“Extraverts and Conservatives are More Likely to Get COVID” By Glenn Geher [Darwin’s Subterranean World]

“Extraverts and Conservatives are More Likely to Get COVID

The pandemic is largely the result of our evolved social psychology.

Glenn Geher
Darwin’s Subterranean World

Posted May 15, 2021


Personality Correlates of COVID-19 Infection Proclivity: Extraversion Kills

Vania Rolona, Glenn Geherb, Jennifer Linkb, Alexander Mackielb

Personality and Individual Differences

Available online 14 May 2021



“In light of the human behavioral element of COVID, my research team (a subset of The New Paltz Evolutionary Psychology Lab ) conducted a study to help us better understand the behavioral factors that underlie the spread of this virus—a virus that has turned all of our worlds upside down in so many ways.

Our study, recently published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences , explored various dispositional traits that might ultimately underlie whether people are prone toward getting the virus. The two main variables we focused on were extraversion and political conservatism.


An additional evolutionary perspective as to why and how extraversion might relate to COVID infection proclivity pertains the behavioral-system hijacking hypothesis (see Reiber et al., 2010). This idea, which is admittedly beyond the scope of our data, suggests that the coronavirus, which has known effects on the nervous system, may actually hijack behavior and temporarily make people relatively sociable so as to increase its spread across an increased number of human hosts.


Gollwitzer et al. (2020) found that people who live in relatively conservative areas (based on voting patterns) have been less likely to follow social-distancing guidelines relative to those living in areas where people are more likely to vote for liberal political candidates.

In light of this basic reasoning, we predicted that people who self-identify as conservative would be more likely to wind up becoming infected with the virus relative to those who self-identify as liberal.”

“Will science survive politics?” By Tom Chivers [UnHerd]

“Will science survive politics?

Whether something is politically convenient or not doesn’t affect whether it’s true

By Tom Chivers

May 11, 2021



No one really cares about creationists any more. Instead, the row is over whether Darwin – and his theory, or its implications – is racist, or sexist. And the people passionately defending him are often right-wingers, while his critics are on the Left.

The latest incarnation is a by-the-numbers fighting-the-culture-war piece in the Telegraph about a guide to “Applying a decolonial framework to teaching and research in ecology and evolution” published by some plant scientists in the University of Sheffield. In the guide, science lecturers are told to contextualise Darwin by making it clear how his worldview was shaped by colonialism and racism.


I also rather wish that the Sheffield academics had mentioned whether or not they think Darwin’s theory of natural selection is true or not. There’s an awful lot of talk about power imbalances, Eurocentric viewpoints, and the legacy of colonialism, and how science “cannot be objective and apolitical” – but regardless of whether or not Darwin was racist, was he right? Maybe that’s taken for granted.


The sad, forgotten creationists aside, most of us gladly accept that dragonflies’ wings and wombats’ toenails or whatever have evolved; that those ancestors which had versions of those organs more suited to their environment tended to have more offspring.

But when Darwin’s idea gets applied to behaviour, it becomes more controversial. The field of science that tries to do this is called sociobiology; it was controversial enough when it arose in the Seventies, pioneered by EO Wilson. It caused a furore – protesters poured water over Wilson’s head during a conference talk, chanting “Racist Wilson, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide.” Wilson’s work was mainly about ants.

When Darwinian ideas are applied to the human brain, and human behaviour, it is called evolutionary psychology, and that is more controversial still.

Which, on the face of it, is strange. Evolutionary psychology is, at its heart, the idea that the brain (and therefore the mind, and human behaviour and psychology in general) is the product of evolution, just like every other animal organ. As Richard Dawkins wrote in the 2005 foreword to The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, that is so obviously true as to be almost not worth saying: “The central claim [of evolutionary psychology] is not an extraordinary one,” he wrote. “It amounts to the exceedingly modest claim that minds are on the same footing as bodies where Darwinian natural selection is concerned. Given that feet, livers, ears, wings, shells, eyes, crests, ligaments, antennae, hearts and feathers are shaped by natural selection … why on earth should the same not be true of brains[?]”


The idea that the mind is evolved goes back to Darwin himself, but it was Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, a wife-and-husband team of academics, who really developed the field in The Adapted Mind, a book of essays they edited in 1992.


Charles Darwin, the historical figure, is interesting to study, and it’s worth remembering that he was a man of his time. But Darwinism, the great insight of evolution by natural selection, is separate. It is true (or false) regardless of Darwin’s own views, and so are the many insights which have followed it. We can go back and forth over whether he was a racist, but the more interesting question is: was he right?”

“When Men Behave Badly” by Rob Henderson | A Review of When Men Behave Badly by David M. Buss

“When Men Behave Badly—A Review

written by Rob Henderson

Published on April 30, 2021

A review of When Men Behave Badly: The Hidden Roots of Sexual Deception, Harassment, and Assault by David M. Buss, Little, Brown Spark, 336 pages (April 2021)



These differences in reproductive biology have given rise to differences in sexual psychology that are comparable to sex differences in height, weight, and upper-body muscle mass. However, Buss is careful to note, such differences always carry the qualifier “on average.” Some women are taller than some men—but on average men are taller. Likewise, some women prefer to have more sex partners than some men—but on average men prefer more. These evolved differences are a key source of conflict.

One goal of the book is to highlight situations in which sexual conflict is diminished or amplified to prevent victimization and reduce harm.


Because of the increased risk women carry, they tend to be choosier about their partners. In contrast, men are less discerning. Studies of online dating, for example, find that most men find most women to be at least somewhat attractive. In contrast, women, on average, view 80 percent of men as below average in attractiveness. Another study found that on the dating app Tinder, men “liked” more than 60 percent of the female profiles they viewed, while women “liked” only 4.5 percent of male profiles.


Deception is often prevalent in the mating market. And deception involves an understanding of what the opposite sex desires. For instance, on dating websites, men exaggerate their income by roughly 20 percent on average and round up their height by about two inches. Similarly, women on dating websites round their weight down by about 15 pounds.


… as Buss stresses throughout the book, “adaptive” does not mean “morally good.” Often, cultures create moral norms to suppress certain behaviors that might be beneficial for the individual but bad for the community (e.g., stealing).


Throughout the book, Buss is careful to note that just because a behavior is adaptive or “natural” does not mean it is morally good or desirable. Diseases are “natural,” yet modern science has developed vaccines and medical procedures to eliminate these ailments. Likewise, people can implement personal, social, and legal instruments to curtail the darker facets of male psychology.


What kind of men? As mentioned above, Dark Triad traits predict sexual aggression. Perhaps more surprisingly, research indicates that high-status men are particularly likely to commit sexual assault. Buss writes, “men with money, status, popularity, and power are more likely to be sexual predators.” These results parallel the disconcerting finding that men who use sexual coercion have more partners than men who do not. A popular idea is that men who are desperate or deprived of chances for sex will be more likely to use coercion. This is known as the “mate deprivation hypothesis.” However, studies suggest the opposite is the case. Men who have more partners report higher levels of sexual aggression compared to men with fewer partners. Furthermore, men who predict that their future earnings will be high also report greater levels of sexual aggression relative to men who predict that their future earnings will be low.”

“Evolutionary Mismatch, Partisan Politics, and Climate Change: A Tragedy in Three Acts” By Helen Camakaris [This View of Life]

“Evolutionary Mismatch, Partisan Politics, and Climate Change: A Tragedy in Three Acts

By Helen Camakaris
Helen gained her Ph.D. in 1975 and worked as a Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Melbourne, Australia. She studied the regulation of gene expression in bacteria and archaebacteria, which aligned with her interest in evolution. She retired in 2008 to pursue her interest in the nexus between evolutionary psychology, sustainability, and climate change, and has been studying and publishing articles in this area for the past ten years. Her articles have appeared in Meanjin Quarterly, The Conversation, Cosmos Magazine, New Internationalist, and Kosmos Magazine, and can be found online under Notes on her Facebook Page.
Twitter: @helenmcama
Facebook Page: ‘The Climate Conundrum, with Helen Camakaris’ at https://www.facebook.com/h.camakaris/

This View of Life



During the Pleistocene, our brains were upgraded by changes that enabled our ancestors to leave more descendants, largely as a result of expansion in the cerebral neo-cortex. Evolution is glacially slow and our rise is recent, so our psychology suffers from evolutionary ‘mismatch,’5 whereby the shadows of the past still influence our behavior.6


Like biological evolution, cultural evolution builds upon whatever has preceded it and is also subject to a form of ‘natural selection,’8 whereby some ‘memes’ or ideas persist and spread.9 Cultural evolution and natural selection acted together as a ratchet, culminating in vastly increased intelligence and creativity.5

Altruism too, was a product of natural selection involving language and social intelligence, its selection enhanced by multilevel selection, with competition at the level of groups or tribes.10 Altruism, however, is generally circumscribed by an obsession with ‘fairness’ and discrimination between ‘them’ and ‘us’, presenting problems when we must plan for the distant future, or cooperate beyond the local tribe.

So although we may now be extraordinarily intelligent, we are not always rational, simply as a result of our evolutionary journey.11 Our decision-making often involves emotional reasoning, using ‘gut instinct’, which we then justify by rational thought.12 Our cognition is also subject to a myriad of biases affecting our judgment.13 For example, we tend to discount the future, follow our in-group, and collect evidence to justify our pre-existing opinions. We are further limited by our poor comprehension of large numbers and exponential growth, as became obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, even intelligence has been a double-edged sword, promoting the transition from hunter-gatherer to improviser, and the ‘progress’ that followed. Technological advances like agriculture around 10,000 years ago made surpluses possible; people began to live in towns and cities, to specialize, trade with other groups, and have larger families. Whilst this satisfied the evolutionary imperative of increasing population, it heralded poorer diets, more disease, and greater social stratification.”

“Can the brain resist the group opinion?” [Medical Xpress]

“Can the brain resist the group opinion?

by National Research University Higher School of Economics


Scientists at HSE University have learned that disagreeing with the opinion of other people leaves a ‘trace’ in brain activity, which allows the brain to later adjust its opinion in favor of the majority-held point of view. The article was published in Scientific Reports.

We often change our beliefs under the influence of others. This social behavior is called conformity and explains various components of our behavior, from voting at elections to fashion trends among teenagers.

Brain research has recently been well informed about short-term effects of social influence on decision making. If our choice coincides with the point of view of the people who are important to us, this decision is reinforced in the brain’s pleasure centers involved in the larger dopaminergic system responsible for learning, motor activity and many other functions. Conversely, in instances of disagreement with others, the brain signals that a ‘mistake’ has been made and triggers conformity.


Thus, the opinions of others not only influence our behavior, but also cause long-term changes in the way our brains work. Apparently, the brain not only quickly adjusts to the opinions of others, but also begins to perceive information through the eyes of the majority in order to avoid social conflicts in the future.

“Our study shows the dramatic influence of others’s opinion on how we perceive information,” says HSE University Professor Vasily Klucharev, one of the authors of the study. “We live in social groups and automatically adjust our opinions to that of the majority, and the opinion of our peers can change the way our brain processes information for a relatively long time.”

“It was very interesting to use modern methods of neuro-mapping and to see traces of past conflicts with the opinion of the group in the brain’s activity,” adds Aleksei Gorin, a Ph.D. student at HSE University. “The brain absorbs the opinion of others like a sponge and adjusts its functions to the opinion of its social group.”


MEG signatures of long-term effects of agreement and disagreement with the majority

A. Gorin, V. Klucharev, A. Ossadtchi, I. Zubarev, V. Moiseeva & A. Shestakova

Scientific Reports volume 11, Article number: 3297 (2021)

Published: 08 February 2021



People often change their beliefs by succumbing to an opinion of others. Such changes are often referred to as effects of social influence. While some previous studies have focused on the reinforcement learning mechanisms of social influence or on its internalization, others have reported evidence of changes in sensory processing evoked by social influence of peer groups. In this study, we used magnetoencephalographic (MEG) source imaging to further investigate the long-term effects of agreement and disagreement with the peer group. The study was composed of two sessions. During the first session, participants rated the trustworthiness of faces and subsequently learned group rating of each face. In the first session, a neural marker of an immediate mismatch between individual and group opinions was found in the posterior cingulate cortex, an area involved in conflict-monitoring and reinforcement learning. To identify the neural correlates of the long-lasting effect of the group opinion, we analysed MEG activity while participants rated faces during the second session. We found MEG traces of past disagreement or agreement with the peers at the parietal cortices 230 ms after the face onset. The neural activity of the superior parietal lobule, intraparietal sulcus, and precuneus was significantly stronger when the participant’s rating had previously differed from the ratings of the peers. The early MEG correlates of disagreement with the majority were followed by activity in the orbitofrontal cortex 320 ms after the face onset. Altogether, the results reveal the temporal dynamics of the neural mechanism of long-term effects of disagreement with the peer group: early signatures of modified face processing were followed by later markers of long-term social influence on the valuation process at the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.”

“Learning from Evolution about Free Speech” By David Sloan Wilson [This View Of Life]

“Learning from Evolution about Free Speech

By David Sloan Wilson

January 11, 2021



The world is in turmoil over the incendiary language of a US president, the invasion of the US Capitol Building incited by his speech, and the silencing of the president by giant tech firms. Commentators fall back on the US Constitution, especially the First Amendment, to make sense of it all—as if the wisdom of the founders could somehow anticipate the Internet Age. To truly make sense of it all, we need to go back—way back—to the genetic evolution of our species at the scale of small groups.  

Humans are masters of social regulation at the scale of small groups. Alexis d’Toqueville, the acute observer of American democracy in the 1830’s, got it right when he wrote that “the village or township is the only association which is so perfectly natural that wherever a number of men are collected it seems to constitute itself.”

Toqueville’s use of the word “natural” was more apropos than he could have known, writing decades before Darwin’s theory of evolution. Today we know that our ability to cooperate in small groups is a product of genetic evolution. Even though we share 99% of our genes with chimpanzees, there is a night-and-day difference in our cooperativeness. According to Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham in his book The Goodness Paradox (1), naked aggression is over 100 times more frequent in a chimpanzee community than a small-scale human community. Even cooperation in chimpanzees typically takes the form of small alliances competing against other alliances within a given community. The main form of community-wide cooperation is aggression toward other communities.


Likewise, small-scale human societies are not just communitarian but also stubbornly individualistic. Since the great danger is to be pushed around, all members assert their right as a moral equal so that decision-making becomes a collective enterprise. These seemingly contradictory strands, compulsory and voluntary, collective and individualistic, are woven together to form a strong braid.


So much for the big evolutionary picture that was beyond Tocqueville’s imagination. How does it bear upon the urgent questions of our day, such as the incendiary speech of a US president and the decision of major tech companies to deny him a forum? Let’s shrink these problems down to see what they look like at the scale of a small group. As we have seen, there is a necessity for everyone to have a say in matters of collective importance. This is the necessity that is recognized by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. There is also the necessity to suppress bullying and other behaviors that can disrupt the common good. It all depends on the context. In small and well-regulated human groups, it is relatively easy to recognize the context and apply the appropriate rules.

Not only was this true for small groups in the distant past and the small-scale societies of today, but examples abound in modern WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, and Democratic) societies (6). Consider the norms of scholarship and science, where adhering to the facts of the matter is a cardinal virtue. The formation and testing of alternative hypotheses is a form of unrestricted free speech, failure to cite or misrepresenting relevant material is rigorously policed, and willfully falsifying data results in immediate exclusion. These norms are as strong as those of the strongest religions. Similar examples could be cited for other modern contexts where truth-telling is important, such as responsible journalism and judicial procedures. When witnesses at a trial swear to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth…” they legally bind themselves to that commitment.


The second major factor is that evolutionary theory, which was beyond the imagination of Tocqueville, is still a new perspective in discussions of social theory, economics and law. The title of my book This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution, signifies that the conceptual unification that has taken place in the biological sciences (and of course continues), is only now taking place in the human-related sciences. In my long career, I have observed that the “evolutionizing” of human-related disciplines such as psychology, anthropology, religion, economics, business, and law takes place at different rates based on idiosyncratic factors.

Economics and business are late bloomers and law even more so. One of the few legal scholars who thinks about free speech and the Internet from an evolutionary perspective is Julie Seaman, Associate Professor at Emory University’s School of Law. An open-access article that we coauthored titled #FreeSpeech makes a start at evolutionizing the concept of free speech, in general, and in the Internet Age. This conversation needs to expand and be put into action rapidly, to keep pace with the rate of cultural evolution in the Internet Age. Otherwise, only social dysfunction can result.”



Arizona State Law Journal, Vol. 48, No. 4, 2017

Emory Legal Studies Research Paper No. 17-439

30 Pages

Posted: 14 Apr 2017


Julie Seaman
Emory University School of Law

David Wilson
Binghamton University

Date Written: April 12, 2017


It has become commonplace to note that courts have struggled with the challenge of applying analog legal concepts to digital spaces, and nowhere is this truer than in the context of the First Amendment. Here, we focus on a very specific aspect of the Internet and social media revolution – the impact on human behavior of this distinct medium of communication – to consider whether the online context of a communication can be expected to affect the behavior either of the speaker or the audience in ways that might be relevant to First Amendment theory and doctrine.

With the emergence of the field of cyberpsychology over the past decade, the complex universe of the online social brain has begun to reveal itself. While much of this space is thus far only roughly mapped and much else is yet to be discovered, there are a number of preliminary findings that have implications for thinking about freedom of speech on the Internet. The nature and effects of disinhibition online, the effect of online social communication on memory and belief about facts and events in the physical world, and the drivers of antisocial behaviors such as flaming, shaming, and trolling – to name just a few – are all fertile ground for analysis and further research as they relate to First Amendment theory, doctrine, and values.

This initial foray into the treacherous terrain at the crossroads of the First Amendment, social media, and human behavior also draws on the evolutionary science of group dynamics and cooperation, which has much to say about how individuals behave within groups, how groups behave with respect to other groups, and the features that can make some groups successful, constructive, egalitarian, and prosocial while others are destructive, hierarchical, violent, and antisocial. It explores the implications of these ideas as they relate to groups that operate in cyberspace.

Keywords: First Amendment, Cyberspeech, Cyberpsychology, Internet Speech”

Joseph Henrich and Michael Muthukrishna – “The Origins and Psychology of Human Cooperation”. Annual Review of Psychology, 2021

“The Origins and Psychology of Human Cooperation

Annual Review of Psychology

Vol. 72:207-240 (Volume publication date January 2021)

First published as a Review in Advance on October 2, 2020


Joseph Henrich (1) and Michael Muthukrishna (2)

(1) Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA; email: henrich@fas.harvard.edu

(2) Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science, London School of Economics and Political Science, London WC2A 2AE, United Kingdom; email: m.muthukrishna@lse.ac.uk




Humans are an ultrasocial species. This sociality, however, cannot be fully explained by the canonical approaches found in evolutionary biology, psychology, or economics. Understanding our unique social psychology requires accounting not only for the breadth and intensity of human cooperation but also for the variation found across societies, over history, and among behavioral domains. Here, we introduce an expanded evolutionary approach that considers how genetic and cultural evolution, and their interaction, may have shaped both the reliably developing features of our minds and the well-documented differences in cultural psychologies around the globe. We review the major evolutionary mechanisms that have been proposed to explain human cooperation, including kinship, reciprocity, reputation, signaling, and punishment; we discuss key culture–gene coevolutionary hypotheses, such as those surrounding self-domestication and norm psychology; and we consider the role of religions and marriage systems. Empirically, we synthesize experimental and observational evidence from studies of children and adults from diverse societies with research among nonhuman primates.

cooperation, ultrasociality, evolutionary psychology, cultural evolution, culture-gene coevolution, social behavior”

“This is your brain on political arguments” By Derek Beres [Big Think]

“This is your brain on political arguments

Debating is cognitively taxing but also important for the health of a democracy—provided it’s face-to-face.


18 January, 2021


– New research at Yale identifies the brain regions that are affected when you’re in disagreeable conversations.

– Talking with someone you agree with harmonizes brain regions and is less energetically taxing.

– The research involves face-to-face dialogues, not conversations on social media.

You probably know the feeling: a rush of heat that assaults your entire body; your fingertips and forehead suffering fiery consequences of conflict; restrictions around your chest and throat; quickened breath, as if your lungs can no longer draw in the required oxygen; ears on alert, biding time for a break in your opponent’s rhetoric to let loose the torrent of thoughts crowding your brain.

Of course, not everyone is an opponent. You likely know the opposite as well: the cool excitement of agreeableness, when the words in your head are returned to you from another being as in a mirror; unconscious head shaking as your sense of righteousness is validated; the warm exuberance of easy dialogue with a fellow tribe member.

In a digital age in which physical contact seems foreign and long past, we might have forgotten what it’s like to agree—or debate—with someone in person. Pandemics are temporary, while societies are—well, nothing is forever, but we’ve outlived diseases before. According to new research from Yale University, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, disagreeing with someone takes up a lot of brain real estate, while finding a compatriot is a much less cognitively taxing endeavor.


Senior author Joy Hirsch notes that our brain is essentially a social processing network. The evolutionary success of humans is thanks to our ability to coordinate. Dissonance is exhausting. Overall, she says, “it just takes a lot more brain real estate to disagree than to agree,” comparing arguments to a symphony orchestra playing different music.

As the team notes, language, visual, and social systems are all dynamically intertwined inside of our brain. For most of history, yelling at one another in comment sections was impossible. Arguments had to occur the old-fashioned way: while staring at the source of your discontent.


Leading us to an interesting question: do the same brain regions fire when you’re screaming with your fingers on your Facebook feed? Given the lack of visual feedback from the person on the other side of the argument, likely not—as it is unlikely that many people would argue in the same manner when face-to-face with a person on the other side of a debate. We are generally more civil in real life than on a screen.”


“Frontiers in Human Neuroscience

13 January 2021


Interpersonal Agreement and Disagreement During Face-to-Face Dialogue: An fNIRS Investigation

Joy Hirsch 1,2,3,4,5*, Mark Tiede 1,4, Xian Zhang 1, J. Adam Noah 1, Alexandre Salama-Manteau 1 and Maurice Biriotti 6

1 Brain Function Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, United States
2 Department of Neuroscience, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, United States
3 Department of Comparative Medicine, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, United States
4 Haskins Laboratories, New Haven, CT, United States
5 Department of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering, University College London, London, United Kingdom
6 Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University College London, London, United Kingdom

Although the neural systems that underlie spoken language are well-known, how they adapt to evolving social cues during natural conversations remains an unanswered question. In this work we investigate the neural correlates of face-to-face conversations between two individuals using functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) and acoustical analyses of concurrent audio recordings. Nineteen pairs of healthy adults engaged in live discussions on two controversial topics where their opinions were either in agreement or disagreement. Participants were matched according to their a priori opinions on these topics as assessed by questionnaire. Acoustic measures of the recorded speech including the fundamental frequency range, median fundamental frequency, syllable rate, and acoustic energy were elevated during disagreement relative to agreement. Consistent with both the a priori opinion ratings and the acoustic findings, neural activity associated with long-range functional networks, rather than the canonical language areas, was also differentiated by the two conditions. Specifically, the frontoparietal system including bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, left supramarginal gyrus, angular gyrus, and superior temporal gyrus showed increased activity while talking during disagreement. In contrast, talking during agreement was characterized by increased activity in a social and attention network including right supramarginal gyrus, bilateral frontal eye-fields, and left frontopolar regions. Further, these social and visual attention networks were more synchronous across brains during agreement than disagreement. Rather than localized modulation of the canonical language system, these findings are most consistent with a model of distributed and adaptive language-related processes including cross-brain neural coupling that serves dynamic verbal exchanges.”

“Como a ‘mente ocidental’ foi moldada pela Igreja Católica medieval” – Joseph Henrich [BBC Future]

“Como a ‘mente ocidental’ foi moldada pela Igreja Católica medieval

Joseph Henrich*

* Joseph Henrich é professor de Biologia Evolutiva Humana na Universidade de Harvard e autor de The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous (“As pessoas mais ‘Weird’ do Mundo: Como o Ocidente se Tornou Psicologicamente Pecial e Particularmente Próspera”, em tradução livre).

BBC Future



Em primeiro lugar, apesar de entrar nos livros didáticos como as “pessoas” pensam, quase todos os estudos que examinaram esse efeito foram conduzidos entre estudantes americanos. No entanto, os comentaristas sociais, voltando pelo menos a Alexis De Tocqueville, notaram que os americanos são particularmente individualistas e independentes.


Isso destaca o fato de que chamar alguém de “conformista” é um elogio em muitos lugares, mas não nos Estados Unidos.

Conformidade, entretanto, não é um caso idiossincrático de diferença cultural, mas representa a ponta de um iceberg psicológico.

O banco de dados que domina nossa compreensão da psicologia humana deriva principalmente — 95% dela, na verdade — de populações que são “Ocidentais, Educadas, Industrializadas, Ricas e Democráticas (esse grupo de pessoas é conhecido pela sigla em inglês “Weird”, que significa “esquisito” em português).

Ao contrário de grande parte do mundo hoje — e da maioria das pessoas que já viveram —, essa categoria de pessoas é altamente individualista, obcecada por si mesma, cheia de culpa e analítica em seu estilo de pensamento.

Os chamados “Weird” se concentram em si mesmos — seus atributos, realizações e aspirações. Ao raciocinar, as pessoas tendem a procurar categorias abstratas com as quais organizar o mundo, simplificam fenômenos complexos quebrando-os em elementos discretos e atribuindo propriedades — seja imaginando tipos de partículas, patógenos ou personalidades.

Apesar de sua aparente auto-obsessão, elas tendem a seguir regras imparciais e podem ser bastante confiáveis, justas e cooperativas com estranhos.

Emocionalmente, as pessoas da categoria “Weird” são relativamente desavergonhadas, menos constrangidas quando se deparam com outros, mas frequentemente atormentadas pela culpa por não cumprirem seus próprios padrões autoimpostos.


Até recentemente, a maioria das sociedades foi sustentada por instituições baseadas intensivamente em parentescos, construídas em torno de grandes famílias estendidas: clãs, casamento de primos, poligamia e muitas outras normas de parentesco que regulam e restringem a vida social. Essas instituições persistem em muitas partes do mundo hoje, especialmente nas áreas rurais.


Começando no final da Antiguidade, o ramo do cristianismo que evoluiu para a Igreja Católica Romana começou a promulgar gradualmente um conjunto de proibições e prescrições relacionadas ao casamento e à família. A Igreja, por exemplo, proibiu o casamento entre primos, casamento arranjado e casamento polígamo.

Ao contrário de outras denominações cristãs, a Igreja Católica expandiu lentamente o círculo de relacionamentos “incestuosos” para primos no século 11.

Apesar de frequentemente enfrentar forte resistência, esse empreendimento dissolveu lentamente as complexas instituições baseadas em parentesco da Europa tribal, deixando famílias nucleares independentes como um ideal cultural e um padrão comum.


A maioria de nós pode achar que somos pensadores racionais e independentes. Mas a forma como pensamos, sentimos e raciocinamos — incluindo nossas inclinações para a conformidade e preferências por explicações analíticas — foi moldada por eventos históricos, heranças culturais e tabus de incesto que remontam a séculos ou mesmo milênios.

Compreender como a história moldou nossas mentes faz parte de explorar e abraçar nossa diversidade.”

“Rick Shenkman – Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics” [ The Dissenter]

“#417 Rick Shenkman – Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics

14 de jan. de 2021

The Dissenter


Rick Shenkman is the founder of George Washington University’s History News Network, the website that features leading historians’ perspectives on current events. He is a New York Times best-selling author of seven history books. His latest book is Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics. Mr. Shenkman is an Emmy award-winning investigative reporter and the former managing editor of KIRO-TV, the CBS affiliate in Seattle. In 1997 he was the host, writer and producer of a prime-time series for The Learning Channel inspired by his books on myths. In 2008 he was elected a Fellow of the Society of American Historians. He gives lectures at colleges around the country on several topics, including American myths and presidential politics.

In this episode, we talk about Political Animals. We go through topics like evolutionary mismatch; how good we really are at reading politicians, and if it is easy for them to lie to us; self-deception in politics; the role the media play in politics; the problem with presenting information in the form of stories; empathizing with strangers in modern large-scale societies; relying on gut feelings; and solutions to current political problems.

Time Links:
00:48 Political evolutionary mismatch
07:32 Can people know politicians well enough?
20:40 Is it easy for politicians to sell us lies?
25:26 Self-deception
30:12 The media, and presenting information in the form of stories
38:44 Can we empathize with people that are not part of our group?
44:07 Should we rely on our gut feelings?
53:11 Solutions to these problems
1:04:27 Follow Rick’s work!”

“Why a Universal Society Is Unattainable” By Mark W. Moffett [Nautilus]

“Why a Universal Society Is Unattainable

Our minds evolved in an Us-vs-Them universe of our own making.

JANUARY 13, 2021


Mark W. Moffett, Ph.D., is the author of The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, & Fall, from which this essay is adapted. He has a Lowell Thomas medal from the Explorers Club for his work in over 100 countries on the questions about the structure of rainforests, social organization in ants, and the stability of societies across different species.



In the 2016 vote, the majority of British people stubbornly chose for their country to be on its own and not part of a more encompassing group of societies. The vote appeared to run against the broader trend of European nations loosening their boundaries in acknowledgement of an identity that outweighs, or erases, the importance of the societies themselves. With the number of societies in general declining century after century,1 we might take seriously the assertion that the internationalization of culture (think Star Wars, tequila, Mercedes-Benz) and connections (with Twitter linking people from Aa, Estonia, to Zu, Afghanistan) are a harbinger of a Berlin Wall-type border collapse, making, as the British sociologist Morris Ginsberg once put it, “The unification of mankind … one of the clearest trends in human history.”2

Whatever the ultimate relationship of Great Britain and Europe may be, the current breakup underscores how deeply national identity runs through human psychology. Both psychological literature and anthropological research on societies ranging from the ethnolinguistic groups of hunter-gatherers to tribes, chiefdoms, and states (less formally, “nations”),3 reveal that a universal society is unattainable. Populations across the globe today may devour Starbucks, KFC, and Coca-Cola. They may enjoy Italian opera, French couture, and Persian carpets. But no matter how many exotic influences each absorbs or what foreign connections they make, nations don’t just fade away. They retain their citizens’ fierce devotion.4 Societies have always traded, gifted, or taken what they want from the outer world to claim as their own, and grown all the stronger for doing so. While the erasure of borders may be laudable, nothing we know about the workings of the human mind suggests it is a realistic vision.


A failure of alliances to supersede people’s affiliation to their society holds true universally. Intergovernmental organizations like the European Union and the United Nations don’t earn our primary emotional commitment because they lack ingredients that make them real for the members. The EU may be the most ambitious attempt at societal integration conceived, yet few members see the EU as an entity worthy of their loyalty the way they do their countries, and for several reasons.


To top all that off, the EU offers no grand foundation story, no venerable symbols or traditions, and there’s little sense anyone would fight and die for Europe as they might for their nation.7


Analysis of the 2016 Brexit vote shows that those who most strongly think of themselves as English went against staying with the EU. Voters saw what was intended foremost to be an economic and peacekeeping tool as a threat to their identity.9 The fact is the consequences of Brexit will be mostly commercial, setting into action a myriad of obstacles to trade.10


One possible means of attaining that unity might be to shift people’s perception of who’s an outsider. It was a point Ronald Reagan liked to make. “I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world,” he remarked in an address to the UN. Indeed, science-fiction tales like The War of the Worlds depict humankind acting as one against a common enemy.

Yet even then our societies would endure the space aliens. The arrival of Martians wouldn’t make nations irrelevant any more than Europeans arriving in Australia caused the Aborigines to drop what had been several hundred clear-cut tribal groups (actually, many Aborigines first guessed that the Europeans were otherworldly, i.e., ghosts16). That would be so regardless of how much the aliens shattered the beliefs people held about their own societies, whose beloved differences would look trivial by comparison to those with the Little Green Men. Cosmopolitanism, the conviction that the diverse people of our planet will come to feel a primary connection to the human race (the term means “citizen of the cosmos”),17 is a pipe dream.


The human reliance on particular traits, or “markers,” to identify with our societies, ethnicities, and other groups may trace back far into the human past, but what comes naturally isn’t always desirable. Fortunately, our intelligence gives us some prospect of breaking free from our biology and history. When changes concern the matter of how we mark off our identities, though, any alteration would be extremely arduous and require more than education. While casting off ethnic and societal markers may sound good at first blush, the move would undoubtedly mean the loss of much of what humans cherish. Our markers are two-edged swords, causing us to discount those who differ from us, yet at the same time imparting an esprit de corps with complete strangers who fit our expectations, as when we take delight in conversing with a fellow American when traveling overseas.

To abandon our differences would strike against timeless yearnings. People care about their memberships and few would want to give them up. Nor could we simply dispose of them. Research in psychology shows that our responses to the most entrenched of our social groups, and the characteristics that define them, take place faster than the blink of an eye, and are involuntary.18 No doubt if a mass hypnotist caused us to forget our current differences, we would scramble to discover or invent new differences to hold dear.


The mind evolved in an Us-vs-Them universe of our own making. The societies coming out of this psychological firmament have always been points of reference that give people a secure sense of meaning and validation.


Social marginalization has been a motivator stronger than religious fanaticism, explaining why many terrorists originally took to extremism only after being excluded from the cultural mainstream. For the socially dispossessed, radical views fill a void.21 Organized crime groups likewise commandeer some of the properties that give a society its vitality by providing social pariahs with common goals and a sense of pride and belonging.


Being in a society (indeed, in multiple societies) is a more indispensable and ancient quality of our species than faith or matrimony, having been the way of things from before we were human.”

“Origins of Human Cooperation” | Speaker: Professor Michael Tomasello [LSE]

“London School of Economics and Political Science

Origins of Human Cooperation

Public Lectures and Events

Origins of Human Cooperation

19 Nov 2020 | 1 Hour 4 Minutes


Speaker: Professor Michael Tomasello

Published on: 19 Nov 2020

Humans are biologically adapted for cultural life in ways that other primates are not. Humans have unique motivations and cognitive skills for sharing emotions, experience and actions, whereas our nearest primate relatives do not.

Michael Tomasello, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, is one of the world’s leading researchers on social learning, communication and language in human children and great apes.

Sandra Jovchelovitch is a social and clinical psychologist by training and her research focuses on human development under contextual adversity, the social psychology of public spheres, community development and the socio-cultural context of knowledge. Sandra is a Professor of Social Psychology in the Department of Psychologyical and Behavioural Science.”

Agustín Fuentes — Why We Believe: Evolution and the Human Way of Being [Science salon/Skeptic]


Agustín Fuentes — Why We Believe: Evolution and the Human Way of Being

Agustín Fuentes — Why We Believe: Evolution and the Human Way of Being

Why are so many humans religious? Why do we daydream, imagine, and hope? Philosophers, theologians, social scientists, and historians have offered explanations for centuries, but their accounts often ignore or even avoid human evolution. Evolutionary scientists answer with proposals for why ritual, religion, and faith make sense as adaptations to past challenges or as by-products of our hyper-complex cognitive capacities. But what if the focus on religion is too narrow? Renowned anthropologist Agustín Fuentes argues that the capacity to be religious is actually a small part of a larger and deeper human capacity to believe. Why believe in religion, economies, love? Fuentes employs evolutionary, neurobiological, and anthropological evidence to argue that belief — the ability to commit passionately and wholeheartedly to an idea — is central to the human way of being in the world.

The premise of the book is that believing is our ability to draw on our range of cognitive and social resources, our histories and experiences, and combine them with our imagination. It is the power to think beyond what is here and now in order to see and feel and know something — an idea, a vision, a necessity, a possibility, a truth — that is not immediately present to the senses, and then to invest, wholly and authentically, in that “something” so that it becomes one’s reality. The point is that beliefs and belief systems permeate human neurobiologies, bodies, and ecologies, and structure and shape our daily lives, our societies, and the world around us. We are human, therefore we believe, and this book tells us how we came to be that way.

Shermer and Fuentes also discuss:

– what it means to “believe” something (belief in evolution or the Big Bang is different from belief in progressive taxes or affirmative action),
– evolution and how beliefs are formed…and why,
– evolution of awe, wonder, aesthetic sense, beauty, art, music, dance, etc. (adaptation or exaptation/spandrel?),
– evolution of spirituality, religion, belief in immortality,
– Were Neanderthals human in the “belief” sense?
– human niche and the evolution of symbolism/language,
– evolution of theory of mind,
– how to infer symbolic meaning from archaeological artifacts,
– components of belief: augmented cognition and neurobiology, intentionality, imagination, innovation, compassion and intensive reliance on others, meaning-making,
– dog domestication and human self-domestication,
– Göbekli Tepe and the underestimation of ancient peoples’ cognitive capacities,
– the development of property, accumulation of goods, inequality, and social hierarchy,
gender role specialization,
– monogamy and polyamory, gender and sex, and continuum vs. binary thinking,
– violence and warfare,
– political and economic systems of belief, and
– love as belief.

Agustín Fuentes is a Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University. He is an active public scientist, a well-known blogger, lecturer, tweeter, and an explorer for National Geographic. Fuentes received the Inaugural Communication & Outreach Award from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, the President’s Award from the American Anthropological Association, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Video: the science of morality – Dr. Liane Young [John Templeton Foundation]

“Video: the science of morality

Video: The Science of Morality

Right and wrong, good and evil — when viewing the world, our moral judgments often feel clear-cut and consistent. Research shows, however, that we’re willing to be more forgiving and flexible with those who are socially close to us, while applying sterner judgments to those who are far away. Why do we make these exceptions? And how can we broaden our sense of morality to be more fair to people outside of our tribes? Learn more about the science of morality in this interview with Dr. Liane Young, professor of psychology at Boston College. Young is the project co-leader with Fiery Cushman of the John Templeton Foundation-supported project on “Reasoning in moral thought and action,” which examines when, how, and why reason plays a role in morality, alongside other emotional and situational influences on our moral judgments.

This is the third video in our series of interviews produced by the independent media company Freethink. Watch the first episode here, which features Dr. Uri Maoz discussing the neuroscience of free will and its implications for human freedom. Then watch the second episode and explore the latest research in the science of forgiveness with Dr. Amrisha Vaish, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and leader of a project studying the development of forgiveness supported by the John Templeton Foundation.”

“É um disparate as pessoas convencerem-se de que a inteligência vem do cérebro” – António Damásio [Diário de Notícias]

“É um disparate as pessoas convencerem-se de que a inteligência vem do cérebro”

Vinte e seis anos após O Erro de Descartes, António Damásio tem um novo livro, em que nega a frase do evangelho “no início foi o verbo”. Sobre a pandemia, alerta: “O grande problema da velocidade a que se pode criar uma vacina é ter a garantia de que não se transformará num problema ainda maior.”



Sentir & Saber – A Caminho da Consciência
António Damásio
Editora Temas e Debates
292 páginas


“Aliás, é mais fácil escrever muito do que pouco, porque o trabalho de redução é extremamente difícil”, acrescenta, rematando com a experiência de um colega que dizia:”Não tenho tempo para escrever tão curto.”


Se lhe perguntar qual é o legado de um trabalho de décadas, este livro é a resposta?

Existem vários aspetos no meu trabalho: o científico e o de pensamento, portanto dizer que este livro é o legado seria um exagero. É, muito especificamente, uma maneira de tratar assuntos que me apaixonam – problemas científicos e filosóficos – e uma tentativa de os expor sob uma forma mais clara. Por boa sorte, enquanto fui construindo o livro também tive a oportunidade de descobrir que algumas das soluções que tenho apresentado para certos problemas são, de facto, soluções novas e sob certos aspetos – digo eu e vários dos meus colegas – muito convincentes. Então, posso dizer que é ao mesmo tempo uma tentativa de pôr a claro e de uma forma mais direta temas importantes do meu trabalho e deixar claro que existem questões em bom caminho de serem resolvidas. Muito especificamente, no que respeita à consciência e aos sentimentos.


Aliás, com o tremendo sucesso do que hoje se chama a neurociência, a preocupação dominante tem sido o cérebro, propriamente dito. Questiono se o cérebro é capaz de resolver todos os problemas que existem em torno do que é a mente humana. Para perceber o que é a mente, necessita-se de entender o que se passa com o cérebro, mas, muito antes disso, compreender o que se passa com o corpo, vivo e inteligente. Diria que esta é a resposta completa à pergunta.


Pode parecer paradoxal, porque quando se pensa na inteligência artificial o que vem à ideia é que são criaturas absolutamente invulneráveis, feitas de aço e de plástico em vez da nossa pobre carne humana. À primeira vista pode parecer uma asneira introduzir vulnerabilidade numa coisa que é robusta, no entanto, só a introduzindo teremos a possibilidade de fazer qualquer coisa de mais rico em matéria das reações que esse “organismo” poderá tomar.


O que quero é mostrar, tanto quanto for possível, que as respostas que hoje estamos a dar podem ser diferentes mas o mesmo não se passa com as perguntas. Desde que temos mentes conscientes – uma mente consciente é a que tem sentimentos e se estes não existirem, provavelmente, não haveria consciência -, é importante termos a ideia de como o corpo está a funcionar e essa é a porta de entrada para as grandes perguntas humanas, aquelas que são as de sempre e desde que uma pessoa se lembra de que a vida tinha uma problemática extremamente complexa. Mas só desde que existem sistemas nervosos é que foi possível transformar essa problemática em consciente. É um quase paradoxo que, ao pensarmos no tempo da vida humana no planeta, apenas no último quarto desses quatro biliões de anos se deu a entrada dentro do sistema nervoso e que só nos últimos 200 milhões de anos é que, quando muito, há qualquer coisa que venha a parecer-se com aquilo que é o nosso sistema nervoso. A conclusão é que grande parte do tempo dos seres vivos sobre o nosso planeta tem sido vivida de uma forma inconsciente.

O que quer dizer?

Que havia vida complexa e evolução, mas ninguém sabia que existia. É espantoso pensar que isto só começou a ser conhecido no momento em que começámos a ter consciência do que estava a acontecer no nosso corpo e com a nossa vida. Depois, à medida que os sistemas nervosos evoluíram, conseguiu-se ter um conhecimento através da observação e das ciências do que é a vida em seres vivos como nós. É uma história muito complexa, mas uma vez que chegámos à idade da consciência e da razão, foi possível fazer as perguntas e as pessoas puderam olhar umas para as outras, olhar para a história delas próprias, e então fazer essas interrogações e questionar o sentido da existência.

Alerta para o facto de uma teoria que ignore o sistema nervoso para justificar a mente e a consciência estar condenada ao fracasso, mas, diz, uma teoria que dependa exclusivamente do sistema nervoso está também condenada a falhar. Enquanto cientista, como é viver num equilíbrio investigatório?

Sem dúvida que essa é uma das ideias principais deste livro – como já era no anterior,
A Estranha Ordem das Coisas -, a de que a vida começa antes do cérebro. Neste momento é muito comum que estejamos constantemente a ser bombardeados com novos factos e ideias sobre o cérebro, daí que as pessoas acabem por se convencer de que aquilo que é a sua inteligência vem do cérebro. Isso é um disparate e é completamente errado dizer que a inteligência vem do cérebro. A nossa inteligência é complementada pelo cérebro! Porque a nossa inteligência começou há biliões de anos com a própria vida e tem vindo a desenvolver-se com processos que antecedem o aparecimento dos sistemas nervosos. Em inglês, tenho no livro uma frase que é assim: “Brains are an after thought of nature”, traduzindo: “Os cérebros são o último pensamento da natureza.” O que quer dizer que a natureza pode funcionar perfeitamente sem cérebros, contudo o que os cérebros lhe trouxeram foi um melhor funcionamento. Portanto, a razão por que temos cérebros – e mente e consciência e raciocínio – é porque nos ajuda a viver melhor. Ajuda a vida e permite a vida com a grande complexidade como é a dos seres humanos. Não esquecer que, antes de existir essa grande complexidade, já havia vida, inteligência e funcionamento.

Daí que dê como título ao primeiro capítulo “No início não foi o verbo”, contrariando a abertura do Evangelho de João?

Claro, só podia ser assim. A frase clássica é bíblica e tem que ver com a maneira como os seres humanos de há alguns milhares de anos descrevem a sua própria situação. Evidentemente, eles confrontavam-se com a sua realidade e a palavra, como forma de descrever fenómenos diversos, era o modo principal. Hoje, sabemos que temos milhões de anos de evolução, que começaram e mantiveram-se com a inteligência – mas não havia nem cérebro, nem mente, nem capacidade verbal; portanto, é muito importante afirmar que no início não foi o verbo. Trata-se de uma leitura perfeitamente aceitável, mas devemos entendê-la como uma leitura parcial, que é a sua realidade.


Choca o leitor, e vamos à página 3, quando compara o ser humano aos seres unicelulares ; que nos diferenciamos por ter uma inteligência baseada no raciocínio e na criatividade mas somos iguais no aspeto de uma competência não explícita como acontece com as bactérias. Somos assim tão iguais?

Somos iguais e não somos. Nessa característica somos, mas depois existem todas as outras que vieram juntar-se a essa e que nos dão uma capacidade extraordinária. Não podemos fazer a comparação entre o ser humano e uma bactéria, pois um tem inteligência, capacidade de criação e uma autonomia completamente diferentes, mas ao mesmo tempo devemos reconhecer que a humilde bactéria tem vida, tem de a regular e confronta-se com o problema de se alimentar, de se defender do excesso de frio ou de calor… Uma vez que há vida, existe uma complexidade e uma novidade extraordinárias e é isso que se encontra na bactéria e em nós. Não é que os seres humanos devam ficar ofendidos por serem comparados a uma bactéria, é um pouco ao contrário, pois devemos reconhecer que aquilo que a bactéria tem é um aspeto fundamental para o que nós somos e deve ser respeitada se não quisermos que dê cabo de nós. Seria bom que pudéssemos fazer isso com os vírus, o que não é neste momento de todo possível como se vê com a pandemia com que nos confrontamos.”

“Is the Earth an organism?” – By W. Ford Doolittle [Aeon]

“Is the Earth an organism?

The Gaia hypothesis states that our biosphere is evolving. Once sceptical, some prominent biologists are beginning to agree

W Ford Doolittle
is professor in biochemistry and molecular biology at Dalhousie University in Canada.


Many of us, scientists included, harbour contradictory intuitions about Mother Nature. We can see that ecosystems often have an inherent ability to self-stabilise, and know that we wouldn’t be here if the planet hadn’t maintained conditions suitable for life for the 4 billion years since its first appearance. One reaction is to claim that some Earth-wide equilibrium, though fragile, does exist, and reflects the fact that species have evolved to cooperate with one another. Another is to say that the first response is nonsense: organisms are ‘selfish’, and evolution isn’t cooperative but rather a brutish Darwinian competition that selects individual organisms based on their ability to survive and reproduce. The primordial balancing act performed by our biosphere, if it exists at all, is more or less a lucky accident.

The idea that the Earth itself is like a single evolving ‘organism’ was developed in the mid-1970s by the independent English scientist and inventor James Lovelock and the American biologist Lynn Margulis. They dubbed it the ‘Gaia hypothesis’, asserting that the biosphere is an ‘active adaptive control system able to maintain the Earth in homeostasis’. Sometimes they went pretty far with this line of reasoning: Lovelock even ventured that algal mats have evolved so as to control global temperature, while Australia’s Great Barrier Reef might be a ‘partly finished project for an evaporation lagoon’, whose purpose was to control oceanic salinity.

The notion that the Earth itself is a living system captured the imagination of New Age enthusiasts, who deified Gaia as the Earth Goddess. But it has received rough treatment at the hands of evolutionary biologists like me, and is generally scorned by most scientific Darwinists. Most of them are still negative about Gaia: viewing many Earthly features as biological products might well have been extraordinarily fruitful, generating much good science, but Earth is nothing like an evolved organism. Algal mats and coral reefs are just not ‘adaptations’ that enhance Earth’s ‘fitness’ in the same way that eyes and wings contribute to the fitness of birds. Darwinian natural selection doesn’t work that way.

I’ve got a confession though: I’ve warmed to Gaia over the years. I was an early and vociferous objector to Lovelock and Margulis’s theory, but these days I’ve begun to suspect that they might have had a point. So I’ve spent the past five years trying to ‘Darwinise Gaia’ – to see widespread cooperation as a result of competition occurring at some higher (even planetary) level. I can see a few paths by which a Darwinian might accept the idea that the planet as a whole could boast evolved, biosphere-level adaptations, selected by nature for their stability-promoting functions.

This is not exactly a recanting of views, but it’s certainly a marked departure from how I thought 40 years ago. Darwinising Gaia seems important not just to me personally, but because it would offer a satisfyingly deep theoretical basis for efforts to maintain a habitable planet – and a way to reflect on contemporary environmental crises beyond applying a simple label such as ‘Gaia’s revenge’, with its anthropocentric and theistic implications.


Back in 1979, when Lovelock’s first popular book, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, came out, the wider field of evolutionary biology was becoming a very reductionist discipline. Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene had been published three years earlier, and it promoted a hardcore gene-centrism insisting that we look at genes as the fundamental units of selection – that is, the thing upon which natural selection operates. His claim was that genes were the reproducing entities par excellence, because they are the only things that always replicate and produce enduring lineages. Replication here means making fairly exact one-to-one copies, as genes (and asexual organisms such as bacteria) do. Reproduction, though, is a more inclusive and forgiving term – it’s what we humans and other sexual species do, when we make offspring that resemble both parents, but each only imperfectly. Still, this sloppy process exhibits heritable variation in fitness, and so supports evolution by natural selection.

In recent decades, many theorists have come to understand that there can be reproducing or even replicating entities evolving by natural selection at several levels of the biological hierarchy – not just in the domains of replicating genes and bacteria, or even sexual creatures such as ourselves. They have come to embrace something called multilevel selection theory: the idea that life can be represented as a hierarchy of entities nested together in larger entities, like Russian dolls. As the philosopher of science Peter Godfrey-Smith puts it, ‘genes, cells, social groups and species can all, in principle, enter into change of this kind’.


But I want something more than this – a mechanism by which selection at the level of the biosphere would be likely to produce stability. Such a mechanism – a Darwinian way of making beneficial ‘accidents’ into the equivalent of heritable variations that could evolve via natural selection – will be possible, I think. The work is far from complete, and much needs to be aligned or contrasted with emerging work in evolutionary theory. But I’d hope that Darwin, were he alive today, wouldn’t balk at the non-traditional steps I’m about to take.

First, we’d need to accept differential persistence – mere survival – as a legitimate form or mechanism of natural selection.


Put another way, what selection really accomplishes is an increase in the ratio of selected entities to total entities in a population. And, actually, this can be achieved in two ways. First is differential reproduction discussed above, generally taken to be the be-all-and-end-all of evolution. Selected entities, by out-reproducing their competitors, ultimately become the only entities in a population (what biologists call achieving fixation). In effect, the top number in the ratio increases. But the phenomenon of differential persistence, in which selected entities achieve fixation through the death, extinction or disappearance of their competitors, could also work, and has been unfairly neglected.


Let’s transpose this argument to Gaia. Gaia (the biological part of it, at least) is nothing more than the single clade of all living things descended from life’s last universal common ancestor (LUCA)…


Beyond differential persistence, there’s a second way that we might Darwinise Gaia. One element in this approach is multilevel selection theory sketched above, now illustrated in the figure below. This figure shows the four levels at which natural selection is effective, plus two more. It embraces the idea that natural selection can operate at different levels, sometimes even several at once, as long as there is reproduction among entities at that level. Dawkins’s own thought-experiment in The Selfish Gene offers an appropriate anchoring example, in which he shows how genes can be individually selfish but still get along to add up to a unified, competitive organism, also ‘selfish’.


 So to Darwinise Gaia we also need what’s called the replicator/interactor framework, developed by the philosopher David Hull. Hull characterised the actors in natural selection as follows:

replicator: an entity that passes on its structure directly in replication.

interactor: an entity that directly interacts as a cohesive whole with its environment in such a way that replication is differential …

selection: a process in which the differential extinction and proliferation of interactors cause the differential perpetuation of the replicators that produced them.

Taking this back to Gaia, what we’d need to do is sometimes substitute ‘reproducer’ for ‘replicator’, and also ‘persistence’ for ‘reproduction’ on occasion.


The replicator/interactor idea can in fact be used to explain a range of fascinating biological phenomena. Humans and their gut microbiota are now often said to be holobionts, multispecies entities that interact as ‘cohesive wholes’ with their environment. This interaction is now claimed to have nutritional, developmental, immunological and even psychiatric dimensions. So, to the extent that well-nourished, fully developed and healthy individual humans are likely to survive longer and leave more progeny, these human-bacteria holobionts will ‘go extinct’ less often and ‘proliferate’ (if only by recurrence) more prolifically. In so doing, they will serve to ‘perpetuate’ the lower-level reproducers and replicators (individual Homo sapiens and many millions of bacterial individuals of the thousands of species in a healthy gut) that make up a holobiont. Beneficial strains or species of bacteria are thus differentially perpetuated through the success of a human-microbial holobiont, interacting with its environment.


There’s a third and final step that I’d hope Charles Darwin might be willing to take, when assessing whether or not the Earth is an evolving entity: a theory known as ‘It’s the song, not the singers’ (ITSNTS), as recently elaborated with the philosopher Andrew Inkpen. Songs such as ‘Happy Birthday’ recur (are re-produced, with a hyphen) because people sing them. The singers aren’t the same, but the song arguably is (or at least it exhibits only incremental, ‘evolutionary’ change). It’s perpetuated (‘persists’) only through periodic performances. Meme theory encourages us to believe that songs that are more singable, and ‘mutations’ of existing songs that make them so, could evolve by natural selection.


For some dispersed metabolic processes, such as the global nitrogen cycle, these species need not be in the same place or function at the same time, or even be related to each other. The existence of these processes encourages the evolution of (‘recruits’) species that are capable of making a living by performing individual steps: because there’s a song, there are singers.


Songs don’t themselves reproduce, but they are re-produced and do evolve. The current nitrogen cycle is not that of the Archaean Earth, but it can be seen as its continuation, insofar as earlier cycles stimulated the evolution of species that then evolved to perform later versions.


A problem here might lie in the implication that processes or patterns of interaction, which are arguably not material things, can cause the evolution of species, which are.

Beyond the benefit to science, ‘Darwinising Gaia’ would also have some political benefits. It might encourage us to look at nature as a coherent whole, with an evolutionary trajectory that we can foster or deflect as we choose. After all, we are already doing that, whether we realise it or not. Certainly, it would be a relief to heal the rift between traditional Darwinian thinking and believers in the possibility of Gaia, though there’s still much work to do to cement and validate the theory. And we’ll never really know what Darwin might have accepted as ‘Darwinian’, had he lived another 138 years. I’m just hoping that he’d applaud these efforts to render Gaia acceptable within a selectionist framework, and that he wouldn’t think we’d stretched his grand theory past the breaking point.”

“Survival of the Friendliest (Self-Domestication Hypothesis) | The Violence Paradox”


“Changes in the human face over time, driven by shifts in levels of testosterone, may provide evidence of an evolutionary shift away from aggressive behavior. Use this video from NOVA: The Violence Paradox to examine arguments for the self-domestication hypothesis—which may support explanations for a surprising trend in interpersonal violence in human societies.”

“Does Darwinism Conflict with Religion?” By Jamie Milton Freestone [Areo Magazine]

“Does Darwinism Conflict with Religion?


Jamie Milton Freestone

Jamie Milton Freestone is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Queensland. He studies contemporary Darwinism as well as narrative, and is writing a book about non-supernatural meaning.



To some extent, a conflict is based on perception. If disputants think they’re in conflict, they are. And perhaps religious visions of the world are metaphysically incompatible with a worldview built out of basic science. But if this is true, most people haven’t heard the bad news and happily believe in whatever combination of ideas they hold, without marching in the streets or attacking one another for their views. Religious authorities aren’t actively trying to crucify biologists or ban evolution. Admittedly, in certain school districts in America they are trying to ban the teaching of evolution, but that’s something of an anomaly. Overall, people’s views are insulated from the content of scientific theories—as we can see with attitudes towards climate change.

This disconnect between the rhetoric of spokespeople for Darwinism or intelligent design and mainstream attitudes raises a bigger question. Rhetoric generally has less impact than we often suppose. The Darwinism versus intelligent design debates are just one example of the way in which commentators often mistake what is written by experts—who are, by definition, more interested in and motivated by a topic than the general populace—for a reflection of public opinion. Either that or they assume that any reader who encounters these books will be helplessly swayed by their framing of the argument. It’s the same impulse that makes people worry about the influence of video games, pornography, fake news, conspiracy theories, school syllabuses, advertising, politicians’ gaffes, etc. Those things may have some effect, but a growing body of research is sceptical of the basic model whereby people simply imbibe what they’re exposed to.

This boils down to an is versus ought question. Is there a conflict today between Darwinism and religion? The answer seems to be no. Ought there to be one? The answer is evidently yes for most of the people who spend a lot of time thinking and writing about it. This is fitting because the whole debate hinges on an is–ought dilemma of another kind. Science is said to provide answers to the is-questions, the ones that concern neutral facts about how the world is. Religion is said to be in the business of oughts: how should we live? what are our values? how do we want the world to be?

Stephen Jay Gould, a more irenic Darwinian, tried to separate science and religion into “non-overlapping magisteria,” arguing that they simply answer different questions, so they needn’t be in conflict. This is wildly wrong for multiple reasons. First of all, religions clearly pronounce on factual questions all the time. Second, science often pronounces on ought questions. Third, what about all the other domains, like the arts, humanities and social sciences, where do they fit in? Fourth, is it even possible to separate is and ought?

These are tricky questions, but they get to the heart of what science is and whether it is a worldview or religion in its own right. Let’s take Dawkins’ view. He thinks that the worldview offered by modern science is a constraint on what other kinds of knowledge we can have. Darwinism, for him, says that the blind mechanism of natural selection accounts for everything complex in the universe. Does that extend to human designs and purposes? Not exactly. He certainly thinks it rules out religious and folk ideas about the world. But he also thinks that humans, and only humans, have reached some kind of escape velocity and can now rebel against the otherwise binding orders of our genes. People can decide on their own goals, purposes or values beyond those of mere survival and replication. So, for Dawkins, the facts of science tell us what is and isn’t possible in the world of human concerns. Or, as some critics have argued, Dawkins starts with a liberal ideology of individualism and projects that onto the nature he studies, conveniently finding that the actions of self-interested genes control everything, except human freedom.

There is a long and proud history of this kind of projection. Consider Gould. His politics—a soft Marxism—seem to have informed his view of evolution, as he sparred with Dawkins over the primacy of adaptation in life’s history. Gould always emphasised the environment side, the historical contingency of evolution. This seemed to align with his dialectical materialism, which says that real world economic conditions determine social reality, more than the drives or consciousness of individuals.

Evolution is a particularly spiky issue. Not only is it a field in which you can find support for many different ideologies, but it arguably determines what ideology, morality, politics and the entire normative realm can be. Dawkins says it’s natural selection all the way up, until you hit human purposes. But other Darwinians say that the acid burns through everything. In Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Daniel Dennett argues that the Darwinian algorithm (replication plus variation) accounts not only for the origin of species but for the origins of anything interesting: cultures, languages, technologies, reasons, norms, meanings. Alex Rosenberg takes an even starker view. He says Darwin’s algorithm explains all the seeming design in nature—including that which is expressed in our thoughts and actions—in a purely physical way, thereby precluding all the human stuff we care about. In a Darwinian world, even human purposes are illusory.


Most science communicators would defend a version of 1 or 2. A lot of science communication is underwritten by a democratic ethos. The public ought to be informed about science so that they can have more agency in their lives and participate in a scientifically advanced democracy. Admirable. But this is exactly the kind of ought statement that science is supposed to be silent about and also the kind that Darwinism—if the hard cases are right—eliminates. That democratic ethos works well for something like vaccinations, where the public clearly benefit from knowing that they’re safe and from being equipped to debunk conspiracy theories. There is a clear policy application. Amazingly, in the case of Darwinism, it’s not considered to be in the public’s interest to know whether or not most of what they believe in is a mirage.

The Future

For more mundane reasons, I think the traditional science outreach position is misguided because it’s very difficult to get the public engaged in anything—rhetoric generally doesn’t work. So why bother writing this article? Frankly, because I assume that my readers are self-selected, already interested in the topic and probably have an opinion on it. That makes science outreach something of an elite discourse, communicating only with a group who already have access to roughly the same information as the communicators.


If this stark reading is the best way of thinking about evolution, does it conflict with religious views and is it incompatible with secular life philosophies? I believe it is.

“Evolutionary Psychology: Predictively Powerful or Riddled with Just-So Stories?” By Laith Al-Shawaf [Areo Magazine]

“Evolutionary Psychology: Predictively Powerful or Riddled with Just-So Stories?


Laith Al-Shawaf
Laith Al-Shawaf, Ph.D. is a researcher and Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Colorado. He has taught and conducted research internationally, been a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin, and is an academic adviser at Ideas Beyond Borders. His research (with collaborators) has been featured in outlets such as the BBC, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Psychology Today, Slate, World Economic Forum, and Time, and his essays for general audiences have appeared in Areo and PopMatters.  In 2019, the Association for Psychological Science (APS) named him a Rising Star.


This essay is part of a series on the value of evolutionary approaches to psychology.

Part 1 clears away seven key misconceptions.

Part 2 shows why evolution is necessary for a complete science of the mind.

Part 3 (this essay) illustrates how evolutionary thinking leads to new discoveries.

They do not need to be read in order.

Acommon refrain in the social sciences is that evolutionary psychological hypotheses are “just-so stories.” Amazingly, no evidence is typically adduced for the claim—the assertion is usually just made tout court. The crux of the just-so charge is that evolutionary hypotheses are convenient narratives that researchers spin after the fact to accord with existing observations. Is this true?

Do Evolutionary Approaches Lead to New Predictions? What About New Discoveries?

In reality, the evidence suggests that evolutionary approaches generate large numbers of new predictions and new discoveries about the human mind. To substantiate this claim, the findings in this essay were predicted a priori by evolutionary reasoning—in other words, the predictions were made before the studies took place. They therefore cannot be post-hoc stories concocted to fit already-existing data.


Consider the following evolutionary predictions about disgust, all of which were made a priori: 1) people’s disgust will be more strongly triggered by objects that pose a greater risk of infection, 2) women will be more disgusted during the first trimester of pregnancy compared to the second and third trimesters, 3) people who grow up in regions of the world with higher levels of infectious disease will be less extraverted, less open to new experiences, and less interested in short-term mating than their counterparts who grow up relatively pathogen-free, 4) cross-cultural differences in pathogen prevalence will predict cross-cultural differences in individualism-collectivism, 5) those with a stronger proclivity for short-term mating will be less easily disgusted, 6) experimentally triggering disgust will reduce interest in short-term mating, 7) people will feel less disgust toward their own offspring and their offspring’s bodily waste compared to the offspring of others, and 8) presenting people with the threat of disease will cause a host of psychological and physiological changes that reduce the likelihood of infection, including a) releasing pro-inflammatory cytokines, b) behaviorally withdrawing, c) temporarily becoming less open to new experiences, and d) reducing one’s desire to affiliate with people. All of these predictions were generated before the fact on the basis of evolutionary reasoning, and all were subsequently supported by the data.

Note that some of these findings could probably have been predicted without evolutionary reasoning. For others, it would have been harder. And for others still, it would have been nearly impossible.


A final example of the predictive power of evolutionary thinking comes from Error Management Theory, a theory about the evolution of cognitive biases. Error Management Theory suggests that in decision-making scenarios, you can make two possible kinds of error: a Type I error (a false positive) or a Type II error (a false negative). If one error is more costly than the other, and this cost asymmetry recurs over evolutionary time, then the species in question will evolve neurocognitive mechanisms that are adaptively biased toward the safer error. In other words, animal brains operate according to a similar logic as humanly engineered smoke alarms: they are built to be biased toward the less costly error because this minimizes the likelihood of the more catastrophic error.

This simple evolutionary theory leads to new discoveries in areas such as social cognition, visual and auditory perception, and immune function. For example, the theory predicts that when people look down at the ground from a high vantage point such as a steep hill, they will systematically overperceive their distance to the ground, because this is safer than underperceiving the distance to the ground, which could lead to a lack of caution and a lethal fall. This prediction is verified by the data—as is the supplementary prediction that this height estimation bias will be attenuated when people are looking up to a precipice from below (because it is not as dangerous when you are at the bottom), as well as the remarkably precise a priori prediction that the height overestimation bias will apply to environmental verticality, but not retinal verticality (because only environmental verticality is related to falling risk). We owe our knowledge of these fascinating discoveries to the evolutionary reasoning that led to these predictions—predictions that didn’t exist before researchers thought to approach the problem from an explicitly evolutionary perspective.

The logic of Error Management Theory also predicts that heterosexual women will exhibit an on-average “commitment skepticism bias.” The idea is that, on average, overestimating a suitor’s commitment intent was more costly for our hominin female ancestors than underestimating it—so the theory predicts that modern women will exhibit an on-average bias toward erring on the side of underestimating potential mates’ commitment intent. This a priori prediction is confirmed by the data—as is the supplementary prediction that postmenopausal women will not exhibit the bias. More data are needed to test this prediction in different cultures and to figure out which contexts upregulate and downregulate the bias (or annul or reverse it), but initial findings seem promising so far.

Next, Error Management logic predicts that we will exhibit an auditory looming bias. Specifically, the theory suggests that we will perceive approaching sounds to be closer than they actually are, and to be arriving more quickly than they actually are. This is because the safer error is to be prepared for an oncoming danger too early rather than too late. Indeed, studies show that humans do exhibit this auditory looming bias—as do monkeys.

Studies also confirm that, as predicted, we perceive approaching sounds as both starting and stopping closer than equidistant receding sounds.


Finally, less physically fit individuals need longer to escape an oncoming threat, so they have a more pronounced auditory looming bias than fitter individuals—exactly as predicted by the theory.

By now the reader has doubtless noticed that many of these findings are counterintuitive, and not the kind of result you could predict using common sense. Some, maybe even most, would have remained undiscovered were it not for the evolutionary reasoning that generated the hypotheses in the first place. And even if somehow that statement is incorrect, what is completely unambiguous is this: these hypotheses were generated a priori and then led to new discoveries about how the mind works. They decidedly did not involve working backward from existing data to convenient stories.


For example, we could have discussed how evolutionary thinking leads to new predictions about pride, shame, hunger, gratitude, jealousy, political preferences in leaders, universality in mate preferences, cultural differences in mating strategies, reputation, punitive sentiment toward criminals, volunteering for charity, support for economic redistribution, moralizing people who opt out of public goods, the “erasure” of race, our ability to solve mathematical problems that are framed in terms of frequency versus probability, what kinds of conditions improve our statistical inferences, our ability to detect violators of social contracts, whom newborn babies are said to resemble, what psychological features might accompany illness, and theoretically predicted cultural variation in the extent to which people value physical attractiveness—to name a few.


We might reasonably want to ask why evolutionary approaches to psychology are so successful with respect to predictive power. A brief and incomplete accounting suggests that it is partly because evolutionary thinking reduces the search space by insisting on consilience with biology, thereby ruling out hypotheses that violate the basic principles of evolutionary theory; partly because evolutionary theory has been worked out in sufficient detail that deriving predictions from the theory is easier than it is from less well-specified theories; and partly because evolutionary approaches offer researchers useful conceptual-methodological tools such as “task analysis”, which is well suited for generating novel predictions about human psychology and behavior.