Friday assorted links

by on October 16, 2015 at 11:26 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1 rayward October 16, 2015 at 11:59 am

I was in law school when my state’s Supreme Court adopted comparative negligence and strict liability for defective products (in separate decisions). Before that, an injured person had little chance of recovery, contributory negligence being a complete defense (even if the plaintiff was only 1% at fault) and proving negligence in the manufacture of a defective product an almost insurmountable burden. Naive law students at the time (such as myself) had no idea what that meant to a lawyer specializing in personal injury cases – so none of the top students in my class sought a career in personal injury. Duh. Fast forward to today and state legislatures (mostly Republican) have reimposed limits and legal obstacles (not exclusively but especially in claims against negligent doctors) to personal injury lawsuits; hence, the “museum”. I always felt that lawsuits as policy to compensate injured persons arising from negligence and defective products was little more than a crap shoot, and that a far more effective policy was possible (something similar to worker’s compensation to protect injured persons and fines and penalties, or worse, for negligent persons and manufacturers of defective products). Instead, what we got are limitations and obstacles and nothing to replace the crap shoots. Sounds like what’s ahead for health care reform if a Republican wins in 2016. Then we can have a “museum” for health care reform.

2 rayward October 16, 2015 at 12:04 pm

Item 1.

3 Cliff October 16, 2015 at 12:45 pm

There is no such thing as a % of fault. Most states have a system where fault is “apportioned” by % and you get fun results like Disneyland being held 1% at fault and, due to joint and several liability, getting to pay the entire amount of the damages. Virginia is one of the few states without this and good for them.

4 mavery October 16, 2015 at 2:43 pm

“Good for them”

Quite the opposite. My friend got hit by a car that made a right through the bike lane he was in. (He was going straight and had the right-of-way.) He’s fine, but his expensive bike (which I think is ridiculous, but w/e) was completely destroyed. The driver’s insurance is claiming he could’ve seen the illegal turn and swerved to avoid it, meaning some percent of the fault should be apportioned to him, and therefore the driver(‘s insurance) owes him nothing.

What an absurd system, where being only 90% responsible means you’re obligated to bear 0% of the financial repercussions.

5 brad October 16, 2015 at 4:08 pm

That system (where if they defendant has any fault at all he gets nothing) is called pure contributory negligence. Only 4 states plus DC still have it. 33 states have a 50 or 51% bar — that is if the defendant is either 50 or 51% responsible he gets nothing. 12 states have pure comparative (the defendant can recover 10% of damages even if he is 90% at fault). South Dakota has a overly complicated rule all of its own.

6 brad October 16, 2015 at 9:35 pm


7 Cliff October 16, 2015 at 4:09 pm

What’s absurd is trying to apportion blame between different individuals. If the system were different they would just claim your friend was more than 50% responsible, what’s the difference?

If your friend was negligent and would not have been injured but for his negligence, why should he get money from someone else?

8 mavery October 16, 2015 at 4:17 pm

It’s far easier to show “I’m less than half at fault” than it is to show, “I’m entirely not at fault.”

Why should you bear no responsibility for your reckless, negligent actions just because you can show that they might’ve come to nothing had I been more vigilant?

9 mavery October 16, 2015 at 4:18 pm

To paraphrase, “Sure, I swung my first. But if you’d just moved your face, there wouldn’t have been a problem!”

10 Jan October 16, 2015 at 7:16 pm

You’re arguing against your original point. Think about disputes you’ve had in your personal life. Do you really think there isn’t such a thing as partial blame?

11 Gabe Atthouse October 16, 2015 at 1:17 pm

You’re a lunatic. In which world do you live where producers and corporations have less of a liability than they have ever had? Do you have any court cases or precedents to support your delusional view of the world?

12 Daniel Klein October 16, 2015 at 12:03 pm

#4: Tyler, why do you say “false claims”? I found Kevin Simler’s post fascinating and generally plausible.

Kevin Simler, if you read this, please check my (coauthored) paper (pdf) below and feel free to be in touch with me about it:

13 whatsthat October 16, 2015 at 12:09 pm

similarly confused regarding “false” claim

14 Justin October 16, 2015 at 12:26 pm

One problem I see with the hypothesis, is even if singing first developed as an adaptation to predators, what made it persist after our tools developed to the point where we could be effective hunters? At that point any of the aposematic adaptations he mentions would be as much liability as advantage. There has to be some other reason we kept singing.

15 dearieme October 16, 2015 at 1:27 pm

Mating display.

16 The Original D October 17, 2015 at 2:39 pm

I suspect the same thing. Guys generally love to watch women dance and a good love song makes many women weak in the knees.

17 Minority Bolshevism October 16, 2015 at 6:39 pm

First tribal warfare, then any war.

Even modern armies have marching songs.

18 The Original D October 17, 2015 at 2:41 pm

Yep. I was a band geek in high school. I’ve never had any desire to join the military but I loved the military precision of performing as a unit.

19 Careless October 17, 2015 at 5:38 pm

Do you feel inspired to sing when you’re facing violence? I certainly don’t

20 Ray Lopez October 16, 2015 at 2:03 pm

“Of all singing creatures, humans are the only ones who use rhythm” – it’s been shown that rhesus monkeys (I have one) don’t distinguish rhythm.

Also, did primitive man and/or hominids always bury their dead? I doubt it, and also fire and stones as tools were invented about 600k BC, so it throws the Simler post hypothesis off.

21 carlolspln October 17, 2015 at 1:03 am

“Also, did primitive man and/or hominids always bury their dead? I doubt it…”

22 Ray Lopez October 17, 2015 at 2:20 pm

Thanks, just as I suspected, it’s fabricated…RL

The conclusion is not widely accepted by others. “Intentional disposal of rotting corpses by fellow pinheads makes a nice headline, but seems like a stretch to me,” said Jungers. Zollikofer agrees. “The ‘new species’ and ‘dump-the-dead’ claims are clearly for the media.

23 carlolspln October 17, 2015 at 11:20 pm

You missed the point, Ray.

24 carlolspln October 18, 2015 at 1:24 am

ps take care in Typhoon Koppu.

25 The Original D October 17, 2015 at 2:41 pm

You have a rhesus monkey? Is she of age?

26 Daniel Klein October 16, 2015 at 3:08 pm

I didn’t realize that link was gated for others. Here is the paper ungated (pdf):

27 Bill Benzon October 17, 2015 at 6:56 am

There’s a growing literature on ritual and coordinated activity. I have quite a bit to say about it in my book on music, Beethoven’s Anvil:

For economists I recommend Michael Suk-Young Chwe, Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge, Princeton 2013:

28 asdfG October 17, 2015 at 7:11 pm

Isn’t it wonderful that we live in such a wealthy era that people can make a good living spinning just so stories and selling them as science?

29 Fizz-Assist October 16, 2015 at 12:15 pm

I’m curious why Tyler is so sure about the falseness of #4. Sure, there are many hypothesis about music and evolution (just look at pages 78-85 in Jordania’s book for an overview. So on the odds most of them are incorrect, but that’s just a consequence of the field of study where there is so little room for new experiments. Jordania is a respected musicologist, not some hack trying to shut down the LHC…

30 nigel October 16, 2015 at 1:14 pm

Tyler is being coy. He almost never reveals unqualified opinions, so this is a ruse. Straussian reading of Tyler suggests the title is a clue that he actually thinks this is a really interesting argument but doesn’t want to say so. This thesis about evolution is speculative enough and even degrading in a certain sense such that Tyler would rather opine in secret.

31 nigel October 16, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Or maybe I just don’t know anything about evolution and it really is completely implausible. But then why would he link to it.

32 dearieme October 16, 2015 at 1:30 pm

An academic once told me, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a leg-pull, that some tribes in New Guinea are the only known human societies without music, “not even singing”. Does anyone here know anything about that?

33 Nodnarb the Nasty October 16, 2015 at 4:38 pm
34 dearieme October 16, 2015 at 7:36 pm

Does that book cover all the tribes of New Guinea?

35 Daniel Klein October 16, 2015 at 1:35 pm

I suggest that people stop using “Straussian” as a synonym for “esoteric.” “Straussian” should mean more than “esoteric,” it should means Straussian, so if one means simply esoteric (I think you do), just say “esoteric.”

36 Ray Lopez October 16, 2015 at 2:04 pm

Haha, you’re not fooling anybody with such esoteric, Straussian parsing. Nice try though.

37 Thor October 16, 2015 at 5:52 pm

But he has a point. Esotericism is just one of the (many) interesting — interesting whether you agree or not — things Strauss wrote about and thought about.

For me his robust questioning of historicism, and his reading of his rival philosopher, Heidegger, as yet another historicizing Hegelian, is far more interesting.

38 Blackbeard October 16, 2015 at 5:49 pm

If Staussian doesn’t mean esoteric what does it mean? This is a serious question. I know who Leo Strauss was but I don’t understand what Straussian means the way it is used on this blog.

39 Troy October 16, 2015 at 5:53 pm

Isn’t a Straussian reading one which suggests the work in question has a hidden, secondary, possibly-more-important meaning? A work could be esoteric, but not contain hidden subversive messages, and then it would not be Straussian.

40 honkie please October 16, 2015 at 11:30 pm

See the explanation I posted on this earlier thread:

Cliffs Notes: just know its main function is self-congratulatory.

41 Alan October 16, 2015 at 1:51 pm

Simler suggests benefits of collective action instead of rugged individualism so he must be wrong.

42 dearieme October 16, 2015 at 3:47 pm

Man is a social animal. So there are limits on how ruggdr individualism can be, or how individual ruggedness can be.

Perhaps it’s unfair, but I picture “rugged individualism” as often involving a chap with a gun and ammunition, which are the products of an interlinked, complex society on which he is, maybe, planning to be a parasite.

43 BC October 17, 2015 at 6:38 am

In the context of how collective action vs. rugged individualism is actually discussed, rugged individualism usually refers to voluntary cooperation among individuals and collectivism refers to mandatory actions enforced by the state. No one ever says, “People shouldn’t engage in commerce; rugged individualism works better.” In this sense, rugged “individualism” is a misnomer. A better term for rugged individualism might be “natural cooperation” to contrast it with cooperation that can only exist when it is artificially imposed by the state.

If cooperation has evolutionary origins, as suggested by the article, that would suggest that humans are quite capable of cooperating naturally so that there is not much, if any, need for the state to impose cooperation artificially.

44 The Original D October 17, 2015 at 2:45 pm

A few years ago I took a desert survival course. One thing they taught was the Rule of Two:

* In an emergency (i.e. injury or heart attack) you have two minutes to deal with the situation

* Next you need to find water. You can go about two days without water.

* Next is food. You can survive up to two weeks without food.

* Next is other humans. After about two months you start losing your mind, plus it’s easier to survive when you work together.

45 Nathan W October 18, 2015 at 12:32 pm

BC – This cooperation might be quite natural at the level of the family unit, or a smallish community with fairly strong bonds by shared culture, religion, extended family ties, etc. But in the modern nation state with millions or billions of inhabitants, presumably we need additional institutions to promote good decision making and cooperation at level well beyond anything that is inherent to our inherited cooperative tendencies.

46 TMC October 17, 2015 at 10:07 am

Nothing wrong at all with collective action, when coercion is not involved. When it is, the rugged individual is often the victim of the parasite.

47 Nathan W October 18, 2015 at 12:34 pm

What about when the mother-in-law pesters you to look after the kids while she goes to run some errand or something? Some level of coercion is not that bad, and quite often, what you refer to as the “parasite” is often someone who legitimately needs a hand.

In a society of hundreds of millions, mostly comprised of these so-called “rugged individuals”, there’s not always someone quite nearby, so we pay taxes and have social systems to fill in the gaps for what we would more naturally have done within a smaller communal unit.

48 MC October 16, 2015 at 7:06 pm

If Tyler were a Straussian he’d scoff at the typical scientific reductionist account of music as mere biological adaptation and argue instead that music is an instantiation of the Form of Beauty.

49 Careless October 16, 2015 at 12:35 pm

#6 fascinating, Crooked Timber apparently thinks the faculty and grad students at Harvard are morons.

50 Art Deco October 16, 2015 at 3:41 pm

You mean leftoid academics have some other opinion about people who are not them?

51 Jan October 16, 2015 at 7:21 pm


52 Careless October 17, 2015 at 5:47 pm

You think that the faculty and grad students of Harvard are not “leftoid academics”?

53 asdfG October 17, 2015 at 7:13 pm

“Leftoid” isn’t a word. So perforce the faculty and grad students of Harvard can’t be well described by it.

54 JWatts October 17, 2015 at 4:40 pm

“#6 fascinating, Crooked Timber apparently thinks the faculty and grad students at Harvard are morons.”

No, I disagree. The Crooked Timber article portrays the faculty as evil, not as morons.

55 Gochujang October 16, 2015 at 12:43 pm

5. My understanding was that copyright was on the film, making contents, by that route, not public domain. Does the Library of Congress do it the harder, more legal way, from paper?

Kudos to the guy, and those not using him.

56 Gochujang October 16, 2015 at 3:07 pm

S/B not suing him. My Verizon tablet has gotten very random on typo correction.

57 rayward October 16, 2015 at 1:39 pm

1. It’s human nature to believe tomorrow will be just like today; but it’s ignorance to believe that yesterday was just like today.

58 Ronald Brak October 16, 2015 at 1:46 pm

4. I don’t want to criticise Joseph Jordania as I haven’t read his own words. But I will mention that a lot of human behaviour is emergent and a result of our being social and reasonably clever and not the result of specific genetic evolution. The same strategies can emerge in isolated populations of humans, or our ancestors, without any genetic exchange occurring between them, simply because human beings are smart enough to work out useful new stuff on their own and put it into practice without needing any genetic change to spur them on.

For example, agriculture was developed independently perhaps eight or nine times and we can be confident that genetic exchange was not involved in nearly all cases. We can also be quite sure that the spread of genetic material was not involved in the separate development of writing in Sumer and Mesoamerica.

So genetic evolution is not required as an explanation for the development of group displays of audio-visual intimidation or corpse disposal practices. We could well have been already smart enough to work these things out without any genetic change to help us along.

If human evolution was able to drive changes in very specific or complex human behaviours, then I would expect that human treatment of injuries would be, on average, far better than it was before the 20th century. Developing some sort of genetic predisposition to disinfect wounds or properly set bones would be a huge advantage and there certainly would have been a constant amount of selection pressure for something like that to develop, but it’s quite clear that it never did. While in times and places there were a few surprisingly effective treatments in use, for the most part medicine was simply horrible before the modern age. For example, Australians appeared incapable of properly setting long bones prior to European settlement. If you broke a leg you’d always end up with one shorter than the other. Now perhaps someone can come up with a just so story about how this was adaptive, but I really doubt it. So if human evolution can’t prompt us to engage in sensible wound treatment, it is probably not directly involved in other complex behaviours with less selection pressure. Becoming cleverer in general can help us develop and carry out new strategies, but our genes just aren’t fine grained enough for genetic change to have a direct effect on the bulk of human behaviour.

59 Nathan W October 17, 2015 at 2:09 am

I strongly agree that a lot of human practices over the ages are the result of being clever and being able to figure out some “smart” way of doing things – as opposed to these individual or group behaviours being genetic in any sort of way.

However, I think it would be too easy to overstate the relevant of cleverness in the matter. Consider the nature of evolution in the genetic sense. Nature takes us in a million different directions, and in time the more “fit” trait in a given environment reveals itself.

I suggest the same logic can apply to socially evolved practices. Perhaps a million tribes went in a million different directions, and it’s only by luck/accident that a handful of them developed obviously superior practices (in a given environment), leading to the more successful propagation of these social structure. Then, second in time, since we are smart, other tribes could observe their relative success and try to learn.

In short, our cleverness is not necessary for the evolution of one (or several) social system(s) among thousands or millions of potential social systems that proves itself superior to the other, rather, it is our ability to observe and learn which supports the further propagation of these practices.

Consider individualism and free markets, for example. Individualism: Historically, it appears that we were primarily cooperators rather more so than individualists. It is only recently that we (by luck?) have evolved a system where the group benefit is generally understood to be improved by harnessing our individualism. Markets: Historically, it appears that traders were primarily pre-occupied with protecting monopolies for short-term gain. It is only recently that we (by luck, of a million billion ideas being expressed until something jived?) have evolved a system where the benefits of even competing groups are understood to be improved by harnessing comparative advantage, also in the pursuit of productivity growth via competitive forces.

In both cases, there is nothing particularly genetic about the evolution of these systems. In both cases, it was not until tens and hundreds of thousands of years had passed, with nearly infinite different ideas having been bandied about many of which actually tried, that we have figured out that highlighting individualism rather than the more natural cooperation, or highlighting free trade rather than the more natural preference for monopolies, leads to a stronger and more powerful social entity.

For “proof” about the superiority of markets over communism. Roll back to 1960. How sure was anyone that markets would defeat communism? It was not being “smart” that led “us” to “win”. Rather, it was an evolutionary experiment, and now we have learned.

60 So Much For Subtlety October 17, 2015 at 3:06 am

Nathan W October 17, 2015 at 2:09 am

In short, our cleverness is not necessary for the evolution of one (or several) social system(s) among thousands or millions of potential social systems that proves itself superior to the other, rather, it is our ability to observe and learn which supports the further propagation of these practices.

That is an interesting theory. But is it true? Let’s take your two examples – individualism and free markets. Well Jamaica and New Zealand are both islands colonized by the British. More than two for New Zealand. Both had and have a wide range of British institutions. Neither has had a military coup or any interruption of the democratic process.

How do you explain the different outcomes of those two nations?

Personally I would not cite biology as a cause, but the outcomes are entirely consistent with biological answers wouldn’t you agree? How about another island like Mauritius. Again a whole range of British institutions. How is it doing these days?

Can you point to a single outcome where biology would not in fact predict the outcome? I am not saying that biology is the causation but it would appear that something linked to that biology (the standard excuse making would cite slavery) is determining outcomes regardless of what people see and observe.

For “proof” about the superiority of markets over communism. Roll back to 1960. How sure was anyone that markets would defeat communism? It was not being “smart” that led “us” to “win”. Rather, it was an evolutionary experiment, and now we have learned.

Well George Kennan. A lot of people actually. The apparent success of Communism was based on faked statistics and suppressed evidence of genocide. Nothing more. It was being dumb, I think. After all, all the smart people endorsed the Khmer Rouge. It was red necks who read the Reader’s Digest and so had a better understanding of what was going on the world than all the experts in all the groves of academe put together.

61 Nathan W October 17, 2015 at 7:26 am

I agree in denoting this as fairly theoretical, but I think the reasoning is quite sound in applying the nature of genetic evolution (a million dead ends) to evolution of societies (a million dead ends, but at least the “losers” can just adopt the strategies of the “winners” – much easier than adopting the genes).

NZ-Jamaica. Fair question. I can raise some rather plausible explanations, but don’t have nearly enough knowledge of either to suppose that these are remotely complete explanations. Racism would potentially account for some of the NZ/Jamaica discrepancy – historically, it would have been much easier for a white New Zealander to show up in London or New York looking for a $5-50 million dollar line of credit to start a business compared to a Jamaican, for the mere fact of existing racism, in addition to the fact of some white NZ residents still enjoying personal contacts with the imperial or post-imperial centres of commerce and trade. Also, I’m of the opinion that a history of slavery can have major negative impacts due to things like a previous institutionalization of violence and rupturing of family structures which may take a very long time to rebuild. The case of NZ is quite different because a) it never had slavery and b) the locals were not conquered, but rather came to a peaceful treaty agreement, making it a lot easier to develop cooperative mutual benefit institutions. A similar statement is that NZ had a very high population of Europeans who could directly apply what they learned from home to the NZ context, whereas in Jamaica this involved evolving out of the slave-based economy into something else entirely.

62 Ronald Brak October 18, 2015 at 2:43 am

Clearly the difference between North Korea and South Korea is entirely due to the North Korean gene for mass gymnastics.

63 JonFraz October 19, 2015 at 2:28 pm

But the physical environments of New Zealand and Jamaica are also very different as are the specific histories.

64 tedm October 16, 2015 at 3:18 pm

RE: Evolution of music: humans only land-based singers.
Here is another out of the mainstream possibility. Maybe our singing is leftover from our semi-aquatic past? See the folowing TED talk.
According to Morgan, the fossil record is inconsistent with the assertion that our ancestors went from the trees to the savannah because the savannah was not there yet. Identifying and dating the contemporary spores fossils, I guess.

65 TGGP October 16, 2015 at 7:03 pm

I thought the “aquatic apes” hypothesis died out decades ago.

66 John Bailey October 16, 2015 at 3:59 pm

I found the point about making attacking human beings unprofitable very plausible. We generally kill any animal that has killed a human, precisely because they will likely do it again (it is profitable).

Once you establish that it is bad to attack humans, then preventing accidental encounters make sense. Hikers currently yell, “bear” when walking in bear country so there will not be a surprise encounter.

The Haka thing also makes some sense for larger groups. Some animals have threat displays that make them appear larger. Whether it would work with a smaller human group, 5-15, is less clear. That could be tested experimentally.

67 chuck martel October 16, 2015 at 10:59 pm

Yeah, when Yogi dies for biting Mrs. Johnson all the other bears take note and stop using humans as hors d’oeuvres. They probably realize this from peeking at the TV news through people’s windows. Because an animal has attacked a human for a first time, it’s inevitable that they’ll do it again, probably because it’s just so much fun. Better get rid of them, it might be habit forming.

68 Careless October 17, 2015 at 6:00 pm

I’m unclear on what your point is, but it seems you think it’s ridiculous that animals could evolve to fear humans, despite all of reality. Am I misreading you

69 Nathan W October 18, 2015 at 4:43 am

Your comment suggests that you do not have a very good grasp on the principle of evolution.

Basically, those bears which were naturally more careful around humans didn’t enter into dangerous encounters with humans, and so survived and propagated themselves, while those which were more willing to engage with humans would have ended up dead, making no more babies.

Meanwhile, a low level of mutations over time allows new ground to open up, with yet more cautious bears being around, who would be even MORE likely to survive due to their natural caution around humans. I assume that there is no “caution around humans” gene, but rather, they become generally more cautious in general, perhaps generally around larger species.

70 John Bailey October 16, 2015 at 4:08 pm

Besides stones, early humans almost certainly had clubs and spears. Compared to animals, which frequently have to get very close, for instance teeth, spears and clubs would have allowed humans to fight at 3-6 foot distance. The combination of stones and spears and clubs would be more powerful than either alone. Bigger humans, typically adult males, could use the spears and clubs while the rest of the group could throw stones. A tiger paying attention to one could be clobbered by the other. They could create a 1-2-3 punch as an animal focused on the biggest human, with a club, gets distracted by being hit with a stone allowing the club wielder in for a blow followed by a spear.

71 NeedleFactory October 16, 2015 at 6:38 pm

“early humans almost certainly had clubs and spears.”

Agreed; but even earlier humans would not have had spears.
Still earlier humans would (IMHO) have had rocks only (I assume sharp rocks would have been used to fashion clubs, the idea of clubs coming from fallen sticks and branches.)

72 Ronald Brak October 16, 2015 at 7:47 pm

Our ancestors first made stone tools starting around 2.6 million years ago. We can’t be certain which primates first started making stone tools but Homo Habilis definitely appears to have been an early stone tool maker and stood about 1.3 meters tall with a brain size a little less than half the modern average. Homo Habilis could have certainly thrown stones but didn’t possess the adaptions that allow us moderns to throw with deadly force and accuracy if we put in the practice.

One of the interesting things about ancient toolkits is how they could stay basically unchanged for hundreds of thousands of years. Our early ancestors shared may of our characteristics but were clearly not yet us in their minds. Their cognition could have still been very alien from our point of view and the lack of variety or flexibility in their tool making may mean they gave about as much thought to making their stone tools as termites do to building a mound. It may have been an activity with no more intellectual component than eating, sleeping, or grooming.

73 John Bailey October 16, 2015 at 4:17 pm

Another point is that at the point that humans were capable of group singing/dancing, they would also be capable of group action in offense/defense.

The evolution away from physiological attack/defense teeth/strength implies that humans were using naturally occurring “tools” stones, sticks, clubs. Since these would not have any/much modification, even if they survived, they might not be recognized as tools.

74 Nathan W October 17, 2015 at 7:32 am

Strongly agree. As someone who grew up with lots of involvement in group music activities, not only might the practice of music improve discipline, but also it strongly increases the ability to exercise very highly attuned awareness of diverse actions within a group. E.g., the trombonist is carrying the melody right now, so you have to be attuned to him to match the rhythm. I would be surprised if this sort of thing were not helpful in becoming very capable in paying attention to many things at a time, within the dynamics of the small conflicts that I assume would have been more common in the earliest of conflicts, involving perhaps dozens of combatants on each side.

I also agree with the idea of evolution about “tools”. It is not necessary that the winning group “discover” or “invent” tools per se, as a cognitive act of increasing technology, but rather that the group which shows up to battle kills all the other ones, survives, and therefore perpetuates the technology which proves superior in battle.

75 Kevin Erdmann October 16, 2015 at 5:02 pm

I’ve noticed the trend toward amidst, amongst, whilst, etc. It drives me crazy. It’s the kind of language you would expect to see in some conspiratorial newsletter that is trying to sound sophisticated. I don’t understand why it’s becoming so popular.

76 tjamesjones October 17, 2015 at 6:29 am

I agree. It’s pomposity.

77 Floccina October 16, 2015 at 8:21 pm

#2 I see more use of “st” in words like “among”, these days?

78 Nathan W October 17, 2015 at 2:17 am

4) Singing can be seductive (sex selective evolution). If you’re unsure about this, just go to some festival, hang around a campfire at night, listen to people singing (it is dark), and think about who you want to sleep with: the person with the good singing voice.

Also, in many cultures, historical narratives (oral tradition) are passed on in sung verse, not spoken verse. Presumably in earlier times, ANYTHING that helped to create stronger group identity would have contribute to properly functioning cooperative mechanisms, going so far as being more driven to work together in preparing for the battlefield. The use of militaristic displays of singing and dancing are presumably relevant, but need not apply in the development of more advanced systems of group identification which went beyond the level of the family/tribe unit.

Also, consider standard advice in bear-infested woods: Make lots of noise to scare away the bears. Signalling that you’re not the least bit scared is quite unnerving. I have read several stories of people surviving grizzly confrontations by simply standing your ground, or even roaring back, but those who run almost universally end up dead. I suggest that singing could be a bit like these.

As an aside on the effectiveness of sounds at scaring away attackers with rocks. I was once in a monkey-ridden forest (Emei shan, China) solo hiking a trail full of aggressive monkeys. I had ignored the advice to take a heavy stick with me to beat away the monkeys (lesson learned: never ignore local advice). The strategy I developed was to hike with two fairly large rocks, hitting them together while I walked. This put an end to the terrifying encounters with monkeys, who then kept their distance.

79 Careless October 17, 2015 at 6:11 pm

I have read several stories of people surviving grizzly confrontations by simply standing your ground, or even roaring back, but those who run almost universally end up dead. I suggest that singing could be a bit like these.

Sure, after 15,000 years of humans killing bears that pissed them off

Want to bet that a loud, say, sheep could get a bear to go away?

80 Careless October 17, 2015 at 6:12 pm

Every terrestrial animal larger than a sparrow has had at least a thousand generations of getting killed by humans if it wasn’t sufficiently wary of us. Fear of humans is in their DNA.

81 Nathan W October 18, 2015 at 12:56 am

Interesting idea. Perhaps someone could make a very authentic sheep-looking and -smelling robot, but equipped with the ability to stand its ground and make very loud noises, then observe the reaction.

Totally agree that many species have caution of humans in their DNA now, but I think grizzlies might be an exception.

82 JonFraz October 19, 2015 at 2:34 pm

If you’re unsure about this, just go to some festival, hang around a campfire at night, listen to people singing (it is dark), and think about who you want to sleep with: the person with the good singing voice.

Also, dancing, which requires some sort of music. Hence the pick-up singles club almost always has a DJ an a dance floor.

83 Johnny October 17, 2015 at 3:41 am

Big sounds emanate from big animals. Avoid (or be alert to) big sounds, which you can often hear before you see the big animal.

I haven’t read JJ’s book (although it sounds worth reading). Geof Miller’s hunch strikes me as plausible: We have music because chicas dig it, because makes them feel pleasantly aroused, or any any case, because they like it. Why do chicas like music? Because it sounds good. Why does it sound good? It may be an indicator of genetic fitness, Miller suspects (The Mating Mind).

How does it work? I don’t know but I do know that if you are the hot lead guitarist in a successful rock group, you are going to meet girls. Girls like guys that other girls like. You are on stage, adored by flocks of girls. They are all going to crave you, to the resentment of the drummer and bass player. (Vocalists do good too, but the guitar hangs low on the hips….you can really make that work for you. Piano players can do ok, but only if they stand while playing, Even then, it doesn’t have the impact of a guitar, hanging between your legs. Hard to play like that but the rewards are great.)

84 Barkley Rosser October 17, 2015 at 4:01 am

I agree that Deaton deserves the Nobel, although perhaps it should have been shared. But I have to say that the committee’s explanation of it has been one of the most incompetent I have ever seen. They spent most of their official statement praising his Ideal Demand System (coauthored in 1980 with John Melbauer in AER). But, sorry, this is just an application of the transcendental logarithmic function (translog) to demand analysis, which had been applied to production functions quite a few years earlier by such people as Erwin Diewert, Laurits Christianson, and Knox Lovell, to name just a few. There was a whole assembly line of people applying translog to this and that well before Deaton and Melbauer doing it to demand theory. This is a joke of a breakthrough, given that none of the people I have mentioned have been invited to Stockholm and are not on any list to receive such an invitation.

So, Deaton really got it for emphasizing that consumption is what should be used to measure poverty. That I respect. Why did they not focus on that rather than all this silly nonsense about the IDS, which was really not all that innovative?

85 TMC October 17, 2015 at 10:22 am

Not too much different than Krugman. He had what others had before him, just said it better.

86 Careless October 17, 2015 at 6:16 pm

Wait, is Barkley Rosser complaining that the Nobel was given for left wing political reasons?

87 Barkley Rosser October 17, 2015 at 10:48 pm


Transcendental logarithmic functions have a political ideology attached to them? Your name does seem to indicate the nature of your thought processes.

88 joe October 17, 2015 at 9:35 am

#2 I’m surprised the whole “vintage” movement has bee allowed to survive since it is so rooted in an ironic glorification of “White” culture. It seems it would be very easy to shame it out if existence. A few well-placed articles on Slate or Vox pointing out the racial overtones could get the ball rolling – and if just a few others got on board, the entire style could be swept away in a matter of weeks. It’s amazing how quickly things can change in our hyperviral culture.

Victorian style is no different than the Confederate flag from some people’s perspective.

89 Careless October 17, 2015 at 4:19 pm

When a bird lands on the ground, it invariably stops singing.

Well, I know for a fact that isn’t true.

90 Barkley Rosser October 17, 2015 at 5:28 pm

You are right about birds that fly and land on the ground as they sometime so, Careless. But no flightless bird sings. There are no singing ostriches or penguins.

91 Careless October 17, 2015 at 6:17 pm

Oh jebus, this caused a two-handed facepalm

I don’t think much of you, but you’re better than that

92 Barkley Rosser October 17, 2015 at 10:51 pm


You are all worked up about this point? Do you wish to tell us about the famous singing penguins of South Africa? Shame on me for pointing out how stupid and ignorant your point is.

93 cheale October 19, 2015 at 7:37 pm
94 Alan G. October 19, 2015 at 7:23 am

#4 – Curious why the author does not consider the wolf howl as a song. Lack of differing notes in each individual singer? I can’t find a definition of animal song that would exclude them. Plus, crickets?

95 Ronald Brak October 19, 2015 at 8:08 am

Frogs, monkeys, whales of all kinds, fish, mice, bats, a large number of insects, elephants, and if you have horrible taste in music – cats and Justin Bieber. That humans are the only ground dwelling animals that sing is of course complete nonsense, but complete nonsense is what one tends to get whenever someone makes up just so stories to explain specific, complex behaviours through genetic evolution. But still, while ridiculous, some of the stories are entertaining, so I suggest approaching anything that tries to explain specific behaviours in evolutionary terms as a type of 60s whacked out soft science ficiton for maximum enjoyment.

96 JonFraz October 19, 2015 at 2:36 pm

My cats are insulted that you class Justin Bieber with them. I’m told he belongs with dogs– the little yappy kind.

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