View Full Version : for Alexandra: Evol & Cognition

James Brody
July 8th, 2006, 08:53 PM
This material was "lifted" from Brody, JF, (2002) From Physics and Evolutionary Neuroscience to Psychotherapy: Phase Transitions and Adaptations, Diagnosis and Treatment. In G. Cory & R. Gardner (Eds.) The Evolutionary Neuroethology of Paul MacLean: Convergences & Frontiers, Praeger-Greenwood, pp. 231-259.

It's being modified (put into English!) for inclusion in "Rebels, Deviants, and Individualists"


"Satisfiability Problems, Human Decisions, and 'Maybe'

"'...humans...live in families where mothers simultaneously care for multiple young. Closer birth spacing...exacerbated dilemmas confronted by mothers who must then decide on how to allocate resources among dependent young with competing needs' (Hrdy, 1999, pp. 203-204).

"Phase transitions apply to solving problems of group living. Satisfiability (SAT) problems reveal some of them. Hayes (1997) provides the following example of a SAT problem:

'You are chief of protocol for the embassy ball. The crown prince instructs you either to invite Peru or to exclude Qatar. The queen asks you to invite either Qatar or Romania or both. The king, in a spiteful mood, wants to snub either Romania or Peru or both. Is there a guest list that will satisfy the whims of the entire royal family?'

Such problems vary in the number of actors (king, prince, queen) and the number of conditions imposed by each one. The number of actors is not usually a difficulty, the number of conditions is. Anderson (1999) explains, '...there is a critical value...below which almost all cases are (rapidly) satisfiable and above which they are almost all unsatisfiable (at whatever length investment is made).'

"We solve the former but immediately give up on the latter. The really difficult problems for computational scientists or for mothers of three children lie in the boundary between possible and impossible, the ones that will take both persistence and cleverness to unravel. We can't walk away from them but we won't solve them easily.

"This kind of dilemma may be older and more important than it first appears: (1) every one of us is different and expresses different interests, (2) alliances allow exchanges that reduce conflict between participants but may increase that within each one of them, and (3) the protocol example translates easily into hunter and gatherer variables such as resource availability and giving each member assignments that match his or her skills. (Not everybody gets to carry a spear!) Solutions become more critical when there are not only competing demands within a group but also competing groups in the same territory. These types of computations are plausible selective pressures for human thought.

"People whose executive functions allow them to manage these decisions should gain in social influence and become a parent to more children that survive to adulthood (Barkley 1997). (Chagnon, 1968, gives an excellent example in the contrasts he drew between the conduct of a Yanomamo chief and that of the more combative, more impulsive males in the village.) Satisfiability problems, thus, could be an important clue as to why a bigger neocortex might be a better neocortex."

Copyright, James Brody, 2006

July 9th, 2006, 08:13 AM
Hiya. I'm still feeling pretty new to this evolutionary biology stuff... Have been distracted by learning about representational theories of consciousness and the phenomenology of pains... Should be getting into evolutionary biology a bit more from now on.

Did those kinds of dilemmas mean that people developed the cognitive capacity to deal with them, or did our increased cognitive capacity allow us to solve those kinds of dilemmas? What I'm getting at is whether the driving force is competition or whether the driving force might be cooperation.

Some people have written about how we needed to increase our cooperation once we were forced out onto the savannahs to find more food resources. One hunter might be able to kill one rabbit but two hunters working together might be able to kill one deer. Cooking food is a wonderful thing (can eat tubers that you can't eat raw) but if you need someone to tend the fire then the hunters and gatherers had better share with him otherwise the fire tender would starve to death.

This could be wrong... I'm vaguely remembering something... Game theorietic models of prisoners dilemma type situations don't generalise well to explaining interpersonal relations of more than one person unless... You are looking at negotiations between groups. There is little evidence that early people were warring, however, they seemed to have enough of a hostile natural envioronment to be kept busy hunting and gathering and stuff. People probably posed more of a threat than the natural environment and thus the cost of warring would have been too high...

Some people talk about the development of a theory of mind module... You get cooperation with hunting and gathering and then you get tools... Then when the group size is bigger you get the capacity to have devoted specialists. To tend fires, make spears, or whatever. In order to acquire new skills like that you need to be able to mimic. That requires a theory of mind. You need to be able to understand that someone wants you to mimic. You need to understand that hard parts have been slowed down so they are easier for you to copy etc. One thought is that our higher cognitive capacity arose from a hostile environment (that was not informationally transparant in the sense that there is deception like mimicry and hiding etc). And we became cooperative to better deal with that. Cooperation requires cognitive capacity... You need to be able to detect things such as what other people are likely to do. Whether someone is likely to flee in terror from the wildebeast you are trying to hunt etc.

Have you heard of Frank? He writes about how some emotions (sexual jealousy, guilt, shame etc) have evolved in order to solve the 'committment problem'. His theory of love has been severely criticised... But the notion that emotional response gives us predictive leverage over what people are likely to do next is an interesting thought...

Sorry I'm not too sure how to engage with your ideas... Different literature etc I guess...