The Moral Animal

The full title reads: The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology.

The Moral Animal is a book about evolutionary psychology written by Robert Wright.

I liked the book a lot, but I am a bit unsure what to write in here… The Moral Animal shows how our behaviour is primarily affected by evolution, how cold-hearted bastards we all are (yes, not just me — even you), and how even our deepest feelings are just a tool of evolution to make sure our genes succeed.

Desperately trying to write one more paragraph shows to be rather futile. So I will write no more. Now go and read the book! :)

5 thoughts on “The Moral Animal

  1. Not an unproblematic statement this book makes… If all of our functions would have as “goal” the survival of genes, mother nature probably would not have endowed us with the possibility of suicide…

    We have a free will and can consciously take actions which do not immediately profit the “gene-pool” (i.e., out cultural tradition os one of monogamy). Free will may be a “side-effect” of other evolutionary processes, but then again, it might not :]

    Also, it’s not clear, I think, if evolution still functions the same way for humans, since we drastically change our living environment (and essential to evolution is the elimination of those individuals which are not adapted to their environment).

  2. mother nature probably would not have endowed us with the possibility of suicide…

    It’s interesting. I have been thinking about it a while.

    1. Sometimes the suicide is obviously an effect of evolution. For example a mass suicide of Lemmus to avoid overpopulating. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lemmus — there is written, that it’s a myth but acually it is not — I saw them in a TV document jumping into the sea and dying).
    2. Check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide#Reasons_for_suicide — a person who is facing poorly any of the listed problems is not probably
    interesting for the evolution enough. So his death is even “useful” for the evolution.
    3. I think, that the number of suiciders is quite inconsiderable.

    We have a free will and can consciously take actions which do not immediately profit the “gene-pool”

    Your’re right, no immediately, it’s long time process. And about the monogamy… I just recommend to read the book, it’s explained there enough. One of the advantages is that the real monogamy is not “real” enough (_most_ partners were unfaithful) so it works :o)

    According Sigmund Freud the most activities or decisions are stronly influenced by our subconscious and it’s often impossible to differ “the free will” and the will of our subconscious (called as id). According the book the subconscious is made by the evolution…

    if evolution still functions the same way for humans, since we drastically change

    I’m affraid it doesn’t because of the invention of birth-control pills and the center of human developement has moved from genetics to
    memetics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memetics

    ..which is, in my point of view, better… to be unbouded by the biology and having our “evolution” better controlled.

  3. The book mentions suicide – it says that suicide can be explained when it helps our close relatives (which is usually not the case, so you are right that the book doesn’t explain it). Do you have any idea why mother nature endowed us with the possibility of suicide?

    The “free will” is imho a bit questionable. The actions we take should maximize the profit of our gene pool over the long run (yes, suicide usually doesn’t, but people with suicidal tendencies will usually have less offsprings and their genes will spread less; over a sufficient time period, we would probably get rid of them).

    And no, evolution doesn’t function very well for humans right now. It is way too slow. Most of our evolution occured when we were berry gatherers.

  4. Mno… tuhle knihu jsem necetl, ale cetl jsem neco z podobneho ranku (tim ti to doporucuji):
    Edward O. Wilson: O lidské přirozenosti
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Osborne_Wilson
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Human_Nature

    -> prijde mi, ze na kazdou vec na svete lze vymyslet “evolucni pribeh” – tedy jak to muze (mohlo) byt, aby se to dalo vysvetlit evoluci (vyhodnosti pro druh,…) Jestli je to tak ovsem doopravdy nikdo nevi (zvlaste u sofistikovanejsich procesu). Cetl jsem i docela pekne kritiky tohoto pristupu, napriklad: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giddens Jak to je doopravdy? Netusim…

    -> “And no, evolution doesn’t function very well for humans right now. It is way too slow. Most of our evolution occured when we were berry gatherers.”
    A co treba evoluce psychickych vlastnosti? Pokud tvuj vyber partnera na pareni neni dnes urcen ze 100% fyzickymi parametry potom to znamena, ze jako druh preferujeme vyvoj psychickych parametru. Mam pocit, ze ty se od te doby preci jenom zmenily :-)

    -> “The “free will” is imho a bit questionable. The actions we take should maximize the profit of our gene pool over the long run…”
    Jsem potesen, ze se z tebe stava mainstreamový ekonom jak ma byt :-D. BTW i kdyz to muze byt pravda tak to jenom dokazuje to co jsem psal o “evolucnich pribezich” – VZDY se da neco vymyslet.

    Pápá Drc

  5. As Drc has already written, everything is explainable in evolutionary terms. Evolution is not a theory, it is a fact — a phenomenon. AFAIK there is not any theory about how would the natural selection prefer some mental facilities over other. So evolutionary psychology is hardly any theory in a strict sense.

    But there is more to it. The only way of propagating successful traits onto descendants is via genes. Some trivial mental traits has been mapped to genes, but these are mostly very specific cognitive deficiencies. For every other mental product (behaviour, emotion etc.)
    there are two options:

    1) It is a function of many genes. In that case, genetics shows that these traits are more a product of an environment — not the genes. They only provide a range of capabilities/possibilities.

    2) The trait is not a function of genes, but rather an acquired or developed one.

    I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on it. But I think I would not like it. The reason is that it is probably in a line with the traditional science thinking that claims our mind is only a byproduct of some physical system (brain). I can’t agree with that. To add something constructive, I recommend watching the following video, which talks about this subject in length and I could not express myself better.

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=983112177262602885&q=type%3Agoogle+engEDU

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