Happy November Open Thread

The German town of Wesel, after Allied carpet bombing
The German town of Wesel, after Allied carpet bombing

As our planet whirls away on its axis, shedding leaves in the northern hemisphere and growing them again in the southern, it seems as good a time as any to pause and reflect on things we’re thankful for, and maybe come up with something more original than “toilets” and “not polio.”

This morning I saw a man, in a wheelchair, who had no limbs. No arms, no legs.

There but for the grace of God go I.

Every problem I have in life–in fact, every problem faced by everyone on Earth who isn’t imminently dying–pales in comparison to this guy’s.

I have so much to be thankful for. I am alive. I have no chronic or terminal diseases. I have all of my limbs and they all work as they should. I have a warm home to live in and delicious food to eat. A family to love and that loves me back. Good friends.

It’s easy to take these things for granted, but there are so many people who can’t tick off everything in this list. People who are sick, or disabled, or missing limbs, or homeless, or hungry, or just plain lonely.

So remember to be thankful, grateful, and kind to others.

Okay, on to the discussion questions:

  1. What are you grateful for?
  2. Do you think men and women have different conversation styles? (Explain.)
  3. Propose your own question.
And now I don't remember whom I should credit for finding this graph. Sorry!
And now I don’t remember whom I should credit for finding this graph. My apologies.

Comments of the Week!

There have been tons of comments this week, and I am still reading through/responding to them. So if I haven’t gotten to you yet, it isn’t personal. There are just a lot. There have been some substantial debates among you people.

First, I’d like to direct you to Cord Shirt’s comment/questions last week on Apology Structures and SJWs:

* What (sub)cultures do prefer “I don’t know why I did it”? Why?

* Everyone, what is “the proper apology format” in your subculture, and why?

Since I am a bad representative of whatever culture I come from, I encourage you guys to answer the question, too.

Second, Alex’s response on why POC might not be a terrible term:

I understand you point, but I do think that, at least in the US, there is a meaningful distinction between the white vs. the non-white experience.

For example: Recently in an election debate, Tammy Duckworth, whose background is white/asian, talked about her own and her family’s military service going back to the American Revolution. She herself is a war veteran who lost both of her legs as a US Army pilot. Her debate opponent, a GOP Senator, snidely replied: “I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.”

Rule of thumb: don’t be rude to someone who lost both of their legs defending you.

And some interesting links:

Investigating the Genetic Basis of Social Conformity: The Role of the Dopamine Receptor 3 (DRD3) Gene:

People often change their opinions or behavior to match the responses of others, a phenomenon known as social conformity. … However, little is known about the genetic basis underlying individual differences in social conformity. A recent study demonstrated an association between enhanced dopaminergic function and increased conforming behavior. … this study investigated to what extent this polymorphism affects conforming behavior. Methods: We categorized Han Chinese individuals according to the polymorphism and tested them with a facial-attractiveness rating task. Results: We found that individuals with a greater number of the Gly alleles, which are related to an increased dopamine release in the striatum, were more susceptible to social influence and more likely to change their ratings to match those of other people.

According to Wikipedia, “The brain includes several distinct dopamine pathways, one of which plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior. Most types of reward increase the level of dopamine in the brain, and many addictive drugs increase dopamine neuronal activity.”

So, do people get addicted to social approval? But on the other hand:

“Inside the brain, dopamine plays important roles in executive functions, motor control, motivation, arousal, reinforcement, and reward, as well as lower-level functions including lactation, sexual gratification, and nausea. … Dopamine contributes to the action selection process in at least two important ways. First, it sets the “threshold” for initiating actions.[37] The higher the level of dopamine activity, the lower the impetus required to evoke a given behavior.[37] As a consequence, high levels of dopamine lead to high levels of motor activity and impulsive behavior; low levels of dopamine lead to torpor and slowed reactions.”

Maybe dopamine just helps people do quick, on-the-fly adjustments, like change a rating in light of new information they’d just received. Lower dopamine people might just be changing their ratings more slowly, or not absorbing the new information at all.

Paleolithic Site in Northern Iran Much Older than Previously Thought:

According to Vahati Nasab, the researchers also traced the cultural deposits of human activity around Hill No. 8. “We found that during the Palaeolithic era the hill labelled as No. 8, had been a lower embankment in a shallow and wide lagoon. The first season of excavations dated the lower strata of the open site as belonging to between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago,” he concluded.
(That is super old for anything outside of Africa!)

How Chimpanzees Cooperate: if Dominance is Artificially Constrained:

Suchak et al. report an observational study replicating a basic finding from experimental research: Chimpanzees are skillful at recognizing situations in which they need a collaborative partner to acquire food and then collaborating to obtain it

However, experimental research has also found that: (i) chimpanzees would rather acquire food individually than cooperatively, (ii) their cooperation breaks down if the outcome is a single cache of resources that must be peaceably divided by cooperators, and (iii) they do not punish free riders or reward contributors asymmetrically.

So chimps are bad at cooperating under anything but highly controlled experimental conditions. However, I should note that chimps do sometimes hunt cooperatively; chimpanzee cooperation is probably best studied in the context of existing chimp social bonds (eg, parent-child, sibling-sibling, or friend-friend,) as these pairs already do cooperate to some extent in the wild.

It was easily one of the most unearthly and chilling visions that had ever struck the land that would soon become Canada.

Eight or nine lurching figures: Their eyes vacant, their skin blue, unable to talk and barely alive.

It was sometime before 1850 at a remote Arctic hunting camp near the southwest edge of King William Island, an Arctic island 1,300 km northwest of what is now Iqaluit, Nunavut. And these “beings” had seemingly materialized out of nowhere.

“They’re not Inuit; they’re not human,” was how a woman, badly shaking with fright, first reported their arrival to the assembled camp. …

The figures, of course, were the last survivors of the Franklin Expedition. They had buried their captain. They had seen their ship entombed by ice. They had eaten the dead to survive.

It’s a fascinating article.

Okay, now I’m opening the floor. Have at it.

Community round-up, Comment of the Week, Open Thread, and Similar Matters

Cognitive Bias Codex--you'll need to zoom in
Cognitive Bias Codex–you’ll need to zoom in

I’ve been thinking of doing some form of regular “comment of the week” to highlight particularly good comments, along with “most interesting things I read elsewhere.” And sure, it can be an Open Thread, too, though really, you’re pretty free to treat every thread like an Open Thread. :) This would be in addition to the regular posts, not in place of them. Which day do you think would be better: Wedensday or Saturday?

So this week’s Comment of the Week award goes to Ertuğrul Aşina, for adding yet more information to my post on the Turkic Peoples:

There are Turks in Turkey, like my family, that still uses their Asian family names. Mine are called Aşinas, which probably is a corrupted form of Ashina Clan and Meteçanyus which is likely to refer to Moduchanyu. … My paternal family hails from a pretty isolated town of northern Turkey, where almost everyone looks like blonde Asians and talk in a manner that rest of the Turks don’t really understand easily. …

I encourage you to read the whole comment.

(L-R) Daniel C. Dennett, Napoleon Chagnon, David Haig, Steven Pinker, Richard Wrangham, John Brockman, with thanks to Edge.org
(L-R) Daniel C. Dennett, Napoleon Chagnon, David Haig, Steven Pinker, Richard Wrangham, John Brockman, with thanks to Edge.org

In other news, I read a fabulous interview with Napleon Chagnon, Blood is their Argument. (Also staring Steven Pinker, Richard Wrangham, Daniel C. Dennett, David Haig, and Richard Dawkins.) Chagnon wrote Yanomamo: The Fierce People, in which he showed–via extensive demographic data–that the Yanomamo tribesmen who had the most children were also the ones who had killed the most other people.

For this significant accomplishment, of course, he has been “vilified by other anthropologists, condemned by his professional association (which subsequently rescinded its reprimand), and ultimately forced to give up his fieldwork. Throughout his ordeal, he never wavered in his defense of science. In 2012 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.”

But back to the interview:

STEVEN PINKER:  You’re one of the last of the classical ethnographers, someone who goes in to study a relatively uncontacted, technologically traditional hunting people.  That’s not the way a lot of anthropology is done these days. I remember a conversation at a faculty lunch with a professor of anthropology, and I asked him what tribe he studied. He said he studied the nuclear engineers of Los Alamos Labs in New Mexico.

I believe he is referring to Hugh Gusterson’s Nuclear Rites: A Weapons Laboratory at the End of the Cold War, thought it is actually set at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. (That is a really easy thing to mix up.)

… Can you just tell us what’s it like to go out and study an uncontacted people in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest? Do you pack a steamer trunk full of bug spray and peanut butter, and hire someone to drop you off and say, “Pick me up in six months?”

NAPOLEON CHAGNON:  Well, remarkably, Steve, that’s pretty much the way some of it happened. But when I first walked into the Yanomamö village thinking I was going to do the perfunctory one-year field research or maybe less, go back to my university, write my doctoral dissertation, publish a book maybe, after two or three years of thinking about it, then return to the tribe ten years later and do the expected thing about,  “Woe is me, what has the world and technology done to my people?” But the minute I walked into my first Yanomamö village I realized that I was witnessing a really precious thing, and I knew I would have to come back again and again, and I did.

There is too much great information in this interview to excerpt. You’ll just have to RTWT.

Some interesting graphs:

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cvz3gn9wcaq682uSince this is the first week I’m trying this, I’ll stop here with the links/graphs and open the floor to discussion:

I don’t think it mere coincidence that all of the men in the picture above are, well, men. Aside from Jane Goodall and HBDChick, are there any significant [living] women doing ground-breaking work in anthropology/human evolution/genetics/related fields?