The real roots of the economic crisis

September 2, 2009Jon Brooks Comments Off

monkey2If you happen to be in Cambridge, Massachussetts on October 8th, drop in on a lecture by Marc Hauser, Director of the Cognitive Evolution Lab at Harvard: How Apes and Monkeys May Help Us Understand the Economic Crisis. Hauser will argue that “many of the problems in our own economic decision-making can be traced back millions of years when our primate ancestors were small-brained quadrupeds lacking any concept of money or the stock market.” Hmm. Sounds like some financial advisors we know.

Some ideas espoused by Hauser, gleaned from here and here.

  • In experiments with mirrors, great apes have demonstrated self-awareness, a trait closely linked to knowledge of what others know and don’t know. Great apes and monkeys use this information to both teach and deliberately deceive.

  • Despite signs of empathy, cooperation, and “reciprocal altruism,” neither guilt nor shame, qualities necessary to a true morality, have yet to be scientifically observed in non-human animals.
  • Chimps are more patient than people.
  • Whereas humans are apt to punish those they consider to be unfair even at a cost to themselves, chimps will not make that choice. Extrapolating from that: Chimps do not exhibit a sense of fairness.

If you can’t make it to Cambridge, listen to this 2007 interview with Hauser on the ideas in his book “Moral Minds.”

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