Re: Joel and Bryant /talk/ about Sociobiology and other stuff

Len Piotrowski (
Fri, 16 Aug 1996 21:12:40 GMT

In article <> Joel and Lynn Gazis-Sax <> writes:


>For the anthropologist, called on to explain social phenomenon,
>these understandings are important. We can't turn to slugs or
>to sticklebacks to understand human beings. For this reason,
>we've invented this very loose concept called culture to explain
>why people do things that they do which don't seem to be explainable
>by the static realities of genes. Culture is chaos. If you
>return to the example I gave of guessing who is going to turn up
>in what house, you will see that cultural anthropology probably
>is never going to be much of a predictive science for certain problems.

This is an example of the vacuous appeal of Chaos Theory to the study of human
behavior. I would hazard to say that anthropologists aren't concerned with
"predicting" "who is going to turn up in what house." Makes about as much
sense as physicists wasting intellect on "predicting" what detector an
elementary particle will fly into. The "house guessing" example is just as
pointless. Anthropologists are simply not concerned with such "problems"
because they have no significance to understanding meaningful human actions.

>I've never said, as you've implied, that biology has no role. What
>I have said is that we should understand that biology does not
>determine as much as it enables. The human brain is wired for flexibility.
>Part of the oddness of this flexibility is that sometimes it can act
>in manners which are contrary to its own interests.

The brain can't "act" at all. It has no self "interests." It can't be "wired"
in any way other than it's nature. Declaring it's "flexible" mechanism "odd"
due to it's purported contrary "manners" is simply anthropomorphizing a human
organ. This reductionist trick of creating a metaphor between the "behavior"
of the human brain and human behavior creates the illusion that we can
understand process at higher levels by appealing to the action of Chaos at
lower levels. Putting aside the problem of how the affects of lower level
processes are unknowable by any other means except Chaos, human behavior and
meaningful social interaction are knowable in their own terms.

If culture is only chaos, there is no Being-in-the-world to know. There is
nothing to know since everything is already - chaos. What transpires as
meaning (even science) must only be a maddening dream, coalesced from chaos
into an illusion of meaningful reality. I think most thinking beings would
find this metaphor for their everyday life quite "odd."




"If you can't remember what mnemonic means, you've got a problem."
- perlstyle