"Is there a greater gesture of intellectual contempt than the notion that a tweet constitutes an adequate intervention in a serious discussion? But when Thomas Nagel’s formidable book Mind and Cosmos recently appeared, in which he has the impudence to suggest that “the materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false,” and to offer thoughtful reasons to believe that the non-material dimensions of life—consciousness, reason, moral value, subjective experience—cannot be reduced to, or explained as having evolved tidily from, its material dimensions, Steven Pinker took to Twitter and haughtily ruled that it was “the shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker.” Fuck him, he explained."
http://www.newrepublic.com/article/1124 ... hilosopher
I would be interested in reading this book and discussing it in this thread. Will you join me?
Nagel is completely correct here. In fact, although I am 100% behind the idea of Darwinism, I do not think the mechanism he identified gives us warrant to explain any of the phenomena that evolution gives rise to, except in the most narrow sense.
The fact is that all variations have to preceded their selection, and this means that the world of living things is far more diverse that that selection process can explain.
Natural Selection gives us the traits that do not cause the reproductive failure of the individual members of species; it does not explain how and why ALL traits come about and persist.
If it were the case that adaptations knew what they were selected FOR, then we would now be living in a different world entirely - but I sometimes think that Pinker and his crew think exactly that.
In fact evolution is not a mechanism that selects any traits at all. It certainly does not select FOR a trait.
Evolution is the effect of a selection that preserves successful organisms against those that are less successful. This is effected by organisms being fitter. But fitness can come in many guises; and along with what can be identified as a positive trait, any individual is a collection of mainly neutral traits and even some negative ones (so long and they are not bad enough to cause reproductive failure).
The problem for so-called 'evolutionary science;' is the tendency to latch on to positive looking traits and claim that they are THE REASON for the organism's success. In fact it is more complicated than that and today's negative traits can be tomorrow's positive traits, and vice versa.
I'm not alone, as a Darwinist that thinks the Pinker brigade are a much of evolutionary religionists.
There has been a long-standing, subtle confusion, elegantly expressed by Fodor&Piattelli-Palmarini between;"
(1) The claim that evolution is a process in which creatures with adaptive traits are selected and
(2) the claim that evolution is a process in which creatures are selected for their adaptive traits.”
This subtle difference is at the heart of the diverse uses and abuses of Darwinism.
This intentionality at the heart of Darwinism is an artefact of using the model of sexual and domestic selection, whilst this does not invalidate natural selection per se, it does point to a far more serious complaint, not with natural selection but with how it has been conceived. In the last 150 years Darwinism has always been dragged by the nose to form normative interpretations for the employment of political policy, and a host of scientific spin-offs as diverse as Social Darwinism, Eugenics, Evolutionary psychology, memetics and temetics. Thes have all relied on the assertion that point 2 is implied by point 1. In simple language, natural selection has been mobilised to support theory that is anything but NATURAL, but is teleological. The language of 'selected for'; 'evolutionary pressure'; 'adapting TO the environment'; 'evolution as a cause' all imply claim 2. where in fact natural selection ought to be about the fact that individual organisms that have viable progeny FOR WHAT EVER REASON, urges 'adapting from the environment', 'evolution as a effect', and so on. When we get to the 'selfish gene' fiction, and Susan Blackwood's memes 'wanting to be selected' , it is easy enough to see how natural selection is being employed to ridiculous ends - it is clear that humans are doing the 'selection' by arbitrarily identifying traits and behaviours in the fossil record that they personally deem to have been selective. The tautology is ALSO with the process of biological research that has preserved and maintained the teleological fiction, which as shown a distinct lack of humility and a callous disregard for the subtle , but highly important distinction, of the 2 statements above.
This fallacy of purpose infects most of biological research. Next time you ask what is the purpose of a kidney, you should react with humility by stating that only its function can be known.