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“Some of these stories are closer to my own life than others are, but not one of them is as close as people seem to think.” Alice Murno, from the intro to Moons of Jupiter

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer

“Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more. With every month that passes, the corners are knocked off the certainties of this world: and the next world too. Show me where it says, in the Bible, ‘Purgatory.’ Show me where it says ‘relics, monks, nuns.’ Show me where it says ‘Pope.’” –Thomas Cromwell imagines asking Thomas More—Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My favorite posts to get started: The Self-Righteousness Instinct, Sabbath Says, Encounters, Inc., and What Makes "Wolf Hall" so Great?.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Jonathan Haidt's Magnificent Presentation of D.S. Wilson's Theories

For multi-level selection theory, check out Wilson's work with Eliot Sober, Unto Others.
For the theory of how religion evolved through multilevel selection see Wilson's Darwin's Cathedral.
For a review of Haidt's new book, The Righteous Mind, go here.


gillt said...

charles darwin may have believed in something similar to group selection? That's creationist in it's triviality. Darwin was wrong about a number of things. Maybe if he'd heard of genes he wouldn't have had to speculate.

Dennis said...

Well, yes, I agree it's more a rhetorical point than a solid argument.

gillt said...

It's a bad argument. And he leads with it. Would it not follow that groups of kin would fair better than ones that were made up of strangers?

It's pretty amusing going from mitochondria (you can't really claim mitochondria are examples of group selection) to wasps to humans. This is all observation without any explanation. Are we to suppose all these organisms share deep homology?

Dennis said...

Well, if you really want to take on the argument, it's a bit cheap going after a TED lecture for non-experts.
Haidt could have gone into greater depth explaining the major transitions--but that's not what his 20 minute presentation was even on.
He could have referenced guys like Price and Grafen instead of Darwin--but then nobody would've known who the hell he was talking about.
Are you against TED lectures in general because they summarize? I kind of like getting the small samples myself.

gillt said...

Fair enough. I kinda cringe at TED lectures because the only lectures I go to are by scientists with ugly power points loaded with graphs and error bars

gillt said...

However, I am in good company in thinking Haidt glib

Sam Harris responding not to a 20 minute talk but to an essay

Haidt concludes his essay with this happy blandishment: “every longstanding ideology and way of life contains some wisdom, some insights into ways of suppressing selfishness, enhancing cooperation, and ultimately enhancing human flourishing.” Surely we can all agree about this. Our bets have been properly hedged (the ideology must be “longstanding” and need only have “some” wisdom). Even a “new atheist” must get off his high horse and drink from such pristine waters. Well, okay….

Anyone feeling nostalgic for the “wisdom” of the Aztecs? Rest assured, there’s nothing like the superstitious murder of innocent men, women, and children to “suppress selfishness” and convey a shared sense of purpose. Of course, the Aztecs weren’t the only culture to have discovered “human flourishing” at its most sanguinary and psychotic. The Sumerians, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Hebrews, Canaanites, Maya, Inca, Olmecs, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Teutons, Celts, Druids, Vikings, Gauls, Hindus, Thais, Chinese, Japanese, Scandinavians, Maoris, Melanesias, Tahitians, Hawaiians, Balinese, Australian aborigines, Iroquois, Huron, Cherokee, and numerous other societies ritually murdered their fellow human beings because they believed that invisible gods and goddesses, having an appetite for human flesh, could be so propitiated. Many of their victims were of the same opinion, in fact, and went willingly to slaughter, fully convinced that their deaths would transform the weather, or cure the king of his venereal disease, or in some other way spare their fellows the wrath of the Unseen.

gillt said...


What a maddening, infuriating, enraging talk, a talk as badly misguided as it is well delivered (albeit with a style of slick, adman showmanship that rubs me personally up the wrong way). I have to go and catch a plane, so no time to spell it out. But, briefly:-

Dennis said...

I have to agree with Harris on this one. I think (and said in my review of The Righteous Mind) that Haidt is pandering to a cohort nostalgic for times before the Enlightenment.
Dawkins's problems with Haidt's lecturing skills are more problematic--being a good speaker doesn't make you a bad scientist--but I see his point. Less motivated critical thinkers might be swayed by the glitz.

gillt said...

Dawkins had two points: content and delivery. The former is behind the link. Science can be made exciting but skeptics naturally cringe when the speaker sounds like a self-help guru was the latter.

gillt said...

Haidt: To put it in Dawkins’ terms: I fully agree with Dawkins that the genes are the replicators, and that organisms can be understood as the vehicles by which replicators make copies of themselves. I like the selfish gene perspective very much. The entire disagreement comes down to whether for humans (and only for humans), groups were sometimes, or to some small degree, also vehicles for the replicators. Do we have the genes we have today in part because some groups beat out other groups? I (and DS Wilson and EO Wilson) say yes, Dawkins and you say no.

Haidt's call for our specie's uniqueness is extraordinary.