Discover more from Joseph Bronski
Reading list for those interested in quantitative sociobiology
How to not waste your time reading
Sociobiology is the study of the biological basis of social behavior. When we slap “quantitative” in front of it, it means N things: 1) we are stressing that we are not interested in botanical approaches and evolutionary just-so stories; 2) we are trying to not be confused with E.O. Wilson’s book, while retaining the label he created — we are talking about a field of research, not a specific text 3) that said, I am compiling a text book which will include Quantitative Sociobiology in the title — perhaps it will be “The Theory of” or “The Modern Theory of” or something like that — quantitative draws attention to the ongoing work of myself and others, and away from a 1970s Harvard controversy that gave us the “sociobiology” term.
I am compiling this textbook because, as of yet, there is no satisfactory alternative. Much is not known about the biological basis of human social behavior. My main research program seeks to shine light on it. Not only will the textbook serve to systematize my research in one place, it will also weave together other research which is not always recognized for what it is. For example, Wikipedia says Gregory Clark is “an economic historian”; he is not — rather, he is a quantitative sociobiologist whose most well-known work concerns the law of social mobility. He argues that the rates are stable between societies in time and through time, and that social position is a result of genetics, not arbitrary non-genetic inheritance. His work is quantitative and shines great light on the biological basis of human social behavior.
Joseph Bronski is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Some people don’t want to wait for this textbook or read its beta version. Even if they do read the beta version, it’s not complete. Yet some people want to understand society better. This post is for these people. For 2 years, I have been carefully reading dozens of books and articles on this subject. I have made a lot of mistakes and have wasted a lot of time, in part because of bad reading lists that were going around the online spaces I frequented.
In fact, one of those mistakes was naming the textbook “exousiology”, which means the science of social power. This is too narrow — exousiology is a subfield of sociobiology. Humans are biological organisms, and power is a subset of their social behavior. The science of power must understand the ultimate biology of social power, which is only a part of the biology of social behavior. This is reflected in the fact that for all major phenomena, such as the rise of leftism, the education system, or political parties, social power is only a part of the story. I was wrongly convinced by “social theorists” to believe in the Foucauldian (i.e. commie) notion that social power was everything. So I named what was really a textbook about the biology of social behavior “the science of power.” Now I am renaming it to what it should be called.
Don’t read elite theorists
This mistake was reflected in my early reading list. I took people like Neema Parvini (a.k.a. “Academic Agent”) and Curtis Yarvin (“Mencius Moldbug”) way too seriously and read people like Mosca, Bertrand de Jouvenel, and James Burnham. If you have 7 hours of reading time a week, and read 2 pages per minute, this is 5 weeks of reading. You can learn a lot more in 35 hours.
Those guys are long-winded wordcels. Generally, books are a waste of time when they aren’t just a collection of research articles. The less math and data they have, the more of a waste they are.
Why is this the case, generally speaking? I suspect it can be explained with a concept known as “information density.” Information can be roughly defined as anything that changes your priors about the world. A source’s information density is just its efficiency at teaching you — how much information per words is there? A book might have some useful information, but if it has, say, 3 useful ideas in 250 pages, then its info density is 3/250 ideas/page. If an article has the same amount of information in 25 pages, its info density is 3/25 ideas/page. It’s 10 times as dense!
Math and data are super concise and also more informative than words, so they are both signals that info density is high. It appears, from my experience, that there seems to be some sort of impetus to lower info density to extremely low levels in books, so a longer source is likely to be less dense. This impetus may have several causes: 1) low IQ people may need lower density, so books are written for them while research articles have the same information for higher IQ people who can handle higher density; 2) perhaps there is a bias towards buying larger texts — more bang for your buck. Thus authors are incentivized to make their article sized ideas into book length with a lot of pointless anecdotes.
Generally, articles don’t sell, and books do. So the proximate cause is probably this. Books might sell more because the low IQ need less density, because of bang for your buck bias, or a combination of the two.
There are numerous examples of mainstream books being stretched out research articles. For example, one such article on the list has a book version. The article is 20 pages. The book is 384. From the article:
Development of trust in testimony. Most experiments investigating the development of trust in testimony follow one of these two templates. Either an informant gives the child some information that might contradict the child’s prior beliefs, or several (usually two) informants provide contrary information on a topic about which the child has no prior belief. These experiments have revealed that young children (typically preschoolers) can take into account a wide variety of sensible cues to trustworthiness (for reviews, see Harris, 2012; Mills, 2013). Even infants (1- to 2-yearolds) can use some cues, such as expertise (for review, see Harris & Lane, 2013). Although most of the cues used by preschoolers are sound (e.g., past accuracy, Clément, Koenig, & Harris, 2004; benevolence, Mascaro & Sperber, 2009; perceptual access, Robinson, Champion, & Mitchell, 1999), others might appear to be less so (e.g., gender, Ma & Woolley, 2013). Regarding these apparently less sound cues, it should be noted that in the absence of other cues, they might make sense as cues to coalition affiliation. Moreover, they are usually trumped by sounder cues when sounder cues are present (for gender, Taylor, 2013; Terrier, Bernard, Mercier, & Clément, 2016).
From the book:
Who to trust? Many people are quite confident in their ability to spot a liar. This is one of the reasons why, in many cultures, verbal testimony is preferred to written testimony in court: judges think they can tell if someone is lying by watching them speak in person.3 To this day, many detectives are taught to rely on “such visual cues as gaze aversion, nonfrontal posture, slouching, and grooming gestures.”4The TV show Lie to Me rests on this premise. The show’s hero, Cal Lightman, is inspired by Paul Ekman, a psychologist famous for his studies of emotional expressions. Like Ekman, Lightman travels to faraway places in order to demonstrate that people make the same face to express, say, fear, everywhere in the world. Again like Ekman, Lightman uses his deep knowledge of emotional expressions to catch liars, in particular by relying on the observation of microexpressions.5
Microexpressions are facial expressions that last for the blink of an eye, less than a fifth of a second. These rapid expressions are supposed to betray the conflicting emotions of those who try to lie, or to hide their feelings more generally. People who want to conceal their guilt, their sadness, or their joy might let slip a tiny muscle movement reflecting the emotion they attempt to hide rather than the one they want to display.
Even though they are essentially invisible to the untrained eye, microexpressions would be perceptible by those who receive the proper instructions, such as the short class offered by Ekman to a variety of law enforcement agencies (and which you can easily buy online). It seems we’ve finally found a solution to catching liars, and it’s only a few hours’ training away.
Unfortunately, things are not quite so simple. Ekman’s ideas, and his results, have proven controversial. Ekman’s critics point out that his findings about the reliability of microexpressions as a tool for spotting liars have not been published in proper peer-reviewed journals: he has not shared his methods and data with the scientific community, so they cannot be independently evaluated.6 Moreover, experiments conducted by scientists outside his group have yielded rather negative results.
Just look at the book’s citation density and all of the fluff. “The TV show Lie to Me” — lmao, it’s so obvious he’s just adding 8th grade reading level fluff to his thesis. For that reason, the book is not worth reading by a serious learner. The article is.
The reading list
I will split the reading list into central sub-areas. For some content, especially general math and science like statistics and genetics, particular reading is not necessary. These are my recommendations, but you may have learned some of the basics in school or elsewhere. For more niche topics, the reading is more specific, because there are fewer alternatives.
The ordering here is important. Generally, to fully understand the reading of one section, you need to have completed the previous section. Starting at cliodynamics, the reading becomes highly specific such that you should basically read what is on this list. Before that, a decent science, math, and HBD education can fill in for the list.
Math and Statistics
Quantitative sociobiology is a mathematical science. You cannot understand it or contribute to it while being mathematically illiterate. Thus, your first step to understanding and contributing to it is understanding the relevant math. This math is mostly probability and statistics. The deeper your understanding, the better, but at a bare minimum you need to understand basically everything in this course:
These readings are very good if you have no real background in probability and statistics. If you have learned this in school or through another source, you can skip this.
If you want to understand probability and statistics on a very deep level, from 1st principles and all that, I recommend the first 170 pages of All of Statistics. This may not be needed for quantitative sociobiology, I mostly read it to understand machine learning better and to round out my mathematical maturity. The math in sociobiology is not quite that advanced, but it wouldn’t hurt to read this. If you like math, it’s a good book. I found it very easy to do 7 pages in a relaxed hour, so this is only 24 hours of work and it is very rewarding.
The Scientific Method
This part may not be necessary if you already have scientific experience and think “philosophy” and other non-scientific, non-quantitative fields are a scam. However, some seemingly intelligent people often talk to me and are very confused as to what a science even is. They think “philosophy” and "thinking really hard” are equal forms of knowledge. If this is you, or you are confused as to why we need a science, and why “political philosophy” like Carl Schmitt and The Philosophy of Right are not worth reading, then you should read what is in this section.
Pareto dealt with these people thoroughly in the first chapter of The Mind and Society. It is only 70 pages long, easy to read in 2 hours.
Pareto, being from 100 years ago, is appropriately skeptical of language, but fails to clearly see mathematics as science’s salvation. This is probably because our key form of math was not yet developed when Pareto wrote; Ronald Fischer invented variance in the 1920s, and Pareto died in 1923.
I give a concise treatment of the special role of math as the language of predictive sciences in my article Why Philosophy is Invalid. You can easily read this article in 30 minutes. Read it carefully, maybe think about it for another 30 if you are still philosophy brained. Having a good understanding of math is a pre-requisite for this article, otherwise you may not get it.
Human Behavioral Biology
In this list, we are progressing from general theory to general science to specific science. The mathematics is the most general; is our language and logic. Then comes our method; that was the previous section. Now comes our general scientific basis: biology, especially that regarding human behavior.
It is harder for me to recommend sources here because I learned general biology in school and accumulated behavioral biology knowledge through exposure to many research articles over the course of years.
I am currently working on providing better educational resources for this subject matter. Once that is done, I will likely recommend using those resources if you need to learn. For now I have the following recommendations.
Read Plomin’s Behavioral Genetics as needed. If you took biology in college or high school you might not need to read about Mendelian genetics. Unless you are acquainted with HBD, you might want to read about twin studies and heritability.
Basically just read whatever you don’t know in here, especially the mathematical appendix. It’s at probably 250 pages if you need to read some of it, which is an easy 10 hours of reading. Pay special attention to heritability and the math appendix, because it’s important for the following sections. Stuff like the genetics of schizophrenia is less important.
Next, you should understand HBD, especially the realness of IQ, race, and genetic race differences effecting behavior. Race differences are important for understanding theories about the rise of leftism, and IQ is important for understanding social power and other social behavior.
Right now, the best source to learn this stuff fast is probably chapters 3, 6, and 7 of this:
This should probably take no more than 5 hours of reading.
Now we get into specific stuff. “Cliodynamics” was coined by Peter Turchin. Cliometrics refer to quantizing history, so cliodynamics roughly means predicting historical quantities. I consider it the branch of quantitative sociobiology that predicts long term trends in human social behavior.
Read Peter Turchin. I made a mistake by not reading him immediately — I was skeptical that his approach could work, because I thought it wasn’t detailed enough. However, it was actually based on the work of E.O. Wilson and is consequently appropriately classified as quantitative sociobiology. Turchin has two main models, and both are cycles. The first is what he calls Metaethnic Frontier Theory. A better name might be “the asabiyyah cycle” or the “group selection cycle.” This is a 20-40 generation cycle predicting the rise and fall of empires. It says that races that are on ethnic frontiers will be group-selected and this causes conservatism, roughly speaking. Then as those pressures release, these races lose groupishness and liberalize. Turchin uses this theory to successfully predict where empires form and when they will fall.
His second model predicts unrest within empires. It is called the Structural-Demographic Theory. It is based on population ecology and posits that the relative population sizes of elites, masses, and the State predicts social unrest. It makes pretty good macro-level predictions.
Turchin actually laid out these theories in 2003 and has been popularizing them and accumulating data for them ever since. Don’t read his popular books. Instead, read all of his 2003 treatise Historical Dynamics. You need to know some basic differential equations before you do this. Unit 1 of this MIT course will do it. Obviously if you have learned ODEs elsewhere, skip this.
Now you should basically read all of Historical Dynamics.
At a minimum, read chapter 4 through 7. The whole book can easily be read in 10 hours, however, and is very worth it as it is filled with math and data.
If you want more cliodynamics, don’t read his 8th grade reading level books. Read his academic articles. Generally, 1 to 3 articles correspond to a popular book from him. They mostly just add data to his old theories and confirm them more.
I would argue research into the rise of leftism can be classified as cliodynamics, especially because it seems linked to the Metaethnic Frontier Theory. To begin with this, I recommend reading chapters 6 and 7 of this book:
Modernity and Cultural Decline (pg 197-273)
This can easily be done in 3 hours. The rest of the book is basically DR boilerplate but if you are confused as to what leftism is, feel free to read it.
As of now, I am the seem to be the only person pursuing this corner of cliodynamics, so eventually everything I put out will be added to updated version of this reading list. For now, just read this article, it should take 30 minutes at most:
Now we get into subfields which focus on the details of human social behavior at one time, as opposed to predicting long term historical trends.
Memetics is the study of the biological basis of human ideas and their effects on human social behavior. We want to understand how information shapes human social behavior and how this varies due to genetics. This is important because language and learning is what humans excel at compared to other animals, and there are a lot of pseudo-scientific folk theories surrounding this. We want to fill in the details, dispelling pseudo-scientific ideas along the way.
Generally, the evidence in this emerging field so far indicates that informational differences are a lot less important than folk theories would indicate. Folk theories are very blank-slatist, overly intuitive and socially desirable (and thus privilege conscious verbal thought over unconscious instinct and conscious material desire). In the most extreme forms of these theories, human social behavior becomes entirely shaped by “ideas” (this is not necessarily coherent, being a pseudo-scientific folk theory).
To understand knowledge on this so far, I would start with my writings contained in the latest edition of the Quantitative Sociobiology manuscript. As of right now, I would read 2.2.4, 2.2.5, and chapter 5.
This is about 14 pages and can easily be read in 1 hour.
As of now, I also recommend this article:
Finally, the other main writer on this I have found is Hugo Mercier. I developed all of the above before finding his writings, but he argues for the same conclusions from existing psychology and cognitive science studies.
As evo psych thinking suggests, for people to adopt new behavior-impacting information, it needs to bear fruit. If this were not the case, people would be very gullible and it would be trivially easy to get them to give you free money for no return based on silly lies. We might predict that some mentally diseased people are unfit due to gullibility, and this seems to be the case with schizophrenics and the retarded. Furthermore, not all stated beliefs are really beliefs. Some seem to be what I call collective action signals. Mercier calls these reflective beliefs. They are essentially lies that have no pragmatic consequences which signal certain things to others. I suspect they are mainly used for collective action coordination.
Exousiology, my old label for the whole project, is the study of the biological basis of social power. Many social species have social power, so this can be a cross-species discipline, but obviously I focus on humans like in everything else.
At this point in time, I think power is essentially economic and can be measured by the “true” amount of wealth someone has. Someone gains power when it is economically rational to obey them — you get more resources obeying than not obeying.
I recommend reading chapter 2 of my manuscript to start with:
This is only 16 pages and can be done easily in an hour.
Then I would study microeconomics. This can be skipped if you were an economics major in university. Otherwise it probably shouldn’t be skipped unless you have already read good mathematical microeconomics text books.
The key here is not consumer theory but rather the utility model in general, game theory, and some public choice.
I recommend Microeconomic Theory for understanding the rational utility model and game theory.
This should be easily doable in 14 hours of reading. Now you can read my model of social power, which is currently called “credit theory.” Biologically, this is the idea that obedience psychology is essentially economically rational. I suspect that money is a biological phenomenon stemming from the biology of economic thinking, and money represents general resource possession, enabling complex human trade systems, something which is clearly adaptive. Power is fundamentally about resource accumulation, thus it is about money very generally.
This is only 6 pages long and can easily be understood in 30 minutes if you understand everything up to this point.
Now we move onto the fact that wealth and therefore power seems to concentrate.
I recommend starting with my summary of the Iron Law of Oligarchy (ILO). It gives 5 reasons why this might happen. The original book that suggested it was published in 1912 and is overly long, filled with anecdotes. We are interested in the statement of the “law” and how to quantify it. There are two main reasons divided into 3 and 2 more respectively. These are organizational mechanisms and human biological differences respectively.
This review is 16 pages and can easily be read in 1 hour.
Next comes the fact of wealth and power concentration in the US. Domhoff argues in his book Who Rules America that wealth and power are one, as I would predict.
I recommend reading my summary of his work. It’s only 12 pages. His own writing is very long winded and stained with blank slatism. I condense it down to just the data and integrate it with sociobiology.
I hypothesize that “the Patriciate” is a law. A coordinated, wealthy ruling class will be found in every society, the result of biological and economic conditions similar to all known societies which have existed to this point. This implies wealth will always be highly concentrated in a society, along with some other things. So far I have tested the wealth concentration implication and found good results.
You should be able to easily read this article in 20 minutes.
This is currently the most efficient reading list to get up to date so that you can be at the forefront of quantitative sociobiology. Reading more than this is likely be a waste of time, depending on what it is; what is needed now is more research. Likewise, reading less than this will leave you with some serious holes in your knowledge, and you will be stating dumb folk theories like they are equivalent to real hypotheses.
You should take this list seriously, because I have been reading in this area for about 2 years now pretty heavily. I have learned the hard way what is wheat and what is chaff. Here is a subset of what I have read. I have read the entirety of these books in the last 16 months or so:
Some of this, I have condensed for you. Some of it was pointless. Some of it had some substance but wasn’t relevant to sociobiology. Most of it was too fluffy, if there was any content at all it should have been a 25 page article and not a 300 page book.
A typical HBD person probably only has 40 hours of reading off of this list, if they start with “cliodynamics”. This is easy to do in a little over a month at just 1 hour a day.
As I read more, and more studies accumulate, I will be updating this list. I’ll probably throw it into the introduction of future versions of the manuscript. I may also post any substantial revisions directly to this substack.
For now, however, this is the best list I think anyone knows to make. Changes I forsee coming includes adding Gregory Clark, adding a section on political agency, revising the HBD resources to point towards new learning materials that are being worked on, and adding new studies as they come. Essentially, your time will not be wasted with any of this material. Some of it might be further streamlined in the future, but for the most part it is worth learning and will only be added to, and these are the best resources to learn this stuff right now.
Joseph Bronski is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.