Daily Data Dump (Thursday)

By Razib Khan | April 29, 2010 2:00 pm

Experiments in cultural transmission and human cultural evolution. I’ve read plenty of models of cultural evolution (Cavalli-Sforza & Feldman, Boyd & Richerson, come to mind), but a post which reviews some more empirical literature. One criticism of modelers of cultural evolution is that they’re all talk, no action, and so basically just mathed up versions of armchair humanists.

Wired for Sex. The existence of two sexes is of obvious evolutionary genetic interest; males are an “expensive” cost for a lineage. But obviously there are other angles to explore, including neurological. Because sexual dimorphism takes a while to evolve I think one possible way to get a good grip on sex differences in the brain might be to look at male vs. female anatomy, function and neuochemistry across the great apes + humans. Presumably many of the differences are basal characteristics.

Psychopaths and Rational Morality. Would Mr. Spock have been a psychopath?

The Arc of Evolution Is Long and Rarely Bends Towards Advantageous Alleles: Why Does Popular Science Ignore Neutral Theory? Love the title. I think writing a book like “Climbing Mount Improbable” is going to be easier than writing “Probably Random Walking All Over.”

Can’t Pivot to the Economy With Magic. I disagree. It’s a world filled with magic & mystery, we need to just open our eyes and appreciate it. We can can use magic & mystery as fuel to generate productivity gains. A wizard in every home I say!

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Comments (5)

  1. Amartya Sen has said, more or less, that the “rational man” of economics is a psychopath. (“Rationality and Freedom”). The rational man of economics (whether rationality is defined in terms of rational ends-means thinking, or in terms maximization of reward) isn’t descriptive, and it isn’t really an ideal either. (A economically rational man would kill a million people for a dollar if there were no cost to him). The economic man is in one sense a fiction invented in order to have something simple to plug into equations, and in another sense it IS an ideal of what people should be like if they were acting purely economically and not messing around with sentimental, idealistic non-economic considerations that economists think make the economy less efficient.

  2. Hey, are you dissin’ “armchair humanists”?

  3. ray, it takes all types. if you are going to be an armchair humanist, be one. no need to math-it all up 🙂

  4. Sid

    John Emerson: The “rational man” of economics sounds an awful like King Leopold II, of the Congo Free State fame. He had no qualms whatsoever about enslaving, terrorizing and halving an entire population for the sake of profits. Really, what could the Congolese offer him unless he threatened pillage and mutilation?

  5. miko

    ” (A economically rational man would kill a million people for a dollar if there were no cost to him)”

    No… we only come to this conclusion because we think of economic cost and benefit in monetary terms, and that “rationality” is somehow distinct from mores and emotions. Economics is not about money, it is about value. To a normal human being, murdering someone is inherently costly, because it violates our entrained mores and probably some fundamental mammalian instincts. Just as the benefit and enjoyment I get out of paying lower taxes is weighed against the cost of living in a country with decrepit and inadequate infrastructure, high crime rates, and a general level of human suffering that displeases me.

    What puts someone on the spectrum between asshole and psychopath is when normal human social relations are no longer part of their (economic) value system.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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