Posts Tagged ‘Anthropology’

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A history of laughter – from Cicero to The Simpsons

June 27, 2014

One of Enoch Powell’s most famous quips was prompted by an encounter with the resident House of Commons barber: a notoriously chatty character, who enjoyed treating captive clients to his views on politics and the state of the world. When Powell went in for a trim, the barber asked the standard question: “How should I cut your hair, Sir?” “In silence,” was Powell’s instant riposte.

Even Powell’s political enemies have usually admitted, a bit grudgingly, that this was a rather good joke. But what they haven’t realised is that it has a history going back more than 2,000 years. Almost exactly the same gag features in a surviving Roman joke book: the Philogelos (or Laughter Lover), a collection of wisecracks probably compiled in the fourth or fifth century AD. As with most such collections, some of the jokes included were already decidedly old by the time they were anthologised. In fact, we can trace the “chatty barber” gag back to Archelaus, a fifth-century BC king of Macedon. The “how should I cut your hair?” question was standard even then. And Archelaus is supposed to have replied to his own garrulous barber, “In silence.”

Presumably part of the fun for Powell (who was a better classicist than politician) was that he knew exactly how ancient the joke was. Whereas others admired what they believed to be his spontaneous quip, he must have been taking pleasure in the secret knowledge that he was merely repeating the age-old gag of an ancient Macedonian king, and one that may already have been prompting more groans than giggles when it was featured in the Roman Philogelos.

Read full article at The Guardian

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NASA Has Released A Free eBook About Communicating With Extraterrestrial Intelligence

June 10, 2014

Titled Archaeology, Anthropology and Interstellar Communication and edited by SETI Director of Interstellar Message Composition Douglas Vakoch, the document draws on “issues at the core of contemporary archaeology and anthropology” to prepare us “for contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, should that day ever come.”

“Addressing a field that has been dominated by astronomers, physicists, engineers, and computer scientists, the contributors to this collection raise questions that may have been overlooked by physical scientists about the ease of establishing meaningful communication with an extraterrestrial intelligence. These scholars are grappling with some of the enormous challenges that will face humanity if an information-rich signal emanating from another world is detected.”

Via NASA

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Long Lives Made Humans Human

September 20, 2013

The fundamental structure of human populations has changed exactly twice in evolutionary history. The second time was in the past 150 years, when the average lifespan doubled in most parts of the world. The first time was in the Paleolithic, probably around 30,000 years ago. That’s when old people were basically invented.

Throughout hominid history, it was exceedingly rare for individuals to live more than 30 years. Paleoanthropologists can examine teeth to estimate how old a hominid was when it died, based on which teeth are erupted, how worn down they are, and the amount of a tissue called dentin. Anthropologist Rachel Caspari of Central Michigan University used teeth to identify the ratio of old to young people in Australopithecenes from 3 million to 1.5 million years ago, early Homo species from 2 million to 500,000 years ago, and Neanderthals from 130,000 years ago. Old people—old here means older than 30 (sorry)—were a vanishingly small part of the population. When she looked at modern humans from the Upper Paleolithic, about 30,000 years ago, though, she found the ratio reversed—there were twice as many adults who died after age 30 as those who died young.

Excerpt from an article written by Laura Helmuth at Slate. Continue THERE

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The History of Debt

March 8, 2013

Throughout its 5000 year history, debt has always involved institutions – whether Mesopotamian sacred kingship, Mosaic jubilees, Sharia or Canon Law – that place controls on debt’s potentially catastrophic social consequences. It is only in the current era, writes anthropologist David Graeber, that we have begun to see the creation of the first effective planetary administrative system largely in order to protect the interests of creditors.

What follows is a fragment of a much larger project of research on debt and debt money in human history. The first and overwhelming conclusion of this project is that in studying economic history, we tend to systematically ignore the role of violence, the absolutely central role of war and slavery in creating and shaping the basic institutions of what we now call “the economy”. What’s more, origins matter. The violence may be invisible, but it remains inscribed in the very logic of our economic common sense, in the apparently self-evident nature of institutions that simply would never and could never exist outside of the monopoly of violence – but also, the systematic threat of violence – maintained by the contemporary state.

Excerpt from an article written by David Graeber at EuroZine. Continue HERE

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Native Americans and Northern Europeans more closely related than previously thought

December 4, 2012

Native_American_Chiefs_1865

Using genetic analyses, scientists have discovered that Northern European populations—including British, Scandinavians, French, and some Eastern Europeans—descend from a mixture of two very different ancestral populations, and one of these populations is related to Native Americans. This discovery helps fill gaps in scientific understanding of both Native American and Northern European ancestry, while providing an explanation for some genetic similarities among what would otherwise seem to be very divergent groups. This research was published in the November 2012 issue of the Genetics Society of America’s journal Genetics.

Text and Image via Archaeology News Network. Continue HERE

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Freedom to Learn: The roles of play and curiosity as foundations for learning.

July 27, 2012

The Baining—one of the indigenous cultural groups of Papua New Guinea—have the reputation, at least among some researchers, of being the dullest culture on earth. Early in his career, in the 1920s, the famous British anthropologist Gregory Bateson spent 14 months among them, until he finally left in frustration. He called them “unstudiable,” because of their reluctance to say anything interesting about their lives and their failure to exhibit much activity beyond the mundane routines of daily work, and he later wrote that they lived “a drab and colorless existence.” Forty years later, Jeremy Pool, a graduate student in anthropology, spent more than a year living among them in the attempt to develop a doctoral dissertation. He too found almost nothing interesting to say about the Baining, and the experience caused him to leave anthropology and go into computer science. Finally, however, anthropologist Jane Fajans, now at Cornell University, figured out a way to study them.

Excerpt from a text written by Peter Gray, Psychology Today. Continue HERE
Image via

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The disadvantage of smarts

June 19, 2012

What, if any, evolutionary advantage does intelligence give us?

Actually, less intelligent people are better at doing most things. In the ancestral environment general intelligence was helpful only for solving a handful of evolutionarily novel problems.

Suggested reading: “The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life” by Herrnstein, Richard J. and Charles Murray (1994)

You mean our ancestors did not really have to reason?

Evolution equipped humans with solutions for a whole range of problems of survival and reproduction. All they had to do was to behave in the ways in which evolution had designed them to behave—eat food that tastes good, have sex with the most attractive mates. However, for a few evolutionarily novel problems, evolution equipped us with general intelligence so that our ancestors could reason in order to solve them. These evolutionarily novel problems were few and far between. Basically, dealing with any type of major natural disaster that is very infrequent in occurrence would require general intelligence.

Suggested reading: “Evolutionary Psychology and Intelligence Research” by Satoshi Kanazawa, in American Psychologist; 65: 279-289 (2010)

Excerpt of an interview with Satoshi Kanazawa on intelligence. Continue HERE

SATOSHI KANAZAWA is Reader in Management at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Psychology at Birkbeck College, University of London. He has written over 80 articles across the fields of psychology, sociology, political science, economics, anthropology and biology. One such was his widely reported article “Why Liberals and Atheists Are More Intelligent” (2010). His latest book is called “The Intelligence Paradox: Why the Intelligent Choice Isn’t Always the Smart One” (2012).