Big Think Interview With Lionel Tiger

A conversation with the Darwin Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University.
  • Transcript


Lionel Tiger: Lionel Tiger, my official job description is Darwin Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University

Question: What evolutionary purpose does religion serve?

Lionel Tiger: It is of course a very vexing issue because people who believe devoutly in religion will tell you that there is no question there.  It is already answered, which is that we’re obligate to respect and believe and follow the word of God however that word is determined.  I did with a colleague of mine who had been at the UCLA Medical School, head of the Psychiatric Research Institute, Michael McGuire, a book called God’s Brain in which we were I think able to suggest, if not demonstrate that religion is really made by the brain. It is a secretion of the brain and this gets us away from the issue of whether religion is true of not true.  The fact is that there are 4,200 religions in the world, each of them believing they’re absolutely correct and everyone should follow their views and some 90% of human beings are describable by themselves, if not other, as religious, so we’re not dealing here with a casual phenomenon even though no one has any evidence of the stories behind the religions and so we got interested in this massive unreality, which is in fact finally a real reality, namely religions and so there are cathedrals and towns.  There are tax exemptions.  There are people donating money to religions still in America.  Religions receive more donations than any other part of the community and so we were fascinated with what animated this and as I said I think we were able to suggest, if not also demonstrate that the brain creates religion and the brain consumes religion.

Question: When you say the brain creates religion, is that a neurochemical process?

Lionel Tiger: Yes, that is the argument that Michael McGuire discerned in the matter of serotonin.  He discovered that serotonin in primates was associated with high status and that when animals had high status they felt better.  It’s not unreasonable.  If you took away their high status their serotonins levels would crash.  Their brains would begin producing more cortisol and other neurotransmitters that are associated with feeling mean and feeling bad and feeling low and so we decided that one of the ways of looking at religion is to what extent and how does it generate the serotonergic juices that make us feel good.  Hence, you go to a mass in a major cathedral or anywhere or a slum Baptist church and there is music and there is color and there is activity and it appears that people actually get some brain juice out of it and that brain juice again self created and self consumed is the story we think of religion.

Question: If we have drugs that can create this kind of soothing, do we need religion?

Lionel Tiger: Well there is an argument about Europe, which has tended in the years, recent years to become less formally religious, so the French for example rarely go to mass.  There are certain fictional religious observances, but they don’t really abide by it.  On the other hand, they’re the most enthusiastic pill poppers in Europe and it may be that they’re taking the mass into their skull with a pill, so there is the pharmacological element of brain soothing.  Let me just backup for a second.  What we described was a kind of malaise of the brain we call brain pain.  That is when you’re late for work.  You’re driving somewhere vital and you get a flat tire.  You’re working with somebody who is a certified moron.  You have brain pain and everybody has that.  It is in the nature of the human brain to observe, to seek out and to conjure up problems, evaluate the environment.  In contrast, we suggested that one of the things that religions do is provide brain soothing and they soothe the brain the way a spa does or a massage or exercise or going for a walk in the park and so there is a kind of bracket here between brain pain, brain soothe and religion may be one of the main producers of the brain soothing phenomenon in a way that is not that expensive or destructive or difficult.  All you have to do is show up Sunday morning.

Question: Are there things atheists do that provide the soothing effects that religion gives believers?

Lionel Tiger: There have been efforts to have essentially atheist religions.  One was utilitarianism, the greatest good for the greatest number and that didn’t work because it didn’t have any good music.  There were really poor costumes, no great architecture and so on, so it becomes a kind of bureaucrat’s religion, but it is not very exciting.  Another effort was Marxism of course and the State would be the equivalent of the church and then the State would wither away and everyone would live in wonderful harmony with themselves and with nature and of course it turned out to be completely wrong because the communist model of human behavior was a wrong model and so we don’t for this… for this purpose we don’t have an adequate replacement if you will.  This is not to say there shouldn’t be one.  People can, in my opinion anyway, do whatever the hell they want, whatever the heaven they want, but the fact is that there is a poverty of effective intergenerational institutions that would do what religions do.  For one thing religions are very good about the life cycle which we all have.  We get born and there is usually a ceremony.  We have first communion or mitzvah or initiation or whatever.  We then get married and there is a ceremony for that.  We have children.  There is a ceremony for that and then we die and all of these absolutely general phases of life there is religion.  They have a plan.  They have a piece of the prayer book that deals with the issue.  They can usually provide a kind of array of social services at a relatively low cost because it is wholesale.  They’ve done if before and so that is one of the things that religions succeed in doing and while there are secular versions of that they don’t seem to be as prominent in many environments as the religious one.  Again, please understand.  I’m not suggesting people should be religious or shouldn’t be, but as a social scientist it’s my job to ask why are they religious when they are and many people are. 

Question: Are religious people healthier

Lionel Tiger: There is a mixture of evidence here.  For example, there are always these studies with somebody who is dying or has a bad illness and everyone is told to pray for so and so and the expectation is that they’ll live longer or that they’ll get cured.  Well that is very poor.  There is no real evidence that prayer in this sense, massive prayer helps an individual.  What may help, however, is personal optimism.  I wrote a book in 1979 I think called Optimism: The Biology of Hope because I was interested in how humans succeed in overestimating the odds in our favor and I concluded somehow that if you’re a hunter gatherer as we are you better get up in the morning and think it is a great day to catch an elephant because if you get up in the morning and you say I don’t want to catch an elephant today, I’m going back to sleep well unless you have an elephant in the freezer, which there wasn’t, you’re going to be very hungry by evening.  So there was I’m sure great selection for optimism in homo sapiens and the same is true in sexual selection.  My favorite statement on this comes not from Darwin, who actually understood the process, but from George Bernard Shaw who said, and you can use any combination that interests you, he said, “Love consists in overestimating the difference between one woman and another.”  And if you don’t make that overestimate, whether it is to a woman or to a man then you won’t get involved in the whole conniption of getting close to somebody and maybe spending your life with them and maybe having little replicates of yourselves, so optimism is important, but it is a personal issue.  Whether there is a kind of formal advantage to religion I don’t know except that when we have crisis, 9/11 or whatever several things happen.  People pray more.  They go to church and furthermore, as we could see especially in New Orleans after Katrina, the churches were there to help well before the government.  Now you could say the government was especially inept, but the fact is that religions are set up for this, so in that sense people who are religious might well be healthier because they help each other more.

Question: Why are religions so concerned with sex?

Lionel Tiger: I don’t know about you, but sex is always potentially extremely troubling.  It can cause all sorts of ruckus in all sorts of lives on an endless basis, just look at the latest politician or golfer and the fact is that because of its power, which Darwin understood when he saw that sexual selection was the engine of natural selection, which is what creates species you have to have some sort of rules about it, otherwise it is simply too massive.  For one thing men and women have different reproductive strategies as we call them in my trade because the costs of sex, unprotected sex for females are infinitely different than for males and so there always has to be in any community the basic mammalian contract, which is somebody has to take care of the mother child bond and so if you look at kinship systems basically what they do is try to insure that the mother and child are cared for by the community.  This is after all, the story of Christmas basically.  It’s the great mammalian fable or story and it works.  It is perhaps the most popular holiday in the world because it gets right to the bedrock of what religion is about, which is you’ve got to take care of the mother and the child.  [00:13:00.07]

Question: Is it counter-intuitive, evolutionarily, for religions to require chastity in their leaders?

Lionel Tiger: Chastity has a purpose if you’re setting up a church in which you don’t want to interfere… you don’t want sex to interfere with church activity, so for example, if you’re a cardinal you don’t want to have a bunch of mistresses around or if you’re a chief nun you don’t want to have a bunch of guys who are your lovers because that interferes with your work.  It’s very simple.  Now chastity is usually respected only to the point of marriage and so with marriage suddenly it all changes.  You’re supposed to be chased and then at marriage suddenly you have sexual obligations, so a woman has sexual obligations to their husband and a husband has sexual obligations to his wife and so the system is very aware of the relationship between sexuality license and responsibility.

Question: Is atheism more or less evolved than belief in God?

Lionel Tiger:
I don’t think that we have any reason to say that one way of life is better than another except if it doesn’t scare the horses, that so long as it doesn’t denigrate other people, so long as it doesn’t despoil the environment, so long as it allows people to live civilly with each other whether they believe in the same thing or not then I would be reluctant to say you’re better than you are simply because you don’t believe in God and you do.  For example, Habermas, the leading German philosopher has said that we may need religion because there has to be some way of controlling rationalism.  Remember he came out of the Nazi country where there was a lot of rational argument in favor of what happened there.  It was quite well argued.  However, it was as we know remarkably awful because there was no religious or moral anecdote to what the logical power of the Nazi regime insisted on doing.

Question: Are we more or less likely to believe in God as we evolve further?

Lionel Tiger: One of the reasons we wrote God’s Brain was in part because it seemed to us that the world was strangely enough becoming more religious and more dangerously religious, so what used to be fights between communists and capitalists, which is really who gets to own a factory making tools has now become a conflict between one priest and another and in a way it’s more reassuring to fight over who gets to run the factory because it’s there.  When you’re dealing with theoretical issues like who serves God better that becomes rapidly rather frightening and unattached to any reality, so I’m not sure that if we look ahead we will see more religion or less religion.  The evidence so far is that even though the enlightenment and the history of… recent history of Europe was supposed to liberate us from all of those old religions the opposite seems to have been true in sufficient places so that we can’t assume this is a law of nature.

Do religious or moral strictures help or hurt an individual from an evolutionary standpoint?

Lionel Tiger: Well there is…  In the primates there is a fairly consistent pattern of dominance yielding more offspring and so the dominant male in a baboon or chimp group will have more sexual access to the females in part because he will drive away rivals and he is able to because he is strong or he is more cunning and he will have more offspring and there are of course legendary tales of emperors and kings and dictators who have had many, many wives or mistresses or women anyway and they have more offspring, so from the point of view of the hard eye of nature having more offspring is good if you can sustain the costs, but the average human being can have barely one or two or three or four children and it is a difficult responsibility to take care of them.  Sometime in Europe we shifted to the kind of nuclear family model and we’ve… Maybe we did that because of the industrial system which requires that people be mobile and able to move to where the work is and then they go there with their wife and children or their husband and children and then they take care of them, but what is involved in raising children is of course an immense set of endless responsibilities and tasks. 

Question: Many religions put a lot of stock in exclusivity and look down on non-believers. Why is this?

Lionel Tiger: Many religious people actually wear amulets on their body to indicate, if only to themselves, that they’re Catholic, they’re Jewish, they’re Muslim, they’re whatever and humans are group animals.  You can’t live alone and we’re not equipped to be alone.  As a consequence whatever affiliation we have we tend to celebrate and to assert and so it’s a mystery why a Catholic or say two Christians, Lutheran and Baptist will be in disagreement about some fundamental issues and in some cases as with the Sunni and the Shiites they’ll actually kill each other for reasons which have to do with something that happened hundreds and hundreds of years ago.  Nobody remembers why, but the idea of identity that is associated with religion is sufficiently important to so many people that they are prepared to get punished, incarcerated for their religion because somehow religion becomes associated with the essence of self and it’s a mystery if you will how that happens, but people will do things as you suggested, for religion that they wouldn’t do for anything else.  After all, if you’re a holy warrior and you’re wanting to kill somebody because they’re not of your religion it’s hard.  Killing people is difficult unless you can just blast them with a big weapon, but if you have as in the early days of religious wars where you have to actually go up to somebody and cut their throat or beat them up or do something that is hard work and generally people do not want to be killed and so they fight back and so you’ve got quite a struggle going on when all you’re trying to do in your mind is perfecting the world for God or your god.  It’s a very interesting question why that happens. 

Question: From an evolutionary perspective, are some religions better than others?

Lionel Tiger: It does seem that some religions are somewhat more peaceful than others, which is in principle a good thing except that they may then get overwrought or overrun by more truculent religions and that has happened.  We’ve seen it repeatedly.  It’s almost certain that some religions are better than others in the sense of providing a peace of mind, a sense of social comfort, a sense of decency than other religions.  One of the interesting things about the Christian religion is the notion of original sin or the Catholics especially, so that you’re born bad and you’ve got to kind of work off your badness through your lifecycle.  That is a very interesting idea why that should be and why that should have worked, but it has.  You have only to read one of the most important scientific texts on the subject, James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man when he is confronted by the contrast between his own sexuality and Roman Catholicism in Ireland to see how turbulent this whole thing is. 

Question: Is it possible for animals to believe in God?

Lionel Tiger:  It is very difficult to make that leap.  However, in our book God’s Brain McGuire and I actually have a chapter on chimpanzee religion.  Religion in the sense that there are periods during the day, normal day of a group of chimps when they seem to engage in what we would, could call a religious type service, that is after they have had breakfast, they’ve closed their nests and so on and they feel safe they’ll usually sit in someplace which is like a clearing and they’re protected by trees.  You might well say that it’s almost cathedral-like, depending on where they are and they exist with very reduced tension.  The dominant males don’t bother the youngsters as much.  The females interact with each other and the youngsters and there is a lot of grooming that goes on.  People… not people, chimps grooming each other and that lasts for awhile and then they go back to their regular business and so you could see that there is in our repertoire a predisposition to some kind of let’s take time off behavior and just be friendly to each other. 

Question: What would happen if humans suddenly lost the ability to believe in God?

Lionel Tiger:  We’ve seen what happens when communities become convinced that they are entirely on their own.  I guess the Nazis were a very good case.  They really didn’t believe in God even though Germany had been a Catholic community and Protestant and some of the great religious thinkers came out of Germany like Luther and so on.  It would be very hard to answer your question because so many of the world’s most terrible events have been because people believe in God and it therefore would be irresponsible to say that we should have no religion because people would act more nicely.  I’m not sure that is true and we have only to look for example at the history of modern communism, which was really quite nasty and that wasn’t associated with God at all and yet people in what was the former Soviet Union were very unclear about where they stood, so for example, it’s highly symbolic that in Red Square, the center of Moscow, the ceremonial heart of the Russian empire, the cathedral there, Saint Basil’s had a crucifix at the top of its steeple.  Now after the revolution what do you do about hat crucifix?  It took them 20 years to decide that things were okay now and they replaced it with a red star.  The Russians were just a little concerned about this atheism business and as we’ve seen, now that Russia has changed people are going back to the churches.  There is much more attention to religion, so again, it’s not a proof.  It does suggest however that if you have a completely secular theory as the communists did it can produce menacing and awful behavior and did.

Question: Are we more or less likely to believe in God as we evolve further?

Lionel Tiger: One of the reasons we wrote God’s Brain was in part because it seemed to us that the world was strangely enough becoming more religious and more dangerously religious, so what used to be fights between communists and capitalists, which is really who gets to own a factory making tools has now become a conflict between one priest and another and in a way it’s more reassuring to fight over who gets to run the factory because it’s there.  When you’re dealing with theoretical issues like who serves God better that becomes rapidly rather frightening and unattached to any reality, so I’m not sure that if we look ahead we will see more religion or less religion.  The evidence so far is that even though the enlightenment and the history of… recent history of Europe was supposed to liberate us from all of those old religions the opposite seems to have been true in sufficient places so that we can’t assume this is a law of nature.

Question: Are males in decline in our society?

Lionel Tiger: If you look at the educational system it’s doing about 30 to 40 to 50% better with females than males, so college enrollments are overwhelmingly more female than male and the question is why is that.  There is some feeling that the introduction of a kind of women’s studies cast of characters has tended to make males feel somewhat out of sorts or not fully wanted and in my Decline of Males book I described males as having been born with a male original sin, that is if you’re born a guy you have to work it off.  You have to express your feelings.  You have to do all those things that will be **** with the current sexual fashions, which can’t be machismo-ish, can’t be too draconically male, can’t watch football as much.  You have to articulate a different path.  Now that’s relatively trivial.  I’m not trying to make a point about it, but the fact is that in the school system we see boys don’t work well and overall and there is a political question if a taxpayer funded entity is producing a better result for one part of the population than the other.  A, that is not fair and B, it constitutes a social problem. 

So for example, I discovered that… and this was after I wrote the Decline of Males, that four out of five kids expelled from kindergarten are boys.  Now my first question is how the hell do you get expelled from kindergarten, but the second is why this differentiation and then we see for example in the use of drugs to drug kids that 90% of the victims of Ritalin are boys and I know a case at the moment of a woman who has got a child that speaks three languages, is in a school where most of the kids speak one and the child is very bouncy and very active and very energetic and the mother was told that perhaps the child could be brought to a medical practitioner for an evaluation.  That word was used.  And you can be certain that they’re thinking let’s drug the kid, let’s calm him down with Ritalin or some other substance and that’s very serious because we don’t know what the long-term impact of those powerful drugs might be on a small organism.  So the issue of what happens to males I think is now resurfacing in an interesting way and I think it offers us the opportunity to begin to review the matter, to begin with the basic biology, to begin the notion of humans as primates and to assume that male primates and female primates will act differently, in many cases the same, but also in many cases differently and we should understand that better and with warmth and not hostility and so the male original sin problem I think has to be avoided because the results are poor.  Fifty years of women’s studies for example and I’m not singly out women’s studies.  I think it’s a general issue.  Fifty years of that since the first program was established in 1970 has yielded a system which is very biased it appears functionally against males and after all who wants that?  When my book the Decline of Males came out the warmest response I had was from the mothers of boys who wrote and called and whatever to say, “You have no idea what goes in schools.”  “My son has his hand up all the time.”  “Nobody recognizes him because they’re supposed to favor girls.”  Well that may be an exaggeration, but that was the response I had and I thought that was very interesting. 

Question: Are psychoactive drugs feminizing?

Lionel Tiger: I’m not sure that they’re feminizing.  I think they have impacts and we don’t know for sure what those impacts are.  We know some impact.  A kid is quieter.  Maybe learns more, learns better.  On the other hand, we have very good reason historically to be very suspicious of drugs that cause behavioral changes because the changes they cause are never the ones that are explicitly indicated on the package and so one wants to be very, very careful and I would if I were a medical practitioner, which I’m not and I don’t have any expertise in the matter, I would be very, very hesitant to drug a kid who is three because we have no idea what the long term implications might be on that child’s development, a boy or a girl, but since most of the victims of these drugs are boys we have to assume that essentially they are being feminized in the sense that they’re behavior is supposed to become more female like. 

Do some of them benefit from the drugs?

Lionel Tiger: Sure, I’ve been told by parents that their children under these drugs are much better off in school.  However, I was talking with a French doctor who teaches at the University of Paris Medical School and he said that… now this was four, five years ago, that in all of France there are 4,600 people, kids taking Ritalin.  That is probably as many as there are in a high school in a local suburb.  They regard this drug as a highly suspicious drug, very, very powerful and it’s on the restricted list along with cocaine, heroin and all of that, so nobody can get it.  In this country school nurses just hand it out and so I think we have sold ourselves a very shabby bill of goods which may cost us a lot of human competence in years to come.

Question: Did male aggression contribute to the financial crisis?

Lionel Tiger: That is undoubtedly true. The question though is also, why weren’t there more women involved in those systems and will women ever be involved in the same way.  The evidence we have is that women seem to not want to compete at that level with that kind of violence over a lifetime.  There was just a study done of women in Silicon Valley and about a third of the women leave very quickly from the competition, another third have babies and they never go back and the ones who persist are relatively more modest in their activities than the males are and I think we have to acknowledge the fact that males tend to be somewhat more bellicose and aggressive whether it is good for them to generate these collateralized debt obligation instruments that have caused us such tremendous grief.  I’m not sure that is gender specific, but the idea of making all that money and being of high status and having the money to give for your kids and so on, all of those things are associated with the male career by and large, so a lot of those people who made those huge salaries had two or three kids in private school and they had a whole array of expenses, which were really high and in general I think it’s the case that females don’t go for that kind of money because they don’t want to. 

There is a lot of talk about a glass ceiling and so on, but for example Harvard Business School did a study some years ago and I’m afraid I can’t remember the details, but it turns out that a large, large percentage of the graduates don’t do business at all.  They go into the labor force for awhile and then they leave.  They either quite because they don’t like fighting for the corner suite or they have kids and they have a priority and they serve that priority.  So we’re not going to repeal biology and so long as you have a tournament area called Wall Street or whatever else you want to call it where a whole lot of really eager males can get together and fight over sources then you have to really regulate I think and this is what President Obama is concerned about.  In fact, he is New York City as we speak to talk to people about that issue and speaking primo dialogically I think he has got an interesting challenge, but also a good point. 

Question: Is masculinity still necessary?

Lionel Tiger:  Overwhelmingly when we look at say sexual want ads in newspapers, it’s decreasing now because of the internet, but when these things first came out women… men would always ask for women who were affectionate, warm, etcetera, fertile, good looking.  Women invariably asked for men who were reliable and to quote, unquote, professional.  By professional they meant somebody who is going to provide a general and a genuine and a predictable stream of income for me and for our children and women look for that all the time.  Women are always trying to find guys who are slightly older and slightly richer than they are and that is not being mean.  It makes a lot of sense because women do have babies. Most women still do and when they have babies they have needs.  There is a lot of discussion about the so called 77 cents on the dollar that women earn and President Obama has repeated this nonsense himself.  It’s true women earn 77 cents on the dollar, but the reason is that they’re out of the labor force for five to eight years and if you assume a 3% increase per annum for 8 years there is your difference and so the reason is that women make choices that men don’t make, don’t have to make and the consequence is that males will be in the tournament in Wall Street.  However, it’s now changed because of the credential problem that I mentioned that is that guys are not graduating from desirable schools to the extent they used to and so now in big cities such as New York, Toronto, Chicago, L.A., etcetera women between 20 and 35 earn more money than men in that age group.  Now there is a good reason for that.  Again not only are women better at the school system which favors them it seems, but any woman who is at college now or who is coming to maturity in the modern world knows that not only has she to study to support herself, but she is studying for two because she may well have a child and she may well have no provider to take care of that child and her, so she better get a good job, good credential so she’ll be in shape to do this. 

40% of babies born in the United States and in Europe are born to women who are not legally married.  Now some of the mare living with guys and connections may be made and they may be durable, but the fact is that the idea of so many women having babies on their own, risking that they may have to do this by themselves is I think very revealing and it suggests a great deal about what they think of the guys.  They just don’t trust them. 

Question: Why are you supporting the idea of "male studies" as an academic discipline?

Lionel Tiger:
There has been in the whole women’s studies world a notion that sex roles are the result of which magazines you read and which sitcom you watch and that it’s all confection.  It’s not indigenous out of the organism and so that and the idea of patriarch is if there were a bunch of guys sitting around and doing their very best to keep women down.  Again, possible true and certainly true in a whole series of events, but the fact is that I think that it hasn’t worked, that that approach, the call it women’s studies approach, men’s studies approach, which is basically a branch plant of the women’s studies programs that hasn’t worked to yield for us a society of equal men and women equally enjoying, equally profiting from their educational experience and so it seemed to a number of us it was actually time to start again.  When you have a situation in which two-thirds of the graduates of an institution are female and it’s supposed to be for everybody you’re entitled to ask, why is this trip necessary?  How did it get this way?  And so we were rather innocently saying just let’s review the matter.  We’re not content with the result.  It hasn’t worked.

How much of human behavior do we actually have choice over?

Lionel Tiger: We have endless choice, but we also are hardwired in certain ways to make certain choices, so for example, as we learned from language through Noam Chomsky’s work kids are programmed to learn language.  A two year-old kid can learn Chinese.  I could never learn Chinese and I’m a reasonably smart applicable character who could apply myself to it.  I couldn’t do it.  It is not in my wiring any longer.  As Chomsky showed there is a program for learning language which is associated with being a kid.  There are programs for a whole series of things in us.  The kid may learn Chinese.  The kid may learn Arabic, but he is going to learn something and so the issue is what is in the system and what is easy for us to learn and it appears that some of things that we find easy to learn are tricky like my group is better than your group or I want to have access to as many females or males as I can independent of what the consequences are of that or a series of other things, but basically this is a massive question and the history of recent biological science shows that we have really not well handled the problem.  For example, most universities and colleges in North America, England, the rest of Europe are divided in two, two science faculties if you will.  There is the natural sciences and then there are the social sciences with the heavy implication that social behavior is not natural.  It’s inescapable that that would be the conclusion, but in fact, social behavior is natural and we have very, very little synthetic analysis of behavior from both the evolutionary and the contemporary point of view in many ways and that has become, I’m afraid, highly politicized and consequently generates a lot more heat than light.

Question: How much conscious choice do we have in who we pick as a mate?

Lionel Tiger: Well first of all, location, location, location is very important as we know.  Secondly, people will have…  Well there is something called in sociology assortative mating.  It happens to be a cruel fact of high school that the quarterback gets the girl who is regarded as the prettiest.  It’s regarded as a cruel fact of nature that Katherine Zeta Jones ends up with Mike Douglas.  People make choices depending on what they think they can get if you will, out of the reproductive system and so a lot of people fail.  They don’t have any partner and there is a huge issue for example in the African-American community in America where so many of the males are imprisoned.  If you have 20 females and 20 males and one, just one male is in prison then the 19 other females have to really chop and change to make a proper connection and it puts pressure on everybody and so in that particular community we see the cost and so one remembers Terry McMillan’s book Waiting to Exhale.  So here we have an indication of the fact that yes, we have a lot of free choice, but it is usually within a kind of marketplace of humans if you will, to be crass about it, and that continues to exist and so you have women who will decide never to date some guy who doesn’t have X or Y characteristics, who doesn’t have a professional, quotes, job.  You have a lot of … For example, there was a study done of medical students a Syracuse by a man named John Thompson and he said that there were… 

Yeah, there was a study done of medical students, male and female in a university in New York and the males were quite ruthless in how they evaluated the females.  They said for example about one of them, “Why is she studying to be a doctor?”  She is good looking.”  “She should just marry one.”  And they had very, very rigorous statements that they made about they would only go out with two of the ten women who were in their class because of physical attraction of whatever their metric, but it was real.  It was harsh and that goes on all the time.  It’s the story of high school and it’s real and it’s painful and it happens and the consequences are that individuals have to sort of figure out how to present themselves.  If you look at female reading habits any magazine “612 Ways to Make Yourself Look Better for 5 Cents” on the cover or “200 Things That Will Please Him” or various ways of trying to attract a male in a very competitive environment and not just a male, a good one.  That is the problem.  Males have a different metric and the problem is many males realize that they can’t really hack it.  They’re just not going to end up doing this very well in terms of their fantasies or their dreams or even their ambitions. 

Has your work as an evolutionary biologist affected your own outlook on the world?

Lionel Tiger: I guess I would say that I will always look for what is the most basic motive in a situation that people are in and so I will assume that if a man and a woman for example are deeply interested in each other sexually I would assume that it is not because one is a Buddhist and the other is a Catholic.  It’s because they’re interested in each other sexually given their reproductive state, their biology and the like, so here is where in my trade we talk about the law of parsimony.  Parsimony means you try to find the least complicated explanation for any behavior and so if I’ve had… if I have a hangover it would be parsimonious of me to say well I shouldn’t go and apply for a job as a nuclear physicists because I’m not going to be at my best and that is just the law of parsimony and that shades quickly off into biology.  [00:52:02.09]

Question: What kind of work do you do with the Department of Defense?

Lionel Tiger: Well there are very thoughtful people there concerned about the human factor in warfare and in defense.  After all, their job is to defend Americans from bad people who want to come in and blow up airplanes and do all that sort of stuff and it’s a real fear.  It is a real concern as we sadly know, but for example if you look at the general **** doctrine in Afghanistan and in Iraq earlier the first thing was to find out about the people.  Who are they?  They’re not just furniture and so one of the things that it is possible to do in an organization like the Department of Defense is provide some insight into how human beings are likely to behave.  For example, if a whole lot of foreigners come with guns.  They’re not going to like it.  They’re simply not going to like it and so we see recently President Karzai of Afghanistan saying that he is going to join the Taliban.  Well he is tired of these Americans, particularly after President Obama came to visit him to give him a rebuke about his corruption.  What Obama thought was corruption and what Karzai thinks is just being a decent relative to his brother and all the other people that he has got to be responsible for.  So those are some of the issues that are necessary to understand in the world of… in a dangerous world and I don’t see any problem in doing that.

What causes somebody to get on an airplane with a bomb in his underwear?  He has got a belief and he didn’t get that belief from eating a Kit Kat bar.  He got it from some discernible series of events in his life that convinced him that this is what he should do, put him in contact with bomb makers and various associates who provided him the airplane ticket and the like and he ended up as it happened, getting caught, but there was a human trail there that could have been tracked and in future there will be another such event and if we can catch it, good.  If we can’t lots of people will die. 

Recorded on April 23, 2010