Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The first "smart mobs"   posted by Razib @ 8/17/2005 01:07:00 AM

From The Royal Society Proceedings: Biological Sciences, a paper of note titled The social nature of primate cognition:

...the Machiavellian intelligence hypothesis, also known as the social brain hypothesis, tends to emphasize certain traits and behaviours, like exploitation and deception, at the expense of others, such as tolerance and behavioural coordination, and therefore presents only one view of how social life may shape cognition. This review outlines work from other relevant disciplines, including evolutionary economics, cognitive science and neurophysiology, to illustrate how these can be used to build a more general theoretical framework, incorporating notions of embodied and distributed cognition, in which to situate questions concerning the evolution of primate social cognition.

There is a lot in the paper that seems pretty sketchy to me (ie; multi-level selection), but, the point about the excessive Cartesianism of some primate models of psychology has some truth. Certainly terms like 'distributed cognition' slot in well with the current 'wired' zeitgeist, characterized by a free flow of information, but narrow deep specialization of knowledge bases. I have reviewed Robin Dunbar's work before, and I think there is a lot to it, but it is the start, not the final world. To get a good sense of a person's psychology it is often rather artificial to extract them outside of their social context and have them press buttons on a computer screen. Now, imagine how monkeys in laboratories must feel! In any case, I have uploaded the full paper (PDF), mostly because it is a gold mine of literature cites which I suspect some readers will have interest in following up.1

Also, heads up, I'll be reviewing the book Cultural Origins of Human Cognition, by Michael Tomasello, in the near future. As some of you know I am part of Chris' cognitive science reading group, and this was the book I voted for, so I'm looking forward to it. You can find a long introduction to the book (likely longer than my review) over at Chris' blog. I also would like to throw out an idea I've been mulling for a while: a Gene Expression reading group. Unlike Chris' group I am not fixed on focusing on a particular discipline, and my tentative goal would be to get humanists to read serious works of science and scientists to examine serious works of non-scientific scholarhsip. I will probably start up a YAHOO! group devoted to this in the near future.

Update: I've started a YAHOO! group, Gene Expression Books. This will be the base from which we'll go.

1 - You can find all the cites at the link provided initially, but stripped out of their context and relevance in the text of the paper.