“Biology’s next great horizon is to understand cells, tissues and organisms as agents with agendas” By Michael Levin & Daniel Dennett [Aeon]

“Cognition all the way down

Biology’s next great horizon is to understand cells, tissues and organisms as agents with agendas (even if unthinking ones)

Michael Levin

is the Vannevar Bush chair and Distinguished Professor of biology at Tufts University in Massachusetts, where he directs the Allen Discovery Center and the Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology.

Daniel C Dennett

is the Austin B Fletcher professor of philosophy and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He is the author of more than a dozen books, the latest of which is From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds (2017). He lives in Massachusetts.

https://aeon.co/essays/how-to-understand-cells-tissues-and-organisms-as-agents-with-agendas

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We think that this commendable scientific caution has gone too far, putting biologists into a straitjacket that prevents them from exploring the most promising hypotheses, just as behaviourism prevented psychologists from seeing how their subjects’ measurable behaviour could be interpreted as effects of hopes, beliefs, plans, fears, intentions, distractions and so forth. The witty philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser once asked B F Skinner: ‘You think we shouldn’t anthropomorphise people?’– and we’re saying that biologists should chill out and see the virtues of anthropomorphising all sorts of living things. After all, isn’t biology really a kind of reverse engineering of all the parts and processes of living things? Ever since the cybernetics advances of the 1940s and ’50s, engineers have had a robust, practical science of mechanisms with purpose and goal-directedness – without mysticism. We suggest that biologists catch up.

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Recent advances in basal cognition and related sciences are showing us how to move past this kind of all-or-nothing thinking about the human animal – naturalising human capacities and swapping a naive binary distinction for a continuum of how much agency any system has.

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 Treating cells like dumb bricks to be micromanaged is playing the game with our hands tied behind our backs and will lead to a ‘genomics winter’ if we stay exclusively at this molecular level. The lack of progress in rational morphogenetic control shows us this.

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It has become standard practice to describe such phenomena with the help of anthropomorphic, intentional idioms: when we click the mouse, we tell the cursor to grab the thing on the screen, and as we move the mouse we move the thing on the screen until we signal to the cursor to drop the thing by clicking the mouse again. This talk of signalling and information-processing is now clearly demystified thanks to computers – no mysterious psychic powers here! – and this has been correctly seen to license use of such information talk everywhere in biology. Detectors and signals and feedback loops and decision-making processes are uncontroversial physical building blocks in biology today, just as they are in computers. But there is a difference that needs to be appreciated, since failure to recognise it is blocking the imagination of theorists. In a phrase that will need careful unpacking, individual cells are not just building blocks, like the basic parts of a ratchet or pump; they have extra competences that turn them into (unthinking) agents that, thanks to information they have on board, can assist in their own assembly into larger structures, and in other large-scale projects that they needn’t understand.

We members of Homo sapiens tend to take the gifts of engineering for granted. For thousands of years, our ancestors prospected for physical regularities that they could exploit by designing structures that could perform specific functions reliably. What makes a good rope, good glue, a good fire-igniter? The humble nut-and-bolt fastener is an elegantly designed exploitation of leverage, flexibility, tensile strength and friction, evolving over 2,000 years, and significantly refined in the past two centuries. Evolution by natural selection has been engaged in the same prospecting at the molecular level for billions of years, and among its discoveries are thousands of molecular tools for cells to use for specific jobs. Among those tools are antennas or hooks with which to exploit the laws of physics and computation.

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Notice how ‘you’ can be a single cell or a multicellular organism – or an organ or tissue in a multicellular organism – and still be gifted with informational competences composed out of the basic ‘nuts and bolts’ of information-processing structures. Agents, in this carefully limited perspective, need not be conscious, need not understand, need not have minds, but they do need to be structured to exploit physical regularities that enable them to use information (following the laws of computation) to perform tasks, beginning with the fundamental task of self-preservation, which involves not just providing themselves with the energy needed to wield their tools, but the ability to adjust to their local environments in ways that advance their prospects.

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The cooperation problem and the problem of the origin of unified minds embodied in a swarm (of cells, of ants, etc) are highly related. The key dynamic that evolution discovered is a special kind of communication allowing privileged access of agents to the same information pool, which in turn made it possible to scale selves. This kickstarted the continuum of increasing agency. This even has medical implications: preventing this physiological communication within the body – by shutting down gap junctions or simply inserting pieces of plastic between tissues – initiates cancer, a localised reversion to an ancient, unicellular state in which the boundary of the self is just the surface of a single cell and the rest of the body is just ‘environment’ from its perspective, to be exploited selfishly. And we now know that artificially forcing cells back into bioelectrical connection with their neighbours can normalise such cancer cells, pushing them back into the collective goal of tissue upkeep and maintenance.

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This is a reasonable mechanistic story, but then isn’t all the talk of memory, decision-making, preferences and goal-driven behaviour just anthropomorphism? Many will want to maintain that real cognition is what brains do, and what happens in biochemistry only seems like it’s doing similar things. We propose an inversion of this familiar idea; the point is not to anthropomorphise morphogenesis – the point is to naturalise cognition. There is nothing magic that humans (or other smart animals) do that doesn’t have a phylogenetic history. Taking evolution seriously means asking what cognition looked like all the way back. Modern data in the field of basal cognition makes it impossible to maintain an artificial dichotomy of ‘real’ and ‘as-if’ cognition. There is one continuum along which all living systems (and many nonliving ones) can be placed, with respect to how much thinking they can do.

You have to remember that, while the most popular stories about how cells cooperate toward huge goals are about neural cells, there is little fundamental difference between neurons and other cell types. It is now known that synaptic proteins, ion channels and gap junctions, for instance, were already present in our unicellular ancestors, and were being used by electrically active cells to coordinate actions in anatomical morphospace (remodelling and development) long before they were co-opted to manage faster activity in 3D space. If you agree that there is some mechanism by which electrically active cells can represent past memories, future counterfactuals and large-scale goals, there is no reason why non-neural electric networks wouldn’t be doing a simplified version of the same thing to accomplish anatomical homeostasis. Phylogenetics has made it very clear that neurons evolved from far simpler cell types, and that some of the brain’s speed-optimised tricks were discovered around the time of bacterial biofilms (the biggest trick being scaling up into networks that can represent progressively bigger goal states and coordinating the Test-Operate-Test-Exit loop across tissues). Cognition has been a slow climb, not a magical leap, along this path.

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From this perspective, we can visualise the tiny cognitive contribution of a single cell to the cognitive projects and talents of a lone human scout exploring new territory, but also to the scout’s tribe, which provided much education and support, thanks to language, and eventually to a team of scientists and other thinkers who pool their knowhow to explore, thanks to new tools, the whole cosmos and even the abstract spaces of mathematics, poetry and music. Instead of treating human ‘genius’ as a sort of black box made of magical smartstuff, we can reinterpret it as an explosive expansion of the bag of mechanical-but-cognitive tricks discovered by natural selection over billions of years. By distributing the intelligence over time – aeons of evolution, and years of learning and development, and milliseconds of computation – and space – not just smart brains and smart neurons but smart tissues and cells and proofreading enzymes and ribosomes – the mysteries of life can be unified in a single breathtaking vision.”

“Mad behaviour: the psychologist Joseph Henrich on what makes us weird” By Sophie McBain [New Statesman]

“Mad behaviour: the psychologist Joseph Henrich on what makes us weird

The Harvard professor on how most claims about human nature are based on people from “Western, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic societies”.

Sophie McBain

New Statesman

https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/observations/2020/10/mad-behaviour-psychologist-joseph-henrich-what-makes-us-weird

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In 2010 Henrich co-authored a landmark paper titled, “The weirdest people in the world?” It observed that almost every claim made about human psychology or behaviour is based on studying people who are “Weird”; that is, from Western, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic societies. These people are also weird – statistical outliers.  

Henrich’s research suggests our cultural environment, the norms and institutions we inherit, alters our psychology – and even our biology – in profound ways. Take learning to read. Becoming literate thickens your corpus callosum, which connects the brain’s right and left hemispheres and alters the parts of the brain responsible for processing speech and thinking about other minds. Literate people tend to be worse than others at recognising faces and are more likely to think analytically – breaking problems or scenes into component parts – rather than holistically.

Henrich contends that, compared with much of the world’s populations, “Weird” people are more individualistic and self-obsessed, and more likely to defer gratification, to stick to impartial rules and to trust strangers. They are less likely to extend special favours to friends or family. They’re more likely to feel guilt (a sense of having failed to meet one’s own self-imposed standards) than shame (a sense of having let down one’s community).

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Henrich’s book poses a challenge to psychology, a field grappling with the so-called “replication crisis” – the realisation that when psychologists repeat an experiment, they often get different results. Henrich believes the discipline suffers from a “theoretical crisis”. “There’s no overarching theory that tells you what kind of effects you should expect. And that causes psychologists to try a bunch of stuff, which breeds a lot of false positives.”

The Weirdest People in the World is a provocative book. Human rights activists, for example, might bristle at its suggestion that in certain countries, individual rights aren’t a good psychological “fit”. But Henrich wants to avoid normative conclusions. “Like any science, [the book] can be useful to achieve your goals, but people might have different goals. I can see it being used by people who want to figure out how to spread human rights. I could see it being used by those who don’t.”

“In “Livewired,” neuroscientist David Eagleman shows how the brain shapes itself by interacting with the outside world” By Elizabeth Svoboda [Undark]

Book Review: The Remarkable Adaptability of the Human Brain

In “Livewired,” neuroscientist David Eagleman shows how the brain shapes itself by interacting with the outside world

BY ELIZABETH SVOBODA
10.09.2020

https://undark.org/2020/10/09/book-review-livewired/

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Stanford neuroscientist David Eagleman is obsessed with probing the outer limits of this kind of neural transformation — and harnessing it to useful ends. We’ve all heard that our brains are more plastic than we think, that they can adapt ingeniously to changed conditions, but in “Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain,” Eagleman tackles this topic with fresh élan and rigor. He shows not just how we can direct our own neural remodeling on a cellular level, but how such remodeling — a process he calls “livewiring” — alters the core of who we are.

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In a refreshing counterpoint to the biology-is-destiny drumbeat, Eagleman embarks on a lively tour of how we can transform our brains by exercising our own agency. The neurons we exercise thrive and make new connections, he says, while the unused ones wither away. It’s essentially Darwin’s survival of the fittest playing out inside the human skull. “Just like neighboring nations, neurons stake out their territories and chronically defend them,” Eagleman writes. “Each neuron and each connection between neurons fights for resources.”

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Importantly, Eagleman also addresses the limits of neural remodeling — a discussion that lends surprising insight into our polarized political landscape. We experience a pronounced drop in brain plasticity as we age, which is one reason some older people seem mired in world views that may not align with today’s global realities. “Through years of border disputes, neural maps become increasingly solidified,” Eagleman writes, later adding, “Someday, your brain will be that time-ossified snapshot that frustrates the next generation.”

“The Science of America’s Dueling Political Narratives” By Laura Akers [Scientific American]

“The Science of America’s Dueling Political Narratives

Elections aren’t won on the basis of policies; they’re won on the basis of the stories each side tells about itself and its values

By Laura Akers
Laura Akers, Ph.D. is a research psychologist at the Oregon Research Institute. Follow her work at http://meta-narrator.com or on Twitter @meta_narrator.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-science-of-americas-dueling-political-narratives/

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The science of metanarratives and how we respond to them is still in its infancy. Our research team, headed by psychologist Gerard Saucier, has uncovered the metanarratives typical of terrorists and genocidal leaders worldwide. More broadly, my own work seeks to understand how the structure and features of metanarratives can elicit emotional responses, and how social factors influence public reactions.

Emotions arise when we make comparisons relevant to our own needs and desires. We contrast our present circumstances with the future, the past and alternative versions of today. Improvements make us happy and inspire us; losses sadden or frustrate us. If we can blame someone else for our loss, we may become angry with them. And if we’re faced with threats, our fear can motivate action. As with fiction, we can categorize metanarratives by their emotional “genres,” such as progress (pride, optimism) or looming catastrophe (fear).

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As cognitive scientists George Lakoff and Drew Westen remind us, it’s emotion that wins elections.

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The public doesn’t accept every metanarrative it’s offered. We tend to be loyal to the cultural beliefs favored by our social circles and encouraged by our leaders. Even then, some voters stay open to alternatives, if there’s enough dissonance between the party line and their own experiences.”

“What is Human Behavior and Evolution Society (HBES) Doing About the WEIRD Problem?” By Chris von Rueden & Coren Apicella

What is HBES Doing About the WEIRD Problem?

October 3, 2020/in Newsletter

By HBES Executive Council Members, Chris von Rueden & Coren Apicella

What is HBES Doing About the WEIRD Problem?

Evolution and Human Behavior (EHB) just released its September issue, which is devoted to highlighting ongoing research in the evolutionary social sciences that expands beyond WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) populations. This special issue, titled “Beyond WEIRD, a decade later: Population diversity in the evolutionary study of human behavior,” was edited by Coren Apicella, Ara Norenzayan, and Joseph Henrich and features articles on topics including evolutionary medicine, cooperation, leadership, morality, and developmental psychology.

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Now, authors who submit to the journal are required to fully describe their samples. For instance, authors are now asked to specify the geographic location from which their sample was drawn, how their data was collected (online or in-person), and any theoretically-relevant characteristics pertinent to the research study, such as religion affiliation, race/ethnicity, and gender identity (inclusive of non-binary options). And importantly, authors must also specify the source of the sample in their Abstract. Manuscripts that do not adequately describe samples will be returned to authors for revision prior to consideration.

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The September EHB issue, “Beyond WEIRD, A Decade Later: Population Diversity in the Evolutionary Study of Human Behavior,” offers some criticisms, but its contributors are also optimistic about the future of evolutionary social science. We agree that the methods and theory will only get better, and that is in part because of the disciplinary diversity of our community. In particular, the dialogue between anthropologists and psychologists has been, and we hope will continue to be, an engine at the heart of the creativity and productivity of HBES.

“Neuropolítica: los secretos detrás del debate político entre Donald Trump y Joe Biden” By Andrés Fredericksen

“Neuropolítica: los secretos detrás del debate político entre Donald Trump y Joe Biden

Los candidatos utilizaron diversas estrategias para llamar la atención del espectador y votante saliendo de los esquemas y patrones de lo que el cerebro espera encontrar en un evento de estas características. Muchas de estos factores de persuasión emocional funcionan de forma inconsciente como el storytelling o el miedo.

Por: Andrés Fredericksen
Twitter: @fredericksen_a
DEA del programa de doctorado en Ciencias Políticas y Sociología por la U. Pontificia de Salamanca, España
Máster en neurociencias cognitivas aplicadas a la empresa por la U. Rey Juan Carlos de Madrid, España.

https://www.icndiario.com/2020/10/neuropolitica-los-secretos-detras-del-debate-politico-entre-donald-trump-y-joe-biden/

Las investigaciones en neurociencias cognitivas y su aplicación a la política, neuropolítica argumentan que la mayor parte de nuestras decisiones son más emocionales que racionales. Estos descubrimientos hacen que las estrategias comunicativas se replanteen entre los líderes políticos, ya que develan la importancia de las emociones en el proceso de toma de decisiones electorales, al tiempo de comprender que estructuras mentales y emocionales están involucradas en la persuasión para lograr el voto.

El neurocientifico Antonio Damasio argumenta que las emociones son responsables de nuestra toma de decisiones, ya que son capaces de alterar nuestro estado de atención y afectan nuestra conducta, condicionan los recuerdos y las experiencias generando una serie de influencias innatas – muchas veces inconsciente- en los individuos que afectan a la forma de expresarse y de tomar decisiones.

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“Los americanos votan en relación a sus marcos mentales y que los republicanos han tenido éxito electoral ya que han enlazado su discurso al sistema de conceptos y valores de la sociedad Americana, y han logrado utilizar un lenguaje eficaz que penetre en las emociones del electorado y que se alinee a sus marcos mentales”, expresa George Lakoff profesor de ciencia cognitiva y lingüística de la Universidad de California, Berkeley, en su libro “The Political Mind”.

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Joe Biden llegó a llamar al actual presidente de Estados Unidos de “payaso” para llamar la atención del espectador, al tiempo de decirle “racista”, concepto recurrente entre los detractores de Trump, especialmente después del asesinato de un hombre negro George Floyd a manos de la policía y por los ataques contra la inmigración mexicana y centroamericana para atraer votos en la frontera.

A su vez Donald Trump sacó a relucir el consumo de cocaína de del hijo de Joe Biden agudizando la tensión en el debate.

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Una palabra negativa o insultante activa la amígdala, estructura del cerebro vinculada a las alertas. En el debate muchas veces predominó el caos, expresiones ofensivas y los golpes bajos, se centró en contarnos pequeñas historias, como lo haría de igual forma una serie, “culebrón” o una película.

Desde la neuropolítica se argumenta que al cerebro le gusta escuchar historias, ya que hacen emocionar, al tiempo de provocar cambios químicos en el cerebro. El storytelling es el arte de contar historias que impacten a la audiencia y al elector, se busca generar emociones que revivan momentos del pasado, ya sea propio o de una nación o pueblo, impulsando una conexión e identificación con el elector.

Fondazione Prada presenta “Human Brains”

“Fondazione Prada presenta “Human Brains”

https://www.tecnomedicina.it/fondazione-prada-presenta-human-brains/

Fondazione Prada ha intrapreso dal 2018 un percorso multidisciplinare di approfondimento e studio di tematiche scientifiche. Da queste riflessioni nasce “Human Brains”, un programma di mostre, convegni, incontri pubblici e attività editoriali previsto tra novembre 2020 e novembre 2022. Il progetto è il risultato di una complessa ricerca sviluppata in collaborazione con un comitato scientifico, presieduto da Giancarlo Comi e costituito da ricercatori, medici, psicologi, linguisti, filosofi, divulgatori e curatori come Jubin Abutalebi, Massimo Cacciari, Alessandro Del Maschio, Viviana Kasam, Udo Kittelmann, Andrea Moro e Daniela Perani.

***

Human Brains

http://www.fondazioneprada.org/project/human-brains/?lang=en

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The first two discussions will see neuroscientist Mavi Sanchez-Vives and neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux, moderated by neurologist Giancarlo Comi, and neurobiologist Eve Marder with neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, moderated by neurologist and neuroscientist Daniela Perani. They will explore the biological fundaments of conscience, from the neurofunctional mechanisms to neurochemical and molecular basis, and they will carry on in-depth analysis of connectivity as a cerebral substrate of conscience state and the revolutionary techniques that allow investigating the brain in vivo.

Two discussions between neurolinguist Andrea Moro and cognitive psychologist Stanislas Dehaene will be moderated by cognitive neurologist Jubin Abutalebi, while the anthropologist Ian Tattersall and neuroscientist Idan Segev will be moderated by neuroscientist Katrin Amunts. They will examine the concept of consciousness in relation to anthropology, the key role of language and its connection to the emotional and affective sphere to then reflect on the future evolution of research and on the attempts to create thinking machines.

Psychiatrist and neuroscientist Giulio Tonoli and philosopher Michele Di Francesco will hold the final discussion, moderated by scientific journalist Vivian Kasam; it will be a crucial moment to confront different perspectives and approaches to the complex question of conscience. Moreover, Giancarlo Comi and Massimo Cacciari will reflect on the contributions of all the previous discussions.”

“You’re most likely WEIRD … and don’t even know it” By Douglas Todd

“You’re most likely WEIRD … and don’t even know it

Opinion: WEIRD is a high-impact acronym invented by psychology professors at UBC, referring to people who are ‘Western,’ ‘Educated,’ ‘Industrialized,’ ‘Rich’ and ‘Democratic’

Douglas Todd

https://www.wallaceburgcourierpress.com/opinion/columnists/douglas-todd-youre-most-likely-weird-and-you-dont-even-know-it/wcm/1780da03-603d-4841-9196-5bf82a92c85c

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Everybody talks about diversity now. But when these profs examined contemporary social-science research they uncovered a huge blind spot to cultural differences, which has led to misleading conclusions about human psychology and, for that matter, human nature.

The colleagues published a ground-breaking paper in 2010 that showed more than 96 per cent of experiments in social psychology were based on subjects who are WEIRD. Compared to the vast majority of people on the planet, WEIRD people tend to be highly individualistic, control-oriented, nonconformist, analytical and trusting of strangers.

We are not the global norm. As Henrich says, “Textbooks that purport to be about ‘Psychology’ or “Social Psychology’ need to be retitled something like ‘The Cultural Psychology of Late 20th-Century Americans.’ ”

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Henrich explains all this and much more in his new magnum opus, titled The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous. Despite its 680 pages, it’s quite readable.

Henrich’s book takes the UBC crew’s understanding of WEIRD traits to new levels of significance. Gleaning from history, philosophy, religion and anthropology it attempts to explain why there are differences between cultures, including why some are more prosperous. It’s reminiscent of the trans-disciplinary project Jared Diamond took on with Guns, Germs and Steel, which maintained geography shaped Eurasian power.

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“WEIRD people are bad friends,” Henrich writes in one catchy subtitle.

WEIRD people aren’t really willing to lie for a friend, he explains. In a cross-cultural experiment in disparate nations, participants were asked to imagine what they would do if they were a passenger in a car with a close friend who, while driving above the speed limit, hit a pedestrian.

More than 90 per cent of people in WEIRD countries such as Canada, Switzerland the U.S. would not testify their friend was driving slower than he was. “By contrast, in Nepal, Venezuela, and South Korea most people said they’d willingly lie under oath to help a close friend.” Communal bonds matter more in places that are not WEIRD.

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While clearly disposed to “celebrate diversity” he avoids the cliché that, because of our common humanity, “deep down everyone’s the same.” It’s only true to a small extent: If we’re cut with a sharp object, for instance, we all bleed.

But because of our collective histories and cultures humans can actually turn out starkly different. So much so that Henrich makes it clear that ethnic and religious conventions can rewire the structure of our brains, even our genes.

It’s a real-world position: Humans become the peculiar and often amazingly different people they are due to myriad unrecognized cultural forces.”

“The Dark Side of Smart” By Diana Fleischman [Nautilus]

“The Dark Side of Smart

Diana Fleischman
Diana Fleischman is an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Portsmouth, writing and living while on sabbatical in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Follow her on Twitter @sentientist.

http://nautil.us//blog/the-dark-side-of-smart

Manipulative communication surrounds us. With misinformation and disinformation about the pandemic, “cheap” and “deep” fakes of elected officials, and targeted ads and emotionally exploitative social media algorithms, it can begin to feel like all communication is manipulation.

Well, as it turns out, this is the thesis of an influential paper by evolutionary biologists Richard Dawkins and John Krebs. The cynicism behind this statement can make many people uncomfortable. When we think about communicating, we tend to think about our own thoughts and feelings rather than how we might be influencing others. One major reason an evolutionary perspective on our own behavior can be so confronting is that it doesn’t take our word for why we do things. It looks at how what we do influences the two core currencies of life on earth, survival and reproduction.

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When minds start to figure out other minds, a lot of cognitive power gets built up that can be used for other things. Consider one of the groundbreaking insights in evolution in the last few decades, the idea of the “extended phenotype.” Evolution isn’t just acting on an individual’s characteristics but the way it interacts with the environment—including other minds. Evolution is selecting not just on the teeth and tail and claws of a beaver, but also on how well its dam keeps out water. Not just the bees’ wings and bodies but also the structure of their hive.

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Hold on a minute you might be saying to yourself—you evolutionary people are so cynical—didn’t we also get smart to cooperate? Perhaps, to some degree. But research suggests intelligence has been a lot more important, especially for theory of mind for competition, than for cooperation. Evolutionary models, for example, have shown that competition promotes the ability to think about other minds more strongly than cooperation. And studies have shown that areas of the brain related to thinking about other minds are activated more by competition than cooperation.

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Human intelligence is incredibly useful but it doesn’t safeguard you against having false beliefs, because that’s not what intelligence is for. Intelligence is associated with coming up with more convincing bullshit and with being a better liar, but not associated with a better ability to recognize one’s own bias. Unfortunately, intelligence has very little influence on your ability to rationally evaluate your own beliefs, or undermine what’s called “myside bias.”

The dark side of smart is that whenever we do good works, and cooperate, we draw from our manipulative past. The even darker side of smart is that competition doesn’t just select an ability to manipulate but also an adaptive ability to be unpredictable. And one of the best ways to be unpredictable is to not know yourself. So we have evolution to thank for shielding us from complete self-knowledge. As a result, most of our own minds are shrouded in darkness. Perhaps that’s for the best. We might not like what we’d see.”

“Politics is visceral” By Manos Tsakiris [Aeon]

“Politics is visceral

In an age thick with anger and fear, we might dream of a purely rational politics but it would be a denial of our humanity

Manos Tsakiris

is professor of psychology at Royal Holloway University of London. His research investigates the neural and cognitive mechanisms of self-awareness and social cognition. He is the co-editor with Helena De Preester of The Interoceptive Mind: From Homeostasis to Awareness (2018).

https://aeon.co/essays/politics-is-in-peril-if-it-ignores-how-humans-regulate-the-body

We live in bodies that feel increasingly unsafe. Pandemics, climate change, sexual assault, systemic racism, the pressures of gig-economy jobs, the crisis of liberal democracy – these phenomena create feelings of vulnerability that are, quite literally, visceral. They’re visceral in the sense that emotional experience arises from how our physiological organs – from our guts and lungs to our hearts and hormonal systems – respond to an everchanging world. They’re also political, in that our feelings affect and are affected by political decisions and behaviour.

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The answer from what I call ‘visceral politics’ emerges out of a historically novel scientific understanding of the human being, not so much as a rational creature, but as a primarily embodied and affective one. Visceral politics lies at the intersection of the body’s physiology and political behaviour. It’s informed by aligning the life sciences, social sciences and humanities to provide insights into how human emotions are created and experienced. It takes on board the visceral underpinnings of human nature, their importance for our physical and mental wellbeing, and the interdependence between the individual and society. It also captures the ways in which our emotions shape our needs and decisions and, in turn, how sociopolitical forces recruit or exploit physiology to influence behaviour.

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But while feelings are key drivers of human behaviour, democratic political theory has focused on reason and rationality as means of taming emotions. The present conditions therefore offer new possibilities for understanding the sociopolitical significance of visceral states, and showing how emotions and their physiological origins are as essential to decision-making as logical reasoning. Looking at the specific ways in which human physiology interacts with contemporary politics might help to account for why the world now feels the way it does.

We live in bodies that feel increasingly unsafe. Pandemics, climate change, sexual assault, systemic racism, the pressures of gig-economy jobs, the crisis of liberal democracy – these phenomena create feelings of vulnerability that are, quite literally, visceral. They’re visceral in the sense that emotional experience arises from how our physiological organs – from our guts and lungs to our hearts and hormonal systems – respond to an everchanging world. They’re also political, in that our feelings affect and are affected by political decisions and behaviour.

It’s not surprising, then, that political language has become saturated with emotion. Whether one calls the present era a time of anxiety, fear or anger, visceral states and feelings appear at the forefront of the political conversation. This is hard to square with Aristotle’s claim that human beings are ‘naturally rational’ creatures – ‘political animals’ who could flourish only within a political community or ‘polis’. The polis, as Aristotle wrote in Politics, ‘comes to be for the sake of life, and exists for the sake of the good life’. The different ways of organising the polis to promote the good life, and disagreements about the best way to do so, create the concept of politics as we know it. So, in the 21st century of ‘emo-cratic’ politics, what does it mean to be a ‘political animal’, and what counts as a ‘good life’?

The answer from what I call ‘visceral politics’ emerges out of a historically novel scientific understanding of the human being, not so much as a rational creature, but as a primarily embodied and affective one. Visceral politics lies at the intersection of the body’s physiology and political behaviour. It’s informed by aligning the life sciences, social sciences and humanities to provide insights into how human emotions are created and experienced. It takes on board the visceral underpinnings of human nature, their importance for our physical and mental wellbeing, and the interdependence between the individual and society. It also captures the ways in which our emotions shape our needs and decisions and, in turn, how sociopolitical forces recruit or exploit physiology to influence behaviour.

None of this means that visceral politics is new; in some sense, politics has always been visceral. Our bodily states and the way we regulate them explain much about why political and social structures look the way they do. The Hobbesian idea that government exists in order to keep citizens safe from their own worst impulses, for example, can be read as a response to the extremes of how humans express their emotions. But while feelings are key drivers of human behaviour, democratic political theory has focused on reason and rationality as means of taming emotions. The present conditions therefore offer new possibilities for understanding the sociopolitical significance of visceral states, and showing how emotions and their physiological origins are as essential to decision-making as logical reasoning. Looking at the specific ways in which human physiology interacts with contemporary politics might help to account for why the world now feels the way it does.

Humans are biological organisms that first and foremost have to deal with the problem of survival. The key way that organisms stay alive is by homeostasis – the maintenance of stability by keeping the body’s processes within a ‘margin of safety’ that sustains life and wellbeing. For example, homeostasis involves the regulation of temperature, heart rate and blood pressure, as well as hunger and satiety. But it’s inefficient and dangerous for the brain to simply wait around passively for these physical cycles to drop into the danger zone. Rather, it tries to predict the future states of the body, with the aim of achieving dynamic regulation. For example, in anticipation of a stressful situation, the body will change its blood pressure, metabolism and hormonal levels to meet those needs before they arise. In other words, the brain strives to predictively adjust bodily states in response to actual and expected demands. This constant calibration is known as allostasis, the process of achieving stability (homeostasis) through physiological or behavioural change.

(…)

Where do emotions fit into this picture? As the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio suggested, they serve as mental representations of bodily states, which allow us to perform feats of self-regulation. Emotions are a kind of inference, prediction or ‘best guess’ about how and why the world makes us feel the way it does. They are often much quicker and more effective at helping us achieve allostasis than laborious, consciously ‘rational’ calculations. For example, an event such as a shouting voice will elicit physiological arousal, which we might interpret mentally as a feeling of fear or a feeling of anger. The experience of fear or anger is what then pushes us to act, perhaps by running away or attacking, which should restore a sense of safety.

(…)

The social world is a key part of an organism’s environment and has a significant effect on its cognitive function and wellbeing. Human newborns are incapable of maintaining homeostasis by themselves, and must rely on carers to do so on their behalf. Even as we grow into independence, allostatic regulation remains dependent on social relations throughout our lives. On an even more radical view, the brain evolved not just to keep our body safely ‘within budget’, but primarily in order to regulate it within a social context. By becoming aware of our feelings, we are able to communicate them to one another – and through shared experience, to regulate ourselves as a society.

One way of looking at 20th-century politics, then, is to see it as a way of creating conditions in which people’s bodies and minds could remain within a ‘margin of safety’. From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the welfare state and the judicial system, institutions and norms socially regulate human behaviour. They allow people to infer how the social world will make them and others feel, and so predict how to act themselves. Strikingly, the notion that human health involves a constant challenge to preserve the body’s equilibrium and integrity re-emerged after the tumult of the First World War, when Western policymakers revived the ancient ‘body politic’ metaphor, as the historian Stefanos Geroulanos and the anthropologist Todd Meyers have explained.

The view that state or polity is a kind of organic entity, whose members themselves have bodily needs, had a marked influence on social sciences and the development of welfare states. The Beveridge Report (1942), which set the foundations for the social welfare system in the United Kingdom, described ‘a new alliance of the state and the individual where each cared for the other’s body’, as Geroulanos and Meyers write. Western societies, as they recovered from two world wars, made the maintenance of bodily health an object of state action via the vehicle of the welfare state. The German physician and anthropologist Rudolf Virchow, one of the fathers of social medicine, had anticipated this when he observed in 1848 that ‘medicine is a social science, and politics nothing but medicine at a larger scale’.

Modern life is at risk of rolling back these advances to human wellbeing, which were already unevenly distributed. Since the financial crisis of 2007-08, the United States and the UK have shown stagnating or declining life expectancy, partly attributed to premature deaths caused by ‘diseases of despair’ such as suicidal depression and substance addiction. In parallel, the worldwide burden of mental disorders has increased by 31.6 per cent between 1990 and 2007, and by a further 13.5 per cent between 2007 and 2017. Depression remains one of the three leading causes of the global burden of disease. In 2017, eight in 10 Americans said that they often encounter stress in their daily lives. Six in 10 find the current political climate to be a source of stress, and seven in 10 identify the cost of healthcare as a significant source of stress. Decreases in social trust and cohesion, increases in political polarisation, as well as uncertainty about financial stability and health, have all contributed to rising levels of chronic stress and ill health.

What matters here is not just the fact that we inhabit a world in crisis. It’s that we ‘live in a world where the language of crisis has become the most common way of representing a series of situations we face’, as the French anthropologist Didier Fassin has observed. The ubiquity of this language, he says, ‘tells us something about the actuality and the imaginary of contemporary societies’. The way we subjectively experience these feelings of uncertainty and crisis has a tangible effect on political animals of the 21st century. It places us in a state of ‘allostatic load’ – a constant state of accumulated high stress that comes from desperately trying to keep the body within its homeostatic safe zone. This exposure to chronic or repeated challenges, which the individual experiences as stressful, eventually wears out the body and brain. If one of the key functions of the brain is to serve the body by maintaining a healthy body budget, then chronic stress burns through cash. Without a healthy balance sheet, our options narrow as our organism can no longer rely on its increasingly depleted reserves. As a consequence, we lose our ability to flexibly regulate our bodies, and this loss contributes to poor health, emotional dysregulation and cognitive decline – a vicious cycle that exacerbates the conditions that promoted allostatic load in the first place. The strikingly increased prevalence of hypertension among African Americans compared with other Americans can’t be accounted for by genetic differences; instead, they reflect the sociopolitical tensions that such groups experience.

The fact that the human body and the body politic are intertwined means that systematically depleting our body budget has far-reaching consequences. For example, insufficient sleep isn’t just a private matter, but also affects political engagement such as citizens’ willingness to vote, to sign petitions and to donate to charities. Relatedly, a major study spanning 170 countries between 1980 and 2016 showed that the presence of democratic governance explains more than does GDP the variations in mortality for cardiovascular diseases, transport injuries, cancers, cirrhosis and other non-communicable diseases. Several empirical studies also show that population-level epidemiological profiles of infectious diseases can structure individual-level psychological preferences for authoritarianism as well as authoritarian governance.

The political animals of 21st-century Western democracies seem ever more homeostatically and affectively dysregulated. Concerns about healthcare and financial stability consistently rank among the highest causes of stress. Our world is also one of increased informational uncertainty, driven by an ecosystem of 24/7 informational overdose and pervasive social media platforms that often breed fake news and belief polarisation. Under such conditions, our visceral states come to the forefront, and manifest themselves as powerful but dysregulated emotions. It’s against this background that we must understand how our affective needs and visceral expressions have come to dominate sociopolitical life.

Crucially, we can now account for the dynamics of visceral politics because of three important parallel developments in the study of history, political science and neuroscience. Historians in recent years have placed a fresh emphasis on the study of the emotions, where these are not cast as mere consequences or byproducts of historical events, but as active drivers or causes in their own right. Similarly, after a long period of inattention towards emotions, there has been an increased interest within the political sciences in how emotions influence political behaviour. Finally, advances in social and affective neuroscience now allow us to study emotion from the ‘inside-out’, in that we can attend directly to the physiological and neural processes that are correlated with particular feelings.

(…)

It’s vital to understand how physiological states, coupled with individual differences in political attitudes, might predispose some people to experience anger in a given sociopolitical context, while others might experience fear or anxiety. Moreover, the very question of what precise emotions people are actually experiencing remains empirically underinvestigated or, at best, naively researched. There is an unwritten assumption in political life that people know what they want, or at least that politicians can persuade people about what they want. How would a political life play out that includes the idea that people might not know what they want, because they might not know what they feel? What would politics look like if it encompassed this emotional, affective domain?”

(…)

 Thus, the emotion we use to interpret a physiological state of anxiety, and so to make inferences, can have distinct effects on political behaviour. Fear might lead people to seek a less dominant and more trustworthy leader, while anger might result in the opposite pattern. Therefore, social processes of affect-labelling, which catalyse the social construction of emotion, can influence the meaning we ascribe to our physiological states – and possibly explain the emotional microclimates of different social groups.

(…)

Politics is visceral in at least two ways. It is visceral in the sense that our unsafe bodies drive our politics. The rise of visceral politics of this kind might reflect the failure of our socioeconomic system to take care of our brittle bodies, and its failure to enable us to accurately infer our physiological states and how the world makes us feel. But there is also another way in which we can think of visceral politics. They are visceral in the sense that our politics should make our bodies feel safe, and empower us to tolerate and explore the inherent uncertainty of the human condition. We witness the dominance of the former, but we should strive for the rise of the latter.”

Why Are We in the West So Weird? A Theory By Daniel C. Dennett [On The WEIRDest People in the World By Joseph Henrich (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020)]

“Why Are We in the West So Weird? A Theory

According to Joseph Henrich’s book, it was the advent of Protestantism, aided by the invention of the printing press, that brought along the spread of literacy and altered the workings of our brains.

By Daniel C. Dennett

Sept. 12, 2020

THE WEIRDEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD
How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous
By Joseph Henrich

(…)

The world today has billions of inhabitants who have minds strikingly different from ours. Roughly, we weirdos are individualistic, think analytically, believe in free will, take personal responsibility, feel guilt when we misbehave and think nepotism is to be vigorously discouraged, if not outlawed. Right? They (the non-WEIRD majority) identify more strongly with family, tribe, clan and ethnic group, think more “holistically,” take responsibility for what their group does (and publicly punish those who besmirch the group’s honor), feel shame — not guilt — when they misbehave and think nepotism is a natural duty.

(…)

WEIRD folk are the more recent development, growing out of the innovation of agriculture about 10,000 years ago, the birth of states and organized religions about 3,000 years ago, then becoming “proto-WEIRD” over the last 1,500 years (thanks to the prohibition on marrying one’s cousin), culminating in the biologically sudden arrival of science, industry and the “modern” world during the last 500 years or so. WEIRD minds evolved by natural selection, but not by genetic selection; they evolved by the natural selection of cultural practices and other culturally transmitted items.

Henrich is an anthropologist at Harvard. He and his colleagues first described the WEIRD mind in a critique of all the work in human psychology (and the social sciences more generally) built on experimental subjects almost exclusively composed of undergraduates — or the children of academics and others who live near universities. The results obtained drawing on this conveniently available set of “normal” people were assumed by almost all researchers to be universal features of human nature, the human brain, the human emotional system. But when attempts were made to replicate the experiments with people in other countries, not just illiterate hunter-gatherers and subsistence farmers but the elites in Asian countries, for instance, it was shown in many cases that the subject pool of the original work had been hugely biased from the outset.

One of the first lessons that must be learned from this important book is that the WEIRD mind is real; all future investigation of “human nature” must be complicated by casting a wider net for subjects, and we must stop assuming that our ways are “universal.” Offhand, I cannot think of many researchers who haven’t tacitly adopted some dubious universalist assumptions. I certainly have. We will all have to change our perspective.

(…)

This is an extraordinarily ambitious book, along the lines of Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel,” which gets a brief and respectful mention, but going much farther, and bolstering the argument at every point with evidence gathered by Henrich’s “lab,” with dozens of collaborators, and wielding data points from world history, anthropology, economics, game theory, psychology and biology, all knit together with “statistical razzle-dazzle” when everyday statistics is unable to distinguish signal from noise. The endnotes and bibliography take up over 150 pages and include a fascinating range of discussions.

(…)

This book calls out for respectful but ruthless vetting on all counts, and what it doesn’t need, and shouldn’t provoke, is ideological condemnations or quotations of brilliant passages by revered authorities. Are historians, economists and anthropologists up to the task? It will be fascinating to see.”

“What’s Behind Humanity’s Love-Hate Relationship With Exercise?” – By Marina Krakovsky [Sapiens]

What’s Behind Humanity’s Love-Hate Relationship With Exercise?

Evolutionary history can help resolve the question of why so many people desire a physical break even when their bodies need movement.

By Marina Krakovsky

https://www.sapiens.org/biology/evolutionary-history-exercise

(…)

“What is it about human nature that pulls people to the chair or the couch when they’d be better off moving on their feet? The resolution to this paradox lies in evolutionary history, says David Raichlen, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Southern California.

Raichlen is one of several anthropologists studying how the evolutionary history of the human body shapes health today. In 2012, for example, he and his colleagues published findings from an experimental examination of the runner’s high, the experience of euphoria that some people report during aerobic exercise.

The experiments compared levels of particular feel-good chemicals—called endocannabinoids—in the brains of humans and two other species before and after treadmill exercise. Raichlen and his colleagues found significantly higher endocannabinoid levels in humans and dogs—but not ferrets—following this high-intensity activity. This finding is revealing because humans and dogs evolved to need endurance for hunting food and ferrets did not. The runner’s high could therefore be evolutionarily advantageous to some species, helping creatures run for longer distances to hunt for food despite the high energy costs of running.

In his quest to understand human health, Raichlen also does fieldwork with Tanzania’s Hadza people, a contemporary hunter-gatherer tribe. This community attracts scholars in part because the Hadza way of life resembles that of hunter-gatherers who lived prior to the development of agriculture in many societies some 10,000 years ago. The Hadza, Raichlen notes with affection, are “super-wonderful people,” and studying them could offer clues to what life was like for hunter-gatherers in the past.

(…)

Research on the Hadza certainly supports the idea that physical activity benefits health. For example, Hadza are more susceptible to deadly infections than people in industrialized societies because of differences in hygiene and medical care. Yet those Hadza who survive these dangers tend to live long and healthy lives because they are far less prone than people in industrialized societies to what public health experts call “lifestyle diseases,” such as obesity, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes. In fact, research shows that increasing one’s physical activity reduces the risk of developing these chronic diseases.

(…)

Like the sweet tooth at a time when calories are abundant, the need for much more physical activity than many people get is an evolutionary mismatch between human physiology and the present environment.

(…)

“The whole point of life is turning energy into kids—that’s evolution,” says Herman Pontzer, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University who frequently collaborates with Raichlen, including on the study of rest.

“Natural selection favors any strategy that makes you better at turning energy in your environment into offspring,” Pontzer says. Resting is part of such a strategy: In an energy-scarce environment, a strong drive to burn calories when you didn’t have to would have died out through natural selection.

(…)

Though not through conscious choice, sedentary Americans and physically active Hadza both follow this rule. “Our desire to rest is as strong as it’s ever been,” Raichlen says. This desire, he adds, often overcomes the choice to exercise. When you take away the need to move and make exercise a choice, as our current environment has done, he adds, “it takes a lot of motivation to do it.”

(…)

Unfortunately, people who live more sedentary lives can’t expect their bodies to adapt to that new mode any time soon. For one thing, in the time scale of human evolutionary history, “even a thousand years is the blink of an eye,” Pontzer says. “The other thing to understand,” he adds, “is that a lot of [lifestyle] diseases don’t kick in until after you’ve had your kids.”

“Non-partisan brains differ from those of partisans | Non-partisans are real, and their lack of partisanship has a cognitive element” [Big Think]

“Non-partisan brains differ from those of partisans

Non-partisans are real, and their lack of partisanship has a cognitive element.

21 August, 2020

https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/non-partisan-brain

A new study suggests that the brains of non-partisans function differently than those of partisans.
Blood flow to regions associated with problem solving differed between the two groups.
The findings may lead to further research in how differences in brain activity affect personality.
Despite the repeated claims of those without party affiliations, the belief that non-partisans don’t actually exist is widespread. Proponents of this stance argue that those who claim to be non-partisans are merely partisans who don’t want to be outed.

A new study offers a strong counterpoint to these commentators; it suggests that the brains of non-partisans function differently than the brains of partisans.

Some people just really don’t want to join political clubs. Go figure.

The study, published in The Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties as “Neural Nonpartisans,” looked at blood flow in the brains of partisans and non-partisans as they played a betting game. The test subjects, all of which were from San Diego County, had their brains scanned as they decided between options with guaranteed payoffs or ones with the chance to lose or gain money. The results were later compared to their voter registrations to confirm their partisanship or lack thereof.

The brain scans demonstrated that blood flow to the right medial temporal pole, orbitofrontal/medial prefrontal cortex, and right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex differs between partisans and non-partisans as they made decisions in the previously mentioned game. These regions are associated with socially relevant memory, decision making, and goal-related responses. Previous studies have also shown them to be essential for social connections.

This demonstrates that the brains of non-partisans approach non-political problems differently than the brains of partisans. Future studies may go further, and see if other brain functions differ between the two groups.

The study is not without limitations; there were a mere 110 test subjects overall. However, given the general lack of research on non-partisans, the study is still an excellent starting point for further research.

What does this mean for politics?

Lead author Dr. Darren Schreiber laid out his interpretation of the data and offered takeaways:

“There is skepticism about the existence of non-partisan voters, that they are just people who don’t want to state their preferences. But we have shown their brain activity is different, even aside from politics. We think this has important implications for political campaigning – non-partisans need to be considered a third voter group. In the USA 40 percent of people are thought to be non-partisan voters. Previous research shows negative campaigning deters them from voting. This exploratory study suggests US politicians need to treat swing voters differently, and positive campaigning may be important in winning their support. While heated rhetoric may appeal to a party’s base, it can drive non-partisans away from politics all together.”

He references a variety of studies on the effects of negative campaigning. It is widely agreed that it drives down turnout.

A variety of studies suggest that differences in political opinion relate to the differences in the brain. While these studies can’t tell us how to solve our various political problems, they can offer us ways to help bridge the gap. People who don’t leap at the opportunity to join political clubs must be interreacted with differently than those who do to encourage their involvement. While this may come as a shock to seasoned political junkies, it may also come with benefits to our political discourse.”

“Our Big Fight Over Nothing: The Political Spectrum Does Not Exist” By Hyrum Lewis

“Our Big Fight Over Nothing: The Political Spectrum Does Not Exist

Hyrum Lewis

Hyrum Lewis is a professor of history at Brigham Young University-Idaho and has held visiting positions at Stanford University and Skidmore College. He has previously published books and articles on the history of ideology and the philosophy of religion.

June 12, 2020

https://heterodoxacademy.org/social-science-political-spectrum/?utm_source=feedly&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-science-political-spectrum

One of the real tragedies of contemporary politics is that our most bitter disagreements are about something that doesn’t even exist—the political spectrum. Left and right are entirely tribal designations and have no unifying philosophy or principle behind them that can be represented on a unidimensional spectrum.

This may sound like an absurd claim, but before rejecting out of hand, consider that the political spectrum rests on an essentialist theory of ideology that has been soundly falsified. The essentialist theory says that, although it may seem that there are many distinct political issues in politics, there is actually just one big issue—an underlying essence that ties them all together (e.g., change vs. preservation, equality vs. freedom, order vs. liberty, realism vs. idealism, etc.). If politics is unidimensional (about one essential issue), then a unidimensional political spectrum is adequate to represent politics.

An alternative to this essentialist theory is the “social theory” of ideology, which says that distinct political positions correlate because they are bound by a unifying tribe. If the right-wing team is currently in favor of tax cuts and opposed to abortion, then those who identify with that team will adopt those positions as a matter of social conformity, not because both are expressions of some underlying principle. If the social theory is correct, the political spectrum is of little use because there is no single essence; instead there are many unrelated political issues and therefore many political dimensions.

(…)

I understand why so many of us want to believe in the political spectrum—it makes politics simple and gives us the illusion that our party’s beliefs have an underlying (and righteous) philosophical coherence—but it’s time to face up to the facts. “Right-wing” and “left-wing” are little more than tribal designations. Shedding our jerseys might help us become more rational, more humble, less tribal, and ultimately, more open-minded when it comes to public issues.”

“Estudo mostra que pessoas com viés político são mais suscetíveis a fake news” [O Globo]

“Estudo mostra que pessoas com viés político são mais suscetíveis a fake news

05/07/2020 • 07:00

https://blogs.oglobo.globo.com/sonar-a-escuta-das-redes/post/estudo-mostra-que-pessoas-com-vies-politico-sao-mais-suscetiveis-fake-news.html

Suzana Correa

Um estudo brasileiro inédito que será publicado no Journal of American Politics, a partir de experimento realizado nas eleições presidenciais de 2018, pode acabar com o mito de que quem acredita em fake news é a “tia do zap”. Os pesquisadores mostram que quem mais confia em boato falso são os que já têm time definido no jogo político. E o desejo de eleitores de concluir aquilo que é sugerido por suas filiações partidárias reduz a eficácia da checagem de informações.

— Escolaridade, nível intelectual, sexo e idade não têm relação com o quanto se acredita em fake news. Mais que mexer com eleitor médio, elas reforçam crenças de quem já tem posição política e intensificam preconceitos, opiniões e valores — diz Felipe Nunes, um dos autores da pesquisa, professor da Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG) e diretor da consultoria Quaest.

O experimento indica que expor os eleitores a esclarecimentos da própria vítima do falso rumor não funciona. Apresentar a checagem de veículo de grande porte é mais eficaz. O estudo, chamado “Raciocínio motivado sem partidarismo? Fake news nas eleições brasileiras de 2018”, mostrou petistas e anti-petistas como os mais suscetíveis a acreditarem em fake news sobre o PT, negativas ou positivas.

A boa notícia é que apenas cerca de 30% dos entrevistados no experimento brasileiro acreditavam nas fake news. A proporção é menor do que os 43% observados em estudos nos Estados Unidos e outros países. Os pesquisadores acreditam que a identificação partidária no Brasil, considerada fraca e instável, pode contribuir para limitar a disseminação de fake news no país.

— Esse é o principal efeito que produzem numa eleição. É também um mecanismo de reforço da coesão e de mobilização daquele próprio grupo — diz Nunes.

O estudo confirma os impactos do já conhecido “viés de confirmação”, segundo o qual interpretamos ou pesquisamos informações para confirmar crenças e hipóteses que já temos. O fenômeno é investigado pela psicologia social e ciência política desde 1970, mas voltou à moda com o surgimento das redes sociais e fake news.

É este viés que forma nas redes o que os estudiosos chamam de “bolhas” ou “câmaras de eco” partidárias: ao seguir e curtir apenas conteúdo que confirma suas preferências políticas ou morais, o usuário de redes sociais como Facebook ou Twitter “treina”, involuntariamente, os algoritmos da rede a mostrarem cada vez mais informações que corroboram suas crenças.

Nestes ambientes, as fake news são mais aceitas como verdade e compartilhadas, porque confirmam a visão positiva sobre o partido do usuário — ou negativa sobre aquele que odeia — e que se torna predominante ali.

— O experimento mostra que o senso comum de que os menos escolarizados seriam os mais propensos a serem afetados por fake news é mentira. O que realmente afeta é a posição política da pessoa e isso só acontece porque hoje quase ninguém usa informação para atualizar o que sabe, mas para confirmar o que já acredita — conclui Nunes.”

“Neuroscience has much to learn from Hume’s philosophy of emotions” By Richard C. Shais [Psyche]

“Neuroscience has much to learn from Hume’s philosophy of emotions

https://psyche.co/ideas/neuroscience-has-much-to-learn-from-humes-philosophy-of-emotions

Richard C. Shais professor of literature and an affiliate professor of philosophy, as well as an affiliate of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, all at the American University in Washington, DC. His books include Perverse Romanticism: Aesthetics and Sexuality in Britain, 1750-1830 (2009) and Imagination and Science in Romanticism (2018).

We are in the midst of a second Humean revolution. In his Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40), the Scottish philosopher David Hume argued that: ‘Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions …’ By ‘passions’, Hume meant what we now call emotions. What gave him such faith in the passions that he could accept reason’s enslavement to them? Hume understood reason to be incapable of producing any action, and the passions to be the source of our motivations. So he insisted that we must attend to the passions if we want to understand how anything gets done. Much recent neuroscience has found that human rationality is weaker than is commonly presumed, and the emotions make it possible to make decisions by granting certain objects salience. Why does this second Humean revolution matter and what, if anything, can the second revolution learn from the first?

By and large, scientists until recently avoided the emotions as too subjective, too imprecisely defined. Yet once Darwinian evolution and neuroscience supported the link of emotion to action, emotions began to gain more attention from scientists. In his book The Strange Order of Things (2018), Antonio Damasio, one of the most influential neuroscientists today, defines the affects and emotions as ‘action programmes’, and by this he connects emotions to homeostasis, the process by which we keep ourselves alive. How better to grant the emotions scientific weight than to make them the key to human survival? Neuroscience also supports a growing recognition of the connections between the brain’s perceptual and motor systems; this has led scholars such as Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson, Andy Clark and Shaun Gallagher – ‘enactivists’ who argue that human thought is not brainbound but stems from connections between the mind and body and its environment – to conclude, to varying degrees, that human perceptions are for the purpose of action. Sometimes, however, I just want to look at something, not reduce it to a tool.

(…)

Habits consolidate what control we can have of our passions. Hume gives habit pride of place in his moral accounting, but the key here is to continually assess whether we have the right habits, not to passively accept existing habits. ‘Nothing can be more laudable,’ he writes, ‘than to have a value for ourselves, where we really have qualities that are valuable.’ In other words, he asks for empirical evidence of value, not just for our feeling of it. Habits, after all, make it possible to contain violent passions such as anger. Hume insists that ‘when a passion has once become a settled principle of action, and is the predominant inclination of the soul, it commonly produces no longer any sensible agitation’. In this view, habit reduces passion’s agitations, making them manageable.

Hume’s idea that reason serves the passions has in important ways found scientific support. Our rationality serves our passions, and we have less control over the passions than is commonly presumed. By stipulating that reason is the slave of the passions, Hume warns us of the consequences of not having the right habits. When neuroscientists equate emotion and action, it narrows emotion to survival and underestimates the ways in which the emotions can foster deliberation. While neuroscientists set the timescale of the emotions to no more than a few minutes, Hume insists that it will take nothing less than a lifetime to get our emotions right.”

“A Neuroscientist’s Theory of Everything | Karl Friston takes us on a safari of his free-energy principle” [Nautilus]

“A Neuroscientist’s Theory of Everything

Karl Friston takes us on a safari of his free-energy principle.

By Brian Gallagher

June 10, 2020

http://nautil.us/issue/86/energy/a-neuroscientists-theory-of-everything

(…)

In “The Free-Energy Principle,” you write the world is uncertain and full of surprises. Action and human perception, you argue, are all about minimizing surprise. Why is it important that things—including us—minimize surprise?

If we minimize surprise now, then on average over time, we’re minimizing the average surprise, which is the average entropy. If a thermostat could have beliefs about what its world is—it might say, “My world is living at 22 degrees centigrade”—so any sensory information from its thermal receptors that departs from that is surprising. It will then act on the world to try and minimize that surprise and bring that prediction error back to zero. Your body’s homeostasis is doing exactly the same thing.

Does the brain minimize surprise in order to conserve energy?

You could certainly say that. But I wouldn’t quite put it like that. It’s not that the brain has a goal to exist. It just exists. It looks as if it has a goal to exist. What does existing mean? It’s always found in that configuration. The brain has to sample the world in a way that it knows what’s going to happen next. If it didn’t, you’d be full of surprises and you’d die.

(…)

The Markov blanket helps explain how things can exist—but what is it, exactly?

The Markov blanket is a permeable interface between the inside and the outside, a two-way exchange. Stuff on the outside—the environment, the universe, the heat bath—impacts what’s going on on the inside via the sensory part of the Markov blanket. The Markov blanket has sensory and active states. Stuff on the outside, the external states, influence the blanket’s sensory states, what the blanket senses. And stuff on the inside of the blanket, the internal states, influence the blanket’s active states. The active states close that circle of causality, or, if you like, they disclose what’s going on on the inside by acting on the outside state. With that mathematical construct in place, you can go a lot further than 20th-century physics, which was all about equilibrium statistics and thermodynamics, the kind of physics that you would have been taught in school. Implicit in that is the notion that you’ve got an isolated or a closed system. That implicitly assumed the Markov blanket.

(…)

How do Markov blankets help make sense of our inner life?

I have to be clear that I’m speaking as a physicist would, because I’m not a philosopher. That said, there is a representationalist interpretation of the internal states of something with a Markov blanket. You could say that all that matters in terms of sentience, perception, and active inference, is just on the inside. It’s our neuronal activity, say, the internal states that are negotiating dependent upon and influencing the blanket states that comprise our sensory states, our sensory receptors—our sensorium if you like—and ways of changing that sensorium through acting. Like my eyes palpating, sampling the world to get new sensory information. That would mean that it is never going to be the case that you’re going to be able to transparently sample—or know—what is out there, generating those sensory blanket states. You could actually adopt an anti-realist position about external reality. You will never know the difference.

(…)

This brings you back to this notion that anything you talk about is really just an explanation for your lived world. It’s the simplest explanation for all of these sensations that I’m getting, in all the modalities that I possess. And it doesn’t have to be true or false. As long as it’s a good-enough explanation that keeps your surprise down and self-evidence nice and high—that’s all it’s required to do. Selfhood in itself now becomes just another explanation. Anything that a philosopher says also succumbs to exactly the same argument, including qualia. These are now reifications of the best explanation for my understanding of my sensory data and my internal view in this inner life. The highest form of consciousness is the philosopher’s brain.

(…)

Is the self an illusion?

Well, say you’re a feral child who’s never seen another mammal. There would be no need to have a notion of self. You and the universe would just be one thing. But as soon as you start to notice other things that look like you, a question has to be resolved, “Did you do that or did I do that?” Now you need to have, as part of your generative model, the hypothesis of fantasy, the illusion—which may be absolutely right—that there are other things like me out there, and I need to resolve that. I think the theory of mind on the necessity of encultured brains provides a simple answer as to why we have self. But to come back to your question, I think, yes, selfhood is another really plausible hypothesis for my generative model that provides the best explanation for your sensory exchanges.”

“Social status helped and hindered by the same behaviors and traits worldwide” [University of Texas at Austin/Medical Xpress]

“Social status helped and hindered by the same behaviors and traits worldwide

by University of Texas at Austin

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-06-social-status-hindered-behaviors-traits.html

(…)

“Humans live in a social world in which relative rank matters for nearly everything—your access to resources, your ability to attract mates, and even how long you live,” said UT Austin evolutionary psychologist David Buss, one of the study’s lead authors. “From an evolutionary perspective, reproductively relevant resources flow to those high in status and trickle slowly, if at all, to those lower on the social totem pole.”

The researchers compared people’s impressions of 240 factors—including acts, characteristics and events—to determine what increased and impaired a person’s esteem in the eyes of others. They found that certain qualities such as being honest, hard-working, kind, intelligent, having a wide range of knowledge, making sacrifices for others, and having a good sense of humor increased a person’s social value.

“From the Gypsies in Romania to the native islanders of Guam, people displaying intelligence, bravery and leadership rise in rank in the eyes of their peers,” said UT Austin psychology graduate student Patrick Durkee, who led the study with Buss. “But possessing qualities that inflict costs on others will cause your status to plummet, whether you live in Russia or Eritrea.”

Being known as a thief, as dirty or unclean, as mean or nasty, acquiring a sexually transmitted disease, and bringing shame on one’s family decreased a person’s social status or value. These status-harming actions can also lead to a person being ostracized from the group—”an action that would have meant near-certain death in ancestral environments,” the researchers said.

“Although this study was conducted prior to the current pandemic, it’s interesting that being a disease vector is universally detrimental to a person’s status,” Buss said. “Socially transmitted diseases are evolutionarily ancient challenges to human survival, so humans have psychological adaptations to avoid them. Lowering a person’s social status is an evolutionarily ancient method of social distancing from disease vectors.”

***

David M. Buss et al, Human status criteria: Sex differences and similarities across 14 nations., Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2020).  

DOI: 10.1037/pspa0000206

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

https://doi.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fpspa0000206

“Trump, the politics of fear and racism: How our brains can be manipulated to tribalism” by Arash Javanbakht [The Conversation]

“Trump, the politics of fear and racism: How our brains can be manipulated to tribalism

by Arash Javanbakht
Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Wayne State University

The Conversation

https://theconversation.com/trump-the-politics-of-fear-and-racism-how-our-brains-can-be-manipulated-to-tribalism-139811

(…)

Fear is arguably as old as life. It is deeply ingrained in the living organisms that have survived extinction through billions of years of evolution. Its roots are deep in our core psychological and biological being, and it is one of our most intimate feelings. Danger and war are as old as human history, and so are politics and religion.

I am a psychiatrist and neuroscientist specializing in fear and trauma, and I have some thoughts on how politics, fear and tribalism are intertwined in the current events.

We learn fear from tribe mates

Like other animals, humans can learn fear from experience, such as being attacked by a predator, or witnessing a predator attacking another human. Furthermore, we learn fear by instructions, such as being told there is a predator nearby.

Learning from our tribe mates is an evolutionary advantage that has prevented us from repeating dangerous experiences of other humans. We have a tendency to trust our tribe mates and authorities, especially when it comes to danger. It is adaptive: Parents and wise old men told us not to eat a special plant, or not to go to an area in the woods, or we would be hurt. By trusting them, we would not die like a great-grandfather who died eating that plant. This way, we accumulated knowledge.

Tribalism has been an inherent part of human history, and is closely linked with fear. There has always been competition between groups of humans in different ways and with different faces, from brutal wartime nationalism to a strong loyalty to a football team. Evidence from cultural neuroscience shows that our brains even respond differently at an unconscious level simply to the view of faces from other races or cultures.

At a tribal level, people are more emotional and consequently less logical: Fans of both teams pray for their team to win, hoping God will take sides in a game. On the other hand, we regress to tribalism when afraid. This is an evolutionary advantage that would lead to the group cohesion and help us fight the other tribes to survive.

Tribalism is the biological loophole that many politicians have banked on for a long time: tapping into our fears and tribal instincts. Abuse of fear has killed in many faces: extreme nationalism, Nazism, the Ku Klux Klan and religious tribalism have all led to heartless killing of millions.

The typical pattern is to give the other humans a different label than us, perceive them as less than us, who are going to harm us or our resources, and to turn the other group into a concept. It does not have to necessarily be race or nationality. It can be any real or imaginary difference: liberals, conservatives, Middle Easterners, white men, the right, the left, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs. The list goes on and on.

(…)

Fear is uninformed, illogical and often dumb

Very often my patients with phobias start with: “I know it is stupid, but I am afraid of spiders.” Or it may be dogs or cats, or something else. And I always reply: “It is not stupid, it is illogical.” We humans have different functions in the brain, and fear oftentimes bypasses logic. In situations of danger, we ought to be fast: First run or kill, then think.

This human tendency is meat to the politicians who want to exploit fear: If you grew up only around people who look like you, only listened to one media outlet and heard from the old uncle that those who look or think differently hate you and are dangerous, the inherent fear and hatred toward those unseen people is an understandable (but flawed) result.

(…)

By scaring us, the demagogues turn on our aggression toward “the others,” whether in the form of vandalizing their temples, harassing them on the social media, of killing them in cold blood.

When demagogues manage to get hold of our fear circuitry, we often regress to illogical, tribal and aggressive human animals, becoming weapons ourselves—weapons that politicians use for their own agenda.

The irony of evolution is that while those attached to tribal ideologies of racism and nationalism perceive themselves as superior to others, in reality they are acting on a more primitive, less evolved and more animal level.”

“How Our Ancient Brains Are Coping in the Age of Digital Distraction” [Discover Magazine]

“How Our Ancient Brains Are Coping in the Age of Digital Distraction

Our species invented the internet. Can we handle the consequences?

By Kenneth Miller

April 20, 2020 10:00 AM

https://www.discovermagazine.com/mind/how-our-ancient-brains-are-coping-in-the-age-of-digital-distraction

(…)

In the public arena, online filters generate bubbles that reinforce our preconceptions and amplify our anger. Brandishing tweets like pitchforks, we’re swept into virtual mobs; some of us move on to violence IRL. Our digitally enhanced tribalism upends political norms and sways elections.

(…)

A growing body of research suggests that this conundrum arises from a feature etched into our DNA: our unparalleled hunger to know stuff. “This is an ancient drive that leads to all sorts of complexities in how we interact with the world around us,” says Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, and co-author of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World.

(…)

Yet this wonder’s origins were strikingly humble. About 7 million years ago, hominins — our branch of the primate family tree — began the long transition to walking upright. Bipedalism, or walking on two legs, freed our hands for making and manipulating tools. It also allowed us to walk longer distances, key to our spread beyond Africa’s forests and savannas. “If you look at nonhuman primates, it’s like they have another set of hands down there,” notes Dean Falk, a professor of anthropology at Florida State University and senior scholar at Santa Fe’s School for Advanced Research, who specializes in brain evolution. “When our feet became weight-bearing instruments, that kicked everything off — no pun intended.”

Not that the effects were immediate. More than 3 million years ago, the braincase of Australopithecus afarensis, likely the first fully bipedal hominin, was only slightly larger than a chimpanzee’s. But by the time Homo sapiens emerged at least 300,000 years ago, brain volume had tripled. Our brain-to-body ratio is six times that of other mammals, and the neurons in our cerebral cortex (the brain’s outer layer, responsible for cognition) are more densely packed than those of any other creature on Earth.

In recent years, scientists have identified about two dozen genetic changes that might have helped make our brains not only bigger but incomparably capable. “It’s not just one quantum leap,” says University of Wisconsin-Madison paleoanthropologist John Hawks. “A lot of adaptations are at play, from metabolic regulation to neuron formation to timing of development.” A stretch of gene-regulating DNA called HARE5, for example, differs slightly between chimps and humans; when a team at Duke University introduced both versions into mouse embryos, the ones that got the human type developed brains that were 12 percent larger. Meanwhile, mutations in a gene called NOTCH2 increase our production of neural stem cells and delay their maturation into cortical neurons, which may be part of the reason our brains keep growing far longer than those of other primates. The FOXP2 gene, crucial for verbal communication in many species, diverges by two base pairs in humans and our nearest living ape relatives. Our mutation may explain why we can talk and chimps can’t.

Our brains were also shaped by external forces, which increased the odds of smarter hominins passing on their genes. Experts debate which factors mattered most. Falk, for one, hypothesizes that the loss of grasping feet was crucial: When infants could no longer cling to their mothers, as nonhuman primates do, the need to soothe them from a distance led to the development of language, which revolutionized our neural organization. Other researchers believe that dietary shifts, such as eating meat or cooking food in general, enabled us to get by with a shorter digestive tract, which freed up more energy for a calorie-hogging brain. Still others credit our cerebral evolution to growing social complexity or intensifying environmental challenges.

What’s clear is that our neural hardware took shape under conditions radically different from those it must contend with today. For millennia, we had to be on the alert for dangerous predators, hostile clans, potential sources of food and shelter — and that was about it. As McGill University neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin put it in his book The Organized Mind: “Our brains evolved to focus on one thing at a time.”

Our digital devices, by design, make that almost impossible.

Tech vs. Brain

The part of the brain that enables us to make elaborate plans and carry them through — the part, arguably, that makes us most human — is the prefrontal cortex. This region is only slightly larger in H. sapiens than in chimps or gorillas, but its connections with other brain regions are more extensive and intricate. Despite this advanced network, our planning ability is far stronger than our ability to remain focused on a given task.

One reason is that, like all animals, we evolved to switch attention instantly when we sense danger: the snapping twig that might signal an approaching predator, the shadow that could indicate an enemy behind a tree. Our goal-directed, or top-down, mental activities stand little chance against these bottom-up forces of novelty and saliency — stimuli that are unexpected, sudden or dramatic, or that evoke memories of important experiences.

(…)

When the animal finds a ripe mango in the jungle — or solves a problem in the lab — brain cells in what’s called the dopaminergic system light up, creating a sensation of pleasure. These cells also build durable connections with the brain circuits that helped earn the reward. By triggering positive feelings whenever these circuits are activated, the system promotes learning.

Humans, of course, forage for data more voraciously than any other animal. And, like most foragers, we follow instinctive strategies for optimizing our search. Behavioral ecologists who study animals seeking nourishment have developed various models to predict their likely course of action. One of these, the marginal value theorem (MVT), applies to foragers in areas where food is found in patches, with resource-poor areas in between. The MVT can predict, for example, when a squirrel will quit gathering acorns in one tree and move on to the next, based on a formula assessing the costs and benefits of staying put — the number of nuts acquired per minute versus the time required for travel, and so on. Gazzaley sees the digital landscape as a similar environment, in which the patches are sources of information — a website, a smartphone, an email program. He believes an MVT-like formula may govern our online foraging: Each data patch provides diminishing returns over time as we use up information available there, or as we start to worry that better data might be available elsewhere.

The call of the next data patch may keep us hopping from Facebook to Twitter to Google to YouTube; it can also interfere with the fulfillment of goals — meeting a work deadline, paying attention in class, connecting face-to-face with a loved one. It does this, Gazzaley says, in two basic ways. One is distraction, which he defines as “pieces of goal-irrelevant information that we either encounter in our external surroundings or generate internally within our own minds.” We try to ignore our phone’s pings and buzzes (or our fear of missing out on the data they signify), only to find our focus undermined by the effort.

The other goal-killer is interruption: We take a break from top-down activity to feed our information munchies. The common term for this is multitasking, which sounds as if we’re accomplishing several things at once — working on the quarterly report, answering client emails, staying on top of the politician’s gaffe count, taking a peek at that aardvark. In truth, it means we’re doing nothing well.

(…)

It also wreaks havoc on working memory, the function that allows us to hold a few key bits of data in our heads just long enough to apply them to a task. Multiple studies have shown that “media multitasking” (the scientific term for toggling between digital data sources) overloads this mental compartment, making us less focused and more prone to mistakes. In 2012, for instance, Canadian researchers found that multitasking on a laptop hindered classroom learning not only for the user but for students sitting nearby. Heavy media multitasking has been associated with diminished cognitive control, higher levels of impulsivity and reduced volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region linked with error detection and emotional regulation.

Us vs. Them

Emotional regulation is central to another of tech’s disruptive effects on our ancient brains: exacerbation of tribal tendencies. Our distant ancestors lived in small nomadic bands, the basic social unit for most of human history. “Groups that were competing for resources and space didn’t always do so peacefully,” says paleoanthropologist Hawks. “We’re a product of that process.”

These days, many analysts see tribalism asserting itself in the resurgence of nationalist movements worldwide and the sharp rise in political polarization in the U.S., with both trends playing out prominently online. A study published in the American Journal of Political Science in 2015 found that party affiliation had become a basic component of identity for Republicans and Democrats. Social media, which spurs us to publicly declare our passions and convictions, helps fuel what the authors call “the gradual encroachment of party preference into nonpolitical and hitherto personal domains.”

And we’re hardwired to excel at telling “us” from “them.” When we interact with in-group members, a release of dopamine gives us a rush of pleasure, while out-group members may trigger a negative response. Getting online “likes” only intensifies the experience.

Our retreat into tribal mode may also be a reaction to the data explosion that the web has ignited. In 2018, in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, psychologist Thomas T. Hills reviewed an array of earlier studies on the proliferation of information. He found that the upsurge in digitally mediated extremism and polarization may be a response to cognitive overload. Amid the onslaught, he suggested, we rely on ingrained biases to decide which data deserve our attention (see “Tribal Tech” sidebar). The result: herd thinking, echo chambers and conspiracy theories. “Finding information that’s consistent with what I already believe makes me a better member of my in-group,” Hills says. “I can go to my allies and say, ‘Look, here’s the evidence that we’re right!’ ”

(…)

For example, when Red Sox and Yankees fans watch their rival team fail to score, even against a third team, they show heightened activity in the ventral striatum, a brain region associated with reward response.

It’s surely no coincidence that during the 2016 presidential election, Russian hackers focused largely on convincing various groups of Americans that another group was out to get them. But foreign agents are hardly the top promoters of tribalism online. As anyone who’s spent time on social media knows, there’s plenty of homegrown schadenfreude on the web.

(…)

Faced with tech’s cognitive overload, humans determine what’s worthy of attention by relying on biases shaped by evolution, says Thomas T. Hills, a professor of psychology at England’s University of Warwick. Those tendencies may have helped our ancestors survive, but they’re not always in our best interests today, Hills says. He identifies four types of “cognitive selection” that fuel digital tribalism.

Selection for belief-consistent information. Also called confirmation bias, it inclines us to prefer data that align with what we already think. In prehistoric times, this might have led people to see a rainstorm as proof of a shaman’s power over the weather — an interpretation that strengthened social cohesion, even if it was wrong. Today, confirmation bias can lead to more consequential errors, such as seeing a cold snap as proof that climate change is a hoax.

Selection for negative information. This tendency, also known as negativity bias, primed our ancestors’ brains to prioritize alertness for predators over other, less threatening types of attention. Today, it can lead us to privilege bad news over good — for example, by taking a single horrific crime by an out-group member more seriously than data showing that the group as a whole is law-abiding.

Selection for predictive information. Pattern-recognition bias, as it’s often called, helps us discern order in chaos. Noticing that large prey animals tended to arrive in the savanna after the first summer rains would have given early humans an evolutionary advantage. Today, however, a predilection for patterns can lead us to detect conspiracies where none exist.

Selection for social information. This “herd bias” prompts us, in uncertain environments, to follow the crowd. Back in the day, “if everyone else in your tribe was running toward the river, they probably had a good reason,” says Hills. But if everyone in your Reddit community says a famous politician is running a child-sex ring from the basement of a pizzeria, well, it would be wise to visit a fact-checking website before making up your mind.”