Tag Archives: Biology

The Secret Wisdom of Nature: Trees, Animals, and the Extraordinary Balance of All Living Things by Peter Wohlleben

Summary

  1. Wohlleben describes how interconnected, systematic, nature is

Key Takeaways

  1. Nature is like the mechanism in an enormous clock. Everything is neatly arranged and interconnected. Every entity has its place and its function.
  2. It’s important for us to realize that even small interventions can have huge consequences,  and we’d do better to keep our hands off everything in nature that we do not absolutely have to touch.
  3. This was the year wolves caught in Canada were released in Yellowstone to restore the park’s ecological balance. What happened in the years that followed, and continues to this day, is what scientists call a trophic cascade. Basically, this means a change in the entire ecosystem via the food chain, starting at the top. The wolf was now at the top of the food chain, and what it triggered could perhaps better be described as a trophic avalanche.
  4. In undisturbed ancient forests, youngsters have to spend their first two hundred years waiting patiently in their mothers’ shade. As they struggle to put on a few feet, they develop wood that is incredibly dense. In modern managed forests today, seedlings grow without any parental shade to slow them down. They shoot up and form large growth rings even without a nutrient boost from added nitrogen. Consequently, their woody cells are much larger than normal and contain much more air, which makes them susceptible to fungi—after all, fungi like to breathe, too. A tree that grows quickly rots quickly and therefore never has a chance to grow old.
  5. Forget-me-nots, however, can only conquer new territory so successfully because they have an army of tiny allies: ants. It’s not that ants are particularly fond of flowers—at least, they are not attracted by their aesthetic qualities. Ants are motived by their desire to eat them, and their interest is triggered when forget-me-nots form their seeds. The seeds are designed to make an ant’s mouth water, for attached to the outside is a fleshy structure called an elaiosome, which looks like a tiny cake crumb. This fat- and sugar-rich morsel is like chips and chocolate to an ant. The tiny creatures quickly carry the seeds back to their nest, where the colony is waiting eagerly in the tunnels for the calorie boost.  The tasty treat is nibbled off and the seed itself is discarded. Along come the trash collectors in the form of worker ants, which dispose of the seeds in the neighborhood—carting them up to 200 feet away from home base. Wild strawberries and wood violets also benefit from this distribution service: ants in nature’s employ as gardeners, as it were.
  6. Ravens have a role to play here: they spot bears from afar and help wolves by alerting the pack to approaching danger. In return, wolves allow ravens to help themselves to a share of the booty—something the birds wouldn’t be able to do without the wolves’ permission.  Wolves would have no difficulty making a meal of ravens, but they teach their offspring that these birds are their friends. Wolf pups have been observed playing with their black companions; the young wolves imprint on the smell of the ravens and come to regard the birds as members of their community.
  7. There are two forces at work here. Sick or weak animals separate themselves from others of their kind to hide in the undergrowth, or on hot summer days they wander near or into small streams to cool any wounds they might have. Here, they wait for death. That makes sense, because this way they don’t endanger their kin—weak animals attract the attention of predators. Also, in a secluded spot, there’s no one to disturb them in their final hours.
  8. Pigs were driven into forests in fall to fatten up on acorns and beechnuts. In those days,  animal fat was still prized. The term “mast years” comes from these times. Mast years are years when there is massive production of acorns and beechnuts, and they cycle around every three to five years.
  9. Natural deciduous forests left to their own devices do not burn, and fire was not part of the ecosystem in these latitudes.
  10. Insects exploit laws of nature to protect themselves against freezing. They use sugars they produce naturally to create a kind of antifreeze, and they empty their gut to minimize their water content because tiny amounts of water don’t freeze until temperatures fall far below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Five microliters of water (which is a vanishingly small two ten-thousandths of a fluid ounce), for instance, doesn’t form ice crystals until it reaches 0  degrees Fahrenheit.
  11. In winter, this percentage increases to 41 percent, and this is especially dangerous for the wild boar, because in the cold months of all years except mast years the forest is mostly empty of food—as you would expect the stomachs of the wild boar to be. Without the hunters’ intervention, many of them would starve, and then the population would match the carrying capacity of the habitat once again. But this is not what happens when they never have to adjust to periods of scarcity.
  12. As insurance, they extend many filaments parallel to each other, and they simply switch the connection to neighboring threads. Incidentally, that’s why when you’re out collecting ceps, boletes, or chanterelles in the fall it doesn’t matter whether you twist the mushrooms or cut them off (a perennial bone of contention among nature lovers). Any damage is quickly bypassed underground.
  13. Fungi can be every bit as long-lived as trees. Ancient honey fungus networks have been found underground in North America. The record-holder is a fungus belonging to the species Armillaria ostoyae. It is 2,400 years old and has spread to cover 3.5 square miles.
  14. In contrast to a human brain, a woodpecker’s brain sits firmly in its skull so that it doesn’t bounce back and forth while it’s using its beak to deal staccato blows to a tree. As an added precaution, there’s a special springy support behind its beak that cushions the blows before they travel to its skull. Despite this, fresh wood is simply too dense. But the black woodpeckers are patient. They start their construction project by hacking out the entrance in the outer growth rings. They then abandon the site, sometimes for years. In the woodpeckers’ absence, fungi take over. They’re on the job mere minutes after the first turn of the shovel—or, in this case, the first blow of the beak. There are a multitude of their spores in every cubic foot of air, and they immediately land on the site of the damage. Fresh fungal growth appears and starts to decompose the wood by eating it alive.  The wood becomes soft and mushy, so, after years of waiting, our woodpecker couple can finally return to building their home without getting a headache. Once the cavity is ready, the woodpeckers can start a family.
  15. Trees have only two strategies to survive this roller coaster. First, most can survive in a  wide range of climates. You can find beeches from Sicily to southern Sweden and birches from Lapland to Spain. Second, the genetic bandwidth within a species is very wide, so in a forest, you can always find individual trees that can deal with the new conditions better than most of the others.
  16. Deciduous trees, after all, show that there are other ways of doing things. As long as they’re alive, they’re absolutely immune to fire. This is something you can easily test for yourself (but please with just a single green twig). No matter how long you hold a flame underneath it, the twig will not burn. Spruce, Pines & Co., in contrast, ignite easily even when they’re fresh. But why? The opinion among forest ecologists is that in northern latitudes—the place most conifers call home—fire is a natural force for regeneration and even serves to preserve species diversity.
  17. There is, for example, the coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), one of the mightiest trees in the world. It can grow more than 300 feet tall and live for many thousands of years. Its bark is soft, thick, and slow to burn. If you find one of these in a city park (and you can find them in many city parks all over the world), step right up to it and press your thumb into the bark. You’ll be surprised how soft it is. It holds a great deal of trapped air,  which insulates the tree most effectively. Thanks to the insulating qualities of its bark, the trunk can survive unscathed a quickly moving front of flames, such as those created by summer grass fires or fires in the undergrowth.
  18. One simple standard definition is that nature is the opposite of culture—that is to say,  everything that people have not created or changed.
  19. Researchers from the United States suspect that there are definite disadvantages to our powerful brain. They compared the self-destructive programming of human cells with a  similar program run by ape cells. This program destroys and dismantles old and defective cells. Their comparison showed that the cleanup mechanism is a lot more effective in apes than it is in people, and the researchers believe that the reduced rate at which cells are broken down in people allows for larger brain growth and a higher rate of connections between cells. This improvement in intelligence probably comes at a high price, because the self-cleansing mechanism also gets rids of cancer cells. Whereas apes hardly ever get cancer, this disease is one of the top causes of death in people. Is the price for our intellectual capacities too high? If our current level of intelligence is not suited to the survival of humankind, it must either be increased or lowered. The latter is probably unacceptable thanks to our ideas about self-worth.
  20. There’s a simple reason these treeless landscapes delight us so much. We are, from a  biological perspective, animals of the plains, and we feel secure in landscapes with extensive views where we can move around easily.
  21. Over the years, an undertone of emotion crept in, which was much more in line with my personal thinking. In other words, I relaxed and let my heart do the talking instead of my brain.
  22. It is more important to me to state the facts so that people can understand them emotionally. And then I can lead them on a full sensory tour of nature, because that way I  can communicate one thing above all: the joy our fellow creatures and their secrets can bring us.

What I got out of it

  1. An interesting book but nearly as good as The Hidden Life of Trees

The Inner Life of Animals: Love, Grief, and Compassion by Peter Wohlleben

Summary

  1. Shows through some great examples how animals think, feel, and behave in some very complex ways

Key Takeaways

  1. Science uses the term “instinctive behavior” to describe actions that are carried out unconsciously without being subjected to any thought processes. These actions can be genetically hard-wired or they can be learned. What is common to all of them is that they happen very quickly because they bypass cognitive processes in the brain.
  2. It should be clear by now that whether they are driven by their circumstances or our desires, whether they want to or not, animals love people (and, of course, the reverse is true).
  3. Can animals lie? If you define the term loosely, then quite a few can. The hoverfly, whose yellow and black stripes make it look like a wasp, “lies” to its enemies by making them believe it is dangerous. It must be said that the fly is unaware of its deception, because it doesn’t actively undertake it; it was just born looking that way. It’s the same with the  European peacock butterfly. With big “eyes” on its wings, it signals to its enemies that it’s bigger than it really is and is too large for them to tackle.
  4. But what exactly is courage? Once again, this term has a variety of vague definitions (I  invite you to try to come up with a definition off the top of your head), although one general concept seems clear: courage involves realizing that it is important to act despite recognized danger and then doing so.
  5. So Nature is nothing like a neat set of compartments. No species are inherently good or bad, as we have already seen in the case of squirrels. But it is much easier for us to empathize with or at least take an interest in squirrels than it is for us to relate to the ticks mentioned at the beginning of this chapter.
  6. The prickly little guys roll up into a comfortable ball in a cozily padded nest that is often buried deep beneath a pile of leaves or brush. Here, they fall into a deep sleep that can last for months. In contrast to many other mammals, instead of keeping their body temperature at a hedgehog-appropriate 95 degrees Fahrenheit, they simply shut off their energy intake, which means their body temperature falls to match the ambient temperature and sometimes drops as low as 41 degrees. Their heartbeat slows from up to two hundred beats to only nine beats per minute, and they breathe only four times a  minute instead of fifty. Dialed down like this, a hedgehog uses hardly any energy at all and can make it through to the next spring on its reserves.
  7. It has now been proven that animals can turn off the sensation of hunger. Hunger is, after all, a signal from the unconscious that it’s time to eat. And this feeling should only trigger the desire to eat when adding calories would be beneficial.
  8. Social insects believe in division of labor. Early on, scientists coined the term  “superorganism” to describe a collective in which each individual is part of a greater whole.
  9. For example, bees can definitely remember people. They will attack people who have annoyed them in the past, and allow people who have left them in peace to venture much closer. Professor Randolf Menzel at the Free University of Berlin has discovered other amazing things. Young bees leaving the hive for the first time use the sun as a kind of compass. With the sun as their guide, they develop an internal map of the landscape around their home and use it to record their flight paths. In other words, they have an idea about what things look like around them. In this, they orient themselves much the same way we do, for people also create mental maps.
  10. It had to be the two of them because herd animals should not be kept alone, and the fact  that only one of them could be ridden was just fine with me, because I was out of the  picture
  11. Let’s come back once again to the feeling of fairness, for that definitely exists in the animal kingdom, and not just among horses. If you live in a social group, things need to be fair. According to the dictionary definition of the term “justice,” every member of a  community should be treated equally. If they aren’t, resentment quickly bubbles to the surface and, if this resentment is constantly fed, it can lead to violence. In human communities, laws are supposed to protect everyone’s interests. However, emotions such as shame when we behave badly and happiness when we behave well are considerably more important than the law when it comes to our daily dealings with each other.
  12. Stressed individuals are less affected by the suffering of others.
  13. They assume that all animals that live in herds or large groups possess similar brain mechanisms because social units function only if individuals can see things from the perspective of others in the group and feel what they are feeling.
  14. You see, the bats recognize one another and know exactly which of their acquaintances are generous and which are not. Those that exhibit especially altruistic traits are the first to be looked after if they themselves ever run into a string of bad luck.59 Does that mean that altruism is selfish? In evolutionary terms, certainly, because the individuals that show these traits have a higher chance of survival in the long term. But there is something else we can learn from the scientists’ observations. Clearly, the bats have a choice—free will—and they can decide to share or not to share. If that wasn’t the case, there surely would be no need for the complicated social network of mutual recognition, attributing particular traits to particular individuals, and the behavior this gives rise to. Altruism could simply be genetically fixed as another reflex so there would no longer be any recognizable character differences between the bats. However, selflessness is meaningful only if it happens of the individual’s own free will, and vampire bats clearly exercise their ability to make this choice.
  15. Often the fawn has not yet experienced how serious life can be, and it dawdles behind mom—an ideal target for wolves or lynx. These predators can spot the pair from a long way off and easily grab a meal. That’s why mother deer prefer to separate themselves from their little darlings for the first three to four weeks and leave them in a safe place. It is almost impossible to sniff out a fawn. Because they smell of hardly anything at all, their scent doesn’t alert predators to their presence.
  16. Thousands of years of breeding have delayed the socialization phase in dogs, and today it starts when they are four weeks old. With both wolves and dogs, the formative period lasts only four weeks. While not all the wolf pups’ senses are fully developed at this important time, puppies explore their environment equipped with their full sensory repertoire—and in the final days of this phase of their life, people are part of their environment. This means that whereas dogs basically feel most at home in our company,  wolves retain a certain distrust of us all their life.
  17. Rabbits live according to a strict hierarchy, which is different for each sex. Each rabbit vigorously defends its rank, and for good reason: dominant animals reproduce more successfully. Although the top males and females are more aggressive, overall they suffer less from stress. That sounds logical. After all, rabbits that are constantly being pushed around live in constant fear of the next attack. High-status rabbits experience elevated levels of stress hormones only in short bursts when they are attacking. No wonder  Professor von Holst reported that the high-ranking rabbits experienced lower levels of stress overall. In addition, high-ranking rabbits had especially close social contact with rabbits of the opposite sex, which helped them relax.
  18. You can only talk about war, as we use the word, to describe conflicts in species that live in large social groups. In the Central European latitudes, that means bee, wasp, and ant colonies, which mount raids as we do. If, however, an animal attacks another individual on its own, then we talk of a fight, something you can see between many male birds or mammals.
  19. If they want to sleep, they do so while airborne. That is highly risky, of course, because sleeping birds aren’t in total control of their actions. And so they spiral upward a mile or more to increase the distance between themselves and the ground. Then they begin to glide downward, tracing a wide circle that slows their descent. Finally, they are free to doze for a few moments. They don’t have time for anything more, because they need to be wide awake again before the first rooftops loom dangerously close and their situation becomes precarious. Is this brief shut-eye sufficient for the birds to get any rest?  Definitely, because although sleep allows all species to exclude or reduce outside influences so the brain can run its internal processes undisturbed, sleep is a little different for every species. The different phases of our sleep with their varied depths show that even human sleep is not a uniform affair. Our horses, for example, don’t need much in the way of really deep sleep. Often just a few minutes are enough, which they take while lying down on their sides looking as though they’ve been shot. They’re so deep in dreamland that they are indeed dead to the world, and their legs twitch as though they were galloping over an imaginary prairie. Other than that, they stay on their feet and doze away a few hours of each day just like the airborne swifts.
  20. They rely less on sight when they hunt and more on ultrasound. They make high-pitched calls and then listen to the echo sent back by objects and potential prey. Visual camouflage doesn’t help one little bit, because the flying mammals are “seeing” with their ears. Therefore, the moths must make themselves invisible to hearing. But how do you do that? One possibility is to absorb sound instead of reflecting it. And that’s why many moths are covered with a thick furry layer that traps the bats’ calls or, to put it more precisely, muddles it up and reflects it back all over the place. Instead of receiving a sharp image of a moth, the bat’s brain gets a fuzzy something that might just as easily be a bit of bark.
  21. I find it endlessly fascinating when I think that every species of animal may see and feel the world in a completely different way, so you could say there are hundreds of thousands of different worlds out there. And many of these worlds are waiting to be discovered,  even in the latitudes where I live.
  22. In the forest I manage, the lush green moss at the bottom of thick beeches is often brown and crispy dry come summer, and the little bears have absolutely no access to water.  Then they fall into an extreme form of sleep. Only well-nourished tardigrades survive,  and fat plays an important role. If moisture is lost too quickly, death follows; however, if moisture evaporates gradually, the tardigrades adjust, dry out, draw their tiny legs up into their bodies, and reduce their metabolic rate to zero. In this state of suspended animation,  they can withstand almost anything: neither searing heat nor bone-chilling cold can touch them. Absolutely no biological activity takes place. They do not dream, because that inner projector requires energy to roll. You could say it’s a kind of death, which means there’s no aging either. In the general scheme of things, tardigrades are not long-lived, but under extreme conditions, they can survive for decades, waiting for rain to reanimate them. When rain comes and saturates both the desiccated moss and the tardigrades, it takes no more than twenty minutes for the tiny creatures to extend their legs and get their internal structures back online. Life as they know it resumes.
  23. Depending on which studies you want to believe, the verbal content of a conversation might convey as little as 7 percent of its meaning.
  24. We can experience joy and peace without giving anything much thought, and that is the crux of the matter: emotions have no need for intelligence. As I have stressed, emotions steer instinctive programming and therefore are vital for all species, and therefore all species experience them to a greater or lesser degree.

What I got out of it

  1. Not much new or surprising but some great anecdotal examples of the depth and complexity animals have

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben

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.

V > Λ: The Inverted Hierarchy

Why Do People Sing? Music in Evolution by Alexander Jikuridze, Alexander Jordania

Why do People Sing? Music in Evolution by Alexander Jikuridze, Alexander Jordania

Summary

  1. “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. “

Key Takeaways

  1. 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”
  2. There is no human culture without singing, but singing plays a very different role in various cultures.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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?
  8. 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’.
  9. 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.’
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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
  19. 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
  20. 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.
  21. 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.
  22. 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.
  23. 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.
  24. 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.
  25. 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.
  26. 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.
  27. 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
  28. 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.
  29. 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.
  30. ‘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.
  31. 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.
  32. 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
  33. 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.  
  34. 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,
  35. 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

  1. 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

The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life by Kevin Simler

Summary

  1. 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 

Key Takeaways

  1. Elephant in the brain – an important but unacknowledged feature of how our mind works, an introspective taboo
  2. We pretend like we know what we’re up to but we often don’t and this gets us into trouble 
  3. 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 
  4. 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 
  5. 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. 
  6. The most honest signals are expensive to produce but even more expensive to fake. 
  7. 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 
  8. 4 types of self deception in mixed motive scenarios 
    1. Madman – you’ll do anything to attain your goal and others know it. Intimidation
    2. Cheerleader – a form of propaganda where you try to change other people’s beliefs 
    3. Loyalist – shows commitment and belief and will go along with the party or person no matter what. Earned trust 
    4. Cheater – turning a blind eye so you have plausible deniability. Throw people off our trail 
  9. The main cost of self deception is that it can get us to act suboptimally
  10. 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 
  11. The most important self deception is about our own motives. 
  12. 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 
  13. 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 
  14. 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
  15. Language and speech 
    1. 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 
    2. 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 
    3. 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 
  16. Conspicuous consumption influences everything we do, what we buy, how we judge others, it conveys our status, values and priorities
  17. 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 
  18. 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
  19. 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 
  20. 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
  21. 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
  22. 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
  23. 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. 
  24. 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 
  25. 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

  1. 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 Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson

Summary

  1. 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

Key Takeaways

  1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back.
    1. 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).
    2. 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.
    3. 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
    4. 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
  2. Treat yourself like you are someone you are responsible for helping.
    1. 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
  3. Make friends with those who want the best for you
    1. 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.
    2. 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
  4. Compare self to who you were yesterday and not who someone else is today
    1. Aim high but make the goal(s) reachable
    2. 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?
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 3 simple questions to get started on this path:
      1. What bothers me?
      2. Is this something I can fix?
      3. Would I actually be willing to fix it?
      4. What could you do, what would you do, to make life just a little bit better
    6. 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.
    7. 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
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
  5. Don’t let kids do anything that would make you dislike them
    1. 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).
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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
    6. 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.
    7. 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
    8. 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
    9. 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
  6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world
    1. 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
  7. Do what is meaningful and not what is expedient
    1. Doing anything meaningful requires sacrifice and sometimes the bigger the sacrifice the more meaning you can gain
    2. Delayed gratification, planning, and sacrifice are essentially bargains with the future – you give up something today in order to have more or better tomorrow
    3. 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
    4. 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
    5. 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
    6. 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
    7. 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
    8. 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
  8. Tell the truth, or at least don’t lie
    1. 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
    2. 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
    3. 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
    4. 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
    5. 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
    6. 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
  9. Assume person you’re listening to knows something you don’t
    1. 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
  10. Be precise in your speech
    1. 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
    2. We often see by instinct what things mean even before what they are which means that objectivity is very hard to reach
    3. Emergency = emergence of “c”, emergence of chaos
    4. 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
    5. 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
    6. 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
  11. Don’t bother children when they’re skateboarding
    1. 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
    2. If you can’t understand why somebody did something, look at the consequences and then infer their motivations
    3. Conscientiousness and honesty more common and natural in western culture than people give it credit for.
    4. Take responsibility for your life and make the most of it. Don’t restrict children’s play
    5. 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
  12. Pet a cat when you encounter one in the street
    1. 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
    2. What you love about someone is inseparable from their weaknesses, from their flaws
    3. 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.
  1. Other
    1. 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?
    2. An idea is more creditable when the results from the investigation come from various different realms
    3. 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
    4. Happy is by no means synonymous with good. When you give a child candy, the child is happy but it is not good
    5. There is no one enlightened, only those who seek to be closer to enlightenment.
    6. Overemphasize who you are becoming rather than who you are. This mindset, while often painful, is the fastest road to growth, fulfillment, and happiness.
    7. Aim to be the person at your father’s funeral who everyone can rely on
    8. 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

  1. 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

Human Universals by Donald Brown

The book and concepts were rich enough that I did a bit more of an in-depth write up…

Human Universals

Link to further reading and universals

River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life by Richard Dawkins

Summary
  1. “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.”
Key Takeaways
  1. The river = a river of information through time, DNA
  2. 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
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. 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
    1. A biological reasoning and example as to why cooperation is the highest form of competition
  6. 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)
  7. Genes as digital information
    1. 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
    2. 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.
    3. DNA, seen in this light, becomes tempting to liken to a family Bible
  8. Mitochondria ideal for dating common ancestry within a species because, besides mutations, they’re identical and come from one common mother
  9. Supernormal stimulus – a stimulus even more effective than the real thing
  10. Eyes have evolved in different species and in different ways dozens of times. Dragonflies see completely differently than humans
  11. Sphexish – Hofstadter’s word for inflexible, mindless behavior
  12. Do good by stealth – a key feature of evolution is its gradualness
  13. 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.
  14. 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.”
  15. 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.
  16. 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
  17. 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
  18. Success is simply synonymous with frequency in circulation
  19. 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.
What I got out of it
  1. The analogy of DNA as pure, digital information is helpful as is the idea of information bombs

Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha

Summary
  1. “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.”
Key Takeaways
  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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.
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. Because of our social tendencies, solitary confinement is the greatest torture there is
  8. One doesn’t need threats of death to follow one’s nature
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. When looked at our biological ancestry, the standard Western narrative of monogamy and limited female sexual appetite seems terribly wrong
  12. The only way to live longer reliably is to sleep more and eat less
  13. 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.
  14. Similar male to female size, size of male testes, general anatomy and more all point to a polygamous past
  15. 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
  16. 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
  17. 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
  18. Higher levels of sex is correlated with lower levels of disease
  19. 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
  20. 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
What I got out of it
  1. 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