I thought I understood cultural evolution. But in his new book, The Secret Of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter, Joseph Henrich schooled me. I felt like I learned more from his book than from the last dozen books I’ve read. For example, on the cultural
Heinrich starting blowing my mind by chapter 4:
"You probably know that committing suicide is prestige biased: when celebrities commit suicide there is a spike in suicide rates (celebrities: keep this in mind!). This pattern has been observed in the United States, Germany, Australia, South Korea, and Japan, among other countries. Alongside prestige, the cultural transmission of suicide is also influenced by self-similarity cues. The individuals who kill themselves soon after celebrities tend to match their models on sex, age, and ethnicity. Moreover, it’s not just that a celebrity suicide vaguely triggers the suicide of others. We know that people are imitating because they copy not only the act of suicide itself but also the specific methods used, such as throwing oneself in front of a train. Moreover, most celebrity-induced copycat suicides are not tragedies that would have occurred anyway."
"If humans will imitate something that is so starkly not in our self-interest, or that of our genes, imagine all the other less costly things we are willing to acquire by cultural transmission."
Robin - more book recs please! Heinrich's book changed how I see the world more than any I recall reading since I turned 20 (it's easier to be surprised when you're younger).
In "Grub and Ethics," George Walford notes that "nobody eats simply grub, everybody eats a particular sort of grub, and the selection is an ethical matter." As base / essential / neutral as food is often said to be, all cultures have rules about what can be eaten and when and by whom and how it's prepared. It's not 'grub then ethics' but 'ethics then grub.'
Revulsion to homosexuality is innate. But extreme cultural pressures can cause otherwise straight boys to dabble in it.
And revulsion to incest is innate. And yet again extreme pressures could relax that preference.
Fascinating. Though provoking.
Yes, it seems as if the process described is changing the valence of existing reinforcers and punishers rather than adding new ones. But I think that suggests a significant limitation on how preferences can be molded. Actually, thinking on it further, everything Robin Hanson described would fall under the category of habituation I think. But I also think the claim he's making based on that evidence comes across as being much broader.
Deeming people hypocrites is to deny plasticity but have all your preferences been fixed since childhood? Sounds more like death than life.
I disagree that the process involved is an instance of conditionerd reinforcement - just because conditioned reinforcement doesn't actually change the underlying valences. Learning to enjoy running, for example, does.
Great post overall, but somebody should have proofread the quotes. There were enough incorrect words that I suspect the quoted text was OCRed and not reviewed!
In Behavior Analysis, what you're referring to is known as conditioned reinforcers; reinforcers that don't occur naturally, but which acquire a reinforcing function through experience. Money is a common example. Here is a good overview of a bunch of experimental studies in that area:http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov... (Warning: technical)
Take a look in particular at the section labeled: "Is Conditioned 'Reinforcement' A Misnomer?"
My current view is that: no, they're not very plastic at all. Nerve receptors dulling with age may be one type of exception, but I don't think the effect generalizes.
Yes, but if you take that pill and are then happy without say, friendship, should we feel sorry for you (you are happy after all, like your pet snake that doesn't require friendship either because it's not a social animal)? I think I agree with Robin's point that we shouldn't feel sorry, but only if the happy feeling of life after the pill is at least as good as the happy feeling of having friendships. I just wonder if we might go extinct if enough people start taking such pills.
*You* certainly don't need any kind of social discount rate - for your private investments, you only need your own personal discount rate. However, public projects (most notably transport and land-use projects, for which there are some very well-developed frameworks for cost-benefit analysis) are assessed using social discount rates - whether you like it or not. Regardless of what we want, decisions such as whether or not to collect taxpayers' money to fund a new subway line affect the welfare of both present and future generations, and therefore require some tool to weigh the welfare of present and future citizens against one another - a tool which is, of course, a social discount rate.
It may be misleading to refer to as cultural adaptation adaptationdriven by culture as cultural adaptation. Isn't part of the hypothesis that we adapt genetically to culture change? [I don't know whether this author endorses the view, but it's been contended that the agricultural revolution (and sequalae) greatly accelerated human biological evolution.]
As a runner myself, I would argue running is actually a bad example.
Seems to me it is a prototype. The putative plasticity of pleasure and pain generally seems to involve manipulation of its pleasurable discharge. Learning to enjoy hot peppers seems the same process.
The sort of pill I picture is one where for some expensive x, the pill tweaks you so that you can live happily without having x. This sounds great - like instant zen enlightenment - until you start considering values for x like "basic liberty", "a future", "dignity", "friendship", etc.
Very encouraging news: we no longer have to worry about what people think for themselves, we can mold them into what we want them to be! Utopia is at hand!
Maybe, but that tech is pretty speculative. In contrast, this cultural adaptation has been going on for hundreds of thousands of years.