Comments in response to this popular TED talk on CRISPER-based genetic editing:

In the Carl Sagan inspired movie “Contact,” the good Dr. Alloway (Jodi Foster) wants to ask the advanced aliens who have invited humanity for a first meetup the most important question of all, the truly perfect question, which is, “How did you make it through your technological adolescence without destroying yourselves?”

This technological adolescence is where Homo sapiens was when the movie was made in 1997 and when the C. Sagan book the movie was based on was written in 1985. It is where we are now. And it is not going well. We are headed towards socioecological catastrophe. Hope is rapidly diminishing. “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around…”

In the movie, Dr. Alloway forgets to ask the question – excusable given the context. But unfortunate. As I have written elsewhere, I have a proposal for what the answer would have been: “Well, Dr. Alloway, the only advanced forms of life we have found are ones that figured out a way to take the evolution of their minds out of the hands of natural selection. The only way through the technological adolescence that we have seen is for the global society to agree to use CRISPEResque gene-editing technologies, first and foremost, as the basis for a well-researched program of intentional evolution. To be successful, this program has to be aimed at creating a psyche that consistently supports socioecologically sustainable goals and attitudes. Most of the successes involve continuously tweaking the genome in ways that render and maintain substantially more prosocial, biophilic, and generally compassionate minds in the global community than would ever come about by relying on natural selection as the genetic engineer.”

We have been and continue to be “designed,” without any foresight, in every aspect of our being, by the mechanism of natural selection. Evolutionary psychologists understand that while natural selection can come up with elaborate mental mechanisms capable of things like conscience and compassion, every such capacity it bestows is “designed,” in the end, to make individuals better at maximizing their lifetime inclusive fitness. So, every form of altruism ultimately is genetically selfish and, therefore, only is manifested strategically and contingently to directly or indirectly maximize propagation of the genes of the individual.

As we think about the uses of CRISPER for human genetic and epigenetic editing with the aim of coming up with “favorable outcomes,” we had better start facing the fact that we currently are congenitally utterly unable to muster the levels of prosociality and biophilia that can even come close to making us a sustainable life form. Cultural evolution alone will never be strong enough to overcome the very clever naturally selected genetic programs that drive our ultimately selfish patterns of behavior. It is an existential emergency that we make the grand leap toward genetically engineering ourselves not just to be sexier, healthier, longer-lived, or smarter… – all goals you would expect a naturally selected mind to come up with, and ones that do nothing to enhance our sustainability. We must race to transform ourselves from Homo sapiens sapiens, to Homo intentionalis compassionatus.

Note that the intentional genetic evolution program I have alluded to above is aimed at modifying key SPECIES-TYPICAL genes for unsustainably contingent and genetically selfish patterns of prosociality and biophilia, not to mention SPECIES-TYPICAL genes underlying our tremendous, largely unconscious ability to mute our consciousness and conscience as we perform, on a daily basis, big and small acts of socioecological violence and destruction. In other words, most or all of the “target genes” occur, probably with little or no meaningful allelic variation, in ALL human populations and ethnic groups.

Thus, the intentional genetic evolution program under discussion has nothing to do with identifying a superior race that would serve as an “eugenic” model for all others to become. For the human experiment to continue, along with many of the other miraculous ongoing evolutionary experiments in the earth’s biosphere which, through our horrible collective naturally-selected selfishness are quickly being extinguished, we must all, collectively, become a new far more compassionate species of human, one that does not yet exist on the planet.

We have got to begin talking openly about this project, and figuring out how to promptly implement it, or all the other emerging opportunities that bio- and other technologies offer us will be irrelevant.

The problematic, pan-cultural, species-typical genes mostly are yet to be discovered, a project that I hope will begin very soon. The next step will be research on how to modify those species-typical DNA sequences (some useful, virtuous natural variants may exist in a person of any race or culture, we should look for those worldwide) most efficaciously to produce new variants that, in combination, will transform our entire species into one not doomed to destroy ourselves and the intricate treasure trove of biological and ecological systems that life on earth depends upon. Some responses to other folks’ comments below…

(1) In reply to:

E, Irrespective of what we Humans do, Nature will decide for itself what will become of us and our Planet.



Eventually, of course, in a manner of speaking; this statement is a truism. But in the meantime, we can try to prevent or ameliorate catastrophes, and terrible associated sufferings, that we may in principle have lots of control over. We have at least a modicum of real decision power and we can transform certain inevitabilities into evitabilities, to steal language from Daniel Dennett. We have evolved some freedom. Will it be enough? The clock is ticking. Will we transition during our species’ “technological adolescence” into “responsible adults,” or just continue to indulge in naturally selected thinking and behavioral patterns guaranteed to spoil everything? Action is called for, putting to really good and responsible use, as a global civilization, the tools coming online, not passivity.

Certainly, using rapidly developing genetic and epigenetic editing tools, such as CRISPER, we do not HAVE to let natural selection decide who/what we are as a species, including, most crucially, in the domains of prosociality, biophilia and compassion. — PJW

(2) In reply to:

Hi, Do you think there is an ethical issue relating to the editing of DNA by using CRISPR technology? Regards, Reem


Hi RA,

I think that any “action plan,” every intervention, and every instance of non-action where action is called for, is likely to have ethical implications. So, let’s talk about the ethics in a sober, informed, and transparent manner, but always remembering that if we indulge in endless ethical debate, which is all too easy, the clock never stops ticking. We run the dire risk of losing the opportunity of doing something very good as we search, often just for the sake of social competition (human nature),  for nonexistent perfect solutions. — PJW


Moral Liberty

Concerning our “moral liberty,” an important part of the larger “free will” question: The Evolutionary Psychological doctrine of computationalism is important here. We are not simple stimulus – response machines. Stimuli and behavior are mediated, always, by computations. The self itself is a process emerging and re-emerging from a storm of computational activity in our own brain. As human adults, we are called upon, IMO, to take responsibility for these computations whether they are conscious or unconscious. If we fail to groom ourselves, holistically as it were, to be adequately prosocial, such that we perform actions that break the boilerplate social contract of our group, then, although such self-grooming may entail hard work, we must ultimately be held responsible. Who could be more responsible than we are ourselves? Sure, you can pass some blame to bad parenting, PTSD, etc. If parents were abusive by community standards you can even punish them. If your community does not help you recover from trauma, especially when you experienced it while working on behalf of that community, any penalties for your bad actions probably should be reduced. But ultimately, again, if you are neurobiologically intact within a couple standard deviations of the norm or so, then you have to take responsibility for your whole-brain process that leads to your flowing environmentally responsive train of self-configurations and behaviors. So, learn about yourself, and recognize that you do have a modicum of practical free will which you can tune up and channel toward greater more consistent prosociality and even biophilia – we need to nurture both to survive as a species on a decent planet. Find a practice that will help you do this, and get to work. If you do, welcome to the great human project of actively exploring your own human potential. Weakness is not the same as helplessness. Don’t try to pretend that it is. — PJW (9-14-2016)

Science eLetter discussion on, “Evolution in the Anthropocene.”

RE: An Intentional “Evolutionary Transition” Is Called For…

Paul J. Watson, Evolution of social and sexual behavior

Dept. of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA

5 March 2016

I am happy beyond words to have this fantastic conservation article, “Evolution in the Anthropocene,” published in Science (26 Feb. 2016, p.922), broaching the critical and revolutionary subject of our species’ need to implement a radically less selfish (i.e., a fundamentally more prosocial and biophilic) EvoCentric attitude toward conservation. Natural selection has been able to produce a number of fantastic evolutionary transitions (e.g., see Andrew F.G. Bourke’s splendid, “Principles of Social Evolution,” ISBN-13: 978-0199231164), but all of them involved the arising of new forms of organisms that, in the end, always were better at maximizing individual lifetime inclusive fitness, no holds barred. The current article suggests the need for, and the possibility of, a level of unselfishness qualitatively different than anything natural selection has or could possibly produce on its own. But, the article implies that humans may attain the requisite qualities of mind through cultural evolution alone. I think that together we must face up to the very high likelihood, given the incredible power and “purpose” of natural selection, that this is highly doubtful. The evolution of all our cultures, both past and present, are highly constrained by foundational genetic designs currently under the control of good old-fashioned natural selection. Thus, the only way humans will attain an truly novel evolutionary transition, one based on human intrapsychic designs that could seriously be interested in Evocentric Conservation is if we take the biologically unprecedented step of wrenching the evolution of our minds out of the tightly clenched hands of natural selection by implementing a thoroughly researched and supervised program of intentional cognitive-emotional evolution. I suggest that in the midst of the urgent worldwide debate about how we should use emerging genetic engineering technologies, such as CRISPR/CAS9 and gene drive, that we not ignore the amazing just-in-the-nick-of-time opportunity on offer, through such techniques, to do just this. The human race needs to implement an emergency program focused with laser beam clarity on learning how to edit our own species-typical and pan-cultural genome in such a way that we evolve minds that are actually capable of carrying out Evocentric conservation strategies, on a sustained, widespread, and minimally contingent basis.


Reply to Watson: “Science without conscience is nothing but ruin to the soul”

François Sarrazin, Professor

Sorbonne Universités, UPMC Univ Paris 06, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, CNRS, CESCO, UMR 7204, 75005 Paris, France

Other Contributors:

Jane Lecomte, Professor

17 March 2016

We sincerely thank Paul Watson for his enthusiasm for our perspective. We nevertheless have to answer to two main points of his e-letter. First, we remind that we advocated for “comprehensive dialogs among social scientists, ecologists, and evolutionary biologists to explore the biological and cultural roots of our interactions with nonhumans and to understand the origins of our inertia in the face of the urgency of biodiversity erosion”. It is thus clear that, similarly to Paul Watson, we embrace both biological and cultural processes in the human evolutionary trajectory. However we remain extremely prudent and open-minded on the actual level of the genetic basis in daily human decisions. We distinguished human well-being and human fitness in our scenarios whereas we consider that the well-being of nonhuman is mostly fitness driven. Indeed, human behaviors exhibit Darwinian puzzles that challenge evolutionary theory. Over the past million years, human groups improved the resilience of their fitness components by increasing cognition, empathy and cooperation. They secured their resources and reduced the impact of predation, competition and parasitism through niche construction, modifying selective pressures for both themselves and other organisms. They could then devote increasing time and energy using sensory and cognitive traits to enhance rewards beyond significant fitness gains in a process of ‘phenotypic emancipation’ i.e. an expanse of the bubble of their well-being. Among others, agriculture, medicine, fossil fuels, contraception provided opportunities to magnify this process at least on the short-term. For any organisms, phenotypic emancipation should ultimately be counter-selected when the energy devoted to individual well-being outcompetes fitness requirements. However, this trade-off might be temporally displaced whenever cooperation and niche construction reduce selective pressures at the individual level like in human societies. Culture did not emerge from phenotypic emancipation but it can boost it e.g. through learning and comparison between individual’s values, performances or wealth within societies. Culture may support information favoring fitness as well as phenotypic emancipation in a parallel and sometimes antagonistic way, partly inducing Darwinian puzzles. So what are the genetic, epigenetic, behavioral, or cultural bases of each strategy of human/nonhuman interactions in our five conservation scenarios and in the associated evolutionary transitions? This is a key question raised by our perspective. But this human phenotypic emancipation has a second major consequence. It implies to put intrinsic value on each individual well-being beyond their role in the human evolutionary trajectory. It thus prevents any radical and purely technical answer that would shape the destiny of human beings without respect for human rights. In our perspective, we pointed out the reductionism and short-sighted views of synthetic biology and gene drive for biodiversity management. We only considered them for ex situ R&D “as a very last resort to reduce our evolutionary impacts on” nonhumans evolutionary trajectories. No doubt that such technical answer would be an even more frightening “Pandora’s box” for human individuals and societies. Even if evocentric conservation asks the question of our own evolution, gene drive and transhumanism remain technical approaches without ethical framework and constitute terrifying dead ends. History is full of well-intended tragedies. As French, we know that true evocentric conservation can only be compatible with “Liberté Egalité Fraternité”. This is why it is so challenging and inspiring.


“Repair the past and prepare the future.” — Anonymous.

I thank the authors for so thoughtfully responding to my eLetter. These are the kinds of world-wide discussions we need. I’ll try to be brief…

First, I would hope to avoid bringing human “souls” into the discussion, even briefly or figuratively. There is no evidence for souls, and thinking there is anything even vaguely supernatural about humans makes it so much more difficult, if not impossible, to formulate and perhaps someday implement even a maximally moral program of intentional evolution aimed at producing a future Homo bloodline, hopefully in good time, that is even close to being psychologically capable of engaging in EvoCentric conservation practices, or, for example, carrying out E.O. Wilson’s recent prescription for sustainability based on letting half the planet, including the parts that offer good human habitat, go wild. If we keep promoting the idea that we are some kind of Holy Species, then the apparent immorality of lowly science and secular society messing with our genetic constitution, even in the most carefully thought out and evidence-based ways, increases, in the eyes of many, ten thousand fold, to throw out a gross quantitative estimate…

Second, we humans currently are under a tremendous variety of selection pressures. Natural selection continues to operate with a vengeance. Human culture, clearly part of the Earth’s selective environment, surely modifies it, often increasing the intensity of competition, selection’s engine, amongst humans and nonhumans.

But, to think that we have escaped in any significant way from our long and conservative genetic heritage, or that culture somehow would cause selection to stop concentrating on promoting the most effective replicators as it has always done, is pure wish-thinking. Complex contingent altruism in its various forms exists, of course, but merely as ways humans have evolved to use, directly or indirectly, to help maximize individual lifetime inclusive fitness. If we are worried about human rights, and of course we are (in general, far too contingently), please note that our current and past designer, natural selection, does not care about them at all, per se. Look at how human minds actually operate in situ.

The one way to have any chance of becoming a species with more significantly more conscience and a more consistent and fundamental concern for universal human rights is by actively DENYING natural selection continuing sole rights to determine the adaptive design of the human psyche. Terrifying outcomes of genetic intervention in human intrapsychic design? The terror of the situation is already here, a naturally selected inevitability. Can we be responsible enough to reverse it? With deep respect. — PJW


Willpower, religion, intentional evolution.

Dear TL,

Regarding Willpower: I am glad you seem to have connected with the idea that one of the principle adaptive functions of religion may be to effectively increase an individual’s willpower, that is, the ability to resist the temptation to go for short-term small rewards especially in cases where such moves interfere with projects aimed at long-term large rewards. Gaining willpower, as defined above, is a developmental emergency for every human if they are to have any chance of doing well in maximizing their lifetime inclusive fitness. Genetic systems and cultural systems that help speed up the process are likely to be under strong positive selection in all human groups.

It is easy to see that the basic human social system of “complex contractual reciprocity” cannot really function if members of the group behave like undisciplined stock traders. Contractual reciprocity does not work if people are preoccupied with cashing in too early when there are some small profits to be made or selling to early when the stock starts going down. If you translate this into human relationships it would negate the idea of any kind of trusting friendship or loyalty. This would make for a very weak group if not for chaos. So, as I think you realize, religions offer supernatural long-term large rewards in connection with teachings that you can only attain them in, in this life or an afterlife, if you develop the willpower to focus with discipline on attaining, usually through sustained cooperative behavior, large rewards based on long-term projects in this mortal life. Many sins turn out to be behaviors that are aimed at attaining short-term small rewards.

You ask what kinds of factors or forces would override the limbic system. I believe this is identical to asking what would override the regulatory mechanisms in your brain that control your heart rate. The mechanism’s that the late Gerald Edelman called “value systems,” which guide corticothalamic neurodevelopment on developmental time scales and which heavily influence corticothalamic activity moment to moment, essentially in real time.

There may be meditative techniques or other kinds of esoteric exercises that give our giant cerebral cortex more freedom to integrate information beyond what normally would be allowed, in a given socio-ecological context, by the limbic system. That is an empirical question which really begs for an answer. After all, for all we know certain of these spiritual exercises, even though they make us feel good, just might increase the degree to which so-called “higher” cortical information processing mechanisms are enslaved by stark Darwinian “values” inherit to the limbic system.

In most cases, for the vast majority of people, there isn’t going to be any overriding of the limbic system. Fortunately that might not need to happen! The limbic system cares about getting fitness-enhancing needs met effectively and efficiently. If we train our brains, our minds, possibly with the help of our religion, to get our fitness related needs met by engaging in behaviors that also benefit others, prosocial and even biophilic behaviors, compassionate behaviors, the limbic system can learn that such methods work. It will then endorse them, more and more, as we build up success rate of such beneficent systems of behavior and relationship. Reciprocal altruism is all about establishing social contracts in which all parties involved gain some net benefit. A solid history of reciprocal altruism within a group carries with it the enormous side benefit of increasing the level of commitment amongst group members so that they can deal better, more cohesively, in the face of outgroup threat or other hardships. To the degree that religious narratives and stimuli can drive us towards getting our needs met in ways that also benefit others, then those religions are effectively getting the limbic system on board to endorse beneficent and compassionate behaviors among social partners.

There is still a problem though, and it is a very big one. For the most part, when humans develop strong willpower and enjoy its major benefits, the altruistic behaviors involved are usually mainly directed towards in-group members or close allies of the in-group. Our altruism tends to be distributed in a very parochial fashion. This way of distributing altruism, in such a contingent manner, based on degrees of genetic relatedness and degrees of trust current through the history of interactions entailing reasonably fair reciprocal altruism, still allows for intergroup hatred and conflict. Somehow we have to culturally and probably genetically evolve beyond this increasingly unsustainable style of coalitional psychology. This is a very tall order, especially when you consider that if we are to survive we have to extend our ability to behave compassionately not only towards other humans from other groups but also towards the rest of the biosphere. We have to sharply decrease the contingency both of our pro-sociality and are biophilia.

This will probably require a program of intentional evolution based on genetic and epigenetic engineering of our own species, using the precise genetic editing technologies that are now emerging, on ourselves. Such a system of intentional evolution, given the nature of human religiosity, is probably much more likely to be successful if it is guided by rigorous hard-core science and secular public discourse. But, so far people are refusing to talk about doing this, and religious people may be the last to be willing to allow themselves to give it serious consideration, even though it is probably our only chance not only to save ourselves, but to attempt to seriously minimize, at least in the long-term, the suffering of all sentient beings on our delicate little Earth.

The self-deception, adaptively subjective “conscious” dream world, strategically labile morality, and consequent behaviors that our species-typical naturally-selected genetic constitution drive are responsible for the continuing decimation of the earth and the misery and deaths of thousands of people every day. Sometimes it is frightening to act. But sometimes inaction is much worse. — PJW

Watson’s Darwinism & Spirituality Blog: First Entries

I do a lot of informal writing, often in response to student questions and observations or in online commentaries on book and articles. Beginning 6 March 2016, I’m going to start posting some of it here when time allows. I may post thoughtful responses, if you email them to me at Eventually I may try to create a subject index.

If you are exploring Evolutionary Psychology and, especially, how it might potentiate a self-observation / self-knowledge centered understanding of both personal and pan-human spirituality and religiosity, maybe you’ll like some of it.  

See also my web site at:

Cheers – PJW

(1) Spiritually-minded folk virtually always start talking about what is beyond corporeal existence well before they know, much less understand, the fantastic nature and scope of the corporeal. This problem arises due to our deep ignorance of biological diversity in general, and modern Darwinism as applied to human psychology specifically. Most of what we believe about our spiritual selves, therefore, actually are about fragmentary, poorly interpreted observations we have made of the evolved, material, sociobiological self, or, worse, pure imaginings with no basis in reality whatsoever, not even sincere albeit subjective observation and analysis.

Ignorance of the corporeal level guarantees a spiritually paralyzing or even destructive level of non-discernment when it comes to separating our modal mechanical actions and reactions from any kind of extraordinary movements or moments of freedom and energy. In the absence of an extraordinary spiritual guide, or some other objectifying influence worthy of the term to correct such constant errors, like modern evolutionary psychology, this basic ignorance of nature, within and without, is the primary reason our spiritual efforts lead to nothing. – Dr. Paul J. Watson, 6 March 2016.

(2) Sent: Tuesday, March 1, 2016 11:57 AM

To: Paul Joseph Watson

From: C.

Subject: Ritual behavior in chimps?

I’m sure you’ve seen this study, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Dear C.,

Thank you for sending me this link. A discussion of the story will definitely be a part of my Evolution of Religiosity course next fall.

From my perspective it is not a stretch to call this ritual behavior. All kinds of animals engage in rituals for the purpose of efficiently communicating status, quality, etc., as you well know. Sierra dome spiders have fighting rituals that are more complicated, and that even our engaged in much more cooperatively (e.g., pedipalp wrestling between rival males and copulatory courtship between the sexes) than what these chimps seem to be doing.

A lot depends on what is implied when we use the term ritual. We would need to know what is on the chimps’ minds when they are performing this behavior and whether the different chimps that engage in the behavior mostly have a similar thing in mind. I think when these authors use the term ritual they are imagining that the chimps have in mind some abstract idea as to the purpose of their behavior that is much more esoteric and symbolic than the usual things that are communicated during animal rituals. I really doubt that the chimps have the level of abstract reasoning ability required to be thinking, for example, that their actions serve the purpose of impressing a supernatural being that might reciprocate in mysterious ways to help them thrive and survive. Some form of supernatural ideation, even if it has to do with something like ancestor worship or honoring the ancestors would have to be shared by the chimps engaged in this behavior to validly consider it a “sacred ritual.” Don’t you think? The closest the comes to considering anything sacred would be power. Natural selection can support some sense of the sacred associated with manifestations of power. In Matt Rossano’s book on the evolution of religion called, “Supernatural Selection,” he writes of observations of chimps watching pythons pass through their territory. The chimps gather together in a stealthy, quiet, respectful way, perhaps holding one another, not being aggressive toward the snake, but just observing it intently, often for long periods. Arguably they are experiencing something like awe and this could be the evolutionary foundation for something like python worship. Most likely some chimps have observed close friends or family members being killed by pythons. What a strange, slow and helpless death, which must be very hard for them to understand. Even the most powerful lead chimp can do nothing once in the grasp of a large python. The death agony is so observable. A punishing God? Anyway, I think these rock throwing and noisemaking behaviors are probably demonstrations of power, which understandably may evoke great interest and perhaps even an emotion appropriately labeled awe.

When I was a kid I did all kinds of behaviors, certainly including the throwing of rocks, especially at certain favored targets, like city buses and the brick wall graffiti of certain local gangs. These were fun habits. Very fun. One could call them rather informal casual “rituals,” but even that would be artificially inflating them, because it was certainly no form of sophisticated or esoteric symbolic thought going on while I did these behaviors. It was all about fun and ego and social bonding with my fellow rock throwers. There was nothing in it beyond what I would expect chimps to be vaguely thinking about when they engage in communicative status rituals or even just play.

Just to throw out another thought: the authors of this article don’t seem to understand that humans engage in complex symbolic rituals for the purpose of gaining status via demonstrations of bravery or strength, but also as honest signals of group commitment or signals of need. It’s a real blind spot they seem to have that ritual behavior is somehow not about maintaining or gaining status. In-group status competition happens during sacred rituals of the most complex type in the most beautiful cathedrals and so-called “sacred sites” on earth. We are genetically programmed and taught to think that this is not the main point of these rituals, but of course that is in the realm of adaptive self-deception serving adaptive deception and “impression management” vis-à-vis our observing social partners.

I rather like the authors’ first hypothesis, which seems testable, that these chimps have kind of a cultural tradition of throwing the rocks and trees that make a nice loud deep resonant sound upon impact, the more powerful the impact the better. It’s a signal of strength and ferocity. It could be aimed at both in-group members and outgroup members including encroaching humans. The most abstract thought that I would be comfortable attributing to these chimps when they perform this behavior would be about thinking that making these sounds as loudly as possible are the best way within my power to scare away those awful humans.

If it were me I’d hire a big undergraduate first string football player, a defensive linesman, go out with a good digital sound recorder and one large rock, and go round recording the sound made by him throwing the rock at randomly chosen trees (maybe not completely random, but matched for size in some way) as well as the chimps favorite trees. Replicate throws at each tree would be in order. We then go back and analyze the sounds and make various predictions about how far they would carry through the forest, how loud a sound you get for a given level of throwing power or impact intensity. An instrument embedded in the rock might be able to measure impact intensity. You get the idea.

I think when animals pick special spots for things like this it may be because they remember having an emotionally impressive experience there in the past, perhaps as a young animal observing a powerful adult show his stuff. It helps them remember the qualities of this perhaps long dead individual, their teachings and their wisdom, etc. This might be happening when an elephant visits an elephant boneyard and delicately fondles the bones of a long dead matriarch. It helps the living remember, for instance, the various watering holes that this wise dead leader brought them to when the usual ones were dry. This is the functionalist explanation. I’m not saying they don’t also experience something like love during such a “ritual,” an explanation of their behavior on the mechanistic, cognitive processes level of analysis, but that experience is a vestige of former attachment, which may make the bone-fondling experience more emotional and therefore makes the activity more likely to rekindle such important functional memories, as well as making the lessons less likely that to be forgotten again.

My last thought for now. I watch my dogs practice Rhodesian Ridgeback Kung Fu in the backyard all the time. One of my great joys, especially right now when I have a young male and female who are so deeply in love. Anyway, I could not help thinking that some of the rock throwing moves were actual fighting behaviors, quite clever ones. There is one clip in the compiled video where the chimp runs at the tree carrying a big rock, slams it into part of the trunk while still running, and just keeps on going. I’m going to remember that move. Maybe it’s just me, but I thought of running at an adversary with a big rock and then at the last second shifting my trajectory slightly left or right while slamming the rock into my opponent’s solar plexus as hard as I could. I think the fight would be over. I’d be willing to bet that observing chimps might think about the same thing when they see this move carried out on one of these trees. Again, certain chimps in the audience could be reminded of the time they saw Uncle George do this to a member of a rival band and how devastatingly effective it was. It may look like they’re pondering something deep and wonderful and abstract and symbolic. But, they’re really thinking of Uncle George rupturing the gut of that dangerous creep from the rival band next-door. Ritual? Sacred? Hey, these trees may be like little prototype Al Qaeda terrorist training camps.

Well, I think that’s all I’ve got for right now. I get anymore big ideas, I’ll let you know.

Best wishes,


Dr. Paul J. Watson, 7 March 2016

(3) Colleagues:

I highly recommend reading a recent Perspectives article in Science, “Evolution in the Anthropocene” (François Sarrazin & Jane Lecomte. Science, 26 Feb 2016: Vol. 351, Issue 6276, pp. 922-923. DOI: 10.1126/science.aad6756).

Science has just ePublished an eLetter comment by me relating to the topic of this discussion (scroll down). See also related materials at my web site.

– Dr. Paul J. Watson


Dear Paul J. Watson,

Your eLetter has been published on Science’s web site. To view it, navigate to the article to which you referred in your eLetter and click on “eLetter” tab or click the link below.

Your eLetter: “RE: An Intentional “Evolutionary Transition” Is Called For…”

eLetter URL:

Your eLetter has provided a forum for readers and authors to have an ongoing dialogue about the ultimate impact of this information. The Journal is most appreciative of your contribution.


The Editorial Staff of Science


Thank you for your submission. Below is a copy of your eLetter as we received it. Your eLetter, if accepted, should be viewable within a few days.


The Editorial staff of Science

Article (citation):

Evolution in the Anthropocene

François Sarrazin, Jane Lecomte

Science Feb 2016, 351 (6276) 922-923; DOI: 10.1126/science.aad6756

The eLetter was submitted on 05 03 2016:

“I am happy beyond words to have this fantastic article published in Science, broaching the critical and revolutionary subject of our species’ need to implement a radically less selfish (i.e., a fundamentally more prosocial and biophilic) EvoCentric attitude toward conservation. Natural selection has been able to produce a number of fantastic evolutionary transitions (e.g., see Andrew F.G. Bourke’s splendid, “Principles of Social Evolution,” ISBN-13: 978-0199231164), but all of them involved the arising of new forms of organisms that, in the end, always were better at maximizing individual lifetime inclusive fitness, no holds barred. The current article suggests the need for, and the possibility of, a level of unselfishness qualitatively different than anything natural selection has or could possibly produce on its own. But, the article implies that humans may attain the requisite qualities of mind through cultural evolution alone. I think that together we must face up to the very high likelihood, given the incredible power and “purpose” of natural selection, that this is highly doubtful.

The evolution of all our cultures, both past and present, are highly constrained by foundational genetic designs currently under the control of good old-fashioned natural selection. Thus, the only way humans will attain an truly novel evolutionary transition, one based on human intrapsychic designs that could seriously be interested in Evocentric Conservation is if we take the biologically unprecedented step of wrenching the evolution of our minds out of the tightly clenched hands of natural selection by implementing a thoroughly researched and supervised program of intentional cognitive-emotional evolution.

I suggest that in the midst of the urgent worldwide debate about how we should use emerging genetic engineering technologies, such as CRISPR/CAS9 and gene drive, that we not ignore the amazing just-in-the-nick-of-time opportunity on offer, through such techniques, to do just this. The human race needs to implement! An emergency program focused with laser beam clarity on learning how to edit our own species-typical and pan-cultural genome in such a way that we evolve minds that are actually capable of carrying out Evocentric conservation strategies, on a sustained, widespread, and minimally contingent basis.” – Dr. Paul J. Watson, Depart. Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA.

(4) Hey P.,

Maybe of interest. I just added this to a thread on Amazon associated with a book I reviewed some time ago…

This link might take you to my entire 3-star review:

Your post, in reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2016 3:40:31 PM PST

Paul J. Watson says:


It’s ridiculous to suggest that evolutionary psychologists and neuroscientists do not support (believe in?) human creativity. The evolved genetic basis for human brain design has obviously endowed us with an incredible ability not only to be lifelong learners but to make novel associations and hold enough facts and memories together in working memory simultaneously to allow us to formulate great new ideas.

Let me take this opportunity to use a bit of evolutionary psychology to send you and your like-minded brethren a little message in a bottle that might help you enhance your own creativity. First let’s remember the obvious point that humans are hyper-social creatures. Our status within a reasonably high functioning group is the foundation for our individual lifetime reproductive success, more precisely, our individual lifetime inclusive fitness. Second, a huge factor determining our status within a group is how trustworthy and predictable our social partners perceive us to be. Therefore, our mental models of self and reality in general have to conform pretty tightly to group expectations. How do we convincingly demonstrate our commitment to our support group in order to earn trust? One very important way is to adopt and emotionally defend in public various beliefs that are counterintuitive and even counterfactual, but that nevertheless represent group norms. Hence the remarkable human ability to believe in all kinds of adaptive fictions. To honestly signal our commitment to the group we utterly depend on for individual fitness it often doesn’t matter whether we believe in things based on an evaluation of evidence. No, instead what matters is that our beliefs are socially efficacious, that is, that they demonstrate in a hard to fake manner that are morals and ethics and worldview reliably conform to group norms and personal expectations of our social partners.

So the first lesson for all of us, and I do mean all of us, including myself, is that we are designed to feel really great about believing in adaptive fictions that help gain us acceptance and status within our support group. What we don’t notice is that when we are in a frame of mind designed by natural selection to help us believe in such things our creativity often is really curtailed. We may feel open-minded and creative as we ponder and relish and behaviorally demonstrate support for our group’s norms, but actually when we are in this state our analytical ability is minimized. Our ability to question is severely crippled. We really become hemmed in when it comes to our real potential for creativity. We really need to watch out for that.

You don’t have to know anything about evolutionary psychology to appreciate this point, but it sure helps.

Let me go on to be a little bit more speculative about how dire the situation portrayed above really is. On unconscious level our minds are always working on solving a diversity of problems somehow relevant to fitness. We are being creative behind the scenes without even knowing it. We have all experienced it. For example, I was just driving along with my son in our little ZENN electric car. For several months now we’ve had the intermittent problem of high-voltage current not making it to the motor when you turn on the ignition key. Sometimes the current flows the first time you turn the key. Other times you might have to turn the key on an off 15 or 20 times before you get current. There’s no problem with the ignition switch itself, because low-voltage current always flows immediately to the dashboard instrumentation lights, etc., the first time you turn the key. Well, the point is we were driving along and suddenly out of nowhere a particular electrical connector out of many that reside under the hood popped into my consciousness. I had never thought before about this particular connection being responsible for the above-mentioned problem. When we got home I immediately looked at that connector and cleaned it. That did not solve the problem but while examining the connector I noticed that somehow one of the little wires leading out of it had gotten crimped. A tiny little crimp. Fix that in the problem is solved.

So what’s the point? The cross-cultural social demand to be conformist, especially in certain contexts that demand a high degree of coordinated group action, conceivably could keep all kinds of creative ideas being formulated unconsciously from ever rising to consciousness. It could very well be that all your best ideas are, in a sense, stillborn, because the bring them out into the open would rock the boat, but you in competition with vital social partners, somehow undermine important group norms. We know this can even happen in science, all of its branches, but science is designed to be self-correcting and scientists generally are quite conscious that their status eventually will suffer if they cling to beliefs in fictions, ideas that are not supported by the weight of a variety of evidence and/or that contradict well-established theory. The worst-case scenario for full-bodied human creativity is being a member of a group in which you earn trust specifically by clinging to beliefs in group norms even in the face of zero evidence or contradictory evidence. Just think of all those wonderful creative ideas that might be knocking around in your unconscious mind, but that never rise to consciousness because evolved unconscious mental mechanisms evaluate that bringing them out could have high social costs for you and yours that outweigh the potential benefits.

A little thought will bring anyone to the realization that the situation outlined above might not just reduce one’s creativity. It could also affect, and almost certainly does, one’s capacity for compassion. Expressing compassion, even feeling compassion, in a context that contradicts group norms might be so costly that this emotion becomes unavailable. You will of noticed that humans have a tremendous capacity for compassion and altruism, but that this capacity is expressed with exactly the degree of ruthless contingency that you would expect from a body/brain/mind, an “embodied self” to use the term and concept that this book’s author is famous for, and embodied self that is 100% designed by natural selection.

Again, I would say that you don’t absolutely have to know any evolutionary psychology to see that we humans face this rather terrifying dilemma, but it sure helps.

Thank you two most recent contributors, G. Nixon and F. Webster, for the inspiration to attempt to add something to this thread. — PJW