Sociobiology

Rahul Mahajan rahul at hagar.ph.utexas.edu
Wed Apr 12 12:11:37 MDT 1995


Sociobiology is certainly a legitimate field for intellectual endeavor.
It's funny to see how the reaction against the racism and general odium of
the genetic determinists has led to absurdly relativist positions -- a
friend of mine believes that people do not differ at all in innate
intelligence (call it inborn capacity to acquire intelligence, if you
will). On the other hand, however, even the more sober and serious
evaluators of the field ten to overestimate what one can meaningfully say
about the evolution of complex behaviors. For example, there is the kin
selection argument for the devlopment of altruism, which I believe has been
alluded to earlier (as J.B.S. Haldane put it, "I am ready at any time to
die for two siblings or eight cousins."). This is all fine and dandy, but
"adaptationist Just-so Stories" (as Stephen Gould calls them) can be spun
to explain just about anything. Without any clear idea of a material
substrate for this process, what we have is at best tenuous speculation, at
worst not even yet part of the province of science. It's a lot harder to
identify a genes for altruism or any complex behavior than it is for, say,
blue eyes.
      Similar to this is the concept of group selection, which some invoke
to explain the advent of social groupings, tendency to cooperate, etc. I
believe this has some bearing on the earlier-discussed subject of people's
propensities to identify with group interests rather than individual ones.
Again, I believe, the current state of scientific understanding can shed no
light on this question, but can only offer vague speculation.
Rahul Mahajan

Swadesh M. Mahajan: Ph. 512-471-4376, FAX 512-471-6715,
Mahajan at hagar.ph.utexas.edu




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