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Peter Hammerstein

Peter Hammerstein is Professor in Organismic Evolution at the Institute for Theoretical Biology at Humboldt University, Berlin and an external member of the interdisciplinary Santa Fe Institute.

Titles by This Editor

How do we make decisions? Conventional decision theory tells us only which behavioral choices we ought to make if we follow certain axioms. In real life, however, our choices are governed by cognitive mechanisms shaped over evolutionary time through the process of natural selection. Evolution has created strong biases in how and when we process information, and it is these evolved cognitive building blocks—from signal detection and memory to individual and social learning—that provide the foundation for our choices. An evolutionary perspective thus sheds necessary light on the nature of how we and other animals make decisions.

This volume—with contributors from a broad range of disciplines, including evolutionary biology, psychology, economics, anthropology, neuroscience, and computer science—offers a multidisciplinary examination of what evolution can tell us about our and other animals' mechanisms of decision making. Human children, for example, differ from chimpanzees in their tendency to over-imitate others and copy obviously useless actions; this divergence from our primate relatives sets up imitation as one of the important mechanisms underlying human decision making. The volume also considers why and when decision mechanisms are robust, why they vary across individuals and situations, and how social life affects our decisions.

Current thinking in evolutionary biology holds that competition among individuals is the key to understanding natural selection. When competition exists, it is obvious that conflict arises; the emergence of cooperation, however, is less straightforward and calls for in-depth analysis. Much research is now focused on defining and expanding the evolutionary models of cooperation. Understanding the mechanisms of cooperation has relevance for fields other than biology. Anthropology, economics, mathematics, political science, primatology, and psychology are adopting the evolutionary approach and developing analogies based on it. Similarly, biologists use elements of economic game theory and analyze cooperation in "evolutionary games." Despite this, exchanges between researchers in these different disciplines have been limited. Seeking to fill this gap, the 90th Dahlem Workshop was convened. This book, which grew out of that meeting, addresses such topics as emotions in human cooperation, reciprocity, biological markets, cooperation and conflict in multicellularity, genomic and intercellular cooperation, the origins of human cooperation, and the cultural evolution of cooperation; the emphasis is on open questions and future research areas. The book makes a significant contribution to a growing process of interdisciplinary cross-fertilization on this issue.