Wednesday, May 18, 2011

She Stoops To Concur

The latest theory in evolutionary biology is that we developed our tremendous reasoning ability not to solve great problems, or to unravel the mysteries of the universe. We reason in order to win arguments.

That's right! Genuine scientists actually believe that winning arguments helps the species survive. Obviously they've never been married. Any husband or wife knows that winning an argument is not going to lead to any reproductive activity.

In a paper called Why do humans reason?: Arguments for an argumentative theory, cognitive scientists Dan Sperber and Hugo Mercier claim that reasoning ability evolved primarily as a way to win arguments. Admittedly, both of these guys are French. In France, arguing, like everything else, may be an aphrodisiac. But since primitive humans were not French (except for the cave painters at Lascaux, the Pre-Impressionists), this theory is still questionable.

The argumentative theory goes on to say that winning arguments by reasoning helps when a group of people are trying to make a collective decision. Suppose you're a cave person, and you and a bunch of other cave people are trying to decide what to do for dinner. You want seafood, but some of the others want mammoth, and still others want roots and berries. So you all have a big argument, and you, by virtue of your superior reasoning skills, convince everyone to go for seafood. Sure, you might have impressed some of the opposite sex with your persuasive eloquence, but after a heated argument, you've probably made enemies of the mammoth eaters, not to mention the root and berry fans. And just wait till the check comes!

Of course, if we did indeed evolve to argue, that would explain a lot about our politics.

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