Re: The evolution of "evolution"

From: Derek Gatherer (
Date: Wed 26 Oct 2005 - 09:51:56 GMT

  • Next message: Joel.M Dimech: "Re: The evolution of "evolution""

    At 10:18 26/10/2005, you wrote:
    >Be careful. Darwin's "Lamarckism" is only "neo-Lamarckian" and not
    >even that. He actually says that a trait that varies by chance is
    >inherited more often or more strongly if it is used (the principle of
    >Use and Disuse that he constantly refers to).

    P37-38: “some intelligent actions – as when birds on oceanic islands first learn to avoid man – after being performed during many generations, become converted into instincts and are inherited.” Darwin then expresses the opinion that reason and experience is thereby “degraded” into instinct. However, he also thinks that instincts are built up by natural selection from simpler reflexes (p38)

    >And I dispute the claim that "it's all about superior mental
    >faculties" - rather, I think Darwin failed, as many did then and many
    >still do, to distinguish between culture and biology. When he is
    >talking about the "British race" or the "Turkish race", he clearly
    >could not mean what we would mean in biological terms that the former
    >had better genes than the latter. I think that it is somewhat
    >Whiggish to interpret him anachronistically as thinking that cultural
    >attributes were biological; the distinction wasn't clearly made at
    >that time, and probably not until the turn of the century.

    I initially believed that, as I'd absorbed or read it elsewhere probably years ago, but now on actually reading the original, I'm not so sure. p71. Darwin here gets down to the issue of what is or is not instinctive in humans
    (although maybe I am making a post-Pavlovian Whiggism here... did he think of instincts in the same way as we do?). His first suggestion is
    “social instincts” quoting JS Mill who apparently thought that social feelings are a “powerful natural sentiment” (Utilitarianism 1869, p46) but that moral were not such. Darwin’s second suggestion is “moral sense of conscience” (p71) contra Mill.

    P160 he carries his inter-tribal group selectionist scenario as far as to include colonial replacement: “civilised nations are everywhere supplanting barbarous nations” – supplanting is the same word he previously uses to describe the Bronze Age transition in Europe, so it is clear he really means replacement of indigenous populations with ones of European descent. This is attributed to natural selection on the intellect, through which “their arts” are produced. So, superior culture or "arts" is taken to be a product of superior intellect. Natural selection acts on the underlying capacity to produce "arts", not the culture itself – very Pinkerian.

    Now on p161 we come to “imitation”: a cultural innovation is imitated by a whole tribe – they then go out and “supplant” their rivals. Given that they were better at cultural innovation, they probably have more of a tendency to produce more innovation in the future and so the process snowballs. On p162-163 we have the same argument for the “social and moral faculties” especially relating to self-sacrifice, obedience, loyalty, courage etc On p166 he makes it clear that morality is also similarly group selected and again repeats his Utopian conviction that it will steadily increase over the world as a result of the replacement of immoral tribes by moral ones.

    On p169 he also sees social mobility in the context of natural selection: “the able in body and mind succeed best”. Even the habit of the very rich to “able to select generation after generation the more beautiful and charming women; and these must generally be healthy in body and active in mind” (p170), especially if they are upwardly mobile heiresses of the self-improved trade category who will have inherited their fathers’ acumen.

    So he seems quite clear on the point, following Galton, that mental capacities are inherited rather than acquired, and that moral and social attributes like self-sacrifice, obedience, loyalty, courage etc are similarly heritable in the same way that such traits are heritable in dogs etc. Rival races cannot have better genes
    (since they had not been discovered) but they could have superior social instincts, mental capacities etc. All very Galtonian.

    >Can you point me to the statement that primitive culture was
    >independently invented?

    p183. Fire is regarded as a "probable exception" (why?).

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