AIAS Guest Lecture: John Tooby, Prof. at University of California Santa Barbara, US

Orwell meets Darwin: Collective stupidity and the evolutionary politics of information

2018.09.11 | AIAS

Date Mon 17 Sep
Time 14:15 15:30
Location The AIAS Auditorium, Building 1632, Høegh-Guldbergs Gade 6B, 8000 Aarhus C

Successful problem-solving requires bringing together all available relevant true information, but researchers have shown that subjects remember good arguments on their side, and opponents’ bad arguments. If coalitions compete in a collective, zero-sum fashion for status (relative entitlement to determine outcomes) then criteria for accepting information, and for allowing it to become inferentially operational should vary with its probable effect on the relative entitlement of one’s coalition. Truth value should only be a factor to the extent it is imminently publicly demonstrable, and hence embracing errors risks being discrediting. The epidemiology of relativism should track the implicit estimation of how core coalitional claims would fare if objectively evaluated. Polarization and increasing coalitional identification should be associated with reduced truth-seeking. Argumentation directly targeting the status of rivals (e.g., ad hominem arguments) should be experienced as nonfallacious and relevant because the real goal is zero-sum status jockeying not truth discovery. Our cognitive architectures should be designed to quarantine sets of representations subversive of coalitional status, rendering large parts of our knowledge paralyzed and inert. Specialists in the generation and transmission of representations cultivate emerging belief systems about their own moral authority and expertise that systematically exaggerate their impartiality, accuracy, and freedom from corruption.  This drives elite opinion dynamics among intellectuals in advanced countries no less than the politics of mandarins, brahmins, mullahs, clergy, rabbis, and other sets of literate scribes.

More about the speaker

John Tooby, Distinguished Professor at the  Dept. of Anthropology and Department of Psychology (Affiliate) and Co-director of the Center for Evolutionary Psychology, University of California Santa Barbara, US


The seminar is open to all, free of charge and will take place in the AIAS Auditorium, Building 1632, Høegh-Guldbergs Gade 6B, 8000 Aarhus C.


Michael Bang Petersen, AIAS Jens Christian Skou Fellow, and Professor at the Dept. of Political Science, Aarhus University, Denmark

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