« Making Sense with Sam Harris

#156 — The Evolution of Culture

2019-05-13 | 🔗

In the episode of the podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Nicholas Christakis about his new book, "Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society."

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Welcome to the making sense podcast. This is SAM Harris. Who housekeeping here, I just had my town hall event for subscribers was very interesting experiment Fortunately, I had a migraine for it, which was a bit of bad luck but other than that I'm happy to say that I think we nailed the look of the thing. The whole was staged and directed by Steven Brill, and I think it really is the best. Looking live stream. I've ever seen, so the look has been achieved now. I just need to tinker with the form but that will definitely run this experiment again, because I think it looks promising. I will let you all know when that will happen. Many thanks to Steven and team for doing a more professional job than I could have imagined possible Ann Marie text, my friend Eric Weinstein, for joining me on stage. Let's see what else here I was just on
KERA Swishers podcast RE code, which is produced by VOX media, that was fascinating. As you might recall, Karen. I collide on twitter a little bit and and we wanted to do in a podcast to explore and process. Our differences in my world that was fine in her world seems have been quite controversial. She was immediately Taylor GE with criticism for having platformed to me. Many of her fans just began. Shrieking their unwillingness. To even listen to our conversation. All I can say the response demonstrated that true with my claim that the kinds of smears I've been complaining about actually work. At one point, I told KERA that the effect of Ezra Klein's articles in VOX, about my conversation with Charles Murray Worth
paint me as a racist and she seemed to doubt that. But when you look at the response of the VOX Recode audience, you need no further evidence, that point. Much of her audience responded as though she had Richard Spencer on the podcast so It's quite insane out there and I'm happy to be spending much less time. Even looking social media. Thank you KERA for I'm going to have a conversation, I enjoyed hanging with you and hopefully the smart. Subset of your audience will understand what happened there, I'm very happy to say that my wife Annika has her first book for grown ups coming out. It is called conscious a brief guy the fundamental mystery of the mind it's coming out early next month June. Fourth is the pub date, but it is for pre order now on Amazon and elsewhere, and I one get too hard here, but it really is a
beautiful analysis of what is so fascinating about the mystery of consciousness. Ann, I must say she has better endorsements on this book, I have ever gotten for any of my books. I'll read you a couple here. Adam Grant says: conscious offers the clearest most compelling Donation, I've ever seen of consciousness MAX Tegmark, says This gem of a book Annika Harris, tackles consciousness, controversies with size, rigor and clarity in a style, let's accessible and captivating yet never dumb down Adam Frank, the astrophysicist, says or Klay focused, concise and provocative overview of the problem of mind Marco aka. Scientist says: I read many many great books on consciousness in my life as a neuroscientist, conscious tops them all hands down. It deals with unsolved questions and dizzy and concepts with a graciousness and clarity that leaves the reader deeply satisfied. Anyway. She has many other blur.
Hear from Sean. Carol. Carolon Gavin De Becker, Natalia Holt, Christoph Coke TIM Urban. People just read the one from the tire hold here to closeout Natalia wrote. The times bestseller rise of the rocket girls, Paris, hold a mirror up to ourselves, and the reflection she cast is wondrously, unfamiliar in sale. In that intertwined science and philosophy. Harris turned her little curiosity on the nature of awareness. Every sentence of this book, works upon the next, doubling the deeper into an exploration of consciousness, while most books not too late. The mysteries of the universe make one feel small in comparison. Conscious give The return undeniable sense of presence anyway, I'm very proud of her, as perhaps tell, and I'm looking forward to seeing the book out in the world what else here the waking up app we're still adding
new content and new features and we're now reaching out to businesses, so enterprise partnership for now available if you're interest exploring that send an email to enterprise and waking up dot com and keep the reviews coming in the app store. Those are extremely helpful and and bug reports to support at waking up dot com? Occasionally an update will break something the best way for us to fix. That quickly is to hear from you all. So thank you for the continuing feedback, An now for today's podcast today, I'm speaking with Nicholas Christakis Necklace, has been on the podcast before but that was before he had his new book blueprint evolutionary origins of a good society. This is scientific look at all. That is right with us, as primates and creators of culture
and it's a fascinating story we get in too much of it. Here, though, we digress, it's always great to speak with Nicholas. He has a wonderful laugh as you, here Nicholas Christakis is a physician and sociologist who is the ancient origins and modern implications of human nature, human Nature LAB at Yale University. Where is the professor of social and natural science, in the Department of Sociology Medison, ecology, and polish, my biology In data science and by Medical engineering is the cord. Leader of the Yale Institute of Network Science and the co author of connected, and now I bring you Nicholas Krista. Yes, I am here with Nicholas Christakis Nicholas thanks for coming back, the podcast now SAM. Thank you so much for having Maine So, as you are a returning champion, I don't need to introduce you at especially greatly
you last time. We spoke about your adventures, in the quad at Yale, which was the controversy that brought you into prominence outside of science in non culture war issues that we're going to talk a lot about culture, and so I'm sure, we'll wind up stumble onto these controversies from Rangel, but I'll. Just people that you were the long friend, professor standing in the quad Yale being hacked by a mob of students and your if I recall not so keen to dredge much out of that episode, but the reason for our discussion today as you've written a fascinating book title blueprint, which is a I'm, I'm gonna. Let you introduce your purpose in right, this book, but it's it's really interesting social science that will be talking about yeah. I mean it's, so it's sort of ironic to me a little bit
I knew when the book was published and that I you know what would be speaking about it, that it would be unavoidable that question would come up or people would mention the experience. I had a tail in twenty fifteen and I I was really dreading it because it's something I want to leave behind me. I I I had this very good fortune of Frank Bruni interviewing me and He very kindly sort of framed our experience honestly and. And I think that allowed me to really put it behind me. I mean I told him that this was not even one of the ten worst thing, it was. It was in the ten worst things. That's happened to me in my life, but not the thing, and you know we did our best and challenging circumstances and are happy to leave it behind us it. It does It was interesting to me, though I'll say a couple things. One is that I had begun this book about ten years ago and if any, the events of that year delayed me, my complete
a year or two, but actually increased my interest in writing it because of a number of reasons. First of all, I am committed to the claim that human beings are fundamentally good and I'm sure we'll be talking about that, but also because in the in the courtyard that day, some of the things that I had studied for so long and I've been thinking about for so long were so manifest. Prince. The the way in which people can deindividuation individuate, which is a quality we have evolved for good reasons, that is to say, to suspend our own personal interests in order to advance the interests of a group to lose our sense of personal identity and sort of fused with a group. But when carried to an extreme you get,
things like mobs, and you know witch trials and all kinds of other orders and and the challenge in that type of the circumstances to cultivate in or you know, you get the kind of us versus them mentality that Brooks no shared understanding and the challenge in that type of circumstances, to get people to see them wells as individuals are not as members of a group- and I I remember in the courtyard, as I watched the students, the individuate and and send their own identity, and I remember thinking to Myself- I have to get them to see me as a person, and I have to get them to see that I see them as individuals, not as members of some class of people and that's why I started asking them to introduce themselves at the high on Nicholas. You know: what's your name, and that was rather rather deliberate. Actually, on my part, I think it's good manners, but it was also rather deliberate anyway,
so there some connection, but not a great one, between those events in the ideas in the book, Yeah, well, I think it's a lot in the sense that you just flag one where the is so much that is what about us- or at least I had been necessary to our success in the past- is also bad about us in in a modern context, at least potentially so so yeah, it's pretty hard to see you how in Mostar, MRS D, individuated in is a desirable psychological trait, except you know, as you point out, it's immensely e, energizing and canceling of friction. It's a great aid to cooperation. I mean what you know a mob. If nothing else is cooperating toward a common purpose and know so much of the fragmentation of our society. What one could attribute it to some degree to both capacities
We have, we have the kind of radical individualism where everyone seems to feel that they need an opinion on everything. Everyone is an expert, at least potentially so, and this is being amplified by social media, but then it's giving us these cascades of mom. Like behavior I, which is you know, I would argue, not just staying on social media but surging out into the real world. When I What you were experiencing at Yale and which should be at what I've seen on other campuses and in the tech community in particular, I said this kind of moral panic is not just staying on campus has, it does seem like an expression hourly at least it seems plausible, to suspect that this is a a real world expression of a phenomenon, that's mostly happening on social media least. It's been, guys by what's happening and social media it with its just where, where people get in there they're in,
asian and their attitudes and their convictions that you know in this case in the local circumstance. Experienced experience that Yale is a theater of intolerable oppression. Right- well, okay, so you've identified like five different Well, good luck with that! Yes! Well, one of them, one of them has to do with any kind of spread of distantly are not to sleep. The spread of false the needs and why people will willingly he believes things which are false, nine. I know you thought a lot about this and talked a lot about it in that itself is interesting topic it actually. Paradoxically, the willing and grace of something manifestly false is precisely often how one demonstrates belong in a group right. So the the you know the belief that you know that in religious beliefs, many
Let's, just please have this character where you're called upon to believe things which clearly are not true and and that's a signal that you are a member of the of this group in that you have a certain kind of faith for but you also highlighted a number of other features, one of which I'd like to go back to. Well, I I do want it now. I risk diverting you genre diversion stand. But I I really what I want to flag that point, because that that's such a good one and I notice it in other contexts, miss so much of the support for Trump that I find in possible to get my mind around in that your people will. Apparently believe the unbelievable or accept? Yes, the obvious contempt for truth that comes at great cost. The kind of loyalty test it really it is. It is an in group signal which yes
not in the group seems totally perverse. Yes, I think that's all right and I also think there's another thread. We can come to that and there's another friend that relates to the way in which you know the book. The subtitle of the book is the evolutionary origins of good society there's a way in which natural selection shape our social interactions style are present in the structure of our social networks, which I talk about so as to optimize the flow of useful information. So, if you think about it in in the extreme case, you might have a case in which nobody interacts with anybody. That's colon all set in the network or no connections, there's no spread of information there and the other extreme you. How about a fully saturated graph sent in which everyone is connected to everyone else. That's also no
efficient you're, too much imports so in between their myriad possible. You know extraordinary large number of possible regions of social networks, and it's not it's not a coincidence that that natural selection has she. These are pattern of friendship formation in a fashion that, for instance, optimizes our ability to work together and and communicate useful and reliable information, which ultimately, I would argue, is our capacity for culture, which in turn is ultimately our source of wealth, health and our ability to to manifest kind of social conquest of the earth is Wilson says, are what makes this such a successful species able to occupy niches everywhere on the planet is not our bodies, but our minds which give us the capacity for culture and give us the capacity to you know find water in the desert and invent kayaks in the.
So anyway, that's another topic, but what I'd like to go back to find night is to your original question about group. Do you do the duration? First of all, do you enjoy it's very valuable. If you need a route to take risks, for example, to engage in defense against attacks by other groups, you don't want everybody. Afraid for their own life, unable or unwilling to band together to mount a defense or to work together to bring down a mastodon, some large game animal. You need some some kind of sense of commitment to the group and there it's it's very clearly the case that he did, that natural selection has. She needs us to be able to cooperate
with others, and in particular, in our species live with genetically unrelated individuals. This is one of the key ways in which we differ, for example, from aunts and and termites and lost another you, social insects is that we're not clones were each different, and it's amazing that we have this capacity for friendship with unrelated individuals which will all come back to back. Having said all that, for quickly. I'd like to go back to the group, unison, so here's the thing imagine have a large population. Let's put it in modern terms. Imagine you have the United States, you have Americans and underneath that large category you have groups which could be defined by religion or language or ethnicity or immigrant status or sexuality, or whatever
Asian and then below that to have individuals, the construction individuals which make up of society if we are struggling with tribalism, which we are around the world today and which, incidentally, we always have it's been a challenge. So you in the middle level, you have the these groups, which draw very bright distinctions street Austin that and the grant us a great amount of charity, and them, you know, are seen as the the political parties to one year, the the the the the the the reason we have, this type of us versus them mentality, and this is desire to form these groups. One of the reasons is to reduce the scale other words in order to cooperate, as I mentioned a bit earlier with respect sample the networks in order to cooperate. It's true challenging to.
After cooperate with everybody, so natural selection has equipped with the capacity to make these distinctions between us and them in part. Many believe- and I agree to make it possible for us to cooperate. In other words, there is that kind of Colin Lucien's kind of Zeno phobia or parochialism or tribalism has call we've all their capacity for altruism hi here and Cooper and so this very thing which gives us trouble, is also the very one of the very things which makes it possible for us to be nice to each other, because otherwise the challenge would be nice, to be nice to everybody which isn't an easy thing to achieve? What didn't Samuel balls, yeah same theoretic, work, you exactly and and search survey got and Robert Axelrod and many people have done work like that
so so in the middle. So it's got to one of the tools we have to foster cooperation is to end because of the challenge of scale. Is that have this type of group Venus? Incidentally, this serves other purposes, but for present purposes going back to our thing we got America, we've had groups who got individ. One way to tackle tribalism is to is to take advantage of some of our evolutionary machinery and step up a level to the level of the whole country and and use our capacity. Define groups and define the group more broadly We are all americans- and this is all in part of our history. It's in fact part of the american ideal part of the american project. Anyone can be an American. We are one of the few nations. The american project is one of the nations where you just arrive on our shores, you commit to the bill of rights and certain liberal principles, and you can become an American. You know it's not defined,
along ethnic or religious or any such ground? So we've not always adhere to these ideals. It's obvious but nevertheless the ideal is that anyone could become an American, the Pleura bus, Unum And- and you know you so we could we could. We could set up a level from groups, user capacity, define us versus SM, broaden the definition and say we're all Americans, and this, in my view, is one strategy we could literally logically employ to breakdown some of these tribal barriers. But there's another strategy, that's less obvious, and it's equally important and equally a part of our tradition and that's to step down a level to the level of individuals and here's an interesting thing. We humans have evolved the capacity for individual identity and this this is actually really odd. It's an odd paradox that, in order to live socially, we first have to be individuals and what I mean by that. Well, we
Kate are individual identity with our feast, every human faces different than every other face, and, and it turns out that this is it. This is this capacity to have individual faces is on you. Visual in the animal kingdom, and not only that, but you can look at a sea of one thousand or ten thousand faces, and you can tell the difference between every other face and this kind of machinery you have in your brain is also a luxury. These are dictionary luxuries. The capacity to signal and detect individual identity are. Missionary luxuries, which our species in a few others of manifest and in They are necessary to live socially because you have to be able to tell you. This is my child, not someone else's child that I should raise, or this is is our friend and not an enemy, or this is a person who cooperated with me or did not cooperate with me in order to live with each other. We have to be able to detect the
digital identity of each person and natural selection is given us this capacity. Incidentally, as a tangent on a tangent, this capacity is also connected to our ability to experience grief, which is Another whole topic anyway, I'd like to not lose sight of that footnote, but I could say that as someone who is regularly mistaken for Ben Stiller, our capacity nice individual faces is not what it might be yeah it's true. I can tell you like, I am I am. I have my own limitations of Mister Gardner, specifically with respect to peoples names, although I'm pretty good with faces. I can tell if I've seen, I wouldn't mistake you for bed still for sale, that's a compliment or not, but so so can finishing up this point.
As part of the point. I guess I love talking to you. It's like we could go in ten different directions, but I'm just finishing up this part of the point, so so this capacity to see each other as individuals also provides a kind of liberation for the D humanization of tribalism. We can step down a level, and this has been a part of our tradition to. In fact, this is what Martin Luther king was arguing when he said he looks forward to a time when people are judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. He saying we should treat each individuals and he's totally right, and this also it faces tribalism. So tribalism, group Iness, which is a problem in our society today, is the part of our nature. It's depressing at least to me, plus of us versus them exist for a number of reasons, but we have other tools at our disposal that evolution is equipped us with Cooperate as a as a collective and avoid some of the downsides of tribalism. Well, that's.
Fascinating analysis. Actually, I detected in there a point of contact between the two levels that I had never really thought about before, but you were described in a way of escaping tribal them by going up a level and acknowledging that you got anyone who, essentially, can come in and share our values is part of our group. So this is this a faces: racism and xenophobia and religious bigotry. And at least potentially everything accidental about a person that could keep him out of our group or keep him or her as them can be erased, provided that person buying into certain ideas and certain ethical norms. Presumably,
one of those core ideas, one of those norms, one of those political values that were anchored to is the primacy of the individual. Well, at least for most intents and purposes, I miss it so that your individual freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of believe, the freedom to be, unco, Ernest and unmolested by one's neighbors, provided what you're doing isn't harmed anyone else that kind of in a classically, liberal picture of the political landscape that is one of the core values that so many of us share. It does seem like those two algorithms, for escaping tribalism coincide at least on point well. First of all I mean, I think, you are highlighting just to say that the things that you the things that uhm qua Cities that define the larger group need not be political,
qualities of mean the example you just gave about and that we were talking about America. You could, in principle on the group, for example, when the Hutus and the two were slaughtering each other, they could have brought route to say you know we are Africans, for example, or we are You know some other. You know we're descendants of this original settlers or whatever I mean you could or or if you have to you have the Shiites in the in the Sounis that are killing each other. They say well wait a minute we're both Muslim, for example. It doesn't to be a political affiliation. I was just using our country as an exam but you're right to highlight that in our particular case, one of those founding belief that define it higher order. Group is, paradoxically, a kind of commitment to individual. You know the rights of visuals. And you're also that I think, alluding to you know the well understood challenge of you know: poppers open society and its enemies. Your you know this. This notion that there is a sense in which our TA
Lawrence could actually be in. Our openness could actually be our undoing, so the whole other topic and a whole other thing you know to discuss, but we can solve that in fifteen minutes. Footnotes behind, though I don't want to, the point you were making about grief and then and then I want to back all the way up and go more systematically through your thesis. But you saying grief and individualization reef, I mean grief. Is so here's the thing about grief when I talk about grief
look I mean I was a hospice doctor for many years. I took care of people who were dying. I don't know for fifteen years, I would in Chicago and then at the Harvard when I was on the faculty there- and I have my own personal experience with grief, my mother was terminally ill. When I was a child, she was diagnosed when I was six and she died. When I was at twenty five- and she was just forty seven when she died- and so you know I grew up with this and many many I would suspect if I had to guess maybe half your audience or third of your audience would have had personal experience with we've had someone they know died. This is less common in the world it used to be work. Often children die, so people with siblings are or off your head died or a wait. Anyone who's had experience of grief knows that it's just extraordinary ticket or kind of pain. It's all it's a complete physical pain. You know your your. Your jaw hurts from clinching and crying you're your chest, hurts and- and emotionally it's just agony,
and then you have all these other copy. The process sees you, you see the dead person in a crowd. I mean I've had this experience and you know they're they're dead, but your heart wishes. They were alive and it's it's it's. This is, you know, novels have been written about. I mean it's, it's an incredibly profound human experiences. Experience of grief. The thing about grief is that it's, unlike any other emotion, it's not sadness right, it's something different, like your sadness, I think is very similar to my sadness, but you're grief is rather different than my grief, because it's connected to the death of a particular person, you grieve not when a stranger dies. You grieve when a very particular individual close to you dies. So so grief is connected to our individuality. But one of the ironies is that we're not the only animals to feel grief and,
other certain other animals do now. These are particular animals. These are other social mammals that have evolved to live like we do and- and I discussed those in the book. This includes, for example, elephants and whales, certain male species, certain primate species and there's one there's a deep irony here, which I'll come back The great thing in a moment that actually, by examining the ways in which our social lives are similar to these other animals, we can better and how we are similar to each other it's more like the more. Our friendships resemble the friendships of elephants, the more our friendships are seeing the world over and we can. We can better understand the fact that friendship is a human, universal or grief. Is a human, universal or the capacity to recognize individual is a human universal when we find analogous qualities to those in animal species like elephants,
so the last common ancestor we had with elephants was about eighty five million years ago. It was a small shrew, like mammal. As far as we know, it did not live socially, and here these elephants over eighty five million years, they evolve of living socially by convergent evolution, that's very, very similar to our own. They have friendships like we do, for example, and they grieve. Many of the most expert ethologist have elephants believe like we do or similar to meet you so so anyway, some grief is a is a very interesting itself and on and on and it's it's it's. I think it reflects our individuality and it's part of our sociology as well so yeah, let's talk about the by logical underpinnings of all of this or the evolutionary underpinnings. So you referred to the social sweet. What is the social sweet well I'd like to back up even from that just one step in say: you know
there's been a lot of attention in the sciences and in the public sphere to the way in which humans have evolved to you know be inveterate Lee Bat, our propensity for violence and selfishness and and mendacity, and here we are, we started with tribalism yeah, I mean all of these qualities, but equally we have been shaped for good. We've been shaped to love, to have a capacity for love, friendship and cooperation and teaching and many other fine qualities and- and I think these one, qualities have this bright side has been denied the attention that it deserves and so And, moreover, I would argue this bright side is even more important to keep in mind. I'm talking about the sweep of our evolution so 10s and hundreds of thousands of years. We we can also talk to simply about the sweep of our history, which is you know, let's say over the
last ten thousand years, but but these larger forces shaped us for many many years there, cheaper. I would argue, and more profound and certainly more ancient than the historical forces acting upon us today, and these forces shaped us for good, because if whatever I came here, you killed me or you feel, with lies. You give me useless or false information or you or otherwise mean to me or or violent towards me. Be better off living the such as a solitary animal. So so the benefits of a connected life must outweigh the costs. Your hand and natural selection has acted on our ways of living socially, as surely as it is, and acted on our by
eighties and on our psychology. So so so one of the matter. Arguments of the book is that the that that our genes and natural selection, I should not just the structure and function of our bodies, not just the structure and function of our minds, but also the structure and function of our societies, and it has primarily quipped us with on balance, good qualities and and that and that each that I highlight in the block qualities that that we are eight features of suite of qualities that make it possible for us to live together, and these are, first of all, the capacity to log and record, I'm sorry to have and recognize individual identity. So this capacity to be visuals and recognize individuals, love for partners office
and we're very unusual as a species in that we don't just mate with each other. We form a sustained and actually sentimental attachment. We love the people we have sex with. We don't always do, but we can and typically do. Friendship is one slash three important quality. We form long term non reproductive unions with other members of our species were not the only animal that does it, but it's rare and the other animals. We already talked about one elephants and there's a couple of other a few others, social networks. We form social networks, cooperation of preference for one's own group or in group, bias that we talked about earlier, a kind of my. Hierarchy or relativity out. So we we are We are an animal that neither is totally gala Norton, authoritarian or two hierarchical. We tend, we don't function. Well, we when we have no leader.
And we also don't like it when we have autocratic leaders, people who can impose too much punishment from above and finally, we have all this capacity for social learning and teaching, which is also rare in the animal kingdom and his astonishing. So So any many animals can learn a little fish in the sea can learn that if it swims towards the light it finds food there, We don't just learn that way: We also learn by imitation or socially so this is very efficient. You know, I could put my hand in the fire and I learned that it's hot, I pull my hand out I have acquired some knowledge, but I paid a big price, or I could watch you put your hand in the fire. Again, almost as much knowledge, but I paid none of the price, that's very efficient, or you could teach me not to put my hand in the fire, and so not just learn are individually, we don't just learn socially, but we actually set out to teach each other stuff. This is very rare in the animal kingdom, but we do it.
These all of these qualities. All of these fundamental aspects of our human nature, you will notice, pertain to how we interact with each other, so there's a whole other class of things, for example, are musicality, for instance, or are risk aversion or all other kinds of, or are you a visual cognition, for example, all of which are other parts of human nature, but those can be experienced by isolated individuals. You know by her bed in the mountains can have or a religious experience, for example, but I am interested in the parts that required the presence of another person in order to reach their fruition, and so that's what I call the social suite. It's a suite of eight qualities that natural selection is Shane and the quick must saluting other, as as as a social species right right it it does that phrase. Social sweet originate with you, yes, nice, because it's very it's a very useful
grouping, and- and I would point out that these things are not in principle entirely isolated from one another, I mean they interpenetrate each other. So when you were, when you were discussing hierarchy there in the book, you differentiate at least two different types of Turkey, their dominance hierarchies and their hierarchies based on prestige and those funk differently. I mean they're, both important or at least, have been important to us as social primates, but prestige age matters. More and more one could argue it that the more civilized we become and prestige is the is the kind of thing that relates to some of these. Other capacity is like the the capacity to teach. Yes, show that there's not there's a lot going on there and in among those eight characteristics. Yeah I mean so the on rescue right there all interrelated in very complex and interesting ways, but just on the proceeds thing so just
You know a dominance. Hierarchy has to do with the kind of costs that superiors can impose on their subordinates, and a prestige hierarchy has that relates to the kind of benefits that a subordinate can extract or so a you can think of these. As, like you know, a lot of this is this is a bit of a simplification but dominance, He often oppose released how physically you physically like I'm bigger than you, and therefore I can punish you or exclude you from mating opportunities, for example and therefore, in a dominance, hierarchy subordinates avoid super ordnance, but in a procedure hierarchy in which I can bestow benefits upon you Teach you something useful like how to light a fire or make a stone tool. For example, now you don't avoid me, you seek me out and I can attract acquire power and attract followers, as it were
not by virtue of the costs I can impose on my subordinates, but by virtue of the benefits which typically our cognitive things. I can teach them on my subordinates and that my subordinates and that a subordinate to get from a super ordinate and in our issues. We have evolved, these parallel ways of having hierarchy which, both of which are important, it can be important in different circumstances in a different times, but the existence of this kind of procedure type of hierarchy connects, as you said, to this teaching and learning functional our species haves and also is connected. There your capacity for culture. It's interesting that and not to keep bringing this back to trumpet, which is which is a sin I have not committed very often, I really have not spoken about him for a very long time, but I'm worried you're you're still sitting anything. I stay with him. I don't know, but that but I think I'm getting ready to read the Muller reports. So yes, he's on my mind, but it just occurred to me that one of the things I find so odious about him is that his staff-
Among those who purport to love, him does seem to almost into Byerly depend on the dominant side rather than the prestige. Side yeah the hard that he can the harm that he can impose on others, as well as some people find appealing. This is perhaps especially true of the other republican politicians who are supporting him, despite the fact that he violates so many of their declared values. It's obvious that they're worried about the political harm he can do to them based on his ability to drum up the base and their comparative inability to do so, the something just sick. In about it, that's right I mean, I think, that's and you see this in different. You see this they should be. Politicians will exploit all kinds of aspects or of our of our nature, I mean we talk. We opened at the beginning with xenophobia, it's also classic strategy to whip up us versus them hatred, whether it's so the ink was,
nor the pogroms or the holocaust or or you know, against Mexicans or against a particular religious groups or whatever it is this this cultivation or right now, you know in Armenia. There's this awful. Where you know the homophobia is being exploited, Simpson, in Georgia or sure Lanca with the islamist killing of Christians in their churches or in New Zealand. You know with the white nationalists. Young people in the mosques- and it goes on and on and on questions will often exploit this natural tendency. We have to whip up hatred of a minority group, however defined in of course blames them, and you know this is fascism won a one actually and it's something we really should see it for what it is and pushed back against it. Let's have it back to the so so sweet and its evolutionary underpinnings and what's important here as you
point out is not just that we are social, but that the burden and opportunity of being so has led to our capacity to produce culture and culture is really a is an operating system that allows us to inherit all our or certainly most of the lessons learned by our predecessors, and so none of us starts from zero. We start from you know it's just you know you think you point out somewhere in the book. If you learned calculus in high cool. If we could build a time machine and send you back five hundred years- no more mathematics than any person on earth. Yes, so you're dumb luck and having been born born in This moment, when math had been calculus have been invented and by Isaac, Newton and sort of polished by others and the tools for teaching it had been developed
many people- and here you are you just inherit this and the same goes with all the roads and all the you know cosmology, G and you know all the written languages and all the books and all the libraries and everything that's been invented or- by everybody in the past to our capacity to accumulate that knowledge across time and space you know is extraordinary, and it is part of the thing that our success as a species- and it is true, I would argue, even with ethical nor Although the progress here is not as linear, but it is surely by accident that many of us are born into a culture, where tolerance is a Norman where tribalism has been dialed down to significantly and were civilization. So much of what we consider to be civilization can be taken for granted until there's some crazy dislocation that reminds us that we're K
worse. I think we're witnessing in our own time a kind of eruption of anti science. Conspiracy, thinking around much of what we've been talking about here was: if people don't want to hear that, there's a direct connection to our biology when we're talking about culture and how it's constructed and the sort of values We could hold sacred as a result of it, as you and many others point out, we're not blank slates. We can only use the tools we've inherited and there's a clear interaction between culture and its evolution.
And our biology and its evolution. So I don't want to start you off in that direction and see where we go. First of all, I would say I can't imagine a sounder footing for social science than biology. I mean what other foundation for social science would you properly propose? I suppose you could propose philosophy, sort of abstract principles that are reasoned from some kind of foundational axioms and built upon by logic, like geometry, but I think that that any good social science must begin with a deep understanding of evolutionary biology and and, for example, we've been equipped Cooper did to the group B, two b cultural animals, all the stuff we've been discussing, his all existed before we had any history at all. These were these were things that existed to you know before the four nation states before industry. You know before patriarchy now for all of this stuff. This is ancient stuff that that
allergy in our evolution equipped us four, so I think, first of all, on that level, I think it's important to foundation. Second, I would say to found Social sciences on biology in large measure an. Secondly, I would say that there is this setup ideas at second, I would say that the very capacity we have for culture is itself part of the social sweet. As I argue and I would argue that, while culture and history are obviously hugely important, that I actually think that they are a thin veneer over more ancient and more powerful forces and that one of the metaphors I use is imagine you're standing on a on a plane and you see two hills, and one is three hundred feet in one: is nine hundred feet and become very interested in this huge difference between the two one is three times larger than the other, and what low rainfall and erosion, and maybe maybe there's some human activity. That's reshaping one hill and farming it, for instance, and what causes all these differences in the size of these two hills and when you step back, you see all my good
So I was stepping on a plateau at ten thousand feet and these are actually two mountains, one of which is ten thousand three hundred feet and one of which is ten thousand nine hundred feet. And there are these enormous tectonic forces that are actually at the root cause of the size of these mountains and, I think, often times when we look around the world and we focus on cultural differences were like people on a plateau obsessing about what I would regard is rather small differences, and actually I think this is rather optimistic, because what I'm essentially saying is: is that there's more that unites system that divides us? This obsession with difference actually loses sight of our common humanity of the kind of fundamental
please we share the world over, such as the social sweet that are human universals that have been shaped by our biology over eons and that we inexorably manifest. So there's no culture, there's one exception without love, for instance, between mates and very few, if any cultures, without friendship and so forth. So so, the second part of my answer to your question about culture in our biology would have to do with the ways in which this culture, this capacity for culture, is a veneer on top of these other, more powerful forces. But the third part, and last part of my answer, would have to do with the ways in which, in fact, culture
biology Inter penetrate so there's a whole set of ideas regarding gene culture, CORD Lucien, where our biology shapes our capacity for culture and our culture shapes our biology and their number of famous examples of this book, one of the most famous and easiest to describe yes, this phenomena of lactase persist it's so so. Lactase is a is an enzyme we have in our bodies that allows us to do. Just milk actually did digest lactose, which is the principal sugar and milk, and in in ancient times you know more than ten thousand years. Ago. There was no reason for an animal such as ours, a mammal to be able to digest lactose after they were weaned, because they there was no milk for them to eat. You know you, you had her mother's breast milk and then you were being done. That was the last time you ever had milk in your life and there was no reason for your body to be able to
Just milk 'cause? It was no milk in the environment, so it would have been inefficient for evolution to have equipped you with the capacity to have the persistence of the lactase enzyme into adulthood. And that's state affairs persist forever and then about Ten thousand years ago we start domesticating animals and now Those domestic animals provide a ready supply. I supply of milk that adults can drink and and therefore the capacity to address to digest lactose in adulthood becomes efficient invaluable. Those of us that's another source of food, that you can have it's a a source of hydration when water is low, so those people who had a mute nation that allow them to digest lactose into adulthood. Acquire a fitness advantage. And they are on you're better able to to survive and reproduce
and leave more offspring and scientists have shown that, between the last three thousand and nine thousand years over historical time periods, which is the main sing to me this cultural invention, the domestication of animals, has reshaped our fitness landscape and changed our jeans. So we are a different species than we would have been, or we have different genetic constitution. Then we would have been had we had. We not culturaly invented this thing. This domestic Jamal animals- and it happens repeatedly and what's amazing- is that you find that otherwise similar peoples in ancient times, one of which becomes herders and domesticate animals and the nearby population. That does not it's only in the herders that you find this lactase persistence right right, and this opens up a huge kettle of fish, because it suggests that other things we do, for instance, our invention of cities. You know between five and ten thousand years ago,
maybe reshaping the kinds of people who can survive in cities, the kinds of things that are good for living in cities are probably different than the kinds of brains that are good for living on the savanna and sore invention of cities. Maybe reshaping our genetic trajectory there are I'm sure they are well. Then I think you point out, there's some immunological evidence that our new system has evolved because we've grouped together over the course of again what's ancient history, but is in evolutionary time just the blink of an eye were talking a few one thousand years. Yes, it could even be shorter than that. I mean there's some sense that even over the last few one hundred years like I think people are becoming more myopic in part because of medieval lens You know, someone like me would have been eaten by a lion of ten thousand years ago, but I can buy glasses and and survive quite fine. So that's essentially the
an opposite trend here, you're talking about culture, immunizing us against the kind of natural, selective pressure that we assume our ancestor. Felt, which is, if you, if you don't have good eyes, you're, not gonna, make it now we've sort of relax the standard of a vision, because everyone is supported by a culture that provides glasses. Yes, I mean, I think, that's exactly right, so I didn't make a statement as to the direction it's quite possible, that the qualities that you and I might just be good or bad, or the objectively, good or bad in terms of fitness would be advantage by culture and other provocative example has to do with religion. So you know you- and I might, I think that the better, when I would agree A better way to organize society is not to ratify a religious beliefs or religious sects, which you know can lead to a lot of people and has led to a lot of people in the world, although I'm quite tolerant, just religion and quite sympathetic to
will experience myself frankly, but uh I can eat half of that cake. You just said yeah exactly exactly, but there's no question that religious people around the world are more fickle. So if it is the case that there are some genetic qualities which predispose one to two religious, at least there's no evidence whatsoever, no evidence that the content of your beliefs is guided by your revolution, so there's no gene for being Buddhist or christian sample. But there is likely to be a set of genes that relate to your religiosity, your propensity to believe in things unseen and if in fact, that's associated with having higher more reproduction, then thousand years from now we may find a world that's uh. It's quite Actually so so so the point is that these
cultural qualities of using another example in the book. A very recent example has to do with the so called scene nomads. I don't live in a in a part of the Pacific. You know your your new guinea, they are there in the Philippines. They are a group of people who took to the sea, and are forages on the sea and the world's champion divers. They can free dive with basically no equipped. And forage underwater for five hours a day, and these individuals have a mutation. It's been recently shown in their spleens mutation which allows them when diving to survive I have low oxygen situation, much longer bye We expressing oxygenated red blood cells from their sleeves so and these mutations are people. Of a certain ethnic descent who took to see and not in otherwise similar people who stayed on land, so here again, we have a cultural.
And you know the invention of a whole set of seafaring technologies, your boats and spears, and a lifestyle and least about living under living on the ocean, and then but those among those people who are better able to survive, have more children and this these mutations expand and make it possible for them. So once again, we have an example of culture, reshaping our Jeanette. Trajectory? And so this is. This is another. It's just like closing out that part of your question, like the relationship between culture and our biology, is very deep and occurs in many kind of phenomenal, logical and practical ways, as we've been discussing. Or you spawn the thinness of culture as good NEWS, because we we share this underlying biological inheritance with everyone and
culture can only do range so much, but I feel that many people will look at that topology differently and draw the opposite lesson that attributing much about us to biology is a grimmer sorry because they view that as a kind of deterministic Picture a reductionist one, initial list one I somehow, paradoxically dehumanizing one to ascribe much about us to biology. How do you think about that? Well, I would I would I would I would say I am understanding of and sympathetic some of those philosophical debates and cheeks. You know regarding determinism in essentialism. You know the argument being, for example, that that it's a kind of dehumanizing the centralizing barks let's just say: actually we humans, you know, have no free, will no inventive capacity, we're just you know by a
organisms. You know what makes us different than than jelly fish, and so I I I understand why people might react that way, and I understand the philosophical critique, but I would respond in part by saying: are you suggesting that there is something that is not wonderful about the capacity for love or the capacity for friendship? Are you suggesting that that you think there's something wrong with the claim that this is seen universally these and and that the reason for this is in fact not cultural? The reason they're seen universally is that because natural selection as she is quality, so I don't know I don't. I don't see these claims about the universality of these traits and in fact, what might be a more provocative claim that these universal traits are also good traits. Let's not forget that might have been bad
right personally bad things to say, you know we're all prone to violence everywhere around the world, which is also true. I mean one point that we would have to make here. Is that the fact that they are inherited the fact that their natural does not tell us whether they're, good or bad? We have to evaluate that by some other standard, because you, obviously there is a long way. Traits which we are desperate to outgrow it dear tribal violence being one of them and those are just as inherited. And rental used. The I might good in her favor against about favorite example of this is his maternal mortality. Right I mean women die, delivering children, there's, nothing more natural natural, that's quite natural but we don't think it's good at all. It's not good. It's awful and we are quite
used to be able to apply modern technology and hygiene to reduce the burden of maternal mortality? So young, I'm I'm not proposing kinda naturalistic fallacy, but I do agree with some arguments to fill up. A foot has made more more philosopher when a when, when trying to see you know, is there a kind of bile? Is there a kind of non philosophical? It's not quite the right word, but is there a kind of foundation for moral philosophy that we can find? That's not simply a question of voting after the Holocaust. This became the special problem, moral philosophy. I could you look at these images after the six. World war, and think that you know that there is something fundamentally good about human beings and and also how could you not? You know how to do things that were good.
One group might be seen as evil to another. They kind of descended into a kind of moral relativism that feeling was there had to be an escape for this kind of moral relativism. What what would be a kind of possible foundation for a kind of moral universalism and and I would argue that actually, my biology provides a way out for that, because foot and and and other more philosophers have argued. There is a question of I'm all over the place or not. Because I want to come back and let me ask you start with her example. She's, a very famous saying, which is you know, I think she said in moral philosophy. It's quite useful. I have to look up her exact same, but I think she said in moral philosophy is quite useful to think about plants and she spoke about how, when you think about plants, you can say that this tree, this plant has good roots and you could make a claim about the goodness of the roots of the plant or you would say this is a good clock and this clock is good because it
this time correctly in the in the absence of a rather subtle and complex arguments, she makes is that you can judge the goodness of the thing by its fulfillment of its of its intention of its role. And by analogy I would say, we can judge the goodness of a society by asking. How is it good for us? How are these roots good for the plan? How are how are ways of social living good for us? To what extent do we adhere to our truest nature as it were, and here I think you the natural selection provides a way out, because it is good for us to love each other. It is good for us to be friend each other to cooperate with each other to teach each other and these things that we think of as as more principles can slip and slide, you know we can debate among. Only reach a kind of bedrock, which is why I would argue natural selection
And I would also say this is a bit of a tangent that any of the things that we consider virtues. Actually we just a little bit of thought you can see- are necessarily social so not interested in whether you love yourself or a kind to yourself or just yourself. We're interested in whether you are kind to others or love others or adjust to others, so the presence of others is required. Even for the very definition of these things we regard as virtues, so I would say that it is possible to ground a kind of moral philosophy all of more philosophy, not every principle, and I and I acknowledge that it is contentious and not easy. But I would say that there are many ways in which a more plus he could be could be, grounded actually an evolutionary biology. Here I say I come at that question a little differently it. Basically it conserves. I think
almost everything you want to say about the connection between biology and morality and certainly the human behaviors that safeguard it, you know cooperation, probably being the chief one, but I I mean I think you know fill the foot to it. Example is easily overturned if you say well, you know the virtue of a of a holocaust or the verge of a final solution is in how efficiently it liquidate its. The targeted group is kind of a semantic game. You can play with anything and any of these things we would recognize as morally apart a better example would be a shark right. What is a good shot? Okay, Sarkis rip it sprayed a bit right. Yeah, the the the best shark is a shark to keep you out of the ocean for the rest of your life yeah. Yes, so I mean I, I think, there's no way to get out of a certain sum, now. You hear that is the noun I put in as a placeholder for ethical bedrock. Here is well
being the well being of not just humans of conscious creatures. Ultimately in my world view consciousness is the true carrier of value. So if, if you're talking about you, know creatures that can't suffer and can't experience any diminution of their happiness, those are creatures whatever else they are, that have no interests and and it's not really. You can't harm them, because you can't change their experience, because I have no experience right so so, once we smuggle consciousness into the clockwork. However, that happens then we're talking about the possibilities of frame and happiness in this universe and given what we are given, what we're evolved to be. We standing on now on some place on what I would call the moral landscape and We have our. We have just a few tools to work with Have everything we've inherited
definitely an emotionally to talk about the Stork biology, an culturale which obviously interacts with the biology, and we saw an we have these capacities as social My mates and we have all of the institutions and memes and and ideas, we trade in and these have very direct effects on us again, cognitively emotionally, therefore, at the level of the brain and we or continually doing things, building, culture, fighting wars and the quest, to what end and but the end is, will be good or bad, depending on the prospects of experience in this universe that we explore. I mean there's no question. We could create a living hell on earth that would last one thousand years, and that would be bad by virtue of how bad it is to be in that hell and we could create some kind of utopia which, where we can all dimly envision at this point,
where the kinds of barbarism and needless misery that our ancestors routinely experience would become unthinkable, and that would be good because of all of the creativity and beauty and love and positive sociality that we would experience in the absence of those things, and so it again you're still talking about at least in my view well being in his capacious Ann is elastic, definition as you want the frontiers of well being and exploring them as social beans. To talk, human case. Well, I mean I would share many of those beliefs with you, as I think you know, I mean I don't think
not a moral relativist at all. I do think you can, in fact, if anything, I'm arguing constantly you that it's possible to have some kind. Of course absolute. You know, I don't think it's I mean they do not talk about this before. So I quite agree with that clean. I I do like the consciousness idea. You know, I I think, even in our lifetimes increasingly we come to appreciate the consciousness of other animals MIKE. No doubt the elephants are conscious, for example, your many people increasingly think octopuses are conscious, which is just astonishing if you begin to think about this invertebrate with whom are Lazcano ancestor was more than five hundred million years ago in dependently evolving this capacity, so you know so I do think you could develop morality built on that type of a foundation, but the problem would be. You would always have edge edge cases there to right, like
you know more and more. You know how do we define consciousness which animals are conscious? Oh, my goodness, now you know these animals that we didn't like that we used to eat octopuses 'cause. We thought they were like crabs, but my goodness they're, not crabs or, oh, my goodness, isn't. Crabs have conscious, so. Where does it stop? So so I mean I I agree with with much of what what you said, and I and you know this is also that the call you know the endless tension between the kind of utilitarian verses, the the logic posture with respect morality unite. I think in some ways those are two different tools to approach may be different, more questions in different places and different times yeah. Well, I just think one reduces to the other. When push comes to shove, I mean so they just remind people of their basic Metaethics D. Ontology is a rule based morality. You know it's always wrong to lie, say whereas utilitarianism is or consequentialism is the analysis
of the consequences of lying in each case and to say that always wrong to lie to really believe that is to say that human well being will be something like summized. If everyone follows that rule I mean there's, no no deontologist would say it's always wrong to lie while Admitting following that rule, creates an immense amount of human misery right, I mean so there's some calculation of its of its consequences, whether the consequences are being thought about in each case, Then I just hit the wall of your interest in Metaethics I wish I didn't have anything sound of the shovel hitting bedrock. I was thinking of a new book by Patricia Churchland called conscious, yeah,
but the origins of moral intuition and one of the things she argues about the ontology is- is that it very conveniently overlooks the fact that we are social animals and we or utilitarianism, I'm sorry is very convenient. Liver looks like, in fact I don't care about the height of the average happiness of the whole population. I only about the happiness of my friends and right but yeah, but proposal if utility maximization is really inconsistent with the way we have evolved well, that's fine! I will we can grant all that, but just let let's just say, let's say: that's our default mode right! That's the status quo. We out as much as we extend the circle of our moral concern. We don't do it perfectly a end. Yeah, but the problem is she she would say in order to even take utilitarianism seriously. It has a serious problem because you have to find the population over which you are maximizing the utility and this
non overlapping population for different people. So I will have the following fifty people matter to me, and I would at least slaughter millions to make these fifty people happy and you have a different fifty people or even a different perspective on those millions. You know so so, yeah, it's just so that boundary is typically not even it's like treated axiomatically by the utilitarians right, they say. Imagine a population and we're going to define the utility as being the highest average happiness across this population, but every person in that population has a different vision of what the population should be well yeah, but then we all benefit from recognizing that cooperation with a group in larger than one's immediate kin or or and family is necessary in our world so. How does that happen right? So then, then, intuitions of fairness and Justice- inevitably come online, but we
grant the fact that it's hard to care about distant strangers who are suffering and it's very easy to care about your own child suffering right We discount the well being of others massively in accordance to some variable. You know the physics, even just physical distances if I can write you tell me about a problem, I mean we're talking bout grief earlier. We said you know, you feel intense grief when someone you love dies But- and you know, but you don't feel grief at all when a stranger die So, but if I told you, if I told you, we created a social network that was exactly like Facebook, an it has all of the charm and contemptible properties of Facebook. But in this social network, would have a slightly different effect rather and maximize ad revenue, it would send billions of dollars a year to increase the well being of the poorest and most disease ridden people on earth right so and at apps.
A no cost to you, the user right, zero effect, your experience to be exactly the same. You know as if by that you know let's, let's forget about the economic details here- is just done by magic right. Where can we stand to say that it would be better or good, morally speaking, to switch to that network right, It's obvious that it would be good right and you don't you Patricia. Churchland doesn't have to care about anyone for that. To be obvious, and still only care about her kids, but we can stand in a place and say you're actually wrong like if you don't switch from Facebook to this new network. You know a at no cost again no cost to you. It's perverse to have a preference for Facebook. Yes, right yeah, I mean another. Yes, I take your point and I agree with it. I think that's a good counterexample or another one might be a hypothetical in which you imagine this. This question, I'm sure you've thought about this. I actually have not thought about it, a lot, so I'm sure you thought about it more than me
but this question of what do dude. What duty do we owe our distant descendants? Yeah? Why don't we destroyed? problem. Why don't all those people alive today just consume every resource and leave nothing? Ok, we're concerned about our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, but you know: do you really care or know about your great great great great great great? children. So why don't we just spoil the environment? Well, all else being equal. I think quite a good argument as to why we should do that. Listen. I did a mile of lactose tolerance. I can eat the last ice cream in the freezer. Even with my children in the house, I pretend to care about. Well, I'm it's it's pretty dark picture selfishness over here, yeah yeah. I suppose we could interview about this. I mean we could you know we are one of the.
I do I do in the book is selling on the topic of how we get along. As I am, is I look at a natural experiments in social order, so I look at things like shipwrecks or commune, yeah and and and part of the reason I do. That is because, if you, if you were, if you were really trying to approach from scientifically so like, let's say it's the case- that as I've been arguing that is and as we've been discussing, that there's a kind of way in which is a natural and good society that natural selection has shaped just to make with these qualities we've been discussing with love and friendship and so forth. How can we really test that idea? Well in a fantasy world, at least in a fantasy of a deranged scientist, what you would like to do is take a group of children. You know like you're talking about your kids
yes cream and an abandoned them on an island when they were babies and let them grow up. You know, with food or whatever and ascetical example, and see what kind of society they made and what kind of social order did they did they form did they love each other and cooperate and teach each other and so forth? And now, obviously we can't do that. It's unethical and cruel, but it hasn't, incidentally, certain, very powerful monarchs you know from attending this, so so I wrote her run. It just talks about an egyptian Pharaoh that was very interested in what kind of language we speak. Naturally, if we were not taught- and so this this, this ferro took two children and gave them to amuse Shepherd up in the mountains to raise just see what kind of language these children and speak. You want to see this kind of scientific interest, which was what, Was this ancient language and there's been some kings, Indiana and emperors? You know in the last one thousand years that have attempted similar kinds of topics. For example, there was one thing I forgot
name, that wondered what was the language of Adam and Eve, and so he thought I'll do the same so this has been called the forbidden experiment. So experiment. I would like to do is in fact a forbidden experiment. You know to try to see what kind of social order would humans make if subjected to this, so we can't do that but there are certain potential proxies the book I review these proxies. So I talk about unintentional communities, intentional communities and artificial communities or experimental ones, so the unintentional ones are things like shipwrecks and I review all the shipwrecks or about twenty thousand shipwrecks between one thousand five hundred and one thousand nine hundred, and I find a set of twenty of them. That involved a nineteen people who were stranded on a distant shore for two months or more and the question is how did these stranded people organize themselves socially, and what can we learn about a good social order from these?
experiments here. Those are fascinating both in go wrong and how they go right, yeah yeah There's lots that can be learned actually from those, and actually this also speaks to things like our colonization of space. We can learn from these examples. What would be the optimal arrangement of a crew or first martian colony, for example. I would argue that any kind of social order that we would try to engineer must respect the social sweet must respect these kind of qualities that were discussing you I mean, I also look at them. You have the bounty and Karen Island. I look at I the polynesian expansion, where you know this because of their cultural innovation, the ancestral Polynesians settled the Pacific, which is just an astonishing feat. I mean these people would build, build canoes and Na'Vi asian techniques that allow them to navigate thousands of miles over the open ocean and fill the Pacific.
So those are a whole bunch of examples that are very instructive and then then I look at examples like communes, you know from the 1970s or kibbutzes or or nineteen century communitarian movement in the United States like Brook Farm or the shakers, and these are intentional communities, are or scientists that, for example, that go to a scientific outpost, and Arctica how to thirty scientists that are stranded in there and Arctica for ten months. How do they get along and what's optimal order for them and These are a little bit different because it's not quite the ideal experiment, because you know these are groups of people who self assemble and decide to go out This incident is also interesting because at least since roman times, probably forever they've always been people who said you know society sucks, let's just set out and make new and invariably there unable to do so, which is also very telling. So those are an instructive set of K.
And then, finally, I also look at cases which we've done in my laboratory. We we have in that. The kind of software that allows us to create temporary artificial societies of real people. 10S of thousands of people have participated in these experiments, they come and they spend a one or two first in our online lab and we in a god like way, experimentally, manipulate their social arrangements and test ideas about what kinds of arrangements are optimal or we can look at online games, for example, for world of Warcraft or you know various other kinds of massive multiplayer online games. And you can see how they're organized and the bottom line is across. All of these examples of And again you find that the variety of social order that human beings manifest is actually very constrained. Yeah so
You can imagine a universe of possibilities there are species could do we don't do it. We make a tiny little kind of they look different. You think, oh, my goodness, the societies, this societies, Pulley Andresen, this societies, polygynous and this society is, is pastoral and this society is forager, but those differences are tiny. We're occupying a tiny part of this vast space of possible societies, if possible right and again. This has to do with our natural selections, but argue not to drag you recklessly on two controversial ground, but really to do just that. One one of the the punch line. To be of your analysis of elective communities like caboose. Is that gender roles are not as fungible as many people expect. Oh, let me around raising kids yeah. What do you want to say about that? That can be tweeted to your disadvantage until the end of time,
I would say that you know this argument that the gender role I mean, there's no doubt a huge role of culture and specifying a gender roles, but you know I think you just have to go. Look at other animals that you know where there is no history culture, and they have very similar gender roles. You know so male and female elephants in male and female dolphins and male and female chimpanzees. They manifest a set of traits very often, which are very similar to the traits that male and female humans do, and you know we obviously can try and send some of that we've been discussing free will today and the role of culture, and there are ways in which we can consciously push against some of these things, but there are limits so, for example, we either one russian or one possible exception. There's no society on earth that manages to suppress the love, people feel for their partners, even in arranged marriages. Even in societies with arranged marriages while
love before marriage is seen as risky and a poor foundation for organizing society, love after marriage is seen as a very much desired and sought after outcome so in societies where brides and grooms have never met each other before the wedding they want to be in love afterwards. Everyone else wants him to be in love afterwards, and the news most always Arnold afterwards, and in fact, the the affection we see for our partners in arranged marriages. It's been shown to be no different than that on this. Various measures, then in love matches so The signs are unable to suppress distance and societies. Are unable to completely suppress a certain set of biological manifestations of sex and but this many many all encompassing societies in whether they're talent or or communitarian movements like the kibbutz's,
The problem because they want to equalize or communist societies, are saying they want to. If face a gender, so you get to men and women starting to dress. Similarly, you have the problem of child care, so you have in the kibbutz is famously the children would be raised communally and, and this broke down they. They could not sustain this, despite a great desire that the the the families and the women in particular. In fact, they spoke of this as the women Rubarth rebelled against this, and this has been well documented and they spoke about this as the natural needs of motherhood. You know they just missed their children. They couldn't bear to be without their children again because of the attack. We feel for our offspring, so so those did not survive. There's to my knowledge, there's no society, it's been attempted many times, but there's no society that has been able to sustain a communal raising of children. There's some sex in the United States. That did it for one or two generate
but but not more right, and I talk a little bit about that. One of my graduate students grew up in a in a in a commune like that, and I have a long footnote about his ex actually, in in the engine. The generals, I would say there are there- are limits to to, and I and I don't and I and I yeah so so again. To put, did I say anything, that's going to get me too much trouble, I'm not sure yet, but I'm going to give you another chance here. You're you're actually gonna have to pull the brakes audibly so that okay, so that we we I mean the stylus is we had earlier. We were talking about ology, so I'm okay, but it take take something like Khan James, the memo and his subsequent firing from Google right. So to most, I he wrote a fairly honest and unobjectionable summary of the relevant social sign, yeah modulo, anything he
I have gotten wrong, but is that this was not a a malicious and sexist diatribe. This was a in a knowledge meant that we shouldn't expect to see perfect, fifty thousand fifty representation of men and women in every cultural circumstance, because there are- this is between men and women. In these differences are not primarily a matter of ability, although those may certainly exist, and it's utterly taboo to even speculate that they might as Lawrence Summers found out, but it could just be a difference in interest right, and so, if you have more, if you have more women scientists interested in ology. That seems to be the case. I think what I think women biologists outnumber men at this point. There will very likely be it deficit of women physicists, if that's the very interesting deck gets shuffled. Zero
is what is one on firm ground in at the level of social science, saying those things I read his memo when it came out, but it's been over a year since I read it and I might have a different attitude towards it today, but I, didn't think there was anything scientifically meaningfully incorrect in what he wrote. I thought he describing you know well replicated findings now there may be, as you said, moduli. I can't vouch for everything in the memo at this particular moment. I don't have it in front of me. I don't remember every detail, but I do remember reading it and thinking that much of the stuff he said was pretty conventional. There's another computer science, professor in the Pacific, Northwest cool subsequently made similar arguments and drew similar fire. So, on the one hand, I think there are a variety of gender differences which are inherent in which are in eight they how they manifest themselves in Maderna T is an interesting question in a world in which we do have the computer,
I think this is a field, but it's also the case that there are cultural factors and I think we can honestly. I don't think we need to set up a false dichotomy between these things. So, for example, one of my favorite examples about this is not the example. You brought up biology or I think the best example of psychology, but it's astrophysics astrophysics, I think, has five thousand and fifty most men in red and it's fascinating to me. You know. Why is that and there's a there's, a set of arguments yeah it's very hard to be a pastor physicist. I wish I could be an astrophysicist. I was not,
you're born with a brain. I don't think that makes me capable of being an astrophysicist, but it's about five thousand and fifty, and I think the argument is in essence that it was a founder effect that is, you know, sort of pass specificity early on in the history of astrophysics. Some women were able to get a foothold and this creating a slightly different environment in which you know subsequent generations of women prize, and I think this is a great thing. I think any feels and I'm sure everyone every sensible person would agree. I can't imagine anyone, I suppose there would be some very conservative, or you know, I suppose, maybe in certain parts of the islamic world, for example, or Orthodox Judaism, there would be like a strong commitment to the exclusion of women from certain fields, but I think most sensible people would say that it's better for the society of opportunities are available to everybody.
And so it's worse for us if there are brilliant female astrophysicist and we have a sexist policy that prevents them from becoming astrophysicists were all armed by that the women are arm. But the rest of us are harmed too because were denied the opportunity to have this really talented person practice her her her God, given talents or profession, so and the same applies across any social access. So I would be yeah, I'm I'm sure, every sensible person, I hope, would agree with this claim what's interesting, though about what about this topic, is that there's been a spate of literature about this? Let's just come out in the last few years Is that, ironically, we find greater levels of gender difference in occupational assortment. In more equal societies, so We find that in scandinavian countries, which nobody would choose to being sexist, so you go to Albania and you find five thousand, and fifty men and women are doctors and at the point of a gun, yeah right. Yes,
the point of a gun, but you create a wealthy society with freedom of choice and you find Unsurprisingly, as I'm as far as I can you find a a distribution that is superficially, maybe more sexist, but it's not it's people exercising their free choice in I'm actually would like to have a society organized in that way. We have to acknowledge that we're having this conversation- that the fact that this is that we feel we're walking on egg shells at all. Here is symptomatic of larger cultural moment, which is we're in the midst of a kind of moral panic on the left that has made the frankness man of any of these points taboo yeah. The claim that there's a biology Gender is seen as, but it's just I mean it's just idiocy project. That honestly, I mean they're. Just the abundance of evidence is just so overwhelming. It's a kind of
you know it's it's it's. How can the left a clue accuse the right of being climate science denier is going to turn around the next moment and say: there's no biological evidence for gender thing else now. Well, I can only say that is the Father two girls. Anyone who would allege that I have coerced them to liking, princess dresses or any of the other affectations of the feminine. That Yes in every corner of my house right now, that would be a false charge because I have I have resisted and I think the color pink as much as as much as humanly possible yeah. I mean, I think you know here too. There are a couple of points. I'm sure you would endorse. Like you know, pink is a feminine color in our society, but let's say not in India, and so
it's arbitrary these definitions. But what is interesting- and you also wouldn't want a society in which a girl that was interested in you know not interested in paper dolls or whatever she should be allowed to express herself. I mean, I think everyone would endorse these principles every sensible personally, but but in fact this is actually also in my book when you look at the play of children, even in foragers societies, which which aren't don't have maternity, it's very gendered. You know you look at the gendering of play around the world in all and matriarchal societies. You know patriarchal societies, matrilineal, patrilineal after local. These are all important distinctions. Friends on you, look at subsistence patterns and everywhere you go. You find this kind of reproduction of gender preferences in toys. In style of play among young people, children and you know- and you find this in chimpanzees,
look at how chimpanzees play the male and the female chimpanzee? So so so really, I don't think we need to re litigate this as far as I'm concerned- and I also don't think you wanted some of the listeners are some. Some people will probably try to choose me or you of being sloppy with the distinction between sex and gender, and I quite understand that how that has been defined by certain groups, certain thinkers- and so I have been a bit sloppy in my interchangeably use of sex and gender, conversation, but I quite understand it: okay, Melissa's flavor, that's fine print to as as a ball, however, ineffectual again The misuse of this conversation, so it yeah I've now mindful of your time Nichols. But that is just a couple of other points I want to touch. I guess so back to culture for a second. The thing that concerns me is that you know as much as we have this reservoir of
sound trades to drawn biologically and as obvious as it is that we want to incentivize cooperation among seven billion strangers. There are aspects to culture that make that incredibly hard to do if not impossible, and we do have examples of cultures where almost everything that's good about us seems to be sub it is time I guess, I'm alarmed by the power of ideas to both block or subvert good ones and two, and to make things that you should be impossible, not only possible but unlikely to happen. I mean the you know. The ultimate case here for me is something like a suicide bombing right like with that. If anything should be impossible, it should be impossible to convince someone to do that right, especially to do that when
none of the conditions that people often imagine conspired to make someone do that are present right. So you talk about somebody, who's, not Mentali ill. Somebody who's, not poor who's in who has not been mistreated this is a person who has economic and social opportunities in abundance, but the bomber who are some of them, were, do educated and wealthy offspring of this very wealthy spice merchant. Exactly actually, what convinced is such person to do such, and so all I have to do is find one person who grew up happily who's not suffering a mood disorder, who's, good, working and social and seems to have everything going for him or in this case her and show you that they given the bean enamored of certain ideas, they're willing to Trap on a suicide vest not only blow themselves up but blow up other people.
Children and in this case, that the one you just referenced, not the only other people's children but their own children, which a happened with the female bomber there and their cultural, and it is and some of this can seem like an out liar phenomenon, but there are certain ideas that can sweep the globe and become dominant in the culture and we're, and you can see behavior that just again this was because back to where we stay, started, but it becomes d, individuating and mob like and seems so irrational on its face is given the real opportunities for cooperation and well being that are within reach for people. So I guess close this out, what what? What are the the idea, is or cultural products or divisions in our society that concerning you most at this moment,
well, I mean I mean. First of all, I would highlight that you know during the Holocaust, with a similar kind of mass delusion and everyone moving in lock step, and you know it's slaughtering your land and you know since time immemorial. We've had these things. I mean Genghis Khan. When he was sweet sweep across the steps you would, he would kill everybody in the cities. I don't even spare. Cities is quite interesting, but then they would create a mountain of schools. Like you know, one hundred thousand people would be put to death by the sword and all the women would be enslaved or killed. You know it just an astonishing level of violence that we are capable of. I mean every the millennium is replete with are, and they apparently, the evolutionary advantage of that is written in our cross. Yes, it doesn't seem like half asian manner, how it and eight- and it was an eighth yeah. I think I need to make the men are descended from getting struck on. I don't know the precise price
Shop somewhere Action Games Connor his brother because they had the accumulated basque terrorists, yeah thousands of women. So you know obviously every centuries replete with horse, and I don't- and I do not minimize that- and I also knowledge that these delusions and sweet or these vital behaviors to sweet the human mind. But the thing that interests me is: why do we have the capacity to share our these ideas in the first place and, generally speaking, the the ability to communicate information to each other and to adopt the beliefs of another person? Our indentations here goes back to the issue of social learning we were discussing earlier and in a way it's. This is the. This is the price we pay, the downside. You know if you wanted to insulate a young person from the beliefs that they should blow themselves and their families and innocent people lot.
One we could do, that is to quarantine right to like isolate them from any idea, but that's a special kind of hell to and and that's not how we live. We we connect to each other, and- and so you know, there are many ways in which these these fundamental qualities- that I argue are you haven't are you are from good can can can lead to accept. So, for example, I would say is to sex as social, media is to friendship as suicide bombing is to social learning. Right. These are all extreme expressions of otherwise desirable qualities that we have right, and you know it's- I I I'm I'm not too getting them or excusing them, I'm just partially explaining them and trying to provide an account for why the
They have come to to be also, I I would point out to the malicious listener you're, not equating social media and suicide bombing at the same level of moral infraction. I am not thank you for yes, no. Knowing your board is meeting media. Is it strange to be this defensive in front of one's audience, but cruel experience has taught me yes, so Nick I am, as I said mindful of your time, and I would just point out to our audience that this is a massive book you've written in the interest of which we have not at all exhausted. By this conversation, do you have anything else you want to say by way of pointing people
to your work. At this point I mean I would just say a couple things I would close with one is that I see the book as a work of what I call so see honesty, and this is a very deliberate cribbing of the the the problem of see eye to see that the allusions I have confronted, which is how do we justify believe in the existence of God, despite the manifest evils in the world? So might I see my book is a work of socionics the which is how we met? How do we justify the existence of society? Despite the evils we see in the world, despite, for example, the suicide bombing example that you just gave? How can we come to see us is fundamentally good and as social in a society a fundamentally good, it's the vindication of our
confidence in the virtue of society, despite its numerous failures so obvious to anyone- and I would argue this is not just idle optimism, in fact, I would even invoke something which I suspect you would agree with, which is a kind of japanese philosophy and aesthetic of Wabi Sabi or a kind of flawed beauty. So you know, western standards of beauty often involves symmetry and perfection, but there's a branch of japanese aesthetics that sees imperfect pots or imperfect, pottery or or crooked. Okay, a bonsai trees or any human one of us is looked at a cobblestone street and seeing the beauty in that that sensibility, called Wabi sabi of a flawed beauty is how I see society. I see society as as having a flawed beauty, that's magnified that's moving, that highlights our common humanity and a kind of universal set of principles that bind us all together
tonight I I would see one more thing, which is I would it, which is, if I might I'll just read the last couple paragraphs in the book which go back to the metaphor of the the hills and mountains. You know the three, the three hundred foot hill in the six and the nine hundred foot hill that are actually on the ten. Thousand foot- and I and I would say- and I say, there's another reason- to step off the plateau and look at the rather than the hills, because a key danger, reviewing historical forces as more salient than evolutionary ones in explaining human society is that our species storing then becomes more fragile, giving historical forces Primus, may even tempt us to give up and feel that a good social order is unnatural. But I
The good things we see around us are part of what makes us human in the first place, and I furthermore conclude with what I think is maybe a political point even which is. We should be humble in the face of temptations to engineer society in opposition to our students, but fortunately we do not need to exercise any such authority in order to. How good life- and I argue, arc of our evolutionary history is long, but it bends towards goodness nice, nice. Well, that's a great place to end it once again: Nicklaus Thank for coming on the podcast and, as I said, I recommend people get the book because we barely skimmed it. Thank you so much for having sound like really as usual enjoyed our car. If you find this podcast, viable. There are many ways you can support it you can review it on Itunes or Stitcher or wherever having to listen to it. You can share and
social media. With your friends, you can blog about it or discuss it on your own podcast or you can support it directly and you can do this by subscribing through my website and SAM Harris DOT Org and there you'll find subscriber only content, like my ask me anything up as a as well as the bonus questions from many of these interviews.
Transcript generated on 2019-11-08.