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Implications of cultural norms on human evolution

rousseau

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I'm going to avoid making any claims or bold statements in this post, because it seems like when I do in the social science forum I end up defending myself for days. So instead I'm just going to outline a general question and see what comes from it.

I'll outline the question like this -

- regardless of society or geographic region, people always live in some type of culture where they're expected to follow the norms of said culture
- from that point one could say that these norms have evolutionary force - those who are able to follow custom to the tee tend to produce babies, those who don't tend not to produce babies

The question is - what would the implications of this cultural force be, if any? Assuming culture breeds more people who are great at following culture, what does the person who is great at following culture look like? How do they think? What are they like? Or is this even a sensible question to ask?
 
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Jokodo

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I'm going to avoid making any claims or bold statements in this post, because it seems like when I do in the social science forum I end up defending myself for days. So instead I'm just going to outline a general question and see what comes from it.

I'll outline the question like this -

- regardless of society or geographic region, people always live in some type of culture where they're expected to follow the norms of said culture
- from that point one could say that these norms have evolutionary force - those who are able to follow custom to the tee tend to produce babies, those who don't tend not to produce babies

The question is - what would the implications of this cultural force be, if any? Assuming culture breeds more people who are great at following culture, what does the person who is great at following culture look like? How do they think? What are they like? Or is this even a sensible question to ask?

I think it's a very meaningful question to ask, and an interesting one at that.

However a prerequisite to properly frame the question is understanding that pure arbitrary cultural norms which appears to be what you want to talk about, are, from the perspective of the individual choosing to adhere to them, just something you do, or do a certain way, because you've seen others do them or were told to by an authority figure, without fully understanding their motives. Many (most?) behaviours fitting that description are beneficial even without being ostracized for rejecting the norm. For example, I don't fully, as a layman, understand all the things that can go wrong if I don't regularly have my gas heating unit serviced, though if I don't, the fine i might have to pay is probably the least of my worries.

In a different but similar fashion, many behaviours that would be neutral if you were the only person around become objectively preferable by virtue if others doing them. For example, there is no objective sense in which driving on the left is superior to driving on the right, but when in the UK, Japan or Thailand, I'm better off doing so even when no police is around.

So I guess the benefits of adhering to cultural norms aren't all that central to explaining why we're mostly inclined to do so. A big part of the reason is that we're simply have no good way of reliably and instinctively distinguishing between purely arbitrary behaviours, useful conventions, and things that are done a certain way for reasons we lack the expertise or experience to grasp - so we're take the whole package, better safe than sorry style: servicing your heating, driving in the prescribed side if the road and accepting your community's rituals is overall a better choice than skipping the services, driving on whatever side you feel like today and rejecting the rituals - even if the latter have no positive survival value, or even if they are slightly detrimental.
 
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rousseau

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So I guess the benefits of adhering to cultural norms aren't all that central to explaining why we're mostly inclined to do so. A big part of the reason is that we're simply have no good way of reliably and instinctively distinguishing between purely arbitrary behaviours, useful conventions, and things that are done a certain way for reasons we lack the expertise or experience to grasp - so we're take the whole package, better safe than sorry style: servicing your heating, driving in the prescribed side if the road and accepting your community's rituals is overall a better choice than skipping the services, driving on whatever side you feel like today and rejecting the rituals - even if the latter have no positive survival value, or even if they are slightly detrimental.

That's an interesting way to put it - better safe than sorry. Maybe many of us are naturally attuned to follow social norms because that serves as a better general purpose cognitive tool than to think about ways in which to act outside the norm. IOW, many of us have a cognitive make-up that defaults to the custom which has more adaptive power than one that doesn't. Too much critical thinking may lead to emancipation from custom - foregoing marriage, children, traditional lifeways. Too little critical thinking means we are not smart enough to understand what custom is, making us less likely to partner / have kids. Somewhere in between we have 'society at large' which is adept at feeling faith in, and following norms.

It's hard for me to imagine many of us following custom just because we think we should when instead we'd rather not. Certainly that happens, but I'd guess that for the brunt of us it is instinctive and natural.
 

Bronzeage

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I'm going to avoid making any claims or bold statements in this post, because it seems like when I do in the social science forum I end up defending myself for days. So instead I'm just going to outline a general question and see what comes from it.

I'll outline the question like this -

- regardless of society or geographic region, people always live in some type of culture where they're expected to follow the norms of said culture
- from that point one could say that these norms have evolutionary force - those who are able to follow custom to the tee tend to produce babies, those who don't tend not to produce babies

The question is - what would the implications of this cultural force be, if any? Assuming culture breeds more people who are great at following culture, what does the person who is great at following culture look like? How do they think? What are they like? Or is this even a sensible question to ask?

This is sort of a tautology. It's sort of like claiming that wealthy people give birth to wealthy children.

The closer a society is to the natural environment, the more important cultural norms are to survival. We could use the word "primitive" to describe a prehistoric hunter gatherer group, but there's no reason to think they were less intelligent and less aware than any modern human. In modern times it's possible to be a rebel and refuse to conform to societal norms because it's not a death sentence to lose the cooperation of the rest of the group.

Our antagonistic HG rebel has a problem. If he loses the cooperation of his group, not only will he have to provide for all his needs, which include food, clothing, and shelter, it's very possible he will be leopard food. Chipping out a flint knife, running down an animal, skinning it for clothes, butchering it for food, making pants from the skin, all the while avoiding leopards, all by oneself, is simply not a viable strategy for passing on one's genes to the next generation.

If cultural norms have any evolutionary force, it would be that evolution of the current modern human was possible because of them. There doesn't seem to be an alternative path.
 

Elixir

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The closer a society is to the natural environment, the more important cultural norms are to survival.

And to reproductive success, the only metric that matters to evolution...

We could use the word "primitive" to describe a prehistoric hunter gatherer group, but there's no reason to think they were less intelligent and less aware than any modern human. In modern times it's possible to be a rebel and refuse to conform to societal norms because it's not a death sentence to lose the cooperation of the rest of the group.

Our antagonistic HG rebel has a problem. If he loses the cooperation of his group, not only will he have to provide for all his needs, which include food, clothing, and shelter, it's very possible he will be leopard food. Chipping out a flint knife, running down an animal, skinning it for clothes, butchering it for food, making pants from the skin, all the while avoiding leopards, all by oneself, is simply not a viable strategy for passing on one's genes to the next generation.

Conformance to cultural norms gives an individual a greater pool of possible mates - another critical component of reproductive success. OTOH, when a few individuals whose behavior makes them cultural outliers DO succeed in environments of fast-changing fitness landscapes, they may establish a population that will, if isolated long enough, feature divergent genome to go along with their divergent behaviors. If those behaviors take advantage of a less crowded survival niche than the one occupied by the originating culture, they may become the more dominant population.

If cultural norms have any evolutionary force, it would be that evolution of the current modern human was possible because of them. There doesn't seem to be an alternative path.

Definitely a necessary thing for a technical civilization. Well said.
 

rousseau

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This is sort of a tautology. It's sort of like claiming that wealthy people give birth to wealthy children.

That's true, but I think it's worth pointing out as a rule because to some it may only be obvious once they see it. Then it becomes a heuristic to understand our genetic make-up and behavioral traits.

The closer a society is to the natural environment, the more important cultural norms are to survival. We could use the word "primitive" to describe a prehistoric hunter gatherer group, but there's no reason to think they were less intelligent and less aware than any modern human. In modern times it's possible to be a rebel and refuse to conform to societal norms because it's not a death sentence to lose the cooperation of the rest of the group.

Our antagonistic HG rebel has a problem. If he loses the cooperation of his group, not only will he have to provide for all his needs, which include food, clothing, and shelter, it's very possible he will be leopard food. Chipping out a flint knife, running down an animal, skinning it for clothes, butchering it for food, making pants from the skin, all the while avoiding leopards, all by oneself, is simply not a viable strategy for passing on one's genes to the next generation.

If cultural norms have any evolutionary force, it would be that evolution of the current modern human was possible because of them. There doesn't seem to be an alternative path.

I agree and would take it a step further to claim that following custom is still critically important to the modern human. Maybe not quite to the extent that it was for hunter-gatherers, but not far off. We are following norms all the time in many ways that we likely take for granted. Ways that seem benign but if we acted otherwise could be quite dangerous.
 

Jokodo

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I'm going to avoid making any claims or bold statements in this post, because it seems like when I do in the social science forum I end up defending myself for days. So instead I'm just going to outline a general question and see what comes from it.

I'll outline the question like this -

- regardless of society or geographic region, people always live in some type of culture where they're expected to follow the norms of said culture
- from that point one could say that these norms have evolutionary force - those who are able to follow custom to the tee tend to produce babies, those who don't tend not to produce babies

The question is - what would the implications of this cultural force be, if any? Assuming culture breeds more people who are great at following culture, what does the person who is great at following culture look like? How do they think? What are they like? Or is this even a sensible question to ask?

This is sort of a tautology. It's sort of like claiming that wealthy people give birth to wealthy children.

The closer a society is to the natural environment, the more important cultural norms are to survival. We could use the word "primitive" to describe a prehistoric hunter gatherer group, but there's no reason to think they were less intelligent and less aware than any modern human. In modern times it's possible to be a rebel and refuse to conform to societal norms because it's not a death sentence to lose the cooperation of the rest of the group.

Is it not? If people don't cooperate with you by e.g. yielding the right of way, or by letting you into a hall full of food trusting that you will bring it to the cashier rather than stuff your belly and leave empty-handed, a sole wolf in a modern society is every bit as dead as a sole wolf in a hunter-gatherer society. He will in fact become a sole wolf hunter gatherer before he becomes a dead sole wolf hunter gatherer.
 

Bomb#20

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The closer a society is to the natural environment, the more important cultural norms are to survival.
Does this count as the natural environment?

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYkbqzWVHZI[/youtube]
 

Jokodo

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More on the point of your question, which I interpret to mean something along the lines "what are the cognitive adaptations and innate predispositions that enable humans to pick up culture": Apes don't ape, humans do, but only sometimes.

Some terminology first: what most animals, including our closest relatives do when they see a conspecific or human operate a widget is they focus on the widget to find out its properties, not on the operator. E.g. when you press a button, their take home is that the device has a button that can be pressed to achieve an outcome, and if interested try to get the same outcome using the device's properties. That is called goal emulation. An alternative would be blind imitation - copying the how, the action you performed on the device, with the outcome secondary. That we could call blind means imitation, and for a time it was believed this is what humans do instinctively. The actual strategy of humans appears to be more nuanced, though, what some researchers call "rational imitation": Humans, like other animals, do reconstruct an agent's goal and will try to bring about the same outcome any way they see fit unless they get cues that the how is important.

There was a seminal study in the 80s purporting to find that human infants as young as 14 months will blindly copy an inefficient way to reach a goal ((blind) means imitation), e.g. activate a novel toy with their forehead instead of the hand (goal emulation) when that's what the presenter did. More recent research has shown this to be true only conditionally: If the presenter has their hands wrapped in a blanket (unlike the child) making them unavailable, or if they don't establish communication, the children will use the more efficient hand action. But when the presenter first establishes eye contact and talks to the child, and when they could have easily used their hands instead, children assign relevance to the how and also operate it with their head - their take home in these situations is that the how is relevant, that "this is how we do it" even if the reasons elude them. Here is an interesting 2002 Nature paper where they found that infants copy the head action 70% of the time when the presenter had their hands free (i.e. could have used them instead but chose not to), but only 20% of the time when they had a good reason not to use their hands: Rational imitation in preverbal infants (full text version: http://web.mit.edu/~hyora/Public/UROP_readings/Gergely_Bekkering_Kiraly nature 2002.pdf), and a more recent one discussing the role of communication in triggering imitation: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022096512002445
If you are interested, you can dig deeper into this discussion by following those papers' trails, ie. backward to the references they cite and forward to the articles citing them.

Another interesting read is this book: The Evolved Apprentice

That's an interesting way to put it - better safe than sorry. Maybe many of us are naturally attuned to follow social norms because that serves as a better general purpose cognitive tool than to think about ways in which to act outside the norm. IOW, many of us have a cognitive make-up that defaults to the custom which has more adaptive power than one that doesn't. Too much critical thinking may lead to emancipation from custom - foregoing marriage, children, traditional lifeways. Too little critical thinking means we are not smart enough to understand what custom is, making us less likely to partner / have kids. Somewhere in between we have 'society at large' which is adept at feeling faith in, and following norms.

I'm not sure you fully get my thrift. What I'm saying is that what you call "custom" is not so much a thing in itself as it is a side effect of our uniquely human learning strategy that is independently valuable - a homo habilis toolmaker initiate lacking the understanding of solid-state physics to deduce the ideal angle to hit a raw stone is overall better off copying what he sees an experienced toolmaker do than use his understanding of the world to get from a pebble to a stone knife with his own means. Rational imitation is what enables the transmission of technology from one generation to the other without requiring the trainee to fully understand the why, and thus a prerequisite to any kind of material culture to speak of. That it also leads the transmission of arbitrary customs is a side effect of this independently selected learning strategy. Intelligence, as far as I can tell, is fully orthogonal to this discussion. Failing to make use of this learning strategy doesn't make you more intelligent, it only makes you overall less efficient at what you do even as it allows you to skip some unnecessary purely habitual actions.

It's also not something "many of us" do, it's something we people as a rule and opposed to chimps do in general.
 
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rousseau

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More on the point of your question, which I interpret to mean something along the lines "what are the cognitive adaptations and innate predispositions that enable humans to pick up culture": Apes don't ape, humans do, but only sometimes.

That's an interesting question, but I'm more interested in our predisposition to follow custom and, for lack of a better term, default to authority (cultural norms). My assumption is that an animal which does exactly as expected and told by it's dominant culture will have more reproductive success than one which doesn't. To me this implies that our evolution as a species has a kind of directionality, for lack of a better term, that is pointed at a cognitive makeup for defaulting to authority, or cultural norms. IOW, the person who has a mental make-up which believes in culture (nationalism, religion, politics) with sincerity will be the more likely case than the person who doesn't. I think this would imply that our cognitive make-up, averaged out, may be a fairly stable constant across time.

Based on that assumption I'm interested in defining what this constant is. What does the 'average' man, or 'average' woman look like? And how does that inform things like politics, religion, etc.

Some terminology first: what most animals, including our closest relatives do when they see a conspecific or human operate a widget is they focus on the widget to find out its properties, not on the operator. E.g. when you press a button, their take home is that the device has a button that can be pressed to achieve an outcome, and if interested try to get the same outcome using the device's properties. That is called goal emulation. An alternative would be blind imitation - copying the how, the action you performed on the device, with the outcome secondary. That we could call blind means imitation, and for a time it was believed this is what humans do instinctively. The actual strategy of humans appears to be more nuanced, though, what some researchers call "rational imitation": Humans, like other animals, do reconstruct an agent's goal and will try to bring about the same outcome any way they see fit unless they get cues that the how is important.

There was a seminal study in the 80s purporting to find that human infants as young as 14 months will blindly copy an inefficient way to reach a goal ((blind) means imitation), e.g. activate a novel toy with their forehead instead of the hand (goal emulation) when that's what the presenter did. More recent research has shown this to be true only conditionally: If the presenter has their hands wrapped in a blanket (unlike the child) making them unavailable, or if they don't establish communication, the children will use the more efficient hand action. But when the presenter first establishes eye contact and talks to the child, and when they could have easily used their hands instead, children assign relevance to the how and also operate it with their head - their take home in these situations is that the how is relevant, that "this is how we do it" even if the reasons elude them. Here is an interesting 2002 Nature paper where they found that infants copy the head action 70% of the time when the presenter had their hands free (i.e. could have used them instead but chose not to), but only 20% of the time when they had a good reason not to use their hands: Rational imitation in preverbal infants (full text version: http://web.mit.edu/~hyora/Public/UROP_readings/Gergely_Bekkering_Kiraly nature 2002.pdf), and a more recent one discussing the role of communication in triggering imitation: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022096512002445
If you are interested, you can dig deeper into this discussion by following those papers' trails, ie. backward to the references they cite and forward to the articles citing them.

Another interesting read is this book: The Evolved Apprentice

That's an interesting way to put it - better safe than sorry. Maybe many of us are naturally attuned to follow social norms because that serves as a better general purpose cognitive tool than to think about ways in which to act outside the norm. IOW, many of us have a cognitive make-up that defaults to the custom which has more adaptive power than one that doesn't. Too much critical thinking may lead to emancipation from custom - foregoing marriage, children, traditional lifeways. Too little critical thinking means we are not smart enough to understand what custom is, making us less likely to partner / have kids. Somewhere in between we have 'society at large' which is adept at feeling faith in, and following norms.

I'm not sure you fully get my thrift. What I'm saying is that what you call "custom" is not so much a thing in itself as it is a side effect of our uniquely human learning strategy that is independently valuable - a homo habilis toolmaker initiate lacking the understanding of solid-state physics to deduce the ideal angle to hit a raw stone is overall better off copying what he sees an experienced toolmaker do than use his understanding of the world to get from a pebble to a stone knife with his own means. Rational imitation is what enables the transmission of technology from one generation to the other without requiring the trainee to fully understand the why, and thus a prerequisite to any kind of material culture to speak of. That it also leads the transmission of arbitrary customs is a side effect of this independently selected learning strategy. Intelligence, as far as I can tell, is fully orthogonal to this discussion. Failing to make use of this learning strategy doesn't make you more intelligent, it only makes you overall less efficient at what you do even as it allows you to skip some unnecessary purely habitual actions.

It's also not something "many of us" do, it's something we people as a rule and opposed to chimps do in general.

Granted. I think you could extend this argument and say that some cultural customs could be framed as 'irrational', or with no real logic. Religion is a great example. To the person who works on pure logic childrearing could also be seen as irrational as well - why spend extra resources and work harder when we can just not do that. So if we assume that people default to authority most of the time, it's likely that following these 'irrational' endeavors will be more likely as well. The truly efficient learner realizes they don't need to follow custom at all, but then falls out of the gene pool. I think this further points to the 'directionality' I mentioned above. Not a 'purposeful' directionality, but rather a kind of phenotypic constant that we follow.
 

Jokodo

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That's an interesting question, but I'm more interested in our predisposition to follow custom and, for lack of a better term, default to authority (cultural norms). My assumption is that an animal which does exactly as expected and told by it's dominant culture will have more reproductive success than one which doesn't. To me this implies that our evolution as a species has a kind of directionality, for lack of a better term, that is pointed at a cognitive makeup for defaulting to authority, or cultural norms. IOW, the person who has a mental make-up which believes in culture (nationalism, religion, politics) with sincerity will be the more likely case than the person who doesn't. I think this would imply that our cognitive make-up, averaged out, may be a fairly stable constant across time.

Based on that assumption I'm interested in defining what this constant is. What does the 'average' man, or 'average' woman look like? And how does that inform things like politics, religion, etc.

Some terminology first: what most animals, including our closest relatives do when they see a conspecific or human operate a widget is they focus on the widget to find out its properties, not on the operator. E.g. when you press a button, their take home is that the device has a button that can be pressed to achieve an outcome, and if interested try to get the same outcome using the device's properties. That is called goal emulation. An alternative would be blind imitation - copying the how, the action you performed on the device, with the outcome secondary. That we could call blind means imitation, and for a time it was believed this is what humans do instinctively. The actual strategy of humans appears to be more nuanced, though, what some researchers call "rational imitation": Humans, like other animals, do reconstruct an agent's goal and will try to bring about the same outcome any way they see fit unless they get cues that the how is important.

There was a seminal study in the 80s purporting to find that human infants as young as 14 months will blindly copy an inefficient way to reach a goal ((blind) means imitation), e.g. activate a novel toy with their forehead instead of the hand (goal emulation) when that's what the presenter did. More recent research has shown this to be true only conditionally: If the presenter has their hands wrapped in a blanket (unlike the child) making them unavailable, or if they don't establish communication, the children will use the more efficient hand action. But when the presenter first establishes eye contact and talks to the child, and when they could have easily used their hands instead, children assign relevance to the how and also operate it with their head - their take home in these situations is that the how is relevant, that "this is how we do it" even if the reasons elude them. Here is an interesting 2002 Nature paper where they found that infants copy the head action 70% of the time when the presenter had their hands free (i.e. could have used them instead but chose not to), but only 20% of the time when they had a good reason not to use their hands: Rational imitation in preverbal infants (full text version: http://web.mit.edu/~hyora/Public/UROP_readings/Gergely_Bekkering_Kiraly nature 2002.pdf), and a more recent one discussing the role of communication in triggering imitation: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022096512002445
If you are interested, you can dig deeper into this discussion by following those papers' trails, ie. backward to the references they cite and forward to the articles citing them.

Another interesting read is this book: The Evolved Apprentice



I'm not sure you fully get my thrift. What I'm saying is that what you call "custom" is not so much a thing in itself as it is a side effect of our uniquely human learning strategy that is independently valuable - a homo habilis toolmaker initiate lacking the understanding of solid-state physics to deduce the ideal angle to hit a raw stone is overall better off copying what he sees an experienced toolmaker do than use his understanding of the world to get from a pebble to a stone knife with his own means. Rational imitation is what enables the transmission of technology from one generation to the other without requiring the trainee to fully understand the why, and thus a prerequisite to any kind of material culture to speak of. That it also leads the transmission of arbitrary customs is a side effect of this independently selected learning strategy. Intelligence, as far as I can tell, is fully orthogonal to this discussion. Failing to make use of this learning strategy doesn't make you more intelligent, it only makes you overall less efficient at what you do even as it allows you to skip some unnecessary purely habitual actions.

It's also not something "many of us" do, it's something we people as a rule and opposed to chimps do in general.

Granted. I think you could extend this argument and say that some cultural customs could be framed as 'irrational', or with no real logic. Religion is a great example. To the person who works on pure logic childrearing could also be seen as irrational as well - why spend extra resources and work harder when we can just not do that. So if we assume that people default to authority most of the time, it's likely that following these 'irrational' endeavors will be more likely as well. The truly efficient learner realizes they don't need to follow custom at all, but then falls out of the gene pool. I think this further points to the 'directionality' I mentioned above. Not a 'purposeful' directionality, but rather a kind of phenotypic constant that we follow.

Well it didn't take long from "I'm going to avoid making any claims or bold statements" to peddling your same little teleological pet theory again.
 

rousseau

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That's an interesting question, but I'm more interested in our predisposition to follow custom and, for lack of a better term, default to authority (cultural norms). My assumption is that an animal which does exactly as expected and told by it's dominant culture will have more reproductive success than one which doesn't. To me this implies that our evolution as a species has a kind of directionality, for lack of a better term, that is pointed at a cognitive makeup for defaulting to authority, or cultural norms. IOW, the person who has a mental make-up which believes in culture (nationalism, religion, politics) with sincerity will be the more likely case than the person who doesn't. I think this would imply that our cognitive make-up, averaged out, may be a fairly stable constant across time.

Based on that assumption I'm interested in defining what this constant is. What does the 'average' man, or 'average' woman look like? And how does that inform things like politics, religion, etc.

Some terminology first: what most animals, including our closest relatives do when they see a conspecific or human operate a widget is they focus on the widget to find out its properties, not on the operator. E.g. when you press a button, their take home is that the device has a button that can be pressed to achieve an outcome, and if interested try to get the same outcome using the device's properties. That is called goal emulation. An alternative would be blind imitation - copying the how, the action you performed on the device, with the outcome secondary. That we could call blind means imitation, and for a time it was believed this is what humans do instinctively. The actual strategy of humans appears to be more nuanced, though, what some researchers call "rational imitation": Humans, like other animals, do reconstruct an agent's goal and will try to bring about the same outcome any way they see fit unless they get cues that the how is important.

There was a seminal study in the 80s purporting to find that human infants as young as 14 months will blindly copy an inefficient way to reach a goal ((blind) means imitation), e.g. activate a novel toy with their forehead instead of the hand (goal emulation) when that's what the presenter did. More recent research has shown this to be true only conditionally: If the presenter has their hands wrapped in a blanket (unlike the child) making them unavailable, or if they don't establish communication, the children will use the more efficient hand action. But when the presenter first establishes eye contact and talks to the child, and when they could have easily used their hands instead, children assign relevance to the how and also operate it with their head - their take home in these situations is that the how is relevant, that "this is how we do it" even if the reasons elude them. Here is an interesting 2002 Nature paper where they found that infants copy the head action 70% of the time when the presenter had their hands free (i.e. could have used them instead but chose not to), but only 20% of the time when they had a good reason not to use their hands: Rational imitation in preverbal infants (full text version: http://web.mit.edu/~hyora/Public/UROP_readings/Gergely_Bekkering_Kiraly nature 2002.pdf), and a more recent one discussing the role of communication in triggering imitation: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022096512002445
If you are interested, you can dig deeper into this discussion by following those papers' trails, ie. backward to the references they cite and forward to the articles citing them.

Another interesting read is this book: The Evolved Apprentice



I'm not sure you fully get my thrift. What I'm saying is that what you call "custom" is not so much a thing in itself as it is a side effect of our uniquely human learning strategy that is independently valuable - a homo habilis toolmaker initiate lacking the understanding of solid-state physics to deduce the ideal angle to hit a raw stone is overall better off copying what he sees an experienced toolmaker do than use his understanding of the world to get from a pebble to a stone knife with his own means. Rational imitation is what enables the transmission of technology from one generation to the other without requiring the trainee to fully understand the why, and thus a prerequisite to any kind of material culture to speak of. That it also leads the transmission of arbitrary customs is a side effect of this independently selected learning strategy. Intelligence, as far as I can tell, is fully orthogonal to this discussion. Failing to make use of this learning strategy doesn't make you more intelligent, it only makes you overall less efficient at what you do even as it allows you to skip some unnecessary purely habitual actions.

It's also not something "many of us" do, it's something we people as a rule and opposed to chimps do in general.

Granted. I think you could extend this argument and say that some cultural customs could be framed as 'irrational', or with no real logic. Religion is a great example. To the person who works on pure logic childrearing could also be seen as irrational as well - why spend extra resources and work harder when we can just not do that. So if we assume that people default to authority most of the time, it's likely that following these 'irrational' endeavors will be more likely as well. The truly efficient learner realizes they don't need to follow custom at all, but then falls out of the gene pool. I think this further points to the 'directionality' I mentioned above. Not a 'purposeful' directionality, but rather a kind of phenotypic constant that we follow.

Well it didn't take long from "I'm going to avoid making any claims or bold statements" to peddling your same little teleological pet theory again.

Well, feel free to critique my post. But don't read too far into 'directionality', because I'm sure you're reading it the wrong way. It's certainly not teleological.
 

Jokodo

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That's an interesting question, but I'm more interested in our predisposition to follow custom and, for lack of a better term, default to authority (cultural norms).

That's what I'm addressing: Our "predisposition to follow custom" might very well largely be the byproduct of our predisposition to learn from others and pick up the way things are done even without fully understanding their ultimate rationale. Far from being irrational or dumb, this is a very useful capacity: A palaeolithic toolmaker or an iron age peasant who is not also an expert solid-state physicist/soil ecologist (most weren't) would be generally ill advised to completely reject established traditional techniques of stone tool making/ploughing just because he doesn't understand why they are supposed to be superior.

You seem to be assuming your conclusion - that following (arbitrary) cultural norms is a thing in itself, independently selected.

My assumption is that an animal which does exactly as expected and told by it's dominant culture will have more reproductive success than one which doesn't. To me this implies that our evolution as a species has a kind of directionality, for lack of a better term, that is pointed at a cognitive makeup for defaulting to authority, or cultural norms. IOW, the person who has a mental make-up which believes in culture (nationalism, religion, politics) with sincerity will be the more likely case than the person who doesn't. I think this would imply that our cognitive make-up, averaged out, may be a fairly stable constant across time.

There are good reasons to believe that our cognitive make-up (whatever part of it is innate and not learned) is a fairly stable constant across time, but this isn't one of them. If anything the opposite: our propensity to pick up ideas not rooted in personal experience but transmitted from others could mean that the worldviews and mental universes emerging even in near-identical environments can significantly differ.

Of course, instead of "cognitive makeup" you may mean intelligence, conceptualized as a one-dimensional/linear quantitative variable. If so, just say so and don't beat around the bush. Don't pretend this is some new and fresh discussion when you're beating the same old dead horse with seen before.

Based on that assumption I'm interested in defining what this constant is. What does the 'average' man, or 'average' woman look like? And how does that inform things like politics, religion, etc.

There is a lot to be learnt about these questions from developmental and cognitive biology/ psychology - what ideas are easy and what are hard to conceptualize, how people learn and how much of it involves copying vs. reconstruction with an existing mental toolset based on inferred goals and purposes certainly does shape the possibility space for systems of politics, religion etc. that can plausibly emerge.

Framing it with the reduced toolset of naive pop EvoPsy where every manifest trait is assumed without question to be directly selected for, and reducing the complex issue that is "human cognitive makeup" to a one-dimensional quantitative variable, IQ, isn't going to help though.

Some terminology first: what most animals, including our closest relatives do when they see a conspecific or human operate a widget is they focus on the widget to find out its properties, not on the operator. E.g. when you press a button, their take home is that the device has a button that can be pressed to achieve an outcome, and if interested try to get the same outcome using the device's properties. That is called goal emulation. An alternative would be blind imitation - copying the how, the action you performed on the device, with the outcome secondary. That we could call blind means imitation, and for a time it was believed this is what humans do instinctively. The actual strategy of humans appears to be more nuanced, though, what some researchers call "rational imitation": Humans, like other animals, do reconstruct an agent's goal and will try to bring about the same outcome any way they see fit unless they get cues that the how is important.

There was a seminal study in the 80s purporting to find that human infants as young as 14 months will blindly copy an inefficient way to reach a goal ((blind) means imitation), e.g. activate a novel toy with their forehead instead of the hand (goal emulation) when that's what the presenter did. More recent research has shown this to be true only conditionally: If the presenter has their hands wrapped in a blanket (unlike the child) making them unavailable, or if they don't establish communication, the children will use the more efficient hand action. But when the presenter first establishes eye contact and talks to the child, and when they could have easily used their hands instead, children assign relevance to the how and also operate it with their head - their take home in these situations is that the how is relevant, that "this is how we do it" even if the reasons elude them. Here is an interesting 2002 Nature paper where they found that infants copy the head action 70% of the time when the presenter had their hands free (i.e. could have used them instead but chose not to), but only 20% of the time when they had a good reason not to use their hands: Rational imitation in preverbal infants (full text version: http://web.mit.edu/~hyora/Public/UROP_readings/Gergely_Bekkering_Kiraly nature 2002.pdf), and a more recent one discussing the role of communication in triggering imitation: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022096512002445
If you are interested, you can dig deeper into this discussion by following those papers' trails, ie. backward to the references they cite and forward to the articles citing them.

Another interesting read is this book: The Evolved Apprentice



I'm not sure you fully get my thrift. What I'm saying is that what you call "custom" is not so much a thing in itself as it is a side effect of our uniquely human learning strategy that is independently valuable - a homo habilis toolmaker initiate lacking the understanding of solid-state physics to deduce the ideal angle to hit a raw stone is overall better off copying what he sees an experienced toolmaker do than use his understanding of the world to get from a pebble to a stone knife with his own means. Rational imitation is what enables the transmission of technology from one generation to the other without requiring the trainee to fully understand the why, and thus a prerequisite to any kind of material culture to speak of. That it also leads the transmission of arbitrary customs is a side effect of this independently selected learning strategy. Intelligence, as far as I can tell, is fully orthogonal to this discussion. Failing to make use of this learning strategy doesn't make you more intelligent, it only makes you overall less efficient at what you do even as it allows you to skip some unnecessary purely habitual actions.

It's also not something "many of us" do, it's something we people as a rule and opposed to chimps do in general.

Granted. I think you could extend this argument and say that some cultural customs could be framed as 'irrational', or with no real logic.

All cultural customs could be framed as 'irrational'. To the iron-age peasant without a PhD in soil biology, there is no real logic to plowing his field either. If he'd derived from first principles how and why doing so enhances his yields, we wouldn't call it a custom anymore than we call breathing a custom.

Religion is a great example. To the person who works on pure logic childrearing could also be seen as irrational as well - why spend extra resources and work harder when we can just not do that.

Applying the same "pure logic", the only logical conclusion would be to lay down and die - I mean, why spend extra resources and work harder when you can just not do that?

So if we assume that people default to authority most of the time, it's likely that following these 'irrational' endeavors will be more likely as well. The truly efficient learner realizes they don't need to follow custom at all, but then falls out of the gene pool.

Your truly efficient learner would have to be omniscient to reliably and universally distinguish arbitrary customs and useful bits of technology the science behind which they don't understand - and if you're omniscient, what do you need to learn in the first place?

Our learning strategy may well be in a kind of sweet spot - enough faithful replication to allow the accumulation and preservation of opaque knowledge, but enough noise to prevent stasis - to allow for rapid cultural evolution within the limits posed by our cognitive biology, in a similar fashion to how DNA replication its in a sweet spot to allow biological evolution. But if you have an argument to relate this to intelligence you have yet to present it.
 
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rousseau

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That's what I'm addressing: Our "predisposition to follow custom" might very well largely be the byproduct of our predisposition to learn from others and pick up the way things are done even without fully understanding their ultimate rationale. Far from being irrational or dumb, this is a very useful capacity: A palaeolithic toolmaker or an iron age peasant who is not also an expert solid-state physicist/soil ecologist (most weren't) would be generally ill advised to completely reject established traditional techniques of stone tool making/ploughing just because he doesn't understand why they are supposed to be superior.

You seem to be assuming your conclusion - that following (arbitrary) cultural norms is a thing in itself, independently selected.

I wouldn't get too hung up on me using the term irrational, but I would presume there is a limit to the reproductive value of being able to look beyond these norms, and possibly also a positive reproductive benefit of not being able to look beyond them. I say mental make-up instead of a kind of g-intelligence factor because I'd assume there is more going on than ipso facto rationality. For someone who is emotionally invested in children, it's not just a rational choice being made, it's more of a world-view and mental/emotional predisposition to child-rearing. So I wouldn't assume those who are more likely to have kids are irrational, but I would assume that there is a positive correlation between reproductive success and following norms. Those who are more emotionally invested in the story so to speak, will be more motivated to achieve that story, than those not.

That's not to say that following norms is independently selected for, but mathematically the majority of us will always be norm followers because of the correlation between norms / reproduction.

There are good reasons to believe that our cognitive make-up (whatever part of it is innate and not learned) is a fairly stable constant across time, but this isn't one of them. If anything the opposite: our propensity to pick up ideas not rooted in personal experience but transmitted from others could mean that the worldviews and mental universes emerging even in near-identical environments can significantly differ.

Of course, instead of "cognitive makeup" you may mean intelligence, conceptualized as a one-dimensional/linear quantitative variable. If so, just say so and don't beat around the bush. Don't pretend this is some new and fresh discussion when you're beating the same old dead horse with seen before.

I'm not discussing world-view, or intelligence as a linear quantitative variable, although I can see where you would get that impression. Sure that might be a part of it, but more broadly I'm interested in the evolution of the human mind as a whole.

What, for instance, causes the modern African to believe fervently in Nationalism even though their government is a parasite? What causes the sports fan to be emotionally invested in their team, even though it's an arbitrary group of players working for a business? Why are people unable to see through religion without an enormous amount of prompting and scientific research?

The primary question is whether these realities are malleable and changeable, or do they point to something inherent in us across time.

Our learning strategy may well be in a kind of sweet spot - enough faithful replication to allow the accumulation and preservation of opaque knowledge, but enough noise to prevent stasis - to allow for rapid cultural evolution within the limits posed by our cognitive biology, in a similar fashion to how DNA replication its in a sweet spot to allow biological evolution. But if you have an argument to relate this to intelligence you have yet to present it.

That puts it better than I could. Truthfully I've deliberately left 'intelligence' out of it because I think you are correct - it is much more complicated than that. Running with my own sweeping generalizations I'd say that propensity for logic is overrated. It's better to be the person who is intuitive and who naturally enjoys the act of living. Not just for reproduction, but for all things.

So on an evolutionary scale of the gene / individual, it's better to be emotive and social. But when we try to scale this trait to macro-systems it causes an inherent flaw in those systems. We're trying to build systems which work for the collective, while being run by units who work for themselves.
 

Jokodo

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It's kind of tiresome the way you gloss over pretty much everything I've said, but I'm going to give it another try.

I wouldn't get too hung up on me using the term irrational, but I would presume there is a limit to the reproductive value of being able to look beyond these norms, and possibly also a positive reproductive benefit of not being able to look beyond them.

Well, contrary to what you're trying to say below, "not being able to look beyond" here does sound like a lacking capacity, not a different inclination. Same when you said in an earlier post "Too much critical thinking may lead to emancipation from custom - foregoing marriage, children, traditional lifeways. Too little critical thinking means we are not smart enough to understand what custom is, making us less likely to partner / have kids".

Rejecting out of hand every bit of conventional wisdom whose rationale you don't get is going to kill you through starvation long before it kills you, or makes you die childless, through being ostracized or lacking the desire to form a family. You're still treating Following Arbitrary Cultural Norms as a thing in itself and totally different from picking up opaque technological knowledge you couldn't derive yourself, when the two rest on the very same cognitive mechanisms. Unless you're omniscient, you can't have one without the other, at least to some degree. This also means that the null hypothesis is that "following cultural norms" (where you seem to restrict the term to arbitrary customs) is not independently selected. In order to have an argument that it is, and thus for a discussion of what might be its benefits to make sense, you first need to reject the null hypothesis, namely that it is a side product of the mechanisms that allow us to make use of others' experiences without fully replicating them. You could do that by demonstrating that it rests on different cognitive mechanisms, or that it is dissociated, where some people are impaired at one but fully fluent at the other. Of course, that kind of dissociation in itself doesn't prove that Following Cultural Norms should be elevated to the status of selected trait - it could be (and likely is) the composite outcome of several other features, the learning strategy being just one.

Until you do that, your question may not be all that different from asking for the selective benefit of being able to ride a bike. Of course, there are plethora of evolved capacities that play a smaller or larger role in enabling us to ride a bike, many of which have clear adaptive benefits and plausible selectionist explanations - but our "evolved bike-riding-capacity" isn't a thing in itself, as demonstrated among others by the fact that people without a single cyclist among their ancestors pick it up as easily as the Dutch.

I say mental make-up instead of a kind of g-intelligence factor because I'd assume there is more going on than ipso facto rationality. For someone who is emotionally invested in children, it's not just a rational choice being made, it's more of a world-view and mental/emotional predisposition to child-rearing. So I wouldn't assume those who are more likely to have kids are irrational, but I would assume that there is a positive correlation between reproductive success and following norms. Those who are more emotionally invested in the story so to speak, will be more motivated to achieve that story, than those not.

That's not to say that following norms is independently selected for, but mathematically the majority of us will always be norm followers because of the correlation between norms / reproduction.



I'm not discussing world-view, or intelligence as a linear quantitative variable, although I can see where you would get that impression. Sure that might be a part of it, but more broadly I'm interested in the evolution of the human mind as a whole.

What, for instance, causes the modern African to believe fervently in Nationalism even though their government is a parasite?

To the extent that this is true (I don't know that modern Africans believe in nationalism more fervently than residents of other continents), this actually shows malleability, rather than the opposite. Nationalism in its modern sense is an incredibly young phenomenon. Medieval warriors didn't kill for their country, they killed out of interpersonal obligations - they owed it to their landlord who again owed it to the king - in the case of knights; or because they were paid for killing in the case of mercenaries; or because their families were held hostage and would be made to suffer, or because it was their only way to raise their station in a society with a rigid class system where what you would become in life was almost entirely determined at birth. The nation state as we understand it (along with universal conscription) only emerged after the French revolution in Europe, and African nation states are much younger that that still.

What causes the sports fan to be emotionally invested in their team, even though it's an arbitrary group of players working for a business? Why are people unable to see through religion without an enormous amount of prompting and scientific research?

Because from the perspective of the individual learner who is a human with limited knowledge, not an idealized omniscient agent, religion is not categorically different from other opaque culturally transmitted knowledge. To someone who has never heard of the soil microbiome or the nitrogen cycle, plowing is every bit as magic as rain dances. That makes defaulting to accepting common wisdom a good survival strategy even without a direct benefit to accepting cultural norms in a narrow sense.

The primary question is whether these realities are malleable and changeable, or do they point to something inherent in us across time.

Differentiating between in-groups and out-groups does not rely on cultural norms - baboons and chimpanzees do it too - even ants, for fuck's sake. In short, it is universal among social animals, as nearly as any biological trait is. Culture can shape who is categorized as what, and the very fact that large and abstract entities such as the "nation", where 99.9% are people you've never met, can be conceptualized as the in-group shows a high degree of malleability, and gives hope that given the right circumstances, a majority of people might some day soon conceptualize of humanity as it's in-group.

Our learning strategy may well be in a kind of sweet spot - enough faithful replication to allow the accumulation and preservation of opaque knowledge, but enough noise to prevent stasis - to allow for rapid cultural evolution within the limits posed by our cognitive biology, in a similar fashion to how DNA replication its in a sweet spot to allow biological evolution. But if you have an argument to relate this to intelligence you have yet to present it.

That puts it better than I could. Truthfully I've deliberately left 'intelligence' out of it because I think you are correct - it is much more complicated than that. Running with my own sweeping generalizations I'd say that propensity for logic is overrated. It's better to be the person who is intuitive and who naturally enjoys the act of living. Not just for reproduction, but for all things.

So on an evolutionary scale of the gene / individual, it's better to be emotive and social.

There again this funny idea that rationality is in conflict with being "emotive and social". I vaguely remember citing studies that reported a weak but significant positive correlation between IQ and social intelligence last time you brought this up in the "Why does IQ cluster around 100 points?" thread. You chose to ignore that point.
 
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rousseau

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Well, contrary to what you're trying to say below, "not being able to look beyond" here does sound like a lacking capacity, not a different inclination. Same when you said in an earlier post "Too much critical thinking may lead to emancipation from custom - foregoing marriage, children, traditional lifeways. Too little critical thinking means we are not smart enough to understand what custom is, making us less likely to partner / have kids".

Rejecting out of hand every bit of conventional wisdom whose rationale you don't get is going to kill you through starvation long before it kills you, or makes you die childless, through being ostracized or lacking the desire to form a family. You're still treating Following Arbitrary Cultural Norms as a thing in itself and totally different from picking up opaque technological knowledge you couldn't derive yourself, when the two rest on the very same cognitive mechanisms. Unless you're omniscient, you can't have one without the other, at least to some degree. This also means that the null hypothesis is that "following cultural norms" (where you seem to restrict the term to arbitrary customs) is not independently selected. In order to have an argument that it is, and thus for a discussion of what might be its benefits to make sense, you first need to reject the null hypothesis, namely that it is a side product of the mechanisms that allow us to make use of others' experiences without fully replicating them. You could do that by demonstrating that it rests on different cognitive mechanisms, or that it is dissociated, where some people are impaired at one but fully fluent at the other. Of course, that kind of dissociation in itself doesn't prove that Following Cultural Norms should be elevated to the status of selected trait - it could be (and likely is) the composite outcome of several other features, the learning strategy being just one.

Until you do that, your question may not be all that different from asking for the selective benefit of being able to ride a bike. Of course, there are plethora of evolved capacities that play a smaller or larger role in enabling us to ride a bike, many of which have clear adaptive benefits and plausible selectionist explanations - but our "evolved bike-riding-capacity" isn't a thing in itself, as demonstrated among others by the fact that people without a single cyclist among their ancestors pick it up as easily as the Dutch.

Right maybe I didn't make it make it clear enough that I agreed with this point. I mentioned a correlation between not following norms and reproductive success, not causation. So maybe a better way to phrase it would be that our propensity for following norms has adaptive value.

To the extent that this is true (I don't know that modern Africans believe in nationalism more fervently than residents of other continents), this actually shows malleability, rather than the opposite. Nationalism in its modern sense is an incredibly young phenomenon. Medieval warriors didn't kill for their country, they killed out of interpersonal obligations - they owed it to their landlord who again owed it to the king - in the case of knights; or because they were paid for killing in the case of mercenaries; or because their families were held hostage and would be made to suffer, or because it was their only way to raise their station in a society with a rigid class system where what you would become in life was almost entirely determined at birth. The nation state as we understand it (along with universal conscription) only emerged after the French revolution in Europe, and African nation states are much younger that that still.

This shows malleability in what we will adhere to but not necessarily malleability in our propensity to adhere to it. You are absolutely correct that how we interact with norms is fluid and changeable, but I think it could be said that there is a basic propensity to be interior to the norm. That's not any kind of argument against what you're saying, I'm not interested in what we're likely to do, I'm interested in what we are. So your point here is a great indicator of that.

Differentiating between in-groups and out-groups does not rely on cultural norms - baboons and chimpanzees do it too - even ants, for fuck's sake. In short, it is universal among social animals, as nearly as any biological trait is. Culture can shape who is categorized as what, and the very fact that large and abstract entities such as the "nation", where 99.9% are people you've never met, can be conceptualized as the in-group shows a high degree of malleability, and gives hope that given the right circumstances, a majority of people might some day soon conceptualize of humanity as it's in-group.

That's a fair point.

There again this funny idea that rationality is in conflict with being "emotive and social". I vaguely remember citing studies that reported a weak but significant positive correlation between IQ and social intelligence last time you brought this up in the "Why does IQ cluster around 100 points?" thread. You chose to ignore that point.

I can understand why we're dwelling on this point, because maybe it is a part of the discussion, but I really am trying to move away from the emotion-reason dichotomy, for exactly the reason you describe. Maybe you can say that our propensity to follow norm means that there is an upper limit on hard reasoning ability. But I don't think the argument should be framed from the perspective that there is something inherently virtuous about reasoning skills. That's how our culture classically describes it, but if we can move away from the notion that people should be a rational animal than I think what we actually are will make more sense.

Namely, there are other qualities which make us distinctly human, with no need to cake on abstract concepts like what is or isn't superior. So far what I can grok from your prior descriptions is that - fundamentally - people are oriented to pick up and replicate norms. I should go back and read the study you mentioned earlier.
 

Jokodo

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Right maybe I didn't make it make it clear enough that I agreed with this point. I mentioned a correlation between not following norms and reproductive success, not causation. So maybe a better way to phrase it would be that our propensity for following norms has adaptive value.

So we agree that to an iron age farmer, plowing is almost as magic as rain dances, and a plausible evolutionary explanation why we tend to pick up the latter is that if we reject the former, we end up dead at a young age?

If so, the discussion about how rejecting norms might lead us to abstain from forming families is purely speculative. The proposition that not following norms may lead us to reject a family and kids and thus leave us to die alone when we're old is not a necessary ingredient to explaining the existence of (and our propensity to adhere to) those norms if we have independent reason to believe that not following norms will likely lead us to starve to death in a harsh winter/unusually long dry season long before that. It thus falls victim to Occam's razor. You can still speculate about it, but doing so isn't very scientific.

This shows malleability in what we will adhere to but not necessarily malleability in our propensity to adhere to it. You are absolutely correct that how we interact with norms is fluid and changeable, but I think it could be said that there is a basic propensity to be interior to the norm. That's not any kind of argument against what you're saying, I'm not interested in what we're likely to do, I'm interested in what we are. So your point here is a great indicator of that.

Sure, but if/when there is little limitation in what norms can look like (beyond those posed by other aspects of our cognitive biology), the mere fact that we tend to adhere to them does little to impose boundaries on what kind of societies we can form. That's in contradiction to what you said in your last post, namely " when we try to scale this trait to macro-systems it causes an inherent flaw in those systems".

Differentiating between in-groups and out-groups does not rely on cultural norms - baboons and chimpanzees do it too - even ants, for fuck's sake. In short, it is universal among social animals, as nearly as any biological trait is. Culture can shape who is categorized as what, and the very fact that large and abstract entities such as the "nation", where 99.9% are people you've never met, can be conceptualized as the in-group shows a high degree of malleability, and gives hope that given the right circumstances, a majority of people might some day soon conceptualize of humanity as it's in-group.

That's a fair point.

There again this funny idea that rationality is in conflict with being "emotive and social". I vaguely remember citing studies that reported a weak but significant positive correlation between IQ and social intelligence last time you brought this up in the "Why does IQ cluster around 100 points?" thread. You chose to ignore that point.

I can understand why we're dwelling on this point, because maybe it is a part of the discussion, but I really am trying to move away from the emotion-reason dichotomy, for exactly the reason you describe. Maybe you can say that our propensity to follow norm means that there is an upper limit on hard reasoning ability. But I don't think the argument should be framed from the perspective that there is something inherently virtuous about reasoning skills. That's how our culture classically describes it, but if we can move away from the notion that people should be a rational animal than I think what we actually are will make more sense.

Namely, there are other qualities which make us distinctly human, with no need to cake on abstract concepts like what is or isn't superior. So far what I can grok from your prior descriptions is that - fundamentally - people are oriented to pick up and replicate norms. I should go back and read the study you mentioned earlier.

Go ahead!
 

rousseau

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So we agree that to an iron age farmer, plowing is almost as magic as rain dances, and a plausible evolutionary explanation why we tend to pick up the latter is that if we reject the former, we end up dead at a young age?

If so, the discussion about how rejecting norms might lead us to abstain from forming families is purely speculative. The proposition that not following norms may lead us to reject a family and kids and thus leave us to die alone when we're old is not a necessary ingredient to explaining the existence of (and our propensity to adhere to) those norms if we have independent reason to believe that not following norms will likely lead us to starve to death in a harsh winter/unusually long dry season long before that. It thus falls victim to Occam's razor. You can still speculate about it, but doing so isn't very scientific.

Perhaps it's speculative, but the larger point is kind of an inverted way of saying the same thing. If we imagine someone who is born with a severe developmental disability, or with a dysfunctional reproductive system, in the most literal sense of the term they a) can't adhere to norms b) won't make up the majority of a population. They fall out of the gene pool or make up a small proportion of it. So yes following norms is adaptive, but it follows from that, that an inability to follow norms is maladaptive. By definition culture orients us to have children, if any quality of our genetic make up, whether physical or psychological, inhibits us from having children, it's inhibiting us from following norms.

No that doesn't mean the lack of the trait is selected for, where I agree with you. But it does mean that mathematically our species are predominantly norm followers.

Sure, but if/when there is little limitation in what norms can look like (beyond those posed by other aspects of our cognitive biology), the mere fact that we tend to adhere to them does little to impose boundaries on what kind of societies we can form. That's in contradiction to what you said in your last post, namely " when we try to scale this trait to macro-systems it causes an inherent flaw in those systems".

And this is where our mental-make up becomes the critical question. Ultimately the efficacy of our macro-systems stem from our individual abilities. So it brings us back to the question - what are people like - and is their predisposition a constant. My argument is that culture is a kind of limiting factor which orients the majority of our species in a certain way. The question is what this orientation is and how it influences the movement of our systems.
 

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So we agree that to an iron age farmer, plowing is almost as magic as rain dances, and a plausible evolutionary explanation why we tend to pick up the latter is that if we reject the former, we end up dead at a young age?

If so, the discussion about how rejecting norms might lead us to abstain from forming families is purely speculative. The proposition that not following norms may lead us to reject a family and kids and thus leave us to die alone when we're old is not a necessary ingredient to explaining the existence of (and our propensity to adhere to) those norms if we have independent reason to believe that not following norms will likely lead us to starve to death in a harsh winter/unusually long dry season long before that. It thus falls victim to Occam's razor. You can still speculate about it, but doing so isn't very scientific.

Perhaps it's speculative, but the larger point is kind of an inverted way of saying the same thing. If we imagine someone who is born with a severe developmental disability, or with a dysfunctional reproductive system, in the most literal sense of the term they a) can't adhere to norms b) won't make up the majority of a population. They fall out of the gene pool or make up a small proportion of it. So yes following norms is adaptive, but it follows from that, that an inability to follow norms is maladaptive.

How is that different from saying an irregular heart beat is adaptive? A prerequisite to having an irregular heart beat is to have a heart beat, and few if any people have a 100% regular heart beat - so essentially everyone who doesn't have an irregular heart beat is dead.

By definition culture orients us to have children, if any quality of our genetic make up, whether physical or psychological, inhibits us from having children, it's inhibiting us from following norms.

I think you meant to say "by stipulation" - at least this isn't any definition of culture (or children) I'm aware of.

No that doesn't mean the lack of the trait is selected for, where I agree with you. But it does mean that mathematically our species are predominantly norm followers.

Sure, but if/when there is little limitation in what norms can look like (beyond those posed by other aspects of our cognitive biology), the mere fact that we tend to adhere to them does little to impose boundaries on what kind of societies we can form. That's in contradiction to what you said in your last post, namely " when we try to scale this trait to macro-systems it causes an inherent flaw in those systems".

And this is where our mental-make up becomes the critical question. Ultimately the efficacy of our macro-systems stem from our individual abilities. So it brings us back to the question - what are people like - and is their predisposition a constant. My argument is that culture is a kind of limiting factor which orients the majority of our species in a certain way. The question is what this orientation is and how it influences the movement of our systems.

Our mental makeup - yes. But our predisposition to follow norms is actually the one part of our mental make up that, far from limiting the possibility space of human societies, expands it. If everyone were just doing what comes most naturally to them to achieve their individually best outcome (in a combination of instinct and rational deliberation, whatever their relative import - and even 100% rational deliberation isn't guaranteed or even expected to create an ideal outcome at the societal level!), there'd be one and only one possible stable shape of society given a particular environment, and there's no reason to assume that it would be one that scales well. It is because of our predisposition to follow cultural norms that the possibilities multiply. If you're worried that our inclinations nudge us towards a social structure that doesn't scale well, our predisposition to follow norms is not your enemy - it is your best friend!

There is actual evidence that cultural norms make people living in large-scale complex societies (where daily interactions with strangers are the norm) more inclined to engage in "altruistic punishment", i. e. penalizing non-cooperative behaviour in strangers even at a cost to the self and thus creating an environment where cooperation pays off even in contexts where otherwise wouldn't. We used to think this is an odd and evolutionarily hard to explain biological disposition of humans - turns out it isn't biological, and not shared by people living in small scale societies where interactions are mostly limited to acquaintances you can pay back next time you meet them! http://matchism.org/refs/Henrich_2010_WeirdestPeople.pdf
 

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Altruistic punishment. I'm think you're taking it as something that grows out of herd and mob conditions as a means to keep the functioning whole together.

It's not. What you describe is a bit like what was observed and used by Wynne-Edwards in his argument for group selection. He referred to the tendency for some members among Sage Gross to move to the periphery resulted from in what he called altruistic behavior for the common good loss of reproduction and more certain death by predators during mating group gatherings as a group genetic adaptation.

Of course Williams demonstrated it was just another example of group organization as a social consequence of individual competition. The fact is is losers cannot be judged as volunteers is obvious. One needs other, individual gene related - For instance, it has been amply demonstrated that individual passenger pigeons developed attributes requiring large scale clusters to stimulate biochemical mating functions - rational to explain development of large group social mating behavior. Trying it is for the group good just doesn't work. I'm pretty certain that a six inch tail feather isn't justified by flight dynamics either. What I'm saying is don't use a genetic brush to describe individual tendencies within large groups. Sometimes, individual in-group behaviors, like sexual mate tastes, are just weird.*

*All from memories from about 55 years ago.
 
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rousseau

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Somewhat related - Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development - implies a similar thing. That is most of us follow conventional norms.

I think you could kind of run with these stages in a loose way and grab hold of the word 'conventional'. If we can agree that following norms is conventional, and that most of us are oriented to follow norms, then most of us don't get to the point of post-conventionalism. Those members of a community with self-defined moral principles, and life-strategies are the exception, rather than the norm.

Map this into religion, politics, and we get a situation where most of us are not able to peer beyond the status quo. We see the system, but not any of the inherent dysfunction of the system. A lack of systems thinking, if you will.
 

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Altruistic punishment. I'm think you're taking it as something that grows out of herd and mob conditions as a means to keep the functioning whole together.

It's not. What you describe is a bit like what was observed and used by Wynne-Edwards in his argument for group selection. He referred to the tendency for some members among Sage Gross to move to the periphery resulted from in what he called altruistic behavior for the common good loss of reproduction and more certain death by predators during mating group gatherings as a group genetic adaptation.

Of course Williams demonstrated it was just another example of group organization as a social consequence of individual competition. The fact is is losers cannot be judged as volunteers is obvious. One needs other, individual gene related - For instance, it has been amply demonstrated that individual passenger pigeons developed attributes requiring large scale clusters to stimulate biochemical mating functions - rational to explain development of large group social mating behavior. Trying it is for the group good just doesn't work. I'm pretty certain that a six inch tail feather isn't justified by flight dynamics either. What I'm saying is don't use a genetic brush to describe individual tendencies within large groups. Sometimes, individual in-group behaviors, like sexual mate tastes, are just weird.*

*All from memories from about 55 years ago.

I wouldn't know, I wasn't around 55 years ago. Nor is that my point. Whether you like the term or not, and even if whoever first coined it was wrong about its explanation, "altruistic punishment" has become established terminology for a class of behaviours where the subject penalizes uncooperative behaviour even though letting it fly would gain them more. "Altruistic" because, so it's argued, doing so (when widespread) makes cooperation pay off more and thus makes the world a nicer place for other (cooperative) agents, "punishment" should be obvious. The textbook example is an experiment where participant A, actually an assistant to the experimenter, gets to divide a sum if money as he sees fit. Participant b, the actual subject, can accept the partition or reject it, in which case neither gets anything. Running this setup on undergrads had shown that most will reject a 9-1 or a 8-2 partition, even as it means going home with less money. (I'm explaining this mostly for other readers, as I expect you to know all of this and more first hand).

Im not using it to argue for group selection, and if anyone ever did, that's not my mess to sort out. Instead I said s almost the opposite - that it isn't the product of any kind if biological evolution but learnt behaviour, as it could not be replicated in small scale societies where subjects tended to act rationally in accepting any non-zero share.
 
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Jokodo

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Somewhat related - Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development - implies a similar thing. That is most of us follow conventional norms.

I think you could kind of run with these stages in a loose way and grab hold of the word 'conventional'. If we can agree that following norms is conventional, and that most of us are oriented to follow norms, then most of us don't get to the point of post-conventionalism. Those members of a community with self-defined moral principles, and life-strategies are the exception, rather than the norm.

Map this into religion, politics, and we get a situation where most of us are not able to peer beyond the status quo. We see the system, but not any of the inherent dysfunction of the system. A lack of systems thinking, if you will.

Sounds more like philosophy than science to me.
 

fromderinside

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Altruistic punishment. I'm think you're taking it as something that grows out of herd and mob conditions as a means to keep the functioning whole together.

It's not. What you describe is a bit like what was observed and used by Wynne-Edwards in his argument for group selection. He referred to the tendency for some members among Sage Gross to move to the periphery resulted from in what he called altruistic behavior for the common good loss of reproduction and more certain death by predators during mating group gatherings as a group genetic adaptation.

Of course Williams demonstrated it was just another example of group organization as a social consequence of individual competition. The fact is is losers cannot be judged as volunteers is obvious. One needs other, individual gene related - For instance, it has been amply demonstrated that individual passenger pigeons developed attributes requiring large scale clusters to stimulate biochemical mating functions - rational to explain development of large group social mating behavior. Trying it is for the group good just doesn't work. I'm pretty certain that a six inch tail feather isn't justified by flight dynamics either. What I'm saying is don't use a genetic brush to describe individual tendencies within large groups. Sometimes, individual in-group behaviors, like sexual mate tastes, are just weird.*

*All from memories from about 55 years ago.

I wouldn't know, I wasn't around 55 years ago. Nor is that my point. Whether you like the term or not, and even if whoever first coined it was wrong about its explanation, "altruistic punishment" has become established terminology for a class of behaviours where the subject penalizes uncooperative behaviour even though letting it fly would gain them more. "Altruistic" because, so it's argued, doing so (when widespread) makes cooperation pay off more and thus makes the world a nicer place for other (cooperative) agents, "punishment" should be obvious. The textbook example is an experiment where participant A, actually an assistant to the experimenter, gets to divide a sum if money as he sees fit. Participant b, the actual subject, can accept the partition or reject it, in which case neither gets anything. Running this setup on undergrads had shown that most will reject a 9-1 or a 8-2 partition, even as it means going home with less money. (I'm explaining this mostly for other readers, as I expect you to know all of this and more first hand).

Im not using it to argue for group selection, and if anyone ever did, that's not my mess to sort out. Instead I said s almost the opposite - that it isn't the product of any kind if biological evolution but learnt behaviour, as it could not be replicated in small scale societies where subjects tended to act rationally in accepting any non-zero share.

Just setting up a arena for discussion of small group large group behavioral dimensions Jokodo. As I read your description I see you attribute 'altruistic punishment' as some form of beneficial social moderating mechanism resulting from learning experiences and, as you put it constituting one of a class of individual behaviors in large groups. My position was that such would be hard to justify if advantage or personal benefit served as a core basis for learning as it demonstrably does. As you put it advantage would dictate one acting otherwise to one's near term interest.

Seems to me there is something missing here in the analysis. Otherwise one wouldn't look at large group outcomes as basis for individual behavior. Why not reduce your analysis to immediate group and find local situations nearby reasons for immediate individual behavior. Your view requires some mechanism in individuals for adjudicating on terms long term stability in large groups for local judgments. You have provided none. I'd gladly entertain a cluster of competing selfish motives resulting in group cooperative dynamics through complex trade supporting individual behaviors.

Noe I'm not saying one doesn't learn to act more than one to one transactions. Obviously we learn to put family and neighbor before stanger, different, and enemy. My guess is there are a suite of local behavior drivers - selfish behaviors like those resulting from one choosing short term advantage - that lead up to the result of large group long term stability behaviors by individuals. I just can't get from general group behavior to individual behavior by contradictory name labelling something that has to be relatively complex to result in such as you describe.
 

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Altruistic punishment. I'm think you're taking it as something that grows out of herd and mob conditions as a means to keep the functioning whole together.

It's not. What you describe is a bit like what was observed and used by Wynne-Edwards in his argument for group selection. He referred to the tendency for some members among Sage Gross to move to the periphery resulted from in what he called altruistic behavior for the common good loss of reproduction and more certain death by predators during mating group gatherings as a group genetic adaptation.

Of course Williams demonstrated it was just another example of group organization as a social consequence of individual competition. The fact is is losers cannot be judged as volunteers is obvious. One needs other, individual gene related - For instance, it has been amply demonstrated that individual passenger pigeons developed attributes requiring large scale clusters to stimulate biochemical mating functions - rational to explain development of large group social mating behavior. Trying it is for the group good just doesn't work. I'm pretty certain that a six inch tail feather isn't justified by flight dynamics either. What I'm saying is don't use a genetic brush to describe individual tendencies within large groups. Sometimes, individual in-group behaviors, like sexual mate tastes, are just weird.*

*All from memories from about 55 years ago.

I wouldn't know, I wasn't around 55 years ago. Nor is that my point. Whether you like the term or not, and even if whoever first coined it was wrong about its explanation, "altruistic punishment" has become established terminology for a class of behaviours where the subject penalizes uncooperative behaviour even though letting it fly would gain them more. "Altruistic" because, so it's argued, doing so (when widespread) makes cooperation pay off more and thus makes the world a nicer place for other (cooperative) agents, "punishment" should be obvious. The textbook example is an experiment where participant A, actually an assistant to the experimenter, gets to divide a sum if money as he sees fit. Participant b, the actual subject, can accept the partition or reject it, in which case neither gets anything. Running this setup on undergrads had shown that most will reject a 9-1 or a 8-2 partition, even as it means going home with less money. (I'm explaining this mostly for other readers, as I expect you to know all of this and more first hand).

Im not using it to argue for group selection, and if anyone ever did, that's not my mess to sort out. Instead I said s almost the opposite - that it isn't the product of any kind if biological evolution but learnt behaviour, as it could not be replicated in small scale societies where subjects tended to act rationally in accepting any non-zero share.

Just setting up a arena for discussion of small group large group behavioral dimensions Jokodo. As I read your description I see you attribute 'altruistic punishment' as some form of beneficial social moderating mechanism resulting from learning experiences and, as you put it constituting one of a class of individual behaviors in large groups. My position was that such would be hard to justify if advantage or personal benefit served as a core basis for learning as it demonstrably does. As you put it advantage would dictate one acting otherwise to one's near term interest.

Seems to me there is something missing here in the analysis. Otherwise one wouldn't look at large group outcomes as basis for individual behavior. Why not reduce your analysis to immediate group and find local situations nearby reasons for immediate individual behavior. Your view requires some mechanism in individuals for adjudicating on terms long term stability in large groups for local judgments. You have provided none. I'd gladly entertain a cluster of competing selfish motives resulting in group cooperative dynamics through complex trade supporting individual behaviors.

Noe I'm not saying one doesn't learn to act more than one to one transactions. Obviously we learn to put family and neighbor before stanger, different, and enemy. My guess is there are a suite of local behavior drivers - selfish behaviors like those resulting from one choosing short term advantage - that lead up to the result of large group long term stability behaviors by individuals. I just can't get from general group behavior to individual behavior by contradictory name labelling something that has to be relatively complex to result in such as you describe.

Can you rephrase? Im not sure I understand your objection, if any. Though I suspect it's rather tangential to my point, which is that the initially surprising behaviour of participants in the ultimatum game is not as stable across cultures as once implicitly believed. That is an empirical finding that stands irrespective.
 

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... my point, which is that the initially surprising behaviour of participants in the ultimatum game is not as stable across cultures as once implicitly believed. That is an empirical finding that stands irrespective.

That was your point? Such would suggest something other than "that it isn't the product of any kind if biological evolution but learnt behaviour, as it could not be replicated in small scale societies where subjects tended to act rationally in accepting any non-zero share"

Baiting one with "not....biological evolution" garnished with it's "learnt behaviour" because large group findings don't replicate small group findings does not jump out from "initially surprising behaviour of participants in the ultimatum game is not as stable across cultures as once implicitly believed."

It may be so in the game but its not compelling evidence for learning - a product of evolution - is not evolution at all for the reason I posted. One doesn't get from a large statistical group observation of choices differentiation between evolution and learning.
 

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... my point, which is that the initially surprising behaviour of participants in the ultimatum game is not as stable across cultures as once implicitly believed. That is an empirical finding that stands irrespective.

That was your point? Such would suggest something other than "that it isn't the product of any kind if biological evolution but learnt behaviour, as it could not be replicated in small scale societies where subjects tended to act rationally in accepting any non-zero share"

Baiting one with "not....biological evolution" garnished with it's "learnt behaviour" because large group findings don't replicate small group findings does not jump out from "initially surprising behaviour of participants in the ultimatum game is not as stable across cultures as once implicitly believed."

It may be so in the game but its not compelling evidence for learning - a product of evolution - is not evolution at all for the reason I posted. One doesn't get from a large statistical group observation of choices differentiation between evolution and learning.

You're either derailing, or im stil not getting your point. Of course, the evolved mechanisms by which we learn, and how they lead to an overall learning strategy different from our closest relatives, adding up to a biological basis for our capacity to manifest culture of a qualitatively different kind that in chimps, are the one red thread of my contributions to this discussion.

That I'm pointing out that the responses to one particular experiment are not (immediately) the product of what the lay person might call "instinct" does not nullify that.

Of course, the learning that underlies the behaviour is based in evolved learning strategies. I've been going on about those for the entire thread. The rest, if you don't like it, go to your favourite scholastic search engine and pick a fight with any of the numerous authors who've written about the "ultimatum game" and/or "altruistic punishment" - not with me!
 
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fromderinside

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Apparently, since I see little evidence of appearance consistencies in scofflaws, the driving genetics are more tied to behavioral aspects of evolution rather than physical appearance aspects of evolution.

Above was my initial response to rousseau. Given what you wrote later it appears we are more in agreement than latest posts suggest.

However.

Thank you for enlightening me. I just got gored by the juxtaposition of learning against evolution from large group results yielding counter intuitive results to presuppositions - I presumed to be from fitness approach expectations - of expected results by the scientific community.

Moving on.
 

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Jokodo you're going to love this one.

I asked my wife, who's known she's wanted kids her whole life, why that was. She said because it sounded like fun. If an anecdote from one person can't answer this entire question, I don't know what can.
 

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Jokodo you're going to love this one.

I asked my wife, who's known she's wanted kids her whole life, why that was. She said because it sounded like fun. If an anecdote from one person can't answer this entire question, I don't know what can.

Tell her to watch the Robin Williams sketch about giving birth. :eek:

From memory I'm not sure if it includes the suggested test that can be done (eg by men) to help them appreciate what goes on, but that part goes something like...

Take your top lip between thumb and forefinger, pull your lip outwards as far as you can, then pull it up and over your the top of your head.
 

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Jokodo you're going to love this one.

I asked my wife, who's known she's wanted kids her whole life, why that was. She said because it sounded like fun. If an anecdote from one person can't answer this entire question, I don't know what can.

An anecdote can never replace data.

Also, I'm unsure what exactly this is meant to show. You, me, and everyone else rationalise their decisions ask the time, in ways thay may not ne informative if underlying motives. Introspection isn't a kill all source of data.
 

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Take your top lip between thumb and forefinger, pull your lip outwards as far as you can, then pull it up and over your the top of your head.
Lower lip. And it's a Bill Cosby routine.
A little later in the set, he describes his wife's attempt at natural childbirth.
"...Then she grabbed my lower lip, pulled herself up off the table, and shouted, I WANT MORPHINE!"
 

rousseau

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Jokodo you're going to love this one.

I asked my wife, who's known she's wanted kids her whole life, why that was. She said because it sounded like fun. If an anecdote from one person can't answer this entire question, I don't know what can.

Tell her to watch the Robin Williams sketch about giving birth. :eek:

From memory I'm not sure if it includes the suggested test that can be done (eg by men) to help them appreciate what goes on, but that part goes something like...

Take your top lip between thumb and forefinger, pull your lip outwards as far as you can, then pull it up and over your the top of your head.

What kind of absolute maniac (and/or complete, unflinching badass) would ever want to go through that?
 

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Jokodo you're going to love this one.

I asked my wife, who's known she's wanted kids her whole life, why that was. She said because it sounded like fun. If an anecdote from one person can't answer this entire question, I don't know what can.

Tell her to watch the Robin Williams sketch about giving birth. :eek:

From memory I'm not sure if it includes the suggested test that can be done (eg by men) to help them appreciate what goes on, but that part goes something like...

Take your top lip between thumb and forefinger, pull your lip outwards as far as you can, then pull it up and over your the top of your head.

What kind of absolute maniac (and/or complete, unflinching badass) would ever want to go through that?

The one you're married to, apparently. :)

My wife also claims (after reading about it) that evolution has seen to it that women don't properly remember the experience, otherwise they would not do it more than once.
 

rousseau

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Jokodo you're going to love this one.

I asked my wife, who's known she's wanted kids her whole life, why that was. She said because it sounded like fun. If an anecdote from one person can't answer this entire question, I don't know what can.

An anecdote can never replace data.

Also, I'm unsure what exactly this is meant to show. You, me, and everyone else rationalise their decisions ask the time, in ways thay may not ne informative if underlying motives. Introspection isn't a kill all source of data.
I was mostly just kidding. After a long string of exchanges where you tried to hammer home evidence and rigor, why not make the most pure speculation possible with a single anecdote.

And yet it's also funny because there could be some truth to it. The sexually successful person is oriented to experience our culture and lives as fun, which is something I suggested earlier.
 
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