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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Our evening talks include discussion, are free and open to all.

Next evening class

Frederique Darragon

Ancient Matriarchies Of The Chinese Borderlands: Myth Or Reality?
Tuesday, March 27, 2018 - 18:45
Daryll Forde Seminar Room, Anthropology Building, 14 Taviton Street, London WC1H 0BW. Tube: Euston Square. map

From time immemorial, numerous illiterate tribes have created, through the impossible terrain of the Sino-Tibetan Marches, fiercely independent kingdoms which thrived until the early 20th century. Many of them pledged allegiance to the Chinese Empire, as did the little-studied matriarchal “Nu Er Guos” queendoms described in the Chinese Annals until 742. Today, these regions are less isolated, but in spite of the Chinese influence, polyandry is making a come-back. Marriage-less matrilineal societies still flourish in a few remote valleys and courtship customs implying that women would cherry-pick among pretenders have only recently disappeared. Could this unusual state of affairs be the remains of these ancient matriarchal queendoms?
Or is it also that the extreme remoteness of these realms has preserved age-old traditions once common elsewhere? Both Chinese and Greek earliest texts stated that people “knew their mothers but not their fathers.”
I will argue that, contrary to current western androcentric assumptions, patriarchy is not timeless and the nuclear family is not universal. Rigorous ethnographic scholarship demonstrates that around the globe humans have adopted many different reproductive strategies, all of which were successful and many of which endured until today despite the spread of monotheistic religions and globalization. Time has come for academia to base its claims on facts rather than theories whose primary purpose was, and still is, to justify the status quo.