Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Russian dudes are imperialists   posted by Razib @ 10/01/2008 05:23:00 AM

Dynamics of Alliance Formation and the Egalitarian Revolution:

Arguably the most influential force in human history is the formation of social coalitions and alliances (i.e., long-lasting coalitions) and their impact on individual power. Understanding the dynamics of alliance formation and its consequences for biological, social, and cultural evolution is a formidable theoretical challenge. In most great ape species, coalitions occur at individual and group levels and among both kin and non-kin. Nonetheless, ape societies remain essentially hierarchical, and coalitions rarely weaken social inequality. In contrast, human hunter-gatherers show a remarkable tendency to egalitarianism, and human coalitions and alliances occur not only among individuals and groups, but also among groups of groups. These observations suggest that the evolutionary dynamics of human coalitions can only be understood in the context of social networks and cognitive evolution.

Their conclusion:

We propose a simple and flexible theoretical approach for studying the dynamics of alliance emergence applicable where game-theoretic methods are not practical. Our approach is both scalable and expandable. It is scalable in that it can be generalized to larger groups, or groups of groups. It is expandable in that it allows for inclusion of additional factors such as behavioral, genetic, social, and cultural features. Our results suggest that a rapid transition from a hierarchical society of great apes to an egalitarian society of hunter-gatherers (often referred to as “egalitarian revolution”) could indeed follow an increase in human cognitive abilities. The establishment of stable group-wide egalitarian alliances creates conditions promoting the origin of cultural norms favoring the group interests over those of individuals.

The title is a joke because the lead author is Sergey Gavrilets, who is a product of Moscow State University in the 1970s, just like Peter Turchin. And like Turchin Gavrilets is all over the place trying to produce formal models to elucidate a range of diverse questions. Gavrilets' research interests are social and cultural evolution, speciation and adaptive radiation, sexual conflict, holey fitness landscapes (this is how I knew him originally) and microevolutionary processes and macroevolutionary patterns. Good luck with all that, as they say....