I was a keynote speaker at the Cooperative AI workshop at the 2021 Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS). I spoke about “Cultural Evolution and Human Cooperation” and its relevance for understanding problems in cooperative AI. Some of the topics covered included, an introduction to dual inheritance theory and cultural evolution, how and why humans cooperate, and why human cooperation varies in scale, intensity, and domain across societies.
My speech and slides are available here.
I chaired a symposium on “Understanding Religions: Integrating experimental, ethnographic and historical approaches” at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) conference in San Diego, CA.
Joe Henrich began by introducing the broader research agenda, describing the two puzzles of (1) the rise of societal complexity and large-scale cooperation and (2) the emergence and spread of particular religious elements, such as big, powerful, moralizing gods and ritual behavior.
Coren Apicella presented recent evidence of high levels of rule bending in the Hadza, a a minimally religious foraging population.
I then introduced the Database of Religious History and presented some preliminary analyses, showing the relationship between ritual and cooperative behavior. I also updated the audience on data collection and some of the directions we’re going in (such as measuring cultural distance–more soon!).
Finally, Ted Slingerland gave an overview of what the humanities can offer the psychology of religion, with an entertaining presentation of how a lack of deep understanding of history and culture can lead to misinterpretations (such as claims that Chinese don’t have religious beliefs, nor mind-body dualism).
Other highlights of the conference included a debate between Leda Cosmides and Joe Henrich (moderated by Jon Haidt) on “Big Questions in Evolutionary Science and What They Mean for Social-Personality Psychology” and a debate between Jon Haidt and Kurt Gray on “Purity and Harm in the American Culture War: A Debate on the Structure of Morality“.
Leda, Jon, and Joe answering questions after the debate. Photo credit: Cristine Legare
I attended the 14th Annual Meeting of The Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) in New Orleans, Louisiana. I presented a poster with results from two laboratory experiments I ran on cultural transmission. The experiments tested the predictions of several evolutionary models showing the relationship between sociality (population size, interconnectedness, etc) and cultural complexity.
My results show that when people can observe and learn from a wider range of teachers, groups can better maintain technical skills and even increase the group’s average skill over successive laboratory generations. These results suggest that the secret of our species’ success may lie in the combination of our imitative abilities and our sociality, not in our individual smarts.
I attended the 24th Annual Meeting of Human Behavior and Evolution Society (HBES) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I presented a poster with further results from my model of the coevolution of brains and culture. The model is a plausible explanation for the expansion of the human brain size during the Pleistocene.
I attended the 13th Annual Meeting of The Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) in San Diego, California. I presented a poster at the Evolutionary Preconference with preliminary results from my model of the coevolution of brains and culture. The model is a plausible explanation for the expansion of the human brain size during the Pleistocene.