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My Four-Layered Model of Human Nature

Robin Hanson is really on fire now with his analysis of farmer vs. forager psychology. Whether consciously or not, he's extending the farmer model given by Cochran and Harpending in The 10,000 Year Explosion. Cochran and Harpending's model is interesting in the way it points out the disappointing truth about humanity's self-domestication. To put it in crude terms, we've naturally selected ourselves into a bunch of conformist townie wussies.

My default model of Homo sapiens is four-layered -- our primate-mammalian background from 80 mya, the Homo sapiens EEA (environment of evolutionary adaptiveness) pan-species bedrock, post-African diaspora/farming/Neolithic Revolution selection pressures, and the modern world. Rich data is available to update the model at all four levels, but in my opinion #3, the farming revolution, is most neglected. I hazard to guess it's the most neglected because the particulars of it make distinctions between different groups of existing humans.

Another neglected area, as far as my reading goes, is the mystical/mythical side of the time period intermediate between the EEA and farming. The period of time when all our elaborate myths were invented, perhaps 10-20,000 years ago. The Golden Bough provides powerful evidence of the content of this entire area (hint: it involves burning lots of effigies), but what scholarly work exists on mythological origins prior to all trendy modern traditions? The Golden Bough was published 120 years ago. Anyone know more recent material?

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  1. I feel like Rene Girard can’t be missed.

  2. Joseph Campbell’s four-volume work The Masks of God still remains a classic of mythopoetic anthropology, even though it was written in the 1940s-50s. It’s a lot more up-to-date that Frazier’s Golden Bough, but still is nearly 50 years old and prominently features some theories that were popular at the time of writing but have since been roundly discredited. Nonetheless, Campbell has done some amazing work that has stood the test of time quite easily.

  3. “I hazard to guess it’s the most neglected because the particulars of it make distinctions between different groups of existing humans.”

    Hey, are you a racist or something?

  4. As far as I’m concerned there are no physiological distinctions between groups of people, the so called “races”. Once there may have been – the races that went extinct – but today, no. The fact that all humans can breed with any other human attests to this fact.

    Statisticians – whose work is routinely marshaled to support such claims – manage to find non-existent distinctions in data. That’s their job, to find strong patterns even if they’re almost imperceptible in real life. Much of their work consist of making the data fit the dominant prejudices of the time, usually those of the dominant culture. History is replete with this kind of intellectual dishonesty, the latest being the climate thing. Can’t trust the math, can’t trust the data.

    Cultural differences between groups of people obviously exist, but they do even between neighboring villages, or families living next to each other, like families consisting of new ager hippies and university professors. Diversification of patterns of behavior is unavoidable. People simply come up with different kinds of ideas and then, having found them useful or pleasing, pass them on to their neighbors and children.

  5. @spreadsheet: Does the fact that all dogs can breed with any other dog attest to the fact that there are no physiological distinctions between groups of canines?

    If not, why is the analogy a flawed one?

  6. Because the chihuahua is as potent a guard dog as a rottweiler?
    @spreadsheet: Oh snap.

    This is essentially saying that most humans of group x are as good as most humans of group y at task z. Is there evidence for this?

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  21. +1 on Renee Girard. I am reading “Violence and the Sacred” and he discusses/dissects The Golden Bough in the first half of the book. Insightful and enlightening.

    I also might suggest the concept of a post Eden-apostasy explanation of the development of myth and culture.

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