Hierarchical representations in our human lives

riedman-elephantdominancesmallEvolving Thoughts has a series of articles up about hierarchical relations in society. For instance:

As Frans de Waal has explored in various books, especially his Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape (with Frans Lanting), bonobos have a mostly female hierarchy, but there is also a male hierarchy. It’s just that the male hierarchy is about being attractive to the females. Since mating is not controlled by either sex, fitness here is determined by how well the individual is accepted by the entire troop, unlike with gorillas or the common chimp, where male control is the norm.*

Humans are a complicated case, compared to their primate cousins. First of all, humans have moved out of the local troop (usually around 50 individuals) and regional band (usually around 500 individuals) model of other apes. We travel over vast distances in virtue of our bipedality, and hence we trade across distances even back when we were in what is called the Paleolithic period, around 300 thousand to 30 thousand years ago. Second, like bonobos, we are only marginally sexually dimorphic. Third, we are language users. This means that human social organisation, at least before the eventuation of agriculture, was quite a lot more complex than even a bonobo band. That’s for the next post.

* Not all chimp troops are male dominated. There is a case of a troop where the alpha male died but the subordinate males were too junior to take the alpha role, and a female became the alpha individual. This suggests that sex-based hierarchies may be a bit more plastic than we might otherwise think.

I’ve been learning a lot about social psychology lately so I think I’ll be posting a lot more on this subject.

Philosophical readings

The Guardian has a great (and ongoing) series of articles detailing philosophers’ ideas on faith and religion. They are on their fourth philosopher right now – Heidegger – and seem to be doing a great job of summarizing what each one thought. I have only gotten through two of them, but they’re probably all worth reading; the comments, maybe. Some are good, others ill-informed.

Another recent discovery is the Berkeley Webcasts. I had vaguely known about them before, but only just started listening to them. It’s a great way to spend your bike into work listening to lectures on, say, social psychology.