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IX. Human Nature

Tribes, Nurture and Attitudes

E.O. Wilson, the great entomologist and pioneer in evolutionary psychology, goes back to the behavoir of ants to shed light on the behavoir of humanity. The ants, of course, form tribes or colonies with assignment of roles, behavior in case of threat. Queens that must be protected at all cost including suicide.

This behavior must, of course, be genetic and have developed by evolution but rather than survival of the fittest I prefer survival by what works best. I object to the formation of what seems to be logical behavior to be characterized as the “fittest” since everything then acquires a tooth and claw overcast.


Nurture-nature discussions usually arise when discussing raising children, but adult attitudes toward the climate depend very much on life-long “nuture.” If you don’t practice an open mind (preferably with curiousity about science) you will likely take the position of other members of your tribe. Climate gives you very little to grab on to and tribes are especially important in these economic conditions of scarce non-professinal jobs, anti-unionism, and a somewhat nose-in-the-air attitude of liberals. So there is the core of our former auto and steel workers, abandoned by the government and without a profession to turn to. I am guessing these form President Trumps base. With no handles on climate and the association with libertals we will get a strong suspicion about climate change. Just something else for liberals to feel superior about.

However, hunter-gatherer tribes must have relied both on independent thinkers and by loyalists. So it is likely we will have both scattered through all ranks of society but with the killer problem of putting a united front together to spend a few trillion. For millenia, thinking was most influenced by religion. With no science to shed light on natural phenomena, humanity concieved of gods for explanations whenever needed.

The role of god or gods in our lives is still evolving. A wonderful guide is The Evolution of God by Robert Wright.

Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 to 1543) was the first thinker to depart from an earth-centered universe placing the sun at the center and so began the slow process of figuring out how things work. I am amazed that we are still figuring this out. It was long ago, but I am guessing that science teaching in grades 1-12 does not promote independent thinking.

Evolutionary Psychology

E.O. Wilson ran head on into the “blank slate“ thinking that ruled at the time, the idea that the brain acquired its extraordinary capabilities from the environment. It since has been proven as silly as it sounds, but Wilson was greeted with a bucket of water on his head when he dared lecture on socio-biology at Harvard. (Steven Pinker, formally of MIT and now at Harvard has written a book “The Blank Slate” most thoroughly demolishing the idea.) Out of Wilson’s work there grew the field of evolutionary psychology. It’s implication was that we should look to the experiences of hunter-gatherers for insight into human behavoir.

Kateman of Columbia University summarizes the work of Dianial Gilbert of Harvard that the human brain is poorly equipped to respond to global warming.

“Our ability to mentally time-travel between the past, present and future and act in accordance with personal and shared goals is a result of the magnificent human-prefrontal cortex. Evolution, guided by natural selection, has tinkered with this brain region for millions of years, aiding us in the unrelenting pursuit of survival and reproduction. By learning from the past and imagining alternative futures, we perform complex cognition functions that inform decision making and allow us to respond to threats that endanger our well-being."

“Daniel Gilbert argues that human brains evolved to respond to threats that have four features, ones that global warming lack.

”Firstly, global warming isn’t tied to social intention or plotting. Our brains are highly specialized for thinking about the devious schemes of others because social interaction (both in terms of cooperation and detecting defecting) crucial to the survival of our species. Unlike anthrax and terrorism, climate change lacks agency, and is instead an emergent property of more nebulous interactions.

”Secondly, global warming doesn’t violate our moral intuitions. Unlike dangers that are tied to emotional aversions, such as hurting an animal or burning a book, chemicals in the atmosphere do not make us angry or repulsed.

”Thirdly, humans are masters at responding to immediate threats (such as a zooming baseball or a hungry predator), but are novices at acting to resolve worries of the distant future.

”Lastly, Daniel Gilbert argues that global warming occurs so gradually that it goes undetected by the brain. Though the human brain is very sensitive to chemical and psychical changes such as light, temperature, pressure, sound, size, and weight, incremental differences largely go unnoticed.”

So how is it that some human beings ”get it” and others do not.

This, of course, is the critical hub of the matter.

Edward Teller and James Hansen warned of the comming problems, although perhaps not yet an accoloplips in 1988 when Hansen addressed Congress. It was, nevertheless enough to prompt George W. Bush to take action; and to prod Sononu to quash it.

There seems to be a reluctance to imagine and take appololipse seriously even when said over and over again and even at the time I write this to have bright engineers tell me that either the data is bad or that advanced technology will solve the problem. Or as one women told me:“I do my little part and don’t want to know any more,” and so I usually avoid venturing further. However, in a conversation with the wife of one of the engineers I quickly laid out the doom picture and saw her freezze in what was clearly some semblance of freitgjt. I apologized. She replyied that she was glad to know.

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