Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy
Showing posts with label Society. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Society. Show all posts

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Big Gods and the Origin of Human Cooperation

Brian Klaas
The Garden of Forking Paths
Originally published 21 March 24

Here is an excerpt:

The Big Gods Hypothesis and Civilizations of Karma

Intellectual historians often point to two major divergent explanations for the emergence of religion. The great philosopher David Hume argued that religion is the natural, but arbitrary, byproduct of human cognitive architecture.

Since the beginning, Homo sapiens experienced disordered events, seemingly without explanation. To order a disordered world, our ancestors began to ascribe agency to supernatural beings, to which they could offer gifts, sacrifices, and prayers to sway them to their personal whims. The uncontrollable world became controllable. The unexplainable was explained—a comforting outcome for the pattern detection machines housed in our skulls.

By contrast, thinkers like Émile Durkheim argued that religion emerged as a social glue. Rituals bond people across space and time. Religion was instrumental, not intrinsic. It emerged to serve our societies, not comfort our minds. As Voltaire put it: “If there were no God, it would be necessary to invent him.”

In the last two decades, a vibrant strand of scholarship has sought to reconcile these contrasting viewpoints, notably through the work of Ara Norenzayan, author of Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict.

Norenzayan’s “Big Gods” refer to deities that are omniscient, moralizing beings, careful to note our sins and punish us accordingly. Currently, roughly 77 percent of the world’s population identifies with one of just four religions (31% Christian; 24% Muslim; 15% Hindu; 7% Buddhist). In all four, moral transgressions produce consequences, some immediate, others punished in the afterlife.

Norenzayan aptly notes that the omniscience of Big Gods assumes total knowledge of everything in the universe, but that the divine is always depicted as being particularly interested in our moral behavior. If God exists, He surely could know which socks you wore yesterday, but deities focus their attentions not on such amoral trifles, but rather on whether you lie, covet, cheat, steal, or kill.

However, Norenzayan draws on anthropology evidence to argue that early supernatural beings had none of these traits and were disinterested in human affairs. They were fickle demons, tricksters and spirits, not omniscient gods who worried about whether any random human had wronged his neighbor.

Here is my summary:

The article discusses the theory that the belief in "Big Gods" - powerful, moralizing deities - played a crucial role in the development of large-scale human cooperation and the rise of complex civilizations.

Here are the main points: 
  1. Belief in Big Gods, who monitor and punish moral transgressions, may have emerged as a cultural adaptation that facilitated the expansion of human societies beyond small-scale groups.
  2. This belief system helped solve the "free-rider problem" by creating a supernatural system of rewards and punishments that incentivized cooperation and prosocial behavior, even among strangers.
  3. The emergence of Big Gods is linked to the growth of complex, hierarchical societies, as these belief systems helped maintain social cohesion and coordination in large groups of genetically unrelated individuals.
  4. Archaeological and historical evidence suggests the belief in Big Gods co-evolved with the development of large-scale political institutions, complex economies, and the rise of the first civilizations.
  5. However, the article notes that the relationship between Big Gods and societal complexity is complex, with causality going in both directions - the belief in Big Gods facilitated social complexity, but social complexity also shaped the nature of religious beliefs.
  6. Klaas concludes that the cultural evolution of Big Gods was a crucial step in the development of human societies, enabling the cooperation required for the emergence of complex civilizations. 

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Record-High 50% of Americans Rate U.S. Moral Values as 'Poor'

Megan Brenan & Nicole Willcoxon
Originally posted 15 June 22

Story Highlights
  • 50% say state of moral values is "poor"; 37% "only fair"
  • 78% think moral values in the U.S. are getting worse
  • "Consideration of others" cited as top problem with state of moral values
A record-high 50% of Americans rate the overall state of moral values in the U.S. as "poor," and another 37% say it is "only fair." Just 1% think the state of moral values is "excellent" and 12% "good."

Although negative views of the nation's moral values have been the norm throughout Gallup's 20-year trend, the current poor rating is the highest on record by one percentage point.

These findings, from Gallup's May 2-22 Values and Beliefs poll, are generally in line with perceptions since 2017 except for a slight improvement in views in 2020 when Donald Trump was running for reelection. On average since 2002, 43% of U.S. adults have rated moral values in the U.S. as poor, 38% as fair and 18% as excellent or good.

Republicans' increasingly negative assessment of the state of moral values is largely responsible for the record-high overall poor rating. At 72%, Republicans' poor rating of moral values is at its highest point since the inception of the trend and up sharply since Trump left office.

At the same time, 36% of Democrats say the state of moral values is poor, while a 48% plurality rate it as only fair and 15% as excellent or good. Independents' view of the current state of moral values is relatively stable and closer to Democrats' than Republicans' rating, with 44% saying it is poor, 40% only fair and 16% excellent or good.

Outlook for State of Moral Values Is Equally Bleak

Not only are Americans feeling grim about the current state of moral values in the nation, but they are also mostly pessimistic about the future on the subject, as 78% say morals are getting worse and just 18% getting better. The latest percentage saying moral values are getting worse is roughly in line with the average of 74% since 2002, but it is well above the past two years' 67% and 68% readings.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Why do inequality and deprivation produce high crime and low trust?

De Courson, B., Nettle, D. 
Sci Rep 11, 1937 (2021). 


Humans sometimes cooperate to mutual advantage, and sometimes exploit one another. In industrialised societies, the prevalence of exploitation, in the form of crime, is related to the distribution of economic resources: more unequal societies tend to have higher crime, as well as lower social trust. We created a model of cooperation and exploitation to explore why this should be. Distinctively, our model features a desperation threshold, a level of resources below which it is extremely damaging to fall. Agents do not belong to fixed types, but condition their behaviour on their current resource level and the behaviour in the population around them. We show that the optimal action for individuals who are close to the desperation threshold is to exploit others. This remains true even in the presence of severe and probable punishment for exploitation, since successful exploitation is the quickest route out of desperation, whereas being punished does not make already desperate states much worse. Simulated populations with a sufficiently unequal distribution of resources rapidly evolve an equilibrium of low trust and zero cooperation: desperate individuals try to exploit, and non-desperate individuals avoid interaction altogether. Making the distribution of resources more equal or increasing social mobility is generally effective in producing a high cooperation, high trust equilibrium; increasing punishment severity is not.

From the Discussion

Within criminology, our prediction of risky exploitative behaviour when in danger of falling below a threshold of desperation is reminiscent of Merton’s strain theory of deviance. Under this theory, deviance results when individuals have a goal (remaining constantly above the threshold of participation in society), but the available legitimate means are insufficient to get them there (neither foraging alone nor cooperation has a large enough one-time payoff). They thus turn to risky alternatives, despite the drawbacks of these (see also Ref.32 for similar arguments). This explanation is not reducible to desperation making individuals discount the future more steeply, which is often invoked as an explanation for criminality. Agents in our model do not face choices between smaller-sooner and larger-later rewards; the payoff for exploitation is immediate, whether successful or unsuccessful. Also note the philosophical differences between our approach and ‘self-control’ styles of explanation. Those approaches see offending as deficient decision-making: it would be in people’s interests not to offend, but some can’t manage it (see Ref.35 for a critical review). Like economic and behavioural-ecological theories of crime more generally, ours assumes instead that there are certain situations or states where offending is the best of a bad set of available options.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Thomas Fisher on The Ethics of Architecture and Other Contradictions

Michael Crosbie
Originally posted June 21, 2019

Here is an excerpt from the interview between Michael Crosbie and Thomas Fisher:

MJC: Most architects don’t give serious consideration to ethics in their design work. Why not?

TF: The revision of AIA’s Code of Ethics requiring members to discuss the environmental impacts of a project with the client really gets at that. In the past, architects have been wary to have such discussions because it questions the power of the client to do whatever they want because they have the means to do so. Architects have been designing for people with power and money for a very long time. It’s easier to talk about aesthetics, function, or the pragmatics of design because it doesn’t question a client’s power.

MJC: “The pursuit of happiness” is a very strong idea in American culture. How do architects balance serving clients—in their “pursuit of happiness” through architecture—with the greater good of the community?

TF: In ethics, “the pursuit of happiness” is often misunderstood. Utilitarian ethics states that you strive to make the greatest number of people happy; the 18th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham promoted “the greatest good for the greatest number.” But ethics is also about understanding how others view the world, and how our actions affect the lives and welfare of others. The role of professionals is to look after the greater good. Licensure is a social contract in which, in exchange for a monopoly in providing professional services, the professional is responsible for the larger picture. Designing to satisfy someone’s hedonistic “pursuit of happiness” without regard to that bigger picture is unethical behavior for an architect. It violates the social contract behind licensure. I think an architect should lose his or her license for an action like that. Such an action might not be illegal, but it’s unethical. Ethics is really about our day-to-day interactions with people in the realm of space, public and private.

The interview is here.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Pop Culture, AI And Ethics

Phaedra Boinodiris
Originally published February 24, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

5 Areas of Ethical Focus

The guide goes on to outline five areas of ethical focus or consideration:

Accountability – there is a group responsible for ensuring that REAL guests in the hotel are interviewed to determine their needs. When feedback is negative this group implements a feedback loop to better understand preferences. They ensure that at any point in time, a guest can turn the AI off.

Fairness – If there is bias in the system, the accountable team must take the time to train with a larger, more diverse set of data.Ensure that the data collected about a user's race, gender, etc. in combination with their usage of the AI, will not be used to market to or exclude certain demographics.

Explainability and Enforced Transparency – if a guest doesn’t like the AI’s answer, she can ask how it made that recommendation using which dataset. A user must explicitly opt in to use the assistant and provide the guest options to consent on what information to gather.

User Data Rights – The hotel does not own a guest’s data and a guest has the right to have the system purges at any time. Upon request, a guest can receive a summary of what information was gathered by the Ai assistant.

Value Alignment – Align the experience to the values of the hotel. The hotel values privacy and ensuring that guests feel respected and valued. Make it clear that the AI assistant is not designed to keep data or monitor guests. Relay how often guest data is auto deleted. Ensure that the AI can speak in the guest’s respective language.

The info is here.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

John Rawls’ ‘A Theory of Justice’

Ben Davis
1000-Word Philosophy
Originally posted July 27, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Reasonable people often disagree about how to live, but we need to structure society in a way that reasonable members of that society can accept. Citizens could try to collectively agree on basic rules. We needn’t decide every detail: we might only worry about rules concerning major political and social institutions, like the legal system and economy, which form the ‘basic structure’ of society.

A collective agreement on the basic structure of society is an attractive ideal. But some people are more powerful than others: some may be wealthier, or part of a social majority. If people can dominate negotiations because of qualities that are, as Rawls (72-75) puts it, morally arbitrary, that is wrong. People don’t earn these advantages: they get them by luck. For anyone to use these unearned advantages to their own benefit is unfair, and the source of many injustices.

This inspires Rawls’ central claim that we should conceive of justice ‘as fairness.’ To identify fairness, Rawls (120) develops two important concepts: the original position and the veil of ignorance:

The original position is a hypothetical situation: Rawls asks what social rules and institutions people would agree to, not in an actual discussion, but under fair conditions, where nobody knows whether they are advantaged by luck. Fairness is achieved through the veil of ignorance, an imagined device where the people choosing the basic structure of society (‘deliberators’) have morally arbitrary features hidden from them: since they have no knowledge of these features, any decision they make can’t be biased in their own favour.

The brief, excellent synopsis is here.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Why Should We Be Good?

Matt McManus
Originally posted July 7, 2018

Here are two excerpts:

The negative motivation arises from moral dogmatism. There are those who wish to dogmatically assert their own values without worrying that they may not be as universal as one might suppose. For instance, this is often the case with religious fundamentalists who worry that secular society is increasingly unmoored from proper values and traditions. Ironically, the dark underside of this moral dogmatism is often a relativistic epistemology. Ethical dogmatists do not want to be confronted with the possibility that it is possible to challenge their values because they often cannot provide good reasons to back them up.


These issues are all of considerable philosophical interest. In what follows, I want to press on just one issue that is often missed in debates between those who believe there are universal values, and those who believe that what is ethically correct is relative to either a culture or to the subjective preference of individuals. The issue I wish to explore is this: even if we know which values are universal, why should we feel compelled to adhere to them? Put more simply, even if we know what it is to be good, why should we bother to be good? This is one of the major questions addressed by what is often called meta-ethics.

The information is here.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Crispr Fans Fight for Egalitarian Access to Gene Editing

Megan Molteni
Originally posted June 6, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Like any technology, the applications of gene editing tech will be shaped by the values of the societies that wield it. Which is why a conversation about equitable access to Crispr quickly becomes a conversation about redistributing some of the wealth and education that has been increasingly concentrated in smaller and smaller swaths of the population over the past three decades. Today the richest 1 percent of US families control a record-high 38.6 percent of the country’s wealth. The fear is that Crispr won’t disrupt current inequalities, it’ll just perpetuate them.


CrisprCon excels at providing a platform to raise these kinds of big picture problems and moral quagmires. But in its second year, it was still light on solutions. The most concrete examples came from a panel of people pursuing ecotechnologies—genetic methods for changing, controlling, or even exterminating species in the wild (disclosure: I moderated the panel).

The information is here.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Sam Harris and the Myth of Perfectly Rational Thought

Robert Wright
Originally posted March 17, 2018

Here are several excerpts:

This is attribution error working as designed. It sustains your conviction that, though your team may do bad things, it’s only the other team that’s actually bad. Your badness is “situational,” theirs is “dispositional.”


Another cognitive bias—probably the most famous—is confirmation bias, the tendency to embrace, perhaps uncritically, evidence that supports your side of an argument and to either not notice, reject, or forget evidence that undermines it. This bias can assume various forms, and one was exhibited by Harris in his exchange with Ezra Klein over political scientist Charles Murray’s controversial views on race and IQ.


Most of these examples of tribal thinking are pretty pedestrian—the kinds of biases we all exhibit, usually with less than catastrophic results. Still, it is these and other such pedestrian distortions of thought and perception that drive America’s political polarization today.

For example: How different is what Harris said about Buzzfeed from Donald Trump talking about “fake news CNN”? It’s certainly different in degree. But is it different in kind? I would submit that it’s not.

When a society is healthy, it is saved from all this by robust communication. Individual people still embrace or reject evidence too hastily, still apportion blame tribally, but civil contact with people of different perspectives can keep the resulting distortions within bounds. There is enough constructive cross-tribal communication—and enough agreement on what the credible sources of information are—to preserve some overlap of, and some fruitful interaction between, world views.

The article is here.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The WEIRD Science of Culture, Values, and Behavior

Kim Armstrong
Psychological Science
Originally posted April 2018

Here is an excerpt:

While the dominant norms of a society may shape our behavior, children first experience the influence of those cultural values through the attitudes and beliefs of their parents, which can significantly impact their psychological development, said Heidi Keller, a professor of psychology at the University of Osnabrueck, Germany.

Until recently, research within the field of psychology focused mainly on WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic) populations, Keller said, limiting the understanding of the influence of culture on childhood development.

“The WEIRD group represents maximally 5% of the world’s population, but probably more than 90% of the researchers and scientists producing the knowledge that is represented in our textbooks work with participants from that particular context,” Keller explained.

Keller and colleagues’ research on the ecocultural model of development, which accounts for the interaction of socioeconomic and cultural factors throughout a child’s upbringing, explores this gap in the research by comparing the caretaking styles of rural and urban families throughout India, Cameroon, and Germany. The experiences of these groups can differ significantly from the WEIRD context, Keller notes, with rural farmers — who make up 30% to 40% of the world’s population — tending to live in extended family households while having more children at a younger age after an average of just 7 years of education.

The information is here.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

How can groups make good decisions? Deliberation & Diversity

Mariano Sigman and Dan Ariely
TED Talk
Originally recorded April 2017

We all know that when we make decisions in groups, they don't always go right -- and sometimes they go very wrong. How can groups make good decisions? With his colleague Dan Ariely, neuroscientist Mariano Sigman has been inquiring into how we interact to reach decisions by performing experiments with live crowds around the world. In this fun, fact-filled explainer, he shares some intriguing results -- as well as some implications for how it might impact our political system. In a time when people seem to be more polarized than ever, Sigman says, better understanding how groups interact and reach conclusions might spark interesting new ways to construct a healthier democracy.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Theory from the ruins

Stuart Walton
Originally posted May 31, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

When reason enabled human beings to interpret the natural world around them in ways that ceased to frighten them, it was a liberating faculty of the mind. However, in the Frankfurt account, its fatal flaw was that it depended on domination, on subjecting the external world to the processes of abstract thought. Eventually, by a gradual process of trial and error, everything in the phenomenal world would be explained by scientific investigation, which would lay bare the previously hidden rules and principles by which it operated, and which could be demonstrated anew any number of times. The rationalising faculty had thereby become, according to the Frankfurt philosophers, a tyrannical process, through which all human experience of the world would be subjected to infinitely repeatable rational explanation; a process in which reason had turned from being liberating to being the instrumental means of categorising and classifying an infinitely various reality.

Culture itself was subject to a kind of factory production in the cinema and recording industries. The Frankfurt theorists maintained a deep distrust of what passed as ‘popular culture’, which neither enlightened nor truly entertained the mass of society, but only kept people in a state of permanently unsatiated demand for the dross with which they were going to be fed anyway. And driving the whole coruscating analysis was a visceral commitment to the Marxist theme of the presentness of the past. History was not just something that happened yesterday, but a dynamic force that remained active in the world of today, which was its material product and its consequence. By contrast, the attitude of instrumental reason produced only a version of the past that ascended towards the triumph of the enlightened and democratic societies of the present day.

Since these ideas were first elaborated, they have been widely rejected or misunderstood. Postmodernism, which refuses all historical grand narratives, has done its best to overlook what are some of the grandest narratives that Western philosophy ever produced. Despite this, these polemical theories remain indispensable in the present globalised age, when the dilemmas and malaises that were once specific to Western societies have expanded to encompass almost the whole globe. As a new era of irrationalism dawns on humankind, with corruption and mendacity becoming a more or less openly avowed modus operandi of all shades of government, the Frankfurt analysis urges itself upon us once more.

The article is here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

National Corruption Breeds Personal Dishonesty

Simon Makin
Scientific American
Originally published on March 1, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

A number of studies have shown that seeing a peer behave unethically increases people's dishonesty in laboratory tests. What is much harder to investigate is how this kind of influence operates at a societal level. But that is exactly what behavioral economists Simon Gächter of the University of Nottingham in England and Jonathan Schulz of Yale University set out to do in a study published in March 2016 in Nature. Their findings suggest that corruption not only harms a nation's prosperity but also shapes the moral behavior of its citizens. The results have implications for interventions aimed at tackling corruption.

The researchers developed a measure of corruption by combining three widely used metrics that capture levels of political fraud, tax evasion and corruption in a given country. “We wanted to get a really broad index, including many different aspects of rule violations,” Schulz says. They then conducted an experiment involving 2,568 participants from 23 nations. Participants were asked to roll a die twice and report the outcome of only the first roll. They received a sum of money proportional to the number reported but got nothing for rolling a six. Nobody else saw the die, so participants were free to lie about the outcome.

The article is here.

Monday, November 7, 2016

There’s No Such Thing as Free Will

By Steve Cave
The Atlantic
June 2016 Issue

Here is an excerpt:

This research and its implications are not new. What is new, though, is the spread of free-will skepticism beyond the laboratories and into the mainstream. The number of court cases, for example, that use evidence from neuroscience has more than doubled in the past decade—mostly in the context of defendants arguing that their brain made them do it. And many people are absorbing this message in other contexts, too, at least judging by the number of books and articles purporting to explain “your brain on” everything from music to magic. Determinism, to one degree or another, is gaining popular currency. The skeptics are in ascendance.

This development raises uncomfortable—and increasingly nontheoretical—questions: If moral responsibility depends on faith in our own agency, then as belief in determinism spreads, will we become morally irresponsible? And if we increasingly see belief in free will as a delusion, what will happen to all those institutions that are based on it?

The article is here.

Monday, September 26, 2016

How Tech Giants Are Devising Real Ethics for Artificial Intelligence

By John Markoff
The New York Times
Originally published September 1, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

One main concern for people in the tech industry would be if regulators jumped in to create rules around their A.I. work. So they are trying to create a framework for a self-policing organization, though it is not clear yet how that will function.

“We’re not saying that there should be no regulation,” said Peter Stone, a computer scientist at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the authors of the Stanford report. “We’re saying that there is a right way and a wrong way.”

While the tech industry is known for being competitive, there have been instances when companies have worked together when it was in their best interests. In the 1990s, for example, tech companies agreed on a standard method for encrypting e-commerce transactions, laying the groundwork for two decades of growth in internet business.

The authors of the Stanford report, which is titled “Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030,” argue that it will be impossible to regulate A.I. “The study panel’s consensus is that attempts to regulate A.I. in general would be misguided, since there is no clear definition of A.I. (it isn’t any one thing), and the risks and considerations are very different in different domains,” the report says.

The article is here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Social trust is one of the most important measures that most people have never heard of

David Halpern
Behavioral Insights Team
November 12, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Levels of social trust, averaged across a country, predict national economic growth as powerfully as financial and physical capital, and more powerfully than skill levels – over which every government in the world worries about incessantly. It is also associated with many other non-economic outcomes, such as life satisfaction (positively) and suicide (negatively). In short, it’s not much fun living in a place where you don’t think most other people can be trusted. Low trust implies a society where you have to keep an eye over your shoulder; where deals need lawyers instead of hand-shakes; where you don’t see the point of paying your tax or recycling your rubbish (since you doubt your neighbour will do so); and where you employ your cousin or your brother-in-law to work for you rather than a stranger who would probably be much better at the job.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Driverless Car Dystopia? Technology and the Lives We Want to Live

By Anthony Painter
Originally published November 6, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

There needs to be a bigger public debate about the type of society we want, how technology can help us, and what institutions we need to help us all interface with the changes we are likely to see. Could block-chain, bitcoin and digital currencies help us spread new forms of collective ownership and give us more power over the public services we use? How do we find a sweet-spot where consumers and workers – and we are both - share equally in the benefits of the ‘sharing economy’? Is a universal Basic Income a necessary foundation for a world of varying frequency and diverse work arrangements and obligations to others such as elderly relatives and our kids? What do we want to be private and what are we happy to share with companies or the state? Should this be a security conversation or bigger question of ethics? How should we plan transport, housing, work and services around our needs and the types of lives we want to live in communities that have human worth?

The entire article is here.

Friday, November 6, 2015

People Don't Actually Want Equality

By Paul Bloom
The Atlantic
Originally published on October 22, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Can Frankfurt really be right that people don’t value economic equality for its own sake? Many scholars believe otherwise. The primatologist Frans de Waal sums up a popular view when he writes: “Robin Hood had it right. Humanity’s deepest wish is to spread the wealth.”

In support of de Waal, researchers have found that if you ask children to distribute items to strangers, they are strongly biased towards equal divisions, even in extreme situations. The psychologists Alex Shaw and Kristina Olson told children between the ages of six and eight about two boys, Dan and Mark, who had cleaned up their room and were to be rewarded with erasers—but there were five of them, so an even split was impossible. Children overwhelmingly reported that the experimenter should throw away the fifth eraser rather than establish an unequal division. They did so even if they could have given the eraser to Dan or Mark without the other one knowing, so they couldn’t have been worrying about eliciting anger or envy.

It might seem as though these responses reflect a burning desire for equality, but more likely they reflect a wish for fairness. It is only because Dan and Mark did the same work that they should get the same reward. And so when Shaw and Olson told the children “Dan did more work than Mark,” they were quite comfortable giving three to Dan and two to Mark. In other words, they were fine with inequality, so long as it was fair.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Cultural evolution: integrating psychology, evolution and culture

Alex Mesoudi
Current Opinion in Psychology 2016, 7:17–22


Cultural evolution represents a body of theory and findings premised on the notions that, (i), human cultural change constitutes a Darwinian evolutionary process that shares key characteristics with (but is not identical in details to) genetic evolution; (ii), this second evolutionary process has been instrumental in our species’ dramatic ecological success by allowing the rapid, open-ended generation and accumulation of technology, social institutions, knowledge systems and behavioural practices far beyond the complexity of other species’ socially learned behaviour; and (iii), our psychology permits, and has been shaped by, this cultural evolutionary process, for example, through socio-cognitive mechanisms such as imitation, teaching and intentionality that support high-fidelity social learning, and biases governing from whom and what we learn.


  • Humans have colonised and transformed every terrestrial environment on the planet.
  • This ecological success can be attributed to our capacity for cultural evolution.
  • High fidelity social learning allows the preservation/accumulation of cultural traits.
  • Learning biases govern who people learn from and what they learn.
  • These biases scale up to explain larger patterns of cultural diversity and stability.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Empathic Civilisation

RSA Animate
Uploaded on May 6, 2010

Bestselling author, political adviser and social and ethical prophet Jeremy Rifkin investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has shaped our development and our society. Taken from a lecture given by Jeremy Rifkin as part of the RSA's free public events programme.

Watch the full lecture here.