Re my comments on sociobiology and EP…
Posted: 29 December 2006 12:22 PM   [ Ignore ]
Sr. Member
Total Posts:  402
Joined  2003-09-24

[b:d653fabf57]To all…

Re my various postings on the CFI forums about politics, economics, how to approach religion and atheism, what humanism is, etc…  I stand behind all of what I’ve said until (and if) I am shown a better way of understanding all of this.  This includes my problems with Dawkins’ and Harris’ books on religion.  I say this so that all understand that I am basing my postings on evidence and study as well as opinion and feelings… lest I become dogmatic. Ahh… the beauty of humanism!

BUT…  as far as the sociobiology and evolutionary psychology stuff ... and selfish gene stuff… although I tend to find more reason to accept the Pascal Boyers or David Bullers or Eldredges, or DS Wilsons, or Doug Frys or Goulds or Smiths of the world before I tend to accept Dawkins, Pinker or Trivers, I may be wrong.  I may be - along with many others who have degrees in this stuff - misunderstanding these folks.  Or I may not be (not in and fundamentally way, that is), but it may be too early for me to tell.

So I think from now on, I will refrain from being too passionate in my thoughts on this topic until I have a better idea on who’s ideas of human nature seem to be more correct.  I will also continue to base my idea of humanism on naturalism and the notions of human nature which make sense to me.  If it turns out that Dawkins and Pinker are not really saying anything much different from DS Wilson or Fry or Kohn or the others - as some seem to be telling me - than I will admit I got carried away with a misunderstanding.  Such is what learning in life is all about. 

Unlike John Kerry, I hope I will be allowed to change my mind :oops: 

But based on what I have seen thus far, I doubt I am misunderstanding all this the way some seem to be saying I am.  I have read too much of Dawkins and Pinker to think they are being terribly misrepresented by their Hobbesian, Libertarian, or classical liberal fans.  But again, I could be wrong :wink: [/b:d653fabf57]


Barry F. Seidman
Exec. Producer of Equal Time for Freethought

Posted: 30 December 2006 05:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Total Posts:  4231
Joined  2006-11-28

I think the key to understanding human nature is to remember we are not as different from other animals as we feel we are. We have evolved with a specific natural history shaping our behavioral, as well as morphological, traits. Now, the exact set of selection pressures involved is not likely to ever be fully elucidated, and the theories that we develop seem to be very influenced but contemporary cultural biases (Man the Hunter, no Woman the Gatherer, no Man the Scavenger, etc). And certainly our particular adaptive strategies involve a great deal more sophisticated cognition than any other species, despite the impressive abilities of some pongids and cetaceans. But in general, we are just another animal, and the fundamental principles that underly behavior in any species still apply to us. Namely, limits set by the neurological substrate (we’ll never echolocate, for example), fundamental predispositions to categories of behavior (feeding, procreation, sociality), and an unusual degree of plasticity (which seems to be a key aspect of our particular adaptive strategy).

Sociobiology has a great deal of explanatory power, and it is useful in that it provides predictions that can be tested. I personally think it gets carried away with itself and that organisms as mere vessels for DNA is a bit extreme. I support the notion, articulated especialy well by Gould, that mechanisms which evolved under a specific set of selective exigencies can still perform functions not limited to fulfilling those requirements, so there is no need to explain in adaptive terms by baroque chains of kin selection/gene frequency arguments behaviors such as deliberate celibacy, rape, etc. because they need not always be adaptive so long as the underlying behavioral mechanisms which generate them is. And I also think we’ve artifically selected ourselves in powerful ways, so natural selection pressures alone may no longer be sufficient to explain all human behavioral traits.

All that said, I think history shows as well as anything trends in human behavior which can arguably, if cautiously, be labeled “human nature,” with the caveat that that is an entity difficult to define with great specificity, and likely actively chnaging. I see a tendancy to focus on immediate and short-term concerns, to see the world from a narrow, self-centered perspective (or at least a set of concentric circles of concern with those nearest one being seen as most important and with interest and concern lessening with each step outward). I also see indivduals often preferring to leave the thinking to the group rather than doing it themselves. Finally, fundamental drives of great adaptive significance to all animals (e.g. seek high calorie density foods, produce as many offspring as possible) are extremely difficult to supress for most of us (thus lifestyle diseases and overpopulation).

Therefore, though I agree environment and genes interacts to generate specific behavior patterns, I think most genes and most environments produce pretty Hobbesian behavior, and I’m split between choices 1 and 3.


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