Re: light-switches

From: wilkins (wilkins@wehi.EDU.AU)
Date: Thu May 03 2001 - 02:03:12 BST

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    From: wilkins <wilkins@wehi.EDU.AU>
    Organization: The Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
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    Chris Taylor wrote:
    > "Wade T.Smith" wrote:
    > >
    > > On 05/02/01 06:56, Vincent Campbell said this-
    > >
    > > >Why are light switches uniformly down to switch on and up to switch off?
    > >
    > > In the US, it's up is on, and down is off. Or in is on and out is off.
    > >
    > > It's the other way around in your parts?
    > >
    > > Well, you drive on the wrong side of the road, too....
    > >
    > > - Wade
    > Stereotyping of signals is a key bit of behavioural/evolutionary biology
    > (wasps for eg.) because everybody benefits.

    An excellent text that covers the philosophical issues surrounding this is

    Lewis, D. K. (1969). Convention: a philosophical study. Cambridge,
    Harvard University Press.

    Although Lewis does not explicitly mention evolutionary processes in the
    way that, say

    Axelrod, R. (1984). The evolution of cooperation. New York, Basic Books.

    does, he draws out the ways in which coordination of arbitrary signals
    and behaviours can develop without any design or intention involved. A
    classic error in evolutionary biology (as in the group selection debate)
    is to think that something evolves because it is of benefit to the group
    (species, population or whatever). But the most obvious counterinstance
    is the Tragedy of the Commons, where the group fails to benefit from
    everybody maximising their own benefit. So I'd be really careful about
    that sort of inference (just as I am of the hidden hand arguments for a
    complete laissez faire market).

    John Wilkins, Head, Communication Services, The Walter and Eliza Hall 
    Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne, Australia
    Homo homini aut deus aut lupus - Erasmus of Rotterdam

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