Tag Archives: Evolution

New Microeconomics: How Evolution Explains Resource Distribution

By Blair Fix – Through years of schooling, mainstream economists are trained to ignore the obvious facts about human nature. The theories that economists learn make it impossible for them to understand human sociality.

Economists are trained that humans are asocial ‘globules of desire’. This is Thorstein Veblen’s satirical term for ‘homo economicus’, the economic model of man.

As Veblen makes clear, economists’ model of human behavior is bizarre. Indeed, the assumptions are so far-fetched that one wonders how this ‘theory’ ever gained acceptance. I’ve spent years trying to make sense of homo economicus as a scientific theory. I’ve concluded that this is a waste of time. Economists’ selfish model of humanity is best treated not as science, but as ideology.

Unlike scientific theories, ideologies are not about the search for ‘truth’. Instead, they are about rationalizing a certain worldview — usually the worldview of the powerful. Economists’ selfish model of humanity is a textbook example.

The discipline of economics emerged during the transition from feudalism to capitalism. During this period of social upheaval, business owners battled to wrench power from the landed aristocracy. To supplant the aristocracy, business owners needed to frame their power as legitimate (and the power of aristocrats as illegitimate). Their solution was devilishly clever. The new business class appealed to autonomy — the mirror opposite of the ideals of feudalism.

Feudalism was based on ideals of servitude and obligation. Serfs were obligated to perform free work for feudal lords. And these lords, in return, were obligated to protect serfs from outside attackers. This web of obligation was rationalized by religion — it was a natural order ordained by God.

To upend this order, business owners championed the ideals of autonomy and freedom. Business owners claimed to want nothing but to be left alone — to pursue profit unfettered by government or aristocratic power. From this world view, the autonomous model of man was born. It had nothing to do with how humans actually behaved. It was about rationalizing the goals of business owners. They wanted power, but they framed it as the pursuit of freedom and autonomy. “Power in the name of freedom” is how Jonathan Nitzan puts it. more>

Why We Stink at Tackling Climate Change

By David P. Barash – What’s wrong with us? Not us Democrats, Republicans, or Americans. Rather, what’s wrong with our species, Homo sapiens?

If human beings are as Hamlet suggested, “noble in reason, infinite in faculty,” then why are we facing so many problems?

In many ways, people are better off than ever before: reduced infant mortality, longer lifespans, less poverty, fewer epidemic diseases, even fewer deaths per capita due to violence.

And yet global threats abound and by nearly all measures they are getting worse: environmental destruction and wildlife extinction, ethnic and religious hatred, the specter of nuclear war, and above all, the disaster of global climate change.

For some religious believers, the primary culprit is original sin. For ideologues of left, right, and otherwise, it’s ill-functioning political structures.

From my biological perspective, it’s the deep-seated disconnect between our slow-moving, inexorable biological evolution and its fast-moving cultural counterpart—and the troublesome fact we are subject to both, simultaneously.

It seems inevitable that as these cultural skills developed and provided leverage over the material and natural world—not to mention over other human beings, less adroit at these things—natural selection favored those individuals most able to take advantage of such traits. Up to a point, our biological and cultural evolution would have been mutually reinforcing. We are now past that point.

There is no reason for our biological and cultural evolution to proceed in lockstep, and many reasons for them to have become disconnected. more>

Updates from GE

By Imran Rahman – As we go farther back in Earth’s history, the fossils start to look even weirder. They lack tails, legs, skeletons, eyes…any characteristics that would help us understand where these organisms fit in the tree of life. Under these circumstances, the science of paleontology becomes significantly harder.

Nowhere is this issue more apparent than in the Ediacaran period, which lasted from 635 million to 541 million years ago.

Despite nearly 70 years of careful study, paleontologists have yet to identify key features among them that would allow us to understand how these organisms are related to modern animals. The forms evident among Ediacaran organisms are, for the most part, truly unique – and we are no closer to understanding their place in evolutionary history.

The Ediacaran period marks a pivotal interval in Earth’s history; at its start are the last of the so-called “Snowball Earth” events – episodes lasting millions of years when the entire surface of our planet was covered in ice. more> https://goo.gl/NvHh6q

A Grand Exploration of the ‘Evolution of Everything’

BOOK REVIEW

The Evolution of Everything: How Ideas Emerge, Author: Matt Ridley.

By Jay Lehr – Ridley shows evolution clearly occurs in culture, and he finds an almost perfect parallel between the evolution of DNA sequences and the evolution of the written and spoken word.

Different languages and distinct species both develop through a gradual process and are more diverse in the tropics and relatively less diverse at the poles. The native tongues spoken in Alaska can be counted on one hand, whereas in New Guinea there are literally thousands of languages, some spoken only in a single valley.

Ridley’s discussion of the evolution of the economy provides an upbeat understanding of why systems of command and control, including fascism, communism, and socialism, fail: the “knowledge problem.” Ridley notes the economists Bastiat and Hayek pointed out the knowledge required to organize human society “is bafflingly voluminous and cannot be held in a single human head.”

Ridley also explains how the free market replaced a centuries-old system of wealth creation by plunder at the end of the 18th century, and he demonstrates how markets enable prosperity to grow organically without direction from above and with the lion’s share of improvement going to ordinary workers and the poor.

The author concludes his book positively, writing, “The digital revolution is a coup d’etat against the tyranny of the elite.” more> http://goo.gl/YTniZ3

The Evolution of Spite

By Charlotte Lytton – Research from Queen’s University-Ontario and the One Earth Future Foundation — an organization that seeks to improve systems that can prevent armed conflict — explains that individuals evolve to be spiteful in nature toward those unlike themselves, often going to extreme lengths to cause them pain.

Krupp and Taylor’s theory also explains that our natural inclinations can be overcome, and that we can evolve to be less spiteful. Humans have, overall, grown to be far nicer to each other over the generations, demonstrating that we are able to adapt our behaviors accordingly.

“The more you can connect people across different roots, so that they experience different characteristics and can build a sense of empathy toward those who seem different, the more likely people then are to be able to consider alternative perspectives.” more> http://tinyurl.com/kyuctyh

Possible creatures

By Andreas Wagner – For Plato [2, 3], the perceptible material world is like a faint shadow of a higher reality. What really matters is the realm of abstract concepts.

To a Platonist, the essence of soccer balls, golf balls and tennis balls is their ball-like shape. It is this pure, abstract and unchanging essence that is real, not the physical balls, whose existence is as fleeting and impermanent as a shadow.

A systematist’s task might be daunting, but it becomes manageable if each species is distinguished by its own Platonic essence. For example, a legless body and flexible jaws might be part of a snake’s essence, different from that of other reptiles. The task is to find a species’ essence. more> http://tinyurl.com/l74m8k4