viernes, 28 de septiembre de 2012

Kin, Kindness, and a stone-age Savior



About this article on two books, by Michael Shermer in the Wall Street Journal:


It is not about economy. It is about the foundations of economy and politics, and almost everything else. Shermer present two very different books at two different levels about the same topic: social bonds, collaboration, empathy, love, kindness etc. The first is focused in how closely the hormone oxitocine is related with collaboration. The second narrates the tortuous path that humans had to walk to evolve collaboration of non kin-related individuals, something that apparently goes against the odds of Natural Selection theory.

The second book has the explanation, the first, is the mechanism.  The oxitocin as many other hormones, are a mechanism that fix or promotes a set of behaviours instead of others. Hormonal discharge is the mechanism that the mammals have for modulating middle-long term responses. (For short term responses, they use electrical discharges in the nervous tissue). The discharged hormone flows trough the brain and adjust the responses of various mental modules. But this is a mechanism, not a magic substance that produces love, in the same way that the binary code is not a source of wisdom, even if it is used by computers.

The evolutionary explanation is the interesting one. Many people say that the switch to more collaborative behaviours in humans appeared around 50.000- 60.000 years ago, when the human population nearly dissapeared. By the way, the cheetah also  had an extreme episode of near-extinction whose result is that all cheetahs are almost equal genetically and very peaceful between them.  We humans also are extraordinarily similar and peaceful, in relative terms. Both cases may be related with  small survival spots surrounded by very challenging environments, that produced migrations and overpopulation of these spots. This is an environment that favour rapid genetic evolution. This produced harsh conflicts, but the communities that managed to make use of the knowledge and mutual help of wider group survived. May be that only one of them did, because this group was no more that 1000 individuals, according with genetic studies. Perhaps they survived thanks to a peaceful leader? A christ of the stone age that selected their followers from the peaceful ones? Was more like a Moses who guided the pepole to the promished spot in the middle of harsh conflict with smaller groups?. Was it otherwise?. In any case  My hypothesis is that Jesus Christ in evoked the instinctive feelings of unity and kin-relatedness selected in a small comunity 50.000 years ago from which we are descendant. 

The human empathy goes beyond doing good in expectancy of a return.  Humans may be almost pure altruistic. Many people sincerely die for causes that will give nothing for him (although it would give to their descendants, and this is enough for evolution to select pure altruism). However, pure altruism is not stable, But it is stable when there is a mechanism of collective altruistic, detection and punishment of free riders and aggressors. So the primitive leader, if existent, must have been a mix of Christ and Moses.

However the selfish tendencies are not maladaptations. They are more primitive, but they are part of our nature.and are decissive in how human society works. To be selfish with you is good if there is  loyalty (selflessness) around a wider whole that embrace you and me, and both you and me work for it. Selfishness inside selflessness make human society successful.

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