Evolution

Our Big Brains Are Pre-Wired for Love, Friendship, Cooperation, and Learning

A new book offers an answer to the nature/nurture debate.

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Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society, by Nicholas A. Christakis, Little, Brown, 544 pages, $30

We finally have an answer to the nature/nurture debate, and it appears to be yes.

It took billions of years of biological evolution for bacteria to morph into humanity, but the human ability to learn and to teach each other new tricks means that useful behaviors and ideas don't have to take biological time to spread through the species. Their emergence, the ways we spread them, and the ways they change over time amount to a kind of cultural evolution.

A cultural discovery—our pre-human predecessors' capture of fire—externalized the digestive system that evolution had shaped for our variety of ape. That freed biological energy to grow a big brain. In Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of A Good Society, Nicholas Christakis argues that this coevolution has equipped us with a "social suite" of traits that arose through genetic evolution and that have been amplified by cultural evolution, which has in turn influenced our genetic evolution toward propensities that support the social suite. These include the "capacity to have and recognize individual identity," "love for partners and offspring," friendship, social networks, cooperation, "preference for one's own group ('in-group bias')," "mild hierarchy (that is, relative egalitarianism)," and "social learning and teaching."

Christakis, a physician and a sociologist at Yale, buttresses his arguments with evidence from social science, evolutionary biology, genetics, neuroscience, and network science. He presents evidence from beyond the laboratory, drawing examples from the history of shipwrecks and communes and from studies of elephants, bonobos, and dolphins. He even addresses philosophical objections to his claim that our genetic and cultural history prepared humans "to make a particular kind of society—one full of love, friendship, cooperation, and learning."

(If you're familiar with the "Halloween incident" at Yale, you might be surprised at Christakis' optimism: After his wife, at the time also a member of the Yale faculty, wrote an email to students pushing back against warnings about "culturally unaware and insensitive" costumes, both spouses were confronted and shouted at by students. He eventually stepped down from his role as head of a residential college but retained his tenured professorship, while she stopped teaching at the university altogether.)

Christakis embraces a "glass is half full" interpretation of human sociality, but he doesn't shy away from the inseparable shadow consequences of the same traits: Our ancestors learned to be kind when they learned to be more effective groups of killer apes. People all over the world observe social norms of fairness and reciprocity, even without direct reward, in part because our otherwise different societies punish non-cooperators. We cooperate with others in our in-group in order to compete with out-groups. In gene-culture coevolution, contradictory and conflicting behaviors can power a kind of evolutionary arms race. Nature (pre-wired capabilities, such as the capacity for cooperation and social learning) and nurture (cultural development of teaching) can act as complementary forces, together driving the elaboration of cultural forms and the expansion of the social suite.

"Evolution," Christakis writes, "provides the underlying foundation for human culture by equipping us with the ability to cooperate, make friends, and learn socially."

Key to Christakis' arguments are the concepts of pre-wiring and exaptation. While a hardwired trait might equip a species of bird to voice the same tune everywhere in the world, a species pre-wired for birdsong might invent different songs in different environments. The former is often used to describe traits that are reflexive or instinctive. Hardwired compels; pre-wired enables.

Exaptation is an evolutionary trick that human beings are not alone in exploiting, although we are particularly good at it. It means that a species can repurpose a trait like feathers, which probably evolved as a form of thermal insulation, to do other things, such as fly. Exaptation also bridges genetic and cultural forms of evolution. While long, slow, biological evolution provides us (and other species) with a strong tendency for parents to form lasting partnerships—"pair-bonding"—human cultures provide a wide variety of cultural forms, such as monogamy, polygamy, and polyandry.

The biological advantage of pair-bonding is that the father stays around to help the mother take care of the offspring they have produced. This close partnership assures the father that he is indeed helping raise his own children, which is particularly useful in our species, which requires an investment of years of care before a child can act as an adult. And it assures the mother that she has help finding food and shelter while she births and nurtures offspring. As Christakis puts it: "The evolutionary psychology of both men and women is to exchange love for support."

Christakis claims that over time, humans learned to extend the affection and partnership we have with our mates to our kin, then to our kin's friends, then to all the members of a strongly defined group—an expanding circle of attachment that enables us to form social networks and complex societies. When maternal love becomes marital love and those forms of love expand to create friendships, a norm of expectations spreads through the group: Friends expect reciprocity, a balance of favors asked and offered. Relationships with in-laws take a variety of forms in different human societies, but in all cases they expand the circle of people one expects to trust. As networks of trust grow, a norm of cooperation emerges: Everybody expects others to help further the aims of the in-group. I may do favors for people in my group, even if they aren't kin and even if they haven't done anything for me, because I know that I can also count on other members of my group to do me favors.

In any group, some people will be willing to cooperate and others will "free ride" on the work of the cooperators. When free riding reaches a certain point, cooperation breaks down. Extensive research suggests that "altruistic punishment" may be a kind of social glue that maintains an acceptable level of cooperation. Think of how you'd like to tell off that person who cuts in line ahead of you. That's altruistic punishment—a norm upheld not by a police force but by public opinion.

Culture, as Christakis defines it, is "knowledge that is transmitted between individuals and across time, that can be taught and learned, and that is distinctive to groups…a set of beliefs, behaviors, and artifacts that are shared by members of the group and are typical of it, and that are socially transmitted." Other species exhibit social learning, but human beings are by far the best at deliberately inculcating other members of our group with useful knowledge. In other words, we're the best at teaching.

Human beings have compulsions and talents—some that most would consider "good," and some that most would consider "not good." We also have tools to create workarounds for the "not good" part: norms that enable people in groups to cooperate, even if they don't know each other; punishment that keeps "free riding" low enough that people will contribute to public goods; reputation that enables trust among people who may not have dealt with each other before.

The critical uncertainty is choice: Will our pre-wiring—together with toxic cultural forces, such as racism—lead to fiercer, meaner, better-armed tribal conflict? Or will the part of us that expands love from mates to friends to shipmates come to dominate? Christakis is optimistic. I hope he's right.

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  1. My prediction: The ‘pre-wiring’ that enables cooperation and altruistic behavior will be sorely tested in 2020, judging by the platforms of the 25 ‘Wokistas’ who are running for The Big Chair on the ‘woke’ side. 🙂

  2. Our big brains are pre-wired for a limited degree of love, friendship, and cooperation, and attempting to push people into exceeding those limits has really bad consequences.

    1. The headline seems to ignore that those traits are for an individual’s in-group. Those traits are reversed for the out-group or non-conforming members of the in-group. These are basic and obvious aspects of human nature that shows you where capitalism and socialism succeed but also where they will fail. Mess with what a culture/society/collective is too much and it collapses.

      1. Excellent point. Here’s another point. Some people lack the pre-wiring for the traits of love, friendship, and cooperation, and yet learn to imitate these traits to manipulate those around them. We call them psychopaths. Psychopaths are also able to exploit another pre-wiring trait of humans: the tendency to follow a pack leader. Thus, they tend to gravitate to positions of power, and end up being politicians or CEOs. The answer to the question “Why does the world feel so fucked up?” was answered years ago by Polish psychologist Andrzej Lobaczewski in Political Ponerology. The world feels so fucked up because it is run by psychopaths.

        1. Peace and success lead to decadence.
          With civilization taking care of survival, we create arbitrary systems that promote traits other than those that require natural merit. Reach is extended through technological advances and those arbitrary “virtues” are amplified.
          The big fish still eats the small fish, but size and skill are based on a rather peculiar set of circumstances.
          Kylie Jenner is a billionaire.

          1. Kylie is a billionaire because there are a shit ton of idiot consumers who fell for celebrity manufactured scarcity in her pop up shops.

            1. She has to be doing something right, otherwise where are all the other celebrity billionaires?

              1. Sometimes luck is just luck. She got the sale du jour.

        2. Wish this idiotic myth that CEOs are psychopaths would die.

          https://www.cbsnews.com/news/are-ceos-psychopaths/

          At the height of the myth the number was 1 in 5. Do you know which trait is more closely associated with becoming a CEO? High EQ, or emotional intelligence. This means controlling ones own emotions and eliminating bad habits such as largess or apathy.

          1. That’s just like, some lady’s opinion, man. I think you would really enjoy Ayn Rand’s “America’s Persecuted Minority: Big Business.”

        3. Some people lack the pre-wiring for the traits of love, friendship, and cooperation, and yet learn to imitate these traits to manipulate those around them.

          That is true. But what does that have to do with running societies? You can’t “love” 330 million people, you can’t have 330 million “friends”. Any leader who operates based on love and friendship is simply corrupt and irrational, even worse than a psychopath.

          The world feels so fucked up because it is run by psychopaths.

          The world feels so fucked up because too many people (including yourself apparently) are looking to leaders to solve their problems and make them feel good.

          When government is small and powerless, it doesn’t matter who the leader is.

      2. Exactly, and our brains are prewired for in-group/out-group identification, so people will always divide others this way, whether its by race, religion, political affiliation, or something else

  3. Does he have a chapter on what will happen as we decide to totally ignore all wiring and devote ourselves to delusion and hate?

    1. That’s for the History Department to document.

    2. That’s wired in, too

  4. I like big brains and I cannot lie
    All the other primates can’d deny

    1. That’s a good way to get Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

  5. The biological advantage of pair-bonding is that the father stays around to help the mother take care of the offspring they have produced. This close partnership assures the father that he is indeed helping raise his own children, which is particularly useful in our species, which requires an investment of years of care before a child can act as an adult. And it assures the mother that she has help finding food and shelter while she births and nurtures offspring.

    There is going to be some blowback on this. This is saying that a man and a woman are biologically and historically the norm for humans to best raise their kids to adults.

    1. Not to mention, the “alternative genders” crowd will scream if they ever read this.

      1. And that social groups where the father often doesn’t stay around for the children will scream “racism”.

        1. And where often neither the mother nor father stay around and the kids are raised by Grandma.

          1. The grandmother hypothesis.

            Why does menopause occur in the evolutionary biological sense?

            Yet women live far beyond reproductive age.

            I think the basic idea is grandma can contribute to raising of the children produced by her sons and daughters. Thus contributing to survival rates.

            It is an interesting hypothesis suggesting that menopause is an adaptation not an accident.

            1. Yet women live far beyond reproductive age.

              They do now. For most of human history, most women probably stayed pregnant or nursing for most of their lives and died before or shortly after menopause. Old women are mostly artificial beings made possible by modern technology.

            2. I think the basic idea is grandma can contribute to raising of the children produced by her sons and daughters. Thus contributing to survival rates.

              You idiotic scientistic fundies will swear up and down that evolution is completely agnostic to your silly motives and the proceed to hypothesize as to what motives it may’ve had to do whatever it did.

              As Vernon points out. Chimps routinely undergo menopause in captivity while wild chimps rarely live so long. None of which gives any sort of implication about the morality of having grandmas raise the grandkids while mom and dad hunt and gather.

    2. More generally it says that pairs of caregivers are the “norm” and that single parentage is undesirable

      Granted this will still produce blowback, but not as much

  6. “Christakis claims that over time, humans learned to extend the affection and partnership we have with our mates to our kin, then to our kin’s friends, then to all the members of a strongly defined group—an expanding circle of attachment that enables us to form social networks and complex societies.”

    The upper limit on our social groups has been shown to correspond to the size of our neocortex. Much to the chagrin of chatroom atheists everywhere, the resulting increase in effective group size corresponding to increases in the size of our neocortex shows that the human brain evolved to harness the benefits of both language and religion. I think that’s what we’re really talking about happening–rather than being wired for friendship, love, etc.

    “The relative neocortex size of any species correlates with the level of social complexity of the particular species.[12] The neocortex size correlates with a number of social variables that include social group size and complexity of mating behaviors.[13] . . . . [Robin Dunbar’s study] indicates that only after the speciation event is the neocortex large enough to process complex social phenomena such as language and religion. The study is based on a regression analysis of neocortex size plotted against a number of social behaviors of living and extinct hominids.[15]

    Stephen Jay Gould suggests that religion may have grown out of evolutionary changes which favored larger brains as a means of cementing group coherence among savannah hunters”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_origin_of_religions#Increased_brain_size

    Christakis doesn’t appear to be offering any new facts. He’s just putting his own interpretation on them. I can’t help but notice that its outlines seem to share certain assumptions with the cosmological argument for God. Anyone else see the parallels?

    The size of the universe(s) and the way all this was constructed ensured that humanity would spring from the void. You can choose to believe that this was an inevitable accident or that this was on purpose without needing to argue these facts. In order to overcome limitations to our evolutionary progress, we needed to evolve a capacity for culture as well as a culture where we do unto others as we would have done unto us. You can choose to believe that this is for no particular reason and headed nowhere, or you can believe that we have a higher destiny–without disputing this fact.

    Because you don’t believe in the supernatural doesn’t mean you aren’t religious. To those who truly believe in God, he’s part of the natural world. Everywhere I look in our culture, I see people trying to recreate Christianity by other means. It’s as if their neocortex had evolved to fill them with a need for religion and so they struggle to recreate religion without any supernatural components.

    What does it mean to not believe in the supernatural? Does it mean insisting that the inevitable must have been purposeless? That seems irrational.

    1. “In order to overcome limitations to our evolutionary progress, we needed to evolve a capacity for culture as well as a culture where we do unto others as we would have done unto us.”

      Exhibit 1:

      Far be it from me to explain the Kimura equation to any racists, out there, who are too stupid to understand its implications or why it might support their awful arguments from an evolutionary perspective. Suffice it to say, there are significant physical limitations to our evolutionary progress. How ironic is it if Christianity provided not just the logic but the actual means to overcome those limitations?

    2. I see people trying to recreate Christianity by other means. It’s as if their neocortex had evolved to fill them with a need for religion and so they struggle to recreate religion without any supernatural components.

      Of course Christianity is a derivation from previous religious and supernatural beliefs. You might say that religion has also evolved over time, to continue to promote social bonds that Christakis says we’re prewired for. Of course religion was a natural solution not only to our prewired tribal loyalty/society, but throughout history as an answer to from where we came. Christianity isn’t really unique in either of these aspects as many religions promote society.

      As science continues to mature, it provides an answer to these questions and we learn that our tribe can be much bigger than we originally thought, and that we don’t need to derive supernatural explanations to explain our origin as a species. This is important because it’s not our religion which defined our tribe, but it is our species.

      1. “As science continues to mature, it provides an answer to these questions and we learn that our tribe can be much bigger than we originally thought,”

        Suggest “The Human Swarm” (Mark W. Moffett). He argues (persuasively, IMO) that all animals form societies and there are limits to the sizes of all societies of all types (and there are ‘types’ of societies).

        1. Thanks for the rec. What do you (or he) propose as a practical limit to society?

          China is a pretty tight knit society at around 1.5B. I do think it is human nature to form societies around common looks, common heritage, common religion. I’d argue that the west has a pretty tight knit society as well. Europe + USA is a little over 1B.

          1. “What do you (or he) propose as a practical limit to society?”

            Certain forms of societies (those based on individual recognition, say Chimps) are limited to 35 or so (from memory). Those based on ID ‘signals’ (like humans) really don’t have a specific number limit, but they tend to fragment and fission into more societies.
            The Uighurs would argue that the Chinese ‘society’ is a good bit smaller than that, and even among the Han, the oppressive government might well be masking some fragmentation.

          2. I see you don’t know a lot about China.
            Thee Western 1/2 to 1/3, the non-Han part, the Uyghur, Miao, and Tibetan parts, would like to have a word

            1. Fair point. The population in the east is still rather huge.

              1. Taiwan and Hong Kong would also quibble with this. In fact, China has, for most of it’s history, been a story of one province rising to power and subjugating the other provinces. Then the other provinces inevitably rebel and the process starts over. For most of it’s history China was just it’s Eastern provinces warring amongst each other. Even the birth of the CPC started as different provinces vied for power after the abdication of the last emporer of the Quing dynasty. Who had surplanted the Ming dynasty. Generally, corruption and poor economics have lead to the overthrow of the regimes. It should be pointed out this is why the Communist eventually beat the KMT. Xi is centralizing power, as corruption appear to be growing despite his efforts to rein it in. And the Chinese economy is far weaker then it likes to admit. Many subjugated provinces are already growing ever more restless.

        2. Not all animals form societies. Some species are strictly solitary and only meet up to mate.

          1. “Not all animals form societies. Some species are strictly solitary and only meet up to mate.”
            My mistake; you are correct. Most animals form societies.

            1. Define most. More than 50% of animal species? Since most beetles are not social, that would seem to disprive your point right there. Maybe you meant just mammals?

              1. Count ants if you’d like “most”.
                And all you pedantics? Stuff it up your ass.

                1. Ah yes, when Sevo starts losing an argument because the other person brings facts, he accuses them of being a pedant. Yes, we know, Sevo, facts are for cucks.

                  1. You strike me as the type of person that ignores the substance of what is being said because someone used a comma instead of a semicolon. When people start to question the relevancy of your comments, you’d triumphantly state “you’re just running away from the argument because I’m winning!”

      2. “Of course Christianity is a derivation from previous religious and supernatural beliefs.”

        I think you’re missing the point that our brains physically evolved to accommodate the advantage of religion.–because our ancestors had the advantages of religion when their competitors did not. The fact that no society survived into the historical record without religion is not a coincidence. The neocortex in our brain could not have evolved as it did without those advantages. I’ve found that chatroom atheists are often uninformed on the standard model of evolution in this way. I suspect it’s because they’ve never felt the need to know more than the creationists they argue with online.

        Regardless, yeah, in order to overcome various limitations in group size, among other things, our ancestors evolved a neocortex to leverage the advantages of religion. If you have a problem with that, find some evidence to the contrary and argue against our neocortex being about religion or its size in hominids being correlated with group size. The first one is a hard sell. The 150 Facebook Friends/Dunbar Number test seems to support it up through today.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar%27s_number

        Write a paper. Dethrone Dunbar. Change the standard model of human evolution. Win the Nobel Prize. I’ll be rooting for you.

        In the meantime, atheists arguing against something scientific for the mere reason that it suggests religion might be beneficial smacks of creationism–but I’ve seen a lot of chatroom atheists do it. How embarrassing for them!

        1. Our brains evolved to be creative, seek knowledge, ask who we are and where we came from. Religion was an answer to those questions, nothing more. It’s no coincidence that as our species learns more about our physical world that more and more people are rejecting religion. We don’t need religion to fill that gap in our knowledge. Science replaces the need for mythology to explain our natural world.

          Modern scientific theories on the origins of species and our cosmos have been around shorter than the lifespan of most civilizations. Of course it’s not surprising that no civilization has survived without religion. None has really had a chance to yet.

          And I don’t need to dispute Dunbar. His work was about close individual relationships. It’s more relative to a person’s close network of family, friends, and neighbors than to society as a whole. Of course we don’t need to hold close relationships with everyone to share society with them. Do you not believe societal bonds can be much bigger than 150-250 people? Do you not believe that modern nations of hundreds of millions don’t have societal bonds?

          1. “Our brains evolved to be creative, seek knowledge, ask who we are and where we came from. Religion was an answer to those questions, nothing more.”

            When creationists reject science, at least they do so within a framework that’s larger than their own intuition. I’d be interested to read more about this fascinating system you apparently believe in–which doesn’t seem to be grounded in science or religion.

            “Do you not believe societal bonds can be much bigger than 150-250 people? Do you not believe that modern nations of hundreds of millions don’t have societal bonds?”

            Again, this is like a creationist flailing at survival of the fittest or genetic drift. The world is so big and complicated–there’s no way it couldn’t have been designed by someone!

            “In traditional small-scale societies, everyone shares the same 150 friends. This was true even in Europe until well into the 20th century, and probably still is true today of isolated rural communities . . . . In the modern world of economic mobility, this simple balance has upset: we grow up here, go to university there, and move on to several elsewheres in a succession of job moves. The consequence is that our social networks become fragmented and distributed: we end up with small pockets of friends scattered around the country, most of whom don’t know each other.”

            —-Robin Dunbar

            https://www.wired.com/2011/04/local-distant-friendships-a-dunbar-number-conundrum/

            Because you and the 150 people you interact with no longer share the same 150 people in your social network, it is entirely possible for the social network to contain more than 150 people. Ever heard of “Six Degrees of Separation”? (150)^6 get you to a social network larger than the number of people this planet will ever hold.

            If you want to go study this subject, go do it by yourself. In the meantime, I wouldn’t repeat your line of reasoning to anyone else if I were you.

            1. I don’t entirely get your point. I claim society can be as large as countries or even the entire “west” and you come back with Dunbar. I assumed that your implication was disagreeing with me based on his theory of roughly 150-250 person social networks.

              I argue the same, and then you come back with 150^6 which would appear to support my premise of the potential for large societies. So what exactly are you arguing? Be specific, because I’m struggling to follow.

          2. The idea that religion is a stopgap before scientific understanding is an old debate.

            Just a story I heard. There was a scientist Dr. Velval Greene.

            He was working with NASA in the 70s looking for life on Mars.

            Some of his fellow Jews chastised him. He went to the Rabbi.

            The Rebbe didn’t respond right away. He thought for a while, and then he said this:

            “You should look for life on Mars, and you should keep looking for life on Mars. If you don’t find it, then keep looking elsewhere, and do not stop looking, because to sit here in this world and say there is no life elsewhere is to put a limit around what G‑d can do. And nobody can do that!”

            There is no conflict between religion and science.

            1. I think what we’re dealing with here is more along the lines of popular debates that, for some reason, got trapped in the 1960s.

              There are some who seem to think what Ayn Rand told us was written in stone on Mt. Sinai and can never be altered or improved. Unfortunately, for these people, science continued to inform these matters after Ayn Rand died, and if we let our opinions on religion and such become fixed in what she believed in her lifetime, then our opinions are fixed in an era before we knew what we know now.

              It isn’t just about “picking” on Ayn Rand, either. That’s just one facet of this gem. The bigger picture is probably the emotional investment chatroom atheists have in the belief that religion is not beneficial. Their emotional investment is such that when scientific data comes in that supports the conclusion that religion proffered advantages, they imagine that the data must be wrong because it doesn’t fit their theory. The chatroom atheists become as anti-science in deed as the six-day creationists they deride–even worse because the chatroom atheists should know better.

              I’m certainly more impressed by creationists who revise their understanding of the bible to match the scientific data than I am by those chatroom atheists who revise (or ignore) the scientific data to match their preferred theories.

              1. “The bigger picture is probably the emotional investment chatroom atheists have in the belief that religion is not beneficial.”

                The idea that religion, taboos, and culture are adaptive (i.e., confer evolutionary advantages) is elementary to anthropology, when someone denies it, it’s like dealing with a geographer from the flat earth society. It’s even more absurd because these people imagine that they’re the champions of science on these issues–and yet they don’t seem to know much at all about the standard models if the standard model conflicts with their memes.

              2. Their emotional investment is such that when scientific data comes in that supports the conclusion that religion proffered advantages, they imagine that the data must be wrong because it doesn’t fit their theory.

                Who says that religion didn’t offer advantages to humans? Certainly not me.

                The article (and the book) say that human tendencies towards altruism are rooted in our biology; they are from nature, not nurture. Other evidence from the animal kingdom agrees with this theory, in the absence of religion. You don’t seem to deny this, and this is the point I was trying to make yesterday. Nothing more.

                My point is that just because religion has filled the role of codifying morality/altruism in the past, doesn’t mean it’s a requirement. Humans are altruistic because of our humanity (nature) not because of mythology (nurture). What specifically is your point?

              3. Back in the days, I never met Ayn Rand. Talked with a few early libs who had. One of them said that she never understood mysticism or religion. She had a hard time with anyone who could not agree with her ideas.

                Enough about her. She is one of those people I find interesting.

                Atheists, she was one, well then you are an atheist. I do not see an argument unless you feel the need to defend what you are.

          3. You appear to be arguing under the false premise of science or religion. But one of the very examples you used, the creation of the universe, i.e. the big bang was originally proposed by Catholic scholars. And the idea that evolution is incompatible with religion is yet another myth. Most Christians accept evolution, but believe it is being influenced by God. Most see Genesis as allegorical, which is actually a fairly old idea. The young Earth idea is actually the newer idea in some religious circles and was fairly limited until recently. It was widely rejected until the mid-19th century and only came about as a result of some atheist trying to use Darwinism to prove God doesn’t exist. Even Darwin rejected this premise, even while growing more agnostic in his latter years, he rejected the idea that his theories disproved the existence of God. And genetic heredity, the key to evolution, was first proposed by a monk. Many Christians see science as explaining the wonders of the universe. They do become combative when they are asked to choose between science and their religion and generally choose the latter. But to often it seems it is the atheist who seem to want to make then choose between these two ideas.

            1. From an evolutionary perspective, think about the difference between you and your dog. How did organisms that didn’t have self-awareness evolve to become self-aware?

              You can recognize yourself in a mirror–which is like a test of self-awareness or consciousness. When a dog looks in a mirror, it never sees itself. It sees another dog at first, and then, over time, it mostly ignores its reflection as irrelevant. We know dogs dream. They can and do see what’s on TV, but they ignore that most of the time, too–just like they come to ignore their reflection in a mirror.

              We’re talking about developing the ability to distinguish between ourselves and the world around us, and it probably shouldn’t be surprising if the path to self-awareness went from something like a dog, which can only distinguish between irrelevant reflections and the rest of the world, to a waypoint in between that and self-awareness, where we start to distinguish between the natural world and the supernatural.

              We needed a larger neocortex and the advantages of religion to evolve into larger groups, but it also appears to be the case that we couldn’t have achieved self-awareness, coming from where we were, without a waypoint that looks a lot like religion, too.

              If reality is such that something like religion and Christianity were necessary in order for conscious beings and the society we have around us to spring into existence from the void, then atheists may find that reassuring that that God’s existence wasn’t necessary to achieve this. On the other hand, if the universe is constructed in such a way that religion and some of the essential parts of Christianity are necessary in order for people to become self-aware and for societies to grow and flourish, Christians might take some reassurance in that to suggest that God exists.

              Anyone who is absolutely sure on either side, of course, can be safely ignored.

              1. It’s a mistake to take Christianity, or any monotheism, as the whole of religion.
                Civilization grew and flourished before Christianity, and for a much longer period than monotheism has been dominant.
                Nothing has come close to the accuracy of the ancient pagans, specifically the Greeks

                1. Just like the subject of this article, I was mostly talking about the effects of religion on the way our neocortex evolved. The part about “love, friendship, cooperation”, etc. grew to mean, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you” as we embraced Christianity. Those are the kinds of essential Christian components to which I was referring.

                  That other religious traditions might have similar components doesn’t really enter into a discussion of our culture. What difference does it make if Buddhism has similar lines of reasoning if Buddhism wasn’t the primary influence on our culture? If we’re talking about the influence of religion on our predominant culture, we’re talking about Christianity.

                  If we’re talking about our chimp like ancestors from hundreds of thousands of years ago, we’re obviously not talking about Christianity specifically–but the advantages of similar religious beliefs that our neocortex evolved to harness. That what he’s talking about when he says that our brains are hardwired for “love, friendship, and cooperation”. Our neocortex evolved to adapt to that reality.

      3. I’m just wondering what a chatroom atheist is. Is that someone that is religious but becomes an atheist upon entering a chatroom?

        I’ve never heard that term before.

        1. I was not a philosophy major in college, but I did take classes from some atheist professors, and they’d be embarrassed to hell by the standard takes of self-professed atheists I see in chat rooms online.

          Chatroom atheists is my term. If I subconsciously picked it up from someone else, you have my apology.

          They’re atheists for the same reason they like Star Trek and the Dallas Cowboys although they don’t realize it. They like being on the winning team. They think they’re intellectual because they’ve associated themselves with Dawkins and contrasted themselves with Oral Roberts. Their atheist ideas may have survived scrutiny when argued by intellectuals, but beyond the creationism debate in a chatroom, they couldn’t defend those ideas to save their lives. In spite of all that, they’re often sure that they’re right.

          I’m not saying anybody here is a chatroom atheist, but that ain’t no straw man neither. Sometimes, they come out of the woodwork.

    3. It also makes sense to create a Heaven and Hell and all the religiousness of life, death, and life after death.

      Humans tend to be scared shitless of death and for most of human history a hand-to-mouth existence.

      Creating a Heaven to meet dead loved ones and Hell to punish “evil” that is out of your control makes sense to keep the mind occupied and settle fears of death.

      I always laughed about Heaven because how can you force relatives who were “good” enough to make it to Heaven but don’t want to be around you for eternity.

      I guess its too scary to face probable reality that once creatures die, their “life” is gone forever. Their atoms live on and get mixed into something else but that’s about it.

      OTOH, maybe we are the prison colony for our outer space relatives and life does live on.

      1. One of the other things chatroom atheists don’t seem to know much about is the evolutionary basis of altruism.

        Some of them will try to claim that altruism doesn’t exist in the natural world (which would be an excellent argument for the existence of God if it were true) or that a soldier that throws himself on a grenade to save his buddies is behaving selfishly–because he cares more about his buddies than he does about himself. Using the word “selfish” to describe someone who cares about other people more than his own life is, of course, self-contradictory.

        Some of the other chatroom atheists have typically made it to the standard evolutionary model of the 1960s, in which they’ll claim that biological altruism is about kin selection and “inclusive fitness”. I understand that theory is out the window now, too:

        “We show that inclusive fitness is not a general theory of evolution as its proponents had claimed,” says Nowak. “In the limited domain where inclusive fitness theory does work, it is identical to standard natural selection. Hence there is no need for inclusive fitness. It has no explanatory power.”

        —-Nature

        https://www.nature.com/news/2010/100825/full/news.2010.427.html

        The idea that altruism, cultural adaptations in the form of religious axioms like “Do unto others as you would have done unto you”, and indeed, benevolence itself might arise naturally from otherwise competitive systems in the wild shouldn’t seem strange to libertarians at all. There was this Scottish guy in the 18th century who wrote an influential book on this topic. He showed that when a multitude of individuals are each pursuing their own selfish interests from their own individual perspectives, benevolence can and does emerge from those systems–almost as if an invisible hand were guiding the actions of these people from above.

        It may not have been necessary for a creator God to bless our chimp like ancestors upside their heads with a bigger neocortex. There certainly wasn’t a council of elitist chimps who decided to evolve a larger neocortex. It may just be that the reality of this universe is such that a larger and larger neocortex was required to flourish and overcome our limitations.

        Where all this is headed and why may be open questions with various valid answers that are yet to be disproved or confirmed, but when I see firemen run up the stairs of a burning WTC to save more people, even as the building comes crashing down on top of them, or when I read about another Marine who throws himself on a grenade to save his buddies, there isn’t much doubt in my mind that the behavior of these people gives our society big advantages. Hell, in war time, I’ve seen people volunteer for military service!

        Religion is an important aspect of any culture, and I don’t see the point in denying where that altruistic influence comes from in our culture.

        1. Religion is an important aspect of any culture, and I don’t see the point in denying where that altruistic influence comes from in our culture.

          Chimps have been shown to exhibit altruistic behaviors. Religion doesn’t seem to be a requirement.

          1. “Chimps have been shown to exhibit altruistic behaviors”

            Really, Who knew?!

            Did you not see my link to the study of altruism in bees and ants?

            “Religion doesn’t seem to be a requirement.”

            Who said it was?

            Are you suggesting that because Christianity didn’t influence ants, bees, and chimpanzees, it must not have influence our culture? I think our culture is probably a little more complicated than that.

            The fact is that Christianity has had a profound influence on our culture, and pretending it didn’t would be absurd. Because it could have come from somewhere else certainly doesn’t mean that it did. You’re not trying to suggest that Christianity hasn’t had an impact on our sense of altruism, are you?

            What point are you trying to make–and why?

            1. Who would pretend that religion (Christianity specifically) has not had a large impact on our society? That would be absurd.

              I’m agreeing with the book that is the subject of this article, we are hardwired for altruism (love, friendship, etc). You seem to think it’s because of religion that altruism exists in our culture, based on the following:

              Religion is an important aspect of any culture, and I don’t see the point in denying where that altruistic influence comes from in our culture.

              My point is that altruism exists without any religion, as evidenced in the behavior of other primates like chimps. It’s hardwired, not religion. That’s the point of the entire article.

              1. Just to clarify I should have said “I’m arguing along with the book…”

          2. Apes have also been shown to exhibit religious like behaviors.
            See Campbell’s “Primitive Mythology”

      2. I’m not sure that most religions have a version of heaven and hell. Many do, but not all.

    4. I see people trying to recreate Christianity by other means.

      Recreate Christianity? The faith is but a few thousand years old–and was imposed upon peasant populations by the sword.

      People aren’t trying to recreate Christianity by other means, they’re trying to recapture a real sense of the gods–that sense that was systemically undermined by the various cults of the One God.

      The reason the worlds major faiths are disintegrating into decadence and violence is because there are no gods, no sense that one is touching the divine in any of them.

      1. Very well said. I believe in the Aesir and Vanir. And by “believe in” I mean something less than literally, but more than just metaphor. “Holy powers?” is one of the ways I have referred to them. I have never really felt kinship (though I have tried!!!!) with the idea that there is One God.
        I know that monotheists try to state their superiority with their “loving creator God”, but it just never really held water with me. But I can’t prove or disprove their faith.
        As Stephen Jay Gould discussed, mutual exclusive magesteria. Science and religion can be 2 different areas of study and practice.
        I need a cure for cancer? I don’t go to the holy man. I want to try to understand the purpose of my existence? I don’t ask the guys at CERN.

        1. I make no claims to be an expert on Norse religion, but . . . I’ve read some people question whether what we have of it (interpreted by Christian writers, mind you) wasn’t influenced by Christianity–both in a positive light and a negative light.

          The earliest parts of the myth have Odin hanging himself on a tree as a sacrifice of himself to himself–for the benefit of humanity (to give us the runes). In that sense, he’s acting like Jesus on the cross. Baldr is murdered through deceit, but he is resurrected after the earth is reborn to rule over the new earth. He’s a lot like Jesus.

          My understanding is that the “old religion” and the “new religion” were practiced together for a long time, and the closer we get to the present, the more likely they were to interpret Odin, especially, as a demonic or Satanic presence. Ragnarok can be read a lot like the story of Armageddon in Christianity, with Odin playing the part of the devil–the one who loses the battle of Armageddon.

          When I was growing up, I was surrounded by people who believed in the stories of the bible like they believed in the stories of the American Revolution. Demons and angels were as real to them as I am to you. Some of what we’re talking about here is taking the consequences of believing these things and subjecting them to the scrutiny of reality. Jesus and Odin are much more than symbols if the principles behind them are grounded in reality and influence the culture.

          I get crazy listening to socialists talk about how their system would work if only people really believed in it. Religions are more grounded in reality than that! The religious beliefs I’m talking about that our neocortex evolved to take advantage of, those aren’t the kind of beliefs that people can buy into regardless of whether they have any basis in reality. For instance, societies flourish when people respect each other’s rights. If they respect each other’s rights because they fear the wrath of the gods or breaking some taboo, that may not matter so much from an evolutionary perspective.

          The society where people’s rights are respected flourishes, and the society in chaos become weak. If a religion confers respect for people’s rights and that translates into one group flourishing and passing on their genes where the other fails, then that religion is far more than a collection of symbols. It’s an adaptation of very real principles that are grounded in reality with real world consequences.

          1. An atheist gay rights activist tells me that every individual is precious and that he should be treated the way we would want to be treated if we were him.

            I ask him if the reason every individual is precious is because Jesus died for each and every one of us, and if the reason we should treat each other the way we would want to be treated is because that’s what Jesus told us to do.

            No. Those ideas don’t have anything to do with Christianity in his mind. He thinks it’s self-evident. Of course, in our culture, if that is self-evident, it might be because Christianity has had such a profound impact on our culture for so long.

      2. “Recreate Christianity? The faith is but a few thousand years old”

        The subject of this article is far less old than that, and, yet, there he is trying to instill in the youth some sense that we’re headed towards some great destiny if only we choose the path of benevolence. Yeah, he’s trying to recreate Christianity sans the supernatural.

        1. Ever wonder what “supernatural” must have meant to people a thousand years ago who didn’t know the cause of disease, why plants grow, didn’t really understand the changes in the seasons, where dreams came from, etc.? Wouldn’t Occams’ Razor lead you to believe in the supernatural back when there weren’t any natural explanations for the natural world? Praying for the sick might have seemed as much a natural part of the world as plowing a field.

          Yeah, they want us to believe in all the things Christianity taught us. They’re just trying to recreate it without the supernatural. They’re like Thomas Jefferson rewriting the New Testament without any references to miracles, but they want to ground it all in science.

    5. Christakis doesn’t appear to be offering any new facts. He’s just putting his own interpretation on them. I can’t help but notice that its outlines seem to share certain assumptions with the cosmological argument for God. Anyone else see the parallels?

      I see parallels to communism and the New Soviet Man.

      In fact, Christakis’s error is in assuming that cooperation at the societal level requires love, compassion, and cooperation to be “prewired”. That’s the same error communists are making.

      Christianity does not make that mistake because Christianity has little to say about large societies. Religions that do, like Islam, end up as violent and destructive as communism.

  7. Kamala Harris proposes $100 billion plan for black homeownership

    Of course, $100 billion is only a start. This country still owes reparations for slavery, which by some calculations would cost in the tens of trillions of dollars. And although we Koch / Reason libertarians generally want to reduce spending, we should make an exception here. Because racial justice is more important than fiscal restraint.

    #LibertariansForHarris
    #LibertariansForReparations

    1. Harris is a descendant of a slave owner so we can start with passing out her money.

      1. That’s not how it would work. The legacy of white supremacy in this country benefits white people, so white people must pay reparations.

        I’m sure Shikha Dalmia will explain it more thoroughly when she unleashes her magnum opus, “The Libertarian Case for Reparations.”

        1. Her slave owning ancestor was Irish so she qualifies.

  8. so, collectivism…great

    1. Empathy and cooperation do not imply collectivism. Collectivism puts the desires of the group above those of the individual. Having empathy and cooperating does not automatically imply putting the group above the individual. In fact, I would argue that empathy, which requires figuring out the internal state of another individual, promotes individualism over collectivism.

      1. as I said, collectivism, great……you should also note that the article nowhere discusses empathy, big brain

        1. Look, it’s really important to our eunuch that Science prove that acting like a eunuch is natural and Good

  9. Yeah, cooperation and in-group bias are pretty obvious evolutionary traits across many species. The morality of old religious texts document our desire to have some sense of cooperative order within the larger community. That of course aids productivity. Of course reading the Old Testament, it’s pretty clear that the Ten Commandments didn’t apply to the “other”. The history of war makes that concept pretty clear as well. The world is shrinking fast though.

    1. I always found it amusing that God gave the Israelites the “Promised Land”…they just had to drive out all the folks already living there.

      1. But He stuck around to make sure it happened – – – – –
        Just for the record, He did a better job than the UN so far. Maybe they should have stuck with the historical boundaries?

        On that day, the Lord made a covenant with Abraham, saying “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates”. Genesis 15:18

  10. Are brains are wired for survival, which works better when we get along, but we can override it.

    Greed and fear the usual reasons that people with big brains try to overcome.

    Big brains recognize, accept and adapt to reality, truth.

    Civilized behaviour requires it.

    1. Thank you for providing the psychopath’s perspective on this.

      1. So the faggots perspective is uncivilized, lying, greedy, fearful and doomed.

        1. You should know, being one yourself.

  11. I knew I could stop reading at “sociologist”

    1. You can feel good about your internal defenses kicking in to protect your worldview, so you wouldn’t have to experience cognitive dissonance and be in the danger of learning something.

      1. oh stop your affectation, champ

      2. You can feel good about your internal defenses kicking in to protect your worldview, so you wouldn’t have to experience cognitive dissonance and be in the danger of learning something.

        You can feel good about picking books that protect your worldview, so you won’t have to experience cognitive dissonance when reality doesn’t match your preferences.

        Christakis is plainly wrong. Humans are not “pre-wired” for “love and cooperation” at the level of societies, as basic knowledge of biology and/or history will tell you.

        The level of peace and cooperation we are experiencing today has only arisen within the last few centuries. It is due to mechanisms like free markets that allow peaceful cooperation despite lacking any biological basis for love and cooperation among millions of people.

        Any political or economic system that requires biological prewiring for love and cooperation is doomed to failure. Christakis error is an old one that has been debunked over and over again.

        1. If you bother to read, the author was not speaking about at a society level but at personal level. The fact that capitalism/free markets require cooperation, all societies do. It is a prerequisite for pack animals to survive. Cooperation and empathy. Love and devotion. Our children have a fairly extended immature stage, lasting at least 12 years. This requires a lot of investment on the part of parents. Without compassion and cooperation we would have failed evolutionary before reaching the modern world. No, the author is spot on. Yes, warfare and division have always been an issue, the author never stated otherwise. But warfare requires alliances, these are formed starting with family units and working up. Even warfare shows the pattern of compassion and cooperation, love etc the author speaks about. Soldiers fight, maybe at first out of a sense of duty, loyalty, patriotism (these are all forms of love and cooperation) buy eventually they fight because of their love of their fellow soldiers. Just about any combat veteran will tell you that in the end, they fought for their brothers (and sisters) beside them. That is what caused the Germans to continue to resist after the failure of the Ardennes campaign, not blind patriotism (in most cases) but they fought for each other and to defend their families. They knew they were beaten, but they fought to defend their families. This is most evident by the fanaticism for which they fought the Soviets compared to their resistance against the less feared western allies.

          1. If you bother to read, the author was not speaking about at a society level but at personal level.

            You mean the book subtitled “The evolutionary origins of a good society“?

            The fact that capitalism/free markets require cooperation, all societies do.

            As Adam Smith put it:

            It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages

            It is not biologically preprogrammed cooperation (which does exist and does operate in small groups) that produces cooperation in societies composed out of millions of people, but entirely unrelated market mechanisms.

            In other words, Christakis and you are making the same mistake underlying socialism, communism, fascism, and progressivism: you misunderstand human nature, and you misunderstand how free markets and modern societies produce cooperation. In a free market system, people don’t have to like each other or even know each other in order to cooperate.

          2. Good post soldiermedic.

            You have insight into human nature.

            1. You have insight into human nature.

              Where he fails miserably is his understanding of how “good societies” function.

  12. What a bunch of unscientific b.s.

    1. I was going with What a bunch of hippy bullshit

  13. Cmon

    Humans are humans and we do all those things.

    Ducks learn to be ducks, cats are cats… whatever.

    There is no big insight here.

  14. Pre-wired for love and cooperation? BS.

    Mankind’s original and continuing challenge when meeting others is (1) will this other person kill me? And (2) even if this other person does not kill me will he take my stuff?

    To overcome this predilection for violence, we have constructed elaborate systems, including laws and weapons and protocols that gave most individuals some assurance that encounters with strangers did not end in death or destitution. Fundamental outcomes like recognized rights to life and property represent our best achievements in overcoming human nature.

    Of course others are still busy trying to justify a return to taking others’ stuff, and killing them if they resist. (Insert reference to bewildered reactions to current socialist fads.)

  15. To overcome this predilection for violence, we have constructed elaborate systems, including laws and weapons and protocols

    Nobody would argue that there aren’t some people with a predilection for violence, otherwise violence wouldn’t exist. But it appears to be the exception and not the norm. The concept of libertarianism, small government, etc wouldn’t work well if humans were wired for violence. The violent crime rate in the US is something like 400 per 100,000 or 0.4%. I realize that’s a bit of a simplification, but it’s still extremely rare.

    1. Nobody would argue that there aren’t some people with a predilection for violence, otherwise violence wouldn’t exist. But it appears to be the exception and not the norm.

      Historically, widespread violence was the norm throughout human societies.

      The concept of libertarianism, small government, etc wouldn’t work well if humans were wired for violence.

      Libertarianism is possible under very specific circumstances: a generally educated and intelligent population, a functioning economy, and a set of functioning civil institutions. Those take centuries to grow and build (and only a few years to destroy).

  16. Speaking of…I mean off-topic:

    Employers and schools in California now must respect employees’ and students’ hairstyles…or be guilty of hairesy.

    https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-pol-ca-natural-hair-discrimination-bill-20190703-story.html

  17. To overcome this predilection for violence, we have constructed elaborate systems, including laws and weapons and protocols that gave most individuals some assurance that encounters with strangers did not end in death or destitution. Fundamental outcomes like recognized rights to life and property represent our best achievements in overcoming human nature.

  18. This is dumb. It’s not even clear that humanity even has a long term future, because as we’ve gotten more civilized, we’ve stopped having children. Most 1st world countries are at replacement level or below, and importing all the 3rd world is just a temporary solution at best

    1. Importing the third world is only a solution from a certain point of view. Rather like how the Sith consider themselves to be the good guys, from their point of view.

      1. The Sith thing. That is not going to work if you want to make a baby.

  19. Altruism will lead to the most effective and horrible tyrannies of all time in the 21st century, with the EU and the US vying for the “most evil” top spot.

  20. peace and love first. always.

    1. In this increasingly post truth environment, when truth doesn’t matter, meaning right and wrong don’t matter, how do peace and love exist?

      Apathy is the opposite of love.

  21. […] though not always manifested in the same way. For more information, read Howard Rheingold’s review of Blueprint. When it comes to the age-old question of Nurture versus Nature, Christakis answers that it is […]

  22. We also evolved to ruthlessly kill those that challenged our access to resources, way of life, of simply pissed us off… This is a very one sided interpretation if his book isn’t more wide ranging.

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