International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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MONDAY, JULY 6  /  15:30 - 17:00  /  DS-1545
Organized session / standard talks
Evolution of cooperation: New roles for social, cultural, and cognitive interactions

Marshall Abrams (University of Alabama at Birmingham, United States)

There has been a great deal of research on how cooperation and coordination evolves among humans. This research has focused primarily on relationships between individuals that have been simplified for the sake of modeling and experimentation. Our session focuses on extending theory, empirical methods, and modeling to deal with ways in which those real-world processes by which cooperative relationships evolve depend on subtle and complex interactions between cultural, social, and cognitive processes. Cases we'll discuss will include the evolution of the role of social identity in cooperation, the development of reciprocity among Arabian Bedouins, and the role of religious analogies in coordination of irrigation among Balinese rice farmers.

Bedouin hospitality: A case study in human altruism

Benjamin Reilly (Carnegie Mellon University, Qatar)

The phenomenon of human altruism has inspired an enormous body of literature, most of it in the form of qualitative research based on computer modeling and controlled experimentation. This paper augments that literature with a quantitative case study of what appears to be an extreme example of human altruism, the hospitality practices of Arabian Bedouins. Overall this paper demonstrates that, while Bedouin hospitality is explicable in large part by current theories of indirect reciprocity these theories cannot explain the origins of hospitality. On the other hand, the theory of direct reciprocity, which in the case of Bedouin altruism consists of food/shelter/protection for information, does offer an explanation for the origins of Bedouin hospitality, and also helps to explain changes in Bedouin hospitality as Arabs settled or became more hierarchical in social structure. More broadly, this paper makes the case that historical, ethnographic, and anthropological materials are necessary in order to fully understand of human altruism, in particular to test the various theories of altruism that have appeared in field of evolutionary biology.

The evolving relationship between social identity and cooperative group formation through human cultural history

Paul Smaldino (University of California, Davis, United States)

Although most research on the evolution of human cooperation has focused on overcoming the free rider problem, an equally important question is how the synergistic benefits of cooperation are generated. Here, I will draw attention to the evolving role of social identity in facilitating human cooperation. In contemporary industrialized societies, social identities serve a key function in cooperative group formation, enabling individuals with similar norms and complementary skills to assort. Importantly, we have not one social identity, but many, and how we express a social identity is highly dependent on context. However, the structure of the social environment has not stood still. In the small-scale societies of early Homo sapiens, most potential partners were known either directly or by reliable reputation, and the role of social identity was likely minimal. Since the rise of agriculture and hierarchical societies, social landscapes have grown increasingly varied as social organization placed new demands on individuals and offered new ways to identify oneself. Moreover, while increased diversity in skill sets and opportunities multiplied the set of possible cooperative interactions, increased population size and complexity meant that more and more initial interactions were with strangers. Due to the historical recency of these changes, the capacity for complex, variegated, and context-specific social identities is likely exapted from pre-existing psychological structures. I will present a coevolutionary model in which the complexity of individual social identities increases with the size and complexity of a population, corresponding to increased context-dependence of the psycho-social requisites for successful collaboration.

Modeling complex cultural interactions in cooperation: The coevolution of sustainable rice farming and religious practices in Bali

Marshall Abrams (University of Alabama at Birmingham, United States)

Using a computer model of success-biased cultural transmission of planting schedules in a network of Balinese farmers' "water temples", Lansing and Kremer (1993) showed how cooperative coordination for sustainable rice farming can evolve from local decisions: Niche construction and feedback involving water, crops, and pests led to local pockets of similarity and difference between planting schedules. Lansing (2006) later described psychological and cultural influences that routinely disrupt such coordination, along with religious practices that tend to suppress this sort of disruption. These religious practices bear both similarities and differences to those in other areas of Balinese society, yet seem to be tailored to the rice farming system. Why? How did this localized cultural harmony come about? I propose that religious practices in rice-growing regions in Bali also spread through success-biased cultural transmission: Religious practices that tended to suppress disruption of planting coordination spread because those who engaged in them were more successful at growing rice. I also suggest that analogies between religious practices and social factors in rice farming helped make the religious practices effective. To motivate these claims, I first extend a version of Lansing and Kremer's model by adding disruption of planting coordination, also adding a second channel of cultural transmission using a simplistic representation of religious practices. In a second modeling stage, I replace the simple religious representations with sets of propositionally structured beliefs, and incorporate a model of the role of analogies in cognitive processes. In this second stage, some sets of religious beliefs are made "plausible"- more likely to be believed -if they form analogies with existing beliefs about practices connected to rice growing. I argue that my models illustrate common patterns of interaction between real-world cultural variants, and illustrate processes by which cultural variants often come to exhibit subtle relations of harmony with each other.