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Archive for June, 2016

Social grooming was probably a major bonding ritual for humans through most of our history. This still seems to be very important for other primates. It’s a reliable signal. If I’m going to take the time to pick nits off of you, you can probably rely on me for other things. With the grooming, there is touching, intimacy, and, I’d guess, story telling.

I speculate that mirrors were a disruptive technology that significantly reduced the need for social grooming. Inevitably, the amount of social grooming in humans declined as a result. That grooming was formerly a powerful bonding practice can, in part, be seen by attempts at retaining it. In black communities one place bonding happens is at barber shops. Women sometimes go with friends for manicures or pedicures. Teenagers sometimes like to give each other makeovers.

Friendly epistemic grooming would involve reading someone’s 3000 word essay, complimenting it, and suggesting little ways to improve it. It could be just pointing out a spelling error – not as a criticism, but because you know they wouldn’t want the error to remain. If you find a spelling error 2,528 words in, this is a pretty reliable signal that you took the time to read it all. It’s like searching the whole body for nits. Or, you might point them to a study that they are unaware of, that might further strengthen their argument. This is epistemic grooming and I wish this was called nitpicking, with a positive connotation.

Instead, nitpicking someone’s argument is basically ignoring the beauty of their skin and saying “You have a nit on your back. Gross!”All you see is the nit, and you don’t pick it off, but rather, point it out to make them feel bad.

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