The Sense of Should: A Biologically-based Framework for Modeling Social Pressure. | Jordan E. Theriault, Liane Youn and Lisa Feldman Barrett


• We develop a model of social pressure, based on the metabolic costs of information.
• We propose that conformity regulates the predictability of social environments.
• We suggest that the experience of obligation stems from anticipated uncertainty.
• We integrate disparate theories of mental inference with an embodied account.
• We discuss the emergent consequences of others’ expectations motivating behavior.

Keywords: Allostasis | Predictive Coding | Evolution | Metabolism | Affect | Social Pressure


What is social pressure, and how could it be adaptive to conform to others’ expectations? Existing accounts highlight the importance of reputation and social sanctions. Yet, conformist behavior is multiply determined: sometimes, a person desires social regard, but at other times she feels obligated to behave a certain way, regardless of any reputational benefit — i.e. she feels a sense of should. We develop a formal model of this sense of should, beginning from a minimal set of biological premises: that the brain is predictive, that prediction error has a metabolic cost, and that metabolic costs are prospectively avoided. It follows that unpredictable environments impose metabolic costs, and in social environments these costs can be reduced by conforming to others’ expectations. We elaborate on a sense of should’s benefits and subjective experience, its likely developmental trajectory, and its relation to embodied mental inference. From this individualistic metabolic strategy, the emergent dynamics unify social phenomenon ranging from status quo biases, to communication and motivated cognition. We offer new solutions to long-studied problems (e.g. altruistic behavior), and show how compliance with arbitrary social practices is compelled without explicit sanctions. Social pressure may provide a foundation in individuals on which societies can be built.

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“A Deep Dive into Money and Banking” and “Funding the Green Transition with Public Banks” with Ellen Brown | 2019 Soil & Nutrition Conference

A Deep Dive into Money and Banking After the banking crisis of 2008-09, even former Fed Chairs were admitting they had gotten it wrong. Economic policies are not working because the underlying theories are wrong. This workshop will take a deep dive into what is really going on with our money and banking system, how… Read More

Why We Consume: Neural Design and Sustainability | Peter Sterling | (2016)

Exponential economic growth is rapidly destabilizing the biosphere. Among the many factors that stimulate such growth is the human tendency to consume goods and services far beyond what is required to meet basic needs. We have to grasp what drives this tendency in order to manage it. The brain’s core circuits were long believed to stimulate us to seek pleasure—greedily and selfishly—while higher cortical circuits try to rein us in. Neuroscience now shows that the core circuits serve not pleasure per se, but efficient learning. When we obtain a reward that our frontal cortex values highly, the core circuit delivers a chemical pulse that we experience as satisfaction—so we repeat the behavior. Satisfaction is brief and diminishes as a particular reward becomes predictable. This circuit design works well for pre-industrial societies in which rewards are varied and unpredictable. But capitalism shrinks the diversity of possible rewards, leaving the remainder less satisfying, and making stronger doses, i.e., more consumption, necessary. The path toward sustainability must, therefore, include re-expanding the diversity of satisfactions.

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Antonio Damasio | From Feelings to Socio-Cultural Homeostasis

The Strange Order of Things is a pathbreaking investigation into homeostasis, the condition that regulates human physiology within the range that makes possible not only survival but also the flourishing of life. Antonio Damasio makes clear that we descend biologically, psychologically, and even socially from a long lineage that begins with single living cells; that our minds and cultures are linked by an invisible thread to the ways and means of ancient unicellular existence and other primitive life-forms; and that inherent in our very chemistry is a powerful force, a striving toward life maintenance that governs life in all its guises, including the development of genes that help regulate and transmit life. The Strange Order of Things is a landmark reflection that spans the biological and social sciences, offering a new way of understanding the origins of life, feeling, and culture.

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The diabesity epidemic in the light of evolution: insights from the capacity–load model | Jonathan C. K. Wells | Diabetologia

The global nutrition transition, which embraces major changes in how food is produced, distributed and consumed, is associated with rapid increases in the prevalence of obesity, but the implications for diabetes differ between populations. A simple conceptual model treats diabetes risk as the function of two interacting traits: ‘metabolic capacity,’ which promotes glucose homeostasis, and ‘metabolic load’, which challenges glucose homoeostasis. Population variability in diabetes prevalence is consistent with this conceptual model, indicating that the effect of obesity varies by ethnicity. Evolutionary life history theory can help explain why variability in metabolic capacity and metabolic load emerges. At the species level (hominin evolution), across human populations and within individual life courses, phenotypic variability emerges under selective pressure to maximise reproductive fitness rather than metabolic health. Those exposed to adverse environments may express or develop several metabolic traits that are individually beneficial for reproductive fitness, but which cumulatively increase diabetes risk. Public health interventions can help promote metabolic capacity, but there are limits to the benefits that can emerge within a single generation. This means that efforts to curb metabolic load (obesity, unhealthy lifestyles) must remain at the forefront of diabetes prevention. Such efforts should go beyond individuals and target the broader food system and socioeconomic factors, in order to maximise their efficacy.

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Prof Mark Solms – A Neuropsychoanalytic Perspective on the Hard Problem of Consciousness / Why and How Consciousness Arises / Consciousness Itself is Affect: Felt Uncertainty in the Face of Oblivion

Video Presentations A Neuropsychoanalytic Perspective on the Hard Problem of Consciousness Why and How Consciousness Arises At our Feb. 5 Grand Rounds, Mark Solms, PhD, of the University of Cape Town, presented on how the metaphysical experience of consciousness relates to the physical brain—and why psychiatrists should care. Consciousness Itself is Affect: Felt Uncertainty in… Read More

Lies, damn lies and climate statistics | Prof. Steve Keene |

It will come as no surprise that a recent poll indicated that economists are among the least-trusted professionals. They’ve made blundering mistakes on everything from claiming financial crises can happen to not facing the most obvious recessions.

But all that pales into insignificance when inept economists get involved in modeling climate science. A recession we can recover from, but the breakdown of our planet, we cannot.

Host Ross Ashcroft travels to Kakanomics – the leading economics festival in Norway – to talk with the renegade economist Professor Steve Keen to understand the scale of the damage that blinkered ideology has done to the future of our planet.

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Table of Contents

Problems of Simplicity
Problems of Disorganized Complexity
Problems of Organized Complexity
The Boundaries of Science


Preliminary Ideas – Science and Complexity
Further Preliminary Ideas – The Limitations of Science
The Natural History of a Scientific Field
The Natural History of the Whole of Science
The Modern Attack on Problems of Organized Complexity
The Emerging Unity
What Must We Do? Read More

Celebrating Crisis: Towards a Culture of Cooperation | Elisabet Sahtouris |

Humanity, like all other species of Earth before and with us, is evolving — and evolution, for humans as for all species, is neither predictably linear nor solely Darwinian. Earth’s nearly four billion years of evolutionary experience reveals reliable patterns that give us hope, inspiration and valuable guidance for getting ourselves through the unprecedented confluence of enormous crises in which we humans quite suddenly find ourselves. Here we see the evolutionary Big Picture, including the amazingly complex lives of our remotest bacterial ancestors, who had Earth to themselves for fully half of evolution, and much of whose experience we seem to be mirroring now. They engaged in hostilities, generated global crises of hunger and pollution as great as ours today, and solved them without benefit of brain! Along the way they invented electric motors, atomic piles and the first World Wide Web of DNA exchange; then, in the greatest of all evolutionary ventures, formed cooperatives that became nucleated cells. These cooperatives were the basis for the evolution of our own hundred-trillion-celled human bodies, which role model amazingly sustainable economies. Learning from newly revealed problems and solutions in biological evolution, we too are finding out how to survive and even thrive into a better future despite — perhaps because of — our greatest challenges. That would indeed be cause for celebration.

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There is a hidden war of value codes in the world today. On the one hand, there is the life code of value: Life → Means of Life → More Life (L → M of L→ L1). On the other hand, there is the money code of value: in its classical form, Money → Commodity → More Money ($ C → $1). In its carcinogenic form, this sequence becomes: Money → More Money → More Money ($ → $1 $2  $n). The latter money sequence of value is decoupled from any commitment to life function and is driven by the lending and investment cycles of banks. This paper demonstrates the carcinogenic properties of this sequence at the social level of life-organization.

The second part of the paper proposes a remedy. The first step consists in making the government-conferred privileges of banks – creating money by credit and lending others’ money stocks at compound interest – accountable to society’s life requirements. The second step consists in returning central banks to their constitutional mandate of lending to governments rather than alienating this function to private banks. The article concludes by arguing that the great obstacle to Canada’s and other countries’ economic well-being is the abdication by governments of their sovereign powers over society’s money supply, and the long cultivation of public ignorance on this ultimate issue of public policy and value decision.

John McMurtry
Department of Philosophy
University of Guelph

Bank of Montreal Distinguished Visitor Lecture, Trent University, March 13, 1997. Read More