Thursday, May 8, 2008

Frans De Waal on Freakonomics

See the column here

Some interesting tidbits:

"Outside bonobos, there are many other animals that engage in sex even if reproduction is impossible, such as when the female is pregnant, or between members of the same sex. Also here, the sex serves a bonding function, or to signal dominance."
The important thing to note here is that sex, especially in bonobos, serves a primarily social role (IE, building relationships, defusing tension, etc). In fact, it is the primary method by which they DO interact socially. Chimpanzees hit each other with sticks, humans talk, and bonobos copulate like a bunch of horny teens on spring break.

So, we shouldn't be too surprised when we see the phrase "to signal dominance" at the end. However, this begs an interesting question: How exactly DOES sex signal dominance? Is it signaling dominance to the other bonobo, or bonobos who are watching? Does it imply the "r-word?"

And, most does this behavior manifest itself in homo sapiens?

Another thing to note is that the bonobos hardly have an ideal, communist lifestyle: they have social hierarchy, too, even if they don't have open violence.

"When I came to this country, over twenty-five years ago, I was amazed that creationism was still taken seriously, and assumed that it would blow over. It never did, of course. "
Hehehehehe. I just find this funny.

"I actually don’t think the response is irrational at all, but related to the fact that in a cooperative system, one needs to watch what kind of investment one makes and what one gets in return. If your partners always ends up getting a greater share, this means that you’re being taken advantage of. So, the rational thing to do is withhold cooperation until the reward division improves.

This holds an important message for American society which is becoming less fair by the day...I expect the same inequity aversion in dogs and wolves, but not cats (which are solitary hunters, and shouldn’t care much about what others get)."

A lot of anti-market people seem to think that, since people will take a "screw you" approach, it means all the assumptions of capitalism are wrong and that markets are a miserable failure (a violation of the rational maximizer means, for instance, that markets don't work properly because the demand curve won't work).

What's important to note:

1. People ARE maximizing. They are simply maximizing their welfare in a way that is unexpected to an untrained observer. To a person that knows the importance of relationships and the social dynamics of the marketplace and the workplace, no one is surprised when a person who isn't getting paid as much as his peers doesn't work very hard. We also don't call for an immediate government intervention to some supposed market failure.

2. Yep, sometimes we are irrational. It's impossible to admit otherwise. A human is not a perfect rationalizer, otherwise we would all be able to zip through Sudokus in a couple minutes. Every single one of us has developed our own heuristics and algorithms to solve problems. These are the combination of our own genetic code (which is why chimpanzees stop working when they are getting screwed) and the hard years of mental work and experience through our lives (which is why some of us are racists and some of us are hippies). Ultimately, some of these heuristics and algorithms are incorrect and make us do stupid things, like, say, throw rocks at cute girls to get their attention.

"The general rule in primates is that one sex or the other leaves the group at puberty. In many monkeys, the males leave and seek another group. With apes (and overwhelmingly in human societies, too), it are the females who leave. "
Yet, men are pretty mobile these days,

All in all, a good post on Freakonomics indeed

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