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Beer Science

Beer Drinking Networks In Amazon Tribe Help Explain Altruism 157

Posted by samzenpus
from the have-one-on-me dept.
KentuckyFC writes "The Tsimane tribe are hunter-gatherers living in the forested region between the foothills of the Andes and the wetland-savannas of the Llanos de Moxos in Bolivia. They drink beer made from boiled manioc (a type of sweet potato) which they chew and spit into the mix to trigger fermentation. After a week or so, the resultant brew is about 4 per cent alcohol. Now anthropologists studying this tribe say the way they host beer drinking events for each other offers important clues into their culture. At issue is the question of altruism: why people spend considerable time and effort doing favors for others that don't directly benefit them. The answer from studying these beer drinking events is that the favor is quickly returned by the guests in the form of another beer drinking event. This helps to build good relations with neighbors and family. And when the beer drinking invite is not returned, the researchers speculate that this is probably because there is some other favor involved, such as helping to gather or prepare food, suggesting mates or political co-operation."
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Beer Drinking Networks In Amazon Tribe Help Explain Altruism

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  • by peter303 (12292) on Monday November 25, 2013 @10:26AM (#45514747)
    counter example lots of fights, rapes, and mruders just after 2AM
    • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Monday November 25, 2013 @10:55AM (#45515125)

      What counter example? As you point out, after 2 AM is *after* closing. Therefore beer=good, no beer=bad.

      • What counter example? As you point out, after 2 AM is *after* closing. Therefore beer=good, no beer=bad.

        "No beer and no TV make Homer something something..."

      • by mjwx (966435)

        What counter example? As you point out, after 2 AM is *after* closing. Therefore beer=good, no beer=bad.

        Jokes aside, the OP kind of has a point.

        Forcing all bars to close at exactly the same time forces all the people out onto the street at the same time. Just through sheer volume you've increased the risk of a fight starting.

        It would be better for bars to stagger their closing times or at least close later to allow patrons to leave of their own accord. From a barman's perspective, it's much easier to chuck out 10 really drunk people at 4 AM than 50 slightly drunk people at 2 AM. The only places I've see

    • see the problem isn't the beer, the problem is when you stop serving people beer.

      solution. let bars stay open all nite
    • We have to do anything in our hands to stop the Mruders, they are very dangerous!

  • by trout007 (975317) on Monday November 25, 2013 @10:29AM (#45514777)

    Doing something for someone else with no expectation of it being returned is altruism.

    • That's a truism. But on the other hand, they're not some kind of beneficence cult. All true "ism"s would attach other kinds of baggage to the favors.
      • All true "ism"s

        I see what you did there.

      • by timeOday (582209)
        No, not really. Selfish gene theory explains why somebody would do something even if it actually does have a negative expected value for the individual - because it has a positive expected value for (some of) the individual's genes, which are also in the benefitting individuals. (The boxes we draw around ourselves as "individual" are significant, but i still ultimately a philosophical construct, and to some degree arbitrary.)
    • by somersault (912633) on Monday November 25, 2013 @10:49AM (#45515041) Homepage Journal

      I don't know if a favour is expected in return, but there's something in us that makes us want to help others who've helped us anyway.

      It seems obvious that altruistic behaviour would be a result of the fact that a species that helps each other is more likely to survive. It might also have side effects, like wanting to help any living creature to survive.. but as long as that doesn't damage the original species' reproductive abilities, there's no reason for that behaviour to be selected out.

      • by Smauler (915644)

        It seems obvious that altruistic behaviour would be a result of the fact that a species that helps each other is more likely to survive.

        Yes... but evolution does not work like that. If it were an advantage to be selfish, rather than altruistic, the species would become more selfish, even if this decreases the viability of the species. This can be seen with stable populations of animals that select largeness to some degree - larger males are in some species are more often selected for breeding than small

        • Yes... but evolution does not work like that. If it were an advantage to be selfish, rather than altruistic, the species would become more selfish, even if this decreases the viability of the species.

          That's only true if there is no social consequences for selfishness. As long as the altruism comes with other things like ostracism, shunning, etc, for the individuals found to be selfish, the group can do a pretty good job at surviving. As long as you are more likely to thrive in the society by cooperating than you are to be a cheater with risks of being caught and outed, then it makes sense to cooperate.

          As the number of cheaters goes up, it becomes more adaptive to spend more time and energy policing ch

          • by Smauler (915644)

            That's only true if there is no social consequences for selfishness. As long as the altruism comes with other things like ostracism, shunning, etc, for the individuals found to be selfish, the group can do a pretty good job at surviving. As long as you are more likely to thrive in the society by cooperating than you are to be a cheater with risks of being caught and outed, then it makes sense to cooperate.

            I said "If it were an advantage to be selfish, rather than altruistic, the species would become more

            • I said "If it were an advantage to be selfish, rather than altruistic, the species would become more selfish". I didn't say it is an advantage. In essence, I agree with you here.

              It is an advantage if you are really good at it.

              It is also an advantage to be able to spot cheaters, if you are a team player.

              The survival of the species is sort of an arbitrary metric. In the same way that some species of parasites need their host species to survive, cheaters need their victims to survive as well. That doesn;t mean they are playing on the same team. It also doesn't mean that they are on completely different teams either.

              Here's where I disagree with you. Sexual selection _is_ natural selection.

              Sexual selection is natural selection in the sense that it is a typ

              • by Smauler (915644)

                Sexual selection is natural selection in the sense that it is a type of selection and it is "natural" (i.e. part of nature), but the term "sexual selection" can refer to a type of selection that is distinct from "natural selection". This is in fact how Darwin treated it. Although many people treat sexual selection as a part of natural selection, this just means that we don;t have a good name for the "non-sexual" part of natural selection.

                There is no "non-sexual" part of natural selection (at least in comp

        • the species would become more selfish, even if this decreases the viability of the species

          Yep and if it decreases the viability, then your line has more chance of dying off. That's the whole point.

          I was reading an article a few months ago where they reckoned that Neanderthals were actually smarter than humans, but they were less social. They were less likely to share new ideas between villages for example, and so we became more advanced than them as a result of our greater sociability.

          Evolution does "work like that". If the altruistic behaviour of the species helps a member survive and reproduce

    • by fche (36607)

      See also pathological altruism: "behavior in which attempts to promote the welfare of another, or others, results instead in harm that an external observer would conclude was reasonably foreseeable"

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sudon't (580652)

      Doing something for someone else with no expectation of it being returned is altruism.

      I agree with that. It seems little different than the "round buying" that goes on in bars/pubs. When one buys a round, there's a reasonable expectation that everyone in the group will in turn buy a round. Unless you have a guy like Bob, who's always broke, but he's very entertaining to drink with, and a good guy. I guess we're buying him rounds for entertainment and companionship, so even that's not pure altruism.

      Because the Tsimane don't have local bars, and making up a batch of brew is such a pain, it l

      • by timeOday (582209)
        I agree that doing behavior research on traditional cultures confers an unwarranted aura of respect. They could conduct the same study on a gang in LA, or a church congregation in the midwest, and the results would be just as valid. There seems to be some assumption that they are a fountain of truth because they are primitive and without guile, whereas we are so cultured that our instincts rarely manifest themselves.
      • by yurtinus (1590157)
        Having not read TFA and barely skimmed TFS, I do feel like adding an anecdote here regarding American culture. I have many friends that brew beer. They generally enjoy the process and really like sharing their beers with their friends, even those of us who don't brew. Sure, they're probably more likely to get invited to bbqs and dinners, but it's not like they actively expect something in return. These guys are definitely treating more often than they are treated.

        You may notice among your friends that so
        • Obviously people are altruistic because it makes them feel good. The question is *why* does it make them feel good (i.e. is there an evolutionary drive to be altruistic?).

          Why do people eat food? Why do the have sex?

          Well because food is delicious and sex feels good, obviously. But there is an underlying reason why food is delicious and why sex feels good, and that reason is evolutionary in nature. Those things feel good because we are supposed to do them to improve our (i.e.our genes) chances of survival

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It seems little different than the "round buying" that goes on in bars/pubs. When one buys a round, there's a reasonable expectation that everyone in the group will in turn buy a round.

        It isn't. Many older and smaller societies have an exchange culture based on exactly this kind of structure: Invite the neighboring village over for your festival and feed them/or adorn them with gifts; expect to be invited to their festival and adorned with equivalent effort of gifts.

        You can do this when the groups are small enough to keep track that everyone is contributing fairly and you can shun those who don't. Once your society gets too big, you have to resort to exchange of goods and services for

    • It's not altruism if a favor is expected in return....doing something for someone else with no exectation of it being returned is altruism

      That's why this discussion and the way TFA researchers define 'altruism' is completely usesless.

      I hate bashing research outright...i'm not saying this research is bad b/c it's "obvious"...I'm saying it's bad because they use contradictory and overlapping definitions for the factors they test.

      do you believe in Karma?

      if so, *everything* you do has an expectation of being re

  • by tpstigers (1075021) on Monday November 25, 2013 @10:38AM (#45514909)
    Beer is good.

    I'll take that Ph.D. now.

  • Is there any thing beer can't do?

  • Explain how? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jbmartin6 (1232050) on Monday November 25, 2013 @10:42AM (#45514957)
    I don't see how this explains altruism, this explains self interest. It's no different than chimps taking turns picking lice off each other. (Disclaimer: I had chimp-like ancestors. Also, I am not saying chimps and the people in TFA are equivalent). Altruism is jumping on a live hand grenade, or taking on a predator while the rest of the troop flees.
    • Somewhere I read about studies that found that altruism in birds or something was based on the likelihood of the recipients being genetically similar to the altruist. i.e. the bird might sacrifice for 2d cousins or of course its own children, but for total strangers no way. The idea was that altruism was a mechanism to provide for one's genes to survive.
    • Re:Explain how? (Score:5, Informative)

      by jbmartin6 (1232050) on Monday November 25, 2013 @10:46AM (#45515007)
      Another point, it seems TFA doesn't use the word "altruism" it uses "reciprocity". So jeers for the submitter on that point.
    • The point is that to explain altruism, one has to -- um -- show that it isn't really altruism. Even Christianity's take on altruism isn't that it is a truly selfless act, only that you get your reward later, in heaven. The closest you can probably come in human affairs is to consider an atheist (no karma-weighted rebirth, no post-mortem reward or punishment) who sacrifices their life to save the life of a complete stranger. And even there, one can come up with a sort of "happy people make for a happy wor

      • The point is that to explain altruism, one has to -- um -- show that it isn't really altruism.

        No, the problem is that "to explain altruism" is taken to mean "altruism is the effect of something else". Yet the very definition of altruism is that it is an act without cause. Trying to explain altruism is like trying to explain random acts of violence. The truth is, a lot of acts aren't altruistic or random. And understanding those situations can help you know how to cause more or less of the desired behavi

        • The point is that to explain altruism, one has to -- um -- show that it isn't really altruism.

          No, the problem is that "to explain altruism" is taken to mean "altruism is the effect of something else". Yet the very definition of altruism is that it is an act without cause. Trying to explain altruism is like trying to explain random acts of violence. The truth is, a lot of acts aren't altruistic or random.

          Ah, but you see, I'm a physicist and I don't really believe in effects without causes. So I have to assume that when you define altruism as an act without a cause, you mean an act without a known cause, just as random acts of violence aren't at all random, although it may be impossible to narrow down the cause to the day some poor child got Malibu Barbie for Christmas.

          BTW, your assertion that altruism is an act without a cause does not appear to be correct:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altruism [wikipedia.org]

          There is noth

          • Ah, but you see, I'm a physicist and I don't really believe in effects without causes.

            So I take it you don't believe in the Big Bang? Or is it turtles all the way down?

            There is nothing in the definition that suggests that altruism is causeless or random. Altruism is defined to be the performance of good or self-sacrificing acts without the specific cause of some expectation of reward. To quote further:

            Well, beyond the fact that you're not actually quoting the link you gave...the notion of self-sacrifice wi

            • So I take it you don't believe in the Big Bang? Or is it turtles all the way down?

              I'm quite fond of turtles. But saying that we do not know the cause of the big bang is not the same thing as saying that it definitely had no cause. Then it comes down to what you want to believe. I find that it is a lot easier to believe that the big bang happened as part of a causal chain (in the sense of cause used in physics, not cause as in hairy thunderer) than that it "just happened". This is certainly consistent wi

    • by Endloser (1170279)

      Even jumping on a hand grenade isn't altruism if the user did it to either feel superior or prevent a feeling of guilt. To be altruistic one has to act without feeling. Otherwise self preservation is always the motivating factor.

    • I don't see how this explains altruism, this explains self interest. It's no different than chimps taking turns picking lice off each other. (Disclaimer: I had chimp-like ancestors. Also, I am not saying chimps and the people in TFA are equivalent). Altruism is jumping on a live hand grenade, or taking on a predator while the rest of the troop flees.

      That's a pretty extreme definition of altruism. Besides, in second example your offspring might be doing the fleeing so one could argue that this is again a case of self-interest. At the end of the day, distinguishing enlightened self-interest from altruism is probably one for the philosophers.

  • The answer from studying these beer drinking events is that the favor is quickly returned by the guests in the form of another beer drinking event.

    You mean I scratch your back, you scratch my back? That's not not altruism, that's trade.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      No. Trade is "I'll give you a coconut for those shiny beads." (yes, trade back scratches), This is "Hey, DUDE! Let me buy you a beer!"

      Oh, and what they're drinking is in no way, shape, or form "beer". You don't make beer by spitting into fruit juice.

      • by omfgnosis (963606)

        Root juice.

        And while we're being pedantic... yes, it's beer. Starch -> sugar + yeast -> fermentation = beer.

        Beer has been made from malted barley, wheat, rice, corn, buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, even non-starch sugar sources like honey, sugar cane, beet sugar and chestnuts, not to mention (gasp) fruits. Frankly the only sane reason wine, mead and cider are distinct from beer is tautological: they have their own names. The same is true of sake.

        The use of herbal adjuncts (like hops) was developed as a me

  • People who hang out and drink together get along. Sometimes. See Irish pub fights for the counter-example ;)
  • by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Monday November 25, 2013 @10:55AM (#45515117)

    "This show traces the important role that beer has played in human history from the probable origins of the first beer at the dawn of history to the development of a special beer for use in zero gravity space missions."

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1832368/ [imdb.com]

  • You needed a study to figure this out? I think science jumped the shark.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Is this strictly the result of their culture being more stripped of modern conviences, i.e. industrialization and technology, or rather that living in such a simplistic and repeatable manner is actually easier?

    Having recently done a long-distance hike, several months and over a 1000 miles, where every day was the same repeatable events(wake up, eat, hike, stop, eat, sleep), I'd argue that it is a much simpler existence when exact daily repitition, to consistent weekly repitition with minimal distraction out

  • by wangi (16741)

    What a load of bollocks. An hour in the pub watching how a round of drinks works could have saved a lot of time and effort.

  • Moxos Beer - Now with 25% more spit!
  • > "The answer from studying these beer drinking events is that the favor is quickly
    > returned by the guests in the form of another beer drinking event"

    The professor, from the US or European intelligentsia, then rubbed his chin, "Government should force people to have these voluntary reciprocity invites! But not with beer. Or soda pop. Well, not sugar soda anyway. Or diet."

  • Could be that drinking (beer or whatever) is an example of a shared group experience that enhances interpersonal bonding. So, is it the booze or the underlying culture that explains the altruism? Can one identify cultures that emphasize other shared experiences which also enhance such effects?

    I don't have anything against drinking, per se. But if I can make a conscious decision to join a group that is characterized by some shared activity, I might want to select one that has fewer negative consequences an

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Monday November 25, 2013 @11:30AM (#45515495) Journal
    I think we understand the evolutionary mechanism behind the development of altruism well enough now. The "tournament of algorithms" conducted by the U Mich in the late 1980s on the iterative prisoners dilemma provided the seminal breakthrough. Carl Sagan's article on the Golden Rule in the Parade mag in early 1990s and the newly added chapter 13 to "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins in the 30th anniversary edition of that book are easier to read. Game theory developed further. We are now able to explain the circumstances under which altruism develops, and we also understand why it is impossible to drive the "freeloaders" all the way down to zero. We are beginning to understand the role played by taboos and religion in reducing the freeloader problems. Some, like Steven Pinker, think evolution of the language 75000 years ago essentially needed a mechanism to check the freeloaders and religion was probably that mechanism.

    So we are pretty far along these directions. Research on reciprocal altruism like this beer drinking ritual by some tribals is minor compared to the extensive work done on the bats regurgitating blood to share food with bats who did not have a successful hunt.

  • And when the beer drinking invite is not returned, the researchers speculate that this is probably because there is some other favor involved...

    A simpler explanation; they served really crappy beer.

  • Manioc (also known as cassava [wikipedia.org]) is NOT a variety of sweet potato.
  • Neuro-toxins explain altruism ...
  • Hey Neighbor,

    I chewed up some sweet potatoes, spit them into a pot and left it sitting for a week or so. Wanna come over and have some? ...

    And somehow this is now a tradition.

  • Beer is the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems.
  • I think one stumbling block of evolutionary studies is the notion to consider anything to be perfected.
    The reason that altruism does not always make sense (according to a pure 'selfish gene' standpoint), may well be that it doesn't.

    We've developed a few genes that makes part our brain mirror what our fellow beings experience. If we see someone suffer, we feel bad too.
    Most of the time, that makes sense from an egoistic standpoint. Some of the time, it doesn't.
    Altruism is no more a mystery that our preference

  • Let's see if there is a similar effect amongst those sharing bong hits... I don't know I feel sort of unmotivated about that study....

  • Chewing the manioc doesn't trigger fermentation; the saliva and maceration triggers the conversion of starches into sugars. It is the yeast (and bacteria) in the environment (especially the skin of the vegetable) which ferments the resulting sugars into alcohol.

  • the question of altruism: why people spend considerable time and effort doing favo[u]rs for others that don't directly benefit them...the favo[u]r is quickly returned...

    So, the same answer we've had for the last 150 years.

  • The scientists discovered human being can cooperate. What a scoop!

    Considering theses behaviors as odd just shows how Western societies fundamentals are rotten. People help members of their family for free. Why doing the same for neighbors would be so strange?

  • Anyone who's eaten manioc (also known as cassava) and sweet potatoes knows that they're plants with starchy tubers and that's where the similiarities end. Not knowing the difference could be deadly since much cassava is of the "bitter" variety and must be carefully prepared to remove dangerous levels of cyanide.

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