I am a woman born 1949 and my quest is to find a mindmate
to grow old together as a mutually devoted couple
in a relationship based upon the
egalitarian rational commitment paradigm
bonded by intrinsic commitment
as each other's safe haven and secure basis.

The purpose of this blog is to enable the right man
to recognize us as reciprocal mindmates and
to encourage him to contact me:

The entries directly concerning,
who could be my mindmate,
are mainly at the beginning.
If this is your predominant interest,
I suggest to read this blog in the same order
as it was written, following the numbers.

I am German, therefore my English is sometimes faulty.

Maybe you have stumbled upon this blog not as a potential match.
Please wait a short moment before zapping.

Do you know anybody, who could be my mindmate?
Your neighbour, brother, uncle, cousin, colleague, friend?
If so, please tell him to look at this blog.
While you have no reason to do this for me,
a stranger, maybe you can make someone happy, for whom you care.

Do you have your own webpage or blog,
which someone like my mindmate to be found probably reads?
If so, please mention my quest and add a link to this blog.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

328. The Evolution of Gullibility

The Evolution of Gullibility

This again is speculation.

I have been wondering before, if the mental development of children could be a fast repetition of the evolution of cognition over the 6 million years since the time, when the evolution of our ancestors branched off from that of the ancestors of today's chimpanzees.   
Seen from our perspective, a contemporary child at the age of four has both the mental and the physical development of this age group after having been alive four years.  
I consider it as possible, that at some time in the past, there had been human ancestors having the same mental abilities as for example has a four year old today, but having an adult body and being much older and having reached full maturity.    While their survival and procreation was determined by animal instincts, their cognition enabled them to adapt better to their environment than mere animals.   

To simplify and illustrate this, I compare three phases of the evolution of acquiring the knowledge of what to eat and what not.  The survival of the fittest and natural selection depended on eating, what is beneficial, and avoiding to eat, what is poisonous.    

1.  The phase of simple imitation
In this phase, our human ancestors learned like other animals from observation, when others ate berries and showed delight, and they learned by observation, if someone was killed by a poisonous snake and died immediately.   Learning was restricted to the observation of contingencies.   They could learn to avoid such snakes, but they could not learn to avoid poisonous berries, that had effects only hours later.

2.  The phase of cognitive imitation
In this phase, humans had evolved a memory and a simple way of communication, either by signs or by a rudimentary language, like the four year olds in the above example.  Thus they were able to learn delayed contingencies, and they could copy the memorized contingencies engraved in other people's brains into their own and imitate the apparently adequate behavior.  
If several humans had eaten poisonous berries and got sick or died hours or even days later, the survivors and the observers were able to learn the delayed contingencies.  They learned to avoid these berries in the future.
The knowledge, which berries are edible and which are poisonous, was transmitted not only by observation, but also by communicating the information, as was other information about where to find food, how to make the best tools, use fire and other survival skills.

This had two consequences: 
  • People learned not only correct contingencies like what berries are poisonous, but also coincidences as wrong contingencies. 
  • Those who believed, what they were told, and based their behavior upon the belief, increased their chances to survive and to procreate.

That was the beginning of the natural selection favoring gullibility as a temporary advantage for fitness.  
  • The persons, who followed in their behavior the blind belief not to eat the berries indicated as poisonous, no matter if they understood the reason or not, lived longer than those, who did not follow the belief. 
    But it made no difference for the survival and fitness of those, who refrained from eating the poisonous berries, if they also prostrated to the sun every morning or not.    
    As a consequence, those who believed too little were eliminated by natural selection, those who believed too much, survived the same as those, who only believed, what was essential for survival.  
  • The inability to discriminate between coincidence and contingency led to the false religious believes to be able to control the future and the environment by rituals, sacrifices, prayers and magic thinking.   In the absence of better survival strategies, these served as a powerful psychological crutch, because it
  • reduced anxieties, insecurities and led to more daring behaviors, adding fitness to the survivors of the endeavors.     
  • served as a placebo effect for healing.
  • instigated irrational behaviors leading by coincidence to beneficial discoveries.  
This evolution of a simple cognition was sufficient for the life of hunters and gatherers, who were using fire and making simple tools.   The ability to doubt had not yet evolved, therefore instinctivity was in full power over the behavior, it was only aided by gullibility.  

3.  The phase of rationality
When agriculture started about 10,000 years ago, this required more rational cognition than the simple acceptance of every coincidence also as a contingency.   Those who were too much guided by wrongly believed coincidences risked starvation.   The survival depended more and more on rational procedures to develop elaborated tools and skills like metallurgy.  

Gullibility as a survival skill had become obsolete.   But unfortunately, the development of the infant's brain had still to go through the phase of gullibility before reaching the ability of fully rational cognition.   Therefore, the evolution of the brain could not eliminate gullibility, instead it branched inside the brain into the parallel evolution of rationality alongside with coexistent gullibility.   Rationality thrived only in the limited sphere of practical life, where evidence was available to be experienced, while the power of gullibility as a psychological crutch was not overridden.   
As a result, farmers were able to learn, that (in the German climate) they needed to plant vegetables in spring and not in autumn, if they wanted to harvest food.   But they never evolved enough rationality to fully discard unproven believes like the one to pray for a good harvest or to do the planting under the full moon.     

Since rationality is still a fairly recent result of evolution, human brains have two incongruent tendencies, gullibility and instinctivity as the older forces competing with the contradictory force of rationality and complex cognition.   For a minority of the vanguard of having evolved the farthest, rationality is stronger than gullibility and instinctivity, but the majority of people is still determined by the same gullibility as in the phase of mental imitation.  

One important step from gullibility to rationality is the ability to doubt, not only the input from the environment including other persons, but also the doubt of the benefits of the own urges and impulses.  The most rationally evolved people are those least determined by instinct.    The doubting person, who ate the poisonous berries, died and did not contribute the ability to doubt to the gene pool.   The doubting person, who started to experiment by feeding the berries to an animal or to the captives of another tribe, survived and added rationality to the gene pool.    (He also added the cruelty to outgroup members, but that is not the topic here.)