The evolutionary origins of religion

Science continues with a series of essays commemorating the year of Darwin. This week (and by this week I mean the one I got this week, actually dated 6th of November) the topic is the evolutionary origins of religion.

This is quite an interesting topic to which I was first introduced with Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the spell: religion as a natural phenomenom. The central premise is that there could be evolutionary advantages to communities in which individuals follow ways of thinking that can lead to religion. Specifically, it is thought that the thought processes that could lead to religion could also lead towards more cooperation. Recent research has shown that, under very special circumstances, group selection could explain the emergence of features that are somewhat detrimental to an individual that would display them in isolation but that would benefit the community at large [ link ].

Compounded with this is our tendency, as a species, to see agents in every action. When something happens (a noise in the middle of the night) we tend to attribute it to the actions of another being. Evolution could have selected for a way of thinking that, although presents many false positives, tends to be safer. If you hear a strange sound, it is better to think that somebody is around and that you should be careful than to think that the noise you heard was just the wind blowing. This teleological view means that we are predisposed to look for thinking beings in living and nonliving things. Studies with kids or adults in stressful situations seem to confirm this view.

A recent NYT article mentions that the presence of divine beings could be a way to enforce cooperation in small and egalitarian societies of hunter-gatherers. When societies became more complex, with the introduction of agriculture, and religious beliefs were well entrenched in the human neural circuitry, religious beliefs could be co-opted as a source of authority by the ruling classes.

The article also points out that, if religion is an evolved behaviour, it would not be good news to either religious people nor to atheists. Religious people should find that religious beliefs emerging from evolution make God less likely. Atheists might not be so willing to criticise religion if it has evolved as a framework in which cooperation is encouraged. I am not personally convinced that either group will be too discouraged by this. Religious people will probably argue that our religious compass was part of God’s design and that it is precisely that what sets us aside from the rest of the creation. Atheist can argue that the religious instinct, even if the side-effect of other mental processes that could lead to cooperation, is surely not necessary to maintain a complex modern society as it is clear that some of the most cooperative societies in the world today are remarkable secular. Furthermore, this would not address the central premise of atheism which is about the unsuitability of religion to explain truth and nature.

Culotta, E. (2009). On the Origin of Religion Science, 326 (5954), 784-787 DOI: 10.1126/science.326_784...

Culotta, E. (2009) On the Origin of Religion. Science, 326(5954), 784-787. DOI: 10.1126/science.326_784  On the Origin of Religion


See original: Research Blogging - All Topics - English The evolutionary origins of religion

Liked "ArtJournal - Downloading Optimism" http://ff.im/bCipk

mrgunn: Liked "ArtJournal - Downloading Optimism" http://ff.im/bCipk

See original: Twitter Liked "ArtJournal - Downloading Optimism" http://ff.im/bCipk

Sir Shuping: ArtJournal - Downloading Optimism

Sir Shuping
ArtJournal - Downloading Optimism - http://lucylou.livejournal.com/578698...
ArtJournal - Downloading Optimism
pretty interesting strip discussing the print vs digital debate from the perspective of an online artist. and her perspective on why it works better for her are interesting - Sir Shuping
loling at "and then she called me the antichrist" BTDT - D0r0th34
I really liked her comparison between ancient scrolls vs books. I don't know if they really thought that, but def. a valid (to me) comparison - Sir Shuping

See original: FriendFeed - search Sir Shuping: ArtJournal - Downloading Optimism

D0r0th34: Any academic libraries have public org charts that I could snag for nefarious purposes of my own?

D0r0th34
Any academic libraries have public org charts that I could snag for nefarious purposes of my own?
Mr. Gunn and Sir Shuping liked this
I want to know what the nefarious purpose is! - Cameron Neylon
Me too! - Mr. Gunn

See original: FriendFeed - search D0r0th34: Any academic libraries have public org charts that I could snag for nefarious purposes of my own?

From population genetics to linguistics [Gene Expression]

The relationship between language families and historical population genetics has a long history. In the 19th and early 20th centuries anthropologists were wont to substitute and synthesize the connections discerned in linguistic relationships with those of presumed biological affinities. This resulted in great hilarity. Older works sometimes labeled the Finns a "Mongoloid" people because of their Uralic language. But once the physical substrate of genetic inheritance (DNA) was ascertained some correspondences did emerge.

F3.large.pngThe figure to the left is from an L. L. Cavalli-Sforza paper, Genes, peoples, and languages. The correspondence between gene families and language families is clear. From the paper:

Most patterns found in the analysis of human living populations are likely to be consequences of demographic expansions, determined by technological developments affecting food availability, transportation, or military power. During such expansions, both genes and languages are spread to potentially vast areas. In principle, this tends to create a correlation between the respective evolutionary trees. The correlation is usually positive and often remarkably high. It can be decreased or hidden by phenomena of language replacement and also of gene replacement, usually partial, due to gene flow.

Genetic variation and languages are both characteristics of individuals & populations. One might imagine that gene flow between groups might be modulated by linguistic affinity between groups, or, linguistic affinity between groups might be modulated by gene flow between the groups. Cavalli-Sforza's colleague Marcus Feldman has asserted that the correlation does indeed emerge out of biases in mating patterns more explicitly of late.

Language and genes are passed from parents to offspring. But, there are clearly differences in terms of the specific constraints on inheritance. When it comes to genes we have both the Mendelian abstraction as well as DNA as a concrete substrate. Parent-offspring transmission is symmetrical (from both parents), subject to mutation, segregation, recombination, etc. Though there are attempts to model language, to my knowledge there is not such robust theoretical understanding of the inheritance of language from parents to offspring, in particular the biological substrate which acquires language (I do not class the arguments about deep structure in linguistics in the same class as Mendelian and DNA models of genetics).

Of course there is the reality of great differences in transmission of language and genes. In the domain of language horizontal transmission is critical to understanding its distribution & evolution (I am aware that horizontal gene transfer is important in biological evolution, but not so much in the scope and species we're talking about). One's parents may speak a different language because language acquisition and fluency is also dependent on peers in a way that genetic variation is not. Additionally, language transmission from parents need not be symmetrical, one may acquire the language of one parent but not the other. One may speak the same language as one's parents, but with a different accent (that one of one's peer group). Interestingly, the exception to this rule of accents are individuals with some socialization dysfunction, such as autism.

There are also similarities between languages and genes. The molecular clock has its analogy in the lexical clock. There is also lexical admixture between languages, for example the heavy load of French-derived terms in modern English, the influence of Slavic upon the Baltic languages. A new paper in PLoS Biology leans on these last similarities to utilize the Structure framework to flesh out the relationships of the language of New Guinea & Australia, what was once "Sahul" during the last Ice Age. The author's summary from Explaining the Linguistic Diversity of Sahul Using Population Models:

Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...

See original: ScienceBlogs Select From population genetics to linguistics [Gene Expression]

Men often treat their friends better than women do [Cognitive Daily]

ResearchBlogging.orgWho's more "sociable," men or women? Common sense says it's women, right? And many research studies back this impression up: Women are more interpersonal, more connected, more interdependent than men. Women are more likely to share intimate information with each other than men. But is that really the whole story?

There is also research suggesting that men have larger social networks than women do, and that male-male friendships last longer than female-female ones.

A team led by Joyce Benenson conducted a set of three studies that may shed some light on the question. In their first study, they identified 30 male and 30 female undergraduates at a small, Northeastern U.S. college. Half of each group was specifically recruited because they said they had some kind of conflict with their roommate. The other half said they were planning on living with their roommate for the rest of the school year. Each student was asked to rate their satisfaction with their roommate on a scale of 1 to 5. A score of 4 or 5 was defined by the researchers as "satisfied." So were there gender differences? Here are the results:

benenson1.jpg

The male students were significantly more likely to be satisfied with their roommates than female students, whether or not they had a conflict with their roommate. The students also rated their roommates on social interaction, interests, values, and hygiene, and male students gave significantly higher ratings for their roommates than females for every category except hygiene.

In a second study, the researchers surveyed three separate institutions to see how frequently male and female students requested to change roommates. Here are those results:

Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...

See original: ScienceBlogs Select Men often treat their friends better than women do [Cognitive Daily]

Neil Saunders: BioGPS: an extensible and customizable portal for organizing and querying gene annotation resources

Neil Saunders
BioGPS: an extensible and customizable portal for organizing and querying gene annotation resources - http://www.citeulike.org/user...
Mr. Gunn and Andrew Su liked this
Genome Biology, Vol. 10, No. 11. (2009), R130.
Online gene annotation resources are indispensable for analysis of genomics data. However, the landscape of these online resources is highly fragmented, and scientists often visit dozens of these sites for each gene in a candidate gene list. Here, we introduce BioGPS (http://biogps.gnf.org), a centralized gene portal for aggregating distributed gene annotation resources. Moreover, BioGPS embraces the principle of community intelligence, enabling any user to easily and directly contribute to the BioGPS platform.
Chunlei Wu, Camilo Orozco, Jason Boyer, Marc Leglise, James Goodale, Serge Batalov, Christopher Hodge, James Haase, Jeff Janes, Jon Huss, Andrew Su - Neil Saunders
one of those authors seems familiar :-) - Neil Saunders

See original: FriendFeed - search Neil Saunders: BioGPS: an extensible and customizable portal for organizing and querying gene annotation resources

@jordancooper as likely as someone who could definitely tell you which way a stock will go, I'd think.

mrgunn: @jordancooper as likely as someone who could definitely tell you which way a stock will go, I'd think.

See original: Twitter @jordancooper as likely as someone who could definitely tell you which way a stock will go, I'd think.

@KatherineSD you may have just called them peas. They're the little round green ones that come in a can.

mrgunn: @KatherineSD you may have just called them peas. They're the little round green ones that come in a can.

See original: Twitter @KatherineSD you may have just called them peas. They're the little round green ones that come in a can.

@twibble Are there plans to ensure URLs aren't truncated upon RT?

mrgunn: @twibble Are there plans to ensure URLs aren't truncated upon RT?

See original: Twitter @twibble Are there plans to ensure URLs aren't truncated upon RT?

Documentation from the Public Domain Calculators Meeting

Last week we had a meeting about building a set of Public Domain Calculators for countries across Europe (which we blogged about earlier this month). The public domain calculators will help to determine whether or not a given work is in copyright in a given jurisdiction.

We started out by reviewing existing work on the calculators. [...]

Related posts:

  1. Public Domain Calculators Meeting, 10-11th November 2009
  2. Public Domain Calculators: updates and a new list!
  3. Public Domain Calculators

See original: Open Knowledge Foundation Blog Documentation from the Public Domain Calculators Meeting

Liked "Steven Pinker on technology" http://ff.im/bBLWq

mrgunn: Liked "Steven Pinker on technology" http://ff.im/bBLWq

See original: Twitter Liked "Steven Pinker on technology" http://ff.im/bBLWq