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Unread December 27th, 2008, 08:36 PM
ToddStark ToddStark is offline
Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 174
Post The Neuroscience of Fair Play, Donald Pfaff

A very well written book that mostly deals with proximal explanation in the form of neural mechanisms that might be able to explain the appearance of "Do Unto Others ..." across human cultures. Cites Hans Kummer, Frans de Waal, Joan Silk, and Marc Hauser on altruism in primates, Wilson on insects, and a bums rush tour of the computational cooperation games, just to give a taste of the universality of altruistic behaviors.

The forward is by E.O. Wilson and there is a brief early nod to multilevel selection, one to evolutionary games, and a very quick wink to Chomsky and his intellectual heirs for a possible wired grammar of ethics. Not much, just enough of that kind of background to demonstrate plausibility for the evolution of the hypothesized neurological mechanisms in a way that would be compatible with natural selection.

Heavy on "shared fates" and "reciprocal altruism," which Pfaff says could evolve through (1) individual dependence on their group for survival, combined with (2) selective survival of groups that weed out or suppress defection.

The rationale for his choice of mechanisms is based on the relatively small number of circuits that could reliably perform the two tasks needed: (1) temporarily suppress self-interest, and (2) identify with the fate of others.

Pfaff says he meant this as a journal article but his colleagues insisted it would make a good book. I agree wholeheartedly with them. It covers the biology lightly but effectively and the neuroscience is very clear and readable without trivializing. He makes a very good case for the dual-action theory. The real meat is in Pfaff's treatment of the neuroscience rather than the evolution, but his efforts to make the biology plausible deserve mention.

kind regards,


Last edited by ToddStark; December 27th, 2008 at 08:38 PM. Reason: Fixed grammar errors
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altruism, fairness, group selection, multi-level selection, neuroscience

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