I recently gave a talk at the American Enterprise Institute. Jonathan Rauch, who writes often on gay issues, asked me how moral attitudes could have changed so quickly on gay marriage. People often seem to think that if I’m saying that moral foundations are innate and evolved, then our moral beliefs are innate and can’t change. In response, I offered the example of sushi. For centuries Americans thought it was disgusting to eat raw fish. But once some people started doing it more visibly, and people habituated to it, the disgust factor decreased and sushi became OK. This short clip offers my general explanation of one way that morals change rapidly.
You can see the whole talk here, including the introduction from Arthur Brooks and commentary from Steve Hayward, Sally Satel, and Jonathan Rauch.Read More
Robert Wright (author of Nonzero, and The Evolution of God), interviews me about the book. We largely agree about the evolution of religion, and about the New Atheists being fundamentalists. Bob is dubious about group selection. He acknowledges it could exist, but tries to come up with individual-level explanations for human groupishness. Bob and I co-taught a class at Princeton. We are on very friendly terms, and this allows our disagreements to be vocal without any risk of it descending into anger. Relationships help open-minded thinking and civil disagreement.Read More
I spoke at TED 2012, on the reason why people have so many ways of achieving self-transcendence. My goal in the talk was to illustrate visually some of the most complex ideas in my book — chapters 9 and 10 on multi-level selection and hive psychology. If you read those chapters, the video will make even more sense. If you watch this first, those chapters will make even more sense.
The basic idea is that our ability to lose ourselves and become “simply a part of a whole” (as Durkheim put it) is an adaptation, not just a fluke of crossed neural wiring, and the New Atheists would have it. It’s a mental ability that is of little use for helping individuals beat their neighbors in competition, but boy is it useful for helping teams bond together to out-compete other teams.
In other words, I’m siding with Charles Darwin, E. O. Wilson, and David Sloan Wilson on this issue, and against the dominant (but fading) view in evolutionary biology that group selection never happened.
[Be sure to watch this video full-screen, for the video effects]