Cutting through the bullshit.

Sunday, 14 January 2007

Hobbes spins

Michael Tomasello, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig reports that the reason human eyes, unlike those of any other primate, have visible whites, is to allow others to know where we’re looking.

In a recent experiment, our research team has shown that even infants — at around their first birthdays, before language acquisition has begun — tend to follow the direction of another person’s eyes, not their heads. Thus, when an adult looked to the ceiling with her eyes only, head remaining straight ahead, infants looked to the ceiling in turn. However, when the adult closed her eyes and pointed her head to the ceiling, infants did not very often follow.

Obviously, betraying what we’re looking at is not in the interests of a competitive organism. Why should we signal others that there’s a food source or danger in a particular direction?

If I am, in effect, advertising the direction of my eyes, I must be in a social environment full of others who are not often inclined to take advantage of this to my detriment — by, say, beating me to the food or escaping aggression before me. Indeed, I must be in a cooperative social environment in which others following the direction of my eyes somehow benefits me.

So now we have evidence – not conclusive by any means, but persuasive – that human beings actually evolved specifically to cooperate with each other. All the bullshit ‘human nature’ arguments against socialism bite the dust and Hobbes can just spin in his grave.

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