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

Joel and Lynn Gazis-Sax (
Fri, 16 Aug 1996 16:54:16 -0800

Again, even though this person is not being particularly nice or
attempting to be reasonably conversant, I shall strive to be
reasonable beyond stating this objection.

Len Piotrowski wrote:
> In article <> Joel and Lynn Gazis-Sax <> writes:
> >[snip]
> >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.

Yes, Len. I think you get *my* point then. Thank you for finally seeing
the relevance of what I am getting at. There's no point in attempting
to predict human behavior.

> >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.

I have to declare exception to this. My brain in particular does generate
thoughts and self-interests, even as I write this. In fact, my brain very
devotedly manages the affairs, both consciously and unconsciously, so that
the rest of the body devote much of their time insuring its survival. If
my brain were to find a way to satisfy its pleasures, think, and just
survive without the body, it might happilly do so -- after, of course,
weighing out the consequences.

What is "odd" is that you take exception to the very center of the
consciousness -- the organ without which there is no awareness that
there is such a thing as a human life -- anthropomophizing /itself/.

>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.

Reductionist? Hardly. Reductionism is when you say that you have utter
predictability, that all things can be summed up by one thing. It is hardly
reductionism to state that our knowledge of the universe and the means we
use to predict things in it is probabilistic. The probability of a fire-eating
dragon eating me is nil. The probability that I will be hungry in the morning
is higher. The probability that house number nine is going to be a two parent
family can also be established based on other data. But it can't be predicted
with certainty.

> If culture is only chaos, there is no Being-in-the-world to know.

It seems to me that your reaction is to what I call the inherent uncertainty
of human interaction. What I object to is probably very similar to what
you object to, namely the idea that we can categorize away and be perfectly
serene in doing so. To note that categories are only artificial constructs,
models, tools like a stone axe or a slide rule or a computer is to open up
interesting questions for thought and research.

>There is
> nothing to know since everything is already - chaos.

This sounds to me more like fear than rational thinking.

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."

There have been religions founded on this concept and the adherents have
gotten on quite fine. The Christian idea of this earth only being a proving
ground for the "real thing" in the next life is still alive and kicking in
some souls. Buddhists tell us that this life is a life of illusion and they
still get up and go to work in the morning. The world hasn't fallen apart
just because some people-enclosed brains choose to believe that things aren't
quite as stable as they look.

> >[snip]
> Cheers,
> --Lenny__
> "If you can't remember what mnemonic means, you've got a problem."
> - perlstyle

Have one on me tonight!


___ ___
/\ _|_ /\ Joel and Lynn GAzis-SAx
/ /\_|_/\ \
/ / /\|/\ \ \
\ \ \/|\/ / / "If we try to flee from our human condition into
\ \/_|_\/ / the computer, we only meet ourselves there."
\/__|__\/ William Barrett