Sonntag, 9. Oktober 2011

Division of Labour as a Driving Force in Cultural Evolution

Research in Sweden in Evolutionary Anthropology

With a big surprise I find, that researchers in Sweden - a research group around Professor Magnus Enquist - is working about the same theme that is important to me since 15 years (1). Mostly the mathematician Micael Ehn (a, b) is working about "Division of labour and specialization as a driving force in cultural evolution".

I am working about this theme since 1996, when I was as a doctoral student with Professor Eckart Voland in Giessen.

My focus is to combine cultural and genetic evolution (to combine "Adam Smith and W. D. Hamilton") in saying that specialization enables societies to dimish the mean kinship coefficient r between the specialist and the reciever of his "altruistic" acts in Hamilton's unequation c/b < r. By specialization it is easier for me to help more people with less of effort. And so the kinship coefficient r between me and other members of the group can sink without acting as an altruist toward members of the group is becoming genetically unfavourable. So maybe in groups beyond hunter-gatherer-societies - in sendentary, complex, agrarian societies - the same "strong" kinship-altruism can be the underlying mechanism of the evolution of human altruism, even if the mean kinship coefficient r inside these societies is becoming lower.

Micael Ehn
My expectation is, that this rationality is important for the future study of complex societies and economies and for a discipline like Evolutionary Economics. (For a long time theory in Evolutionary Economics and in Historical Demography was not developed as it could have been, if taking William D. Hamilton and Evolutionary Psychology would have been taken into account as a whole.)

I have begun to work about this theory by looking for data in pre-industrial, agrarian societies worldwide, for example in Early Modern Age Europe where we have good data of all sorts about the development of societies: demography, personal income, reproductivity of different agrarian regions, their different degrees of division of labour. Examples are: Southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland. So that a comparative view and research is possible.

Now I have to read the paper "On the causes and effects of specialization - A mathematical approach" (2). But the paper "Modeling Specialization and Division of Labor in Cultural Evolution" (3) seems not to be available at the moment. It has five chapters:
1: Theoretic and Empirical studies of Division of Labor and Specialization: An interdisciplinary survey
2: Specialization leads to feedback cycles in cultural evolution
3: Under what circumstances can copying lead to increased cultural diversity?
4: Adaptive Strategies for Cumulative Cultural Learning
5: Temporal Discounting Leads to Social Stratification
- I have not published very much of my thoughts yet. Here you can find a short outline of them. But I am reading these papers with a lot of mixed emotions! Because they are the papers that I SHOULD (!!!!) have published 15 years ago! :-) Never mind! It is very welcome for me, not to be so alone any more with this themes, than I have been and I have felt with in the last two decades.

The economy of a village in pre-industrial times as a "modell organism"

For people, who are able to read german, maybe it is interesting, to read this review I have written in 2008 in which a lot of thoughts of my dissertation are outlined also: the economy of a village in pre-industrial times as a "modell organism". And there is given some german scientific literature of agrarian history, that is very useful for this work (e.g. Bernd Herrmann, Ernst Pitz, Michael Mitterauer, Eckart Schremmer and so on). Bernd Herrman for example has published - together with other researchers - a lot of good thoughts about a theory of the "flow of energy" in the village economy (that is always in one way or the other structured by division of labour). And demography is - according to Herrmann and coauthors - much more often in dependence of social factors but natural factors. Even in strange natural surroundings like Greenland, the Andes or the Oasis of Fachi.

So a good theory of division of labour has a lot to say for historical demography. Here there are to be explored the so called "demographic regimes", the "Bevölkerungsweise" according to famous historical demographer Gerhard Mackenroth, the good friend of the famous Swedish social scientist Gunnar Myrdal. So we have reasons to look forward to a great contribution of Swedish science to the exploration of the function of complex human societies in evolutionary terms.

(It was some years ago, when the innovative research group of Magnus Enquist has already had come into my attention. Then I have made a research blogging post [in german] [4] about a paper concerning the human ability to differentiate between adaptive and maladaptive traits, which seemed to me also a very exciting and important point.)

  1. Micael Ehn, Anna-Carin Stymne and Magnus Enquist: Specialization: A Driving Force in Cultural Evolution – Theory and Data. EHBEA’11. 6th International Conference, March 24 - 26, 2011, Gießen, Germany, PROGRAMME & ABSTRACTS
  2. Micael Ehn: On the causes and effects of specialization - A mathematical approach. University dissertation from Västerås. Mälardalens högskola, 2009
  3. Micael Ehn: Modeling Specialization and Division of Labor in Cultural Evolution. University dissertation from Västerås. Mälardalen University, 2011
  4. Bading, Ingo: Die menschliche Fähigkeit zum Unterscheiden von günstigen und ungünstigen kulturellen Merkmalen, Studium generale, Research Blogging, 31.8.2008

Dienstag, 13. September 2011

Hamilton's Unequation and the Principle of Division of Labour in Complex Societies

A naturalistic theory for Adam Smith's principle of division of labour

The evolution of "strong" altruism is possible according to Hamilton's unequation c/b < r

Yet, in research seldom it has been asked for the consequences of the division of labour (according to Adam Smith) for the evolution of altruism in complex systems and societies. Division of labour diminishes the costs of an altruistic act (c) and enhances the benefit (b) of it by professional specialization. So the mean kinship coefficient r between the altruistic specialist and the receiver of his altruistic acts should be able to be lower than without division of labour for evolutionary stability of this form of altruism.

The "jack of all trades" is not able to act for so many people so easily in altruistic acts than the professional specialist in a well-organized complex society. A pediatrician needs to save the life of 20 children with a mean r of 0,05 to him to do the same - in evolutionary terms - as to rear one own child.

In the theoretical thinking about the evolution of altruism in complex societies at the moment group selection is favored by a lot of scientists (the theory of "superorganism") (W.O.H. Hughes, Samuel Bowles in "Science", E.O. Wilson, D.S. Wilson and B. Hölldobler in "PNAS" and elsewhere). We have hints, that this form of cooperation has to be maintained by "increased rates of dominance, policing, or punishment" (1). But is it possible, that the effects of division of labour are playing a decisive role in the evolution of altruism, cooperation and commitment mainly in complex societies and complex systems (multicellular life) by avoiding such mechanisms of dominance, policing or punishment?

Most societies in human history are confronted with social, not with physical constraints for the growth of their population. If this constraints were diminished by division of labour, by acts of altruism done by professional specialists, than these societies and their inner cooperation could be stabilized by the motivation of kinship altruism even in the greater societies that show diminished mean kinship coefficient between its members.

Hamilton's famous unequation and Adam Smith's principle of division of labour

Hamilton's unequation in words: The (fitness-)costs of an altruistic act divided by the (fitness-)benefit of an altruistic act have to be smaller than the degree of relationship between the altruist and the receiver of the altruist's act. This is the condition of the evolutionary stability of altruistic behaviour. The certain values of costs and benefits are modulated by a lot of circumstances, which have to been taken into account. Since Adam Smith for example it is common sense, that division of labour and specialisation can increase the benefits and diminsh the costs of an altruistic act. By that the degree of relationship between actor and recipient can be reduced, to be evolutionary stable. This way of thinking hasn't been very much explored yet. But this formular can be applied not only to complex human societies, but even to complex, mulitcellular organisms up to organisms, which live in groups and states of every kind.

At first instance this way of thinking could be applied to the first, simple, sedentary tribes, farming communities which have more than 500 members or so. In societies with less than 500 members one has to suppose that simple kinship altruism dominates (for more details, see: 2). But if societies grow, the importance of division of labour for the structuring of societies and social exchange inside of them grow, while the degree of relationship between the members of a given society declines. No one knows at the moment which of both grows or declines faster in relationship to the other. So, could it be, that the principle of inclusive fitness comes into play through specialisation and division of labour even in industrialised, complex societies?

Correlated and uncorrelated growth of population and economic complexity

Someone has to pay attention to a lot of laws, if he explores the connection between kinship altruism and divsion of labour. At first instance there is the law of growing complex societies: At the one end there exists for example modern India for a lot of decades in the last hundred years: Population growth without very much growth of economic and social complexity. The consequence is diminished well-being and diminished whealth of the whole society (see for example slums and so on). At the other end there are for example the western industrialized societies (Western Europe, North America, Australia): Population growth parallel to the growth of economic and social complexity (at least before the invention of the "pill" and the demographic change during the 20th century).

A naturalistic theory of division of labour has to be developed by acknowledging this two possibilities of population growth. The (fitness-)“value” of one specialist for his group, his society depends on the conditions and laws of the former growing of his group or society up to this situation, up to this state of affairs. In Western Europe there existed - for example - the “european marriage pattern”: Someone was able to have children, to  marry and to build a family, if he had a secure position, profession in the complex society of his group. By this rule or pattern population growth was connected to the growth of social and economic complexity. On the whole, growth of the population wasn't possible by diminishing the well-being of this society.

Someone has to explore, for example, how population growth in societies in pre-industrialized times was regulated. Every region, every society, every ethnie followed different laws and different time scales of its growth (or even decrease) of population due to its special historical, economic, geographic, social and cultural circumstances. In european history mostly enhanced population growth in a country correlated with the political, cultural and economic predominance, leadership of that country in that special phase of history. Often this countries and phases are regions and phases of a lot of cultural, scientific, technical, social inventions and innovations. Examples are North Italy, Southern Germany and the Netherlands in the times of the Renaissance, France in the times of Louis XIV’s, England in the times of queen Elizabeth I., Germany in the times of Bismarck. At the end of the 19th century France had a very slow population growth, while Germany had a very strong one. 

Bavaria, Austria and Switzerland

On a smaler scale: Population in Bavaria and Austria was mostly stable after the re-invention of the catholic faith and the expatriation of the protestant middle class specialists in the 17th century. At the same time the protestant regions – the Netherlands, England –, which had been able to maintain their religious freedom and protestant faith, flourished (in well-being, population and economic complexity).

On even smaler scale: Switzerland, Austria and Bavaria can be divided into different ecological zones which correlate with different economical zones. The inner alps followed different laws of population stability and growth than the pasture regions.  And the pasture regions followed different laws than regions, where cultivation of whine, vegetable and corn dominated. In the detailed circumstances of the given regional society and the given circumstances of every day life and economic conditions we have to find the hidden laws, which have to be explored to reach a formular, by which someone is able to estimate the importance and role of kinship altruism for the evolution of complex societies. In the detailed circumstances of the division of labour in the primary, the secondary and the tertiary economic sector of a given society.

I began a dissertation about this theme in 1996 at the University of Gießen, Germany. Because of a lot of circumstances the work hasn't brought to an satisfying end yet. But even 15 years later, I think that this work about the relationship between kinship altruism and division of labour in the development of complex societies in human history worldwide is still worth to be done.

  1. Kellner, Katrin; Heinze, Jürgen: Absence of Nepotism in Genetically Heterogeneous Colonies of a Clonal Ant. Ethology, 117/2011
  2. Samuel Bowles; Herbert Gintis: A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution. Princeton University Press 2011 

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