Team Reasoning: How People Think In Groups

Evening class

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David Papineau

Team Reasoning: How People Think In Groups

Tuesday, January 24, 2017 - 18:45

Huge swathes of literature in economics, philosophy and evolutionary anthropology are devoted to the supposed problem of explaining how groups manage to co-operate in such scenarios as the tragedy of the commons, the prisoner’s dilemma, the stag hunt, and so on. There are many suggested solutions, appealing to iterated games, evolutionary stable strategies, and other ingenious devices. But the whole literature is based on a false premise—that group actions result from psychological processes in which each agent works out an answer to ‘what should I do?’ In truth, however, individual humans find it just as natural to ask ‘what should WE do?’, with all then playing their parts when an answer is reached. This kind of ‘team reasoning’ makes the cooperation in the standard problems trivial. Game theorists think it’s a cheat. They insist that group actions are nothing but a bunch of individual actions, and that individuals are designed by evolution to further their own interests. But they are missing the point. Given that the best way to further your own interests is often to think as a team, it would be odd if evolution hadn’t favoured a proximal psychological mechanism that makes it natural for humans to team-reason. From a descriptive point of view, team thinking is no less prevalent among humans than individual reasoning. And from a normative perspective, it is surely just as rational to start with ‘what should WE do?’ as with ‘what should I do?’.

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Chris Knight

Selfish Genes, Sociobiology And The Emergence Of Modern Darwinism
Tuesday, May 2, 2017 - 18:45
Daryll Forde Seminar Room, Anthropology Building, 14 Taviton Street, London WC1H 0BW. Tube: Euston Square. map

When Richard Dawkins' book 'The Selfish Gene' was published in 1976, it caused an outrage on the left. Marxists, feminists and others took the book to be a celebration of laissez-faire economics and competitive individualism. But when we look at the versions of Darwinism which had prevailed in the previous period, it becomes clear that 'selfish gene' theory represented a major scientific advance. Far from justifying selfishness, the new Darwinism explains in a convincing way why instincts of solidarity and generosity are commonplace throughout the natural world. Today, one of the major figures in human evolutionary theory is the feminist thinker and 'selfish gene' pioneer Sarah Hrdy, whose book 'Mothers and Others' explains how cooperative childcare was the critical factor which gave rise to our species. Hrdy's work represents a modern scientific vindication of the traditional Marxist theory, popularized by Frederick Engels, that early human kinship and family life was based on collective rather than individual parenthood. This talk will review the catalogue of misunderstandings which led the left across most of the western world to respond to a scientific controversy by tragically backing the wrong side.