The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it. ... In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. George Orwell

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lack of social skills made us human

[Part 2 of 2]

Continuing on Sapolsky's lecture, see this video:

Robert Sapolsky: Stress, Neurodegeneration and Individual Differences

About 50 minutes into this lecture, Sapolsky changes slightly the subject and describes his stress research on baboon monkeys in Africa, describing their society's structure and detailed habits. This was discussed in the context of biochemistry and stress hormones (glucocorticoids), with blood samples taken and analyzed, correlated within the context of the social interaction. Over 20 years of solid experimental and observational research, really impressive piece of work!

Brief summary.

Baboons in the reserve (Serengeti) need only about 3 hours a day to gather their food. They live in baboons' paradise, their health is good and infant's mortality is lower than among neighboring human villages. They spend the rest of the day, 9 hours every day on average making each other miserable and stressing each other to the limits of their adrenal biochemistry, using social interplay, emotional and physical harassment. They follow a very elaborate and rigid social hierarchy with a strong male gang leader and a score of lesser levels. At each position within the gang, a member is continuously subjected to harassment and being picked on by higher member, while at the same time, they are compelled by their biology to release their own stress by picking, incessantly upon the weaker members of lesser position.

I strongly recommend to watch this video to give you a better idea what it is really like. I have to admit I couldn't help by noticing how similar is their structure to the structure of the human subculture in:

- criminal gangs
- government institutions,
- large corporations
- armed forces and paramilitary organizations,
- large religious institutions
- academic institutions

Comments and thoughts

If one ever wondered about any of the above cultures, then watching Sapolsky's video will neatly illustrate what is that all about. In contrast, one wonders what kind of culture would rather protects the weaker members and work creatively to build tools, shelters and grow food rather then spend all their time on social warfare? I think, it can't possibly be a culture solely focused on social interplay, with a rigid hierarchical structure. I think the pattern is the same, regardless whether we are dealing with intelligent humans or monkeys. The main dichotomy is I think clear: a group either focuses most of their free time on perfecting the social interaction and learning practical social manipulation skills to the detriment of other skills, or it follows a decentralized model allowing their members to develop and use individual skills in creating technology, art and science (individuals being free to keep the results of their work!). This dichotomy can be seen in both individual characters and on the scale of the herds, tribes, societies or countries. This dichotomy is expressed in two different approaches towards problem-solving. For example, take a lack of something like food: one approach is to steal food from others. The second approach is to search or grow more food - to fix the actual problem! Another example that we keep hearing so often is energy and resources' shortage. The "monkey" way would be for Mr. Leader to make me and you use less energy, while conserving what is left for his elite friends and his electorate. The other less fashionable but natural human way is to use technology to tap into a source of energy that is thousands of time more abundant than oil or coal. One mindset is about controlling the people; the other is about controlling the environment.

Coming back to the title of this note: I think there is a snowball-in-hell chance that any society behaving along the pattern described in Sapolsky's lecture on baboons, would ever develop technology, art or science. It is also doubtful, if they ever managed to capture the fruit of modern civilization by force, that they would be able to keep and maintain those achievements!

The fact that humans did achieve a highly developed technological civilization means that the periods of herd-like rigid hierarchical social structures must have been a rare anomaly rather than the rule! Otherwise we probably would never evolve creative skills and would be living today in a tropical "paradise" living off wild fruit and spending our time plotting how to became "herd-managers".

No it is not the society and the social skills that made us human, it was the lack of it! Those who spend their time partying and socializing create no wealth and no value. Those who tinker, build, experiment and learn science - do! It was the "nerddom" that drove us forward while social skills held us backwards towards social competition, stress, warfare and death.

[see also Dozent's comment underneath]

(Style and grammar edited 7/02/2011)


Stan (Heretic) said...

Stan P. aka Dozent wrote:

6) The baboon society. It is really fascinating. This is not a dog-eat-dog. As far as I know DOGS and Wolves DON'T do it in particular I have NEVER HEARD about a wolf killing a wolf or a dog killing a dog. In healthy animals it simply does not happen. Konrad Lorenz described why. Canines have a fail-proof protection - they surrender by acting line a puppy. Baboons and Humans don't.

First, ( to me) this is not about baboons. All animal groups based on aggression will behave the same. I look at his description of a baboon society - look, it serves them well. It DOES protect a group and a species at the expense of weaker individuals. In a sense it promotes strength and health and reinforces evolution. This evolution rewards bigger and more aggressive animals. In the end we get a T.Rex but never Homo Sapiens. It is like a local maximum - powerful and efficient but it is an evolutionary trap.

Second: look at the baboons and forget about their "baboonness". Look simply at the behavior. Does it reminds you something? Their treatment of females, their periodic fights for a better "position", their bullying the weaker members and with all respect - their arse-kissing?

Yes, it is simply an armed gang. Somalia, Toronto Jane and Finch, Russian mob, Italian mob. But this is "underworld". How about ancient Rome? How about countries like Russia or Somoza's Nicaragua or most of Islamic Middle East?

All based solely on force entrenched by rigid ideology. All stable yet doing poorly for centuries.

7) We said we are different. We are individuals which make liaisons to perform a task. I submit to you that in a face of an armed gang this is suicidal. One can not appease them - they will not stop killing.

I submit to you we can not rely on professionals - like Police to protect ourselves. The Police will not remove an aggressive, incompetent CEO. The Police will not put incompetent corrupt manager in jail. The Police will often morph in an instrument of oppression. Yes, a well trained professional soldier can face 100 conscripts and win, but only in open combat, in a battle. This is not what is happening. When faced with an attack, an encroachment by a gang you have to defend ourselves as a group. We have to form links, we have to train and sometimes we have to fight. When people fight a gang individually they will be picked one by one - someone will knock on your door in the middle of the night.

8) You can clearly see there are situations you have to grab a gun and fight. This was the case of Nazi Germany. The only way to survive was to destroy them.

9) we are not facing an armed attack. We are facing aggression by more subtle means - bullying with a smile and PR word. We CAN NOT answer with a gun - it is stupid.

We have to answer by beating them in the economic game and political game. Our greatest ally is their incompetence. In short - no matter what they do it will not work.

Our greatest foe is our isolation we delegated our responsibilities to the government. Government was taken over by "baboons". Now we stand naked.

But they are vulnerable too. Like this baboon who attacked everybody and got killed in the end.

10) We have to bypass the system. You can not try to "earn money" - they CAN PRINT MORE! You can not run a company - they CAN TAX YOU TO DEATH FOR YOUR OWN "GOOD"!

But they are not unified at all. It is now: every monkey for himself. It is now East vs. West, India vs. Pakistan vs China. There are countries which will go a different path. There are currencies which still work. We have to hit them where they are the weakest - their lack of skills, especially technical skills and the absence of leadership.

They will try to use aggression to build windmills. You know how it will end. You also know in humans leadership goes further then pure aggression - even in Russia, though this is pathology.
[continued below]

Stan (Heretic) said...

[continuation from above]

11) Finally, there are millions of people who are in between. Like these weaker baboons. They would not mind another "social order", one in which they are not being beaten for no reason. They are not trying to be fuehrers. They are trying to live their lives, have kids, work, have roof over their head, food on their table and a family.

They need leadership. They need jobs, they need protection, they need guidance. They are millions of them. They need Kuron and Michnik and Bujak and Walesa to show them the way. They will follow. I have to go. I am already late but it is fascinating, isn't it?!

Stan P. (Dozent)

dav0 said...

Fascinating seminar!

While I found the second half about the baboons very interesting, I have to say I was very impressed with the first half summarizing his neuro-endocrine research.

Some salient facts that emerged about the protective aspects of ketone bodies could have huge medical implications.

For starters, it shows that Dexamethasone is probably the worst thing you could administer during a neurological insult such as stroke or status epilepticus which is still done quite a lot.

Perhaps a rapid ketosis induction could severely limit the extent of the glutamate cascade in addition to mannitol.

Secondly, though his research summary was specifically regarding the hippocampus, it seems highly applicable in other areas such as motor neuro-degeneration.

You don't have to be a genius to follow the logic. Perhaps a HF/LC diet could be much more therapeutic in conditions like ALS or SMA than a brute force approach like Rilutek which has very limited benefit and is very expensive, though I guess that a HF diet doesn't make any money for Sanofi-Aventis.

Apologies for hijacking the monkey debate but for my own selfish reasons, I was naturally more focused on the implications of the first half of the lecture.


dav0 said...

Apologies, I posted my comment on the wrong article, I just saw the next one down. David.

Stan (Heretic) said...

Hi Dave,

Don't worry, there is a subtle connection anyway. Why do the neuro-biochemistry facts known for 30-ty years (according to Sapolsky) are still dripped down drop-by-drop on the need to know basis? By whom? Agenda - profit and power fight within the medical hierarchy, perhaps? It is not only the pharma profit, it is also about maintaining their position and ranking. Do _we_ behave and think along those lines? No! Do _they_ ? Yes! We are dealing with the two distinct subcultures or perhaps two distinct subspecies of consciousness! The other one practicing a "need-to-know" manipulation of information and large scale population behavioral manipulation through promotion and withholding of some ideas. The other kind like us, just want to find the facts and the truth, get the bloody thing solved, publish all and to hell with the convenanses etc. Can you see?

dav0 said...

Of course I see it. Not only in the medical world but in our own profession too. It makes me puke that every time I see a reference to a scientific paper that seems particularly relevant to my own research that it's hidden behind some bullshit I.E.E.E. pay wall.

The world desperately needs a reliable and reputable; open, free, peer reviewed forum for scientific publication.

W.C. Fields was spot on when he said - "I wouldn't be a member of any club that would have me as a member".

Emily Deans, M.D. said...

Interesting because dopamine is increased in humans compared to apes. Dopamine suppresses the more social neurotransmitters, serotonin and norepinephrine. But massive dopamine without socialization is seen in autistic disorders.

Stan (Heretic) said...

Hi Emily,

This connection (dopamine,autism) is fascinating. In some sens autism could be indeed regarded as an extreme form of an individualistic human, as opposed to a social "monkey" - a groupie! I am going to expand on this as soon as I find that autism article I heard about on the CBC1 radio. This was a fascinating story told by a Danish filantropist working with autistic software developers in the context of corporate culture. Absolutely fascinating - not only about the autism but also about what has gone wrong with the business culture!


dav0 said...

Emily's comment about Dopamine is interesting. It's also worth nothing that that the mainstream anti psychotic medications are mainly antidopaminergic in action. Typical anti psychotics (Chlorpromazine etc.) together with atypical anti psychotics (Clozapine etc.) both work by blocking dopamine pathways to various extents. Aside from that, I also read about an interesting theory a couple of years ago about Autism which pointed to a lack of so-called 'mirror' neurons. Dave.

Neonomide said...

Psychology professor Simon Baron-Cohen (cousin of Sacha btw) thinks that autism disorders, which characteristically show up in autistic individuals, are more 'male' ones.

So then, are there animal and especially primate species that show some form of autism?

John Cannell has written about Vitamin D and it's relationship on brain chemistry. More liberal thinker would even think there would exist certain racial differences following sufficiently dissimilar vitamin D metabolism.

Baron-Cohen and Cannell seem to agree on how autism and Williams syndrome seem to show up at least in terms social traits as opposite polar ends in human behavior:

Stan (Heretic) said...

Thanks for the link! Very interesting connection! (must quote it):

... often have greatly elevated activated vitamin D levels for several months in early life. They usually present in later life with remarkable sociability, overfriendliness, empathy, and willingness to initiate social interaction—strikingly the opposite personality of autistic children. ...

So, abnormally-low activated vitamin D levels produce infants with symptoms of autism while abnormally-high levels produce children with personalities the exact opposite of autism.