I’ve just seen that my last post before this one was dated 23 July 2011. Over 16 months ago! What have I been doing?
To cut a long story short I have been applying to do a PhD in Philosophy, and then actually starting it. At the University of Cape Town, just down the road from where I live. I’m doing it part-time (I still work full time); and I’m finding it hugely challenging, but thoroughly worth while. I almost can’t believe I’m doing it, considering it’s now 33 years after I had to give up my PhD at Birkbeck College, London before I’d really started.
Back then my thesis was on Mimesis, in Aesthetics. This time round it’s on the Ethics of Belief. (There’s a surprise.)
The number of rabbits in Australia is unaffected by the number of foxes in England. That’s because the predations of the one on the other are all merely counterfactual, and possible-but-not-actual events do not exert selection pressures.
In Chapter 6, Many are called but few are chosen: the problem of ‘selection for’, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini (F&P-P) launch their ‘conceptual’ assault on the theory of natural selection.
The chapter begins with a review of Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin’s ‘iconic’ 1979 paper: The spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian paradigm: A critique of the adaptationist programme. This is where Gould and Lewontin attack what they saw at the time as a pervasive methodology of evolutionary explanation:
It is based on faith in the power of natural selection as an optimizing agent. It proceeds by breaking an organism into unitary “traits” and proposing an adaptive story for each considered separately. [Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin, 1979]
I was delighted when my son gave me a copy of Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini’s What Darwin Got Wrong for my birthday. Not because I did think Darwin got anything significantly wrong but because I didn’t. I like having my opinions and beliefs tested. I had heard of Jerry Fodor but not Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini (not a name one is likely to forget).
[First in a series on Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini’s What Darwin Got Wrong.]
I read the book through once and then a lot of it a second time. I really struggled to make head or tail of their arguments, and why they thought they had such a killer critique of the theory of natural selection.
I’ve read Chapter 4 of Stuart A Kauffman’s Reinventing the Sacred several times in the hope that I’ll finally get the point. But I still don’t. The chapter is called The Nonreducibility of Biology to Physics. But each time I read it I end up thinking that if he’s right that biology isn’t reducible to physics then physics isn’t reducible to physics either.
One of the frustrating things about Reinventing the Sacred is that it keeps flip-flopping between condensed accounts of areas of science and mathematics I don’t understand well enough and logical leaps which don’t seem justified. So I keep flip-flopping in turn between wondering if it’s my ignorance that’s the problem and wondering if the logical leaps really don’t make sense.
I found myself talking last time about a lot of things I don’t really understand: Alonzo Church’s proof of the ‘halting problem’ displayed by Turing machines, and Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem. All because Stuart Kauffman’s book Reinventing the Sacred leaves me cold and confused.
[Fourth in a series on Stuart A Kauffman’s Reinventing the Sacred which began with Reinventing the sand dune.]