Saturday, August 27, 2005

I like this guy
Even among humans, as Trivers observed, many people will more readily sacrifice themselves for their friends than for their relatives - an observation easy to make among the rebellious youth of the 60s. So a more general kind of rule than Hamilton had supplied was needed. Trivers came up with the notion of reciprocal altruism. In plain language, this said that self-sacrifice could be understood as self-interest providing there was a chance the beneficiary would repay the deed in the future.
When I was a kid and first thinking about these things I understood that in order to understand the social structures behind morality you had to imagine yourself as a sociopath. That's the only way to avoid tautology. So Trivers' writing was revolutionary? I guess I'm surprised.
I found the link at C.T. where I posted a quote from another piece on Trivers from the Boston Globe:
The book on deceit and self-deception that he’s now starting grows out of a brief but widely cited passage from his introduction to Dawkins’s ‘’The Selfish Gene.’’ If deceit, he wrote, ‘’is fundamental to animal communication, then there must be strong selection to spot deception and this ought, in turn, to select for a degree of self-deception, rendering some facts and motives unconscious so as not to betray-by the subtle signs of self-knowledge-the deception being practiced.’’ Thus, the idea that the brain evolved to produce ‘’ever more accurate images of the world must be a very naive view of mental evolution.’’ We’ve evolved, in other words, to delude ourselves so as better to fool others-all in the service of the great game of propagating our genes.
I'm not much interested in science. I haven't been since I was a child- though for years I told myself otherwise. What annoys me of course as I've made clear dozens of times, is the metonymic association of science with its human practitioners. Trivers seems to have bypassed that dilemma rather nicely.

Also from Crooked Timber, a similar problem from the recent past. I've been saving the link.
I am not putting a counter-argument, but merely making an observation, in saying that if Jimmy’s view is correct then much of social science and history rests on a mistake. Economics and psychology, for example, certainly presuppose that one person’s action can figure among the causal antecedents of another’s. And all those books on the “causes” of the First or Second World Wars would have to be pulped or substantially rewritten.
People are both agents and acted upon. It's not an either/situation. That's why we have courtrooms. And that's precisely why we have historians and why history is not a science.

8/29 update on Trivers, Gould, adaptation, and the female orgasm
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From an old post:
Any tradesman, musician or athlete will tell you that the hand teaches the mind. That's the basis of the verb "to practice." For a writer the process of writing teaches the skill of writing, teaches the use of the imagination. Writing, for the sake of writing, is the mind working as a hand. Categories of experience are created by being 'discovered.' The naming, if it comes to that- there can be recognition without naming- comes after the action is complete.

Philosophical, as opposed to political, liberalism quite literally does not understand the arts because it can not allow that methodologies predicated on such ambiguity can have intellectual, and therefore moral, weight (sports in this context are rule following as mere entertainment).

Philosophical conservatism on the other hand is blatantly hypocritical, defending the pleasures of ambiguity as such only in secret and only as reserved for the elect. That's why there are so many priests in favor of homosexuality... for priests.

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