My Theory of Human Evolution (baseball park collector)

Waiting in line at Tokyo immigration control, I met a woman from North Carolina who’d come to Japan for an organized tour of Japanese baseball parks (17 of them). She learned about the tour from a friend. In America, she’s visited 117.

I told her I was a psychology professor and had a theory of evolution in which connoisseurship played a big role. She was a baseball-park connoisseur, I said.

The evolutionary role of connoisseurs and collectors was to provide demand for finely-made stuff — things made by state-of-their-art artisans. Connoisseurs and collectors would pay more for features that had no clear value otherwise. By trading for these things, the connoisseurs and collectors helped the artisans make a living and thereby push their technology further.

7 Responses to “My Theory of Human Evolution (baseball park collector)”

  1. D Says:

    It would be helpful if the following quote, or part of it, was linked to your theory for new readers like me: “…had a theory of evolution in which connoisseurship played a big role.”

    Wonderful blog.

  2. Gaspard Says:

    I was thinking of this theory today reading the Classical Heritage and its Beneficiaries by RR Bolgar today. He provides a complementary (and certainly similar) description of how a certain kind of connoisseurship developed:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=5HtUx2D1VYgC&lpg=PP1&ots=UmisyoMeDG&dq=classical%20heritage%20beneficiaries&pg=PA137#v=onepage&q=burgher%20class&f=false

  3. Gaspard Says:

    sorry, link didn’t quite work, it’s the passage on 137 I mean.

  4. Nathan Myers Says:

    Any theory of human evolution that depends on specialization can only apply to the last few thousand years — perhaps as few as four thousand, perhaps as many as twenty. Certainly some evolutionary adaptation has occurred in that time, such as Tibetans’ and Peruvians’ to high altitude, or Europeans’ to dairy in the diet, and perhaps widespread increased tolerance for crowding. Nothing fundamental can have had anything to do with connosseurship or specialization, because they began far too recently. You could make a much better case that agriculture is fundamental to who we are.

    A related argument, that extravagance is selected for in mating competition, applies throughout the animal kingdom, so there’s enough time to develop endless variations, but there’s nothing uniquely human about it.

  5. G Says:

    Nathan – Crom the caveman has a thing about rocks. He stares at them, weighs them in his hands, and bangs them together. Others think this is merely eccentric until he develops a new cutting-tool. The impact of the new technology influences evolution.

    If I am right about Seth’s idea, it’s not connoisseurship just in the culturally fully-formed sense of joining a club and discussing it on the Internet – I think he means just the mental predisposition to focus on a favourite thing or a few favourite things. Many people who grow up to be excellent at something can trace this back to early childhood – they were honing the skill or thinking about the topic just for the thing itself rather than to make a career or survive.

    It’s specialisation by temperament and talent, not specialisation in the Marxist sense of ‘division of labour’.

    Do I have this right?

  6. Seth Roberts Says:

    By connoisseurs I mean people who get more pleasure from X than the rest of us and are more sensitive to differences between X1 and X2 (different versions of X) than the rest of us. For example, wine connoisseurs. It’s not “being excellent at something”.

  7. G Says:

    Yeah Seth, but you just expressed a similar thing really but with algebra – Crom is fascinated by rocks and obsesses over small differences that interest no one else, hence they find him odd. I didn’t say it is being excellent at something, just that it can lead to that, even if the ‘excellence’ is just in perception and not in any bold outward action. The baseball park connoisseur had some, possibly a bit inscrutable, excellence at looking at parks, but did not go on to be a park designer, for whatever reason.