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Skip to 0 minutes and 11 seconds In this part of the course, we will try to give you a biological perspective on decision making in a complex and uncertain world. Not only humans, but all biological organisms on Earth live in a complex world. They face a complex physical environment. For instance, the weather is almost impossible to predict. They also live in an ecosystem with many species that are interconnected and influence each other in many ways. They also have many social interactions with individuals from their own species, producing all kinds of complex patterns. And just like humans, all bacteria, insects, birds, elephants, every single living creature is constantly facing decisions that have to be made.

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 seconds Do I stay where I am now or do I try to find a better place? Whom do I choose to mate with? Would I risk my life to defend my group against intruders from another group? In different species, decision-making mechanisms range from very simple, as in bacteria, to extremely elaborate in highly intelligent animals, such as humans. But in all organisms, decision-making mechanisms have been shaped by natural selection and are, therefore, the product of organic evolution.

Skip to 1 minute and 33 seconds Of course, this doesn’t mean that you don’t have your own free will. As a human, you have the unique capability to imagine the consequences of your actions and base your decisions on that. Also, your decisions are influenced by factors, such as your cultural background and earlier experiences you have had in life. But also, by your genes. Also, you have instincts that influence your decision-making processes. And natural selection is responsible for them. In this part of the course, we will address the complexity of the world that organisms live in, but we will also have a closer look at how evolution has designed decision-making mechanisms.

Skip to 2 minutes and 16 seconds We will start with a lecture, in which we have a look at the complexity of the world that biological organisms live in. We will show how very simple interactions between individuals from different species can lead to chaotic and unpredictable patterns. But the complexity of the biological world is not constant. It is always changing to the process of evolution. In the second lecture, we will ask how evolution affects the complexity of the biological world. For example, we will address the question whether evolution tends to increase complexity or not. In the third lecture, we will start our investigations into how evolution shapes decision-making mechanisms. Some decision-making mechanisms are surprisingly sophisticated.

Skip to 3 minutes and 6 seconds For example, crows are able to solve really complex puzzles to get some food. But sometimes decision-making mechanisms seem to produce really stupid outcomes. For example, the cuckoo bird lays her eggs in a nest of a different species. The other bird then raises the cuckoo chick like her own, even though it looks completely different from her own offspring. And also as humans we often make decisions that seem very suboptimal. So why does evolution produce such surprisingly ineffective decision-making mechanisms? In lecture number four, we will specifically focus on decision-making mechanisms in social contexts. Social contexts are particularly complex, because the optimal behaviour depends on what others are doing.

Skip to 3 minutes and 53 seconds In social contexts, it’s often difficult to achieve solutions that are profitable for all involved parties. Giving these difficulties, how does evolution shape social decision-making behaviour?

Skip to 4 minutes and 6 seconds In the last lecture, we will consider collective behaviour. As we have seen earlier in the course, many interactions between individuals can lead to emergent patterns at a higher level. Those emergent properties arise to self-organization and cannot simply be reduced to the sum of all the individual interactions. But can evolution also act on those emergent group properties? And if so, how does that work? At the end of this part of the course, we hope to have given you an idea of the complexity of the biological world and how evolution has equipped organisms, including human beings, with decision-making mechanisms to deal with it.

Skip to 4 minutes and 46 seconds Understanding a little bit more about how evolution works can also give you a bit more inside in your own instincts and how they influence your decision-making processes. And knowing yourself, or at least knowing this part of yourself, that human nature, might just come in handy when you face decisions in your own life.

Introduction to evolutionary dynamics

Not only humans, but all living organisms live in a complex world and every living creature is facing decisions that have to be made. Decision making mechanisms have been shaped by natural selection. How does this work? How are living creatures influenced by this and what can we learn from this? This video introduces the topics the upcoming lectures and articles will be about.

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Decision Making in a Complex and Uncertain World

University of Groningen

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