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Mathematical Models of Social Evolution: A Guide for the Perplexed

4.4 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226558271
ISBN-10: 0226558274
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Frequently Bought Together

  • Mathematical Models of Social Evolution: A Guide for the Perplexed
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Evolutionary arguments are increasingly used as explanations in a wide range of human sciences - psychology, economics, anthropology - as well as in biology itself. However, these arguments are frequently employed on the basis of a secondhand understanding of the principles by which they are derived. This is the first book to provide a thorough but accessible grounding in the methods underlying the major topics in the evolution of social behavior. It should become required study for graduate students in evolution and human behavior." - Daniel Nettle, Newcastle University"

About the Author

Richard McElreath is associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Davis. Robert Boyd is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and coauthor of Not by Genes Alone, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 425 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (March 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226558274
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226558271
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #247,290 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This concise book will allow any mathematically competent but sociobiologically inexperienced reader to dive right into the debates about human evolution. Although the many of the models described in McElreath and Boyd's Guide for the Perplexed come from evolutionary biology and were conceived as genetic models, a great deal of them apply without alteration to related processes in the social world. Take the prisoners dilemma, the battle of the sexes, the Price Equation, or the Phillip Sidney game, honest signaling, and social learning. Everything inside has direct bearing on how we should understand the evolution of social systems, it's just that the *math* has already been worked out by others in the biological sciences.

The social sciences have much to gain from game theory, and this book is a concise, complete and speedy primer.
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Format: Paperback
This book provides a thorough, lucid and near-complete guide to the theories used by sociobiologists like no book has achieved before it. As a working biologist, I strongly recommend it to those interested in why animals and indeed all organisms cooperate, or conflict.
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Format: Paperback
Robert Boyd is a professor of anthropology at UCLA, and McElreath is his former student, now professor of Anthropology at UC Davis. Boyd, together with Peter Richerson, were early contributors to a dynamic (and correct, I believe) version of sociobiology known as gene-culture coevolution. The theory developed in this book is relevant for anyone interested in social behavior, whether they are biologists, anthropologists, or have their training in another behavioral discipline.

I have written an extended review for the journal Evolutionary Psychology, which should appear in the year 2008.
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Format: Paperback
The heart of the authors' approach is to use equations and analytically solve them using abstract costs and benefits to evaluate the effectiveness of different social strategies using the Prisoner's Dilemma game as a basic model. The alternate approach, using simulation (they argue) is both slow and costly in terms of computing time, and fails to yield the same insights into the model. However Roger Penrose's dictum that the number of readers drops in half with every equation applies - if you can't handle looking at algebra you won't follow the arguments. Nonetheless it's a very instructive book and it builds on some earlier research by Robert Axelrod in The Evolution of Cooperation which, if I would highly recommend reading first as IMHO it lays the groundwork for much of what is published afterwards in this field.

In a society where everyone cooperates with everyone else, a strategy of always co-operating works fine. Call this strategy ALLC. However such a society is vulnerable to invasion by an alternate strategy, always take advantage, call this ALLD, 'D' meaning defector (exploitive non-co-operator). Pure altruism looses to ALLD all the time.

Now consider an alternate strategy called Tit For Tat (TFT). You're nice to me, I'll be nice to you. You don't act nice, I'll retaliate next time. However if you act nice I'll go back to cooperating. TFT gets along well with ALLC. In fact, for all intents and purposes they look alike.
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Format: Paperback
For a mathematically-challenged individual and a novice to cultural evolution, the models explained were tough but the explanations of each were invaluable in providing an understanding of the social world, particularly conflict and cooperation. Strongly recommended to those interested in learning more about social and cultural evolution.
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Format: Paperback
I'd normally ding a book like this for having too much dense mathematics. However since the book says it's a maths book in the title I can hardly do that - the reader has been warned. The problem is that academics like complicated mathematics too much - it's their way of showing the rest of the world how smart they are.

This book is fairly fat. It covers ESSs, kin selection, reciprocity, group selection, signalling, sex allocation, and sexual selection. It starts out by arguing for the value of mathematical models over computer simulations. As an enthusiast for computer simulations I wasn't entirely convinced by their points. They played down the value of computer simulations, from my perspective. Anyway, eventually they granted their value, but said that they didn't have space for teaching programming as well - which is fair enough. The rest of the book is mathematical with no simulations or computers involved.

Since the book says it's about social evolution in its title - and one of the authors is interested in cultural evolution - I was expecting some content about gene-meme coevolution. They have a section of "non-genetic replication" and another section on "social learning". However the coverage of the topic seemed pretty sparse to me. The book mostly consists of basic models of biological interactions.

I looked for mistakes while reading the book. I hardly found any. The section on the contentious topic of group selection turned out to be fairly reasonable. It explicitly recognized the equivalence with kin selection - saying that it was just a different accounting method. It also said that it was probably better to use kin selection most of the time. This earns good marks from me.
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