Browsing All Posts published on »July, 2012«

History’s Lessons

July 31, 2012 by


Those of you who’ve read my books know that in addition to my research on the evolution of large-scale human societies and the rise of centralized states and empires, I am also interested in the reverse process by which an empire loses cohesion and gradually crumbles into a ‘failed state’ (these two directions in my […]

The Western Way of War II

July 28, 2012 by


My previous blog discussed the problems associated with the idea of the Western Way of War. I was very skeptical of two claims: (1) the supremacy of infantry over cavalry and (2) the supremacy of shock (close-quarters) combat over ranged weapons. Historical evidence does not support  either of these claims. There is another serious problem […]

The Western Way of War?

July 25, 2012 by


In a blog posted some months ago (Why Social Scientists Need to Study War) I argued that warfare is one of the most important forces in social evolution and that it deserves a careful study. In this and following blogs I’d like to continue this line of reasoning. The main question I am interested in […]

Cultural Evolution of the Fork

July 20, 2012 by


After I wrote the blog, the Inertia of Culture, a reader pointed me to this excellent post by Chad Ward: The Uncommon History of the Common Fork This cultural history of the fork provides more details about its initial adoption as an eating utensil in the Middle East and Byzantium in the 7th century, its […]

Michael Hochberg. Pinker redux: We need data

July 18, 2012 by


The Pinker essay has generated a lot of commentary on different websites. This can only be a good thing, insofar as channels for reactions remain open.  The Social Evolution Forum is committed to this. Needless to say, there is a tinge of hegemony in various essays on the Edge website.  How can two individuals, who are […]

The Inertia of Culture

July 18, 2012 by


Norbert Elias discusses an interesting case of cultural evolution in his opus magnum, The Civilizing Process. As we know, during the Middle Ages Europeans did not use forks. During meals they simply grabbed greasy pieces of meat from the serving dish with their fingers (or, at best, speared them with belt knives). The first known […]

Douglas M. Jones: History and Group Consciousness

July 16, 2012 by


I teach a course every year or two called “The Anthropology of Violence and Non-Violence.” I’ve used Peter Turchin’s “War and Peace and War” as one of the assigned books the last several times; the next time I’ll be adding Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Natures” to the reading list. Pinker’s book reflects […]

Antony Harper: Response to Pinker

July 15, 2012 by


Professor Pinker’s critique of group selection rests broadly on three points. First, he suggests that the concept is inexplicit as “it refers to too many things”. Second, if group selection is used to explain cultural traits, it contributes nothing new, i.e. nothing that cannot be explained by anthropologists, historians, social scientists, and the like without […]

David Sloan Wilson. Clash of Paradigms: Why Proponents of Multilevel Selection Theory and Inclusive Fitness Theory Sometimes (But Not Always) Misunderstand Each Other

July 13, 2012 by


Thomas Kuhn (1970) forever changed the conception of science with his notion of paradigms. Before, science was often seen as a relatively straight path to the truth through the repeated formation and testing of hypotheses. What could be simpler? Kuhn observed that scientists sometimes get stuck viewing a topic a certain way.  Their particular configuration […]

Cultural Evolution of Pants II

July 10, 2012 by


While classical Greece and Rome produced excellent heavy infantry (hoplites), their cavalry was really pathetic. Yes, some of them (usually, the wealthy) rode horses. Among the Romans the upper class was even called ‘knights’ – equites, from equus, the Latin word for horse, but these ‘knights’ served mostly as officers and perhaps messengers. They never […]

Cultural Evolution of Pants

July 7, 2012 by


If you are in North America or Western Europe and look around, on any particular day, you will find most people wearing pants. But why is it the standard item of clothing for people, especially men belonging to the Western civilization. Why not a kilt, a robe, a tunic, a sarong, or a toga? I […]

Matthew Zimmerman: Groups as the Most Natural and Useful Level of Analysis (a comment on Pinker)

July 6, 2012 by


In my view, debates concerning whether kin selection, individual selection, group selection or multilevel selection are ‘true’ are ill-conceived.  These are merely different frameworks for thinking about evolutionary change.   Since any two of these frameworks, independently brought to bear on the same question, can result in similar answers, it is perhaps more productive to ask […]

Why do we wear pants?

July 4, 2012 by


Some readers of this blog may be getting a bit tired of the group selection debate, which can get rather abstruse. So let’s shift gears on this holiday, when Americans celebrate their national independence, and consider a lighter topic. Why do we wear pants? More specifically, why are trousers (breeches, jeans, slacks, pantaloons) a standard […]

Bret A. Beheim: Evolution, Theory, and Steven Pinker’s Philosophy of Human History

July 2, 2012 by


Steven Pinker’s recent essay attacking group selection has been roundly criticized for its misrepresentation of evolutionary theory, archaic appeals to parsimony, and dismissal of recent work on human altruism.  Here I’d like to address a particular undercurrent in the monograph: the intersection between evolutionary theory and causation in human history. In several places, Pinker contrasts […]


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