Wohlleben goes into the nitty-gritty of how trees survive, communicate, protect themselves, grow, are social (much like human families), share nutrients, and so much more.
Why do People Sing? Music in Evolution by Alexander Jikuridze, Alexander Jordania
- “One of the most important new questions that this book will try to answer is why the most archaic parts of the human brain, which are only activated by the critical survival needs, are activated when humans sing or listen to music. Is it possible that singing really had a function of survival for our distant ancestors? Despite the diversity of the approaches and models for the origins of singing and music, the author of this book believes that singing and music had much more important functions in the evolutionary history of our species than has ever been suggested by any of the above mentioned scholars. The central idea of this book is very simple yet very complex at the same time. The author suggests that human singing had a tremendously important role in our evolutionary past. It was singing that provided our ancestors with defense against predators, provided our ancestors with food, gave rise to human intelligence, morality, religion, formed the human body and facial morphology, gave birth to human arts and the mystery of artistic transformation. That’s why this book, dedicated to the origins of singing, is in fact a book about human evolution. That’s why, in this book, we will be discussing many big issues that you would not expect to be discussed in a book about singing. “
- Human singing is one of the greatest mysteries of human evolution. Charles Darwin was one of the first people to be puzzled by this phenomenon. in “The Descent of Man” he wrote: “As neither the enjoyment nor the capacity of producing musical notes are faculties of the least use to men in reference to his daily habits of life, they must be ranked amongst the most mysterious with which he is endowed”
- There is no human culture without singing, but singing plays a very different role in various cultures.
- Generalizations are always dangerous, but we could say that when people lose links with their traditional culture, the role of singing decreases in a society. That’s why in many western societies people generally sing less than people in more traditional societies. Interestingly, together with the decline of singing in the general population of Western cultures, there is also a contrasting development: plenty of studies strongly suggest that singing in a choir is good for your psychological and physical wellbeing. As a result, there is an increasing popularity of singing and participation in community choirs in western countries.
- The exception – a scholar’s only true friend. Scholars formulate plenty of new hypotheses to explain existing facts. In the process of creating a new hypothesis, scholars are often carried away by the long list of facts that fit comfortably into their hypothesis, and therefore neglect the facts which do not fit their hypothesis. These ‘misfit’ facts are labeled ‘exceptions’. Understandably, scholars usually dislike exceptions. Sometimes scholars push exceptions to coerce into their hypothesis, in other times they try to discredit the fact or the source where the fact came from. And if nothing helps, notorious sayings like ‘no rule without exceptions,’ or even worse, ‘exception proves the rule,’ are always at hand. But of course, to a nonbiased person it is clear that an exception cannot prove the rule, and that a rule with ‘exceptions’ is actually a bad rule. My favorite literary hero, brilliant analytic Sherlock Holmes once said: “I never make exceptions. An exception disproves the rule”. I agree with Holmes and consider the saying ‘exception proves the rule’ as the last resort for a wrong hypothesis. So what is in reality an exception? Exception is a scholar’s best friend, the only true friend that tells the bitter truth. Do not listen to the calming array of facts that prove your hypotheses, they are like many flattering friends who are ready to lie to you in order to make you a happier person. Listen to your only true friend – exception. And only if this friend is silent, not complaining of any facts that do not fit your idea, you can be truly happy. One exception can outweigh dozens of proving facts. There is no greater proof for your hypothesis than the absence of an exception.
- Milk Drinking Syndrome and origins of European Polyphony: Many readers of this book might not be aware that different human populations differ drastically from each other according to their ability to absorb milk. It was found, for example, that African Americans have a much higher percentage of people who cannot absorb milk compared to European Americans. later studies suggested that the number of populations that have problems with milk is quite big, and includes populations of sub-Saharan Africa, Arabs, most of the Jews, most Asian populations, Australian aborigines and Melanesians. And finally, in the 1970s, scholars came to the quite amazing conclusion that with some minor exceptions, the only major population on our planet that can drink milk without complications is the population of North and central Europe and their descendants. If we take into account that most of these scholars were Europeans themselves, and for them drinking milk was a very natural part of their life, it is not difficult to understand this kind of initial unconscious ‘European arrogance’ towards other populations of the world. From the end of the 1970s it has been acknowledged that although very young children of every human population naturally drink milk, it is a norm for most human populations that as children grow, they lose the ability to absorb lactose and to drink milk. Therefore it is the North and central European adult population’s ability to absorb milk, if we may say so, that is ‘out of the human norm’. after this fact became known, the embarrassing earlier complaints from many parts of the world about the ‘no quality food provision’ for the developing countries were understood, and humanitarian aid programs correspondingly had to adjust their policy of providing huge quantities of milk powder to the starving populations of third world countries, who could not actually drink milk. This methodologically interesting case teaches us a very important lesson – not to extrapolate European experience to other populations of the world. In my 2006 book I suggested the term ‘Milk Drinking syndrome’ for similar cases when European experience is unjustly extrapolated on the rest of the world.
- Rise of Andean Mountains and the origins of Polyphony: Just a week after his 26th birthday, while resting in a forest, Charles Darwin experienced a major earthquake that struck Chile on 20th February of 1835. Walking a few days after the earthquake on the beach, Charles noticed that some mollusks that always live on the rocks under the water were now on the rocks well above the water level. Darwin made a correct conclusion that the recent earthquake was to blame for this, and on a bigger historic scale he concluded that series of such earthquakes during many millions of years were responsible for the actual rise of the surface and the creation of the huge range of Andean mountains. Darwin correctly understood the historical dynamics of landscape changes and the rest was a question of multiplying the results of small time span changes (that humans can observe) into a large evolutionary scale that humans cannot observe. Some things are incredibly slow. For example both American continents are moving westwards about the same speed as nails grow on your fingers. To notice and understand this kind of slow developments, we need to study the historical dynamics. The question of historical dynamics is absolutely crucial for the correct understanding of any process that goes for centuries and millennia, including the process of the origins of vocal polyphony.
- Singing is so central for human cultures that no one ever questioned the universality of singing. The question which we are going to address in this chapter is which of the many functions of singing was possibly the initial core one that gave music its unique position in the life of every human society. Was it possibly the Mother-child relationship as Ellen Dissanayake proposed? Or charming the opposite sex as Charles Darwin and Geoffrey Miller argued? Or establishing cohesiveness in human society as John blacking suggested? Or possibly singing is just an outgrowth of human language as Spencer thought? Or even simpler, was singing just an evolutionarily useless tool invented for auditory pleasing our ears as Steven Pinker suggested?
- During the 20th century many new facts appeared pointing to the unique emotional and psychological power of music. For example, in the first world war it was found that playing music to patients during the surgical operations allowed doctors to use almost half the regular dosage of the painkillers; it was also found that music can help to rehabilitate patients with strokes and severe mental disability. As a result of such findings, music therapy deservedly became one of the quickly developing spheres of musical research. Apart from such practical findings, there were very interesting theoretical findings as well. For example, it was found that music has unexpectedly deep roots in the human brain, and that listening and making music involves deep and ancient brain structures which are only activated for crucial for survival purposes; we also learned that virtually all newborn babies have absolute pitch (which is rare even among professional musicians), and the fact that all newborn babies cry at the same pitch, at the pitch known to us as ‘A’.
- Charles Darwin criticized Spencer’s idea of the music being an outgrowth of human speech, and suggested that music predated the origin of language, serving the needs of sexual selection through charming the opposite sex with musical prowess. Maybe even more importantly, Darwin famously declared ‘as neither the enjoyment nor the capacity of producing musical notes are faculties of the least use to men in reference to his daily habits of life, they must be ranked amongst the most mysterious [phenomenon] he is endowed.’
- Whether singing is dangerous or not depends on where you live. For the animal species who live in the trees, for some reason, singing does not seem to be dangerous, but for species who reside on the ground singing is deadly dangerous. If you do not believe this assertion look at the statistics: almost all of the singing species that we know today live high on the treetops, such as birds and gibbons. Not a single animal species that lives on the ground sings. There is only one exception, only one species which lives on the ground and sings: humans. Yes, let us repeat one more time: we are the only species on our planet who live on the ground and can sing. Even amongst animal species that live in the water there are at least a few singers like whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions, but not among ground living species.
- I suggest that this is the main reason why tree-dwelling species feel more secure to sing or to communicate with a wide range of vocal signals. A leopard or a wild dog can hear the singing of the birds and smaller monkeys from the higher branches of the trees very well, but the singers are well out of their reach.
- Apparently, humans are very weak compared not only to animals of a similar size, but even much smaller animals. For example, if you put together photos of a common chimpanzee and the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger, it will be quite difficult to believe the fact that the much smaller chimpanzee is several times stronger than this powerfully built sportsman. Humans look much bigger and stronger than chimpanzees, no questions about that, but when it comes to actual physical strength, chimpanzees and even smaller baboons are much stronger than humans. Therefore, we need to remember that during the course of evolution humans became bigger, but they lost big part of their physical strength.
- Rhythmic unity brought a few new important features into human defensive singing and made it much more efficient: (1) singing/shouting is physically louder if it is precisely organized rhythmically; (2) rhythmically well-organized group vocalizations send a strong message to the predator about the unity and determination of the group; and (3) doing repetitive rhythmic physical actions in a big group (working, marching) is an extremely effective way to create a strong bond between the members of a human group. But most importantly, I suggest that loud rhythmic chanting-singing shouting, apart from the external function (scaring away predators) had a crucially important internal, psychological function as well.
- According to recent research by Jonathan Presoak, many American soldiers confess that it would have been impossible for them to get into the required combat spirit if they did not listen to heavy and rhythmic rock music. I hope we all can agree that, when a combat unit goes out for a combat mission, it is of paramount importance that they all are feeling the strength of their unity and an utmost trust towards each other. This feel comes from being in a state of collective identity, in a state of battle trance, and rhythmic music and dance are the best means to put soldiers in the state. I propose that the central function of the rhythmic loud singing was to put our distant ancestors into a very specific altered state of consciousness which I call the ‘Battle Trance.’ This is a very specific state of mind designed by evolution for the most critical moments of life, when the total commitment of every member of the group was needed for a life-or-death fight. This state has several characteristics: (1) humans in a state of battle trance do not feel pain. This state is known as ‘analgesia’; (2) in this state humans also do not feel fear. This state can be called as ‘phobia’; (3) in this state humans may totally neglect their individual survival instincts as they are fighting for something bigger and more important than their own life; (4) in this state humans sometimes demonstrate supernatural strength; lifting cars and doing other things that are beyond their usual physical capabilities; (5) in this state humans lose their individual identity and acquire a different, collective identity, and as a result every member is acting in the best interests of the group, even neglecting the powerful instincts of self-survival. (6) Going into the battle trance may happen instantly, fully instinctively, or can be induced by special ritual-like activities.
- Among humans this motherly instinct of utmost dedication towards the offspring turned into something different: the total dedication of all members of the group to the interests of the Group they belong to. Like in a well-established combat unit, where in the heat of the battle one can sacrifice his own life to save friend’s life, human ancestors developed the feel of group identity. The feel of group identity is based on the total trust and dedication of each member of the group to the common interest. Group identity kicks in when there is a critical situation, a mortal danger for survival of the group or any of its members. In such moments the noble principle of ‘one for all, all for one’ rules any individual self-preserving instinct, fear and pain. Such human sentiments, like patriotism or religious belonging, are primarily based on this ancient instinct, and the feelings of group identity are becoming particularly strong in the moments of big national or religious upheavals, wars, natural disasters. Going into the battle trance and acquiring group identity can be viewed as a classic example of altruistic behavior, although I want to maintain that humans go into group identity not because of their feeling of duty towards others, but mostly because the powerful forces of evolution designed this mechanism as a better survival strategy for a group and every member of the group. Evolution supplied powerful neurological mechanisms to make this feeling a positive experience. Going into group identity brings the most exhilarating feelings to every member of the group. Every member of the group feels bigger, feels stronger, and virtually feels immortal. You can only become truly immortal if you do not fear death. Group members in such an altered state of mind, when they share total trust with each other, emotionally believe that the group cannot be defeated
- I am proposing that the mechanism of the battle trance has been designed by the forces of evolution as the highest ranking instinct in the entire hierarchy of human instincts, the instinct that rules our behavior in the most critical situations of life.
- Want to suggest that our ancestors became very skillful competitors at scavenging opportunities. They were very slow and bad hunters, and they lacked natural weapons to kill a prey, but they became excellent at scaring away all other competitors, including the strongest of the African predators, the lion. So I am suggesting that aggressive or confrontational scavenging was the central means of obtaining food for early hominids. I propose that our distant ancestors were targeting lions and waiting for them to make a kill. As the kill was made, after some special preparation (we will talk about the nature of this ‘special preparation’ very shortly), hominids would approach the feasting pride and would start scaring them away from the kill with the display of loud rhythmic group sound, stomping on the ground, drumming, clapping, threatening body movements, and stone throwing.
- So we came to the conclusion that the evolutionary function of music was directly connected to the physical survival of our species. It was loud rhythmic music that was preparing humans for confrontations with powerful African predators, instilling boundless bravery into virtually unarmed hominids with only rocks in their hands, turning separate individuals into a unit of dedicated and self-sacrificing warriors, and giving predators a strong message that behind our ancestor’s rhythmic war cry there was a fanatic unity and an absolute dedication from every fighter towards a common goal. As this fanaticism was also supported by the heavy rocks thrown at the closest possible range, no wonder that after countless bloody confrontations on the African savannah, lions started avoiding these kamikaze-style warriors. Lions did not need hominids, as it was too much trouble for them to hunt hominids or to eat them if they managed to kill some of them (about this see later). on the other hand, humans needed lions as ‘professional killers’ and hunters of the big game, who could kill a decent meal for the whole group
- Even if hominids could stand their ground against the biggest predators during the day, sleeping in the open savannah for the badly armed hominids must have been a very serious challenge. Some insightful ideas were expressed. Adrian Cortland made a brilliant suggestion that one of the ways to secure night time sleep was to organize a loud evening ‘concert’ to scare away potential predators. I would like to suggest that there were at least four more factors to make night time less dangerous for the hominids: (1) reclaiming the dead bodies, (2) cannibalism, (2) the use of eyespots, and (4) smell of the human body
- When a predator kills its prey, it intends to eat the kill. Prey animals, even after defending their family members with ferocity, usually stop fighting if the attacked member of their group is already dead. Therefore, as soon as the kill is made, there is no more confrontation – the predator got what it wanted, the fight is over and now the predator can enjoy the meal. It was totally different with hominids and humans: being superb masters of intimidation as a group, if their member was killed and taken by a predator, they would follow the predator and reclaim the dead body from the predators. What is the aim of such crazy bravery? Of course, you cannot bring to life the dead member of your group, but with this behavior you can give a strong message to the predator: every time it attacks your group and kills someone, you are not going to give them a chance to eat the dead body in peace. This behavior, repeated generation after generation, would teach predators the lesson that preying on humans was unprofitable. Of course, individual humans are among the worst armed animals, so tracking and killing a human for a leopard, tiger or a lion is much easier than killing an antelope or zebra, but it is a totally different story when it comes to eating the kill. Antelope or zebra family members do not start a massive attack on the predator after the kill is made, much unlike humans. Therefore, from a predator’s point of view, humans are easy to kill but very hard to eat.
- These two options had different, short-run and long-run consequences. In short run, if you do not eat the dead body, then predators will eat it. You might think this does not matter as the person was already dead, but it did matter in the long run, because if predators can easily obtain and eat human/hominid corpses, there is a good chance that they will become habitual man-eaters.
- Although this has never been suggested before, I propose we have eyespots, but we fail to notice them because of two reasons: (1) humans are generally not good at noticing eyespots, and also, (2) because we only have them when we sleep. If the reader asks friends or family members to close eyes and looks at their ‘sleeping’ faces, they may notice, that the eyebrows, arched upwards, and eyelashes, arched downwards, form quite visible oval eyespots on a ‘sleeping’ human face.
- I suggest that the birth of questioning behavior was the birth of human intelligence. We can look at the entire evolution of the human species and the development of human society and civilization from the point of view of an exchange of information and the means available in a society to ask each other questions. The ability to ask questions was the first and truly revolutionary change in the quest to exchange information via direct communication. Human dialogical language, intelligence, mental cooperation and a self-developing brain emerged together with the ability to ask questions. After this we never stopped inventing different ways of asking each other or ourselves questions. At some point we started asking questions using speech (do not forget – we started asking questions before the advance of fully articulated speech!). Then came written language, so our questions could survive time and could be transferred to other places.
- I hope the readers of this book remember that, according to my model, early humans had two mental states: the ‘ordinary’ state, or the state which was present in everyday non-critical situations, and much more rare ‘critical’ state, which was appearing only when the total dedication of the whole human group was necessary for the physical survival of the group. Although instances of the appearance of the ‘critical’ state were rare, it was crucial for the physical survival of our ancestors. Evolution provided powerful neurological mechanisms to promote the interests of the group over the individual interests when it mattered the most. That’s why in this state our ancestors had a neurochemically-created uplifting feeling, a spiritual disregard of earthly needs including feelings of fear and pain, and had the intoxicating feeling of obtaining a super-personality. In order to achieve this state when it was needed, our ancestors developed elaborate rituals, mostly based on strong rhythms: loud drumming, group singing, group dance, use of verbal formulas or mantras, together with visual elements of personality change: body and face painting, use of clothing and most likely the use of masks. The central goal of human (and even hominid) rituals was to affect the mental state of the participating individuals, to turn their mental state from individual, or ‘everyday’ state into the collective, or ‘critical’ state of mind. This was an amazing transformation of mental state, nothing short of the changing of identity of a whole group of people, turning them from separate individuals into the members of a common single super-personality. Most importantly for us, as physical survival was the biological priority, the orders of the collective or ‘critical’ state of mind were overriding any opposition from the ‘ordinary’ state of mind. The phenomenon known as ‘common sense’ is obviously a product of logical thinking of an individual in ‘ordinary’ state, but the ‘critical’ state of mind produces set of behaviors that often contradict the logic of common sense. In this state a person can do both deeply moral and extremely immoral things, from sacrificing his own life in order to save somebody else’s life on one hand, to doing horrible atrocities during battle on the other hand. Such atrocities, committed in a state of a battle trance (and usually together with the members of the combat unit), are difficult to comprehend from the point of view of common sense, often even for those who actually committed them. Most importantly, I am maintaining that these two ‘ordinary’ and ‘critical’ states of mind are present in the brain of every normal and healthy individual. These two states can be quite independent from each other, similar to two different personalities residing in one brain. In a way, we all have a ‘split personality’ in our healthy brain, but our second personality takes charge only in the most critical moments of our life. So let us remember, in the critical moments of life our ‘critical’ state of mind takes over and overrides all other orders coming from our logical mind. In such moments we go into the extremely focused state of mind, where we instinctively follow either the group behavior (if we are in a group), or follow the orders coming from the external source (for example, a group leader, or a hypnotist), or some other, instinctive and mostly unknown impulses from inside of our own brain.
- The phenomenon of the post-hypnotic suggestion also proves that the conscious brain cannot resist orders coming from the ‘higher authority’ – the unconscious brain. A person who receives an order while still under the hypnosis (so the order is received by the second identity), will carry out the order after receiving the triggering signal, already in full consciousness, after the session, even if following the order causes a fully conscious person great embarrassment or even some personal danger. Although today hypnotic trance is mostly (although not always) induced to individuals, group hypnosis must have been the original environment for the emergency of this state. I propose that the origins of hypnotic trance must be found in the primordial state of the battle trance, when for the sake of survival a group of individuals were acting as a single organism, with united single conscience and single aim. So I suggest that the individual unconscious was designed by the forces of evolution as a part of a united ‘collective conscience’, to promote the survival of a species. And here let us remember one more time, that loud rhythmic music and loud drumming were the central elements of inducing trance in our ancestors several millions of the year ago in African savannah, and the same method can be used today as well, not only in the shamanic rituals in the native peoples of North Asia or America, but in the comfortable lounge of the hypnotist as well.
- These two states of mind also refer to two sides of our human nature: individual and social. Like two masks of the ancient tragedy, happy and sad masks, we all have two personalities in a single brain, personalities that might not even know each other very well. Finding the balance between them is crucially important for a healthy and happy mental life. As Jung proposed, music and other arts help us keep the healthy balance between these two sides of our personality. Arts can connect us with our second, hidden, or ‘critical’ identity. I suggest that this mysterious power of different arts, including music, dance, painting, the use of masks, clothing, leading to the artistic transformation and the virtual change of our identity, originate from the ancient ritualistic exhilarating rhythmic dance and song, designed by the forces of evolution during the millions of the years in order to physically survive.
- Another fascinating side of the ancient ‘critical’ state is that for the normal functioning of our brain in the long run, we need to activate our ‘critical’ state from time to time, in order to feel our ‘second identity’ and to have a healthy relationship between the two sides of our selves. The millions of years of everyday battle and going into the ‘critical’ state of mind, where our ancestors were ready to fight for the higher aim, left us with a legacy where we crave the exhilarating feel of dedication to a higher aim, higher than one’s own life. To experience this feeling, we use very different techniques. With our profoundly social nature, our interdependence on each other, and as a result we are today searching for venues to feel our collective identity in the individualized world. We are all still humans, and we all still crave to experience the same spiritual feeling of being a part of something larger than ourselves. If our personal life is the only thing we are left with, even with all the comfort of contemporary life, but without experiencing ourselves as a part of a something bigger, then we may experience feeling of losing the meaning of life, and this feeling can be the most effective way to induce this feeling
- Music, dancing, abusing our health with chemical substances, and endangering our life with different activities (climbing mountains, swimming with sharks, doing bungee jumping, petting tigers and lions, running on the tracks in front of the racing cars, and even paying handsome sums of money to arrange our own kidnapping as a newly established service in Paris offers). From the point of view of the common sense some of these activities simply do not make sense. Extremely different in their actual forms and results (from reckless and life-endangering behavior to altruistic religious and community based behavior), these activities are directly or indirectly connected to the activation of our deep brain structures, and involving our ‘second identity’, the ‘critical’, or collective state of our mind.
- In the new model presented in this book, the role of human singing in human evolution is seen in a very different light. According to the new model, group singing was a crucial factor of hominid physical survival, the central means of defense from predators for our ancestors, and the central means for obtaining food through ‘confrontational scavenging’. It was group singing, together with loud, rhythmic drumming and vigorous body movements that would put our ancestors into a battle trance, create an unseen but powerful mental network between individual humans, and turn all of them into a single, collective super personality through which each member of the unity was religiously dedicated to common interest. Music was creating a mental web for the groups of hominids, or as Benzon brilliantly expressed in his 2001 book, ‘music is a medium through which individual brains are coupled together in shared activity.’ it was the state of battle trance that allowed our distant ancestors to dominate African savannah and made them feared arch-enemies for the kings of the savannah – the mighty lion. Altruistic drive, self-sacrificial dedication, human morality and religion are all the descendants of the ancient battle trance and of the important human principle ‘strength is in unity’. According to this model the birth of human altruistic behavior was not a well calculated ‘you help me and I’ll help you’ mechanism, but it was a necessary psychic state, created by the power of natural selection, for the physical survival of our ancestors.
- ‘Aposematism’ is the complete opposite strategy of Crypsis. Aposematic species do not try to stay unnoticed. On the contrary, they try to be clearly seen and heard by everyone. Their bodies are decorated in the brightest possible colors to be clearly seen, and they make sounds to let everyone know that predators must keep away from them. The principle of aposematic animals is ‘here I am, I am not afraid, and I am warning everyone to stay away,’ very much like a person singing loudly while walking at night in the forest.
- Why do we need such a detailed discussion on the principles of aposematism? What does it have to do with human ancestors or with human singing? I am proposing that aposematism was the central defense strategy for our distant ancestors. I am proposing that the elements of Audio-Visual intimidating Display, which we already discussed in the third chapter, constituted a classic set of tools for a multi-channel aposematic display: audio elements (loud rhythmically united singing in harmony and drumming), visual elements (tall bipedal body on long legs, head hair, painted body, use of animal pelts on shoulders), and the olfactory element (body odor). Ironically, if we add the olfactory element to the initial set of audio and visual signals, instead of AViD (Audio-Visual intimidating Display) we will have AVoiD (Audio-Visual-olfactory intimidating Display). With their fierce look, big painted bodies, bipedal threatening posture, threatening movements, loud and rhythmically united sounds, and ability to go into the battle trance and fight fearlessly with heavy and sharp stones, our hominid ancestors were truly a species to avoid.
- We must remember, that sexual selection has two very different strategies: (1) female choice, and (2) male to male competition (usually known as a ‘male to male combat’). Apart from this well-known division I suggest that we must also differentiate between two related but very
- No method can provide a scholar with a guaranteed problem solution receipt, but I want to recommend to readers a method that I often use when I am facing a difficult problem. Here is the method: if you are searching for the solution of a problem, at some point try to look at the existing facts from a greater distance, take a wider scope of facts into your account.
- We are profoundly social, and we are profoundly musical. Our musicality and social nature had been together for millions of years. Unlike many other species who mostly use music as a means of competition, for us music was primarily a tool for cooperation. That’s why the harmony made together in a group of singing humans is possibly the best symbol of our social nature. Of course, as with every cooperation, musical cooperation was also made as a tool for more successful competition on a bigger, group level. Today we are searching for the factors uniting humanity, and if we manage to find uniting music it will be a big step towards reaching the unity of humanity. The main argument of this book is that the extraordinary strength of musical emotions and the amazing depths of musical centers in our brain comes from our evolutionary past, when singing was crucial for the physical survival of our species for the millions of years. The evolutionary choice that our distant ancestors made, when they did not stop singing on a predator-infested ground, a place where no other species dare to sing, triggered a chain of long transformations leading to Homo sapiens. I suggest that continuing singing was the first crucial evolutionary step towards becoming a homo sapiens, possibly even before our ancestors committed themselves to bipedal locomotion. Through the unique model of behavior, based on living on the ground and trying to be as visible as possible and as loud as possible,
- Our ancestors developed most of the morphological features we still carry around: bigger body, longer legs, long head hair, hairless skin, eyebrows, small teeth, low male voice. The same model of survival, based on the Audio-Visual-olfactory intimidating Display, triggered plenty of other important behavioral features: bipedalism, making stone tools, dancing, singing in dissonant harmonies, use of body painting, use of clothes, altruistic behavior, prehistoric cannibalism, fanatic dedication to group ideals and aims, strive towards morality and religion, ability of asking questions, appearance of human cognition, intelligence, language, and speech. As a species, we are all the children of our singing ancestors, and with the great evolutionary lullaby for many millions of the years we gradually obtained virtually all of our morphological and behavioral features that make us humans.
What I got out of it
- A mind-blowing book which gives an alternate view as to why people started singing and how it has impacted human’s evolution. Battle trances, protection, aposematism, so much more. Worth reading in its entirety
- Human behavior is not always what it seems as it tends to be driven by multiple motives and some of these motives are subconscious or we are at least not fully aware of them. We are designed this way so that we can chase selfish motives while attempting not to appear selfish to others. Our brains try to get past this by keeping us in the dark – the less we know, the less we’ll give away. We are strategically self-deceived – individually and as a society. In a word, the “elephant in the brain” is selfishness and this book shows why only by confronting it can we begin to deal with it and what’s really going on. This book shines the light on certain real world examples where self-deception is rampant
- Elephant in the brain – an important but unacknowledged feature of how our mind works, an introspective taboo
- We pretend like we know what we’re up to but we often don’t and this gets us into trouble
- People are judging us all the time. Namely, our motives. Because people are judging us, we downplay our selfish motives and make our selves look as good as possible. This applies not only to our words but also our thoughts. In some areas of life we are more likely to point out selfish motives (politics) but in others (medicine) we are more likely to gloss over and act like everyone’s intentions are pure
- By studying primates we can get a good idea of what our social interactions really mean. Distance gives perspective. Social grooming in apes is about hygiene but also politics, prestige, status, hierarchy, and reciprocation. Similar for humans
- The major social interactions which fall into this category for humans is sex, hierarchy and politics. Inter-species competition is at the root and is rarely discussed. Collaboration is the flip side of the same coin. A lot of energy is wasted with competition. Imagine how much shorter redwoods could be and how much energy they’d save if they could agree on a height maximum. This is one of our species superpowers – turning wasteful competition into fruitful collaboration. Norms define these behaviors and is part of what we try to deceptively overcome. We hold ourselves back collectively for the greater good. The norm isn’t defined by how it is explicitly defined but by which actions are punished and to what degree. Weapons originally and later gossip and reputation helped keep people in line and follow norms. However, everyone cheats and it is intentions even more than actions which are judged. Humans are incredible at spotting cheating because our brains are adapted to it – meaning humans have always cheated as it gets you the reward without the cost if you can pull it off. A little discretion can go a long way if you’re trying to cheat – think of the brown paper bag used when people want to drink in public.
- The most honest signals are expensive to produce but even more expensive to fake.
- We deceive ourselves but blame others and project our own failings or guilt onto others. Self-deception can be used to protect ourselves but if our mental models help us navigate the world, why would we have evolved to react this way? Information is the lifeblood and you’d think that with less or incorrect info we’d be worse off. This is the old school of thought. The new school is that self deception is used for manipulation and is self-promoting. We deceive ourselves to better deceive others. Lying is hard to pull off, is cognitively demanding, and we are afraid of getting caught so not admitting it to ourselves is easier. We are not as opaque as we believe and our thoughts can be quite transparent to others but if we don’t know something, others won’t be able to see it. Modeling the world accurately isn’t the be all, end all of our brains. It is reproduction and in this case self deception helps us further this goal
- 4 types of self deception in mixed motive scenarios
- Madman – you’ll do anything to attain your goal and others know it. Intimidation
- Cheerleader – a form of propaganda where you try to change other people’s beliefs
- Loyalist – shows commitment and belief and will go along with the party or person no matter what. Earned trust
- Cheater – turning a blind eye so you have plausible deniability. Throw people off our trail
- The main cost of self deception is that it can get us to act suboptimally
- Our saving grace is inconsistency as one part of our mind’s “system” can be aware of something but be hidden from others. Our brains architecture keeps some of our baser evolutionary motives hidden from full view and allows us to act hypocritically without truly realizing it. Our mind is built to help us advance socially. Shame, guilt, and other negative emotions is our brain’s cue to avoid those neural pathways, putting our true desires even further out of grasp
- The most important self deception is about our own motives.
- We don’t always know the “why” behind what we do but we always think we do. We can rationalize anything we do The brain can be thought of as a press secretary – giving internal and external interpretations of the experiences. Your brain is not the king of decisions like we’d like to think, but merely the rationalizer of them. Every time we give a reason we may just be making it up. We know ourselves less than we think. We cherry pick and celebrate our most pro social reasons and hide away the anti social ones
- We are also intentionally blind to many non-verbal cues such as body language because being consciously aware of and in control of them would give away too much and make us feel too manipulative. Body language is an honest signal and is it the sense that it is more costly to fake them produce so we can use it effectively and should rely upon it in many different situations to get a better feel for how others are feeling rather than relying on what they’re saying. Eye contact (an even ratio of eye contact while listening and speaking conveys dominance and high social status), open postures, contact, lean in or back, pheromones, proximity, touch, how relaxed we seem, social status, and more. The beauty of nonverbal communication is that it allows us to pursue illicit agendas with a smaller risk of getting caught and accused as the actions are harder to pin down than outright actions are. That is why being aware of them is slightly dangerous and is why we don’t teach them to our children
- Laughter is designed for social situations, it is a sound which is always used for communication purposes, and laughter occurs in other species. This inter and intraspecies communication indicates to self and others our playful intent and happy mood. This allows for safe social play even when the behavior could technically be dangerous or serious – it is a play signal. Flirting with violating a norm or actually violating it tends to be found funny. Context is extremely important as the same event can be seen very differently. Humor is extremely informative and showing us what is acceptable and what is transgressive, showing us where the boundaries are and are norms and how far we can push it. Since laughter is in voluntary and deniable it is a great window of truth because we can’t hold it back as easily as we can with language and it gives a safe harbor to be able to explain things away if what we laugh it seems inappropriate to others
- Language and speech
- Speaking gains you social status if you prove you’d be a powerful ally who knows something which is new and/or useful to you. When you speak you can show off your verbal and mental “tools” which make you a strong ally. That is the subtext to every speech. Speaking well gains you prestige as prestige can be equated with being a strong allies others want to partner with
- This may be why people tend to speak more than listen although listening might be the best thing you can do as you can learn more
- People are more impressed with others who have something interesting to say regardless of where the conversation goes rather than being led to a specific topic the speaker knows a lot about
- Conspicuous consumption influences everything we do, what we buy, how we judge others, it conveys our status, values and priorities
- People have forever been obsessed with gossip, news, and media. And although they may say it is for staying on top of global events, the subtext is that they want to be able to know what others are talking about and chime in in conversation
- Art is an impressive display in the sense that it is meant to impress others. Evolutionarily it is hard to describe or explain because it is costly takes a lot of time and does not directly do anything to enhance our survival but one thought about what it signals to potential mates the fact that we have surplus time, energy, health, and wealth to pursue these sorts of things it makes more sense. The gower bird is a great example because the male builds some impressive structures and collects hard to find artifacts and colors to put within the structure which shows the female he has surplus energy and proves he is a qualified mate. What makes this even more interesting is that after they mate the male does not help raise the young at all. His pre-mating structure speaks to his genes more than anything else he could do. Art therefore needs to be impractical in order to succeed as it shows the fitness of the individual who is performing it
- Charity, like everything else discussed, is not done for pure charitable reasons or else people would donate differently. There are five main factors which influence what we do and how we give it including: visibility, peer pressure, proximity, relatability, and mating motives. Being generous signals that we have a surplus of wealth time and fitness and we want our leaders to be generous because it shows that they don’t play zero-sum games, that they know how to share, and that they are socially aligned
- Education in large part is the signaling mechanism to show that you have the capability to learn a broad swath of information, prioritize and work hard. It does not necessarily mean that you know these topics very well. Education is a form of conspicuous consumption too as it tends to be expensive and going to college shows you can afford it. It shows which students can learn well but not necessarily how much they know. Colleges also are in some fashion propaganda machines and also serve to “domesticate” young people
- As is this case with many of these hidden mode of explanation, things which seem like flaws for the stated function are in fact features of the hidden one
- Bringing food to people who are sick is a universal but in today’s age, far more important is that it is homemade – showing you took time out of your busy schedule to make this
- Americans spend too much on medicine in an effort to “keep up with the Joneses”. It is hard for most people to act in the belief that doing less or maybe even nothing is the best course of action no matter if it has been proven that it can be better. More is thought of as better because it signals that we care and are cared for. People don’t actually care as much about if something works – they want the best doctors doing the most expensive treatments. Sleep, rest and eating well is not received well when we’re sick.
- We worship and believe in religion because it helps us socially by forming a cohesive community. We become accepted by a group which helps us survive and reproduce. While the skeptic may think of religions as delusions, it is hard to argue against their benefits. Sacrifice is very socially beneficial to show your loyalty and fitness. The boredom experienced in sermons may be a feature and not a bug – you are conspicuously sacrificing your time for the group
- Groups of nice, trusting people tend to out compete groups of nasty people. This has deep implications if you think about it
What I got out of it
- Fun read with deep implications. We keep ourselves in the dark to many of our selfish motives in order to better deceive others
- 12 rules for how to balance chaos and order, how to live a meaningful life that benefits self and others. If we each live properly, we will collectively flourish
- Stand up straight with your shoulders back.
- Most animals and every human is part of a dominance hierarchy and being higher has more positive effects than we care to verbalize. It is an external part of our environment, an unchanging aspect of evolution. Where we stand powerfully affects every aspect of our being – conscious and unconscious alike. Our system actively monitors exactly where we stand in society and there are physical changes that occur in victory and defeat (a loss by a dominant lobster leads to a virtual dissolution of his brain into a subordinate brain).
- Many human games are winner take all or winner take most so being a winner often has exponentially positive effects – virtuous and vicious cycles. You feel safe and secure so can take more risks, change is typically seen as good and you can be more confident, courageous, and generous, can be on less alert and plan long term, you can delay gratification. All characteristics, traits, behaviors that enhance chances of success. Those at the bottom are generally less healthy and don’t live as long. Being at the bottom necessitates a lot of emergencies and a strong will to survive but this burns our energy.
- Having predictable daily routines offsets much chaos, unpredictability and ultimately fear that many people experience – go to sleep and wake up at similar times, have a high protein and fat breakfast. Many difficulties stem from biological imbalance and if we can get our sleep, diet, health in order, we can better manage anything that comes at us
- If you start to straighten up, people might just start looking at you and treating you differently. Your nervous system responds totally differently when you take on a challenge directly as opposed to being forced into it. Being higher up in the food chain, in the social hierarchy, has obvious social, physical, psychological, physiological effects which ripple into everything we do or undertake
- Treat yourself like you are someone you are responsible for helping.
- Peterson argues that because you know your own faults better than anyone else, how meaningless and flawed you are, you have trouble taking care of ourselves like we would others. We don’t respect ourselves and see ourselves as falling creatures. We don’t stand for and walk with the truth so can’t take care of ourselves in the way that someone who did would. Most people simply do not believe they deserve the best care. However, although we are not a God, we are something, we matter. You have a moral obligation to take care of yourself as best as you can because it not only benefits you but ripples and benefits others as well. You deserve to be taken care of and to be healthy and happy
- Make friends with those who want the best for you
- Good influences will encourage you and not put up with your flaws. They will push you to be a better person and to strive for more, for better.
- Those who are bad influences will try to drag you down for every improvement you make in your life only makes them more aware of their own inadequacies
- Compare self to who you were yesterday and not who someone else is today
- Aim high but make the goal(s) reachable
- Be careful who you compare yourself to. The comparison is generally too narrow, without taking the full context into account. Is that famous person you are jealous of truly happy. Are they close with their families? Do they feel fulfilled?
- You have to see yourself as a stranger and ask who you are, what you want, where are you and where you want to go. Imagine that you’re dealing with your moodiest, most sensitive, laziest friend and communicate to yourself as you would to them. Nobody wants to work for a tyrant so ask nicely, humbly. Begin with small, simple asks and actions – what small thing could you do today that would help you accomplish that? That would get you just an inch closer to better, to being happier. Just like you pay an inspector to tell you the flaws in a house, you need an inspector to tell you your flaws. This can be an internal critic, if he/she is on the right track and has your best interests in mind.
- The past and the future are similar except that the past is fixed. You can do something about the future and happiness is found in uphill progress.
- 3 simple questions to get started on this path:
- What bothers me?
- Is this something I can fix?
- Would I actually be willing to fix it?
- What could you do, what would you do, to make life just a little bit better
- When you feel strongly about something, you must speak up. When this failure happens at a societal level, tyranny ensues. It is on the individual to speak up for what is right, to stop evil, to do good.
- What you aim at is what you see. That’s worth repeating. What you aim at is what you see. Overtime this accumulates and progresses. This is magic. This is compound interest. Seeing is difficult and very cognitively expensive so you must shepherd your resources carefully. You must ignore the unmanageable complexity found in the world and march towards your goal. You see obstacles as they arise and find a way around them. However, you must balance this with knowing when to back off for marching blindly towards your goal will make you unaware of other, potentially better, opportunities. If we accept that we are blind to most of the world, we also must accept that most of the opportunities are outside of our awareness. This is incredibly uplifting because it means that finding different paths, more opportunities is always available
- You cannot fool your psyche. You must wholeheartedly want to improve, to become better. You have to know what this means for you from bottom to top. Becoming better and improving takes more resilience and responsibility than living stupidly and without a purpose. It takes perseverance and effort. Don’t let that stop you. Align yourself to your highest good, bring peace and beauty into this world.
- You are too complex to ever fully understand. The closest proxy we have is to observe how we act. Don’t overestimate your self-knowledge. On one hand you are the most complex thing in the universe and on the other, you can’t even set the time on your microwave.
- Don’t let kids do anything that would make you dislike them
- Successful parents make kids eminently sociable (know how to play which allows them to develop and learn and be accepted by a wide variety of groups).
- Many parents are willing to give up respect in order to gain friendship. This is wrong. Your children will have many friends but only two parents. Proper discipline is difficult and takes much effort but the long-term payoffs are priceless. It will give you a well-adjusted, socially desirable child. Boundaries and limits, although not generally welcome in the moment, are needed by all children. They push in order to see what is permissible, where the boundaries lie. Consistent correction is necessary and better sooner than later, and a better alternative to what the child is looking for must be shown.
- No grudge after victory – you always reward good behavior. Children do not solely cry when they are scared, hungry or sad, but more often they cry because they are angry. Anger crying is often an act of dominance and should be dealt with as such.
- Violence, destruction, anxiety are not hard to understand. They are the default. Peace, progress, calm are hard to understand because they are difficult, they take restraint.
- Discipline and punishment evoke bad images but their use in raising children cannot be avoided. Rewards are of course needed too and they can’t be so small they are inconsequential nor so large that they devalue future rewards. People move towards what they find agreeable and away from what they don’t. So know what you are looking for and what you want more of and reward that and punish what you don’t. You can discipline your children or you can wait for the harsh and uncaring world to do it for you. Poorly socialized children have terrible lives so it is best, and most loving, to socialize them yourself when they are young. The question is not if to punish/discipline/reward your children, but how to best do it based on the temperament of your children
- Rules should not be multiplied beyond necessity. Bad laws drive out the good. Limit the rules and then figure out what is done when one is broken but use the least force necessary to enforce those rules – this must be figured out experimentally (note the rules he mentions in this section for why children should behave well). You are not doing your child any favors by holding back on punishment and discipline and ignoring their bad behaviors. Timeouts are useful to show the child that they can rejoin once the anger or poor behavior has resided.
- Parents should come in pairs. Parenting is difficult and everyone has bad days so it is necessary to have someone else around to observe and step in when needed
- Parents should understand their own capacity to be mean, vengeful, spiteful. No adult human being can withstand being dominated by a child forever and this will eventually lead to a need for revenge, to ignoring the child and the real punishment will then begin – resentment, holding back love, ignoring them. Planning and knowing the proper punishment and how you will act will stem toxicity and save the family
- Parents have a duty to act as proxies of the real world. Caring proxies, loving proxies, but proxies nonetheless. This responsibility supersedes any responsibility to make the child happy, boost their self-esteem, it is the primary job of parents to make the children very socially desirable, bringing opportunities, deep relationships, meaning and fulfillment. Clear rules make for sociable and calm children and rational parents
- Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world
- Understanding resentment, revenge, and the dark side of humanity is very helpful but you must come to know these in yourself before you can judge others. It is only through the difficult self-work needed to make your life better, the little things that you know you can do or stop doing in order to make yourself happier, to make your life simpler, to make the lives of those around you better. Only once you have acted on all these and have gained this self-knowledge, can you begin to look outward and expect more of others. Once you see how hard it is to expect these things of yourself, you will better understand others and not have sky high expectations
- Do what is meaningful and not what is expedient
- Doing anything meaningful requires sacrifice and sometimes the bigger the sacrifice the more meaning you can gain
- Delayed gratification, planning, and sacrifice are essentially bargains with the future – you give up something today in order to have more or better tomorrow
- What is the biggest most impactful sacrifice you can make today and what is the most ideal future that would create? Define this for yourself and align your life to give yourself the best chance of making that happen
- Sharing done properly is giving something today to someone with the hope that they will give you something else in the future. It is the beginning of trade. What is even better than sharing is sharing generously, without expecting anything in return, for this has many positive unintended effects and everyone loves and helps those who are generous
- The most successful sacrifice: any sacrifice which is difficult to make, and is personal. Do this until it becomes easy, until it’s routine. This is foregoing what is expedient and what is easy for what is meaningful
- If you learn to listen to your conscious, get to know your values and ideals, and follow them, you’ll be given more than you could ever need or require. The payoffs are greater than you know
- Enlightenment is so rare because it takes a move down to move up which means that the enlightened know the darkest, deepest, worst spots and stains and behaviors of man and is therefore never surprised by human nature. However, the flip side is that they also know the highest, the ideal form of man and knows that we are all capable of that as well
- Evil is when you make others needlessly suffer for no reason other than to see them suffer and good is anything which stops it. That is the meaning for that we should guide our lives towards. Never lie for this is the road to hell. Make this your moral pinnacle do everything in your power to alleviate unnecessary pain and suffering – that is the meaning of the good life
- Tell the truth, or at least don’t lie
- Never lie for it is the road to hell. If you lie, you can’t present your true self to others and you will never get to know your true self either. You will never truly know who you are or maximize your potential. You are hiding from the reality and not willing to confront it head on
- Lies warp the structure of being and lead to repression, pathologies, and the moral issues and horrific events that we saw in the 20th century
- You have to know where you are and where you are going so that you can chart a course, so that you know what you need to do to get from where you are to where you need to be. You have to know what your principles are, what you stand up for, so that you can argue against those who do not believe in what you do, so you can protect yourself, and you can more easily tell what is worth striving for. You have to keep your word and reward yourself when you succeed. It takes work to make heaven on earth, it won’t just be handed to you
- True thinking is really hard and really rare. Thinking can be thought of as a conversation between two or more avatars in your head and you have to be able to take each one of their sides, listen to each one, see how they would play out in your reality and then act on it. What most consider thinking is simply self-criticism disguised as thinking
- Memory is not meant to be perfect recall of the past for that does not exist. Memory exists in order to help you not make the same mistakes over and over again
- Truly listening to someone is one of the rarest skills and gifts there are. People organize their thoughts through conversation and if they have no one to share them with, they lose their minds. If you can truly listen, people tell you more than you could ever ask for and they will generally be very interesting and help you grow as a person
- Assume person you’re listening to knows something you don’t
- What you don’t know is more important than what you know. If you truly listen to people they’ll tell you what’s wrong, what they want, and how to fix it. Repeat people’s arguments to them and ask if you understood it correctly – don’t want to “win”, want to fix the problem. You and me against the problem, not me against you
- Be precise in your speech
- We don’t perceive objects like we think we do. We perceive meaning directly and then assign them to objects. We see tools and obstacles, not things and objects. And it depends on our needs and goals. This is why knowing where we are, where we are going, what we want, what we don’t want, our values, etc. is so important. It literally affects how we perceive the world around us
- We often see by instinct what things mean even before what they are which means that objectivity is very hard to reach
- Emergency = emergence of “c”, emergence of chaos
- Never underestimate the power of omissions. When things get swept under the rug and are not discussed and flushed out, they grow and manifest and become worse than you could ever imagine. If only they were brought up early and transparently and discussed openly, they could be called out, named, and dealt with. Everything discussed becomes clarified and gives you the potential to at least remedy them. If you avoid rather than address, what you least want will eventually come to happen, at the worst possible time. To specify the problem is to admit it exists, to admit what it is that you want. This may hurt but it is far better than the alternative and in the other way you cannot fail as you have not admitted what it is you want but this path leads you quickly astray. Be brave. Risk conflict in the present for longer term peace and happiness
- If we are imprecise with our speech, things remain vague, we are in the fog, our destination is unknown. Courageous clarity of thought is needed to call forth the problem
- Say what you mean, act out what you say so you can find out what happens and then course correct. Tell those around you who you are and what you want
- Don’t bother children when they’re skateboarding
- Kids need some danger, some consequences, in order to gain competence and later mastery. If things are too safe or predictable, they’ll behave in unintended ways because they need to live on the edge in some sense. They enjoy risk because it helps them improve future performance
- If you can’t understand why somebody did something, look at the consequences and then infer their motivations
- Conscientiousness and honesty more common and natural in western culture than people give it credit for.
- Take responsibility for your life and make the most of it. Don’t restrict children’s play
- Competence and not power is what gets you to the top of the hierarchy. In the west, the traits most associated with success are intelligence and conscientiousness and for entrepreneurs and artist, it is intelligence and openness to new experiences
- Pet a cat when you encounter one in the street
- In order to cope with a crisis, people shorten their time frame just to make it through the day. Be alert to the unexpected beauty in life during difficult times
- What you love about someone is inseparable from their weaknesses, from their flaws
- In the depths of difficult situations it is not thinking that gets you out but noticing. Notice that you love someone not despite their limitations but because of them.
- Consciousness is the thin veil the process that turns order into chaos. It has been proposed that the two hemispheres of the brain exist in order to deal one with order and the other with chaos. Meaning, progress, and fulfillment is found when you have 1 foot in order and 1 foot in chaos – providing some stability and routine while still being able to learn and grow. This is the straight and narrow path to flow and all progress. A good question for parents regarding chaos and order is do you want to make kids safe or strong?
- An idea is more creditable when the results from the investigation come from various different realms
- Two lessons Peterson learned about the Golden Rule – about doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. The first is that it has nothing to do with being nice and the second is that it is an equation rather than an injunction. It is better for both parties to be strong, to stick up for what is right, because if you just give in and are “nice”, one will become a slave and the other a tyrant. Sticking up for yourself therefore is helpful to you and also beneficial to the other party
- Happy is by no means synonymous with good. When you give a child candy, the child is happy but it is not good
- There is no one enlightened, only those who seek to be closer to enlightenment.
- Overemphasize who you are becoming rather than who you are. This mindset, while often painful, is the fastest road to growth, fulfillment, and happiness.
- Aim to be the person at your father’s funeral who everyone can rely on
- A shared belief system simplifies communication and allows you to more easily understand where you stand in relation to others. It is inaccurate but a necessary mode of thinking. This simplification is absolutely vital and if it is threatened can lead to outcomes such as the Cold War. It is a system of value, providing a hierarchy and a structure for how to act and respond to others
What I got out of it
- An incredibly insight and interesting book, drawing from many different realms. I re-read it the minute I finished it and will return to it often
The book and concepts were rich enough that I did a bit more of an in-depth write up…
“The universe has created an ability to self-replicate using the surrounding materials to make exact copies of itself, including replicas of such minor flaws in copying as may occasionally arise. What follows is what we call life. Never were so many facts explained by so few assumptions. Not only does Darwinian Theory command superabundant power to explain. Its economy in doing so has a sinewy elegance, a poetic beauty that outclasses even the most haunting of the world’s origin myths. One of my purposes in writing this book has been to accord due recognition to the inspirational quality of our modern understanding of Darwinian life. There is more poetry in Mitochondrial Eve than in her mythological namesake…Another of my purposes is to convince my readers that “ways of making a living” is synonymous with “ways of passing DNA-coded texts on to the future.” My “river” is a river of DNA, flowing and branching through geological time, and the metaphor of steep banks confining each species’ genetic games turns out to be a surprisingly powerful and helpful explanatory device.”
The river = a river of information through time, DNA
It is obvious but not a single of our ancestors died in infancy as they were able to pass along genes that helped them survive. We all inherit all our genes from an unbroken line of successful ancestors. The world becomes full of organism that have what it takes to become ancestors
Genes do not improve in using, they are just passed on, unchanged except for very rare random errors. It is not success that makes good genes. It is good genes that make success, and nothing an individual does during its lifetime has any effect whatever upon its genes.
Genes can buy their way through the sieve, not only by assisting their own body to become an ancestor but by assisting the body of a relation to become an ancestor
To be good at surviving, a gene must be good at working together with the other genes in the same species – the same river. To survive in the long run, a gene must be a good companion. It must do well in the company of, or against the background of, the other genes in the same river. Genes of another species are in a different river. They do not have to get on well together – not in the same sense, anyway – for they do not have to share the same bodies
A biological reasoning and example as to why cooperation is the highest form of competition
Bauplan = blueprint, or a fundamental body plan (Dawkins argues against this as it can lead to errors in thinking as changes in species are subtle)
Genes as digital information
Pulse Code Modulation – The transmission of genes is well-nigh perfect even if the transmission along the line is poor. The discrete levels are set far enough apart so that random fluctuations can never be misinterpreted by the receiving instrument as the wrong level. This is the great virtue of digital codes, and it is why audio and video systems – and information technology generally – are increasingly going digital…After Watson and Crick, we know that genes themselves, within their minute internal structure, are long strings of pure digital information. What is more, they are truly digital, in the full and strong sense of computers and compact disks, not in the weak sense of the nervous system. The genetic code is not a binary code as in computers, nor an eight-level code as in some phone systems, but a quaternary code, with four symbols. The machine code of the genes is uncannily computer like…Up until 1953 it was still possible to believe that there was something fundamentally and irreducibly mysterious in living protoplasm. No longer
Genes are pure information – information that can be encoded, recoded and decoded, without any degradation or change of meaning. Pure information can be copied and, since it is digital information, the fidelity of the copying can be immense. DNA characters are copied with an accuracy that rivals anything modern engineers can do. They are copied down generations, with just enough occasional errors to introduce variety. Among this variety, those coded combinations that become more numerous in the world will obviously and automatically be the ones that, when decoded and obeyed inside bodies, make those bodies take active steps to preserve and propagate those same DNA messages. We – and that means all living things – are survival machines programmed to propagate the digital database that did the programming. Darwinism is now seen to be the survival of the survivors at the level of pure, digital code.
DNA, seen in this light, becomes tempting to liken to a family Bible
Mitochondria ideal for dating common ancestry within a species because, besides mutations, they’re identical and come from one common mother
Supernormal stimulus – a stimulus even more effective than the real thing
Eyes have evolved in different species and in different ways dozens of times. Dragonflies see completely differently than humans
Sphexish – Hofstadter’s word for inflexible, mindless behavior
Do good by stealth – a key feature of evolution is its gradualness
Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. We humans have purpose on the brain. We find it hard to look at anything without wondering what it is “for, what the motive for it is, or the purpose behind it. When the obsession with purpose becomes pathological it is called paranoia – reading malevolent purpose into what is actually random bad luck. But this is just an exaggerated form of a nearly universal delusion. Show us almost any object or process, and it is hard for us to resist the “why” question – the “what is it for?” question. Beware this “purpose fallacy” – the “as if designed” assumption.
Utility function – maximize happiness for the greatest number. In nature, DNA survival is being maximized, not happiness. God’s Utility Function seldom turns out to be the greatest good for the greatest number. God’s Utility Function betrays its origins in an uncoordinated scramble for selfish gain. Group welfare is always a fortuitous consequence, not a primary drive. That is the meaning of the “selfish gene.”
Henry Ford illuminated on this Utility Function when it is reported that Ford once “commissioned a survey of the car scrapyards of America to find out if there were parts of the Model T which never failed. His inspectors came back with reports of almost every kind of breakdown: ales, brakes, pistons – all were liable to go wrong. But they drew attention to one notable exception, the kingpins of the scraped cars invariably had years of life left in them. With ruthless logic Ford concluded that the kingpins on the Model T were too good for their job and ordered that in the future they should be made to an inferior specification.” This may seem counterintuitive in some respects but in nature, as in cars, it is possible for a component of an animal to be too good, and we should expect natural selection to favor a lessening of quality up to, but not beyond, a point of balance with the quality of the other components of the body. More precisely, natural selection will favor a leveling out of quality in both the downward and upward directions, until a proper balance is struck over all parts of the body.
In nature, often come across physiological changes with changes in hierarchy. Female blue-headed wrasse quickly become a bright-colored male if his place needs to be taken once he dies
Information Bomb – there is another type of explosion a star can sustain. Instead of “going supernova” it “goes information.” The explosion begins more slowly than a supernova and takes incomparably longer to build up. We can call it an information bomb or, a replication bomb, or life. We humans are an extremely important manifestation of the replication bomb, because it is through us – through our brains, our symbolic culture and our technology – that the explosion may proceed to the next stage and reverberate through deep space. The triggering event of a replication bomb is the spontaneous arising of self-replicating yet variable entities. The reason self-replication is a potentially explosive phenomenon is the same as for any explosion: exponential growth. The more you have, the more you get
Success is simply synonymous with frequency in circulation
Language is the networking system by which brains exchange information with sufficient intimacy to allow the development of a cooperative technology. Cooperative technology, beginning with the imitative development of stone tools and proceeding through the ages of metal-smelting, wheeled vehicles, steam power and now electronics, has many of the attributes of an explosion in its own right, and its initiation therefore deserves a title, the Cooperative Technology Threshold. Indeed, it is possible that human culture has fostered a genuinely new replication bomb, with a new kind of self-replicating entity – the meme, as I have called it in The Selfish Gene – proliferating and Darwinizing in a river of culture.
The analogy of DNA as pure, digital information is helpful as is the idea of information bombs
“Since Darwin’s day, we’ve been told that sexual monogamy comes naturally to our species. Mainstream science, as well as religious and cultural institutions, has maintained that men and women evolved in families in which a man’s possessions and protection were exchanged for a woman’s fertility and fidelity. But this narrative is collapsing. Fewer and fewer couples are getting married, and divorce rates keep climbing as adultery and flagging libido drag down even seemingly solid marriages…Ryan and Jetha’s central contention is that human beings evolved in egalitarian groups that shared food, child care, and, often, sexual partners…The authors expose the ancient roots of human sexuality while pointing toward a more optimistic future illuminated by our innate capacities for love, cooperation, and generosity.”
The denial or ignorance of our true sexual nature is leaving millions of relationships in tatters as people don’t see themselves and their partners for what they truly are – descendants of hyper sexual primates
Pornography makes more money than CBS and NBC combined and more money is spent at strip clubs than at jazz, comedy, Broadway and similar concerts combined
The discrepancy between what we are told to feel sexually and what we actually feel may be one of the greatest causes of misery in today’s world
Our ancestors probably lived in tight social groups where they shared almost everything, including sexual partners. Sharing of everything was simply the most effective way to minimize risk. This trend began to slowly change during the agricultural revolution. What we often assume is a product of our modern society, may have its roots much further back than we think. Agriculture, more than perhaps anything else ever has or will, fundamentally changed how humans thought, interacted, lived, worshiped, and more.
Culture is so deeply ingrained and feels so natural to us that it is very hard to distinguish what is cultural vs human. What doesn’t feel right isn’t always wrong
Changing food supplies, population densities, socio-economic opportunities, and more leads to all hell breaking loose in captive primate populations, just as it would in humans
Because of our social tendencies, solitary confinement is the greatest torture there is
One doesn’t need threats of death to follow one’s nature
There are dozens of examples throughout the world of different familial and sexual relations – whole society takes care of kids and thinks of them as their own
Humans, by far, spend the most time thinking about and engaging in sex. We are one of the few species in the world which have sex for fun and when the woman can’t bear children
When looked at our biological ancestry, the standard Western narrative of monogamy and limited female sexual appetite seems terribly wrong
The only way to live longer reliably is to sleep more and eat less
A ton of discussion about how our foraging ancestors had a better lifestyle than many currently think and better than most people even have today in our modern, consumer, stressful, dense culture.
Similar male to female size, size of male testes, general anatomy and more all point to a polygamous past
Female copulatory vocalization (moans) are thought to have evolved in our polygamous past to let other males know that they may have a chance to get lucky
There is research indicating that there is an inverse correlation in societies between sex and violence. Maybe this is part of why Britain was so eager for war
One theory for men’s infidelity and constant search for novelty is as a means to decrease incest. By always wanting something new, they went seeking for new mates in different tribes and areas. While monogamy is the predominant relationship dynamic, there is so much infidelity and failed marriages that the authors think there might be a better way (having casual sexual relations in the side) but stress that each person must figure out what makes the most sense for them
Higher levels of sex is correlated with lower levels of disease
By making talking about sex taboo, Western societies distort how big of a deal sex is. It is essential but we need not take it so seriously. The sexual culture may be moving towards a more casual hooking up culture like that of our ancestors and may lead to less pathological issues
One of the first examples of polyamorous relationships in modern Western culture was in Air Force pilots. So many of them were killed in battle that this may have been a way of ensuring that the pilot’s wife and kids would have someone else looking after them in case they were killed in battle
Don’t agree with a lot of the author’s conclusions but they do a thorough job of starting from an evolutionary, biological, social perspective and building up from there
- An incredible insight into the takeovers and social organization of a chimp colony in the Netherlands. “The behavior of our closest relatives provides clues about human nature. Apart from political maneuvering, chimpanzees show many behaviors that parallel those of humans, from tool technology to intercommunity warfare. In fact, our place among the primates is increasingly a backdrop of substantial similarity. Our uniqueness breaks down as we study our relatives.”
- Simplified conditions, like the one found at Arnhem Zoo with this chimp colony, allow researchers to see more because there is less. A totally wild environment is too dynamic, too chaotic to be able to closely observe some of the interactions which are dissected in this book
- “Every country has its Dick Cheneys and Ted Kennedys operating behind the scenes. Being over the hill themselves, these experienced men often exploit the intense rivalries among younger politicians, gaining tremendous power as a result. I also did not draw explicit parallels between how rival chimpanzees curry favor with females by grooming and tickling their young and the way human politicians hold up and kiss babies, something they rarely do outside the election season. There are tons of such parallels, also in nonverbal communication (the swaggering, the lowering of voices), but I stayed away from all these. To me, they were so obvious I am happy to leave them to my readers…The social dynamics are essentially the same. The game of probing and challenging, of forming coalitions, of undermining others’ coalitions, and of slapping the table to reinforce a point is right there for any observer to see. The will to power is a human universal. Our species has been engaged in Machiavellian tactics since the dawn of time, which is why no one should be surprised about the evolutionary connection pointed out in the present book.”
- Only in harmonious groups are adult males solicitous and tolerant of kid’s behavior
- When excited or aggressive, their hair stands on end so they appear larger than life and often this behavior can be seen as much as 10 minutes before by inconspicuous body movements and changes in posture
- The group dynamic is one large web and the alpha male is just as, if not more, ensnared in the web as the rest
- Since they don’t need to forage for food as they do in the wild, there is considerably more time to socialize and the close quarters, especially in the winter months, which leads to nearly twice as many aggressive incidents as in the summer months
- “Experts sometimes choose to create the impression of knowing nothing. They act in exactly the opposite way from the young teacher, who held forth with such conviction. Both attitudes lead nowhere, but unfortunately I will not be able to avoid them completely.”
- “Everyone can look, but actually perceiving is something that has to be learned. This is a constantly recurring problem when new students arrive. For the first few weeks they “see” nothing at all…Initially we only see what we recognize. Someone who knows nothing about chess and who watches a game between two players will not be aware of the tension on the board. Even if the watcher stays for an hour, he or she will still have great difficult in accurately reproducing the state of play on another board. A grand master, on the other hand, would grasp and memorize the position of every piece in one concentrated glance of a few seconds. This is not a difference of memory, but of perception. Whereas to the uninitiated the positions of the chess pieces are unrelated, the initiated attach great significance to them and see how they threaten and cover each other. It is easier to remember something with a structure than a chaotic jumble. This is the synthesizing principle of the so-called Gestalt perception: the whole, or Gestalt, is more than the sum of its parts. Learning to perceive is learning to recognize the patterns in which the components regularly occur. Once we are familiar with the patterns of interactions between chess pieces or chimpanzees, they seem so striking and obvious that it is difficult to imagine how other people can get bogged down in all kinds of detail and miss the essential logic of the maneuvers.”
- When chimpanzees are frightened or distressed, they bare their teeth much further than when they put on the so-called play-face
- When males are displaying and trying to intimidate, it is not uncommon to see females take away their weapons
- Side-Directed Behavior: behavior toward opponents and behavior toward companions or outsiders
- Seeking refuge and reassurance – the most common form and an excited or frightened chimpanzee clearly has a need for physical contact
- Recruitment of support
- Reconciliations – after conflict, the opponents are attracted to each other like magnets! They had to physically connect to make up and tension and hesitancy remains as long as the opponents had not reconciled their differences. This action serves to repair valuable relationships
- Coalitions – when two apes fight or threaten each other, a third ape may enter the fray and side with one of them. Sometimes this escalates and larger coalitions are formed. However, this does not cascade – chimpanzees never make an uncalculated move and the top position in a group may depend on aggressive cooperation (highest form of strategy, dominance) and, often, it was the females who were the most important part of helping their chosen male get into the position of alpha
- Social Intelligence Hypothesis
- Chimps developed such high intelligence in order to deal with an increasingly complex group life. The evolution of primate intelligence started with the need to outsmart others, to detect deceptive tactics, to reach mutually advantageous compromises, and to foster social ties that advance once’s career
- Alpha males
- Hair is constantly slightly on end, even when not actively displaying and walk in an exaggeratedly slow and heavy manner – all meant to make one look larger and heavier
- The submissive greeting is the most special form of behavior indicative of social order – deep bows, grunting, looking up at the alpha, kiss his feet/neck/chest. Alpha reacts to this by standing taller and making his hair stand on end which makes the contrast even greater
- Dominance manifests in two different ways – social influence (power, who can defeat whom and who weighs in most heavily when a conflict in the group occurs) and formal dominance (ones actual rank within the colony)
- Physical strength is only one factor and almost certainly not the critical one in determining dominance relationships
- A leader who hesitates in defending his proteges might very well have problems defending himself
- Tantrums are indicative of the beginning of the end but familiarity breeds contempt. Tantrums which are thrown too often are ignored
- Tend to think that the outcome of a fight determines the social relationship, whereas here the outcome was determined by the social relationship. The same was seen in later dominance processes. The prevailing social climate affected the self-confidence of the rivals. It was as if their effectiveness depended on the attitude of the group (rather like a soccer team playing better at home than away).
- Speed and agility are just as important as strength
- Alpha males experience a physical and emotional change when they become the alpha – hair on end, a “policy” of trying to stabilize the group after the shake up in hierarchy
- Pattern Recognition – an older alpha had a better eye for potentially dangerous social developments and realized better than his partner that such developments must be nipped in the bud
- One of the new alphas, Nikkie, received great resistance from the females and never had secure rule. He was “greeted” and groomed and obeyed but he lead from a position of fear rather than respect. Must have the backing and support of the females or else your power is fragile
- Chimps overcome basic competitive tendencies more than other animals and achieve a high degree of cooperation. They cooperate in order to create a common front against the neighbors – the psyche is one of both competition and compromise and this is what makes chimp society so much more recognizable to us than the social structure of the other great apes
- Chimpanzee males avoid looking at each other in moments of tension, challenge, and intimidation. In moments of reconciliation, on the other hand, they look each other straight and deep in the eyes. After a conflict the former opponents may sometimes sit opposite each other for a quarter of an hour or more, trying to catch each other’s eye. Once the opponents are finally looking at each other, first hesitantly but then more steadily, the reconciliation will not be far away. Often, a “sense of honor” would need to be overcome before the reconciliation begins and often it was a third party who would help them out of the impasse. This third party was always one of the adult females
- After a fight, contact and conciliation is so important than the winner can blackmail the loser. The winner refuses to have anything to do with the loser until he has received some respectful grunts
- A stable hierarchy is a great sign of peace and harmony in the group but only partially ensure peace in the social system. Horizontal developments – in which children grow up and social ties are established, neglected, or broken – inevitably affect the temporarily fixed “vertical” component, the hierarchy. Western “ladder” view of social ties compared to Japanese “network” view. Hierarchical stability cannot be equated with stagnation and monotony, dominance must constantly be proven (Red Queen Effect)
- Loser-supporters: a third individual who intervenes in a conflict on the side of the party who would otherwise have lost
- Young males of superior fighting ability cannot usurp power without the support of a sizable portion of a group. You have to have the group buy-in and back you – can never do it alone
- The chimps have incredible awareness of their social cues. During one of the fights, both sides were bluffing about how brave they were and could be seen holding their hands in front of their mouths so that nobody could see them bearing their teeth (a sign of fear, excitement, nervousness
- In all the time studying the apes, the researchers never once witnessed a conflict between the two highest ranking females
- Key for stability within a hierarchy to have the top women on the same page?
- There are often issues when there is ‘dual leadership’ or a second person who feels they are entitled to respect and power just as much as the true leader. As Machiavelli reasoned, “He who attains the principality with the aid of the nobility maintains it with more difficulty than he who becomes the prince with the assistance of the common people, for he finds himself a prince amidst many who feel themselves to be his equals, and because of this he can neither govern nor manage them as he might wish.”
- The males are incredibly tolerant of children. They cannot risk getting upset and losing the support of the females
- The formation of territories is one way of demarcating procreational rights; the formation of a hierarchy is another. There is a definite link between power and sex; no social organization can be properly understood without knowledge of the sexual rules and the way the progeny are cared for. Even the proverbial cornerstone of our society, the family, is essentially a sexual and reproductive unit. Sigmund Freud, speculating about the history of the unit, imagined a “primal horde,” in which our forefathers obeyed one great chief, who jealously guarded all sexual rights and privileges for himself
- A female can only be fertilized by one male. By keeping other males away from her, a male increases the certainty that he will be the father of the child. Consequently, children will more often be sired by jealous than by tolerant males. If jealousy is hereditary, and that is what the theory assumes, more and more children will be born with this characteristic, and later they in turn will attempt to exclude other members of the same sex from the reproductive act.
- Whereas the males fight for the right to fertilize as many females as possible, the situation for the females is totally different. Whether she copulates with one or one hundred males, it will not alter the number of children she will give birth to. Jealousy among females is therefore less marked. Female competition occurs almost exclusively in pair-bonded species, such as many birds and a few mammals, such as humans. Men get most upset at the thought of their wife or girlfriend having sex with another man, women dislike most the thought that their husband or boyfriend actually loves another woman, regardless of whether or not sex has occurred. Because women look at these things from the perspective of relationships, they are more concerned about a possible emotional tie between their mate and another woman
- If a female does not want to mate, it is usually over. Persistent males run the risk of being chased by the female they approached and some of the other females too. Consequently, it is the females who largely engineer the evasion of the rules that exist among males
- If the number of individuals in any colony becomes unnaturally alrge, the system collapses (Dunbar’s Number)
- Triadic Awareness (Lateral Networks)
- Just as individual recognition is a prerequisite of a stable hierarchy, so triadic awareness is a prerequisite of a hierarchy based on coalitions. The term triadic awareness refers to the capacity to perceive social relationships between others so as to form varied triangular relationships. For example, Luit knows that Yeroen and Nikkie are allies, so he will not provoke conflicts with Yeroen when Nikkie is nearby, but he is much less reluctant to do so when he meets Yeroen alone. What is special about this kind of knowledge is that an individual is not only aware of his or her relationships with everyone in the group, but also monitors and evaluates relationships that exist in the social environment so as to gain an understanding of how the self relates to combinations of other individuals. Elementary forms of three-dimensional group life are found in many birds and mammals, but primates are undoubtedly supreme in this respect. Mediation with a view to reconciliation, separating interventions, telling tales, and coalitions would all be inconceivable without triadic awareness
- If any of this sounds simple, it is because triadic awareness is second nature to human beings, and we find it hard to imagine a society without it
- Dependence on third parties plays such a prominent role in the chimpanzee hierarchy that the basic relationships are completely overshadowed. This is not only true for the complex balance of power in the male triangle. A small child, for example, may chase away a full-grown male. He is able to do so under the protection of his mother or “aunt.” Like the children, these females are basically inferior to the males, but they, in turn, can rely on the support of other females and sometimes can appeal to dominant males for help
- The Female Hierarchy
- The basis of hierarchical positions is sex-related. Among males coalitions determine dominance. The male dominance over the females is largely determined by their physical superiority. Among females it is above all personality and age that seem to be the determining factors.
- Conflicts between females are so rare and the outcome is so unpredictable that they cannot be used as a criterion for determining rank.
- The female hierarchy in our chimpanzee group seems to be based on respect from below rather than intimidation and a show of strength from above
- Perhaps why it is so stable and powerful – get buy in and respect from the bottom
- Our understanding of ape hierarchies is further complicated by the fact that there is a third type of dominance that exists alongside formal dominance and power. For example, when the alpha male places a car tire on one of the drums in the indoor hall with the intention of lying down on it, one of the females may push him away and sit down herself. Females also remove objects, sometimes even food, from the hands of the males without meeting with any resistance
- They have things to offer that cannot be taken by force, such as sexual and political favors, and their silent diplomacy, which helps to calm tempers. This provides the females with a good deal of leverage: if being popular among the females is critical for the stability of a male’s leadership, he had better be lenient and accomdating towards them
- Quite the opposite from subhuman primates, a man must be generous to be respected
- Mutual fear as the basis of alliance formation makes nations weigh in on the lighter side of the balance. The result is a power equilibrium in which all nations hold influential positions. The same principle applies to social psychology and is known as the formation of “minimal winning coalitions.”
- A rational choice is based on an estimate of the consequences.
- The hankering for power itself is almost certainly inborn. The question now is, how do chimpanzees achieve their ambitions? This too may be hereditary. Some people are said to have “political instinct,” and there is no reason why we should not say the same of chimpanzees. I doubt, however, whether this “instinct” is responsible for all the details of their strategies. Experience is needed to use innate social tendencies as a means to an end in the same way that a young bird born with wings to fly needs months of practice before it has mastered the art. In the case of political strategies, experience can play a role in two ways: directly, during the social processes themselves, or through the projection of old experiences into the future
- Sympathy is related to intimacy and familiarity
- For the adult male, the amount that he himself possesses is not important. What matters is who does the distributing among the group. (However, this only applies to incidental, extra food. Main meals and hunger can cause chimpanzee males to quarrel violently, as the Holloman colony showed.) Females, on the other hand, tend to share mainly with their own children and best friends and do not get into quarrels with other group members. Taking food by force is extremely rare in our colony; sharing is something apes learn young
- Their control rests on giving. They give protection to anyone who is threatened and receive respect and support in return. Also among humans the borderline between material and social generosity is scarcely distinguishable. Observations of human children by the psychologists Harvey Ginsburg and Shirley Miller have demonstrated that the most dominant children not only intervene in playground fights to protect losers but also are more willing to share with classmates. The investigators suggest that this behavior helps a child to command high status among peers. Similarly, we know from anthropological studies of pre-literate tribes that the chief exercises an economic role comparable to the control role: he gives and receives. He is rich but does not exploit his people, because he gives huge feasts and helps the needy. The gifts and goods he receives flow back into the community. A chief who tries to keep everything for himself puts his position in jeopardy. Noblesse oblige, or, as Sahlins said, “A man must be generous to be respected.” This universal human system, the collection and redistribution of possessions by the chief, or his modern equivalent, the government, is the same as that used by chimpanzees; all we have to do is replace “possessions” by “support and other social favors.”
- Honor this golden rule of generosity in all areas of life. Give more than you receive in every manner
- The influence of the recent past is always overestimated. When we are asked to name the greatest human inventions we tend to think of the telephone, the electric light bulb, and the silicon chip rather than the wheel, the plough, and the taming of fire. Similarly the origins of modern society are sought in the advent of agriculture, trade, and industry, whereas in fact our social history is a thousand times older than these phenomena. It has been suggested that food sharing was a strong stimulus in furthering the evolution of our tendency to reciprocal relations. Would it not be more logical to assume that social reciprocity existed earlier and that tangible exchanges such as food sharing stem from this phenomenon? There are indications of reciprocity in the nonmaterial behaviors of chimps. This is seen, for instance, in their coalitions, nonintervention alliances (A remains neutral if B does the same), sexual bargaining (A tolerates B mating after B has groomed A), and reconciliation blackmail (A refuses to have contact with B unless B “greets” A). It is interesting that reciprocity occurs in both the negative and the positive sense. Nikkie’s habit of individually punishing females who a short time before joined forces against him has already been described. In this way he repaid a negative action with another negative action. We regularly see this mechanism in operation before the group separates for the night. This is the time when differences are squared, no matter when these differences may have arisen. For example, one morning a conflict breaks out between Mama and Oor. Oor rushes to Nikkie and with wild gestures and exaggeratedly loud screams persuades him to attack her powerful opponent. Nikkie attacks Mama, and Oor wins. That evening, however, a good six hours later, we hear the sound of a scuffle in the sleeping quarters. The keeper tells me later that Mama has attacked Oor in no uncertain manner. Needless to say Nikkie was nowhere in the vicinity. Negative behavior hardly enters into the theories about reciprocity that anthropologists and sociologists have developed. Despite the emphasis on powerful exchanges there has not been much theoretical progress
- Every individual voluntarily enters and stays in any relationship only as long as it is adequately satisfactory in terms of rewards and costs. Interactions between humans have been regarded as a kind of trading in advantageous and disadvantageous behavior. Here too reciprocity is an important theme, not only in the positive form but also in its negative form.
- This give-and-take mechanism is a very old, and very fundamental feature of our species and of chimps. Much of the process may take place in the subconscious, but we all know from experience that things come bubbling up to the surface when the difference between costs and benefits becomes too great. It is then that we voice our feelings. By and large, however, reciprocity is something that takes place silently. The principle of exchange makes it possible actively to teach someone something: good behavior is rewarded; bad behavior is punished
- Life in a chimpanzee group is like a market in power, sex, affection, support, intolerance, and hostility. The two basic rules are: one good turn deserves another and an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
- The major themes found and discussed in the chimpanzee colony
- Formalization – ranks are formalized. When they become unclear a dominance struggle ensues, after which the winner refuses reconciliation as long as his new status is not formally recognized
- Influence – an individual’s influence on group processes does not always correspond to his or her rank position. It also depends on personality, age, experience, and connections. I regard our oldest male and oldest female as the most influential group members
- Coalitions – interventions in conflicts serve either to help friends and relatives or to build up powerful positions. The second, opportunistic type of intervention is seen specifically in the coalition formation of adult males and goes hand in hand with isolation tactics. There is evidence for a similar sex difference in humans
- Balance – in spite of their rivalry, males form strong social bonds among themselves. They tend to develop a balanced power system based on their coalitions, individual fighting abilities, and support from females
- Stability – relationships among females are less hierarchically organized and much more stable than among males. A need for stability is also reflected in the females’ attitude toward male status competition. They even mediate between males
- Exchanges – the human economic system, with its reciprocal transactions and centralization, is recognizable in the group life of chimpanzees. They exchange social favors rather than gifts or goods, and their support flows to a central individual who uses the prestige derived from it to provide social security. This is his responsibility, in the sense that he may undermine his own position if he fails to redistribute the support received
- Manipulation – chimpanzees are intelligent manipulators. Their ability is clear enough in their use of tools, but it is even more pronounced in the use of others as social instruments
- To my eyes, the most striking result is that there seem to be two layers of social organization. The first layer we see is a clear-cut rank order, at least among the most dominant individuals. Although primatologists spend a lot of energy discussing the value of the “dominance concept,” they all know that it is impossible to ignore this hierarchical structure. The debate is not about its existence but about the degree to which knowledge of rank relationships helps to explain social processes. I think that, so long as we concentrate on the formal hierarchy, the explanations will be very poor indeed. We should also look behind it, at the second layer: a network of positions of influence. These positions are much more difficult to define, and I consider my descriptions in terms of influence and power only as imperfect first attempts. What I have seen, though, is that individuals losing a top rank certainly do not fall into oblivion: they are still able to pull many strings. In the same way, an individual rising in rank and at first sight appearing to be the big boss does not automatically have the greatest say in all matters. If it is hard to explain this duality of the social organization without using human terms, it is because we have very similar behind-the-scenes influences in our own society. When Aristotle referred to man as a political animal he could not know just how near the mark he was. Our political activity is part of an evolutionary heritage we share with our close relatives. What my work at Arnhem as taught me, however, is that the root of politics are older than humanity
- Human’s daily dabbling in politics are not always recognized as such because people are past masters in camouflaging their true intentions. Politicians for example, are vociferous about their ideals and promises but are careful not to disclose personal aspirations for power. This is not mean to be a reproach, because after all everyone plays the same game. I would go further and say that we are largely unaware that we are playing a game and hide our motives not only from others but also underestimate the immense effect they have on our own behavior. Chimps on the other hand, are quite blatant about their “baser” motives. Their interest in power is not greater than that of humanity, it is just more obvious
- To compare humans with chimps can be taken to be just as insulting, or perhaps even more so, because human motives seem to become more animal as a result. And yet, among chimps, power politics are not merely “bad” or “dirty.” They give to the life of the Arnhem community its logical coherence and even a democratic structure. All parties search for social significance and continue to do so until a temporary balance is achieved. This balance determines the new hierarchical positions. Changing relationships reached point where they become “frozen” in more or less fixed ranks. When we see how this formalization takes place during reconciliations, we understand that the hierarchy is a cohesive factor, which puts limits on competition and conflict. Child care, play, sex, and cooperation depend on the resultant stability. But underneath the surface the situation is constantly in a state of flux. The balance of power is texted daily, and if it proves too weak it is challenged and a new balance established. Consequently chimpanzee politics are also constructive. Humans should regard it as an honor to be classed as political animals.
- Female support counts for as much as nearly anything, coalitions/reconciliation as important in chimp’s life as in human life, much more about cooperation than simply brute strength/size/speed, aggressive cooperation is one of the highest forms of strategy, the need for physical contact is crucial for social bonding and reconciliation, power is truly comprised of two things: social influence and formal dominance, must get buy in from the bottom of the group in order to have a stable hierarchy, man must be generous in order to be respected, stability vita for a well functioning group and hierarchy, hierarchy is a cohesive and a constructive factor which put limits on competition and conflict
- The life and accomplishments of Darwin through his own eyes
- I have attempted to write the following account of myself, as if I were a dead man in another world looking back at my own life. Nor have I found this difficult, for life is nearly over with me. I have taken no pains about my style of writing.
- The passion for collecting which leads a man to be a systematic naturalist, a virtuoso, or a miser, was very strong in me, and was clearly innate, as none of my sisters or brother ever had this taste.
- I have heard my father and elder sister say that I had, as a very young boy, a strong taste for long solitary walks; but what I thought about I know not. I often became quite absorbed, and once, whilst returning to school on the summit of the old fortifications round Shrewsbury, which had been converted into a public foot-path with no parapet on one side, I walked off and fell to the ground, but the height was only seven or eight feet. Nevertheless the number of thoughts which passed through my mind during this very short, but sudden and wholly unexpected fall, was astonishing, and seem hardly compatible with what physiologists have, I believe, proved about each thought requiring quite an appreciable amount of time.
- The school as a means of education to me was simply a blank. During my whole life I have been singularly incapable of mastering any language. Much attention was paid to learning by heart the lessons of the previous day; this I could effect with great facility, learning forty or fifty lines of Virgil or Homer, whilst I was in morning chapel; but this exercise was utterly useless, for every verse was forgotten in forty-eight hours.
- I believe that I was considered by all my masters and by my father as a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard in intellect. To my deep mortification my father once said to me, “You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family.” But my father, who was the kindest man I ever knew and whose memory I love with all my heart, must have been angry and somewhat unjust when he used such words.
- Looking back as well as I can at my character during my school life, the only qualities which at this period promised well for the future, were, that I had strong and diversified tastes, much zeal for whatever interested me, and a keen pleasure in understanding any complex subject or thing. I was taught Euclid by a private tutor, and I distinctly remember the intense satisfaction which the clear geometrical proofs gave me.
- NOTE: recipe for learning
- I had many friends amongst the schoolboys, whom I loved dearly, and I think that my disposition was then very affectionate.
- With respect to science, I continued collecting minerals with much zeal, but quite unscientifically—all that I cared about was a new-named mineral, and I hardly attempted to classify them.
- This was the best part of my education at school, for it showed me practically the meaning of experimental science.
- I was sent there to commence them. But soon after this period I became convinced from various small circumstances that my father would leave me property enough to subsist on with some comfort, though I never imagined that I should be so rich a man as I am; but my belief was sufficient to check any strenuous efforts to learn medicine.
- I also attended on two occasions the operating theatre in the hospital at Edinburgh, and saw two very bad operations, one on a child, but I rushed away before they were completed. Nor did I ever attend again, for hardly any inducement would have been strong enough to make me do so; this being long before the blessed days of chloroform. The two cases fairly haunted me for many a long year.
- My zeal was so great that I used to place my shooting-boots open by my bed-side when I went to bed, so as not to lose half a minute in putting them on in the morning; and on one occasion I reached a distant part of the Maer estate, on the 20th of August for black-game shooting, before I could see: I then toiled on with the game-keeper the whole day through thick heath and young Scotch firs.
- After having spent two sessions in Edinburgh, my father perceived, or he heard from my sisters, that I did not like the thought of being a physician, so he proposed that I should become a clergyman.
- Considering how fiercely I have been attacked by the orthodox, it seems ludicrous that I once intended to be a clergyman.
- But I am glad to think that I had many other friends of a widely different nature.
- But no pursuit at Cambridge was followed with nearly so much eagerness or gave me so much pleasure as collecting beetles. It was the mere passion for collecting, for I did not dissect them, and rarely compared their external characters with published descriptions, but got them named anyhow. I will give a proof of my zeal: one day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles, and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas! it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as was the third one.
- I have not as yet mentioned a circumstance which influenced my whole career more than any other. This was my friendship with Professor Henslow. Before coming up to Cambridge, I had heard of him from my brother as a man who knew every branch of science, and I was accordingly prepared to reverence him. He kept open house once every week when all undergraduates, and some older members of the University, who were attached to science, used to meet in the evening. I soon got, through Fox, an invitation, and went there regularly. Before long I became well acquainted with Henslow, and during the latter half of my time at Cambridge took long walks with him on most days; so that I was called by some of the dons “the man who walks with Henslow;” and in the evening I was very often asked to join his family dinner. His knowledge was great in botany, entomology, chemistry, mineralogy, and geology. His strongest taste was to draw conclusions from long-continued minute observations. His judgment was excellent, and his whole mind well balanced; but I do not suppose that any one would say that he possessed much original genius. He was deeply religious, and so orthodox that he told me one day he should be grieved if a single word of the Thirty-nine Articles were altered. His moral qualities were in every way admirable. He was free from every tinge of vanity or other petty feeling; and I never saw a man who thought so little about himself or his own concerns. His temper was imperturbably good, with the most winning and courteous manners; yet, as I have seen, he could be roused by any bad action to the warmest indignation and prompt action.
- Looking back, I infer that there must have been something in me a little superior to the common run of youths, otherwise the above-mentioned men, so much older than me and higher in academical position, would never have allowed me to associate with them. Certainly I was not aware of any such superiority, and I remember one of my sporting friends, Turner, who saw me at work with my beetles, saying that I should some day be a Fellow of the Royal Society, and the notion seemed to me preposterous.
- During my last year at Cambridge, I read with care and profound interest Humboldt’s ‘Personal Narrative.’ This work, and Sir J. Herschel’s ‘Introduction to the Study of Natural Philosophy,’ stirred up in me a burning zeal to add even the most humble contribution to the noble structure of Natural Science. No one or a dozen other books influenced me nearly so much as these two.
- These gravel-beds belong in fact to the glacial period, and in after years I found in them broken arctic shells. But I was then utterly astonished at Sedgwick not being delighted at so wonderful a fact as a tropical shell being found near the surface in the middle of England. Nothing before had ever made me thoroughly realise, though I had read various scientific books, that science consists in grouping facts so that general laws or conclusions may be drawn from them.
- We had several quarrels; for instance, early in the voyage at Bahia, in Brazil, he defended and praised slavery, which I abominated
- The voyage of the “Beagle” has been by far the most important event in my life, and has determined my whole career; yet it depended on so small a circumstance as my uncle offering to drive me thirty miles to Shrewsbury, which few uncles would have done, and on such a trifle as the shape of my nose. I have always felt that I owe to the voyage the first real training or education of my mind; I was led to attend closely to several branches of natural history, and thus my powers of observation were improved, though they were always fairly developed.
- During some part of the day I wrote my Journal, and took much pains in describing carefully and vividly all that I had seen; and this was good practice.
- The above various special studies were, however, of no importance compared with the habit of energetic industry and of concentrated attention to whatever I was engaged in, which I then acquired. Everything about which I thought or read was made to bear directly on what I had seen or was likely to see; and this habit of mind was continued during the five years of the voyage. I feel sure that it was this training which has enabled me to do whatever I have done in science.
- Looking backwards, I can now perceive how my love for science gradually preponderated over every other taste. During the first two years my old passion for shooting survived in nearly full force, and I shot myself all the birds and animals for my collection; but gradually I gave up my gun more and more, and finally altogether, to my servant, as shooting interfered with my work, more especially with making out the geological structure of a country. I discovered, though unconsciously and insensibly, that the pleasure of observing and reasoning was a much higher one than that of skill and sport.
- As far as I can judge of myself, I worked to the utmost during the voyage from the mere pleasure of investigation, and from my strong desire to add a few facts to the great mass of facts in Natural Science.
- I think that I can say with truth that in after years, though I cared in the highest degree for the approbation of such men as Lyell and Hooker, who were my friends, I did not care much about the general public. I do not mean to say that a favourable review or a large sale of my books did not please me greatly, but the pleasure was a fleeting one, and I am sure that I have never turned one inch out of my course to gain fame.
- In July I opened my first note-book for facts in relation to the Origin of Species, about which I had long reflected, and never ceased working for the next twenty years.
- Because no other explanation was possible under our then state of knowledge, I argued in favour of sea-action; and my error has been a good lesson to me never to trust in science to the principle of exclusion.
- No other work of mine was begun in so deductive a spirit as this, for the whole theory was thought out on the west coast of South America, before I had seen a true coral reef. I had therefore only to verify and extend my views by a careful examination of living reefs.
- This excursion interested me greatly, and it was the last time I was ever strong enough to climb mountains or to take long walks such as are necessary for geological work.
- I saw more of Lyell than of any other man, both before and after my marriage. His mind was characterised, as it appeared to me, by clearness, caution, sound judgment, and a good deal of originality. When I made any remark to him on Geology, he never rested until he saw the whole case clearly, and often made me see it more clearly than I had done before. He would advance all possible objections to my suggestion, and even after these were exhausted would long remain dubious. A second characteristic was his hearty sympathy with the work of other scientific men.
- “What a good thing it would be if every scientific man was to die when sixty years old, as afterwards he would be sure to oppose all new doctrines.”
- His knowledge was extraordinarily great, and much died with him, owing to his excessive fear of ever making a mistake.
- —reminds me of Buckle whom I once met at Hensleigh Wedgwood’s. I was very glad to learn from him his system of collecting facts. He told me that he bought all the books which he read, and made a full index, to each, of the facts which he thought might prove serviceable to him, and that he could always remember in what book he had read anything, for his memory was wonderful. I asked him how at first he could judge what facts would be serviceable, and he answered that he did not know, but that a sort of instinct guided him. From this habit of making indices, he was enabled to give the astonishing number of references on all sorts of subjects, which may be found in his ‘History of Civilisation.’
- During the first part of our residence we went a little into society, and received a few friends here; but my health almost always suffered from the excitement, violent shivering and vomiting attacks being thus brought on. I have therefore been compelled for many years to give up all dinner-parties; and this has been somewhat of a deprivation to me, as such parties always put me into high spirits. From the same cause I have been able to invite here very few scientific acquaintances.
- My chief enjoyment and sole employment throughout life has been scientific work; and the excitement from such work makes me for the time forget, or drives quite away, my daily discomfort.
- I record in a little diary, which I have always kept, that my three geological books (‘Coral Reefs’ included) consumed four and a half years’ steady work;
- To understand the structure of my new Cirripede I had to examine and dissect many of the common forms; and this gradually led me on to take up the whole group. I worked steadily on this subject for the next eight years, and ultimately published two thick volumes
- From September 1854 I devoted my whole time to arranging my huge pile of notes, to observing, and to experimenting in relation to the transmutation of species. During the voyage of the “Beagle” I had been deeply impressed by discovering in the Pampean formation great fossil animals covered with armour like that on the existing armadillos; secondly, by the manner in which closely allied animals replace one another in proceeding southwards over the Continent; and thirdly, by the South American character of most of the productions of the Galapagos archipelago, and more especially by the manner in which they differ slightly on each island of the group; none of the islands appearing to be very ancient in a geological sense. It was evident that such facts as these, as well as many others, could only be explained on the supposition that species gradually become modified; and the subject haunted me. But it was equally evident that neither the action of the surrounding conditions, nor the will of the organisms (especially in the case of plants) could account for the innumerable cases in which organisms of every kind are beautifully adapted to their habits of life—for instance, a woodpecker or a tree-frog to climb trees, or a seed for dispersal by hooks or plumes.
- soon perceived that selection was the keystone of man’s success in making useful races of animals and plants. But how selection could be applied to organisms living in a state of nature remained for some time a mystery to me. In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement ‘Malthus on Population,’ and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here then I had at last got a theory by which to work; but I was so anxious to avoid prejudice, that I determined not for some time to write even the briefest sketch of it. In June 1842 I first allowed myself the satisfaction of writing a very brief abstract of my theory in pencil in 35 pages; and this was enlarged during the summer of 1844 into one of 230 pages, which I had fairly copied out and still possess.
- But at that time I overlooked one problem of great importance; and it is astonishing to me, except on the principle of Columbus and his egg, how I could have overlooked it and its solution. This problem is the tendency in organic beings descended from the same stock to diverge in character as they become modified. That they have diverged greatly is obvious from the manner in which species of all kinds can be classed under genera, genera under families, families under sub-orders and so forth; and I can remember the very spot in the road, whilst in my carriage, when to my joy the solution occurred to me; and this was long after I had come to Down. The solution, as I believe, is that the modified offspring of all dominant and increasing forms tend to become adapted to many and highly diversified places in the economy of nature.
- The success of the ‘Origin’ may, I think, be attributed in large part to my having long before written two condensed sketches, and to my having finally abstracted a much larger manuscript, which was itself an abstract. By this means I was enabled to select the more striking facts and conclusions. I had, also, during many years followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from the memory than favourable ones. Owing to this habit, very few objections were raised against my views which I had not at least noticed and attempted to answer.
- I gained much by my delay in publishing from about 1839, when the theory was clearly conceived, to 1859; and I lost nothing by it, for I cared very little whether men attributed most originality to me or Wallace; and his essay no doubt aided in the reception of the theory.
- Whenever I have found out that I have blundered, or that my work has been imperfect, and when I have been contemptuously criticised, and even when I have been overpraised, so that I have felt mortified, it has been my greatest comfort to say hundreds of times to myself that “I have worked as hard and as well as I could, and no man can do more than this.”
- An unverified hypothesis is of little or no value; but if anyone should hereafter be led to make observations by which some such hypothesis could be established, I shall have done good service, as an astonishing number of isolated facts can be thus connected together and rendered intelligible.
- My ‘Descent of Man’ was published in February, 1871. As soon as I had become, in the year 1837 or 1838, convinced that species were mutable productions, I could not avoid the belief that man must come under the same law. Accordingly I collected notes on the subject for my own satisfaction, and not for a long time with any intention of publishing. Although in the ‘Origin of Species’ the derivation of any particular species is never discussed, yet I thought it best, in order that no honourable man should accuse me of concealing my views, to add that by the work “light would be thrown on the origin of man and his history.” It would have been useless and injurious to the success of the book to have paraded, without giving any evidence, my conviction with respect to his origin.
- During subsequent years, whenever I had leisure, I pursued my experiments, and my book on ‘Insectivorous Plants’ was published in July 1875—that is, sixteen years after my first observations. The delay in this case, as with all my other books, has been a great advantage to me; for a man after a long interval can criticise his own work, almost as well as if it were that of another person.
- So many nuggets but Darwin’s recipe for learning is gold: concentrated self-study, keeping of a diary/journal, keeping indexed notes of relevant material, seeking to test and destroy beloved concepts by immediately scribbling down ‘unfavorable’ evidence/results and thinking through why this may be right, and learning lessons by heart