Reason; as the supreme authority in matters of opinion, belief, or conduct

Category: Evolution

TEDtalk: James Flynn: Why our IQ levels are higher than our grandparents

“Think how different America would be if every American knew that this is the fifth time Western armies had gone to Afghanistan to put its house in order. And if they had some idea of exactly what had happened on those four previous occasions. And that is they had barely left and there wasn’t a trace in the sand”

James Flynn, in this resounding and brilliant TEDtalk, calmly and patiently makes a very clever point about exactly why IQ scores have been improving. He astutely cites our increasingly common ability to apply logic to abstraction; to deal sincerely in the hypothetical and casts this concept into a very impressive talk.



Prisoner’s dilemma finally probed

Prisoner’s dilemma finally probed

Game theory has previously told us that, regrettably, the best strategy in the classic ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ problem is betrayal (‘prisoner’s dilemma’ offers two individuals the same choice: cooperate for an equal punishment, or betray. If you betray a cooperating partner, they are punished more severely and you less, but if you both betray you are both punished more harshly). Mathematically, then, our ‘selfish and aggressive instincts’ maximize our chances of survival or victory – unsurprising given the exquisite rigour of evolution in sorting variation for superiority.

For the dismayed rationalist wondering how humans can ever live sustainably and compassionately there is solace in the fact that our evolution moved into a crucial second phase where group selection ruled. Humans lived in packs, and the most successful packs dominated resources. This positively selected for packs that functioned well. Knowing this, it is easy to begin to dissect human behaviour all over again. We conform religiously to the accepted ‘truths’ of the group, to group ideals and values. We have amongst us a brotherhood; in certain circumstances we will transcend survival instincts or solipsistic practice to protect shared interests. Groups with these individuals were far superior to ones without. It is worth noting, of course, that we will, without hesitation, send a competitor group up the river (rival businesses or sports teams etc).

With this in mind, these surprising results from the University of Hamburg should be a little less surprising. Testing the ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ concept on actual prisoners, they found that there was more cooperation than a purely mathematical strategy would dictate. Fifty six per cent of prisoners opted to cooperate, yielding an end result of 30% of total pairs cooperating.


“We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes – one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximum freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way” – Stephen Jay Gould

TED talk: Peter Ward: Earth’s Mass Extinction

TED talk: Peter Ward: Earth’s Mass Extinction

Peter Ward presents the findings of a study that makes for an example to fledgling scientific investigations. The study has followed evidence relentlessly until, at its fruition, a near-complete picture of the area has been painted. This is sometimes accomplished by many different groups working over many decades, but in this case the specific issue demands quickly nothing but complete and irrefutable evidence, an issue at the centre of a denial that is prevalent almost throughout our species – the denial of the rapid destruction of our planet.


A journey through Hawking’s imagination on life beyond our planet

A journey through Hawking’s imagination on life beyond our planet

“…My name is Stephen Hawking; physicist, cosmologist, and something of a dreamer”

‘Into the universe with Stephen Hawking’, the 2010 series communicating the mesmerising insights of one our greatest living thinkers, is a journey through those features of the universe that I think we all consider the most compelling, the most captivating. In this episode he discusses alien life; what might these organisms be like? In what environments could they exist? Would they necessarily require the conditions that have led to the spectacle of life we see on earth? And, with undertones of his famous comments on our own survival hopes, what traits might make for a successful civilisation?


Hindsight Bias

Hindsight Bias

Hindsight bias is a phenomenon where we believe, after an answer to a question has been given, that we knew it all along. Modern psychology tells us that we edit our memories in many different ways, and this also changes with age. This very accessible study (by Daniel M. Bernstein, Edgar Erdfelder, Andrew N. Meltzoff, William Peria, and Geoffrey R. Loftus) shines light on this hindsight heuristic with clearly understandable experiments and also examines its changing character over a representative lifespan.


25% of the body’s metabolism takes place in the brain, in humans. That means 25% of the energy we use is used by our brains. Primates follow as the next closest using around 10% of their energy in their brains.