Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Evolution of Deceit

One of the themes I emphasized this last fall in my class is the use of deceit in literature. You can find it almost in any ancient document. It is rife in the Odyssey, Aeschylus' Oresteia, and perhaps most prominent in Genesis. You can find traces of it in the Iliad, in the Hymn to Demeter, and so on and so forth. It is probably the clearest common thread of mcuh of ancient literature. And...uh...modern behavior with all the recent scams and scandals in the news.

But, we are not the only ones with the penchant for deceit. It turns out it is quite common in the animal world, particularly among other primates:

In a comparative survey of primate behavior, Richard Byrne and Nadia Corp of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland found a direct relationship between sneakiness and brain size. The larger the average volume of a primate species’ neocortex — the newest, “highest” region of the brain — the greater the chance that the monkey or ape would pull a stunt like this one described in The New Scientist: a young baboon being chased by an enraged mother intent on punishment suddenly stopped in midpursuit, stood up and began scanning the horizon intently, an act that conveniently distracted the entire baboon troop into preparing for nonexistent intruders.

See the rest of this New York Times article here.

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