Notes on "The Psychological Foundations of Culture" by John Tooby and Leda Cosmides

The final third of the first weeks’ reading assignment is the astoundingly-popular work, “The Psychological Foundations of Culture.” Available online (with different page numbers), this work propelled the husband-and-wife duo of John and Leda to academic superstardom by attacking a (partially straw-man) Standard Social Science Model and arguing for universal genetic factors as a major influence on human psychology and anthropology. Most interesting for me was the attack on “learning” throughout the article, which becomes explicit only at the end

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. (Tooby and Cosmides 123)

T&C also strongly support the information-processing model — a model already used by John Boyd’s OODA Loop.

The other readings for this week were Alford’s and Hibbing’s The Origin of Politics: An Evolutionary Theory of Political Behavior (article, notes) and Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate (amazon, notes).


Darwin took an equally radical step toward uniting the mental and physical worlds, by showing how the mental world — whatever it might be composed of — arguable owed its complex organization to the same process of natural selection that explained the physical organization of living things. 20

To break this seamless matrix of causation — to attempt to dismember the individual into “biological” versus “nonbiological” aspects — is to embrace and perpetuate an ancient dualism endemic to the Western cultural tradition: material/spiritual, body/mind, physical/mental, natural/human, animal/human, biological/social, biological/cultural. 21

To many scholarly communities, conceptual unification became an enemy, and the relevance of other fields a menace to their freedom to interpret human reality in any way those chose. 21

For Lowie, “the principles of psychology are as incapable of accounting for the phenomena of culture as is gravitation to account for architectural styles,” and “culture is a thing sui generis which can be explained only in terms of itself — omnis cultura ex cultura.” 22

… the Standard Social Science Model (SSSM): the consensus view of the nature of social and cultural phenomena that has served for a century as the intellectual framework for the organization of psychology and the social sciences and the intellectual justification for their claims of autonomy from the rest of science. 23

Instead, human culture and social behavior is richly variable because it is generated bya n incredibly intricate, contingent set of functional programs that use and process information from the world, including information that is provided both intentionally and unintentionally by other human beings. 24

Infants everywhere are born the same and have the same development potential, evolved psychology or biological endowment — a principle traditionally known as the psychic unity of humankind. 25

For example, it is true that infants are everywhere the same. Genetic differences are superficial. 33

For example, the fact that same aspect of adult mental organization is absent at birth has no bearing on whether it is part of our evolved architecture. 33

Thus, to support the SSSM was to oppose racism and sexism and to challenge the SSSM was, intentionally or not, to lend suport to racism, sexism and, more generally (an SSSM way of defining the problem), “biological determinism.” 35

Although the adaptionist inquiry into our universal, inherited, species-typical design is quite distinct from the behavior genetics question about which differences between individuals or sets of individuals are caused by differences in their genes, the panspecific nativism typical of adaptionist evolutionary biology and the idiotypic nativism of behavior genetics became confused with each other. 35

Selection in combination with sexual recombination tends to enforce uniformity in adaptions, whether physiological or psychological, especially in long-lived species with an open population structure such as humans. 38 (really? so no genetic polymorphism???)

At present, we are decades away from having a good model of the human mind, and this is attributable in no small measure to a misguided antinativism that has, for many, turned from being a moral stance into a tired way of defending a stagnated and sterile intellectual status quo. 40

In advance of any data, the Standard Model defined for psychology the general character of the mechanisms that it was supposed to find (general-purpose, content-independent ones), its most important focus (learning), and how it would interpret the data it found (no matter what the outcome, the origin of content was to be located externally — for example, in the knowably complex unobserved prior history of the individual — and not “internally” in the mind of the organism. 41

The single most far-reaching consequence of the Standard Social Science Model has been to intellectually divorce the social sciences form the natural sciences, with the result that they cannot speak to each other about much of substance. 48

An organism is a self-reproducing machine. 50

Consequently, one of the two outcomes usually ensues: (1) the frequency of a design will drop to zero — i.e., go extinct (a case of negative feedback): or (2) a design will outreproduce and thereby replace all alternative designs in the population (a case of positive feedback). 51 (what is “usually” in the context of genotypic polymorphism?)

But despite the fact that chance plays some role in evolution, organisms are not primarily chance agglomerations of stray properties. To the extent that a feature has a significant effect on reproduction, selection will act on it. 52

Individual organisms are best thought of as adaption-executers rather than fitness-maximizers. 54

In fact, eyes (light-receptive organs) have evolved independently over 40 times in the history of animal life from eyeless ancestral forms. 56-57

The eye and the rest of the visual system perform no mechanism or chemical service for the body: it is an information-processing adaption. 58

The explanation for any specific concomitant or spandrel is, therefore, the identification of the adaption or adaptions to which it is coupled, together with the reason why it is coupled. For example, bones are adaptions, but the fact that they are white is an incidental by-product. 63

These relationships can be described independently of their physical instantiation in any particular computer or organism, and can be described with precision. Thus, an information-processing program, whether in an organism or in a computer, is a set of invariant relationships between informational inputs and “behavioral” outputs. 66

Other things being equal, the more closely psychological mechanisms reliably produce behavior that conforms to Hamilton’s rule, the more strongly they will be selected for. 67 (compare to Hibbing and Alford‘s defense of multi-level selection)

For example, mental states, such as behavioral intentions and emotions, cannot be directly observed. But if there is a reliable correlation over evolutionary time between the movement of human facial muscles and emotional state or behavioral intentions, then specialized mehcanisms can evolve that infer a person’s mental state from the movement of that person’s facial muscles. 69-70

Ethnobiologists and cognitive anthropologists such as Atran and Berlin have shown that the principles humans spontaneously use in categorizing plants and animals reflect certain aspects of this enduring structure, and are the same cross-culturally as well. 70-71

For example, contrary to the Piagetian notion that infants must “learn” the object concept, recent research has shown that (at least) as early as 10 weeks — an age at which the visual system has only just matured — infants already have a sensorily-integrated concept of objects as entities that are continuous in space and time, solid (two objects cannot occupy the same place at the same time), rigid, bounded, cohesive, and move as a unit. 71 (but… Piaget’s constructivism assumes a “mind” which mere behaviorism or interactionism does not. The authors are unfair to Piaget later on, too)

In general, being a member of a natural kind carries more inferential weight that being perceptually similar. 71

Many statistical and structural relationships that endured across human evolution were “detected” by natural selection, which designed corresponding computational machinery that is specialized to use these regularities to generate knowledge and decisions that would have been adaptive in the EEA. 72

The following are five structured components that can be fit together [either 1,2,3,4,5 or 3,2,1,4,5] in such [an evolutionary] analysis… an adaptive target: a description of what counts as a biologically successful outcome in a given situation… background conditions: a description of the recurrent structure of the ancestral world that is relevant to the adaptive problem… a design: a description of the articulated organization of recurrent featured in the organism that together comprise the adaption or suspected adaption… a performance examination: a description of what happens when the proposed adaptions mechanistically interact with the world… a performance evaluation: a description or analysis of how well (or how poorly) the design, under circumstances paralleling ancestral conditions, managed to produce the adaptive target (the set of biologically successful outcomes). 73-74

As Mayr put it, summarizing the historical record in response to accusations that adaptionist research was simply post hoc storytelling: “The adaptionist question, ‘What is the function or given structure or organ?’ has been for centuries the basis for every advance in physiology.” 77

But it is only an adaptionist analysis that predicts and explains why the impact of this variability is so often limited in its scope to micro-level biochemical variation, instead of introducing substantial individuating design differences. 79

For social scientists, of course, this recognition requires a radical change in practice: Every “environmentalist” explanation about the influence of a given part of the environment on humans will — if it is to be considered coherent — need to be accompanied by a specific ‘nativist’ hypothesis about the evolved developmental and psychological mechanisms that forge the relationship between the environmental input the hypothesized psychological output. 87

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. 88 (what about the zero/one/infinity rule in software design, cosmology, etc?)

Moreover, children typically “explain” behavior as the confluence of beliefs and desires (e.g. Why has Mary gone to the water fountain? Because she has a desire for water (i.e., she is thirsty) and she believes that water can be found at the water fountain). Such inferences appear to be generated by a domain-specific cognitive system that is sometimes called a “theory of mind” module. 90

The cognitive revolution, with its emphasis on formal analysis, made clear that theories needed to be made causally explicit to be meaningful, and it supplied psychologists with a far more precise language and set of tools for analyzing and investigating complexly contingent, information-responsive systems. 93

In fact, plasticity (e.g. variability) tends to be injurious everywhere in the architecture except where it is guided by well-designed regulatory mechanisms that improve outcomes or at least do not harm. It would be particularly damaging if these regulatory mechanisms were themselves capriciously “plastic,” instead of rigidly retaining those computational methods that produce advantageous responses to changing conditions. 101

Combinatorial explosion is the term for the fact that with each new degree of freedom added to a system, or with each new dimension of potential variation added, or with each new successive choice in chain of decisions, the total number of alternative possibilities faced by a computational system grows with devastating complexity… Which leads to the best outcome? Or, leaving aside optimality as a hopelessly Utopian luxury in an era of diminished expectations, which sequences are nonfatal? [This problem is also called the] fame problem… poverty of stimuli… referential ambiguity… need for constraints on induction… underdetermines the interpretation 102-103

Some rules for evaluation hypotheses by the evolutionary criterion are as follows. 1. Obviously, at a minimum, a candidate architecture must be able to perform all of the tasks and subtasks necessary for it to reproduce… a hypothesis should not entail an architecture that is substantially inferior at promoting its own propagation (its inclusive fitness) replace an architecture that was better designed to promote fitness under ancestral conditions… A candidate architecture should not require the world to be other than it really is. For example, models of grammar acquisition that assume that adults standardly correct their children’s grammatical errors do not meet this condition… An architecture that was architecture that was completely open to manipulation by others, without any tendency whatsoever to modify or resist exploitative or damaging social input, would be strongly selected against… a candidate theory should not invoke hypotheses that require assumptions about the coordinated actions of others (or any part of the environment) unless it explains how such coordination reliably came about during the Pleistocene hunter-gatherer life…5. A candidate model must not propose the existence of complex capacities in the human psychological architecture unless these capacities solve or solved adaptive (design-propagative) problems for the individual.

The more a system initially “knows” about the world and its persistent characteristics, and the more evolutionarily proven “skills” it starts out with, the more it can learn, the more problems it can solve, the more it can accomplish. 113

Therefore, what is special about the human mind is not that it gave up “instinct” in order to become flexible, but that it proliferated “instincts”-that is, content-specific problem-solving specializations which allowed an expanding role for psychological mechanisms that are (relatively) more function-general. 113

In contrast, the Standard Model “do what your parents did” concept of culture is not a principle that can explain much about why cultural elements change, where one new one comes from, why they spread, or why certain complex patterns (e.g. pastoralist commonalities) recur in widely separated cultures. 116 (really? or, the author thinks that memetic mutations, crossover, etc are too slow?)

Rather than calling this class of representations “transmitted” culture, we prefer terms such as reconstructed culture, adopted culture, or epidemiological culture. 118

The more widely shared an elemtn is, the more people are included to call it “cultural,” but there is no natural dividing point along a continuum of something shared between two individuals to something shared through inferential reconstruction by the entire human species… Within groups, representations occur with all kinds of different frequencies, from beliefs passed across generations by unique dyads, such as shamanistic knowledge or mother-daughter advice, to beliefs shared by most or all members of a group. 120

…it is probably more accurate to think of humanity as a single interacting population tied together by sequences of reconstructive inference than as a collection of discrete groups with separate bounded “cultures.” 121

Second, with the fall of content-independent learning, the socially constructed wall that separates psychology and anthropology (as well as other fields) will disappear. 121 (shades of Marx or Wilson? hmm…)

Jesusism-Paulism, Part IV: The Fall of Rome

On October 27, 312, the world changed.

What exactly happened is disputed. A “heavenly sign,” apparently some form of crossed disc, appeared to Gaius Constantinus outside of Rome. Constantinus read into it “By this, Conquer.” Within twelve hours the world had have turned. Christianity had a shield. More importantly, the Christians had an army.

alpha_chi_ro_omega_md
With This You Win

The Roman Legions were not the first military force fielded by the Jesusist-Paulists. The Armenian King Trdat III submitted his armies to Christ eleven years earlier, but if Christianity had stopped at Armenia the plans of Caiaphas and Diocletian (to force Christianity to morph into violent military force that could be processed as a regular insurgency) would have been victorious. When Tiridates III converted, Christianity gained a weak country. When Constantine I converted, Christianity gained the world.

This exponential increase in the size of Christianity’s 4GW militia was not entirely surprising. In spite of being under a persecution that would last until 313, the Christians were using the using the power of women to subvert masculine lines of control and communication. While the fading crypto-Maoist ideals of Greece were passed along in masculine education, Christianity focused on the conversion of women and subsequent mother-to-child indoctrination. Constantine’s mother was a Christian.

Once Christianity began what 4GW theorists call “stage 3 operations,” what traditional military men call “phase IV operations,” or what others call “Reorientation/Reharmonization,” the Christians followed a Boydian program for success. This “Constantinian Shift” was the natural and correct Christian response to winning the war. In the last slide of his epic brief, Patterns of Conflict, John Boyd wrote

Evolve and exploit insight/initiative/adaptability/harmony together with a unifying vision, via a grand ideal or an overarching theme or a noble philosophy, as basis to:
Shape or influence events so that we not only amplify our spirit and strength but also influence the uncommitted or potential adversaries so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic toward our success…

Penetrate adversary’s moral-mental-physical being in order to isolate him from his allies, pull him apart, and collapse his will to resist.

Constantine helped unfold Christianity’s grand unifying ideal. The 325 Council of Nicea, assembled by Constantine, defined the unifying vision and noble philosopher of Christianity. The Creed of Christianity would unfold over the years, but in the 325 Declaration the nature of the Religion was promulgated

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty
Maker of all that is seen and unseen,
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the Son of God, begotten from the father, only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the father,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,
begotten not made, one in Being with the Father,
through whom all things came into being, things in heaven and things on earth,
Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down and became incarnate,
suffered,
On the third day he rose again
he ascended to heaven
He will come again to judge the living and the dead,
And in the Holy Spirit,
But as for those who say, There was when He was not, and Before being born He was not, and that He came into existence out of nothing or who assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or substance, or is subject to alteration or change – those the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.

  • Constantine increased the physical connectivity of Christians. While the Church issues the 325 Manifesto (“First Nicean Creed“), Constantine’s 313 Declaration, the Edict of Milan, not only protects Christians but persecution but also gives to them the physical tools needed to spread the face

    When I, Constantine Augustus, as well as I Licinius Augustus d fortunately met near Mediolanurn (Milan), and were considering everything that pertained to the public welfare and security, we thought -, among other things which we saw would be for the good of many, those regulations pertaining to the reverence of the Divinity ought certainly to be made first, so that we might grant to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each preferred; whence any Divinity whatsoever in the seat of the heavens may be propitious and kindly disposed to us and all who are placed under our rule And thus by this wholesome counsel and most upright provision we thought to arrange that no one whatsoever should be denied the opportunity to give his heart to the observance of the Christian religion, of that religion which he should think best for himself, so that the Supreme Deity, to whose worship we freely yield our hearts) may show in all things His usual favor and benevolence. Therefore, your Worship should know that it has pleased us to remove all conditions whatsoever, which were in the rescripts formerly given to you officially, concerning the Christians and now any one of these who wishes to observe Christian religion may do so freely and openly, without molestation. We thought it fit to commend these things most fully to your care that you may know that we have given to those Christians free and unrestricted opportunity of religious worship. When you see that this has been granted to them by us, your Worship will know that we have also conceded to other religions the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases ; this regulation is made we that we may not seem to detract from any dignity or any religion.

    Moreover, in the case of the Christians especially we esteemed it best to order that if it happens anyone heretofore has bought from our treasury from anyone whatsoever, those places where they were previously accustomed to assemble, concerning which a certain decree had been made and a letter sent to you officially, the same shall be restored to the Christians without payment or any claim of recompense and without any kind of fraud or deception, Those, moreover, who have obtained the same by gift, are likewise to return them at once to the Christians. Besides, both those who have purchased and those who have secured them by gift, are to appeal to the vicar if they seek any recompense from our bounty, that they may be cared for through our clemency,. All this property ought to be delivered at once to the community of the Christians through your intercession, and without delay. And since these Christians are known to have possessed not only those places in which they were accustomed to assemble, but also other property, namely the churches, belonging to them as a corporation and not as individuals, all these things which we have included under the above law, you will order to be restored, without any hesitation or controversy at all, to these Christians, that is to say to the corporations and their conventicles: providing, of course, that the above arrangements be followed so that those who return the same without payment, as we have said, may hope for an indemnity from our bounty. In all these circumstances you ought to tender your most efficacious intervention to the community of the Christians, that our command may be carried into effect as quickly as possible, whereby, moreover, through our clemency, public order may be secured. Let this be done so that, as we have said above, Divine favor towards us, which, under the most important circumstances we have already experienced, may, for all time, preserve and prosper our successes together with the good of the state. Moreover, in order that the statement of this decree of our good will may come to the notice of all, this rescript, published by your decree, shall be announced everywhere and brought to the knowledge of all, so that the decree of this, our benevolence, cannot be concealed.

    Constantine decreased the physical connectivity of non-Christians. Money was diverted from pagan temple to the Christian Church, in nearly exactly the same way later Chinese Communists would divert wealth from churches to the Communist Party. Non-Christians could not own Christian slaves, a measure designed to prevent an anti-Christian reaction by the chattel-owning class.

    The “non-Christian” tag was applied, with some calculation, to those considered semi-Christians. Self-professing Christians who refused to swear the Nicean Creed were exiled, a fate the Communist Leon Trotsky would suffer after running foul of the larger Communist Party of the Soviet Union. (Unlike Communists, however, the Christians did not send assassins after the exiles.)

    Jews, who worshiped the same God as the Christians but did not claim to worship Christ, were recognized as fellow travelers. Treated better than either Pagans or schismatic Christians, their position was superior to contemporary “fellow traveler” parties, such as the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese KMT in China today. The Christians did those both to seperate Jews from their potential pagan allies, and create a broader, generally correlated force to “influence the uncommitted or potential adversaries so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic toward Christian] success.”

    Christianity won. The hope of a victorious 4th Generation War was successful. The old Roman Civilization was dead, and with it the ancient communitarianism of the pagans. Everyone was equal in the eyes of God. The slave. The woman. All equal. Even human-rights laws, such as

    • Improvement in the condition of slaves
    • Improvement in the condition of prisoners
    • Improvement in the condition of non-farm workers
    • Abolition of Crucifiction
    • Abolition of Gladiatorial Execution

    were promulgated. But as that philosopher of underground cults, Howard Lovecraft, wrote

    That is not dead which can eternal lie,
    And with strange aeons even death may die.

    The old Maoism of Greek civilization would not lie dead dreaming for long. It spoke to men in strange dreams. It would teach the Romans new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves. All the Christian world would flame. A New Rome would be born.


    Jesusism-Paulism, a tdaxp series in six parts
    1. Love Your Enemy As You Would Have Him Love You
    2. Caiaphas and Diocletian Did Know Better
    3. Every Man a Panzer, Every Woman a Soldat
    4. The Fall of Rome
    5. The People of the Book
    6. Embrace and Extend