Thursday, May 10, 2012

Evolution for Everyone by David Sloane Wilson (***)

A book that will help you extend the concept of evolution to tackle problems beyond biology into the human drama of your social world including economics, business, and relationships. Why would evolution matter in these areas? Because these aspects of our lives were subject to the same rules of evolution as our bodies and behaviors. We evolved to be social creatures, and so our social constructs could benefit from an analysis centered on evolution. 

Don't make a monkey out of yourself
Recent Harris poll of Americans adults showed that 54% believe that humans didn't develop from earlier species, that is up from 46% in 1994. p2
Looks like these people are not developing either!

What came first, the chicken or the egg? Or the chicken from the hell?
A scientist/farmer wanted to increase egg production and tried to do it in 2 ways. The first method involved selecting the most productive hens from each of a number cages to breed the next generation. The second method involved selecting all the hens from the most productive cages to breed. After 6 generations, the results were ghastly and clear. In the cage of the first group, only 3 hens were left out of nine; the other 6 had been murdered. The 3 survivors had plucked each other nearly to death during their incessant attacks. Egg production plummeted of course. What happened? Selecting for the most productive member of each cage had selected for hens that suppress the output of the other hens in their cage. They are not super egg layers, but rather the meanest hens. 6 generations of breeding had produced a nation of psychopaths. In the second cage, egg production was way up. By selecting whole groups, the farmer had also chosen to select against aggression as well. p34

Why pregnant teens are rational
In Chicago neighborhoods with the shortest life expectancy, women tended to start having children at an earlier age… Homocide rates correlate most to income inequality, not household income. Men especially become dissatisfied when they perceive themselves as having less than others, regardless of how much they actually have. Such an environment rewards men to take extreme risks to obtain status. Murder is a consequence. This leads to an unstable environment with lower life expectancy. Women respond by taking care of immediate needs and reproducing early. p96

Why is there a division between cells that are designed to reproduce (germ line) and the cells that are destined to build the body (somatic line) that takes place early in development?
To minimize the number of mutation producing cell division within the germ line (that's why a baby girl is born with all the eggs she'll ever have), and to ensure that the somatic line is selected exclusively for its ability to enhance the fitness of the whole organism, rather than competing to become gametes.

Why are somatic cells designed to self destruct after a finite number of divisions?
To prevent cheating strategies from evolving over a period of many cell divisions

Why are the rules of meiosis so elaborate?
It is the process of forming the germ cells (eggs and sperm). This stage of life is especially vulnerable to differential replication, so meiosis is elaborately designed to give each gene an equal chance at becoming a gamete. p136

Are you calling my neighborhood a rotten log?
Ed Wilson describes a social insect colony as a factory within a fortress, against which solitary insects cannot compete. An ant colony moving into a rotten log is like Walmart moving into your neighborhood: the mom and pop businesses must go. p145

When to voice your opinion and when to tow the line
A good decision making process begins with an alternative generating phase, followed by an evaluation phase, leading to rejection of all but the final decision. It is appropriate to argue for minority positions early in the prices. Only when these same arguments are made late during decision making phase does that person suffer a loss in status. Group leader should also refrain from sharing their opinion early in the process to avoid groupthink during ideation. p211
Arie Krugman and Donna Webster

We are not fated by our genes to engage in violent conflict.
Even though this argument is often stated in terms of genes, it makes no sense from an evolutionary perspective because no single behavior is adaptive across all environmental conditions. Bloody conflict is not everywhere. I does indeed thrive under some conditions. The Vikings of Iceland were among the fiercest people on earth, and now they're among the most peaceful. Same genetic stock. p285

The average person is a facultative sociopath
We might not be fated by our genes to engage in violent conflict, but we are prepared by them. There is a rich anthropological, archeological, and historical record of murder and mayhem, and ample psychological evidence that we are hardwired to distinguish between us and them, and to behave inhumanely at the slightest provocation. Everyone is thus susceptible to this us vs. them reaction from our evolved tendencies. If we want to avoid this kind of facultative sociopathy, we need to avoid pushing the wrong psychological buttons. p286

Watch out for the invisible hand.
There are billions of ways for a human society to self organize. Of these, only a tiny fraction are adaptive at the group level. The simple rules that enable people to organize into adaptive societies evolved by cultural and genetic group selection over a long period of time. Other simple rules that tend to disrupt society evolved by within group selection. The rules that exist in one society need not exist in another. We will never understand the relatively simple rules that cause people to self organize into adaptive societies until we study them from an evolutionary perspective. p289

Evil aliens need not apply
How many times have you heard that the world would come together as one if evil aliens descended upon us? If the earth was faced with global destruction, some of us would surely sacrifice more than others, some would engage rampant profiteering, some would help the aliens in an effort to save their own skins, and so on. Increasing the scale and intensity of the threat would not eliminate these differentials. p289

References from book:
Spicy articles: Paul Sherman
How sensitive are you:
Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky
Becoming Adult: How Teenagers prepare for the world of work: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

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