Re: intelligence & evolution

Ralph L Holloway (rlh2@COLUMBIA.EDU)
Fri, 17 Feb 1995 22:32:02 -0500

Rob, many animals have a lot of white to their eyes, like my dog... But
primates really use eye communication a terrific amount. Watch some of
the classic baboon videos. Not much to distinguish us from other primates
there, I'm afraid.
R. Holloway.
On Fri, 17 Feb 1995, Rob Quinlan wrote:

> WARNING: long, disjointed message follows.
> I just wanted to throw in a couple more comments on the evolution of
> intelligence.
> 1. In R. Alexander's (1989) evolution of the human psyche paper (already
> cited in a previous post) he introduces the concept of "ecological
> dominance", which I think might be worth considering. The concept has
> to do with the source of selective pressures. Basically, an ecologically
> dominant species' selective pressures come from conspecifics rather
> than in solving subsistence or predation problems. Competition between
> groups sets up a selective pressure for cooperation within a group.
> But there is another important selective pressure and that is to avoid
> being the victim of a free-rider.
> 2. Elsewhere (in _The biology of moral systems_ and in some papers) Alexander
> introduces another concept: indirect reciprocity. There are two types of
> indirect reciprocity. (1) "a" does something for "b", "b" does something for
> "c", and "c" does something for "a". (2) By observing the interaction of other
> individuals one can get certain key information. Example: "a" observes
> "b" sharing a piece of meat with "c". Later "a" observes that "c" refuses to
> reciprocate with "b" by giving him/her some meat when "c" has it. So, through
> indirect reciprocity "a" knows that "c" tends to be a free-rider. In the
> future "a" will not bother sharing with "c", because he/she knows "c" is
> unlikely to reciprocate. Therefore, "a" avoids the cost of being ripped
> off by "c". IMHO this is a big part of what intelligence is and was for.
> I.e., for taking advantage of opportunities for indirect reciprocity.
> 3. I've been trying to learn how to flint knap for a little while now.
> I've had modest success making hand axes, spear points, and arrowheads.
> >From this little bit of experimentation it seems to me that the psycho-
> logical mechanisms for tool manufacture and reciprocity are the same.
> They both involve fairly straight forward forms of conditioning as the
> basic psychological thingie. (Admittedly both are much more complex, but
> were talking basics here.) Anyway, in reciprocity to one gives something --
> an action that is reinforced by the return of an item or service of
> roughly equal value. In flint knapping you bang stones together resulting
> in a flake. Good technique is reinforced by the production of useful
> flakes. The problem is that operant condition is present in really
> simple organisms so is not sufficient to explain human intelligence.
> What we need here to better understand both phenomena is some understanding
> of goal oriented behavior. The goal of banging rocks together is to
> get a good flake, which is used in the service of other goals. I don't
> really know where to go from here, except to say that I find J. Barkow's
> _Darwin, Sex and Status_ (one of my favorite books) helpful in
> understanding the organization of goals, subgoals etc. I don't really
> have time to go into this in detail. You all could help me out by
> taking up the discussion of the evolution of goal oriented behavior.
> 4. I have a question for people who know more about comparative anatomy
> than I do (I don't know much at all). It seems to me that humans are
> unique in the outwardly observable characteristics of their eyes.
> That is, they have a much larger white part than other species. Is this
> true? I'd like to argue that this is an adaptation for indirect
> reciprocity -- as it allows one to assess the attention of others. It's
> fairly easy for humans to tell the direction of someone else's gaze
> and it's quite common to for humans to use their gaze communicatively.
> Consider a crowded, loud pick-up bar -- tons of communication goes on
> simply in the direction of a gaze. At this point I'll have to apologize
> for getting Desmond Morrisesque, but I don't know of any literature on
> the subject. Eibl-Eibesfeldt (_Human ethology_) talks a bit about eyes,
> but says nothing about the functional significance of the whites. I
> also know of a little research on facial expressions, but as far as I
> gather none of it addresses this particular question.
> I wish I had more time to tie these things together a bit better, but
> for now I'll just have to hope you all have an idea where I'm going with
> this based on previous postings. As usual, sorry for the length.
> Rob Quinlan