Re: Book Review - The Descent of the Child (Elaine Morgan)

Daniel Yee (
19 Jul 1995 16:46:30 +1000

In article <>,
Robert Groover <> wrote:
>I would disagree with Mr. Yee's review on several points. I think the
>use of intentional language is highly appropriate in this sort of a "game
>theoretic" analysis of evolutionary issues, and I found it quite

Taken literally, such use of intentional language is simply *wrong*:
it is not the case that organisms consciously maximize their
inclusive fitness. It's use as a kind of metaphor is reasonable
when it is perfectly clear what is really meant (though I dislike it
even there). It may be an "attractive" usage, but I would hardly
call it "enlightening", since correct interpretation *presupposes*
a reasonable grasp of what is really happening in game-theoretic
analysis. From personal experience, I know that many people do
not have such a grasp, and do get the wrong idea from this kind
of language.

>I also think it is unfair to slap Morgan both as a popularizer and also as
>insufficiently written-down, which the review seems to do.

I didn't write anything about Morgan being "insufficiently" written
down. If anything, my complaint about inclusive languge is an
argument against *excessive* writing-down! As for "slapping" her as a
populariser, does "in the best traditions of popular science writing"
seem like a slap? I am not one of those people who equate "popular"
with "worthless" or "wrong". (And if you think _Descent of the Child_
is something other than a work of popular science, then I think you
are just confused.)

>This book is loaded with fascinating ideas; even if they are all old hat
>to Mr. Yee, many of them are new and interesting to readers like me.

I said nothing about "old hat"! I don't know the field enough to know
whether any of the ideas were genuinely original, but a lot of the
material was new to me.

Danny Yee.