Re: new review of memetics/sociobiology/EP

From: Dace (
Date: Tue 07 Feb 2006 - 06:19:50 GMT

  • Next message: Derek Gatherer: "Re: new review of memetics/sociobiology/EP"

    Subject: Re: Date: Mon, 6 Feb 2006 14:09:36 -0800


    Well thought out and a very useful guide. A few critical remarks:

    "Gene selectionism has been crucial in providing the current best explanations for social insect communities, where the behaviours of individuals cannot be explained in terms of adaptive value to those individuals."

    Gene selectionism fails to explain social ant communities because worker ants do not pass on their genes. Darwin was baffled by this, and there's still no reductive explanation, nor is there any reductive account of the coordinated production of nests, hives and mounds, both spatially and across lifetimes of the individuals taking part in building these organic palaces. Only the holistic model makes sense of these facts. The hive mind not only coordinates activities of disparate individuals but determines what proportion of larvae will take on the genetic profile of infertile workers.

    With your three-fold division distinguishing four schools of thought, you may be drawing the boundaries a little too sharply. Sociobiology doesn't seem to be a position by itself but extends either into gene-culture coevolution (Wilson) or memetics (Dawkins). Evo-psych could be regarded as the application of sociobiology to Paleolithic conditions and then flipflops the source of determination when it comes to more recent development.

    "Take Dawkins' famous example of tying shoelaces. In order to have shoelace-tying behaviour at all, there must be both a general notion that the wearing of foot protection is both necessary and desirable, and the technological capability to manufacture such foot protectors. It is therefore clear that shoelace-tying can only be a few thousand years old at most, a mere blink of an eye in evolutionary terms. How, asks Dawkins, can a genetic determinist view such a behaviour? What are the 'genes for shoelace-tying'? The answer is any gene that when mutated would result in a loss of ability to perform the action."

    Necessity and sufficiency. That genes (for hand physiology, motor coordination and cognitive capacity, etc.) are necessary for tying shoes doesn't mean they suffice as an underlying causal explanation. Only by confusing necessity with sufficiency can Dawkins dismiss the cultural dimension as a causative factor. If we're going to take the four schools of thought as exclusive of each other, then sociobiology becomes sort of the dummy hand against which the three real hands play.

    And where does Dawkins stand in this game? Doesn't seem to be clear from your paper.

    "Sociobiologists acknowledge that there is probably such a thing as culture..."

    Gotta love the word probably here. Yes, there's probably a nose in the middle of my face...

    "If a fuller knowledge of the human genome and its workings in human psychology does finally invalidate genetically deterministic theories of culture, then culturally deterministic theories need to be ready to take up the torch."

    False dilemma. We have no compelling reason to limit the range of possibilities to one kind of determinism versus another. Individuality, which implies indeterminate development, is the very essence of life. Even genetically identical twins differ wildly in their biochemical makeup, according to Roger J. Williams, who wrote the book on the heterogeneity of biological classes in 1956 with *Biochemical Individuality.* Where the homogeneity of physical classes enables the use of deterministic equations to predict behavior, individuality-- from cell to organism to society-- renders such prediction impossible. Where physics knows only determinism and randomness, biology occupies a probabilistic gray area in which established habit generally prevails, but a different course of action always remains open, and it's this flexibility that allows for adaptation and evolution. Of course, physics has no concept of a selector or includes any kind of probability beyond the deterministic averaging of random processes (e.g. thermodynamics).

    At any rate, this is a notable achievement for sure. How much easier to simply state your own position than to organize highly conflicted yet overlapping schools of thought into a coherent package!


    Derek Gatherer wrote:

    > This was written for a continental-philosophy/lit-crit journal called
    > Parallax,
    > )/app/home/journal.asp?referrer=parent&backto=browsepublicationsresults,95
    > 2,1257;
    > so the presentation is fairly elementary. The publisher's rule, by the
    > way, is that once it has been downloaded 50 times, I have to take it
    > offline.

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