Re: OK, Durkheim may not have been a spandrelist

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Thu 12 Feb 2004 - 14:51:02 GMT

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    At 01:39 AM 12/02/04 -0500, you wrote:
    >My previous post raised the possibility that Durkheim had an
    >appreciation for the existence of nonadaptive spandrels, but this next
    >quote might throw a wet blanket over that possibility since he's
    >starting to sound like a panadaptionist in a very nauseating way (p.
    >(bq) "Indeed, if the usefulness of a fact is not the cause of its
    >existence, it is generally necessary that it be useful in order that it
    >may maintain itself. For the fact that it is not useful suffices to make
    >it harmful, since in that case it costs effort without bringing in any

    Example: Eyes are useless in animals living deep in caves. Eyes have metabolic costs in growing and maintaining them. As expected from the above, species that have lived in caves "long enough" are blind, with the effort of making eyes diverted into a few more eggs per generation as the animals lost sight.

    >If, then, the majority of social phenomena had this parasitic
    >character, the budget of the organism would have a deficit and social
    >life would be impossible." (eq)

    Social life, like everything else, has benefits and costs. Among them are the considerable metabolic cost of maintaining enough brain to recognize the other animals in your social group and remember your past relations with them. Social vampire bats have oversized cortexes by comparison with solitary bats of the same size. On the other hand, being able to beg from friends on nights you don't succeed in getting a meal is literally the difference between life and death to those bats. The advantage is apparently enough to compensate for flying around a larger brain.

    >I *really* wish he hadn't said that.

    Why? Seems reasonable to me, but I don't have much context.

    Keith Henson

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