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 Coöperation

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 coöperation).

So what we have are chimps who coöperate but aren’t very tol­er­ant, and bonobos who are very tol­er­ant but don’t really coöperate 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 coöperate 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