Re: Joel and Bryant /talk/ about Antlers and Culture

Bryant (
19 Aug 1996 01:33:22 -0600

In article <>,
Joel and Lynn Gazis-Sax <> wrote:
>>Bryant said:
>> This stuff gets confusing quickly, because we're talking about different
>> levels of organization. If a gene controls, say, horn size in adult
>> bucks, and neck muscles correlate with horn size, then isn't the gene in
>> question fairly called a gene for "neck muscularity" even though it's a
>> very indirect contribution?
>Suppose you have a culture which puts to death all children with a neck
>size over a certain diameter. What is going to happen to the presence
>of bull-necks in the gene-pool?

Assuming high heritability (as I did), it will go down. Indirectly, the
culture is selecting for smaller antlers. (children with antlers? hm.)
>> Likewise, the structure of human social behaviors (and motivators, or
>> emotions) include human universals (e.g., resentment of
>> nonreciprocity, sexual jealousy) which contribute mightily to the
>> structure of cultures.
>Not everyone is afflicted by sexual jealousy. It is not accurate to
>call it a human universal.

Is there really a culture in which a nonreciprocating male can screw a
guy's wife and not incur resentment? Is there a culture in which females
are free to mate with whomever they wish after marriage, without the mate
feeling jealousy?

>If culture were merely the product of human genetics and sexual
>desires (which makes sociobiology just sound like Freudianism in an
>evolutionist's new suit), then incest would be legal.

Naw. Rape and murder of sexual competitors are illegal, as is
infanticide, yet all these have good, adaptationist reasons to have been
handed down from our ancestors as part of our evolutionary baggage as humans.

>> (What do you mean by "static reality of the genes"?)
>What is in your DNA. What you are born with. What never changes in your lifetime
>(unless you have evidence for Lamarckianism!)

Heh. Nope; 'just wasn't sure on what level you meant "static." Thanks.

>As for Gould, you are simply wrong. Gould sees evolution as a process
>with many possible results. He sees our being in the universe as cosmic

That's my take, too. Note that most evolutionists attribute all
evolution *ULTIMATELY* to genetic mutation, a chancy affair. But the
genetic diversity thusly created is acted upon by nature--a given
mutation (for whatever un-"intended" reason) may increase or decrease (or
not affect) its owners' reproductive fitness. The stuff that's retained
for their fitness advantages are said to be "selectively favored."

If a trait is retained (and modified through time) in a population
because of its positive fitness effects (in other words, if a trait's a
"fitness enhancer"), then it constitutes an "adaptation," and is referred
to in a 'functional' context by evolutionists.

>> 1. Genome doesn't = gene. natural selection acts on individuals,
>> and, indirectly, upon their genes. But not upon populations or
>> genomes.
>Starting from this understanding, I still disagree with the concept of
>design implied in sociobiology. I don't see the genome as an entity,
>but as a pattern, also with no mind of its own.

I promise: sociobiologists agree. "Function" and "purpose" only mean
that a given trait were retained by natural selection because of a given
set of seletion pressures. Example: orgasm's "function" is to enhance
reproductive success. :)

>Also, natural selection
>acts /indirectly/ on populations. If you remove all the starfish with
>red spots from a population, you are going to change the population
>through natural selection.

Yeah, this whole thing about group selectionism is largely a semantic
tangle. Here's what I meant: *natural selection* acts on
individuals--culls some, lets others produce a lot of kids. Indirectly,
this may be selection on a given trait (Bob produced lots of kids because
he has a large jaw that excites women, whereas Joe's puny jaw made him
unattractive), and hence, on genes. As selection culls individuals in a
population, the frequency with which a given allele (say, big-jaw allele)
appears changes. This change in allele frequency is, by definition,
*evolution*, and it occurs on a population level. But natural selection
is only one way changes in allele frequency can occur. Mutation and
drift are others.

>> Fair enough. Dawkins meant by "selfish genes" that the well being of the
>> individual is less important in the process of evolution than the
>> transmission of genes.
>To the individual, the well-being is very important. [...]

Yep, but not to evolution. If I get myself shot up trying to mate with
another fellow's gal, I've just committed genetic as well as literal
suicide. But taking that risk, if my mating instincts are genetically
rooted, may have paid off *on average* during human evolution, such that
risk takers more often reproduced than chickens. These examples are all
admittedly crude, by the way.

>Evolution should not be invoked in the setting of social
>policy. (e.g. "We're brutal beasts by nature, so let's not talk about
>measures like disarmament or gun control.") Instead, its understandings
>should be used to help us determine if a course of action is really going
>to get us the kind of society we want.

Well said. I absolutely agree. A pox on social Darwinism!

>> Joel, I mean this very seriously and very sincerely, honest to god:
>> I do not think that Gould has described a living sociobiologist in his
>> attacks on adaptationism. In my view, Gould builds straw men and knocks
>> them down. Stephen and I have been talking in another thread about how
>> few sociobiologists even fit Gould's characterization of sociobiologists
>> as reactionary and anti-egalitarian.

>>You mean that there /aren't/ people out there who try to determine the
>function of male nipples and female orgasm?!!!

Nobody's published a paper on male nipples. The female orgasm, on the
other hand, does something. And that something affects the chances that
her offspring will survive, so it's a fair target for adaptationist

I was thinking specifically of Gould & Lewontin's 1979 paper, in which
they assert that adaptationists see "function in all." That's simply not
the position of any adaptationist I've ever read or heard of or heard
speak, and counts, I think, as a straw-man created by Gould & Lewontin.

>> There is a school of biology (not just sociobiology) that emphasizes
>> optimality as a test of adaptedness. So, an optimality-school Darwinian
>> Anthropologist might look at Wai Wai foraging and see if the calories
>> expended per search hour are balanced optimally with the calories
>> secured. Most evolutionary psychologists reject this because it implies
>> that either evolution occurs very quickly or that folks are consciously
>> fitness-striving. We can discuss the differences later, if you want.
>In some cultures, people /do/ consciously strive for fitness. (And some
>individuals certainly do -- witness the rise of health clubs.) :)

:) I meant evolutionary "fitness" (=maximized number of offspring
surviving to reproductive maturity). Indeed, some folks seek the status
afforded in some places by having a lot of kids. It's really late, so if
I try to explain how this desire is probably an outgrowth of the desire
for status, which is fitness enhancing, coupled with a paticular
culture's respect for fertility, but not an evolved desire per se, I'll
undoubtedly flub it. G'night.