Tag Archives: evolution

An Evolutionary Hierarchy of Needs

Parts of Abraham Maslow‘s famous 1940s hierarchy of needs are outdated and thought of as quaint by the scientific community, according to a team who have revised the hierarchy to take into consideration scientific findings from the last 60+ years.

Maslow’s pyramid is used to represent the hierarchy of basic human motivations, from basic physical needs up to self-actualisation. Now, addressing many of the criticisms of the original, the updated hierarchy of needs (which isn’t really a hierarchy at all) places evolutionary motivations toward the top:

The revamp of Maslow’s pyramid reflects new findings and theory from fields like neuroscience, developmental psychology and evolutionary psychology […]

The research team […] restructured the famous pyramid after observing how psychological processes radically change in response to evolutionarily fundamental motives, such as self-protection, mating or status concerns.

The bottom four levels of the new pyramid are highly compatible with Maslow’s, but big changes are at the top. Perhaps the most controversial modification is that self-actualization no longer appears on the pyramid at all. At the top of the new pyramid are three evolutionarily critical motives that Maslow overlooked — mate acquisition, mate retention and parenting.

The researchers state in the article that while self-actualization is interesting and important, it isn’t an evolutionarily fundamental need. Instead, many of the activities that Maslow labeled as self-actualizing (artistic creativity, for example) reflect more biologically basic drives to gain status, which in turn serves the goal of attracting mates. […]

For humans reproduction is not just about sex and producing children. It’s also about raising those children to the age at which they can reproduce as well. Consequently, parenting sits atop the revamped pyramid.

There are other distinctions as well. For Maslow, once a need was met, it disappeared as the individual moved on to the next level. In the reworked pyramid, needs overlap one another and coexist, instead of completely replacing each other. For example, certain environmental cues can make them come back. If you are walking down the street thinking about love, art or the meaning of life, you will revert quickly to the self-protection level if you see an ominous-looking gang of young men headed your way.

via @sandygautam

Female Orgasm as Mate Screening

Whereas Robinson suggests the evolutionary underpinnings of orgasm lie in the ‘Yes!’ factor of gene continuation, in How Women Got Their Curves and Other Just-So Stories: Evolutionary Enigmas David Barash and Judith Lipton believe it could be, at least for the potentially multi-orgasmic female, an “anti-infanticide insurance policy” that spurred women to mate successively with multiple males, or, more likely in the authors’ opinions, an evolutionary mechanism for monogamy (link to chapter five from the aforementioned book, titled The Enigmatic Orgasm).

As Robin Hanson explains quite succinctly, female orgasm could be evolution’s way of allowing females to screen prospective mates—a method of enabling females to discover the most compatible and suitable males.

First suggested by David P. Barash nearly three decades ago, the idea is that orgasm might be a way a woman’s body speaks to her brain, “telling herself” that she has been having sex with a suitable partner—that is, one who is not worried about being displaced by a competitor, who is self-confident and unhurried enough to be satisfying to her. […]

Research on a large captive group of Japanese macaque monkeys is also suggestive. […] During 238 hours of observations in which 240 copulations were observed, female orgasmic responses occurred in 80 (33 percent). Of these orgasms, the highest frequency took place when high-ranking males were copulating with low-ranking females, and the lowest between low-ranking males and high-ranking females. […] Maybe, [female orgasm] is designed to be more than a little hard to get, adaptive precisely because it can’t be too readily summoned, so that when it arrives, it means something. […]

What about faking orgasm? […] Orgasmic pretense might increase the man’s confidence regarding paternity of any offspring, building on his likely assumption that a sexually satisfied woman wouldn’t have sought to mate with someone else. […] [This] would diminish the likelihood that the man will engage in “mate guarding,” thereby facilitating a woman’s ability to engage in extrapair copulations. […]

Rates of extrapair paternity are about 2 percent in many human populations and about 10 percent in traditional societies. … One study has found that women are significantly more orgasmic when paired with men who are more symmetric. […] [and] are more likely to experience ostensibly “high sperm retention orgasms” – that is, climaxes that occurred in close temporal proximity to the man’s.

What Makes Us Human: Tolerance and Cooperation

In the 1950s, Russian scientist Dmitri Belyaev ran a selective breeding project to, by artificial selection, breed (incredibly cute) domesticated silver foxes. The results of this multi-decade experiment were impressive, especially given that the foxes were selected solely for their amicability toward humans:

After only forty generations, the selected foxes began to display changes you (and Darwin, too) might think would take millions of years to evolve. As expected, they became incredibly friendly toward humans. Whenever they saw people, they barked, wagged their tails, sniffed the people, and licked their faces. But even stranger were the physical changes, which occurred at a higher frequency than in the control group. The ears of the selected foxes became floppy. Their tails turned curly. Their coats lost their camouflage and became spotty, with a star pattern appearing on the forehead. Their skulls became smaller. In short, they looked and behaved remarkably like their close relative the domestic dog.

The above quote comes from an article by Vanessa Woods and Brian Hare on Edge that looks at why our ancestors ‘came down from the trees’ and what separates us from other hominids, specifically chimpanzees (hint: it’s not the theory of mind, but tolerance and cooperation).

So what we have are chimps who cooperate but aren’t very tolerant, and bonobos who are very tolerant but don’t really cooperate in the wild. What probably happened six million years ago, when hominids split from the ancestor we share with chimpanzees and bonobos, is that we became very tolerant, and this allowed us to cooperate in entirely new ways. Without this heightened tolerance, we would not be the species we are today.

Richard Dawkins and Hugh Hewitt Interview

The former Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and founder of the Foundation for Reason and Science, Richard Dawkins, was recently invited to appear on The Hugh Hewitt Show where the two discussed religion, Rome, evolution and much more.

One particular exchange (the Okay, do you believe Jesus turned water into wine? incident) has been quoted widely, but what follows is my favourite exchange from the interview.

Richard Dawkins (RD): […]You can never be absolutely certain that anything doesn’t exist. But you can show that it’s unlikely. That’s a pretty good, not exactly a final conclusion, but it’s certainly worth saying.
Hugh Hewitt (HH): Isn’t the universe itself unlikely, though?
RD: Well, but it’s there, isn’t it? And we’re in it, so we can see what we see. We find ourselves in a universe. So however unlikely, it clearly did happen.
HH: And so that’s what [David Berlinski’s] argument is, is that you can’t say yes, we have to accept the universe as unlikely, but we can accept that God is unlikely, just because the one unlikely event is visible to us, and the other unlikely event isn’t.
RD: I think there is a difference there. I mean, for the universe to come into existence, physicists are working on understanding that. And the beginning of the universe, as physicists would now understand, it would be a supremely simple event. And admittedly, it’s still something that requires a lot of understanding. It’s a very difficult thing to understand. But for God to exist, a God capable of developing the laws of physics, a God capable of answering prayers and forgiving sins, and reading our thoughts, and all that kind of thing, that requires, that’s an immensely complicated entity. That’s the kind of entity which we now explain by evolution, that’s the kind of entity that comes into being as a result of a long, slow, gradual process, long after the beginning of the universe.
HH: But the universe is itself awfully complicated, Professor Dawkins. Where did it come from?
RD: Well, the universe is not awfully complicated at the beginning. It has become very complicated through such processes as evolution by natural selection.
HH: No, I’m talking about the whole cosmos. Where did that come from, 13 billion years ago?
RD: It came from the big bang, which is not a complex process. It’s a simple process.
HH: And what preceded the big bang?
RD: Well, physicists won’t answer that question. They will say that time itself began in the big bang, and so the question what preceded it is illegitimate.
HH: What do you think?
RD: I’m not enough of a physicist to understand what I’m saying, but I have to say that that’s what physicists say.
HH: So when you consider before the big bang, what does Richard Dawkins think was there?
RD: I don’t consider the question, because I recognize that it’s an intuitively appealing question. I recognize that I, along with everybody else, wants to ask that question. Then I talk to physicists who say you can no more ask what came before the big bang than you can ask what’s north of the North Pole.

via Pharyngula

Mysteries of Evolution and an Evolving Dawkins

It is time to move away from anti-religious sentiment/philosophy and instead appeal to the logic of those who refute the theory of evolution. This appears to be the premise of Richard Dawkins’ latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth, where he “traces the scientific investigation of biological change as if it were a crime-scene investigation – building up what he considers an ironclad case for evolution in action”.

That quote comes from a recent Cosmic Log article in which Alan Boyle looks at and recapitulates Dawkins’ evolving philosophy before presenting a wide-ranging (and often amusing) interview.

From that article, here are Richard Dawkins’ four favourite mysteries that still need to be solved:

  • The origin of life.
  • The origin of sex.
  • The origin of consciousness.
  • The rise of morality.

Thanks, Alex