reply to Rahul, part 2

Fri Apr 14 17:24:50 MDT 1995

I accidentally left a partial sentence in my part one, so to begin by
finishing it, I invite Rahul or any other to nominate a favorite
article by Gould and I'll make an honest effort at fitting it into my
reading schedule and giving a serious review - of course, I'll expect
you to do the same for me, I pick the article, etc.  Actually I'd
prefer it if you just come up with a well-thought-out argument that
you find supportable (even if it is borrowed) or a pithy question.

This stuff is not easy, I think.  It took me a long time to get here,
and it may be overly ambitious to attempt to summarize, present,
explain and defend a large body of work with which many of you are
probably not familiar.  I didn't "get" Marxism (my version) until I
quit asking asking avowed Marxists questions that they couldn't

The point about "just-so" stories is that Gould uses the phrase to
put down "adaptationists".  Well, there is certainly a lot of bad
science done today.  But I want to turn it back on him, because
anyone can also make up "cultural just-so" stories about how "culture
made it happen".  The reason that culturists cannot tell "cultural
just so" stories about other species is that they claim that only
humans have culture.  This is usually part of a commitment to
dichotomous thinking about "fundamental differences" between humans
and the rest of nature.

As for "political ends" please give me an example, and I can tell you
if the author is even considered to be a scientist.  I have found
that "political implications" are often attributed where they are
lacking.  And even if they are obvious and obnoxious, it is still
important to evaluate the merits of the argument itself.  Isn't it?

I don't see why Rahul distinguishes between "when does it pay one to
help others?" and "how did such behavior evolve?"  Aren't these flip
sides of the same coin?  If evolve means to increase in frequency
within a population, the answer is it increased because it did pay

I also don't get why he says that the first question only applies
when comparing different species with each other.

Next he implies that I must specify the detailed mechanism by which
genes affect behavior in order to justify my position.  I reject that
idea for several reasons.

I do not claim that "genes determine behavior".  I do not expect that
natural selection would make us like that.  After all, what is a
vertebrate's gray matter for?  We are "designed" (if you'll forgive a
metaphor) to interact with, respond to and influence any environment
(especially social) in which we may find ourselves.  I could go on
about learning mechanisms and such.  Early experience actually
changes brain structure and function, and neither the brain nor the
rest of the body responds randomly to circumstances!

And where did we get this complex, imperfect, mysterious, wet
machinery?  From evolution, I think.  And if it was produced by
natural selection, shouldn't we expect that to show?  We've got the
creator's fingerprints all over us, just like all other living

I don't think we have to know every biochemical detail of the
connections from nucleus and cytoplasm and environment and the
mechanisms of development in order to make a reasonable call about
the bigger picture.  If I have to wait until then, I may wait for

The general picture is already apparent to me - the brain is an
adaptation, along with its capacity for culture, language, love,
hate, cooperation, murder and every other thing that people can do.
So, to say that "sociobiology" paints an ugly or inaccurate picture
of human nature is not true.  It's better to say that there is no
"human nature", just "life-form nature" which is [darwinian] fitness
oriented.  Each individual of each species may use a different
method, but the goal is the same.

Humans may have more variable behavior, including social formation,
than any other species.  But evolution is not expected to produce an
infinitely malleable organism - the reason this fancy brain and all
the other gear evolves is because it is used for evolutionary ends,
survival and reproduction, mainly of the individual and its immediate

"Blood is thicker than water."

Please note, I fully expect any batch of genetically identical people
to be able to act very differently from each other, but I'm not
proposing an experiment to demonstrate this.  It might be considered
unethical, and besides it would take too long and too much money
(tongue planted firmly in cheek here.)

It is also clear that at least in extreme cases, different potential
abilities are related to some genes (genetic retardation).  There is
also massive evidence of environmental influence making huge
differences in all kinds of test scores.

How much difference do genes make in "IQ" scores?  Probably not much
difference among the vast majority with "normal", if they have normal
environments.  But who gives a care about the "forbidden experiment",
when there is brain damage occurring due to malnutrition and due to
lead poisoning, only to poor people, in the US right now!

Lack of quality educational opportunities and lack of living in an
environment safe and secure enough to allow one to pay attention to
anything else, lack of a life that promises that a reasonable chance
at "success" (of any kind) will actually result from going to school
and following the rules, these are things that result in "low test
scores".  People who think that they will get something out of it for
themselves are motivated people.

That's where my view of "human nature" takes me, on the "IQ" issue
for example.

Lisa Rogers

Rahul:  Why can't we tell similar just-so stories about other
>And why do his readers not often look up the originals that he is
talking>about?  Well, why bother when one already knows that it is
crap, because>Gould said so, especially if he just reinforces some
previous prejudice>in the reader.

That's a good point, but when you read one or two things and see that
they're crap, it's hard to get excited about others that share the
same methodology and are directed at the same political ends.

>The point of "kin-selection" models, "genes for altruism" (you get
the same>result if you replace the gene with learning or contingent
behavior, or>whatever), the point of game theory and such is to
address the question:
>under what circumstances is self-sacrifice actually advantageous to
the>sacrificer?  or when does it pay one to help others?

This is missing the biggest point. "When does it pay to help others?"
is surely an interesting question to ask with regard to different
social groupings involving different species. However, the salient
point for all species, including human beings, is "How does such
behavior evolve?" For that, an adaptationist explanation alone is
simply not science. You need to posit some material basis --
obviously, not a single gene. Unfortunately, the state of the art in
the science does not really permit one to answer such questions for
complex behaviors or even for difficult questions about structure of
.....It is>because of evolutionary theory that we can expect (not
only observe or>"induct") we expect living things to behave, each one
in ITS OWN INTEREST>in terms of survival and reproduction.
>If behavior is flexible, it is expected to respond to costs and
benefits,>constraints and opportunities (Which does not ignore social
behavior or>social environment, quite the contrary.  Social status
and alliance, etc.>can have enormous effects on individual Darwinian
fitness for any social>animal.  For humans add income, access to
health care, occupation...)
>This question, how to get selfish individuals to be nice to each
other,>is surely also of interest to socialists.
>Unless one just does not believe that people are like that....

Or unless one believes that people can be changed so they're not like
that (at least, most of them).
>More on why evolution usually creates individual interest rather
than group >interest, later.

Surely true on the whole, but there are interesting cases like the
evolution of social behavior in insects to consider.

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