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Evolutionary Psychology

Tracing the origins of our behaviour...
by Praveen Baratam
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An interesting set of talks on the subject. I find it interesting that a lot of psychology programs do not require a base in Evolutionary Biology. Why is that? If we are studying the human brain and how it affects behavior, how can we do that without first knowing the basis of how the brain got developed to this point, and the reasons for the development?
Psychology fascinates me simply because it is the only way to truly understand human behavior. If you have an Evolutionary Psychologist who says that the reason for behavior A is Development B in the anatomical and chemical structuring of the brain, versus a normal Psychologist saying that Behavior A is because of past experience A, Who is right and why? How do experiences change the playing field when compared with anatomical development?
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Nicholas Bc Shumate, Evangelist - 3 years ago Edit
@Praveen- Aye "All that I know, Is that I know nothing at all" Socrates said it best, he certainly is the go to man for describing the human condition, which saddens me that in all that time we haven't changed much, more over it seems that we have solidified further into these characteristics of trusting things at face value. How do we re-educate without having our educators end up like Socrates?
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Praveen Baratam, Maven - 3 years ago Edit
@Nicholas - Thats a difficult problem indeed. Realigning the masses and their approach is a herculean task even to begin with. Capitalistic economies have forced people to think short term with an emphasis on rewards while the socialist / communist agendas have stalled progress and encouraged corruption. The best option is to re-engineer our education system to include philosophical thought process as part of our curriculum. How and when are still open questions and this change will not be easy!
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Nicholas Bc Shumate, Evangelist - 3 years ago Edit
@Praveen- Indeed, but nothing worth doing ever is easy! Perhaps if there were a course that studied the history of global religions, the facts, such as beliefs, history, etc, and then people armed with the proper knowledge would decide for themselves, wouldn't that be grand?
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Praveen Baratam, Maven - 3 years ago Edit
@Nicholas - Thats exactly what I am talking about! Education and the institutions attached to this activity have to be as unbiased as possible and should think beyond preparing the young for a career. They are not just training tomorrow's workforce but nurturing future citizens. Sadly religion is so deeply rooted that education is hardly out of its clutches. Eg. Some states are demanding Evolution out of curriculum! How can we uproot religious bias in a democracy of ill-informed citizens?
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Beauty, whether objective, subjective or relative, is all about Selection! What we like, whom we wanna mate with, what we wanna eat, where we wanna live, how we wanna project ourselves, etc. are all abstractly defined by this perception.

In a way beauty is an interesting amalgam of symmetry, consistency, variety and a slew of other contextual features that help us choose the best almost instinctively.

Symmetry symbolizes genetic health / structural strength. We hardly cherish asymmetric faces and objects. Consistency can also be seen to work in the same context. Inconsistent color for objects, skin tone, etc. infer a poor genetic / systemic health and viability.

On the other hand variety is an interesting facet of beauty and encourages diversity! We are drawn to faces that are slightly different from those of our herd/group and this behavior can be seen as an impetus to prevent inbreeding and encourage genetic diversity.

Finally, there are special features we associate with beauty in specific contexts. Women with large breasts (nursing capability), slender waist (unlikely to be pregnant), etc. and men with a muscular body (ability to defend and provide), sharp chin (testosterone levels and fertility), etc. are desirable for the above mentioned reasons and these affinities could have been acquired through natural selection.
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Birth of Venus - Alexandre Cabanel
 
 
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Nicholas Bc Shumate, Evangelist - 4 years ago Edit
@Praveen- What are your thoughts of those of our species that seem to be attracted to the same qualities as their mother in a mate? I find that a lot of my friends end up with women who have the same qualities that their mothers exhibit, (and they love to complain about their mothers), which would seem to me to be almost self sabotage, but perhaps thats just pure conjecture on my part.
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Praveen Baratam, Maven - 4 years ago Edit
@Nicholas - Our parents serve as role models for many of us and we always look up to them. We also learn a lot from them and imitate them in many situations. Going further we get our first impression and definition of the opposite sex from the respective parent. So I believe its natural for us to desire a spouse with the same mannerisms as the respective parent as that individual has loved and cared for us like no other in this world. Evolutionary angle? I cant think of any! @Cadell! thoughts?
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Nicholas Bc Shumate, Evangelist - 3 years ago Edit
@Praveen- Thats comforting as it suggests it would be far easier to overcome on a psychological standpoint than on a genetic one!
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Altruism, the much revered behavior we all idealize but often brush off as impractical seems to have originated from our distant nomadic history than from our recent civilized past! The fact that we emotionally crave for it emphasizes its evolutionary significance.

I believe this behavioral trait had a significant survival impact for our nomadic hunter-gatherer ancestors. We, humans, lived as hunter-gatherers for a good part of our existence (200,000 BP to 50,000 BP) and were predominantly egalitarian and altruistic. Why did our ancestors depart so abruptly from their reptilian past and adopt an altruistic stand?

The answer probably lies in the proto-economy of exchanging favors that flourished in that era and the fact that such economy required an individual to be altruistic / just to participate. Our ancestors could store little for their future needs and any excess (meat, hides or tools) was a burden to carry through their nomadic existence. The only viable option was to give them away as favors and redeem those favors when required. This abstract culture of exchanging favors should have conferred a significant survival advantage to those who adopted an altruistic stand and could have preemptively excluded opportunistic participants to sustain and flourish!

Finally, evolution of agriculture and trade could have eroded the value of Altruism as civilization moved forward!
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Nicholas Bc Shumate, Evangelist - 4 years ago Edit
so how would we rebuild our altruistic foundation? I find myself entranced by humanity in "Star Trek" because of the deep reliance on altruism, but they created a system of exchange of services rather than on currency. Might that be our problem?
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Praveen Baratam, Maven - 4 years ago Edit
True, everything changed for good since the invention of currency and it all started with the evolution of wealth and property, which roughly coincides with the beginning of Agriculture. Somehow I feel that Altruism makes sense only in the two extreme ends of civilization - its beginning when uncertainty reigned high and its pinnacle in the post-scarcity world. I am not sure if we'll ever reach the latter end as human wants are unlimited (economics).
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Nicholas Bc Shumate, Evangelist - 4 years ago Edit
@Praveen- Humans' wants are unlimited because economics takes advantage of the facade of perfection. By offering seemingly endless variety it creates an over load in our expectation vs reality "algorithms" that we apply to everything before and during the experience. It makes us think "there are so many choices, one must be perfect!", and that is the issue. Perhaps we should change how we do things to compensate, if we created a system that left the door open for altruistic acts to take contd...
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Nicholas Bc Shumate, Evangelist - 4 years ago Edit
...hold while still maintaining our technological finesse, we could experience a lift out of our stall in this century. I fear we have begun down the road of another Dark Age, and this to me is unacceptable because we cannot afford another six hundred years of stagnation, for it will surely kill off our race. I feel the key is changing how we do things, accepting the truth of matters, and reign in our creation of economics, for it prays on our own weaknesses.
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Why do we behave the way we behave? This question has set many minds racing for millennia and now in this age of scientific reasoning we are searching for answers to this age old question from a whole new perspective.

"If we are the product of evolution, so should be our behavior!" - is the basic premise behind this school of thought and in spite of wide criticism in its early days, its proponents have managed to credibly explain hitherto puzzling behavioral tendencies. They propose that most behavioral traits we share exist only because they gave us or our evolutionary ancestors an advantage over their peers to survive and breed successfully.

To start with, it is important to understand that this theory revolves around broad species level traits and should not be applied to explain individual level behavioral variations. Individual level behavior is not just a consequence of our genes but also depends on what we are exposed to as an individual during our lifetime. On the other hand some behavioral traits might not have any evolutionary significance. They could just be making a pass on us waiting for Natural Selection to prune them out.

Its interesting to note that even abstract concepts such as our perception of beauty can be explained with this theory.
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LOVE! LOVE! LOVE! Why do we fall in love? What's the purpose behind this emotion? Lets try and look at it from an evolutionary perspective. For this we might need to look at the mechanics and consequences of this emotion and how it fosters a survival / breeding advantage to those species who possess this emotion.

Love at the very basic level, extends the mating ritual beyond a one off engagement between the male and female and encourages them to stick around for prolonged periods if not for a lifetime. Now this behavior suddenly confers a higher survival advantage to the offsprings as they now have two adults protecting them and providing for their needs.

Before the evolution of this emotion and as seen in reptiles, males almost always leave after the mating exercise and females take care of the eggs and offsprings. In amphibians and lower animals even females leave after the mating exercise. The basic parenting instinct evolved in reptiles and love can be seen as an adjuvant emotion further extending and strengthening this activity of parenting albeit indirectly.

Further to that, females are highly vulnerable to predators and starvation while tending to their eggs / offsprings and the emotion of love encourages the male to protect the female as well as the offsprings there by increasing their chances of survival.
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Cadell Last, Evangelist - 4 years ago Edit
Im not sure how well we understand male/female differences in neurochemistry; more research is needed. & one-night stands aren't lewd socially or biologically. It depends on cultural perceptions of sex & perceived relationship to love/commitment.
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Praveen Baratam, Maven - 4 years ago Edit
It would also be interesting to trace whether promiscuity and Love conflict in a purely biological context subtracting all cultural influences on the same. This could resolve our contention!
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Nicholas Bc Shumate, Evangelist - 4 years ago Edit
I'm extremely interested in what happens in the brain in the first few minutes of someone meeting another person they are attracted to.
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Praveen Baratam, Maven - 4 years ago Edit
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