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Thursday, October 25, 2007Humans and monkeys share Machiavellian intelligence
When it comes to their social behavior, people sometimes act like monkeys, or more specifically, like rhesus macaques, a type of monkey that shares with humans strong tendencies for nepotism and political maneuvering, according to research by Dario Maestripieri, an expert on primate behavior and an Associate Professor in Comparative Human Development and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago.
“After humans, rhesus macaques are one of the most successful primate species on our planet; our Machiavellian intelligence may be one of the reasons for our success” wrote Maestripieri in his new book Macachiavellian Intelligence: How Rhesus Macaques and Humans Have Conquered the World.
Maestripieri has been studying monkeys for more than 20 years and has written extensively on their behavior. He has studied them in Europe, at a research center in Atlanta, and on an island in Puerto Rico, where researchers established a rhesus macaque colony for scientific and breeding purposes.
Rhesus macaques live in complex societies with strong dominance hierarchies and long-lasting social bonds between female relatives. Individuals constantly compete for high social status and the power that comes with it using ruthless aggression, nepotism, and complex political alliances. Sex, too, can be used for political purposes. The tactics used by monkeys to increase or maintain their power are not much different from those Machiavelli suggested political leaders use during the Renaissance.
Alpha males, who rule the 50 or so macaques in the troop, use threats and violence to hold on to the safest sleeping places, the best food, and access to the females in the group with whom they want to have sex. Like human dictators intent on holding power, dominant monkeys use frequent and unpredictable aggression as an effective form of intimidation. Less powerful members of the rhesus macaque group are marginalized and forced to live on the edges of the group’s area, where they are vulnerable to predator attacks. They must wait for the others to eat first and then have the leftovers; they have sex only when the dominant monkeys are not looking.
“In rhesus society, dominants always travel in business class and subordinates in economy, and if the flight is overbooked, it’s the subordinates who get bumped off the plane,” Maestripieri said. “Social status can make the difference between life and death in human societies too,” he pointed out. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, for instance, the poorer members of the community accounted for most of the hurricane’s death toll.
Male macaques form alliances with more powerful individuals, and take part in scapegoating on the lower end of the hierarchy, a Machiavellian strategy that a mid-ranking monkey can use when under attack from a higher-ranking one. Altruism is rare and, in most cases, only a form of nepotistic behavior. Mothers help their daughters achieve a status similar to their own and to maintain it throughout their lives. Females act in Machiavellian ways also when it comes to reproduction. They make sure they have lots of sex with the alpha male to increase the chances he will protect their newborn infant from other monkeys 6 months later.
“But while they have lots of sex with the alpha male and make him think he’s going to be the father of their baby, the females also have sex with all the other males in the group behind the alpha male’s back,” Maestripieri said. They do so just in case the alpha male is sterile or he dies or loses his power before the baby is born.
Struggles for power within a group sometimes culminate in a revolution, in which all members of the most dominant family are suddenly attacked by entire families of subordinates. These revolutions result in drastic changes in the structure of power within rhesus societies, not unlike those occurring following human revolutions. There is one situation, however, in which all of the well-established social structure evaporates: when a group of rhesus macaques confronts another one and monkey warfare begins. Rhesus macaques dislike strangers and will viciously attack their own image in a mirror, thinking it’s a stranger threatening them. When warfare begins, “Even a low-ranking rhesus loner becomes an instant patriot. Every drop of xenophobia in rhesus blood is transformed into fuel for battle,” Maestripieri wrote.
“What rhesus macaques and humans may have in common is that many of their psychological and behavioral dispositions have been shaped by intense competition between individuals and groups during the evolutionary history of these species” Maestripieri said. Rhesus groups can function like armies, and this may explain why these monkeys have been so successful in the competition with other primates.
Pressure to find Machiavellian solutions to social problems may also have led to the evolution of larger human brains.
“Our Machiavellian intelligence is not something we can be proud of, but it may be the secret of our success. If it contributed to the evolution of our large brains and complex cognitive skills, it also contributed to the evolution of our ability to engage in noble spiritual and intellectual activities, including our love and compassion for other people”, Maestripieri said.
Talk about a potty mouth.
A Scranton, PA woman who shouted profanities at her overflowing toilet within earshot of a neighbor was cited for disorderly conduct.
Dawn Herb could face up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $300.
"It doesn’t make any sense. I was in my house. It’s not like I was outside or drunk," Herb told The Times-Tribune of Scranton. "The toilet was overflowing and leaking down into the kitchen and I was yelling (for my daughter) to get the mop."
Herb doesn’t recall exactly what she said, but she admitted letting more than a few choice words fly near an open bathroom window on the night of Oct. 11.
Her next-door neighbor, a city police officer who was off-duty at the time, asked her to keep it down, police said. When she continued, the officer called police, who charged Herb with disorderly conduct.
Mary Catherine Roper, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in Philadelphia, took issue with the citation.
"You can’t prosecute somebody for swearing at a cop or a toilet," she said. "We bring one of these cases a year and sue some police departments because they do not remember that they are not the language police."
For the first time since a demonstration in 1990, a group of Saudi women is campaigning for the right to drive in this conservative kingdom, the only country in the world that prohibits female drivers.
After spreading the idea through text messages and e-mails, the group's leaders said they collected more than 1,100 signatures online and at shopping malls for a petition sent to King Abdullah on Sunday.
"We don't expect an answer right away," said Wajeha al-Huwaider, 45, an education analyst who co-founded the group. "But we will not stop campaigning until we get the right to drive."
The kingdom follows one of the world's strictest interpretations of Islam. Women in Saudi Arabia, a deeply patriarchal society, cannot travel, marry or rent lodging without permission from a male guardian.
Powerful clerics in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest shrines, say that allowing women to drive would lead to Western-style freedoms and an erosion of traditional values.
The driving ban applies to all women, Saudi and foreign.
Public transportation is limited, and though taxis are common in major cities, women tend not to use them because riding with male strangers is deemed unsafe.
Some women can afford to hire live-in drivers; others rely on male relatives to drive them.
Though live-in chauffeurs are all male, they are not viewed as a threat because they are foreigners, often from the Philippines or the Indian subcontinent, and are considered unlikely to develop relationships with the women.
Many women reject this argument. "Women and their children are at the mercy of sexual harassment by these foreign drivers, and we know many incidents of this happening," said Fouzia al-Ayouni, a retired school administrator. "It is much safer, and more appropriate, for women to chauffeur themselves and their children around."
When she was first married, Ayouni recalled, her baby became ill one night. Her husband, a democracy advocate, was in jail, so she went out into the street at 2 a.m., holding the sick child and trying to find a ride to the hospital. She finally reached a brother-in-law, who drove her to the emergency room.
The last time Saudi women lobbied for the right to drive was in 1990 during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Forty-seven women were briefly detained for driving in a convoy of 15 cars in the capital, Riyadh. The women were banned from traveling, lost their jobs and were ostracized by their families and acquaintances.
"And although it will no doubt be very difficult to prove, it seems likely that this Turing machine will in the end turn out to be universal."
So I wrote on page 709 of A New Kind of Science (NKS).
I had searched the computational universe for the simplest possible universal Turing machine. And I had found a candidate--that my intuition told me was likely to be universal. But I was not sure.
And so as part of commemorating the fifth anniversary of A New Kind of Science on May 14 this year, we announced a $25,000 prize for determining whether or not that Turing machine is in fact universal.
I had no idea how long it would take before the prize was won. A month? A year? A decade? A century? Perhaps the question was even formally undecidable (say from the usual axioms of mathematics).
But today I am thrilled to be able to announce that after only five months the prize is won--and we have answer: the Turing machine is in fact universal!
Alex Smith--a 20-year-old undergraduate from Birmingham, UK--has produced a 40-page proof.
I'm pleased that my intuition was correct. But more importantly, we now have another piece of evidence for the very general Principle of Computational Equivalence (PCE) that I introduced in A New Kind of Science.
We are also at the end of a quest that has spanned more than half a century to find the very simplest universal Turing machine.
Read Full text at:http://blog.wolfram.com/2007/10/the_prize_is_won_the_simplest.html
The art of sharpening pencils
Welcome to the world of pencil sharpening - this may sound like a dull topic but there is actually a lot more to it than you think. There are a number of different sharpening styles and methods; all good artists should know them. The trick is using the right one at the right time.
There are four main points to select from; the one you choose will depend on the type of pencil you use, and the style of your drawing.
The standard point
Everyone knows about this one, its trademark conical point is the most common and the most versatile of sharpening styles. If you're looking for a good all-rounder for most types of pencils then this is the best. Plus if you don't have a sharpening knife then you probably don't have a choice.
There are a couple of drawbacks with this style however. The standard point can get blunt quickly, particularly if you are using softer pencils such as charcoal. On larger drawings you will find yourself constantly sharpening the damn thing. Often lower quality pencils will contain a smaller diameter core of graphite; if this is slightly off-centre you will find the wood comes so close to the point on one side that it's almost unusable. This can very be frustrating.
The chisel point
This is a rarely seen style where the end of the pencil is cut with a knife into a chisel shape. The main benefit of the chisel is its ability to draw two types of marks on the paper; thin dark lines from along the sharp edge and softer, wider lines from the flat faces. The soft lines are great for rough construction at the start of a drawing and simply turning the pencil on its edge gives you extra precision when you need it. Another neat feature is its 'self-sharpening' property. As you use the chisel on its face it actually helps keep the edge sharp. This means you can spend more time drawing and less time sharpening - great for softer pencils! The straight edge can also be used on an angle to give lines a calligraphy style.
One problem with the chisel design is it can be difficult to master. When drawing with the flat face it's all too easy to accidentally roll your wrist and wear away the corners of the chisel shape. It can also take a bit of work to carve the chisel to begin with. If you can overcome these minor annoyances then the chisel point may be for you.