Homo Hypocritus

The standard social brain theory seems in conflict with standard anthropologist accounts of ancestral forager lifestyles.  Might “man the sly rule bender” resolve this conflict?

Why do we have ginormous brains?  Animals tend to have big brains when they have big bodies, but beyond that the main brain pattern is social: bigger brains are found in birds and mammals that compete with predators or prey, and who manage pair-bonding mate relations.  The extra costs of big brains is outweighed by benefits of not being out-witted by others.

Primates (and hyenas) hit on the trick of reusing pair-bonding skills to manage friendships in large social groups.  Primates have huge expensive brains, which are bigger in species with larger social groups, and these groups spend more of their time managing social relations.  Bigger groups better protect against predators, though the coalition politics of dominance gets more complex in bigger groups.

Primates not only manage relations and coalitions, but they also track the relations and coalitions of others.  They are adept at judging how to help their coalitions, and when to switch sides.  The top chimp is often not the strongest, but instead the one with the strongest coalition, which gets to dominate food and mating, and stay best protected from predators; chimp investments in big brains often pay off handsomely.

Humans have the biggest primate brains of all. Over the last two million years hominid brains grew more where climates were variable, but they grew most where population densities were high.  This suggests that human brains were also big mainly due to social pressures.  The “mating mind” sexual selection hypothesis seems at odds with this density effect, and with the more general fact that polygamous species tend to have smaller brains.  “Man the tool user” stories seem to confuse broad group gains with individual benefits – smaller brains seem sufficient for copying others’ tool skills.  But even if social pressures were key, which pressures exactly?

Isolated nomadic forager bands today are “fossils” with crucial clues about our distant ancestors.  Anthropologists who study them report that overt dominance is rare, and long distances make war rare (as 4 million year old fossils suggest). Foragers live in tight quarters and use language to express and enforce social norms on food sharing, non-violence, mating freedom, communal decision making, and norm enforcement.  Anger, bragging, giving orders, and anything remotely resembling dominance among men is punished by avoidance, exile, and death as required.  Human’s unusual hidden female fertility also limits male dominance temptations.

The puzzle here is that consistent enforcement of such norms seems to drastically reduce the payoff to expensive coalition-politics-savvy brains.  If you can’t collude to grab the food or the women, and everyone is treated fairly based on their contributions, why bother to be so clever?  Yes, some brain innovations were required to support language, and maybe they wouldn’t have occurred in a small brain, but after that innovation human brains could have shrunk (as perhaps with hobbits).  Why did humans keep huge expensive brains?

In a messy real world, social norms expressed in language typically have many iffy boundary cases and ambiguities.  How much of what sort of food of what quality offered how conveniently counts as food sharing?  How big a frown is a grimace?  Sex with how close a relative counts as incest?  And so on.  This wouldn’t matter if boundary cases were decided randomly, but that seems unlikely.  Instead big brain gains come five ways:

Unnormed – coalition politics on acts uncovered by norms.
Skirt – keep actions near but not over edge of violating norms.
Cover – politics of observers on if to report an act to others.
Frame – lawyer-like arguing on if acts violate social norms.
Conspire – form coalitions on how to publicly interpet iffy acts.

Most norms have meta-norms against consciously trying to evade them.  Self-deception should help here; foragers might sincerely believe they usually just do their job and “tell it like it is”, and then unconsciously try to act, selectively report and frame acts, and support interpretation coalitions, to their advantage.  Instead of “man the tool user”, we might be better understood as “man the sly rule bender.”

Gains to rule bending could be greatly reduced via social norms with very clear simple rules.  But humans seems to usually prefer complex and ambiguous rules that require “judgment” to apply.  For example, foragers often have complex incest rules, forbidding a much wider range of sex partners than is needed to prevent genetic problems.  And acts of sorcery are allowed to count as acts of aggression that violate social norms and must be punished, even without concrete evidence showing such acts.  Both complex broad incest rules and allowing sorcery complaints greatly increase the scope for gains to large rule-bending brains, and suggest that we tend to prefer to allow such scope.

The idea that the main reason we have huge brains is to hypocritically bend rules seems to me a dramatic change in how we think about human nature.  If true, it should change how we understand a great many things in psychology and social science.  I’ve been obsessing about his topic for weeks, and last Thursday I ran it past Robin Dunbar, famed for his contributions to the social brain account, and he said it was pretty close to his view on the subject, and he suggested the incest example.

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  • St

    This logic seems to be confusing correlation with causality:

    “Over the last two million years hominid brains grew more where climates were variable, but they grew most where population densities were high”

    How do you know populations didn’t grow densely in these areas BECAUSE they were filled with big brained-hominids? If these hominids were smarter, they’d be able to reproduce/survive more successfully and thus create large populations.

    And consequently, with a dense population there will naturally be more intricate social networks and dynamics, simply by virtue of the fact that there are many members of a reproductively successful species in a given location.

  • mikem

    The puzzle here is that consistent enforcement of such norms seems to drastically reduce the payoff to expensive coalition-politics-savvy brains. … Why did humans keep huge brains?

    Perhaps it’s an evolutionarily stable strategy. Even if your big brain doesn’t provide you with any advantages over your equally big brained contemporaries, having a smaller brain will put you at a disadvantage. Like peacock plumage.

  • http://robertwiblin.wordpress.com Robert Wiblin

    Can we test this by finding out what the smartest members of forager groups remaining today do differently and more successfully?

    • Andy McKenzie

      Do we even need to go to hunter gatherer tribes? Seems to me that if this is the main reason that brains evolved, we’ll have specific ingrained tendencies promoting it, like our phobia of snakes might be: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080227121840.htm. So, won’t the theory also predict that smarter people (which correlates with bigger brains) will also tend to prefer ambiguous rules that they can exploit in civilized societies?

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Robert, yes, I’d think so.

    mikem, that is the sexual selection theory.

    St, these changes were plenty slow enough for innovations to spread.

  • William H. Stoddard

    I’m not sure that the ethical and political rules of contemporary forager societies are a valid model of those prevalent during early human evolution.

    Compare language. Thanks to the heroic efforts of generations of linguists, we have fairly good grammatical descriptions of many small (and often now dying or dead) languages all over the world. And often these are startlingly arcane: nouns with complicated systems of case and gender, nouns and pronouns with incompatible case systems, verbs with elaborate conjugations such as polysynthetic systems where the verb must agree not only with its subject but also with its object, and so on. John McWhorter (The Power of Babel, p. 200) claims that there are tribal languages whose grammar is so difficult that native speakers under ten can’t use them correctly. And yet we can trace all those complexities, in languages for which we have historical data, to a few processes that developed them out of simple elements: content words change categories, function words such as prepositions evolve out of nouns and verbs, prefixes and suffixes evolve out of function words and pronouns, pronunciations get worn down or mutated through accumulated errors in speech, and so on. The primitive elements in language seem to be nouns, verbs, and a few adjectives. And we have a spectrum from relic languages with vast complexities, through languages spoken over wide trade areas with simpler grammars, to the really simple grammars of recently evolved creoles. So we can plausibly infer that the languages of the first language users did not have incredible complexities, and that the grammatical faculty was not evolved with such complexities wired in; rather, the complexities emerge over long periods of time, and are more retained when the speakers don’t have to cope with talking with strangers very often.

    Morality and law seem to be comparable to language in some ways. Most notably, inward-facing social groups develop increasingly complex and arcane interpretations of their basic rules, through processes such as pilpul; groups that turn outward to deal with other groups simplify their rules, as Judaism was simplified from Orthodox to Reform Judaism. The surviving forager societies have nearly all been isolated for a long time, giving them lots of chance to accumulate pilpul. But the original human groups with linguistically expressed moral rules could not have had such an accumulation of vague definitions and special cases. Nor would whatever evolutionary process led to human social groups living under rules have involved rules so complicated that they needed language to express them. Of course, there could have been some selective pressure for the ability to work with more complex moral rules; but the process of cultural accretion in isolated small groups could very well have pushed the complexity of human moral systems far above the naturally emergent level. The moral rules that emerge in newly formed human populations, or those that are followed in widespread trade areas, may be a better fit to the natural human level of moral complexity.

    In fact, this suggests a question to me: Do processes such as rent-seeking operate in small forager societies, and what form do they take there? Rent-seeking certainly accounts for a lot of the increasing moral and legal complexity of, say, American society in the 20th and 21st centuries. Could it have operated on a smaller scale?

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      If language accumulate complexities until it reaches some capacity limit, and if we’ve seen this happen over the short times of recorded history, then long ago languages should usually have long been already at such limits if language started hundreds of thousands of years ago. I’m not say that the first rules evolved in order to be bent; I’m saying brains stayed big in order to bend the rules we had.

      • William H. Stoddard

        Only if you assume that there were no forces working to simplify languages. At the extreme, there are creolization situations, which take languages back to basics in a generation or two. But there are less extreme circumstances that speed the erosion of arcane complexities . . . for example, languages of large oikoumenai tend to become simplified by being used to communicate with people who speak different dialects or even entirely different native languages. There is also the case of English, which got brutally simplified after the English were conquered by speakers of Norman French.

        The more arcane languages are often found in refuge zones, as discussed by Johanna Nichols. Conversely, the family tree model of Indo-European studies best fits spread zones, where an original small group expands into a wide territory: Indo-European charioteers into Europe and India and Western China, Malayo-Polynesians from Taiwan into the Pacific, Bantu speakers from West Africa through most of the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, and so on.

        Now, foragers today live in refuge zones. But foragers of the Paleolithic were spreading out across the entire world. Only after they filled it did populations grow dense, resource exploitation intensify, and high-intensity modes become secondary centers of expansion. The dynamics of language evolution likely were very different during that initial expansion. And similarly the dynamics of moral systems may have been. At any rate, we shouldn’t just compare them to the moral complexities of surviving foraging societies; they are not necessarily comparable.

      • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

        I’m not seeing the point you are making beyond “they are not necessarily comparable.” Yes of course fossils might have changed, but if we can’t predict in the direction of change they remain our best estimate of ancient conditions.

  • anon

    I agree with W. H. Shoddard. Moreover, if rules lawyering, skirting et al. had been common in nomadic foraging groups, surely anthropologists would have picked up on this tendency. Intuitively, the rise of agriculture and civilization ought to lead to a dramatic increase in rules complexity.

  • http://www.nancybuttons.com Nancy Lebovitz

    If you can’t collude to grab the food or the women, and everyone is treated fairly based on their contributions, why bother to be so clever?

    Check out Mother Nather— it’s about the complexity (for both women and female animals) of balancing status among women/females, child-raising, and work.

    • Douglas Knight

      Are you saying that there are no big winners, but there are big losers?

      • http://www.nancybuttons.com Nancy Lebovitz

        One thing I’m saying is that the title of the book is Mother Nature.

        No, I’m saying that if you only pay attention to men, you’d be missing a reproductively important source of complexity.

        I agree that there wouldn’t be big winners, but there might not be big losers, either.

        I’d expect a steady evolutionary grind of small winners and small losers.

  • http://brokensymmetry.typepad.com Michael F. Martin

    Primates (and hyenas) hit on the trick of reusing pair-bonding skills to manage friendships in large social groups.

    I wonder how the smooth-coated otter fits in this scheme?

    I recommend the BBC-produced Planet Earth DVDs to anybody who hasn’t seen them. Not your typical nature documentary.

  • http://www.tiac.net/~sw Steve Witham

    Robin, your second-to-last paragraph says people seem to prefer complex rules, without saying why they should. Big brains could be good at exploiting complex rules, but what’s the advantage of encouraging complex rules? Is it simply that big-brains can see the advantage to themselves of bamboozling smaller-brains into supporting a murkier playing field? Or, without genes to make big-brains prefer complexification, would the advantage go to people who prefer simplification?

    This fits my view of the size of the law. It says government is a system for creating loopholes that are nonobvious to and hard-to-exploit by non-lawyers.

    God, it also fits my view of Windows. No, wait: complexifying nerds are a side-effect. Gates and Microsoft (the social phenomenon) win, but most of the lower nerds win medium money and status among nerds, but not larger social status. Maybe money is the true success and popularity is the fool’s game, though.

    • http://www.nancybuttons.com Nancy Lebovitz

      Another possibility (and a potentially large topic) is that people don’t just want to be efficient, they want to fill time, and they want novelty as well as stability. Making rules more complicated might not just be about strategic advantage.

      • ngvrnd

        This time-filling point is interesting.

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      I didn’t say why we like complex rules because I don’t know.

  • Tim Tyler

    There are several ideas about why humans have such large brains: The Machiavellian intelligence hypothesis, sexual selection (see “The Runaway Brain”), the lifting of nutritional constraints (see “The Driving Force”) and making space for the new replicators (see “The Meme Machine”). These ideas all look pretty important to me.

    • http://williambswift.blogspot.com/ billswift

      It quite likely is a combination of most or all of these as well as things we still haven’t thought of yet. Insane complexity is a usual component of evolved as opposed to designed systems.

  • jc

    Yes. As Pinker says, “The conscious mind – the self or soul – is a spin doctor, not the commander in chief”.

    We’re all quite good at inventing convenient narratives which allow us to believe as we wish and behave as we like. And the bigger the brain, and the better at self deception we are, the better we may be at it. (Thus, both may have evolutionary advantages, if gathering resources at the margin is, indeed, influenced by our ability to slyly bend rules. Regarding the former, I’m reminded of Orwell: “There are some ideas so wrong that only a very intelligent person could believe them”.)

  • http://calculatedexuberance.blogspot.com/ Thorfinn

    The underlying assumption here is that extant hunter-gatherer tribes are a reliable guide to the past conditions of humanity.

    That’s ridiculous. Today’s hunter-gatherer groups have been pushed to the least hospitable environments. Some of them may have been farmers in the distant past, or else interacted with them extensively. Hunter-gatherers in the past were found mostly where the food was good, and which are high density today (and likely relatively high density in the past too).

    Moreover, to the extent that these groups have been studied–the Hiwi for instance–they have stunningly high mortality rates. Our ancestors likely spent a large fraction of their time in exactly the sorts of status displays and violence that call for cognitive abilities.

    Your alternative explanation seems to reduce to the idea that our brains became complex because our society was complex because… why? Why did humans suddenly become the only animal to go down this line?

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      Yes foragers are in our most marginal lands, and were once where we are now dense. But our ancestors were less able to make use of such lands, and so their densities were still low by our standards. Yes mortality rates are high. Not sure why you think these facts are at odds with what I’ve said.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    “seems at odds with this density effect”
    How so?

    Tim Tyler, you might already be aware of it but Richard Wrangham’s recent “Catching Fire” is an example of your “Driving Force” explanation.

    • Tim Tyler

      Thanks! The earliest evidence of fire starting is from 800,000 years ago. Brains started swelling 3 MYA. So, theories invoking fire currently seem to lack evidential support for most of the history of the cranial expansion of our ancestors.

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      Why should we expect a stronger sexual selection outcome where density is higher?

      • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

        I don’t know that we should, I just didn’t think we should expect it not to correlate with density. I took “at odds with” to mean something stronger than you apparently intended.

        Tim, yes Wrangham divides brain expansion into a number of advances rather than one continuum. He does think diet (shift to roots/tubers, more hunting for meat and various ways of preparing raw meat) played a significant role in such expansions before fire.

  • Grant

    Shouldn’t we expect larger brains to be a deception arms race? I expected Robin to overtly mention this, but it doesn’t look like he did.

    The invention of deception (or rule bending) requires a larger brain to detect, then a larger brain to deceive the detectors, then an even larger brain to detect those better deceivers, etc. We’d expect this to produce greater and greater rule complexity.

    Of course another possibility is just that humans honestly needed complex rules because they just work better. I’d imagine it was a combination of needing complex rules to establish norms on real problems, and using complex rules to get one’s own way (e.g., accusations of sorcery).

    What astonishes me is that out of all of this, we evolved the ability to understand mathematics, complex systems, etc. I suppose this could be a byproduct of how flexible brains needed to be?

  • michael vassar

    “Gains to rule bending could be greatly reduced via social norms with very clear simple rules. ”

    Citation needed, or maybe some Hayek.

    Technically inclined people seem to imagine that social groups could cooperate far more effectively than any actually do by following simple rules. Then, inspired by this, they traditionally advocate socialist utopias where everything is as streamlined as the innards of a well-run factory (not a company) and we all see how that works out. A large fraction of the apparent complexity of the rules we follow is probably there to prevent even greater complexity that would arise from the ambiguities of supposedly simpler rules.

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      A simpler incest rule would only ban sex between people who share a parent. A simpler sorcery rule would require a witness or clear physical evidence of any supposed sorcery. Both would dramatically reduce the scope for rule-bending, and solve most of the problem as well.

      • Silva

        Part of the extra complexity in sex is because people didn’t (neither would I) trust that people said to *not* share a father really don’t; so imposing extra distance on the female line and/or extra physical distance helps avoiding procreation between too closely related people. Might merely avoiding sex between people who share a mother or a (nominal) father result in too many paternal half-sibling pairs reproducing?

  • Philo

    “But humans seem usually to prefer complex and ambiguous rules that require ‘judgment’ to apply.” No very subtle theory is required to account for this. *Life is complex*. Very simple rules would tend to be unworkable in practice; there is no practical alternative to complexity. And clear thinking is too difficult for us (we aren’t *that* smart); ambiguous formulations are the best we can manage, given the fuzziness and confusion of our thinking.

    Your idea that human beings have evolved such large brains in order to game the social-regulatory system is plausible, but hardly radical.

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      Do you know of anyone else who has proposed this theory?

      • Philo

        It’s pretty close to standard sociobiology (Trivers, Dawkins, Alexander, etc.).

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

        Regarding Trivers, close but not identical. Trivers says that deception—its commission and detection—was a driving force in human intelligence. Robin’s rule-bending overlaps Trivers’s deception, but they aren’t the same.

        As forms of intelligence, they also seem distinct: the lawyer’s intelligence (rule-breaking) or the businessman’s (deception). Which is _basic_? Robin says the lawyer’s intelligence (evading equality norms); Trivers says the businessman’s intelligence (gaining advantage in market pricing transactions). But does either account seem adequate?

        At lot may be at stake in resolving this nuance.

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  • Microbiologist

    > Yes mortality rates are high. Not sure why you think these facts are at odds with what I’ve said.

    You said war was rare, which is dubious. !Kung may not have war. At least not at the present time. But it is hard to say whether epidemics or other disasters have, in the last few centuries, pushed them far off the Malthusian margin, in which case war might (or might not) become pointless. At any rate they seem to have a good deal of homicide, including some that is premeditated in vengeance, which might favor Machiavelian intelligence nearly as aptly as war might do so.

    > If you can’t collude to grab the food or the women, and everyone is treated fairly based on their contributions, why bother to be so clever?

    You need to grab the hot women. Beautiful faces are closer to the single medial norm of beauty than ugly ones are. And women need to snare the strong men. Everyone substantially agrees on who is sexually attractive and who isn’t – and there is a huge, apparently hard-wired difference in one’s responses to desirable and undesirable sexual overtures. So it seems overwhelmingly likely that it is fitness-enhancing to get an attractive rather than unattractive mate.

    In general, your effort to paint a picture wherein it is difficult to see a payoff for intelligence, strikes me as contrived – I think it elides more things than the two I mentioned above. For example, nonlethal fights among !Kung don’t sound too rare, according to pp 275-6 here, so what exactly is the support for dominance interactions being rare in foragers? (The text you cite is a little long to skim all of, and yielded nothing of interest when I searched ‘dominance.’)

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      !Kung are not nomadic foragers.

      • Microbiologist


        !kung foragers


        !kung nomadic

        both yield multiple assertions that they have (or at least had) these lifestyles. Perhaps you are saying that they weren’t practicing these ways pristinely when they were studied by the worker I cited?

        By the way I wouldn’t deny that delicate work surrounding ‘iffy acts’ could be important, but I think the components of the existing machiavellian intelligence hypothesis seem like they would also be important. Per Wik, de Waal introduced them to chimpology in one of his books, and they include:

        ” * Making and breaking alliances
        * making and breaking promises
        * making and breaking rules;
        * lying and truth-telling;
        * blaming and forgiveness;
        * misleading and misdirection.”

      • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

        Oops – I was mistaken – had another group in mind.

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  • http://www.sciencentral.com/articles/view.php3?art Soulure

    Speaking of brain size, you may be interested in this article: http://www.sciencentral.com/articles/view.php3?article_id=218392239

    All humans have a gene defect which causes our jaw muscles to be about the quarter size and strength of apes – apes do not have this gene defect. The hypothesis is that our ancient descendants with the gene defect were able to grow larger brains. Interesting to say the least.

  • http://www.tiac.net/~sw Steve Witham

    The weak jaw muscles idea fits with the Catching Fire idea (softer cooked food), but not of course if fire came later…

  • Pat

    Cuddlefish as chameleon may be much more closely related to humans than any species by virtue of its large brain, and its adaptability to any climate, and any cultural exposure – for survival.

    While brain size may be accidental, it is logical to be evolutionary in response to the need for adaptability much as that famous fish highlighted on the new PBS series – with corresponding ability to mezmorize prey in much the same manner.

    Has mankind found its most closely related species in an underwater correlation?

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  • Drewfus

    Julian Jaynes argued that to deceive, one first needs a strong concept of self. Who is doing the deceiving? If a strong self concept requires a big brain, you are again left with the problem of cause and effect. Why evolve a sense of self in the first place?

    Another way of looking at this is that rule bending, or undetected rule evasion, is about breaking security, which itself requires high intelligence to conceive and apply. So perhaps the big human brain is partly a result of a security arms race. Maybe that is way James Bond is so sexy (nor lumbered by political correctness)?

    Domesticated animals are secure, almost by definition, and therefore don’t need big brains (so much). Wild animals need bigger brains. Wild animals that are trying to break the security of secure domesticated animals, need bigger brains again, and therefore domesticated animals being attacked by wild animals need bigger brains than otherwise, and therefore wild animals attacking relatively big brained domestic animals need bigger brains yet again, etc.

    So who were these groups in early human evolution, respectively? Maybe the domesticated were those near the security and fertility of natural water sources, and the wild ones were low status types pushed into more marginal territories, from both a predator and food & water supply point of view.

    Is it all about war?

    • Drewfus

      If the social hierarchy includes not only better access to females and food, but is extended to prefered land also, then eventually the hierarchy exceeds its capacity to regulate – social disadvantage overwhelms the system, leading to a break down into competing groups. The difference between rich and poor can become too great to hold the society together, so it splits. What had been the insiders become a secure and slightly domesticated group, and the outsiders become wild and resourceful. Its resources against wits – at the margin.

      A problem for the ruling domesticates is that there is an ongoing danger of low status domesticates defecting, to become high status wilders. This is managed by doing something very unusual for almost any mammal – they offer alms to the low status members, rather than discarding them when they become sick or incapacitated. They invent social and medical insurance, for their own benefit. Social insurance prevents defection to alternative social groups. (A reverse of this situation somewhat, occurs in the movie Sicko, when Michael Moore takes Americans across the border to receive treatment in a Canadian hospital.)

      Another problem is knowing who belongs in what group. There are no obvious signs of group membership. There are not many good status symbols, nor clothing, coats of arms or flags. Rich signalling mechanisms, like language, are selected for.

      At the border of the two groups there are all sorts of interesting dynamics going on, like deception, rudimentary gossip, bribes, blackmail, hostage taking, and more positive traits like trust and reputation. The group borders are relatively vague, as the hunter-gatherers have not yet invented villages, but the demarcation of territories with markers becomes the earliest use of symbols and private property. Here might be the earliest signs of the near-far thinking modes distinction.

      The domesticates lead a relatively safe lifestyle, living as they do near sources of fresh water. This provides them with safety from most predators, drinking water, fish to eat, hydration for plants and an opportunity to clean. The wilders prefer to catch, cook and eat meat, but are not so clean. The domesticates find them a little bit disgusting.

      The struggles from this era become cultural themes that survive to this day.

  • Drewfus

    The psychological scars, distortions and delusions from this era are still with us;

    * nighttime raids by wilders on the domesticates territories and shelters have induced in them an almost phobic fear of the dark – to the point that they have come to imagine or see “things” in the night, and they can experience a peculiar type of dream – the nightmare.

    * the wilders are not only subject to the normal pressures and vicissitudes of life, but are also excluded from the best and most secure territories. Everything is “against them”, and the survivers develop an odd sense of irrational or overtly positive thinking – they exhibit optimism bias. Depression, or a failure to retain this inflated sense of optimism is a quite common afflication, resulting in ostracization or even abandonment by the community. On the contrary, signs of confidence are highly rewarded.

    * Detection of individuals group membership is paramount to safety, to the point that both groups, especially the domesticates, become extremely aware of subtle differences in the two groups physical appearance, build, odours, and voice. They become more and more racist, as a survival mechanism. The apartheid social arrangement is indeed resulting in two (or more) races evolving. Sex or trade between the two races is forbidden by the domesticates, but allowed by the wilders. Breaches of the ban sometimes result in blackmail attempts by the wilders, which in turn results in retribution by the domesticates.

    Millions of years into the future, and … farming develops. It is fairly well accepted now that the early farming era resulted in a decline in the standard of living of farming communities.
    What could have caused this? Why would communities have accepted a social arrangement that resulted in lower nutrition levels all round, compared to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle? In contrast to an economics/demographics explanation like that of Jared Diamond, consider this alternative;

    The invention of farming was an attempt to recreate or maintain the social structures of earlier periods of human history, by replacing privileged, domesticated humans, with privileged, domesticated animals.

    Farming is an attempt to replicate the social heirarchy and divisions – the constraints – under which certain early human groups evolved. Brains work best when, and in fact gravitate towards situations that are most analogous to the constraints they evolved under. The elevation of animals to the position previously held by the domesticates with simply the outcome of genetic brain wiring, not a carefully considered, rational plan to improve lifestyles, that went wrong. This explains, in some sense, why;

    * people stopped being nomadic – the stationary nature of farm animals mimics the superior real estate claimed, occupied and defended by the domesticates.
    * animals in many ways had higher status than humans – “scared cows”.
    * the loss of the higher race – the domesticates – created a vacuum , a destructuring of social order, that had to be replaced with an alternative structure of the imagination – religion.
    * the early gods were mostly animal or part animal – reflecting the higher status of animals.
    * the decline in the standard of living of early farming communities mirror the degraded standard of living of wilders vis-a-vis the domesticates. This perverse outcome is a means of retaining social disadvantage.

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  • rrb

    “Over the last two million years hominid brains grew more where climates were variable, but they grew most where population densities were high.  This suggests that human brains were also big mainly due to social pressures.”

    Something I read in a genetics paper today suggests an alternative explanation:
    “Conceivably, lineage-specific accelerations and decelerations of evolution can be caused by changes in the effective population size, and such rate changes are indeed expected to equally affect all genes in evolving genomes.”

    If this is true, then even if the selection pressure for larger brains were constant throughout our evolution, we would still expect to see brains grow the most when populations are the highest.

    (from “Universal Pacemaker of Genome Evolution”, Snir et. al PLoS Computational Biology 2012)

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  • Cowboy El

    This is not about size, how you use the head makes sense…

  • James

    Can someone please explain this passage to me, ‘The “mating mind” sexual selection hypothesis seems at odds with this density effect, and with the more general fact that polygamous species tend to have smaller brains.’ My intuition is that the density effect would accelerate brain growth if big brains are sexually selected for, as it would provide more mating partners for the largest brained males.