Robert Wright’s The Moral Animal is considered a “popular” introduction to evolutionary psychology. But contrary to expectations based on most “popular” literature, Wright’s foray is balanced, detailed, and funny. Here are some of my notes:
- The naturalistic fallacy is when people attempt to derive basic moral values from natural selection, or any of nature’s workings. Indeed, just because it is “natural” does not mean that we should adopt it.
- The watchmaker argument claims that since our current state is so complex, it must be the result of intelligent design. Darwin’s theory of natural selection offered a method by which evolution could function, thus providing a counterargument to intelligent design.
- “Between us and the australopithecine, which walked upright but had an ape-sized brain, stand a few million years: 100,000 maybe 200,000 generations.” p 26. This means that we only have had a small amount of time to differentiate ourselves from our most recent ancestors.
- The classic male/female experiment to demonstrate differences between the sexes: “In one experiment, three-fourths of the men approached by an unknown woman on a college campus agreed to have sex with her, whereas none of the women approached by an unknown man were willing.” p 43
- Bonobos, a close relative of ours, can display homosexual behavior.
- Women are generally attracted to high social status, men generally to beauty, and therefore youth, and therefore fertility.
- Women do cheat on their mates: “Blood tests show that in some urban areas more than one fourth of the children may be sired by someone other than the father of record.” p 70
- Frequency-dependent selection is when “the value of a trait declines as it becomes more common, so that natural selection places a ceiling on its predominance, thus leaving room for the alternative.” p 79
- A polygynous society is better for women, whereas most men end up worse off. This is counter-intuitive and one of the strongest sections in the book.
- Human beings are not “fitness maximizers,” they are “adaption executors.” Eliezer has posted upon this previously, it is a tough but crucial point to remember.
- John Stuart Mill was a utilitarian, and believed in the most happiness for the most people, and happiness of the higher order (not just base pleasure).
- Kin selection means that you want your shared genes to succeed in life too, not just yourself. It is used to explain a lot of altruistic behavior.
- A gene for altruism will thrive if c < br, where…
c = cost to agent organismb = benefit to target organismr = relatedness of agent and target
- Poor families will invest in daughters, rich families in sons.
- Group selectionism is a foolhardy temptation towards which you should not fall. Read about it on Wikipedia, or in the book, where it is given an excellent treatment. It doesn’t stand up empirically.
- In a sweet iterated prisoner’s dilemma game with repeated trials, the program called “TIT FOR TAT” won, which was designed to essentially treat others how they treat you. This is another empirical explanation for why altruism could have developed.
- Moulay Ismail the Bloodthirsty sired more children than anybody else according to Guinness world records, 888.
- We may be biased into deceiving ourselves so as to be more proficient at deceiving others.
You will find many more nuggets if you read the whole book. Neuroscience is fascinating on the cellular and systems level, but in order to consider the brain on a macroscale level, evolutionary psychology must be a part of the equation.