Behavior / 21.06.2009

We concluded the previous post in this series with the question: Are we what we eat? This is not a facetious question. Rather, it is an attempt to explain significant variations in human behavior. We approach this explanation by exploring the extent to which our physical conditions and the imperatives of survival might have shaped our social and psychological responses. We speculated that existence as small and constantly warring bands during the hunting and gathering era must have engrained the importance of the distinction between friend and foe. Survival in these conditions must have depended upon the socialization of altruism within groups and hostility across groups. We still see this in the Us/Them syndrome that is often quite mindless in the present environment – a visit to some blogs would be proof enough. We then asked whether growing crops based on very different labor needs could give...

Development / 12.06.2009

Frankly, I do not know if this is a lot of idle speculation or whether there is substance to the hypotheses about the socialization of cooperative and competitive behavior. Nevertheless, I am excited about the range of issues one can think of once the imagination is given free reign. It is an endeavor that holds the promise of interesting surprises. A couple of questions on the last post suggest it might be useful to start further back in time. Readers have wondered how urbanization and education affect behavior. My response is that behavioral socialization is a very slow process and urbanization and education are relatively recent developments gaining pace only in the twentieth century. The behavioral socialization that was discussed in the last post (differences resulting from wheat and rice farming) is the result of 10,000 years of agricultural life.
Ghalib / 31.01.2009

Even as I was writing about Pascal’s wager (On God: Existence and Nature), Ghalib’s words were echoing in my mind: taa’at meN taa rahe nah mai-o-angabiiN kii laag dozaakh meN Daal do koii le kar bihisht ko so that in obedience, the desire of wine and honey may not remain let someone take heaven and cast it into hell The question is quite obvious: What is the motivation to do the right thing or to act ethically? But, of course, this begs the prior question: What is right or ethical to start with? Ghalib’s position on the prior question is well known – he never placed much value on the rituals and gestures of propriety; for him it was always the sincerity of intent that mattered more. There is the constant contrast in Ghalib’s poetry between the genuineness of the Sufi and the hypocrisy of the Mullah. Here Ghalib is going a...