The Adapted Mind book notes, part 1

This primer to evolutionary psychology is really more a tome than a book, as it has many different authors and approaches. Almost all of them are excellent, however. Here are my notes:

  • No instance of anything is intrinsically (much less exclusively) either “general” or “particular”–these are simply different levels at which any system of categorization encounters the same world.
  • Human architectures are “pre-equipped” (that is, reliably develop) specialized mechanisms that “know” many things about humans, social relations, emotions and facial expressions, the meaning of situations to others, the underlying organization of contingent social actions such as threats and exchanges, language, motivation, and so on.
  • [Conscious will]: A belief in beliefs and desires cannot be justified by observations alone, so the fact that it is conventional among humans to “theorize” about others in this fashion is not inexorably mandated by their experience or otherwise required by the structure of the external world. For the same set of nonmandated ideas to have emerged everywhere on earth, our developmental programs or cognitive architectures must impose this way of interpreting the world of other humans on us.
  • Why isn’t “flexibility” in the form of content-independence a virtue?… 1) Possibilities are infinite; and 2) desirable outcomes–by any usual human, evolutionary, or problem-solving standard–are a very small subset of all possibilities…. Thus, the property of freely varying behavior in all dimensions independent of conditions is not advantageous: It is evolutionarily and individually ruinous.
  • A mechanism unaided by domain-specific rules of relevance, specialized procedures, “preferred” hypotheses, and so on could not solve any biological problem of routine complexity in the amount of time the organism has to solve it, and usually could not solve it at all.
  • Over the course of their evolution, humans regularly needed to recognize objects, avoid predators, avoid incest, avoid teratogens when pregnant, repair nutritional deficiencies by dietary modification, judge distance, identify plant foods, capture animals, acquire grammar, attend to alarm cries, detect when their children needed assistance, be motivated to make that assistance, avoid contagious disease, acquire a lexicon, be motivated to nurse, select conspecifics as mates, select mates of the opposite sex, select mates of high reproductive value, induce potential mates to choose them, choose productive activities, balance when walking, avoid being bitten by venomous snakes, understand and make tools, avoid needlessly enraging others, interpret social situations correctly, help relatives, decide which foraging efforts have repaid the energy expenditure, perform anticipatory motion computation, inhibit one’s mate from conceiving children by another, deter aggression, maintain friendships, navigate, recognize faces, recognize emotions, cooperate, and make effective trade-offs among many of these activities, along with a host of other tasks.
  • By adding together a face recognition module, a spatial relations module, a rigid object mechanics module, a tool-use module, a fear module, a social-exchange module, an emotion-perception module, a kin-oriented motivation module, an effort allocation and recalibration module, a child-care module, a social-inference module, a sexual-attraction module, a semantic-inference module, a friendship module, a grammar acquisition module, a communication-pragmatics module, a theory of mind module, and so on, an architecture gains a breadth of competences that allows it to solve a wider and wider array of problems, coming to resemble, more and more, a human mind.
  • “Learning” is a name given to the unknown agent imagined to cause a large and heterogeneous set of functional outcomes…. We expect that the concept of learning will eventually disappear as cognitive psychologists and other researchers make progress in determining the actual causal sequences by which the functional business of the mind is transacted.
  • Other things being equal, men tend to be more strongly sexually attracted to women with whom they have never had sexual relations than they are to women with whom they regularly have sexual relations.
  • Is any of the population variance in trait X caused by genetic variance?… [and only if the answer to that is affirmative,] Was trait X per se designed by selection to serve some function; ie, is it an adaptation?
  • Human males universally seem to be maximally sexually attracted… to certain physical characteristics indicative of a human female who has recently begun fertile menstrual cycles and who has not yet borne a child…. Women are maximally sexually attracted, other things being equal, to men who exhibit signs of high status.
  • Virtually any non simultaneous exchange increases the opportunity for defection, and in nature, most opportunities for change are not simultaneous.
  • Generality can be achieved only by sacrificing efficiency.
  • [People have specialized mechanisms for detecting cheaters in social contracts but not altruists, this indicates that it is an adaptation based on the need to succeed in the iterated prisoner’s dilemma].
  • When the variance in foraging success of the individual is greater than the variance for the band as a whole, band-wide food sharing buffers the variance. This can happen when one individual’s success on a given day is unconnected to that of another. Because it is a relatively high-variance activity, hunting may have been a particularly important driving force in the evolution of cognitive adaptations for social exchange.
  • Situations involving threat, social exchange, hazard, rigid-object mechanics, contagion, and so on each activate different sets of functionally specialized procedures that exploit the recurrent properties of the corresponding domain in a way that would have produced an efficacious solution under Pleistocene conditions.
  • Human beings in nonagricultural societies devote much time and energy to seeking high-protein food. This takes the form of hunting or fishing, often cooperatively, for vertebrate prey.
  • Nowhere do individuals prefer to mate with all members of the opposite sex equally.
  • Three classes of cues could provide, in principle, reliable guides to age and hence reproductive capability: (a) physical features (e.g., smooth, clear, and unblemished skin, lustrous hair, white teeth, absence of gray hair), (b) behavioral features (e.g., sprightly and graceful gait, high energy level, alacrity), and (c) reputation (i.e., knowledge gleaned from others regarding the age, health, condition, appearance, behavior, and prior sexual conduct of a female).
  • Females are often in the position of relying on cues that are only probabilistically associated with future resources. Two of the best known predictors of economic success in current human populations are sheer hard work (e.g., ambition and industriousness) and intelligence.
  • Even in hunting and gathering societies, status variations are substantial. In general, the higher a male is in status (i.e., the higher the level of esteem and influence accorded to him by others), the greater his ability to control resources across many situations.

I hope that many of these ideas have been as counter-intuitive to you as they were to me. More of these notes to come shortly.