thinking makes it so

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Archive for the ‘Evolution’ Category

The one about the English fox and the Australian rabbit

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Red fox

Red fox

Thank you Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini (F&P-P) for keeping Australian rabbits safe from English foxes:

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.

[Follows Just-as story as third in a series on Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini’s What Darwin Got Wrong, which began with Smear campaign.]

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Just-as story

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Spandrel in the Basilica di San Marco in Venice

Spandrel in the Basilica di San Marco in Venice

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.

[Second in a series on Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini’s What Darwin Got Wrong, which began with Smear campaign]

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]

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Smear campaign

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Jerry Fodor

Jerry Fodor

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.

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Not thumping but pumping

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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.

[Follows Reductio ad Professor Plum as fifth in a series on Stuart A Kauffman’s Reinventing the Sacred which began with Reinventing the sand dune.]

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Left over right and right over left

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I spoke last time about what I thought was one of Stuart Kauffman’s points in Reinventing the Sacred. This was that although you could explain for example a sand dune in terms of subatomic particles (by way of grains of sand and then silicon and oxygen ions), you couldn’t do the same thing if you started with a living organism. The living organism is an emergent real entity while the sand dune is not.

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Ethics as a product of evolution

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[The post below is my draft research proposal for a philosophy PhD at a UK university. Any feedback would be more than welcome!]

The question I want to examine is one which is formally hypothetical, but has more than hypothetical significance.

I am not assuming that human moral sense and behaviour are products of evolution. But I am assuming it is at least possible that they are. If that assumption is unsound, I want to understand why.

Assuming the assumption is sound, I then want to consider what its impact might be on the branch of philosophy we know as ethics, if it actually turned out to be true.

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Written by Chris Lawrence

7 November 2010 at 6:02 pm

Quite contrary

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I have often thought Mary Midgley must have read The Selfish Gene upside-down:

Written by Chris Lawrence

28 October 2010 at 8:37 pm

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