Daily Data Dump – Wednesday

By Razib Khan | September 8, 2010 10:49 am

Human Meat Just Another Meal for Early Europeans? The argument about cannibalism always goes back and forth. It seems entirely plausible that at some point in our lineage’s history the consumption of conspecifics may not have been shocking, as the human cognitive toolkit had not evolved to the level of sophistication which makes cannibalism cross-culturally abhorrent. Now, you may object that cannibalism has been known among H. sapiens sapiens, but regular cannibalism generally is sanctified in some ritual fashion. The Aztecs for example seem to have consumed the human sacrifices to their gods. Cannibalism without ritual, as often occurred during pre-modern sieges of cities, emerges only in contexts of extreme deprivation.

ReadingLevelByRaceThe REAL ‘Stuff White People Like’. White people are the “hook,” but there’s a lot in this post from OKCupid on the personals profiles of various ethnic groups, as well as religions. To the left is an analysis of profile sophistication in terms of prose by racial group. Asian and Indian males in particular should work on their prose on OKCupid, since they’re strongly disfavored as partners according to OKCupid’s past analysis. Though Latinos and black males aren’t doing much hotter in response rate, so that can’t be the total explanation. Rather, seems like the prose quality is a better reflection of mean years of education by ethnic group in the United States.


Being Attractive Brings Advantages: The Case of Parrot Species in Captivity. “We repeatedly confirmed significant, positive association between the perceived beauty and the size of worldwide zoo population. Moreover, the range size and body size appeared to be significant predictors of zoo population size.” Now you understand cats!

Primed for Reading. Richard Boyd reviews Stanislas Dehaene’s Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention. I enjoyed Dehaene’s The Number Sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics, so no doubt this will soon be in “in the stack.”

I was wrong about veganism. Let them eat meat – but farm it properly. To assert one is wrong is heroic. People who are wrong always go up in my estimation, because everyone is often wrong, but the human reflex is to deny error. That being said, it seems like the author of the article is reviewing a pro-pig manifesto. The plenitude of pigs in China, a region often at the Malthusian limit, is a good clue as to the animal’s efficiency at converting offal into meat.

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  • Katharine

    What does the presence or absence of cannibalism in an animal’s diet under various circumstances say about it? I know there are animals who regularly cannibalize for numerous reasons – some animals cannibalize young or old/doddering conspecifics or cannibalize if very hungry. Are there even animals that haven’t been observed to resort to eating a conspecific under extreme circumstances when they’ve been observed?

    I don’t mean to say that this necessarily implies revulsion at the idea of cannibalism, but what sort of psychological/behavioral mechanism might affect this?

    Also, race/profile sophistication – that’s probably a cross section of North Americans, not worldwide. The United States, unfortunately, has a detestable anti-intellectualism in some parts of it.

    Also, I’ve never understood how asserting one is wrong is heroic. If you’re wrong, you say so. For it to be considered heroic by what I’ve seen is a large part of society makes the average human a particularly insecure, weak-willed, idiotic, and uniformly detestable person, and I think it’s sad that there are people with brains who perpetuate this.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    I don’t mean to say that this necessarily implies revulsion at the idea of cannibalism, but what sort of psychological/behavioral mechanism might affect this?

    for humans there’s the immediate problem with diseases like kuru, which *may* have left a genetic imprint. but i think the big thing is that human “theory of mind” and “social intelligence” has extrapolated our sense of self and produced weird aversions to consuming conspecifics because of our mental hangups which are a byproduct of our cognition.

    If you’re wrong, you say so. For it to be considered heroic by what I’ve seen is a large part of society makes the average human a particularly insecure, weak-willed, idiotic, and uniformly detestable person, and I think it’s sad that there are people with brains who perpetuate this.

    the average human is all of those things. in fact, as someone who has engaged in with blog commenters for 8 years even the average intelligent human has the same problem. most people who are wrong won’t say so. even when they’re obviously wrong on the face of it they make sure you do all the leg-work to prove yourself, and getting an admission of incorrectness is like pulling teeth. that’s my experience. perhaps you engage with a higher sort of being, don’t know.

  • Katharine

    the average human is all of those things. in fact, as someone who has engaged in with blog commenters for 8 years even the average intelligent human has the same problem. most people who are wrong won’t say so. even when they’re obviously wrong on the face of it they make sure you do all the leg-work to prove yourself, and getting an admission of incorrectness is like pulling teeth. that’s my experience. perhaps you engage with a higher sort of being, don’t know.

    Well, one has to make the difference between ‘doesn’t think they’re wrong’ and ‘knows they’re wrong but is too wussy to admit it’.

  • Katharine

    for humans there’s the immediate problem with diseases like kuru, which *may* have left a genetic imprint. but i think the big thing is that human “theory of mind” and “social intelligence” has extrapolated our sense of self and produced weird aversions to consuming conspecifics because of our mental hangups which are a byproduct of our cognition.

    So you think it’s solely tied to cognition and not, say, another psychological mechanism (though I can’t think what other than dietary)?

    It happens in a lot of only distantly related species, as far as I know.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    So you think it’s solely tied to cognition and not, say, another psychological mechanism (though I can’t think what other than dietary)?

    i don’t have a strong opinion on this. and i don’t think that the reason that something happens in humans has to be general to the animal kingdom. i’m basically trying to make an argument based on paul bloom’s idea that humans are ‘essentialists.’ that there are certain organics, like feces, that we don’t classify as food despite the fact that we could eat them. i’d say humans would go into the same category, though for different reasons, and less immediately functional ones.

  • http://shinbounomatsuri.wordpress.com Spike Gomes

    I never got the whole thing about denying wrongness. The best lessons I’ve ever had were from being corrected. Hell, I remember Razib brusquely correcting me on the origins of paleoconservativism long ago, and I’ll be damn sure I won’t make that factual mistake again!

    I’ll not deny that there is an element of truth to Razib’s assertion, but I think there’s something about this medium of communication that makes people much more mulelish about their opinions. In face to face encounters the sort of reality denial non-mentally disturbed humans pull on the net isn’t possible without loss of face.

  • gcochran

    “emerges only in contexts of extreme deprivation”

    No.

  • EmmaZunz

    That OKCupid blog is brilliant.

    This post is especially fantastic:

    http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/the-democrats-are-doomed-or-how-a-big-tent-can-be-too-big/

  • miko

    apropos of this, i just heard a story on the radio that people tend to hold their established beliefs even MORE strongly when prevented with clear counter-evidence (these were specifically geared toward US politics, e.g. “the Bush tax cuts increased treasury revenue”). this affect is attenuated if you do something to improve someone’s self-esteem prior to presenting the counter-evidence.

    so, these were psychology experiments with a fairly obvious political agenda and i didn’t hear the whole story, but still interesting. more evidence that our self-perceptions and stated positions are at best a jumble of contradictory post-hoc rationalizations.

  • Chris T

    miko – Conspiracy theorists are an excellent example of this phenomenon. The number of mental hoops one has to jump through to deny the moon landing at this late a date is huge, but the more evidence against their position, the more stridently conspiracy theorists hold to it.

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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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