View Full Version : Real Deal: Nesse on Commitment, half price

James Brody
May 14th, 2006, 06:15 PM

He doesn't include network models but what the H....


Randolph M. Nesse (editor)
Publication Date: Nov-01

Table of Contents Authors Chapter 1

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0-87154-622-1 Hardcover 400 Normally: $42.50
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<P> Commitment is at the core of social life. The social fabric is woven from promises and threats that are not always immediately advantageous to the parties involved. Many commitments, such as signing a contract, are fairly straightforward deals, in which both parties agree to give up certain options. Other commitments, such as the promise of life-long love or a threat of murder, are based on more intangible factors such as human emotions. In <i>Evolution and the Capacity for Commitment</i>, distinguished researchers from the fields of economics, psychology, ethology, anthropology, philosophy, medicine, and law offer a rich variety of perspectives on the nature of commitment and question whether the capacity for making, assessing, and keeping commitments has been shaped by natural selection. <p> Game theorists have shown that players who use commitment strategies -- by learning to convey subjective offers and to gauge commitments others are willing to make -- achieve greater success than those who rationally calculate every move for immediate reward. <i>Evolution and the Capacity for Commitment</i> includes contributions from some of the pioneering students of commitment. Their elegant analyses highlight the critical role of reputation-building, and show the importance of investigating how people can believe that others would carry out promises or threats that go against their own self-interest. Other contributors provide real-world examples of commitment across cultures and suggest the evolutionary origins of the capacity for commitment. <p> Perhaps nowhere is the importance of commitment and reputation more evident than in the institutions of law, medicine, and religion. Essays by professionals in each field explore why many practitioners remain largely ethical in spite of manifest opportunities for client exploitation. Finally, <i>Evolution and the Capacity for Commitment</i> turns to leading animal behavior experts to explore whether non-humans also use commitment strategies, most notably through the transmission of threats or signs of non-aggression. Such examples illustrate how such tendencies in humans may have evolved. <p> Viewed as an adaptive evolutionary strategy, commitment offers enormous potential for explaining complex and irrational emotional behaviors within a biological framework. <i>Evolution and the Capacity for Commitment</i> presents compelling evidence for this view, and offers a potential bridge across the current rift between biology and the social sciences. <p><b>Randolph Nesse</b> is professor of psychiatry and professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.<p>

July 8th, 2006, 01:09 AM
I've got this but I have yet to read it.

I think a concern with evolutionary explanations is that you can tell a 'just so story'. First you take your explanandum as an adaptation. That doesn't always work out however. For example... It is surely beneficial to know stuff about farming but that doesn't mean that because it is advantageous it has become a genetic adaptation so that people are born with an innate understanding of farming. The second step is to theorise about why the adaptation has been selected for (on the assumption that the adaptation has been selected for because it is advantageous). Theorists then start to tell 'just so' stories.

Trouble is...

He who tells the most interesting story seems to win...

There is some interesting data re the evolution of human cognitive capacity. While people thought that it was about outsmarting other people there is some stuff being done on how cooperative hunting gathering might actually have been the drive for the evolution of sophisticated cognition rather than competition...

James Brody
July 8th, 2006, 05:42 PM
I glanced through and put it aside: perhaps a good summary of where we were several years ago. And I will see Nesse in Detroit in a few weeks. I know where he was but want to know where he is....

As for stories: A clever Martian anthropologist might "discover" the generality of power laws and emergent nets from study of human brains but he probably would already have known about them.

Oddly, your remark about "stories" brings me back to the arts phenomenon: we are probably drawn most strongly to works that duplicate our level and quality of organization. (The whole idea has become something of an obsession that grows on its own!) The same might be true for our stories. An engineering student remarked nearly 10 years ago that he was going to switch majors because "this evolution stuff was so easy for him." It's easy for most of us if our stories center on the things that we like to do: sex, babies, wars, hunting, etc.

As for "the" push for human cognition: I think that the advantages that appeared in one context also had application in others. I generally view evolution as a change occurring in an organism and that organism then discovers where and how to use his new toy.


July 9th, 2006, 08:33 AM
So instead of different mechanisms being selected for fairly specific functions you think that a more general purpose capacity was selected for?

I guess there is some interesting debate between those who like to think of the mind as fairly modular with different mechanisms having been selected for specific tasks, and those who think that cognition is more general purpose than that.

I mean... A module that was initially selected for one task could of course acquire a new function (like colour vision might have helped us tell the ripe berries and now it helps us decorate our homes). I guess it is tricky to figure out which parts of the mind are modular and which are more general purpose... Not sure what to say...

Ekman's affect programs seem to be fairly modular (informationally encapsulated triggering typically unconscious affect program responses) while the higher cognitive emotions don't seem to be...

It is kinda interesting how the more cognitively sophisticated emotions might have developed out of the fairly basic affect program responses...

Someone suggested I read LeDoux a while back... I've been reading LeDoux and Damasio... Kinda interesting for the neurological detail. Some people quip that instead of calling it 'the emotional brain' he should have called it 'the frightened brain' however, and it is unclear how much his findings on rats can generalise back to humans responses.... Jesse Prinz has done some work on reviving the James-Lange / Damasio / Le Doux emotions as feelings of bodily changes line in philosophy. Also seems that emotions represent the world as being a certain way, however, and thus the proper function of emotions seems to be to represent the world as being a certain way by registering changes in bodily states. In this way you can take some of the insights from the cognitive theorists (that emotions are rationally evaluable) and hook them on to states that register bodily state changes.

I've become interested in represetnational theories of consciousness too... The notion is that the felt qualitly (phenomenology) of emotions represents the world as being a certain way. If I have the feeling of a throbbing pain in my left toe then the phenomenology similarly seems to represent that there is some kind of nerve irritation / damage in my left toe. If my left leg has been amputated then seems my experience represetns falsely (in that I don't have a left toe for there to be pain in it) yet my experience continues to represent pain in my left toe. I also continue to be in pain. With emotional experience... The phenomenology of fear seems to represent the world / some aspect of the world as posing a threat. Whether there actually is a threat or not the phenomenology still seems to represent the world such that there is a threat. The experience can continue even if we learn that there is no threat.

The phenomenology of pains also seems to be essentially motivational. There is an aspect of the phenomenology that provides an urge or a motivation to act. Morphene is thought to leave the sensory aspect so that people report they are in pain but it deals to the aversive or motivational aspect in the sense that people report that they are not bothered by it and don't particularly care about alleviating it. Emotions also seem to have a motivational aspect... Some theorists consider that the motivational aspect is representing the pain / emotion as 'bad'. But seems to me that it is possible to represent something as bad without having an urge to alleviate it / get away from it. Hence... Perhaps phenomenology isn't solely representational (the exhaustion thesis is false) perhaps phenomenology has a motivational aspect as well...


(And I forget what this has to do with evolution)