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The Robotic Mind

As I was reading the comment section to “Our Anthropomorphic  Bias” I was struck by the...

Book Review - "Social Bonding"

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A year or so back Carl Zimmer asked the science world if life could be defined in three words.I...

Naive Group Selection

You would think after thirty years of numerous critics exposing the shortcomings of...

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No. 1 “Evolution is the external and visible manifestation of the differential survival of alternative replicators.”

This is my all-time favourite, the Dawkins Fallacy, the definition of evolution Richard Dawkins gave in The Extended Phenotype p.82. The fallacy it contains is so obvious I’m amazed that his colleagues have not drawn his attention to it. The survival of replicators is a result of evolution, an outcome, and therefore cannot be the definition of evolution. If we said that fire is the visible manifestation of the production of ash, the statement would be true but meaningless. It would not be a definition of fire and it would tell us nothing about fire, just as Dawkins’ definition tells us nothing about evolution.
David Sloan Wilson is doing a great job in his blog at The Huffington Post, exposing the contradictions that lie at the heart of selfish gene theory.

He’s run a series of articles under the umbrella title of Truth and Reconciliation for Group Selection, singling out Richard Dawkins as a target for some pretty heavy broadsides. Like this; “Richard has become unaccountable, in part by becoming a public icon. That disqualifies him as a spokesperson for science.” And this; “when it comes to semantic confusion, you can't beat selfish gene theory.”

It just makes me feel warm and tingly all over.
Altruism has had a lot of bad press in recent times. It’s been used, abused, manipulated and misunderstood. Let’s look at some background.

It all began with a paper submitted by WD Hamilton in 1964 in which he put forward a view of altruism that was packaged into a concept called inclusive fitness. Inclusive fitness became the bedrock of selfish gene theory, because it was assumed that it solved “the problem” of altruism, a problem that had to be solved for evolution-as-selfishness to get off the ground. But it led to unforeseen problems of its own.

I recently came across a radio lecture given by Dr Lee Alan Dugatkin on 7.6.2007, titled "Is Goodness Natural?" It deserves comment. (An article on the same subject but with some differences in text was published at Huffington Post.)

The talk began well with some historical background describing the attempts by Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley, Peter Kropotkin and W. D. Hamilton to explain the origin of goodness, (in the sense of being nice to one another,) in light of evolutionary theory. He concluded that the first three had failed to adequately explain goodness, (Kropotkin’s great work “Ethics” was obviously overlooked) but that Hamilton had solved the dilemma with a “simple but elegant mathematical equation.”

In works on evolution written by a certain class of biologist we can often see “for the good of the species” references derided in no uncertain terms. Comments such as “fuzzy thinking”, “they got it wrong” and so on have become so habitual that they almost go unnoticed. But is the “for the good of the species” idea really all that bad? It might well be that some comments and discussions are indeed fuzzy, in that they might be poorly thought out or presented. But here’s a discussion from Robert Ardrey’s The Social Contract to consider. Ardrey described the communication between starlings as an element in their defence against peregrine falcons, the falcons being hindered in their attacks by the speed for which they are famous.