[extropy-chat] Calling all EvoPsych Jedi...

Keith Henson hkhenson at rogers.com
Sun May 8 00:19:10 UTC 2005

At 01:53 PM 07/05/05 -0400, you wrote:
>At 12:33 PM 5/7/2005, Keith Henson wrote:
>>>>... They also work very hard for status, one classic example is judges 
>>>>who give up large amounts of income for the higher status of a 
>>>>judge.  Why is this?  The answers are obvious if not downright trivial 
>>>>given EP.
>>>What exactly status is and what people use to infer it and produce it 
>>>remain big open questions, and have been for a long time, long before EP 
>>>was popular.  They remain so even within EP.  These questions are far 
>>>from trivial.
>>... It never occurred to me that there would be controversy about what 
>>status is (at least in hunter gatherer tribes and chimpanzee groups) or 
>>why (after applying EP) people and chimps would seek it.
>>"Of all the things which have been measured in such representative
>>ancestral environments as we have, social standing or status is the
>>most predictive of reproductive success. ... It makes sense for
>>hunters who brought in the first meat the tribe has seen in six weeks
>>to get a lot of attention (a mark of status) ...
>>http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/cults.html ...
>>I am not aware of a refutation of the points made in this article. ...
>Yes, status can be measured just by asking people "who has high status?"
>But measured with substantial error - people often answer this quite
>differently.  In any case that is very different from understanding
>exactly what contributes how much to status.  Sure bringing in the first
>meat in six weeks helps, but how much compared to other things?  I don't
>say your article is wrong, I say it doesn't answer the question.

Well, "what is status" wasn't the question the article was intended to 
answer.  The article was trying to account for why people do really hard to 
understand  things like join a cult and cut their balls off.  Or of equal 
effect in genetic terms, why become a celibate priest in a long established 

But I venture to say that the different ways people answer "who has high 
status" would be predictable using EP.  A person moving up in status and 
his supporters would probably have a higher opinion of his status than the 
people supporting the "old guard."  And it would not surprise me to find 
that women in a group might have a different average status estimate than 
the men do.

I think we can go further and propose that status is the integral of 
attention, and that attention itself produces an immediate chemical 
reward.  Those of us who have done public speaking are usually aware of the 
buzz we get from attention.  The concept of chemically activated reward 
circuits is well supported by fMRI studies of recent years.

There are pointers to researchers here:

"Hijacking the Brain Circuits With a Nickel Slot Machine" By SANDRA 
BLAKESLEE,  New York Times, February 19, 2002


EP can deal with high measurement error for concepts like status in 
answering the question of why people work so hard for status.  The answer, 
in common with a lot of other answers from EP, is that ancestors who did so 
left more descendents than those who did not.

Unlike dragging meat back to a hunter gatherer camp, most things we do for 
status today (such as posting on mailing lists) don't seem to have much 
effect on how many descendents we have.


Keith Henson

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