitive activities such as perception, attention, memory, and decision making, in addition to physical activities such as hunting, gathering, warfare, and childcare. The social insects are well known to cooperate on both physical and cognitive tasks, but the idea of cognitive cooperation in humans has not received widespread attention or systematic study. The traditional psychological literature often gives the impression that groups are dysfunctional cognitive units, while evolutionary psychologists have so far studied cognition (...) primarily at the individual level. We present two experiments that demonstrate the superiority of thinking in groups, but only for tasks that are sufficiently challenging to exceed the capacity of individuals. One of the experiments is in a brain-storming format, where advantages of real groups over nominal groups have been notoriously difficult to demonstrate. Cognitive cooperation might often operate beneath conscious awareness and take place without the need for overt training, as evolutionary psychologists have stressed for individual-level cognitive adaptations. In general, cognitive cooperation should be a central subject in human evolutionary psychology, as it already is in the study of the social insects. (shrink)
We have two main objections to Kerr and Godfrey-Smith's (2002) meticulous analysis. First, they misunderstand the position we took in Unto Others – we do not claim that individual-level statements about the evolution of altruism are always unexplanatory and always fail to capture causal relationships. Second, Kerr and Godfrey-Smith characterize the individual and the multi-level perspectives in terms of different sets of parameters. In particular, they do not allow the multi-level perspective to use the individual fitness parameters i and i. (...) We don't see why the multi-level perspective prevents one from thinking in these terms. Kerr and Godfrey-Smith's argument that Uyenoyama and Feldman's (1980, 1992) definition of altruism belongs more to the individualist perspective than it does to the multi-level perspective is an artifact of their choice of parameters; the same point applies to their argument about the individualism inherent in the idea of Class I and Class II fitness structures. (shrink)
Those who emphasize complexity must show how it can be studied productively. Laland et al.'s target article partially succeeds but at times gets lost in a sea of possibilities. I discuss the challenge of understanding complexity, especially with respect to multilevel evolution.
It is a foundational prediction of evolutionary theory that human beliefs accurately approximate reality only insofar as accurate beliefs enhance fitness. Otherwise, adaptive misbeliefs will prevail. Unlike McKay & Dennett (M&D), we think that adaptive belief systems rely heavily upon misbeliefs. However, the case for positive illusions as an example of adaptive misbelief is weak.
If sociopathy is a biological adaptation, it probably evolved in small social groups in which individuals lacked the social mobility required for a con-man strategy to work. On the other hand, conflicts between groups may have provided a large niche for sociopathy throughout human history.
This essay provides a sketch of religion as a set of biologically and culturally evolved adaptations that enable human groups to function as adaptive units. Recent developments in evolutionary biology make such a group-level interpretation of religion more plausible than in the past. A brief survey of relevant concepts is followed by a relatively detailed interpretation of Calvinism as a religious system in which explicit behavioral prescriptions, beliefs about God and his relationship with people, and numerous social control mechanisms combined (...) to change the city of Geneva from a collection of warring factions to a unified population. (shrink)
It is common to portray conservative and liberal Protestant denominations as “strong” and “weak” on the basis of indices such as church attendance. Alternatively, they can be regarded as qualitatively different cultural systems that coexist in a multiple-niche environment. We integrate these two perspectives with a study of American teenagers based on both one-time survey information and the experience sampling method (ESM), which records individual experience on a moment-by-moment basis. Conservative Protestant youth were found to be more satisfied, family-oriented, and (...) sociable than liberal Protestant youth, but also more dependent on their social environment, which is reflected in a deterioration of their mood when they are alone. Liberal Protestant youth appear to have internalized values that remain constant whether in the presence or absence of others. We relate these results to the social scientific literature on liberalism and conservatism and to evolutionary theory as a framework for explaining cultural systems as adaptations to multiple-niche environments. (shrink)
Rolls's mechanistic account of emotion can help to bridge a rift within the field of evolutionary psychology. One side of the rift emphasizes the importance of innate psychological mechanisms that evolved to solve specific problems encountered in the ancestral environment. The other side emphasizes learning, development, and culture as open-ended evolutionary processes in their own right. Rolls shows how these two views can be reconciled, allowing a productive middle ground to be explored.