Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Are Values Hardwired?

Apropos of Greg's recent series examining the subconscious or "hardwired" part of human nature, YahooNews reports further evidence suggesting reciprocity (or what Objectivists call "the trader principle") is hardwired even into monkeys:

The latest findings suggest that a sense of fairness is deeply ingrained in human evolutionary history rather than the idea that it's a more cultural response, and thus, learned from other humans....Brosnan, along with lead author Megan van Wolkenten and Frans B. M. de Waal, both at Emory University in Georgia, trained 13 tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) at Emory's Yerkes National Primate Research Center to play a no-fair game. In the game, each of a pair of monkeys would hand a small granite rock to a human in exchange for a reward, either a cucumber slice or the more preferable grape.When both monkeys received cucumber rewards, all was fine in primate land. But when one monkey handed over the granite stone and landed a grape, while monkey number two got a cucumber, madness ensued.

4 comments:

Jay said...

That makes sense. Humans have carried the trader principle to much higher more complex level, of course.

Another interesting take: since many humans do not accept the trader principle, is that surface-level evidence of free will? ;)

David said...

I'm not sure that "many human do not accept the trader principle." Might it not be, that with our complex brains and all, that we many. many different ideas as to what constitutes a fair trade?

gregnyquist said...

Jay: "Another interesting take: since many humans do not accept the trader principle, is that surface-level evidence of free will."

Not necessarily. There's a lot more going on than just the "trading" principle. There's also the "sharing" principle — a principle dominant in hunter-gatherer groups, which, in terms of evolutionary impact, is the dominant form of social organization since humans first evolved. The emotional attachment to socialism and other anti-capitalist ideologies may in part be motivated by a survival of those old "sharing" instincts — or in any case, a misapplication of them.

Neil Parille said...

Greg:

________________

The emotional attachment to socialism and other anti-capitalist ideologies may in part be motivated by a survival of those old "sharing" instincts — or in any case, a misapplication of them.

________________

This was Hayek's point in The Fatal Conceit*. Socialism takes a valid principle -- the importance of cooperation and altruism in family life -- and tries to make it the central organizing principle of society.

This makes me wonder if there is something quite "modern" in Rand's ethics. That we might have different duties to people depending on the context is entirely foreign to Rand. (E.g, whether you should have an adulterous affair is determined by the same calculus that a businessman uses in deciding whether to introduce a new product.)

*There is some question as to how much of this book is from Hayek.