The evolution of human culture was about heterogenous responses to infectious disease….

Ethan Watters excellent long piece in Pacific Standard is here. The basic notion: our cultural mores result from different behavioral solutions to societal stress from infectious disease.  The author of this idea is University of New Mexico’s Randy Thornhill who is an evolutionary biologist. Thornhill has a new book coming out soon: The Parasite-stress Theory of Values and Sociality: Infectious Disease, History and Human Values Worldwide New York, NY: Springer. It looks like it’ll be a good read.

Consumption bias–US versus EU

Monica Prasad’s insightful op ed in yesterday’s NYT is here.

Money quote:

Where Europeans focused on restraining consumption, Americans saw consumption as the machine that drives growth — and we still do.

Hmmm…so what did the Europeans focus on? Apparently infrastructure and production capacity. Not sure how that worked out for them…

Meanwhile Olivier Guez has this take, here. Apparently Europeans need a culture that is more pan-European, just like in 1913….not sure how that worked out either….

Cultural neuroscience

This is a potentially very controversial term that I first learned about in Singapore, about a year ago. The notion is that culture has the ability to affect our neurobiology. This is not so far off from the question Nicholas Carr as asking a bit back–can Google make us stupid? Clearly, there’s a valid line of research on adult brain plasticity driven by our environment. My own research and that of many other colleagues completely supports this idea.

The above intriguing idea is whether a culture, in the anthropological sense, has the ability to influence brain connectivity above the between- and within-subject variability of a population?

Putting it another way, given the fact that any two of us (from the same culture) have differently wired brains, can our shared culture influence both of our brains in some measurable way that rises above the threshold of natural variance in the cultural group to which we both belong?

My gut sense is no. But as far as I can tell, there is no data out there to make a scientific case upon, one way or the other.

Note above all, that this is not the same question of whether population genetics can influence brains. Although without a doubt culture is an emergent of many brains, and the instruction manual for constructing those brains is in our genes.

But to learn more, next June in Ann Arbor….