Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

WHAT FUN

My blog post about E. O. Wilson's book has already triggered an interesting series of comments.  I followed the link to Richard Dawkins' extremely negative review, and then read with enjoyment some of the many, many comments attached to it.  This is, for me, pure fun. I don't have anything at stake in this fight, so I can just sit back and enjoy it.  I have read with great pleasure books by both Dawkins [THE ANCESTOR'S TALE] and Wilson, and I simply have no idea which of them is right.  Dawkins thinks Wlson does not understand the mathematics in the 2010 paper Wilson co-authored with two mathematicians, and the commentators to Dawkins' review think he doesn't understand it either.  I am tempted to look up the paper and see whether I can understand it!  Anyway, I welcome comments, both from amateurs like me and from any pros out there who may be reading my blog.

4 comments:

Nick said...

Jerry Coyne has been covering Wilson and group selection on his blog and has quite a few links to criticisms of Wilson's 2010 paper. I'm not a biologist, but it seems that Wilson is in the minority here.

Also, have you read Trivers' The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism? It offers a different mechanism than the Hamiltonian kin selection that from your account it sounds like Wilson is attacking.

And while I'm giving links, Frans de Waal is a favorite author of mine and here he is giving a great TED talk about the moral behavior of animals.

Chris said...

Professor Wolff,
Like you I'm in no position to judge the accuracy of Dawkins vs Wilson - especially since I never read Wilson. Maybe I've been reading too much Hegel, Marx, and dialectics, but Dawkins theory seems TOO reductionist for me. Wilson's idea that selection is going to select more than a gene, more than a species, and often a group, or ecosystem, seems more holistic and sound to me, at face value. Scientist hate holistic solutions, since they're best at reducing everything down to the point of a quark, but there's just so many Universal variables (by this I mean the actual Universe), to reduce the survival of all species down to kin, or gene selection, seems as philosophically uninteresting, and narrow-minded, as breaking all notions of free-will, choice, and consciousness, down to the a subatomic dance....Thoughts?

Oren said...

Chris - I think the problem is that there has to be an explanation that accounts for evolutionary dominance of the group behavior at the level of genetic selection. Genes are the things that become more or less common through their favorable or unfavorable effect on the organism's reproduction. The question is whether Wilson et al's theory can account for this.

"Scientists hate holistic solutions" is just pointless rudeness. Scientists are trying to understand. Saying "wow that sounds really cool" isn't understanding. (Now I'm being rude.) Science works by going to the root causes of a phenomenon and building up to the observations by a logical chain - which is why math is so commonly part of the reasoning.

Mark Caldeira said...

There's an interesting point/counterpoint in the June issue of Discover Magazine by E.O. Wilson, who argues that war is inevitable and "embedded in our very nature," while John Horgan, author of the new "The End of War," counters that Wilson, whom Horgan admires, is wrong and that war is a "cultural innovation" that is perhaps 10,000 years old or less. On this I tend to side with Horgan.

Have you read Martin Nowak's 2011book, "SuperCooperators?"