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With your feet in the air, and your head on the ground . . .


{Saturday, May 08, 2004}

I haven't posted in a long time. Doh!

It, uh, means life has been exciting. :-) I went to Jazzfest in New Orleans last weekend, for my dad's big 50th birthday / retirement party. It was a wonderful trip . . . thanks, Papa!

So, what do you get, after such a long blogging hiatus? A history of the last few weeks?

No, what you get is some thoughts on why Dawkins, Pinker, & evolutionary psychology, generally, might be completely wrong. Say what?

Here's the idea that hit me:

Dawkins central idea is that selection should work, in an important sense, at the level of individual genes. Thus the book titled "The Selfish Gene". Good. I love the book.

But. Genes are relatively simple things. They act in complex ways, but to the extent that you can take a reductionist approach and break things down into the dissociable effects of different individual genes, you (by definition) have genes with simple, limited effects.

The central idea in evolutionary psychology is that our behavior can be expected to conform to our genetic "interest" - so, we should be more generous to close relatives than to strangers, for instance, because our close relatives share a lot more of our genes.

Looking for Devils in Details, however, isn't there a problem at the intersection of these two central ideas? It's the genes that are selfish; our behavior is based on our genetic interest. Shouldn't this mean (and this sounds circular, but it's not) that our behavior should be based on the genetic interest . . . only of the genes that determine our behavior? Essentially, the question is this: why should "my" gene responsible for (e.g.) identifying close relatives care about the extent to which those close relatives share "my" genes for hair color, blood type, or any other physical, phenotypic features?

If any of y'all reading this have a good answer, drop me a line.

Maybe I need to go back and read Dawkins again - it's been awhile.

Or maybe I'm right, and the world's wrong. Er, well, Dawkins, anyway.

But what the heck would it mean if I were? I don't know, really. I think it would just require a re-evaluation of the appropriate "level of analysis". That is, there are genes, and there are organisms, and there are groups of organisms, and most people have trouble getting their heads around how exactly to deal with these different levels in analyzing natural selection. Maybe, I'm saying, Dawkins isn't exactly right, either.

posted by Miles 9:53 AM

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