|. . . 2004-03-10|
Fragment in Imitation of Wordsworth
Catherine Maria Fanshawe
There is a river clear and fair,
The trees that grow upon the shore,
The impulses of air and sky
Fix'd are their feet in solid earth,
There's little Will, a five years' child —
And I have said, my little Will,
It were a blessed sight to see
|. . . 2004-03-11|
A besetting evil of popular science is its literalization of figurative language. "Light's both a wave and a particle? Freaky!" "That's right, Jimmy. Let's freak!"
A begetting evil, too. Cooperation pays off with publicity, which leads to sales, which leads to new contracts, which leads to....
Foremost among the snags of this sociobiological language is the equivocal use of words like selfish, altruistic, spite and manipulate, a use which not only suggests psychological egoism to the surrounding peasants, but clearly at times misleads the writers themselves....
We are survival machines — robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment.[Dawkins] now comments That was no metaphor. I believe it is the literal truth, provided certain key words are defined in the particular way favoured by biologists. (This caveat can apply only to gene and selfish, since the other words have not been discussed. The ones that really need attention, of course, are machine, vehicle and blindly programmed.)- "Selfish Genes and Social Darwinism", Mary Midgley
Survival isn't a value judgment. It's merely the stark fact of survival. A gene isn't Roderigo Borgia, scheming toward that ultimate prize. It's not even Sir Toby Belch staggering towards bed. A gene is an imperfectly replicated or shuffled blueprint which might sometime be replicated or shuffled imperfectly.
And that's all that's needed by way of explanation.
Evolutionary theory liberated biological science from a priori notions of hierarchy and final causes, and from the distortions they inevitably introduce.
But from its first expression, interpeters have tried to bring those notions back, to change Darwin's descent into ascent, to mistake a stereotype as the grail at the end of a quest. By turning approximate analogies into rigid allegories, Dawkins became recidivism's latest success.
As for your on-going evolutionary biology rant, let me say I've never quite gotten the appeal. From the start, it looked just like a hermeneutic, an interpretative key. Hey, look how many things this story explains! But it doesn't seem any more scientific than Augustine's On Christian Doctrine (& not to knock Augustine here, though I would want to have to read the whole book). For my money, a lot of the gene talk has about the same status at this time, only it has the advantage of promising the big hard-science pay-off, when we get to match up trait to gene. Or did the bank call back & already said the funds were not available on that check?And wmr:
Too many people fail to see the difference between a research strategy and an explanation. Yes, much of science looks like a just-so story, but that's because theories are designed to take into account the facts known at the time. Newton's theory of gravity probably looked like a just-so story to his contemporaries; after all, he used the detailed observations of other astronomers and his theory had to "explain" them. What distinguished his theory from others was that it predicted new observations--Uranus and Neptune.
In a similar fashion, facile explanations of biological oddities as "survival of the fittest" should be distinguished from research that asks "how could this feature aid the spread of the genes involved?". I wonder if it would be better for biology teachers to admit that, though the theory of evolution is the considered choice of professionals in the field, it may be superceded by a better theory sometime in the future, then continue on to stress that Intelligent Design is not a candidate and point out its flaws.
Well, "the theory of evolution" seems secure enough in general terms. I'd merely suggest that the honest answer to your question is almost always "We don't know. Maybe it didn't." If certainty and uncertainty are allowed to become the terms of battle, fundamentalism wins.
A reader takes the voice of Mistress Sexy Gene:
It's main utility, it being the altruism thing, is it deflates the gassy balloon of the sacred individual, truth-shocks the ego back to its place in the peanut gallery. On the other side of your rantlet - the almost total severance of the sex-urge from its repro-purposing (accidental and arbitrary as it is, in a volitional end/means sense). It (feel-good sex) exists because without it we wouldn't. That's genes, that's mechanism, that's what's up with that. Courtship, companionship, tits and ass in advertising, all that attends, but doesn't accompany. It's merely goo-gaw, ornate gleam, the real ceremony's at the ovum wall.
I nod with pleasure, but more to the music than the libretto. Other species reproduce without apparent feel-good; I know that not all feel-good results in reproduction; I've been assured it's possible for human beings to be reproduced without feel-good having entered at any point. Given this plethora of "exceptions," isn't it safer to suggest that the apparent replacement of estrus with feel-good has influenced (or been helped along by) some other peculiarities of our species than to insist that feel-good was invented to keep the species alive?
|. . . 2004-03-12|
Social Darwinians find themselves with a self-evidently secure norm that still for some reason needs to be policed, defended, and encouraged. (Here's where you might apply that volume of Judith Butler, by the way.) Eternal vigilance is the price of determinism.
Paradoxical — but familiar, right? As in: "Our God is all-knowing and all-powerful and rewards us greatly here and in the hereafter. And this is why we feel persecuted and threatened with eradication."
What would it mean to be "guided" by a theory of necessity? To "follow" the inevitable?
That's called chasing your own tail. And success tastes like ass.
Why should people want to formulate a unenforceable "law" in the first place? What gives that meme its competitive edge?
As John Ashcroft can tell you, the benefit is the latitude it gives the formulator. When the nominally "unnatural" or "prohibited" is in fact thoroughly part of quotidian existence, we have our pick of targets, and we can pick them off at our leisure.
Thus we might, for example, note homosexuality as a distressing anomaly while letting other nonprocreative sexual experience off with a wink and a smile.
But what if we stay logically consistent, and treat masturbation, oral-genital contact, and the female orgasm as equally abhorrent unto the Gene our Lord?
Treating evolution as if it had a "design" has proven to be almost as pernicious an error as straight theocratic denial. Dawkins's flavor is just the backside of Creationism, with Mean Gene blasphemously enthroned as the intelligent designer. I'm not inclined to raise hosannas.
Richard Dawkins was my tutor at college, and man, selfish was *not* the word . .
Social-Dawkinsism. First there was the red-clawed eliminators, T.Rex and the pitcher plant, then the social triumphalist peace in the agora, then out of that peace the newly red-handed former-eliminated began their mini-tooth-and-claw, masked as abstract economic theory, then (now) they (them) wish to play fit-or-be-fitted-out. But that that Darwin's bloody pragmatic homily can be used by assholes - that doesn't mean it's shit does it?It's a Gödelian matter of existence being bigger than any explanation of existence. Nature is red in tooth and claw at dinnertime. After dinner, however, Nature cracks open a brew and watches "The Osbornes" even as you and I.
Excellent stuff, but would it have killed you to end with a Lovecraftian reference to babbling idiot gods, nodding their heads to the insane tootlings of unwholesome flutes?
Let's try it and see!
|. . . 2004-03-15|
"Someone Wants You Dead"
World of Pooh
According to the wall clock, it was done at half-past five.
On any serious political issue, at least half of American voters don't agree with you and a significant minority would like you to drop dead. With each strong opinion you hold, the number of voters who disagree with you and the number of voters who would like you dead grows. If you hold three or more strong opinions, no one you agree with will ever win a nationwide election. (Unless they've successfully hidden their intent.)
Since I hold at least three strong opinions, my vote is usually decided by who'd like me dead less. In a race between Dianne Feinstein and John McCain, say, I'd vote Republican, since they'd both like me dead but Feinstein works harder at it. Ralph Nader, too, would shuffle a grim pavan upon my grave.
On the other hand, although John Kerry isn't fond of me, he wouldn't go out of his way to do anything about it. Kerry for President!
On ya, Ray. Course, I'd always thought of voting in terms of who I'd like to see dead the least. In which case, yeah, yeah, whatever: Kerry for President.
A nobler algorithm, but I'm old enough to remember that voting for a presidential candidate doesn't necessarily lengthen their lifespan.
are you the ray davis-- who makes the manoala's???????????
|. . . 2004-03-17|
I read once of a man who was cured of a dangerous illness by eating his doctor's prescription which he understood was the medicine itself. So William Sefton Moorhouse imagined he was being converted to Christianity by reading Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, which he had got by mistake for Butler's Analogy of Religion, on the recommendation of a friend. But it puzzled him a good deal.- Note-Books, Samuel Butler
Wittgenstein (I may only have 1 pony but you can't make me stop riding him!) wanted to use a quotation from Bishop Butler (who wrote the Analogy) as the motto for the Philosophical Investigations: Everything is what it is & not something else. Which leads to the musical question: who has more respect for difference: the one who feeds everything into the differance meat-grinder, or the one who takes a look at each individual thing & asks, how is this unique? & after that number we have the big dance scene.
LW ended up settling for a quotation from this guy named Nestroy (these Germans & their library-full of culture!), which went something like, "Everything that appears to be a great step forward later tends out not to have been as big a deal as you thought." I'm not sure how I'm going to block out that scene.
|. . . 2004-03-19|
right. evolution as a social narrative is already evolution bastardized, because it's pretty much all statistics, and there is *nothing* comforting about statistics except for cold-blooded skeptics like me. the teleological mistake is defining means in terms of the wrong ends, as an aggravation of defining means & ends at all: for no given point in, say, human history can you cut a cross-section through it and say that *anyone* was adapted to do this, whatever "this" is at the population level. people, however, like to cut cross-sections through history, often with more aesthetic aims in mind. the ideas both of "adaptation" and "whatever it is you're adapted to" are emergent phenomena, which is a much healthier trendy phrase -- we did not evolve to fight wars or make love or what have you; those are things we do along the way, from randomness to randomness.
but people don't like randomness? god knows why. it's so fantastic.but: what are you talking about?
Another reader seems similarly puzzled:
Water has a design. Things that use water may get in trouble if they behave as if it doesn't. It has a design because that's the way it is here in universe-land. Attaching anthro-valent purpose to the design is no different than attaching any other purpose, or _ key item _ no-purpose-at-all-in-the-sense-of-no-design. Rules are rules. It doesn't matter who made them. It matters how they're enforced.
The point is that rules of physics call on a different enforcement agency than rules of thumb. "That's the way it is" may mean "Better than random results have been found in this test population of two dozen middle-class American college students," which is a far cry from "That's the way it always is and always will be"— which, however, is not so far from "That's the way it must be," which in turn marches very closely to "Thou shalt." Teleology without supporting evidence handwaves us into that latter parade.
If you're one of the majority of patients for whom the newest chemotherapy isn't at all useful (despite a statistically positive effect), that doesn't make you an evolutionary anomoly, even though it might modify your role as an active gene carrier. People who exhibit behavior other than what's been announced as significant results remain fully significant. Those results (almost by definition) reflect something more transient than species — such as recent chemotherapy patents, or wide-spread syndication of "Everybody Loves Raymond." "Rules are rules," but premature acquiescence will leave you unnecessarily stuck with that chemotherapy and that TV show, looking for romance in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
We regret any inconvenience.
Nag, nag, nag. Any readers who've suffered through these fulminations deserve the treat of a more positive interpretation of evolutionary biology, and one has just been served up by the always delectable inanis et vacua. Enjoy and deploy.
|. . . 2004-03-23|
Expand your mind and your ass will follow.
why would a donkey follow a mind?And this one "Jour de Fête":
So is my ass too big because my bike has a flat tire? Or did the tire go flat because my ass is too big?
we are all slaves to our sphincters
Given how fecund the coupling of Women & Nietzsche has been, I predict lasting glory for the first academic to propose the topic Digestion & Nietzsche. Nietzsche wrote more (and with deeper feeling) about his digestion than about women; yet so far as I know the subject remains untouched. Even Turbulent Velvet might be won over once the Master-Slave relationship is understood as an allegory of Nietzsche's extended struggle with constipation
|. . . 2004-03-27|
What I want to say is:
Love the evidence; hate the conclusion.
But that may be a little harsh. Critics compulsively draw conclusions, and I should allow for the possibility that we do so to some purpose.
The evidence is more valuable than the conclusion, in the sense that a cow is more valuable than a cup of milk.
'Course, not all folks feel up to maintainin' a cow.
Gold is more valuable than what it earns as investment, more valuable than what it buys. OR.
It takes its value from those things it can make possible.
That chain won't break, not even in the dry-lab under the electron-pulse hammer, its contiguity is impervious to the most disinterested analysis.
Without the milk and, by extension, the flank steak and suede, the cow is a grain drain.
Maybe you're stuck in the time thing again. value now/value later giving preference to the now. But now just went and become that this, which was later, which took/takes the name back even as it became/becomes... well... this, again. still.
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Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2004 Ray Davis.