Speakers | Titles & Abstracts | Videos | Photos



HERBERT GINTIS - Santa Fe Institute, Central European University-Budapest, and University of Massachusetts
LAURENCE IANNACCONE - Chapman University
SIMON LEVIN - Princeton University
MICHAEL MACY - Cornell University
JAMES MONTGOMERY - University of Wisconsin at Madison




Titles and Abstracts

FRANCISCO AYALA - Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

"Whence Religion and Morality: An Evolutionist’s View"

Humans are animals, but a very distinct and unique kind of animal. Humans are notably different from the apes and all other animals in anatomy and physiology, but also and not lessimportant in their functional capacities and behavior, both as individuals and socially. Distinctive human behaviors, both individual and social, include religion and morality. Moral behavior, i.e., our proclivity to make ethical judgments—to evaluate actions as either morally good or evil—is rooted in our biological nature, a necessary outcome of our exalted intelligence. However, the moral codes that guide our decisions as to which actions are good and which ones are evil, are largely products of culture, including social and religious traditions.

The roots of religious behavior are in human nature. We are self-aware and, consequently, death-aware. Death awareness, in turn, kindles anxiety, which is partly alleviated by religious tenets and behaviors. In addition, faith in supernatural agents that account for the unknown arises from our exalted intelligence seeking causation. The variety of religions and the diversity of religious tenets and norms are outcomes of cultural evolution.

JEAN-PAUL CARVALHO - Department of Economics, UCI

Cultural Resistance: How communities respond to Globalization and Development

 It was widely believed that the world religions are systems of beliefs, rituals and institutions that are adapted to the preindustrial world.  Change--science, industrialization and improving standards of living, that is to say the modern world--would bring an end to religious belief and institutions.  Despite expectations, religious communities have proved remarkably resilient to economic and social change, as well as government attempts at secularization and assimilation.  To understand how communities evolve and adapt to a changing environment, I draw lessons from (1) Jewish Emancipation in 19th century Europe and (2) the Islamic revival in the 1970s and 1980s. These case studies have puzzling features which I attempt to explain using new game-theoretic approaches to religion and identity based on the cultural transmission of values.  According to this analysis, globalization and development alter, but do not necessarily undermine, religion. Indeed, there are certain aspects of these processes that increase the demand for religion. Nor does government policy constitute a terminal threat.  In fact, regulation aimed at secularizing communities can be self-defeating, increasing religiosity and producing stricter forms of religion.

HERB GINTIS - Santa Fe Institute and Central European University

"Sticks and Stones: Lethal Weapons and the Evolution of Human Political Morality" (Paper)

The common ancestor of the great apes and humans most likely lived in multi-male/multi-female groups in which social dominance was based on physical prowess (the alpha-male) and successful political alliance-building. Anthropologists have persuasively argued that human hunter-gatherers, the primitive state of our species until some 10,000 years ago, practices "reverse dominance hierarchy" in which the human predisposition to control through hierarchical dominance relationships was consciously and successfully counteracted by widespread egalitarian sentiments. I will argue that this basic political transformation from hierarchy to egalitarian participation was made possible by the development of lethal weapons, which permitted even the weakest male to kill even the strongest would-be alpha male at low personal cost.
While the emergence of settled trade and agriculture gave rise to novel forces of hierarchical dominance (the predatory state with a monopoly on the means of coercion), the development of the handgun and rifle after the sixteenth century led to the preeminence of infantry in warfare and thence to the replacement of mercenary with citizen armies, which strongly enhanced the power of the masses and laid the basis for modern political democracy.

LAURENCE IANNACCONE - Department of Economics, Chapman University

“Lessons from Delphi: Religious Markets, Sacred Capitals, and Prophet Functions”

We develop a generalized theory of religious markets and apply its insights to archaic Greece, ancient Israel, and modern America.  Our starting point is a simple game-theoretic model in which secular leaders enhance their power by influencing the location of sacred places.  In addition to standard competitive and monopolistic equilibria, the model includes a novel equilibrium, which we call the "neutral nexus."  In the nexus equilibrium, a sacred place gains widespread authority precisely because it lies beyond the centers of secular power.  The nexus can promote cooperation, innovation, and exchange, especially where markets are weak and power is fragmented.  The sanctuary of Delphi illustrates the real-world importance of the neutral nexus, as does Israel’s tabernacle of Shiloh, and other institutions both ancient and modern.

MICHAEL MACY- Department of Sociology, Cornell University

“Network Structure and the Diffusion of Religious and Normative Pathogens"

Witch burning, lynching, inquisitions, foot-binding, gay bashing, infibulation, breast ironing, ethnic cleansing, honor killing, and necklacing have been attributed to a dark side of the human psyche that surfaces on a mass scale only under special circumstances that are atypical in prosperous democratic societies. An alternative view is that these behaviors are extreme examples of cultural pathogens whose diffusion depends on the parochial structure of social networks. I will summarize results from computational models and experiments with human subjects that support the latter explanation. Application to contemporary "culture wars" and intense normative polarization will also be explored, along with methodological implications for causal inference based on multivariate linear models.

JAMES MONTGOMERY- Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin at Madison

“Models of Intergenerational Transmission"

I will review some recent work on two models of intergenerational transmission and then discuss directions for future research.  The first model (AEJ Micro 2010) generalizes the model of intergenerational cultural transmission developed by Bisin and Verdier (QJE 2000, JET 2001) to permit an arbitrary number of cultural traits.  Applying results from evolutionary game theory and mathematical biology, I characterize conditions under which all traits persist in the long run.  The second model (AJS 2011) generalizes the two-sex model of intergenerational transmission developed by Preston and Campbell (AJS 1993).  While Preston and Campbell applied the model to IQ transmission and I applied the model to racial-class transmission, other applications would be possible.  Future work might attempt to endogenize the key parameters of the models – the matrix of “cultural distastes” in the first model and the intergroup matching parameters in the second model – which reflect the degree of (dis)similarity between groups

SIMON LEVIN - Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton

“Consensus and Collective-Decision making"

The emergence of social norms is dependent on the achievement of some degree of consensus. This lecture will explore theoretical approaches, with some empirical support, for collective decision-making in animal groups, with special attention to the importance of unopinionated individuals.

PETER J. RICHERSON - Department of Environmental Science and Policy, UC Davis

"Cultural Group Selection and the Origin of Institutions and Norms"

In the Descent of Man Darwin proposed that human moral sentiments arose by selection for cooperation among tribal scale units. Selection at the level of such units is hard to imagine if the target of selection is genetic variation, but it is considerably more plausible if selection acts on cultural variation. The basic reason is that cultural evolutionary processes are rapid compared to the effects of migration, creating and maintaining substantial between-group variation in circumstances where genetic variation at the same scale is much smaller. Group differences in performance can drive cultural evolution by three different mechanisms, differential group proliferation and extinction, differential borrowing from more successful groups, and differential migration into better performing groups. Diverse bodies of evidence support the conjecture that cultural group selection was and still is an important force shaping human norms and institutions.

BRIAN SKYRMS - Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science, UCI

“Naturalizing the Social Contract"

I explore some ways in which evolutionary game theory can be used as a tool for constructing a naturalistic theory of the social contract.





  • Opening Remarks by DONALD SAARI, Director of IMBS and MICHAEL MCBRIDE, Department of Economics- video
  • LAURENCE IANNACCONE, "Lessons from Delphi: Religious Markets, Sacred Capitals, and Prophet Functions"? - video
  • JAMES MONTGOMERY, "Models of Intergenerational Transmission" - video
  • SIMON LEVIN, "Consensus and Collective-Decision making" - video
  • FRANCISCO AYALA, "Whence Religion and Morality: An Environmentalists' View" - video
  • MICHAEL MACY, "Network Structure and the Diffusion of Religious and Normative Pathogens" - video
  • JEAN-PAUL CARVALHO, "Cultural Resistance: How communities respond to Globalization and Development" - video
  • PETER RICHERSON, "Cultural Group Selection and the Origin of Institutions and Norms" - video
  • HERB GINTIS, "Sticks and Stones: Lethal Weapons and the Evolution of Human Political Morality" - video
  • BRIAN SKYRMS, "Naturalizing the Social Contract" - video

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