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Doug_S. comments on Dunbar's Function - Less Wrong

27 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 31 December 2008 02:26AM

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Comment author: Doug_S. 31 December 2008 02:56:35AM 15 points [-]

Via Scientific American magazine:

Fallacy 3: “Our Modern Skulls House a Stone Age Mind” Pop EP’s claim that human nature was designed during the Pleistocene, when our ancestors lived as hunter-gatherers, gets it wrong on both ends of the epoch.


The view that “our modern skulls house a Stone Age mind” gets things wrong on the contemporary end of our evolutionary history as well. The idea that we are stuck with a Pleistocene-adapted psychology greatly underestimates the rate at which natural and sexual selection can drive evolutionary change. Recent studies have demonstrated that selection can radically alter the life-history traits of a population in as few as 18 generations (for humans, roughly 450 years).

Of course, such rapid evolution can occur only with significant change in the selection pressures acting on a population. But environmental change since the Pleistocene has unquestionably altered the selection pressures on human psychology. The agricultural and industrial revolutions precipitated fundamental changes in the social structures of human populations, which in turn altered the challenges humans face when acquiring resources, mating, forming alliances or negotiating status hierarchies. Other human activities—ranging from constructing shelter to preserving food, from contraception to organized education—have also consistently altered the selection pressures. Because we have clear examples of post-Pleistocene physiological adaptation to changing environmental demands (such as malaria resistance), we have no reason to doubt similar psychological evolution.