Pharyngula

Oh, no. Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini have written a book and opinion piece in which they try to claim that natural selection is a dying concept, and what do they use to justify that outrageous claim? Evo devo! That’s just nuts, and Mary Midgely compounds the crazy with terrible abuse of developmental biology — she seems to want to turn back the clock to the time of D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, and throw out Jacob and Monod. I really get pissed off when I see people misusing the specialized ideas of evo devo as a replacement for, rather than an addition to, the framework of modern evolutionary theory.

I will be slashing up their nonsense at greater length, but I’m reading this in a hotel room when I should be finishing up my packing and getting my butt to the airport, and furthermore, the weather looks awful at my destination and I fear my transatlantic flight will be even longer and more uncertain than usual. For now, you’ll have to read Jerry Coyne’s brief stab at them and throw your own arguments down in the comments. I will return to this subject when I’m back in frigid blizzardy Minnesota.

Comments

  1. #1 rni.boh
    February 7, 2010

    Oh, I fisked their stuff over 2 years ago. It sounds like they haven’t improved since then.

  2. #2 llewelly
    February 7, 2010

    New Scientist, it appears, learned a lesson from the last kerfuffle over their misunderstanding of Darwin. The lesson? A faux controversy makes for a lot of attention.

    Like a toddler who has figured out that tantrums draw attention.

  3. #3 Janet Holmes
    February 7, 2010

    I have been a subscriber to Newscientist for over 20 years but I am going to have to reconsider. I really wish I knew what the hell they think they’re doing. Besides maximizing profits. I guess it is just a business after all. Sigh.

  4. #4 llewelly
    February 7, 2010

    Since this is a repeat performance, I think it is reasonable to believe New Scientist knows that garbage like Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini’s piece is untrue. It is reasonable to believe New Scientist knows that publishing that sort of pig excrement will serve merely to fan the flames of the manufactured controversy over evolution. And they’ve done this in the hopes of gaining ad revenue. In short, they are trolling, in the classic usenet sense of the word.

  5. #5 ianmhor
    February 7, 2010

    The book was reviewed in the Independent a week or so ago:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/did-charles-darwin-get-it-wrong-1882253.html

    comments seem to have attracted the usual sort of crowd that appear whenever evolution/Darwin gets mentioned.

    But as said this is not a real controversy. Arguing the circularity of “survival of the fittest” yet again is just about selling books.

    There are plenty of interesting aspects of evolution that science is currently uncovering but none suggest that the basic principle is in doubt though that’s what this book appears to be saying (much though I don’t want to I suspect I will have to buy it).

    I expect the exact detail of the modern synthesis will change – but that’s science.

  6. #6 SEF
    February 7, 2010

    Mary Midgely compounds the crazy with terrible abuse of developmental biology

    You’ve had trouble with Mary Midgely before. She probably never read and understood the topic* properly in the first place.

    * evo-devo, biology, science etc

  7. #7 ichnia
    February 7, 2010

    I just love the irony of claiming that natural selection is a weak idea, being out-competed and headed for extinction. XD

  8. #8 Glen Davidson
    February 7, 2010

    Yes, it’s “imperialistic selectionism,” because, you know, no dissent is allowed any clown with a half-assed notion gets space in a prominent pop-science magazine to spout already well-answered drivel.

    It’s just like the DI, they have nothing, receive a good deal of publicity anyway, and use their undeserved podiums and bullhorns to tell lies about how they’re oppressed and censored.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  9. #9 Kel, OM
    February 7, 2010

    I said it on Jerry’s site, I’ll say it again on here. It’s like he’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater because the baby shouldn’t have gotten dirty in the first place!

  10. #10 'Tis Himself, OM
    February 7, 2010

    Fodor wrote an article in the London Review of Books expounding his views. Jerry Coyne and Philip Kitcher rebutted Fodor in a letter:

    Similarly, as Fodor notes, many features of organisms can be by-products of evolution rather than the direct objects of natural selection. Our blood is red, for example, not because it is good for blood to be a particular colour, but because the haemoglobin molecules that carry oxygen absorb light in such a way as to make them red. But the ?by-product? explanation cannot explain apparent design. Why are so many animals camouflaged to match their background? Can that be a result of evo-devo or a mere by-product of something else? Neither is likely. Experiments have shown that more camouflaged animals are eaten less often by predators. This is exactly what you?d expect if natural selection built such adaptations, and not what you?d predict if camouflage resulted simply from developmental constraints or was a by-product of something else. And how do Fodor?s alternatives explain the sharp teeth of sharks or the ability of some Arctic fish to load their blood with ?antifreeze? proteins to keep them from freezing solid in cold waters? Adaptation is not a failed explanation: it is a testable hypothesis, and has been tested ? and confirmed ? many times over.

    Daniel Dennett also wrote a letter:

    I love the style of Jerry Fodor?s latest attempt to fend off the steady advance of evolutionary biology into the sciences of the mind. He tells us that ?an appreciable number of perfectly reasonable biologists? are thinking seriously of giving up on the half of Darwinism that concerns natural selection. Did you know that? I didn?t. In fact, I wonder if the appreciable number is as high as one. Fodor gives no names so we?ll just have to wait for more breaking news.

  11. #11 Kel, OM
    February 7, 2010

    The worst thing I found about the article (yes, I read it. I have the magazine on my coffee table.) was the rhetoric at the start. It reminded me of IDists talking about how the complexity of the cell came as a shock. Talk about disingenuous!

    Aside from that, I couldn’t really figure out just what he was ranting about. Every example he used, all I could think was “so what?” Maybe it’s my ignorance as a layperson of evolutionary theory, but I really couldn’t see what he was arguing against. Didn’t Gould push for the notion of contingency 30 years ago?

    As for his question: “Why don’t pigs have wings”, the answer seems pretty obvious. Why should we expected winged pigs to arise in the first place?

  12. #12 Glen Davidson
    February 7, 2010

    Pigs don’t have wings, but that’s not because winged pigs once lost out to wingless ones. And it’s not because the pigs that lacked wings were more fertile than the pigs that had them. There never were any winged pigs because there’s no place on pigs for the wings to go

    You know, they don’t have shoulders like the ancestors of birds did.

    How stupid are these people? Pigs have the same place for wings that bats do.

    They’re too damn heavy now to fly, and their forelimbs are far too specialized for walking to readily transform into wings.

    Do they think that wings would somehow appear if pigs had sockets for them? Are they wholly unaware of the many contingencies and concurrent transformations are required to produce a workable wing on a skeleton evolved to support the stresses?

    I guess they’re just asking to be called pig-ignorant.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  13. #13 owenevans00
    February 7, 2010

    Oh, utter fail.

    Every case of free-riding is a counter-example to natural selection.

    Uh, every case of free-riding is an example of adapation to a free-riding lifestyle? Sigh. Can someone get the collected works of R. A. Fisher and whack them over the head while yelling “Populations! Populations!”?

  14. #14 Hidari
    February 7, 2010

    If this article achieves only one thing, it will hopefully turn people’s attention back to Fodor’s earlier work. And hopefully people will ask the question: if Fodor can be so hopelessly uninformed about natural selection, and yet pontificate about it so confidently…..how can we be sure that his previous thoughts about cognitive science (which Fodor is also untrained in) are any less ignorant?

    To put it bluntly: time has not been kind to Fodor’s Modularity of Mind thesis. Connectionism and modern brain imaging have demonstrated that the brain is massively holistic and dynamic (cf neurogenesis, neuroplasticity): not modular.

    Moreover, Fodor continues to go on about Skinner as if behaviourism continues to be the main philosophy in modern psychology, and arguing against Skinner is a dangerously iconoclastic position to hold. Indeed, if one cuts to the core of the argument of his new book it is this: Darwinism (says Fodor) is a bit like Skinnerian learning theory. But Skinnerian learning theory is wrong. Therefore Darwinism is wrong! QED. (NOTE: this is made much clearer in the book than in the article, where the whole first chapter is about Skinner).

    The argument is obviously vapid. But even the premise is wrong. Skinnerian learning theory is not WRONG. It is not the whole story. It is ridiculously simplistic. But it’s not wrong as such. It’s a (small) part of the truth.

    Incidentally: on the hardback copy of this book the first ‘blurb’ quote praising the book comes from…Noam Chomsky. I think, Steven Pinker’s hopes and wishes notwithstanding it’s time to ask some hard questions about whether Chomskyan linguistics and the modularity of mind thesis (to which it gave birth) are really compatible with modern views about natural selection. In this book Fodor essentially argues that they are not, and he may be right.

  15. #15 Knockgoats
    February 7, 2010

    Jerry Fodor has long been regarded as slightly loopy by most cognitive scientists. He thinks that all our concepts are in a real sense innate: we literally can’t think anything that does not result from combining concepts we are born with. This kind of extreme nativism obviously has features in common with his disbelief in natural selection: everything as the result of internal mechanisms and constraints, environmental input contributing nothing.

    As for New Pseudo-ScientistPah!.

  16. #16 Knockgoats
    February 7, 2010

    Jerry Fodor evolving a sound argument against natural selection is less likely than descendants of modern pigs at some point evolving wings.

  17. #17 jphands
    February 7, 2010

    Pieces like this are why I stopped buying NS last year. These guys are NOT qualified to comment on Evolution, and this piece of nonsense is just product placement to push an agenda driven book.

    After taking advertising from the Templeton Institute, NS is risking losing even more credibility as a science journal. What’s next? An article on why creationism is a valid world view?

  18. #18 Hidari
    February 7, 2010

    Looking back over what I wrote (and I’m going to stop now before I get branded as a super-troll) I think I wasn’t quite clear about what I meant.

    OK here’s the thing: if you read Fodor carefully, you will see that the key animating force behind almost all his thought is hatred of behaviourism… and he hates behaviourism because it is an ENVIRONMENTALIST theory. In other words,according to the behaviourist (according to Fodor), you are not born knowing ‘anything’ (this is Pinker’s Blank Slate), you learn everything you ‘know.’ Fodor hates this idea for a number of reasons too boring to go into here (briefly, he has persuaded himself that environmentalism leads to relativism).

    Anyway, given his hatred of environmentalism (by which I mean the idea that a creature’s environment is the key determinant of its behaviour) Fodor always argues in favour of theories that state that faculties (especially mental faculties) of organisms are innate. In other words, according to Fodor, we are born with complex cognitive architecture and the amount of things we actually learn in our lives is really rather small.

    OK: so that’s where he’s coming from. Now, what has happened here is that Fodor has decided that what he calls ‘Darwinism’ is an environmentalist theory. Therefore, he reasons, it must be wrong, a priori. And so, just as when in psychology he attacked environmentalist ideas and championed ‘innate structures’, now, he attacks what he perceives as an environmentalist idea (‘Darwinism’) and champions innate structures, forms, and limits and constraints on development (e.g. the works and ideas of D’Arcy Thompson and Stuart Kauffman). In this he follows Chomsky who has also championed similar ideas.

    So that’s what he’s about. And as he stresses in his last few paragraphs in the New Scientist piece he is worried that Darwinism (an anti-innateness theory, according to Fodor) will colonise the human sciences (e.g. psychology) and undo all the ‘good work’ he and Chomsky did in rebutting behaviourism.

    Needless to say, this reading of Darwinism is fantastically bizarre. But it indicates why Fodor is so unfamiliar with the empirical literature: Fodor thinks Darwinism is impossible on Rationalist, first principles grounds (his book The Modularity of Mind didn’t have much empirical data either. Fodor sees his views as being true BY DEFINITION).

    A final point: as not a few people have pointed out, Fodor and others like him are on extremely shaky grounds when they snigger at French philosophers of a ‘postmodern’ disposition for writing badly. Actually Fodor writes just as badly as them, and like them he loves to use big, complex, ‘sciency’ sounding words when he is making particularly dubious points, purely in order to intimidate potential opponents.

  19. #19 Dr. I. Needtob Athe
    February 7, 2010

    It bugs me that they repeatedly use “Darwinism” as a synonym for evolution. It’s like saying a light bulb works by “Edisonism.” It seems to be a popular strategy of the right-wing to substitute people’s names for concepts they reject.

  20. #20 NewEnglandBob
    February 7, 2010

    Maybe it is time to stop calling Fodor a scientist and recognize him for what he has become; an ornery contrarian who has disdain for the scientific method which results in nonsensical output for the purpose of generating controversy so he can line his pockets with money.

  21. #21 Oran Kelley
    February 7, 2010

    I think Dennett’s right in that the motive behind this is to stem the tide of evolutionary thinking in cognitive science a bit. And as someone who agrees with that goal, I find the tactic of attacking natural selection as a whole to be very distressing.

    I think, though, that the appropriate response to this work isn’t to dismiss it as “trash.” Certainly Kitcher doesn’t just dismiss it–he thinks it’s wrong, and I suspect he thinks it disingenuous, but he takes it fairly seriously.

    What I think Fodor is really attacking here is the sort of verbal & conceptual freehand that evolutionary theorists often use and abuse. His general attack on selection forces a much more disciplined approach: actually thinking about the completely impersonal process of selection, a process that just happens. DNA doesn’t have interests, “success” is mere perpetuation of code, and everything is contingent. All in all, I think this is to the good.

    Fodor’s notion of modularity is fairly modest: much more limited than the version you often see employed in EP, say. I haven’t seen anything to make me think that Fodor’s version of modularity is in crisis–challenged, sure, but I think there’s plenty of life left in the idea.

  22. #22 Hidari
    February 7, 2010

    Incidentally I notice that Piattelli-Palmarini is getting a free ride from everyone. But if you look at his homepage you will find that, like Fodor, he is a Chomskyan, which doubtless has contributed to his anti-evolutionary thinking (to repeat, Chomsky has always questioned the idea that ‘Darwinism’ could have anything to say about mental faculties e.g. Chomsky’s hypothetical Language Acquiring Module).

    http://dingo.sbs.arizona.edu/~massimo/publications/PDF/MPPEversincelang1.pdf

  23. #23 SteveV
    February 7, 2010

    Surely the physics of flight mean that if pigs had wings then they would look like bats not pigs?
    Or am just being a pig ignorant engineer (yet) again?

  24. #24 Carlie
    February 7, 2010

    First, there is an explanation of the taxonomy of species. It is an ancient observation that if you sort species by similarities among their phenotypes (a phenotype being a particular creature’s collection of overt, heritable biological properties) they form the hierarchy known as a “taxonomic tree”.

    First, no. TOE explains phylogeny, not taxonomy. Phylogeny replaces taxonomy, by grouping with relation to heredity rather than superficial phenotypic similarity. So right out of the gate, they show an abysmal misunderstanding of what evolution is, what it explains, and that taxonomy has moved far beyond Aristotle.

    Oh, then they do go ahead and explain it, which means that their writing in the previous paragraph, meant to be introductory, is instead totally misleading. Ok then.

    Here’s how natural selection is supposed to work. Each generation contributes an imperfect copy of its genotype – and thereby of its phenotype – to its successor. Neo-Darwinism suggests that such imperfections arise primarily from mutations in the genomes of members of the species in question.

    Let’s just forget entirely the role of crossing-over and independent assortment in sexually reproducing organisms, shall we? I guess we shall, since they pretend those don’t exist.

    Given a certain amount of conceptual and mathematical tinkering, it follows that, all else again being equal, the fitness of the species’s phenotype will generally increase over time, and that the phenotypes of each generation will resemble the phenotype of its recent ancestors more than they resemble the phenotypes of its remote ancestors.

    What “conceptual and mathematical tinkering”?? Relative amounts of differential fitness? Probability of survival? Potential numbers of offspring? You can’t handwave something away by calling it vague and not specifying exactly what you think is wrong.

    So, how many constraints on the evolution of phenotypes are there other than those that environmental filtering imposes? Nobody knows, but the picture now emerging is of many, many of them operating in many, many different ways and at many, many different levels.

    Wait. That’s their point? That there are other constraining factors on evolution besides the environment? Well whoop-de-fucking-doo. Tell me something we don’t know. And let’s also ignore all of the other types of selection that are now known to exist, all of which rely on the original concept of natural selection, but which work without constraint of the environment.

    Oh, what a pile of shit. It basically says natural selection doesn’t explain everything, and that sometimes science can be used for bad things. Yeah. You can get a book out of that?

  25. #25 Zeno
    February 7, 2010

    What?! Is no one going to quip about your denial that your name is Fermat?

    There must not be any mathematicians around here. (At least, no one with the wiles to do so.) I feel marginalized.

  26. #26 Thunderbird 5
    February 7, 2010

    @ 17 (jphands)

    Got my weekly phone call from my Mum this morning. Mum is a long-time reader of the NS, having had a lifelong layperson (although she worked in hospital path labs for a few years before becoming a London tube driver) interest in all things sci, especially bio, bio-chem and evo-devo.

    The first thing she wanted to know – even before the routine Mum-frets re my gallstones/unpaid parking tickets/local weather/cat antics – was “Why are the NS doing this? Did some wanker of a marketing consultant talk them into believing its good for sales or something?”

    And I had no answer. I’m just as mystified and equally as pissed off.

  27. #27 Oran Kelley
    February 7, 2010

    “All right,” you may say, “but why should anybody care?” Nobody sensible doubts that evolution occurs – we certainly don’t. Isn’t this a parochial issue for professional biologists, with nothing cosmic turning on it? Here’s why we think that is not so.

    Natural selection has shown insidious imperialistic tendencies. The offering of post-hoc explanations of phenotypic traits by reference to their hypothetical effects on fitness in their hypothetical environments of selection has spread from evolutionary theory to a host of other traditional disciplines: philosophy, psychology, anthropology, sociology, and even to aesthetics and theology. Some people really do seem to think that natural selection is a universal acid, and that nothing can resist its powers of dissolution.

    However, the internal evidence to back this imperialistic selectionism strikes us as very thin. Its credibility depends largely on the reflected glamour of natural selection which biology proper is said to legitimise. Accordingly, if natural selection disappears from biology, its offshoots in other fields seem likely to disappear as well. This is an outcome much to be desired since, more often than not, these offshoots have proved to be not just post hoc but ad hoc, crude, reductionist, scientistic rather than scientific, shamelessly self-congratulatory, and so wanting in detail that they are bound to accommodate the data, however that data may turn out. So it really does matter whether natural selection is true.

    And when they ask whether natural selection is right, they don’t mean “Does it ever happen?” they mean “Is it the major mechanism behind the variation we see before us today?” If the answer to that is anything less than “Absolutely!” then all the reverse-engineering style arguments they worry about above are cast into doubt.

    That, more or less, is their point.

  28. #28 Antiochus Epiphanes
    February 7, 2010

    What Carlie said (you go, girlfriend!). The authors appear to have no access to literature written between 1900 and 1996. And also not much after 1996.

    Why are cognitive scientists weighing in on the relationship between genetics and evolution? Ho would they like it if I did a wikisearch and published a paper on the state of cognitive science?

    “What Frodo and Super Mario didn’t know about recognition” or whatever.

  29. #29 mod
    February 7, 2010

    What?! Is no one going to quip about your denial that your name is Fermat?

    I have a marvelous quip about PZ’s nomenclatural denial, but the text box is too narrow to contain it.

  30. #30 Knockgoats
    February 7, 2010

    Oran Kelley, you’re talking complete nonsense. What do you think is the point of them saying:

    “if natural selection disappears from biology, its offshoots in other fields seem likely to disappear as well. This is an outcome much to be desired”?

    How could natural selection “disappear from biology” unless it never happens? They are plainly denying that natural selection is a real phenomenon. This is pseudo-scientific crap of the most ludicrous kind.

  31. #31 SC OM
    February 7, 2010

    Carlie, you said exactly what I was thinking, though you expressed it much more clearly and knowledgeably.

  32. #32 Paul W.
    February 7, 2010

    Hidari,

    To put it bluntly: time has not been kind to Fodor’s Modularity of Mind thesis. Connectionism and modern brain imaging have demonstrated that the brain is massively holistic and dynamic (cf neurogenesis, neuroplasticity): not modular.

    My impression is rather the reverse. Time has not been kind to massive holism. To date, over 200 distinct brain regions with apparently different functions have been identified.

    Often particular simplistic theories of what those brain regions do are wrong, but that doesn’t make the basic modularity thesis wrong.

    (One example being the purported face-recognition area people thought they’d identified, which seemed to only be used for recognizing faces. Then they discovered that automotive experts used it to recognize subtle differences in car body shapes, e.g., slight differences in the same model from year to year. That doesn’t mean that modularity is wrong, or that that isn’t a specialized module; it just means they’d misidentified the function of the module—it can be recruited for different but computationally similar tasks. That kind of flexibility reflects badly on simplistic nativism, but not on less simplistic nativism, or the idea of modularity.)

    I haven’t really been keeping up with the neuro literature for the last decade or two, but what I have read suggests that radical holism hasn’t held up any better than radical nativism. (Neither of which surprises me.) Radical neural distributionism hasn’t held up particularly well, either, even within a brain region. (The better the tiny electrodes get, the more often we find things resembling grandmother cells.)

    Near as I can tell, the brain seems to be intensely structured, with many specialized computational units. Neural plasticity does not, in itself, undermine that thesis. The fact that modules may be reconfigured and/or repaired in the face of damage is cool, but it doesn’t mean that they’re not modules.

    Skinnerian learning theory is not WRONG. It is not the whole story. It is ridiculously simplistic. But it’s not wrong as such. It’s a (small) part of the truth.

    Skinner was wrong because a big part of his theory was that it was a large part of the truth, not a small one. It seems to me that you don’t understand what Behaviorism really was. It was quite radical, and quite radically wrong, even if some of the smaller bits of behaviorist theory are useful.

  33. #33 Euphoria5L
    February 7, 2010

    I used to trust you, Mr Fodor. I ate up your defense of narrow content, your brilliant “Special Sciences” paper, and psychofunctionalism still seems right, Aunty be damned. Sure, I’ve moved to disagree with you on quite a few issues, and your work is at times quite infuriating, but you never once decided to do something so silly. Yes, we get it, you don’t like Evolutionary Psychology. That’s kind of the orthodoxy. Your attack on Evolutionary Psychology is just preaching to the choir, and the attack on the ‘evolution’ part isn’t something that your audience is keen on agreeing with. Indeed, the attack just looks silly and ill-motivated (and probably, since I haven’t looked at it, unsound).

    What happened? Did New Jersey just take a toll on your psyche? I understand that you’re still on ‘our’ side (i.e., the side of the naturalist), but this is an awful way to express it.

  34. #34 Sven DiMilo
    February 7, 2010

    As for his question: “Why don’t pigs have wings”, the answer seems pretty obvious. Why should we expected winged pigs to arise in the first place?

    We even have an exception to prove that rule:
    http://www.mar.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/sabs/SpeciesAtRisk-Especesenperil/SAR%20Images/p.phocoena.jpg

    Connectionism and modern brain imaging have demonstrated that the brain is massively holistic and dynamic (cf neurogenesis, neuroplasticity): not modular.

    Of course, neither the physical structure of the brain nor its impressive plasticity can rule out a modular organization of mind, which is somehow emegent from the physical map of neural pathways and connections. It seems to me (I’m poorly read on the subject, though, so would appreciate correction).

  35. #35 Oran Kelley
    February 7, 2010

    Oran Kelley, you’re talking complete nonsense. What do you think is the point of them saying:
    “if natural selection disappears from biology, its offshoots in other fields seem likely to disappear as well. This is an outcome much to be desired”?
    How could natural selection “disappear from biology” unless it never happens? They are plainly denying that natural selection is a real phenomenon. This is pseudo-scientific crap of the most ludicrous kind.

    Having read the NS article and several other of Fodor’s peices, I’d say the best reading would be that “disappear” is hyperbole.

  36. #36 Knockgoats
    February 7, 2010

    That doesn’t mean that modularity is wrong, or that that isn’t a specialized module; it just means they’d misidentified the function of the module—it can be recruited for different but computationally similar tasks. That kind of flexibility reflects badly on simplistic nativism, but not on less simplistic nativism, or the idea of modularity.) – Paul W.

    It completely trashes Fodor’s hyper-nativism, and makes the “hundreds or thousands of modules” for specific tasks postulated by Evolutionary Psychology (note upper-case) highly implausible. So does the way the adult brain is built (make lots and lots of neurons and connections, then let those that don’t get used die); and the demonstrated anatomical changes caused by acquiring literacy, or being a cab-driver. As for the 200+ regions – in how many people have these been matched? How do we know a “grandmother cell” retains that function over time? If this cell dies, do you stop recognising your grandmother?

    A major limitation of both massive holism and nativism is their complete failure to deal with the use of cognitive prostheses – including other people. Mental activity is not confined to the brain, or to the body of the individual.

  37. #37 Knockgoats
    February 7, 2010

    Having read the NS article and several other of Fodor’s peices, I’d say the best reading would be that “disappear” is hyperbole. – Oran Kelley

    Then it’s ridiculous, irresponsible, sensationalist hyperbole and he ought to be ashamed of himself. I’ve read the NS article too, and throughout it when specific points were raised about constraints, etc. I was saying to myself “Yes, we knew that. And?”

  38. #38 Tulse
    February 7, 2010

    Maybe it is time to stop calling Fodor a scientist

    I don’t know of anyone in the area who would refer to Jerry Fodor as a “scientist” — he’s a philosopher. He works in what is sometimes called “cognitive science”, but that doesn’t make him a scientist.

    I read his arguments and examples here, and thought “so what”? Didn’t we have the fight against pan-adaptationism thirty years ago with Gould and Lewontin? Doesn’t the very existence of the extremely orthodox discipline of evo-devo show that evolutionary biologists are keenly aware of internal constraints? Don’t the orthodox notions of genetic drift and neutral selection show that adaptationism is not seen as the be-all and end-all of evolution? And who the fuck ever suggested that pigs should fly, anyway?

    As for his problems with “imperialistic selectionism”, that is no more the fault of “Darwinism” than the Holocaust and eugenics are. If I think people shouldn’t be executed by hanging, does that mean I have to oppose the theory of gravity? Arguing against the truth of a scientific theory because you don’t like its extension to other unrelated domains is precisely a tactic of the creationists. Jerry should know much much better.

    Fodor has always been a gadfly and iconoclast. It’s just that it is easier to get away with that approach in philosophy.

  39. #39 Sven DiMilo
    February 7, 2010

    oo!
    Paul W. agrees with me, Knockgoats does not…this means at least that I have not entirely misunderstood what’s going on.

    Kg, talking about a “grandmother-recognizing cell” is a stupid oversimplification even for rhetorical purposes.

  40. #40 Oran Kelley
    February 7, 2010

    Fodor’s hyper-nativism, and makes the “hundreds or thousands of modules” for specific tasks postulated by Evolutionary Psychology (note upper-case) highly implausible.

    Why “hyper?” And Fodor opposes EP’s massive modularity thesis, as well.

  41. #41 raven
    February 7, 2010

    wikipedia:

    Jerry Alan Fodor (born 1935 in New York City, New York) is an American philosopher and cognitive scientist. He holds the position of State of New Jersey Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University and is also the author of many works in the fields of philosophy of mind and cognitive science, in which he has laid the groundwork for the modularity of mind and the language of thought hypotheses, among other ideas.

    Fodor argues that mental states, such as beliefs and desires, are relations between individuals and mental representations.

    Fodor isn’t a biologist. He is a philosopher. I don’t see that this makes him qualified to do anything but lie about biology and evolution. Which he just did.

    Just another one of those, “Let’s make philosophy look bad again” people. Sturgeon’s law. 90% of anything is garbage.” Some modern philosophy is worthwhile (I guess) but you have to look hard for it.

    Not familar with the other name and not going to waste much more time on another New Scientist tabloid headline. I think they are aiming for the supermarket checkout line niche. Pretty soon they will be side by side with the National Enquirer.

  42. #42 Knockgoats
    February 7, 2010

    Oran Kelley,
    See #15. Yes, I know he opposes the EP form of extreme modularity and nativism; doesn’t make his any better.

  43. #43 Knockgoats
    February 7, 2010

    Sven DiMilo,

    If you will notice, it was Paul W. who introduced the term “grandmother cell” @32. OK, he said “things resembling grandmother cells” – without specifying how they resemble and how they differ, but it was surely reasonable for me to use the term in response. BTW, I’m questioning whether we yet have the quality of evidence Paul was implying (and am willing to be shown that yes, we do), not saying such things don’t exist. In any case, neither grandmother cells nor modularity would establish Fodorian hyper-nativism.

  44. #44 Mobius
    February 7, 2010

    Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini say:

    Accordingly, if natural selection disappears from biology, its offshoots in other fields seem likely to disappear as well.

    Ah, yes. The old “argument from consequences”. This is the same logical fallacy we see from creationists all the time. “Evolution leads to Social Darwinism.” “Darwinism leads to Nazism”. Etc., etc.

    It doesn’t matter, however, what misguided things people take from natural selection if in fact natural selection is true. Science does not look for what is socially convenient. It looks for how nature actually works, and comes up with the best model it can.

    To date, natural selection as part of the theory of evolution is the best (by far) that we have.

  45. #45 Oran Kelley
    February 7, 2010

    Accordingly, if natural selection disappears from biology, its offshoots in other fields seem likely to disappear as well.

    Written specifically in answer to the question “why should we care?” In which case arguing from consequences is perfectly appropriate. It’s called answering the question posed.

  46. #46 Bryson
    February 7, 2010

    As many note above, Fodor and Piatelli-Palmarini are pretty badly confused about what natural selection is. But I think?the key part of their straw-man argument in this travesty from NS is the assumption that the ?randomness? of variation is randomness in phenotypic space. Duh. The ?randomness? of variation is better read as undirectedness: this was Darwin?s most striking novelty, the insight that variation did not have to be adaptive in order for adaptation to result from variation. On this point I suppose we should assign some blame to the common but sloppy formulation that uses ‘random’ in place of ‘undirected’, but as Fodor uses it here, ‘randomness’ serves as a premise in some very silly arguments about what natural selection requires.

    Just for example pleiotropy was well-established before the modern synthesis, so it can?t be a credible objection to natural selection as represented in the modern synthesis. Fisher et al. (Haldane, Wright,…) were way ahead of Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini on this.

    As for the constraints of history and the dubiousness of ?just-so? stories, these are basic background for any serious discussion of natural selection. So I think this project of Fodor?s is a cheap straw-man combined with a rehearsal of familiar points, misleadingly re-packaged as a bold new critique of natural selection.

    Fodor’s radical nativism re. concepts is another thing– and utterly bizarre for a naturalist. We know brain structures can differ dramatically (e.g. in high-functioning hydrocephalics) and still work perfectly well; it seems hard to see how or why such different anatomical structures could or would sustain/embody/serve an identical set of basic concepts.

    BTW, radical holism re. brain structure is very different from radical holism in philosophy of mind. Fodor’s notion that, to communicate, we must share a perfect match of our basic/atomic concepts strikes me as downright weird; I never find such perfect matches of concepts when I look for detailed matches of judgments; all I find is pretty good agreement on common linguistic usage. And in Chomsky’s arguments for a somehow magical (unevolvable) language module, there’s a key formal assumption, that language (as implemented in human beings) is really fully recursive. But I see little sign of that– recursion collapses pretty quickly in ordinary use. I suspect substitutional moves, borrowings and modifications of established usages cover the ground better– and for such a view, the problem of insufficient stimulus doesn’t go through.

  47. #47 Oran Kelley
    February 7, 2010

    Re #15:

    Was reading his intro to The Mind Doesn’t Work That Way, and he seems pretty willing to credit the merits of his adversaries and pretty aware of the current limits of nativism. While he might want to play out the idea of innate knowledge to its limits . . . he just doesn’t sound all that extreme.

  48. #48 Oran Kelley
    February 7, 2010

    As for the constraints of history and the dubiousness of ?just-so? stories, these are basic background for any serious discussion of natural selection. So I think this project of Fodor?s is a cheap straw-man combined with a rehearsal of familiar points, misleadingly re-packaged as a bold new critique of natural selection.

    Which I think is why the Kitcher/Coyne letter strong implies they thing Fodor is being disingenuous.

    What I’m thinking is that Fodor feels the rhetoric needs amping up because adaptionists, when challenged regarding “just-so” stories, or the limits of the selection argument (memes anyone?) always say “yes, yes, we all know that’s true,” and then they continue on creating just-so stories and talking out of their hats about other fields of study.

    By amping up the rhetoric and attacking selection as such, Fodor is forcing adaptionists to recapitulate their arguments in a more limited way and to explicitly come to terms with the limitations on natural selection.

    Whether that’ll serve his purposes or not, we’ll see.

  49. #49 Paul W.
    February 7, 2010

    Knockgoats,

    It completely trashes Fodor’s hyper-nativism, and makes the “hundreds or thousands of modules” for specific tasks postulated by Evolutionary Psychology (note upper-case) highly implausible.

    I’m not defending Fodor’s hyper-nativism. I’m just arguing that both extremes are probably wrong, and that there’s a fair bit of evidence that the extreme holism and nonlocalism is largely wrong.

    So does the way the adult brain is built (make lots and lots of neurons and connections, then let those that don’t get used die);

    That doesn’t in itself refute modularity. At least a lot of the time, when you have neural processes snaking out from one brain region semirandomly, and most of them dying off, it’s because only a minority hit their preprogrammed target—certain cell in another brain region—in order to create the right interconnects between modules. It’s an inefficient way to do it, but it’s an easy to evolve, and it’s robust.

    If exactly where the target brain region ends up varies, due to evolutionary or developmental variation, or routing around damage, it still finds it, because it sends out specialized scouts everywhere, saying “call if you find work,” and kills off the ones that don’t find the right work. This has the great advantage that it preserves the basic evolved module interconnection topology without committing to precise localization, making it more evolvable.

    For example when (nearly) blind cave rats (I think it is) develop a very different split between auditory and visual cortex, reversing the usual proportions, it still works out approximately right, with the audio info being routed where it’s supposed to be.

    That’s not a strike against a reasonable, moderate modularity thesis; it’s a flexible scheme for preserving a basic modular structure in the face of evolutionary and developmental variation.

    and the demonstrated anatomical changes caused by acquiring literacy, or being a cab-driver.

    I’m not sure what you’re referring to, or why you think it’s a strike against modularity. Of course learning is going to cause physical changes to the brain. Demonstrable, macroscopic anatomical changes are usually not a strike against modularity, and are a strike against radical holism and nonlocalism. (If everything was scattered all over the brain, it would be hard to find the changes due to learning.)

    As for the 200+ regions – in how many people have these been matched?

    My impression is that most of them have been identified in multiple subjects, by one or more techniques. Often the exact location varies but a given region will typically be located in the same place relative to adjacent brain regions.

    In cases of brain damage, especially early hemispherectomy, things get weird, because of the topology-preserving flexibility I sketched above. Things can end up in very weird places, but with mostly the same or similar topology.

    In some cases, a fair bit is known about the topology-preserving routing and how it interacts with region specialization, e.g., if a certain region (like the proto-eyes) sends out a lot of scouts and the usual fraction hit their target, then the target region (like the visual cortex) will end up larger. Conversely, if they send out few scouts, or fewer make it to the target for some reason, then the region will end up smaller, with much of its real estate being recruited into neighboring regions.

    (Which is why the auditory cortex in some cave animals ends up big; it takes away from the visual cortex, which doesn’t get enough scouts from the tiny proto-eyes to hold onto much brain territory. Simply evolving smaller or less innervated eyes has the effect of reducing visual cortex’s claim on brain area, and letting the auditory system win the competition.)

    How do we know a “grandmother cell” retains that function over time? If this cell dies, do you stop recognising your grandmother?

    I’m not defending radical localism or fixity. I don’t think that in general you have a single grandmother cell for a particular concept; that would be a stupid way to do it, and evolution is usually cleverer than that.

    All I’m saying is that from the available evidence, as I understand it, radical holism and nonlocalism are wrong in at least many cases. There are many localized functions of brain regions, systematically developed interconnection topologies, and often relatively local representations.

  50. #50 Euphoria5L
    February 7, 2010

    Okay, people: Fodor’s work has been incredibly important in the empirical study of the human mind, even if he doesn’t go into labs and conduct studies. He sees himself–like many philosophers–as working on something that’s continuous with the sciences, that goes hand in hand with the sciences. Refusing to call him a scientist because he disagrees with you is silly; it might be bad science he’s doing here, but that doesn’t make him any less of a scientist than he was earlier.

  51. #51 Oran Kelley
    February 7, 2010

    On randomness: it really comes down to the overall weight of the constraints, in Fodor’s formulation.

    We knew about some constraints early on, but

    these constraints on “random mutation” in the strong sense have often been unacknowledged constraints on our imaginations. So that random mutation became “random mutations within the obvious constraints that don’t bear mentioning or thinking about much.”

    This is the line often taken against Gould’s NYRB pieces and associated work. Fodor’s basic point being that constraint and contingency may play a much bigger role in the world around us than hitherto acknowledged, and if so natural selection would begin to evolve into a very different looking animal.

  52. #52 Paul W.
    February 7, 2010

    Correction of a bad typo:

    That doesn’t in itself refute modularity. At least a lot of the time, when you have neural processes snaking out from one brain region semirandomly, and most of them dying off, it’s because only a minority hit their preprogrammed target—certain cells in another brain region—in order to create the right interconnects between modules. It’s an inefficient way to do it, but it’s an easy to evolve, and it’s robust.

    I accidentally wrote “certain cell” which might have been interpreted as “a certain cell”; generally it’s not nearly that specific or local. It’s generally a certian type of cell specific to a particular brain region, with a certain recognizable surface feature, that gets found.

  53. #53 SC OM
    February 7, 2010

    Which I think is why the Kitcher/Coyne letter strong implies they thing Fodor is being disingenuous.

    What I’m thinking is that Fodor feels the rhetoric needs amping up because

    Really, you can stop there. What you appear to be thinking is that if someone is making a political argument that you agree with you can accept that they misrepresent the science, construct strawmen, and lump together people making very different arguments in very different contexts. If that’s what you’re saying, you’re wrong.

    By amping up the rhetoric and attacking selection as such, Fodor is forcing adaptionists to recapitulate their arguments in a more limited way and to explicitly come to terms with the limitations on natural selection.

    Oh, please. If he wants to argue with “adaptionists,” then he can specify whom and which specific arguments he’s talking about and try to argue with them specifically. If he wants to argue the science, he should do so, being very specific. If he wants to argue about what he considers political extrapolations and abuses of science, he should do that (again, without perverting the science, and being specific). This business about “Darwinism” is absurd.

  54. #54 Knockgoats
    February 7, 2010

    While he might want to play out the idea of innate knowledge to its limits . . . he just doesn’t sound all that extreme.

    Read Doing Without What?s Within; Fiona Cowie?s Critique of Nativism (if you can – I found the prolix pomposity hard to take). It’s listed as “forthcoming”, so it presumably represents his current views. It contains the following:

    “But what of the concepts FRIEND and AUNT themselves? Are they primitive, or do they have parts? And if the latter, what parts do they have? It?s clear, in any case, that if AUNT has constituents, the corresponding English expression (viz. `Aunt?) doesn?t display them; (unlike, of course, the English expression that corresponds to A FRIEND OF MY AUNT, (viz ` a friend of my Aunt?) which, as it were, shows that FRIEND and AUNT are parts of the complex concept that it expresses.) All that being so, we can now take the quotes off `most?. The conclusion of the Impossibility Argument is supposed to be that the set of unlearned concepts is approximately coextensive with the set of concepts whose structures are not displayed by the corresponding English expressions. (It therefore likely includes FRIEND and AUNT, but not FRIEND OF MY AUNT.) This is all very approximate, to be sure, but it will do for the purposes of hand since I suppose that, if anything of even approximately this sort is true, then empiricism isn?t.”

    As far as I can tell (it’s not easy), this is Fodor’s position. So effectively all the English words that don’t have internal structure that reflects some kind of semantic complexity correspond to innate concepts. That’s not extreme?

    Whether that’ll serve his purposes or not, we’ll see. – Oran Kelley

    I think we already have. “Adaptionists” (i.e. anyone who knows anything about evolutionary biology – it would be different if you said “panadaptionists”, but then the problem is that these don’t exist) will rightly say:
    “This guy’s either an ignoramus, or he’s just trolling in order to sell his book. Nothing of interest here.”

  55. #55 Blake Stacey
    February 7, 2010

    Needless to say, this reading of Darwinism is fantastically bizarre. But it indicates why Fodor is so unfamiliar with the empirical literature: Fodor thinks Darwinism is impossible on Rationalist, first principles grounds (his book The Modularity of Mind didn’t have much empirical data either. Fodor sees his views as being true BY DEFINITION).

    From first principles, we can say that finding the optimal division of a network into modules is an NP-hard problem.

  56. #56 Blake Stacey
    February 7, 2010

    “This guy’s either an ignoramus, or he’s just trolling in order to sell his book. Nothing of interest here.”

    Trolling in order to sell a book full of trolling — at least it’d be honest advertising. (-:

  57. #57 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 7, 2010

    A philosopher talks about science. Yawn. Philosophy without evidence is sophistry. Which is why science worries about the evidence, and is more successful than philosophy these days.

  58. #58 raven
    February 7, 2010

    euphoria:

    Okay, people: Fodor’s work has been incredibly important in the empirical study of the human mind, even if he doesn’t go into labs and conduct studies.

    That isn’t science. It is sitting on your butt and stringing words together. Some scientists are theorists who don’t do many or any experiments. But their work isn’t considered confirmed or real until the experimentalists confirm or falsify it.

    He sees himself–like many philosophers–as working on something that’s continuous with the sciences, that goes hand in hand with the sciences.

    So what. People take LSD and think they can fly. People call themselves xians and think they speak for god. Irrelevant.

    Refusing to call him a scientist because he disagrees with you is silly; it might be bad science he’s doing here, but that doesn’t make him any less of a scientist than he was earlier.

    He was never a scientist. If you call a dog a 5 legged animal, how many legs does a dog have? Four, calling a dog a 5 legged animal doesn’t make it a 5 legged animal. This is a branch of “philosophy” FWIW, called “common sense”.

  59. #59 Knockgoats
    February 7, 2010

    Paul W.,

    I’m not defending Fodor’s hyper-nativism. I’m just arguing that both extremes are probably wrong, and that there’s a fair bit of evidence that the extreme holism and nonlocalism is largely wrong.

    Then we’re basically agreed.

    At least a lot of the time, when you have neural processes snaking out from one brain region semirandomly, and most of them dying off, it’s because only a minority hit their preprogrammed target—certain cell[s] in another brain region—in order to create the right interconnects between modules.

    I’m no sort of expert here, but from what I understand, largely from Ch.4 of David Buller’s Adapting Minds (the chapter’s co-authored by Valerie Gray Hardcastle), it’s much more a matter of competition between cells and connections:

    “Brain functions in infants are widely distributed across a variety of cortical areas, and as children mature some of these same functions become localized to particular structures. In this process, neurons compete with one another for the sort of information-processing structure they are going to be, and brain activity, guided by environmental inputs, determines which neurons win this competition, hence which processing roles they end up playing. The processing roles of neurons are not laid down in advance by a “developmental program” encoded in our genes.”

    Anatomical change due to learning surely is a strike against extreme nativism as well as extreme localism. My point in mentioning literacy was that this complex skill-structure simply cannot be an innate module; and secondarily, it relates to my point that the hardware of the mind is not limited to the brain, or even the body.

    My impression is that most of them [the 20+ regions] have been identified in multiple subjects, by one or more techniques.

    That’s interesting, but I’d like to know what the range of subjects was (specifically, were they mostly American college students?), and a lot more about how regions were matched up.

    I’m going to have to leave this here, but will try to come back later, or tomorrow, or…

  60. #60 AdamK
    February 7, 2010

    So effectively all the English words that don’t have internal structure that reflects some kind of semantic complexity correspond to innate concepts.

    To which I say, “Fudge!”

  61. #61 Knockgoats
    February 7, 2010

    I don’t share the general dismissal of philosophy: I just think Fodor is a very poor philosopher. His basic error is a variety of essentialism: he thinks that there are such things as stand-alone concepts, possessing “concepthood”, some subset of which are “primitive” (he takes RED – concepts need ALL CAPS – as an exemplar). But a concept is only a concept because it forms part of a structured set of concepts; and if you want, you can take a large number of different subsets of that set and define all the rest in terms of them – as is most obvious in mathematics. Moreover, there is no sharp line between entities that are concepts and entities that are not – just as with words. When an infant babbles – when does the babble become words? When Irene Pepperberg’s parrots speak, using scores of word-like sounds in structured combinations, are they using words? When Joyce uses his hundred-letter “thunderclaps” in Finnegan’s Wake are they words?

    Oy! Pfft! ;-) Baaa. Woof. Aaaarrrghhh! Boing! O_o.

  62. #62 'Tis Himself, OM
    February 7, 2010

    Euphoria5L #50

    Okay, people: Fodor’s work has been incredibly important in the empirical study of the human mind, even if he doesn’t go into labs and conduct studies. He sees himself–like many philosophers–as working on something that’s continuous with the sciences, that goes hand in hand with the sciences.

    What he’s doing isn’t science, not even theoretical science. He’s doing philosophy, aka mental masturbation.

    Refusing to call him a scientist because he disagrees with you is silly; it might be bad science he’s doing here, but that doesn’t make him any less of a scientist than he was earlier.

    I’ve been yelled at before because I hold philosophy in low regard but honestly, people, if supposedly first rate philosophicians like Fodor are writing logical fallacies and outright lies, then how can you expect me to regard philosophicization as anything but absolute bullshit?

    If Fodor is a scientist then I’m the Grand Duke of Bumfuckistan. Using bad logic is not how one does science. However, fortunately for Fodor, using logical fallacies is not disqualifying for being a philosopher.

  63. #63 SC OM
    February 7, 2010

    Oh, happy day! The Specific Manufacturers Association has awarded my post @ #53 their annual Product Placement Prize for 2010!

    ***

    I’ve been yelled at before because I hold philosophy in low regard but honestly, people, if supposedly first rate philosophicians like Fodor are writing logical fallacies and outright lies, then how can you expect me to regard philosophicization as anything but absolute bullshit?

    Thoughts on Dennett?

  64. #64 Sven DiMilo
    February 7, 2010

    from what I understand, largely from Ch.4 of David Buller’s Adapting Minds

    btw, Kg, I recently picked up a used copy, on your recommendation. Looks very interesting.

  65. #65 Oran Kelley
    February 7, 2010

    Really, you can stop there. What you appear to be thinking is that if someone is making a political argument that you agree with you can accept that they misrepresent the science, construct strawmen, and lump together people making very different arguments in very different contexts. If that’s what you’re saying, you’re wrong.

    And, really, you can put a sock in the sanctimonious drivel. All arguments are political arguments to one extent or another. Many arguments make free with holy, holy, holy truth to one extent or another. Often that freedom is quite useful and productive. The dismay at Fodor’s book coming out is largely political. If you aren’t grown up enough to realize this, I’m sorry for you.

    Whether or not what Fodor & co. actually do in the book is all so awful as you make out (and if it isn’t I expect to see you in sackcloth and ashes) or if it is more of an interesting & productive provocation remains to be seen.

    And Darwinism is a disputed territory. If you asked me, readings of Darwin tend to reflect what we want him to be at the moment. In other words, what you think is “Darwinism” is highly politically determined.

    Someone else noted that Fodor isn’t interested in anything written between Darwin and 1990, I think that’s correct in one respect: he’s mainly interested in what Darwin wrote and how recent findings tend to weaken his explanatory model. For the purposes of the article he’s not so interested in all the intervening hedges and codicils.

    And if, as I wrote above, adaptionists and evolutionary science in general have been unresponsive to more particular criticisms, then this sort of gambit is something they invited.

  66. #66 Sven DiMilo
    February 7, 2010

    If you will notice, it was Paul W. who introduced the term “grandmother cell” @32

    oops; had missed that; I’m sorry.
    Please mentally re-aim that comment at Paul W.

  67. #67 Sven DiMilo
    February 7, 2010

    “Taking a shit is a political act.”
    -Wavy Gravy

  68. #68 Paul W.
    February 7, 2010

    We know brain structures can differ dramatically (e.g. in high-functioning hydrocephalics) and still work perfectly well; it seems hard to see how or why such different anatomical structures could or would sustain/embody/serve an identical set of basic concepts.

    While I disagree with Fodor’s hyper-nativism, I find a modest version of this idea to make perfect sense, which is not to say what version is true.

    Before I address that… moderate hydrocephalics don’t need to have very differently organized brains than anybody else. Their brains are typically distended but not grossly transformed, IIRC.

    Basically, most of the brain is a crumpled ball, and if you partly fill that ball with CSF (cerebrospinal fluid), making it bigger and less crumpled, it still works fine. The brain regions still mostly end up where they otherwise would on the surface of the ball, just in less crumpled forms, and the interconnections still develop mostly the same way.

    There was a girl at the University of Chicago when I studied there for a while, who turned out to be a hydrocephalic; she and her family had just thought she had an unusually big head. (I’m sure I must have run across her on campus a number of times, but she wasn’t freaky-looking enough to be particularly memorable.)

    MRI scans showed that her brain was mostly just a half-inch thick layer of brain just inside her skull, with grossly enlarged ventricles full of CSF, i.e., mostly water.

    Other than that, she was apparently normal, cognitively and socially. (She was an honor student at top 10 university, even.)

    I think people like her have been studied with PET (and presumably now FMRI) scans, and have been found to have relatively normal brain region organization, at least grossly. Despite being inflated, their brains are much more normal, than say, those of people who grew up with only one cerebral hemisphere, who have stuff that’s normally on different sides of the brain all crammed together on one side. (And who are typically fairly normal anyway.)

    As for the basic nativism thing, it’s pretty clear that that there are a lot of specialized brain regions involved in visual and auditory perception, and tactile and motor stuff, which are evolved to take basically two-dimensional information (from arrays of rods and cones on the retina, arrays of nerve endings in the skin, audio pitch and intensity) and infer three-dimensional maps of the world from it, and map that back onto motor skills in the three-dimensional world. We’re also good at noticing patterns of change through time in all those domains, and conceiving of things like spatial relations and motion. Big chunks big our brains are just for that sort of thing, especially vision, and in each sensory modality there’s several stages of processing localized in more or less a pipeline of mostly bottom-up feature extraction and higher- and higher-level inference gadgets to keep track of the changing three-dimensional world that we consciously experience.

    So we seem to be hardwired to think in terms of 3D space plus time. (Which is not to say entirely prewired; some of these things don’t develop properly without the right environment stimuli, and internal “test pattern” pseudo-stimuli.)

    Given that much of that seems to be mostly genetically determined—even if its proper development hinges on interaction with an appropriately structured environment—it’s reasonable to guess that we have a corresponding set of standard, evolved spatial and motor schemas to represent those things at a high semantic level, so that we can easily think, plan, and act in terms of the high-level representations that those specialized, multilevel, mostly hierarchical subsystems generate and maintain for us.

    It seems reasonable to guess that it’s “standard equipment” to have certain representations of concepts or schemas of distance relations, spatial and temporal ordering (over, on, after, bigger, etc.) containment relations (inside, around, etc.) and related motion schemas (going past, going into, etc.).

    Those would be particularly useful standard equipment given that we clearly do have big specialized hunks of our brain designed to map things from 2D arrays of dots to something very close to those. They would provide a hook for evolving more-or-less instinctive behaviors like finding, pursuing, eating, fucking, and running away.

    (Oops… I meant those as different things, not really a sequence… but what the hell. I also realize that none of those things is exactly instinctive, e.g., you have to learn how to do each one, but it’s fairly easy given standard concepts like go to it, get on it, stop it from moving too much, put it into, and go away.)

    Without a representation of those things that’s in some sense standard, it’s hard to have standard instincts and higher-level schemas that hook into them and exploit them.

    Notice that that’s easiest if there’s a fairly standard concrete representation. Whatever gives you an instinctive higher-level concept or instinctive combination of behaviors needs to be able to latch onto the constituent/subsidiary concepts/schemas to connect them up. Developing merely equivalent or nearly-equivalent representations makes things harder—something has to find the right equivalences to match things up, and matching specific concrete things is easier.

    At some point, though, you have to stop. You can’t build everything in, and often it’s a disadvantage to do so. You need higher-level matching and reasoning to connect things up flexibly, and revise and elaborate concepts.

    It seems to me reasonable to think that we have hundreds of more or less built-in standard concepts, but not millions—and certainly not all the possible concepts we’ll ever acquire built into our brains somewhere.

  69. #69 Glen Davidson
    February 7, 2010

    And Darwinism is a disputed territory. If you asked me, readings of Darwin tend to reflect what we want him to be at the moment. In other words, what you think is “Darwinism” is highly politically determined.

    No one asked you, and you’re obviously incapable of backing up your BS.

    “Darwinism” is as politically determined as heliocentrism was in the 17th century. That is, it is determined by the data, and then has to be political because of noxious pricks like you. The idea that utilizing the same means for deciding biology as used for court cases and the rest of science is “politically determined” may be true in the broadest and most trivial sense, but has no meaning in the usual sense of “politically determined.”

    The tripe that you spew is the typical nonsense used to insulate yourself from trying to get beyond your own political agenda.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  70. #70 Hidari
    February 7, 2010

    ‘I’ve been yelled at before because I hold philosophy in low regard but honestly, people, if supposedly first rate philosophicians like Fodor…’

    Believe me (BELIEVE ME) Fodor is not a first rate philosopher. Comparing him to Kant or Wittgenstein or Hume is absurd and I hope that even Fodorians realise that.

  71. #71 Oran Kelley
    February 7, 2010

    As far as I can tell (it’s not easy), this is Fodor’s position. So effectively all the English words that don’t have internal structure that reflects some kind of semantic complexity correspond to innate concepts. That’s not extreme?

    I wonder about “for the purposes of [at?] hand.” Seems to me that he’s really only betting that something approximately of this sort is true.

  72. #72 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 7, 2010

    And, really, you can put a sock in the sanctimonious drivel. All arguments are political arguments to one extent or another.

    No, you need to put a sock in your drivel. You have an agenda, appearing to promote bad philosophy. We listen to the evidence, not mental masturbation.

    And Darwinism is a disputed territory.

    Darwinism is code word for I’m a creobot. Most scientists don’t use it except for a small part of evolutionary theory. Are you a creationist?

  73. #73 Sven DiMilo
    February 7, 2010

    That’s interesting, but I’d like to know what the range of subjects was (specifically, were they mostly American college students?), and a lot more about how regions were matched up.

    I certainly agree that much much more of this kind of information would be most welcome.

    But in some cases we already know that certain brain functions are localized quite precisely and (near-) identically in all human brains. The primary visual, somatosensory, and motor cortices, for example, are not only found in the same places in everybody’s brains, but are also mapped intricately and repeatably to specific regions of the body or visual fields. The visual cortex in particular is extremely complexly organized in three dimensions, in the same way, in everybody.

    As far as I know (which is admittedly not much), neural pathways in those regions are set up in the same overexpression-followed-by-pruning fashion as everywhere else. So it can be done.
    Just nobody knows how.

  74. #74 Paul W.
    February 7, 2010

    Sven,

    Kg, talking about a “grandmother-recognizing cell” is a stupid oversimplification even for rhetorical purposes.

    Since that comment has been retargeted at me… huh?

    Do my subsequent comments clarify what I mean?

    I’m not talking about literal grandmother cells, in the sense of a unique neuron that represents a particular thing, like your grandmother.

    That’s why I said “things resembling grandmother cells”, specifically in the context of tiny electrodes that chatter when people conceptualize a particular thing and a particular neuron goes nuts. In general I don’t think that indicates that the unique grandmother cell has been found, but it does suggest that a relatively small subset of neurons is often used to represent a particular concept, although they may also be involved in the representation of some other concepts. (Probably a relatively small number of concepts, for some value of “small” that might be 10, 100, or even 1000, but probably not a million, or all concepts.)

    I was only arguing against extreme nonlocalism, where each concept is distributed over many, many neurons, such that you generally wouldn’t notice any particular neuron responding wildly when any particular concept is activated.

    This is related to what Dennett (in his cutesy fashion) refers to as Zen Holism and West Pole connectionism.

    It doesn’t say anything much about any less extreme nonmodular/distributionist ideas.

  75. #75 Antiochus Epiphanes
    February 7, 2010

    And if, as I wrote above, adaptionists and evolutionary science in general have been unresponsive to more particular criticisms, then this sort of gambit is something they invited.

    Not sure who the “adaptionists” are. In that realm, as an evolutionary scientist, I don’t know any “Darwinists”, either, or any one who is practicing “Darwinism”.

    However, to address the point: if evolutionary biologists tried to deal seriously with every inane argument presented as a “challenge” to evolutionary theory, we wouldn’t get anything else done. That’s exacly what Frodo and Super Mario have presented in the article that gave rise to this discussion; an inane challenge. Their article demonstrates ignorance of the state of the science…it is, how shall I say…retarded?

    Evolutionary/Developmental research programs have been enormously important in establishing a link between morphology and genetics. However, epigenetic inheritence, pleiotropy, etc. are already built into the model of how selection effects change in populations. EvoDevo is not a challenge to this. Those employing evodevo research programs know this.

    The article is just stupid.

  76. #76 Tulse
    February 7, 2010

    And Darwinism is a disputed territory. If you asked me, readings of Darwin tend to reflect what we want him to be at the moment. In other words, what you think is “Darwinism” is highly politically determined.

    And if Fodor were doing an historical exegesis of Darwin’s writings your point would be relevant. But he instead is addressing current evolutionary theory, not “Darwinism”. And with regard to the former, Fodor is either profoundly ignorant or profoundly disingenuous.

  77. #77 Oran Kelley
    February 7, 2010

    said “panadaptionists”, but then the problem is that these don’t exist

    Of course not! Just like there are never any racists when I ask people if they’re racists. And therefore there is no racism in America.

    Knowing that one must acknowledge Kimura doesn’t mean one doesn’t have an adaption problem.

  78. #78 'Tis Himself, OM
    February 7, 2010

    Thoughts on Dennett?

    I’m impressed by Dennett. He writes clearly and I’ve never noticed him using logical fallacies. I like his arguments for compatibility of free will and determinism.* I don’t know enough about evolutionary psychology to comment about Dennett’s preference for it. I did like Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, particularly “sky hooks and cranes.” In short, Dennett is a philosopher I admire. Plus he’s an avid sailor, which is a definite plus for me.

    *No, I’m not a compatabilist because the opposition are libertarians. I know the difference between philosophical libertarianism and socio-economic libertarianism.

  79. #79 SC OM
    February 7, 2010

    And, really, you can put a sock in the sanctimonious drivel. All arguments are political arguments to one extent or another. Many arguments make free with holy, holy, holy truth to one extent or another. Often that freedom is quite useful and productive. The dismay at Fodor’s book coming out is largely political. If you aren’t grown up enough to realize this, I’m sorry for you.

    This has fuck-all to do with “holy, holy, holy truth” and everything to do with correctly representing the state of the science and what people are saying. My “dismay” at the article is that it, as I said (and Carlie described), misrepresents the science, constructs strawmen, and lumps together people making very different arguments in very different contexts. You are clearly arguing that any argument that is “political” can play fast and loose with the evidence and the representation of “opposing” viewpoints. Unethical bullshit.

    And Darwinism is a disputed territory. If you asked me, readings of Darwin tend to reflect what we want him to be at the moment. In other words, what you think is “Darwinism” is highly politically determined.

    Someone else noted that Fodor isn’t interested in anything written between Darwin and 1990, I think that’s correct in one respect: he’s mainly interested in what Darwin wrote and how recent findings tend to weaken his explanatory model.

    For the purposes of the article he’s not so interested in all the intervening hedges and codicils.

    You don’t see how idiotic that is? By “hedges and codicils” do you mean a century and a half of scientific findings and developed theory?

    And if, as I wrote above, adaptionists and evolutionary science in general have been unresponsive to more particular criticisms, then this sort of gambit is something they invited.

    Meaningless blather. Be. Specific. About whom, and which arguments, are you speaking?

  80. #80 raven
    February 7, 2010

    oran kelly lying:

    And Darwinism is a disputed territory. If you asked me, readings of Darwin tend to reflect what we want him to be at the moment. In other words, what you think is “Darwinism” is highly politically determined.

    This is a pure, creationist lie by someone completely ignorant. 150 years after Darwin, acceptance of evolution among relevant scientists is 99%. The few who don’t are religious fanatics who freely admit their motivation is a cult version of Xianity or Islam.

    No one reads Darwin except for historical reasons. I’ve never read any of his works in their entirely. The theory of evolution has long ago expanded and incorporated other fields such as genetics, molbio, and now developmental biology.

    kelly lying some more:

    Someone else noted that Fodor isn’t interested in anything written between Darwin and 1990, I think that’s correct in one respect: he’s mainly interested in what Darwin wrote and how recent findings tend to weaken his explanatory model. For the purposes of the article he’s not so interested in all the intervening hedges and codicils.

    Darwin published his book 150 years ago. In the ensueing 150 years it has mostly been proven right and greatly expanded. Some of his details were wrong and that has been pointed out too. Why don’t you explain which recent findings weaken evolution? There aren’t any that we scientists are aware of.

    Kelly the creationist liar:

    And if, as I wrote above, adaptionists and evolutionary science in general have been unresponsive to more particular criticisms, then this sort of gambit is something they invited.

    Evolution has been the unmercifully attacked for 150 years. It is attacked daily by religious fanatics. Scientists routinely answer those attacks. The creationists ignore them and just repeat the same old boring lies. Some of their lies are older than the theory of evolution itself.

    Fodor’s problem isn’t that evolution isn’t explanatory. His problem is that it has been wildly successful and is starting to infringe on what he considers his territory. He has the same problem as fundie xians such as yourself. And the same solution. Lie a lot.

  81. #81 Kel, OM
    February 7, 2010

    Fodor isn’t a biologist. He is a philosopher. I don’t see that this makes him qualified to do anything but lie about biology and evolution.

    Time for XKCD
    http://www.xkcd.com/675/

  82. #82 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 7, 2010

    Oran Kelley, instead of philosophy, try real science in the peer reviewed scientific literature. We listen to real science, not philosophical drivel.

  83. #83 Foggg
    February 7, 2010

    But as my conclusions have lately been much misrepresented, and it has been stated that I attribute the modification of species exclusively to natural selection, I may be permitted to remark that in the first edition of this work, and subsequently, I placed in a most conspicuous position — namely, at the close of the Introduction — the following words: “I am convinced that natural selection has been the main but not the exclusive means of modification.” This has been of no avail. Great is the power of steady misrepresentation; but the history of science shows that fortunately this power does not long endure.

    – Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, 6th edition, chp. XV: Conclusion

  84. #84 Oran Kelley
    February 7, 2010

    The article is just stupid.

    What do you think it says? Because, very clearly, it isn’t attacking every aspect of current evolutionary biology, as you seem to think it does. It is attacking the central assumption that natural selection accounts for most of what we see before us in nature.

    Gould is probably the best place to see the adaptionist label kicked around. His NYRB articles which drew a lot of attention are available online.

  85. #85 Kel, OM
    February 7, 2010

    And Darwinism is a disputed territory. If you asked me, readings of Darwin tend to reflect what we want him to be at the moment.

    Darwin as how his ideas are taken socio-politically is different to how the idea works in nature. You can’t derive an ought from an is, so attacking the is is just stupid.

  86. #86 Oran Kelley
    February 7, 2010

    Raven:

    You haven’t the least idea who you are talking to or what you are talking about so STFU.

  87. #87 chuckgoecke
    February 7, 2010

    The age old fight of lumpers vs splitters, this time with evolution mechanisms.

  88. #88 Oran Kelley
    February 7, 2010

    “I am convinced that natural selection has been the main but not the exclusive means of modification.”

    Fodor, I think, thinks he has cause to dispute the word “main.”

  89. #89 Ichthyic
    February 7, 2010

    As for his question: “Why don’t pigs have wings”, the answer seems pretty obvious.

    Indeed, it is quite rare that the proper selective pressure has been applied rigorously enough to favor wing formation in pigs.

    That is, there haven’t been enough pigs stuffed up anal orifices to generate sufficient selective pressure.

    @Oran:

    The dismay at Fodor’s book coming out is largely political.

    I can’t disagree with this, and here’s why:

    Biological scientists pay no attention to Fodor, so his work is not a point of contention there. I’ve never EVER met any evolutionary biologist who had the slightest concern for what Fodor has to say. Which, of course, is not surprising given that we all agree he isn’t a scientist.

    The concern many of us have is Fodor’s poor wording and construction feeding the fake “controversy” creationists use, which indeed is a political concern… though it does have ramifications for education long term.

    So, yeah, the concern is largely political, but that doesn’t, nor should it, hinder those of us who know better to make factual corrections of his distortions.

  90. #90 'Tis Himself, OM
    February 7, 2010

    Fodor doesn’t like evolutionary psychology. That’s fine, a lot of people have doubts and questions on the subject. But Fodor should find another way to argue against evolutionary psychology than attacking one of the strongest parts of modern biology.

    Hidari #70

    Believe me (BELIEVE ME) Fodor is not a first rate philosopher. Comparing him to Kant or Wittgenstein or Hume is absurd and I hope that even Fodorians realise that.

    I believe you that Fodor is not a first class philosopher. I read his article in the London Review of Books. I don’t think he’s even a second rate philosopher.

  91. #91 Paul W.
    February 7, 2010

    ‘Tis:

    I’ve been yelled at before because I hold philosophy in low regard but honestly, people, if supposedly first rate philosophicians like Fodor are writing logical fallacies and outright lies, then how can you expect me to regard philosophicization as anything but absolute bullshit?

    You need to realize—and this is a common lament among philosophers—that smart philosophers don’t usually get famous for being smart. There are lots of smart philosophers, and you’ll never hear of them outside philosophy.

    Some philosophers get famous for being brilliant. More get famous for being wrong, and even stupidly wrong.

    (Think Alvin Plantinga. All the philosophers I know are better philosophers, and would agree that each other are better than Plantinga, but Plantinga is very famous because he tells a lot of people what they want to hear—e.g., that there is a God, or that it’s not irrational to think so, or to accept Christian orthodoxy. Which, of course, most philosophers are plenty smart enough to know is crap. Sigh.)

    Some philosophers get famous for holding minority views. If you want to argue against relativism, for example, it helps to have a whipping boy. So there’s Richard Rorty. (Who is appreciated in postmodernist varieties of English more than in philosophy, where almost nobody is that kind of relativist.)

    Fodor is a smart guy, actually, but he’s a provocative contrarian and he’s just loopy sometimes. He’s extraordinarily variable. I know people who know him, and I’ve talked to him a few times, and he really is a smart guy about most things. And then he latches onto some idea that makes everybody shake their heads and say what the fuck, Jerry?

    Unfortunately, even very good philosophers are often best known for their biggest mistakes, rather than the body of mostly sensible, and even brilliantly sane stuff they believe.

    IMHO, Fodor’s worst trait is his snobbery, especially about wooden sailboats over fiberglass powerboats. :-)

  92. #92 Ichthyic
    February 7, 2010

    It is attacking the central assumption that natural selection accounts for most of what we see before us in nature.

    from a bass-ackward, irrelevant, often wrong, perspective.

    Now if he was comparing studies of the importance of drift vs selection within given populations, say…

    that might hold some weight.

    his arguments are based on raw misinterpretations, though, and so don’t hold water with anyone who knows better.

  93. #93 raven
    February 7, 2010

    Oran Kelley having a hissy fit:

    Raven:

    You haven’t the least idea who you are talking to or what you are talking about so STFU.

    OOOHHHH!!!! A xian dealth cult creationist. They all look the same on the internet.

    And a rather weak, dumb, and sickly one. Real fundies tell us we are all going to hell. The Godzilla types threaten to kill us so we can get there quicker. You need to read your creationist fundie instruction manual. If you have trouble with the big words, find a third grader to help you.

    Why don’t you explain what those recent findings are…. “Darwin wrote and how recent findings tend to weaken his explanatory model.” Feel free to copy and paste from AIG and the DI. You will anyway.

  94. #94 Paul W.
    February 7, 2010

    Foggg:

    I placed in a most conspicuous position — namely, at the close of the Introduction — the following words: “I am convinced that natural selection has been the main but not the exclusive means of modification.” This has been of no avail. Great is the power of steady misrepresentation; but the history of science shows that fortunately this power does not long endure.

    – Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, 6th edition, chp. XV: Conclusion

    Well, now we know.

    DARWIN WAS WRONG!!!

  95. #95 FrankT
    February 7, 2010

    So if you have a mixed colony of bacteria, where some are resistant to antibiotics and some are not, and you flood the environment with those antibiotics, then the ones that aren’t resistant will die. And then all the next generation, and the generation after that, and every generation after that until the end of time, will be descended from the ones that were resistant to those antibiotics and not the ones that were not.

    And any other genetic capacities that were in the non-resistant bacteria will be lost, no matter how “beneficial” they were, and any other genetic capacities of the resistant bacteria will go into the future generations, no matter how “detrimental” they still are. Because during a selection event the only thing that matters is whether you are tall enough to ride the ride or not. And if the selection event is “environment flooded with poison” then you are tall enough if you can survive to have offspring after being exposed to that poison and you are not if you can’t.

    That’s natural selection. It’s a fact. It’s predictable, it’s observable, and it’s repeatable. It gets repeated every day. And anyone who says the idea of natural selection is in any kind of trouble is at best confused.

  96. #96 Oran Kelley
    February 7, 2010

    Biological scientists pay no attention to Fodor, so his work is not a point of contention there. I’ve never EVER met any evolutionary biologist who had the slightest concern for what Fodor has to say. Which, of course, is not surprising given that we all agree he isn’t a scientist.

    Most biological scientists I’ve bet, and I’ve met a fair number, just aren’t particularly concerned with theory at all. What most of them seemed to be primarily interested in was getting grants. Wondering what most working scientists in the field think about something like this is kinda like wondering what most auto mechanics think of Newton.

  97. #97 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 7, 2010

    You haven’t the least idea who you are talking to or what you are talking about so STFU.

    Sorry Oran Kelley, you are a nobody until you show with positive evidence otherwise. And you are failing to do so. So you STFU. Be a good little creobot troll and run along, so you betters can have an intelligent conversation.

  98. #98 SC OM
    February 7, 2010

    from a bass-ackward, irrelevant, often wrong, perspective.

    Don’t be such a pollyanna, Ichthyic. It’s a political argument. Anything goes. I mean, “they” invited dishonesty and misrepresentation. So it’s all cool.

  99. #99 raven
    February 7, 2010

    I’ve never EVER met any evolutionary biologist who had the slightest concern for what Fodor has to say.

    I’ve never even heard of him until this post. Probably the vast majority of scientists haven’t. He is a philosopher for Cthulhu’s sake.

    That may be why he wrote what he did. Disturbed child-seeking-attention syndrome. “Hey mommy look at me, I just tossed my trike and the dog into the swimming pool.”

    Much of philosophy is irrelevant today. The ancient Greeks skimmed off a lot of the cream. Some of it is worthwhile though. Barbara Forrest, Robert Pennock, Satre, and probably more that I never paid attention to. Fodor isn’t one of them.

  100. #100 Ichthyic
    February 7, 2010

    Most biological scientists I’ve bet, and I’ve met a fair number, just aren’t particularly concerned with theory at all. What most of them seemed to be primarily interested in was getting grants.

    ..often to explore various aspects of theory.

    you’re full of shit, really.

    your credibility is waning rapidly.

  101. #101 Antiochus Epiphanes
    February 7, 2010

    Oran: Frodo and Super Mario are conflating the source of variation with the mechanism by which a variant becomes prominent or fixed in a population. Changes in gene interactions/expression patterns/pleiotropic genes induce breathtaking variation in traits or suites of traits, upon which drift or selection may act to change population phenotype means. In other words, the rejection of the one gene/one trait model (a paradigm that hasn’t really existed in a bazillion years), doesn’t imply ANYTHING* about the mechanisms by which changes become fixed or lost when they have been introduced.

    This much is text-book evolutionary biology.

    *OK…it implies something about trait heritability, but this is NOT what the article is dealing with.

  102. #102 Knockgoats
    February 7, 2010

    It is attacking the central assumption that natural selection accounts for most of what we see before us in nature. – Oran Kelley

    Crap. It [the NP-S article] says, quite plainly, that natural selection does nothing, does not exist, should be eliminated from biology. He’s either a complete idiot who does not understand what is meant by natural selection, or a contrarian liar puffing his book. Which?

    raven,
    Kelley’s not a creationist as far as I can see.If you google his name, the top item links to his blog, Oran Kelley’s Adverse City, and has below that title, the words:
    “Local writer blogs his contrarian views and arguments in the face of unexamined assumptions about the world.”
    These words, that he presumably chose himself, tell you all you need to know, really.

  103. #103 SC OM
    February 7, 2010

    What most of them seemed to be primarily interested in was getting grants.

    Which of course have nothing to do with research or theory development.

    Wondering what most working scientists in the field think about something like this

    No one has to wonder. We have a literature (or a set of literatures).

    So, are you going to answer my question: About whom, and which arguments, are you speaking?

    When you speak of “adaptionists and evolutionary theory in general,” to whom are you referring specifically? Names and works, please.

  104. #104 Kel, OM
    February 7, 2010

    Some philosophers get famous for being brilliant. More get famous for being wrong, and even stupidly wrong.

    At the start of David Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, he made a good distinction between populist philosophers who have little to say and serious philosophers who say something profound.

    As much as some philosophers piss me off with their inanity and pomposity, there’s been too many important people through history that have contributed something important through the discipline. Besides, A.C. Grayling is about 200 shades of awesome.

  105. #105 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 7, 2010

    in the face of unexamined assumptions about the world.”

    Ah, examining all assumptions about the evidence and the conclusions therefrom certainly sounds like science. And Nobel prizes are awarded to those go beyond the normal ideas. I don’t where Mr. Kelley the jackass should have any trouble with science.

  106. #106 Kel, OM
    February 7, 2010

    Besides, do we decry science because folks like Michael Behe are popular?

  107. #107 raven
    February 7, 2010

    Oran Kelly lying some more:

    Most biological scientists I’ve bet, and I’ve met a fair number, just aren’t particularly concerned with theory at all.

    Total lie from a creationist. Many of the commenters on this thread, myself included are biologists or in life sciences of one sort or another. We have dealt with hundreds and thousands of “biologists”. We see them every day and have for decades.

    We couldn’t do our work without paying attention to theories. Theories are explanations that tie vast number of related facts together. In point of fact, evolution is the underlying major theory of all the life sciences.

    I doubt if you have ever actually met a working scientist in the life sciences.

  108. #108 David Marjanovi?
    February 7, 2010

    Fodor hates this idea for a number of reasons too boring to go into here (briefly, he has persuaded himself that environmentalism leads to relativism).

    He seriously makes an argument from consequences???

    It bugs me that they repeatedly use “Darwinism” as a synonym for evolution. It’s like saying a light bulb works by “Edisonism.” It seems to be a popular strategy of the right-wing to substitute people’s names for concepts they reject.

    Et hop ! into my quote folder.

    Surely the physics of flight mean that if pigs had wings then they would look like bats not pigs?

    Absolutely.

    you go, girlfriend!

    Is this yet another Burgeoning Internet Romance®? :-)

    So effectively all the English words that don’t have internal structure that reflects some kind of semantic complexity correspond to innate concepts. That’s not extreme?

    Not only is it extreme, it’s laughably wrong. Fodor should learn a couple more languages!

    Even within English, the meaning of “friend” differs; to some Americans, it means “anyone I know who’s not my enemy”, for instance.

    Then, “aunt” can be explained as “sibling of a parent, or spouse of a sibling of a parent”.

    There are languages out there that lack a single word for “aunt” and instead have words for concepts like “father’s elder sister”…

    Ordinary Mandarin doesn’t even have single words for “brother” or “sister”. It forces you to specify if they’re older or younger than you ? four words instead of two.

  109. #109 'Tis Himself, OM
    February 7, 2010

    Paul W,

    IMHO, Fodor’s worst trait is his snobbery, especially about wooden sailboats over fiberglass powerboats. :-)

    Um, perhaps I’m going to have to rethink my position on Fodor. The man obviously has his boating priorities straight.8^P

  110. #110 Oran Kelley
    February 7, 2010

    Most biological scientists I’ve bet, and I’ve met a fair number, just aren’t particularly concerned with theory at all. What most of them seemed to be primarily interested in was getting grants.
    ..often to explore various aspects of theory.
    you’re full of shit, really.
    your credibility is waning rapidly.

    Of all biological papers published, how many of them actually have any impact on cutting edge evolutionary theory?

    Most biologists are not great intellects, they are only concerned with theory to a very limited extent, and their work typically deals with details –questions about how particular biochemical or genetic or whateverical processes work. Very few of them ever publish theoretical papers and for the most part they follow the lead of the consensus where evolutionary theory does impact their work directly.

    So where is this picture wrong?

  111. #111 Kel, OM
    February 7, 2010

    Of all biological papers published, how many of them actually have any impact on cutting edge evolutionary theory?

    How many of them contradict it?

  112. #112 Ichthyic
    February 7, 2010

    Of all biological papers published, how many of them actually have any impact on cutting edge evolutionary theory?

    depends on the journal, percentagewise, but overall I’d say about 5%.

    that doesn’t mean that over 80% of them aren’t addressing a question or implication of the ToE in one form or another.

    experiments on the relative importance of selection in given populations flood the literature regarding evolution, every year.

    You would know this if you actually knew anything about the subject.

    Most biologists are not great intellects,

    projecting a bit?

    they are only concerned with theory to a very limited extent

    *yawn* You really don’t know many evolutionary biologists. You’re lying if you say you do.

    because that is the relevant subset of biologists that is of import here you fracking moron.

  113. #113 SC OM
    February 7, 2010

    So where is this picture wrong?

    Where you fundamentally misunderstand the relationship between theory and research in science, for starters.

  114. #114 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 7, 2010

    Of all biological papers published, how many of them actually have any impact on cutting edge evolutionary theory?

    Not how science works. Show more of your ignorance please.

    Philosophers will never be cutting edge scientists. They fail to understand the need for evidence, and for their sophistry to match the scientific literature. The philosophers just commit mental masturbation, without checking the evidence. So science ignores them, as they aren’t useful, and that type of philosophical papers are best used to wipe after a number two.

  115. #115 Oran Kelley
    February 7, 2010

    experiments on the relative importance of selection in given populations flood the literature regarding evolution, every year

    I do know this, and I also know that many of the people doing these studies have little or no qualification as theoreticians and will tell you so.

    because that is the relevant subset of biologists that is of import here you fracking moron.

    The claim I was disputing was made about “biological scientists,” no qualifications.

  116. #116 Scott Hatfield, OM
    February 7, 2010

    The money sentence in Fodor’s piece is this:

    It’s a main claim of our book that, when phenotypic traits are endogenously linked, there is no way that selection can distinguish among them: selection for one selects the others, regardless of their effects on fitness.

    There are at least three things wrong with this.

    In the first place, natural selection does not directly select phenotypes, but the genotypes which may or may not have a certain phenotypic expression.

    Secondly, the presence of one gene for one phenotypic trait can affect the expression of another gene for another phenotypic trait. So, strictly speaking, the fact that one genotype is being selected for does not mean that another genotype is being selected for; it is simply physically coupled to another gene which is under selection.

    Finally, unless that genotype is expressed, it can not be said to be selected for or against; indeed, in the absence of expression, over sufficient time it would likely acquire mutations that altered, reduced or eliminated its latent function. So the one genotype could be selected for, and the other (unexpressed) genotype which is ‘piggybacking’ on the expressed genotype is actually being selected against.

    So much for the conceptual muddles in that argument. The more general question is whether any of these subtleties are inconsistent with the action of natural selection. The answer, of course, is NO. All Fodor is doing is exploring the space of possible new sources of variation. Such variation is necessary, duh. But variation in and of itself doesn’t generate diversity. It’s the interaction between the genome and the environment that does that. It is mind-numbing to consider that someone could be considered an influential philosopher and yet make a conceptual blunder of this magnitude. I’m just a high school science teacher, but even I can see that Fodor’s line of reasoning is prejudicial and ill-informed.

  117. #117 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 7, 2010

    Still no evidence, like citations from the peer reviewed literature from OK the troll. Must be an evidenceless troll, with inane opinions and sophistry ad nauseum. OK, science relies on evidence. If you have nothing but attitude, time to find another playground.

  118. #118 Ichthyic
    February 7, 2010

    I do know this, and I also know that many of the people doing these studies have little or no qualification as theoreticians and will tell you so.

    I think you are confusing the words “philosophy” and “theory”.

  119. #119 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 7, 2010

    I think you are confusing the words “philosophy” and “theory”.

    Philosophy = mental masturbation

    Theory = Scientific theory, an idea that ties together a large body of scientific evidence. Usually developed by looking at the evidence.

  120. #120 Ichthyic
    February 7, 2010

    …further clarification on the philosophy of science vs the practice of science:

    Both the scientists who do evolutionary biology (and biologists in general), do of course have a good to excellent working knowledge of the ToE. Obviously, the ones who will primary be working on testing the theory itself are ones involved in the relevant fields. Cell biologists will likely not be testing claims of selection in the field, duh. Just like most physicists will not be testing theories regarding quarks.

    thus..

    The claim I was disputing was made about “biological scientists,” no qualifications.

    your claims are irrelevant.

    bye bye.

  121. #121 Paul W.
    February 7, 2010

    This hating on philosophy is getting really tiresome.

  122. #122 Ichthyic
    February 7, 2010

    This hating on philosophy is getting really tiresome.

    You should become a biologist, Paul!

    You have an excellent mindset for science.

    one of us… one of us…

    for the record, I personally only dump hate on poor philosophy, like Fodor’s.

    The rest I find interesting enough, if not grossly applicable to much of what I do.

    I’m sure any philosopher would say much the same about fish behavioral ecology.

  123. #123 a_ray_in_dilbert_space
    February 7, 2010

    Fodor’s arguments are crap of the purest ray serene. Jeeebus, I hate postmodernists. I hate this fucking cafeteria mentality people take toward science these days.

    “Oh,” they say, “I like biology, but I don’t like what ideas related to natural selection are doing to psychology. I think I’ll just double up on endogenous factors and reject the natural selection.

    -or-
    “Oh, Gee, I like biology, but if anthropogenic climate change is true, I’ll have to give up my Hummer. I think I’ll reject global warming as a hoax.”

    Dogdammit, science is fucking science. If you don’t like the implications of a discovery, then either play the fucking game and discover something that explains the evidence better or grow a pair (of balls or ovaries, as your tendency will be) and deal with it.

    The idea that one would attack evolution in biology just because one didn’t like how someone tried to apply a similar idea in philosophy is just about the dumbest thing I’ve heard…oh… well since Ben Stein said science leads to genocide!

    Dr. Fodor: Here is a fucking clue. There is a real fucking world out there. Evolution either occurs in this real fucking world or it doesn’t. The evidence says it does and that it’s important. Deal with that and learn instead to debate you opponent’s ideas on their own merits.

  124. #124 Antiochus Epiphanes
    February 7, 2010

    @ Nerd

    Philosophy = mental masturbation

    Something wrong with masturbation?

    Philosophy is like anything else. Some is useful, thought-provoking, and revolutionary (Hume, Popper, Kuhn). Some isn’t. Science as a metaphysical program requires a solid philosophical foundation…and it has this thanks to the works of philosophers.

  125. #125 Oran Kelley
    February 7, 2010

    The claim I was disputing was made about “biological scientists,” no qualifications.
    your claims are irrelevant.

    Of course not, all that matters is you.

    You hopped into the middle of an argument that you didn’t even know the terms of. Clearly, nothing matters but you, and all the wonderful things you have to say.

    Gould once said most scientists are “parochial and philistine?they don’t know what’s going on outside their little world; they don’t read . . .”

    Perhaps he had you in mind. I doubt it, though.

  126. #126 raven
    February 7, 2010

    oran kelly the idiot creationist troll:

    Of all biological papers published, how many of them actually have any impact on cutting edge evolutionary theory?

    Virtually all of them to one extent or another.

    You don’t understand science despite your lies. Just once more exposing your ignorance.

    from NofR above Theory = Scientific theory, an idea that ties together a large body of scientific evidence. Usually developed by looking at the evidence.

    Many papers present evidence that is consistent with or predicted by the theory of evolution. A scientific theory isn’t regarded as correct without mountains of evidence, data, facts. Someone has to gather those facts. People with education, intelligence, and money to spend. You have no idea what data, evidence, and facts are, why they are important, and how they are accumulated.

    Many other people simply use the theory of evolution in their research implicitly or explicitly. A good theory that is correct is useful. Evolution was widely accepted in science a century ago. At this point, it is a tool that we use to make sense of everything in the life sciences.

    No point in reinventing the wheel. Very little has been done to prove or disprove The Germ Theory of Disease lately. Why bother, just about everyone knows that germs can and do cause diseases. Of course, just like evolulution, there are a few Germ Theory of Disease denier crackpots out there. They occasionally die of infectious diseases caused by “germs”.

  127. #127 SC OM
    February 7, 2010

    Shorter Oran Kelley @ #125:

    *sputter* *choke*

  128. #128 raven
    February 7, 2010

    fodor the killer:

    It’s a main claim of our book that, when phenotypic traits are endogenously linked, there is no way that selection can distinguish among them: selection for one selects the others, regardless of their effects on fitness.

    What the hell does this mean? It sounds true. But how often are phenotypic traits endogenously linked?

    Just about never. Damn it, I see another strawperson being murdered by a serial killer. Won’t someone please think of the poor straw people.

  129. #129 a_ray_in_dilbert_space
    February 7, 2010

    N of R says to Oran Kelly:

    Philosophy = mental masturbation
    Theory = Scientific theory, an idea that ties together a large body of scientific evidence. Usually developed by looking at the evidence.
    < \blockquote>

    Gee, maybe we should call him “Onan” Kelly?

  130. #130 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 7, 2010

    Something wrong with masturbation?

    No, considering 95% of people do it, and the other 5% lie about it.

    I have no problem with philosophers who stick to stuff that science can’t answer, or stay away from factual fallacies. I have a problem with philosophers pretending to be scientists. Or called scientists by idjits who should know better.

  131. #131 Oran Kelley
    February 7, 2010

    Oran: Frodo and Super Mario are conflating the source of variation with the mechanism by which a variant becomes prominent or fixed in a population. Changes in gene interactions/expression patterns/pleiotropic genes induce breathtaking variation in traits or suites of traits, upon which drift or selection may act to change population phenotype means. In other words, the rejection of the one gene/one trait model (a paradigm that hasn’t really existed in a bazillion years), doesn’t imply ANYTHING* about the mechanisms by which changes become fixed or lost when they have been introduced.
    This much is text-book evolutionary biology.

    Mmmm. Something tells me it isn’t this simple . . . but on the other hand you might well be right about the conflation point . . . I’m going to go re-read the piece again with this in mind. I’m sure you’ll anxiously await my findings ;-)

  132. #132 Ichthyic
    February 7, 2010

    You hopped into the middle of an argument that you didn’t even know the terms of.

    uh, that would be YOU nimrod.

    the rest of us clearly understood what the terms of Fodor’s arguments were, which were all that mattered.

    Gould once said most scientists are “parochial and philistine?they don’t know what’s going on outside their little world; they don’t read . . .”

    Gould also co-proposed the idea of Punc Eq, and the idea of NOMA, both of which are as relevant as your statement above is.

  133. #133 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 7, 2010

    Where in the world is PZ Myers?

  134. #134 Ichthyic
    February 7, 2010

    Where in the world is PZ Myers?

    he’s leaving…

    on a jet plane…

    don’t know when he’ll be back again.

  135. #135 Ichthyic
    February 7, 2010

    I’m sure you’ll anxiously await my findings

    couldn’t be any worse than how you started.

    and I’ll be happy to be less harsh if you say something more sensible.

  136. #136 Oran Kelley
    February 7, 2010

    You hopped into the middle of an argument that you didn’t even know the terms of.

    Sorry: that’s wrong, *you* were the person who said “biological scientists” with no qualification. You knew the terms of the argument, you just tried to change them in the middle. Sorry for the misrepresentation.

  137. #137 Ichthyic
    February 7, 2010

    are you planning on presenting something cogent after re-reading the article?

    Frankly, I’m always a bit jumpy on wankers, but am happy to curb my tongue if you are at least able to understand what the actual objections to Fodor are.

    You knew the terms of the argument, you just tried to change them in the middle.

    only after you introduced primary research, and wanted me to give out percentages of papers relevant to testing aspects of theory, which of course relates to who would be doing such things.

    if you plan to continue in this vein, surely you realize the fact you don’t know what you’re talking about will continue to make you look ever more like an ass?

    suggest you get on with re-reading the article, and see if it makes more sense to you.

    I have my doubts.

  138. #138 Antiochus Epiphanes
    February 7, 2010

    @Raven #128: Traits are often linked because the gene systems that link them are physically attached on the same chromosome. As a matter of fact, the more important co-expression is in producing an adpative trait, the higher the probability that the genes are in close proximity on the same chromosome.

    I don’t actually find this part of the article all that piss-poor (contra #116)…selection doesn’t act on genotypes, but on phenotypes. This is why dominance relationships among alleles at the same locus are a determinant on the efficacy of selection. Rare but lethal recessive alleles can hide in heterozygotes where they are invisible to selection.

  139. #139 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 7, 2010

    Still no peer reviewed evidence from OK. What a wanker.

  140. #140 Ichthyic
    February 7, 2010

    Traits are often linked because the gene systems that link them are physically attached on the same chromosome. As a matter of fact, the more important co-expression is in producing an adpative trait, the higher the probability that the genes are in close proximity on the same chromosome.

    yes, but:

    -are you sure this is all Fodor implied by the use of “endogenous”. Why not use “genetically linked” if that’s what he meant.

    -why even argue it? does he not understand that selection can act independently on each trait, regardless of whether they are linked or not?

  141. #141 AdamK
    February 7, 2010

    …that type of philosophical papers are best used to wipe after a number two.

    Couldn’t disagree more strongly. They lack absorbancy, and instead of cleaning it up, just smear it around.

  142. #142 David Marjanovi?
    February 7, 2010

    Where in the world is PZ Myers?

    AFK.

  143. #143 WowbaggerOM
    February 7, 2010

    Of all biological papers published, how many of them actually have any impact on cutting edge evolutionary theory?

    Even I – a non-scientist – can see the problem with that. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t every experiment/all research is conducted in the hope of finding something that has an impact on the theory?

    That most of them don’t doesn’t mean they shouldn’t publish what they did find, even if it’s to say, ‘yep, this applies to [insert specifics here] as well’.

    It’s kind of like panning for gold, only with the bonus of what you find that isn’t gold still being worthwhile in terms of increasing knowledge.

  144. #144 Oran Kelley
    February 7, 2010

    I’m sure you’ll anxiously await my findings
    couldn’t be any worse than how you started.
    and I’ll be happy to be less harsh if you say something more sensible.

    Winning *your* affection and esteem means most to me, be assured.

  145. #145 Ichthyic
    February 7, 2010

    Winning *your* affection and esteem means most to me, be assured.

    whee!

    I AM loved.
    ;)

  146. #146 'Tis Himself, OM
    February 7, 2010

    This hating on philosophy is getting really tiresome.

    Maybe if we were discussing philosophers instead of sophists the hating would go down.

  147. #147 raven
    February 7, 2010

    AE:

    @Raven #128: Traits are often linked because the gene systems that link them are physically attached on the same chromosome. As a matter of fact, the more important co-expression is in producing an adpative trait, the higher the probability that the genes are in close proximity on the same chromosome.

    Well, yeah sure. Humans have c. 27,000 genes on 46 chromosomes, n=23.

    But c’mon. That is what meiosis is for. Meiosis can and will separate even closely linked alleles of two different genes at some frequency, usually pretty high. You can even see intragenic recombinants at some low level. Two genes don’t have to be too far on a chromosome to be more or less unlinked even if they are syntenic.

    Remember, protein coding regions take up 2% of the human genome. Control regions add some but not that much. There are long, long stretches of noncoding DNA between one gene and another most of the time. We measure those distances in megabases, one million bases.

    Meiosis will break up those linkages between two separate genes at some frequency that is high enough to make syntenic chromosomal associations largely irrelevant in the Fodor sense. In fact, two genes can be on the same chromosome and appear unlinked.

    I should look up the recombination frequencies per megabase. This should be known somewhere.

  148. #148 Antiochus Epiphanes
    February 7, 2010

    -are you sure this is all Fodor implied by the use of “endogenous”. Why not use “genetically linked” if that’s what he meant.

    I’m not sure…however, homeobox genes (prime targets of evodevo studies) encode regulation factors and are often tightly linked. I would guess (not having read the book but just the article) that they would mean that some traits that are under a selection regime place limitations on the variation possible in other traits…kind of like the flying pig = bat metaphor mentioned upthread.

    why even argue it? does he not understand that selection can act independently on each trait, regardless of whether they are linked or not?

    Because selection doesn’t act independently on each trait, and certainly won’t if traits are linked. The fitness an organism is determined by the interaction of traits, which themselves are governed (in part) by the interaction of genes. Atomizing traits is a common way to identify hypotheses to test, and will tell you something (sometimes) about how a trait might contribute to fitness. However, only if you can hold all other traits invariant (like in a purebred line) can you directly measure selection pressure on a trait, thus atomized. When selection on one trait induces an increase in the frequency of an linked trait (that doesn’t induce variation in fitness)it is called genetic draft–not to weird a phenomenon.

    Regardless, this isn’t any reason to doubt that natural selection as an important evolutionary mechanism. Drift and mutation can change allele frequencies in populations, but selection can act very quickly by comparison*. The genetic interaction that Frodo** is concerned with will change the efficacy on which selection can affect the phenotypic mean for a trait, but this isn’t really what the ringbearer is getting at.

    *unless populations are very small.
    **This is becoming unneccessary maybe, but the alternative is Mordor.

  149. #149 Antiochus Epiphanes
    February 7, 2010

    ahem. “too weird”

  150. #150 Antiochus Epiphanes
    February 7, 2010

    Meiosis can and will separate even closely linked alleles of two different genes at some frequency, usually pretty high.

    The distance between genes is often measured by how often chiasma occurs between them. So if genes are tightly linked, by definition the rate of recombination is low.

    Maybe tonight I will get time to look into linkages of some of these coadapted gene complexes.

  151. #151 raven
    February 7, 2010

    google capture:

    The allele frequencies of four microsatellite markers which map at sites ranging … given the standard of 1% recombination rate per megabase of DNA per meiosis. … Direct measurement of the male recombination fraction in the human …

    google again:

    by H Frei – 1975 – Cited by 2 – Related articles – All 2 versions
    Intragenic Recombination at the white Locus of Drosophila hydei. Itansj6rg Frci …. Phenotype: Eyes of pale apricot colour; although …

    The recombination rate in humans in 1% per megabase. There are 3,000 megabases in the human genome.

    This rate is high enough to even see intragenic recombinants at some level, that is recombination within a gene between two different alleles.

    If Fodor meant syntenic genes, he is flat out stupidly wrong. He must mean something else. Or he is totally ignorant about basic biology.

  152. #152 Ichthyic
    February 7, 2010

    Because selection doesn’t act independently on each trait, and certainly won’t if traits are linked.

    Yes, I mispoke when i say “independent”, from an expected allele frequency perspective, but was really thinking along the lines of how even though two traits can be genetically linked, the selective pressures themselves on each trait can be independent.

    The genetic interaction that Frodo** is concerned with will change the efficacy on which selection can affect the phenotypic mean for a trait

    again, this is why i mentioned this. It can, but it doesn’t have to, if there is strong pressure on one trait, but no/very weak selective pressure at all on the linked trait. If that is the case, you would see frequencies similar to that if the trait was not linked at all.

    I haven’t had any coffee in 3 weeks, so not sure if that is at all clear, and it’s a rather pedantic point besides, I suppose.

    but this isn’t really what the ringbearer is getting at.

    so, back to previous…

    what IS he trying to get at?

    the use of endogenous to me could mean linkage with just about anything specific to the individual in question.

    is he using it as a blanket term for all things acting as potential constraints, like developmental constraints, for example?

    argh, no way am I even going to wade through his book to find out, if that is what it would really take to clarify.

  153. #153 Ichthyic
    February 7, 2010

    genetic draft

    ah, nevermind, I see now.

  154. #154 SteveV
    February 7, 2010

    ‘Pigs don’t have wings, but that’s not because winged pigs once lost out to wingless ones. And it’s not because the pigs that lacked wings were more fertile than the pigs that had them. There never were any winged pigs because there’s no place on pigs for the wings to go.’

    I know, I know, Ignorant Engineer obsessing on pigs again. – But this implies – at least to me – that F & PP doubt that pigs and bats share a common ancestor. A creationist position if I ever heard one.

  155. #155 raven
    February 7, 2010

    Nature 277, 383 – 384 (01 February 1979); doi:10.1038/277383a0

    Is intragenic recombination a factor in the maintenance of genetic variation in natural populations?

    KENNETH MORGAN & CURTIS STROBECK
    Department of Genetics, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6G 2E9

    INTRAGENIC recombination between two different existing alleles in a population can create new alleles. The role of this process in maintaining variation in a natural population has been investigated1 by assuming that a gene consists of two sites, each of which can mutate to an infinite number of unique ‘alleles’ (the infinite allele model of Kimura and Crow2). Using this model it was shown that if the product of the population size, N, and the mutation rate, , is 1, and the recombination rate, r, is the same order of magnitude as the mutation rate, then intragenic recombination significantly increases the number of alleles maintained in a finite population. Moreover, this is not equivalent to an increase in the mutation rate as the variance of homozygosity and the variance of the number of alleles are larger. This implies that the sampling theory of neutral alleles developed by Ewens3 does not apply to the situation where intragenic recombination is important in maintaining variation4. Application of these results to the study of intragenic recombination in natural populations would require a large number of independent samples in order to estimate the variance of homozygosity and the variance of the number of alleles. However, data from natural populations usually consist of the number of alleles and their frequencies in a single sample. Therefore, for the effect of intragenic recombination to be observable, there must be a detectable change in the distribution of the allele frequencies in a sample which contains k alleles. We present here the results of Monte Carlo simulation which show that intragenic recombination in the equilibrium population increases the frequency of the most common allele, increases the number of alleles which occur only once in the sample, and increases the homozygosity.

    Intragenic recombination is common enough that people claim it can… “then intragenic recombination significantly increases the number of alleles maintained in a finite population”.

    This is without natural selection operating on any of the alleles, that equilibrium condition. With natural selection operating, everything changes and rare alleles with beneficial effects can and often do sweep the population.

  156. #156 Ichthyic
    February 7, 2010

    OK, so if I parse the argument correctly, he’s saying that because primary regulatory genes are often linked, selection can’t be a major factor in their frequency changes?

    No, that can’t be right, just because selection might be slowed in effect and limited in totality, doesn’t mean it has no significant effect at all.

    I should look up the recombination frequencies per megabase. This should be known somewhere.

    if Fodor is focusing on regulatory complexes, general recombination frequencies might not be relevant?

    still, even if this is his real argument, saying that selection is limited to less than infinite possibilities because of pre-existing constraints is nothing new.

    I don’t think anyone has argued for decades that selection is not constrained in any way. I hardly see how one could then conclude it has no relevance whatsoever.

    grrr. I know it’s “bad” to bash on philosophers, but damn, this is why I like reading arguments like this presented by scientists. so much less ambiguous.

    meh, I’m going to go read what Jerry has to say about it.

  157. #157 'Tis Himself, OM
    February 7, 2010

    Flying pig.

    Thinking about Paul W.’s complaint of philosophy hatin’, I realize that we usually just see bad philosophy and incompetent philosophers in PZ’s posts. Alvin Plantinga, Michael Ruse, Jerry Fodor are apparently not the cream of present day philosophers. When philosophical amateurs can point out logical fallacies and other flaws in these guys’ philosophies, then we’re working with philosophical bottom feeders.

  158. #158 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 7, 2010

    *Salutes Raven for literature citation* *Where are my lists…*

  159. #159 raven
    February 7, 2010

    google capture:

    On the conservative nature of intragenic recombination ? PNASby DA Drummond – 2005 – Cited by 28 – Related articles – All 14 versions
    Intragenic recombination rapidly creates protein sequence diversity compared with random mutation, but little is known about the relative effects of …

    google capture:

    Evidence That Intragenic Recombination Contributes to Allelic …by X Wang – 2001 – Cited by 43 – Related articles
    Evidence That Intragenic Recombination Contributes to Allelic Diversity of the S-RNase Gene at the Self-Incompatibility (S) Locus in Petunia inflata1 …

    Looks like intragenic recombination has been well known and well studied for a long time.

    Intragenic recombination is an extreme form of recombination, separating and combining closely linked alleles in the same gene.

    Fodor claims, “when phenotypic traits are endogenously linked, there is no way that selection can distinguish among them: selection for one selects the others, regardless of their effects on fitness.”

    Strawperson. This probably never happens in real life, at least to the point where it makes any damn difference whatsoever.

    Even closely linked phenotypic traits that are alleles (mutations, variants) of the same gene can be separated by meiosis.

  160. #160 Kel, OM
    February 7, 2010

    Alvin Plantinga, Michael Ruse, Jerry Fodor are apparently not the cream of present day philosophers.

    It would be a bit much to dismiss everything these guys have done even if there are problems with particular positions they advocate. Do we dismiss Descartes as being a terrible philosopher despite the glaring problems of his mind-body dualism? Socrates* once proposed that in order to get around the problem of recognising knowledge that an infinity of past lives would resolve the problem. Hume’s problem of miracles relies on the same inductive logic he claimed couldn’t be relied upon. And so on.

    The point I’m trying to make is that while some of these people may or do say something stupid (Plantinga’s EAAN makes no sense whatsoever, Ruse has created an imaginary problem then solved it, Fodor as above) but that doesn’t mean they haven’t done anything of value in their respective fields.

    *May be mistaken on this.

  161. #161 raven
    February 7, 2010

    OK, so if I parse the argument correctly, he’s saying that because primary regulatory genes are often linked, selection can’t be a major factor in their frequency changes?

    They are? What in the hell are primary regulatory genes anyway?

    There are huge numbers of regulatory genes and they aren’t all linked. Most of them are scattered hither and yon.

    IIRC, some of the Hox genes are clustered. There are far more developmentally important genes than just the Hox genes.

    Even that is totally irrelevant. Suppose you have a Hox cluster of 5 Hox genes called HOXC1. A mutation occurs in one member of the cluster. So you have HOXC1 and HOXC2 differing by one mutation. Assume HOXC2 is being selected for. Assume intracluter recombination is impossible even though it isn’t. The whole novel cluster, HOXC2 would just behave as a unit and could sweep the population. Selection just was a major factor in changing “master regulatory gene” frequencies.

    Fodor has one creationist tactic down. Just combine a lot of bafflegab in a short time without worrying about it making sense. Realizing that real scientists will have to take real time untangling it and pointing out the fallacies, lies, mistakes and what the truth really is.

    Done for now. Untangling creationist muddled thinking can be boring.

  162. #162 Brian English
    February 7, 2010

    #160. Hume’s problem of miracles relies on the same inductive logic he claimed couldn’t be relied upon Hume didn’t say induction couldn’t be relied upon. He said you couldn’t prove induction, and thus you relied upon it because it worked. Any attempt to prove induction, by citing the uniformity of nature for example, is circular because the uniformity of nature is a premise itself based on induction. Induction could always be wrong, but Hume never said it was unreliable, just undemonstrable.

  163. #163 Antiochus Epiphanes
    February 7, 2010

    @Raven and Ichthyic: I’m not actually trying to defend Fodor and Piatelli-Palmerini. The fact is that I’m not sure from the linked article that they have much of an understanding of how any of this works at a molecular level.

    @Raven: There is no doubt that recombination is an important generator of phenotypic diversity in sexually reproducing species…likely more important than mutation. However, when the coexpression of genes is required for a tightly constrained developmental program to occur, often the regulatory genes (in animals, hox genes, in plants MADS-box genes) are tightly clustered on chromosomes. I had always surmised that this was in part to prevent high levels of recombination. However, I guess they are not THAT tightly clustered (lots to look through, but it is apparent that many domains are separated by spacers larger than a megabase). It may be that each gene is sufficiently important in the developmental program that mutation is strongly selected against…So now I am wondering about the evolutionary significance of clustering these genes together. It might just make co-expression more efficient. Don’t know. Am out of my league. Feeling dumber.

    You could weigh in at any point PZ. You do travel around giving lectures on these things.

  164. #164 'Tis Himself, OM
    February 7, 2010

    It would be a bit much to dismiss everything these guys have done even if there are problems with particular positions they advocate.

    Every time I rant against philosophers by citing folks like Plantinga, Richard Rorty and Fodor, I get informed “oh you can’t judge philosophers by these guys, real philosophers think they are teh stoopid.” I’ve been told that full professors of philosophy at name schools (Rorty taught at Princeton and Stanford, Plantinga teaches at Notre Dame) are low-grade hacks not worthy of the name philosopher.

    Apparently “real philosophers” spend all their time huddled in squalid cubbyholes, muttering cryptic, jargon-laden whispers to other philosophers and writing in obscure journals read only by other properly licensed and certified philosophers.

  165. #165 raven
    February 7, 2010

    However, when the coexpression of genes is required for a tightly constrained developmental program to occur, often the regulatory genes (in animals, hox genes, in plants MADS-box genes) are tightly clustered on chromosomes. I had always surmised that this was in part to prevent high levels of recombination.

    It may well be. But that doesn’t mean that some recombination won’t occur anyway. It may also just be a historical artifact due to expansion of the HOX family by gene duplication. They aren’t even all that clustered, humans have a bunch in 4 different clusters.

    It is hard to figure out what Fodor is saying. He uses a lot of sciency sounding words that when you try to figure them out end up being vague.

    Near as I can tell, he just botched the science to start with and it went downhill from there.

    wikipedia:

    The homeobox genes were first found in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and have subsequently been identified in many other species, from insects to reptiles and mammals.

    Homeobox genes were previously only identified in bilateria but recently cnidaria have also been found to contain homeobox domains and the “missing link” in the evolution between the two has been identified.

    Homeobox genes have even been found in fungi, for example the unicellular yeasts, and in plants.

    [edit] Plants
    The well known homeotic genes in plants (MADS-box genes) are not homologous to Hox genes in animals. Plants and animals do not share the same homeotic genes, and this suggests that homeotic genes arose independently in the early evolution of animals and plants.

    [edit] Human genes
    Humans generally contain homeobox genes in four clusters:

  166. #166 raven
    February 7, 2010

    Paul W.

    This hating on philosophy is getting really tiresome.

    Well you have half a point. Half.

    There are some worthwhile philosophers out there. Sartre, Wilkins, Popper, Forrest, Pennock, and I’m sure there are more.

    But it looks like Monton, Fodor and others have science envy. Science is the most spectacularly successful human endevour ever. We created the 21st century hi tech civilization which everyone pretends to hate and virtually no one ever actually bothers to drop out from.

    So they string together some totally wrong bafflegab for a quick hit on the adults knowing that a year from now no one will remember or care because philosophy was eclipsed a few centuries ago. They are giving the whole field a bad name, but it is understandable if not entirely defensible.

    Even I can see that philosophy isn’t some monolithic group of morons marching back to the Dark Ages.
    Instead of complaining about some overgeneralizations, how about helping the adults out instead? Fodor seems to have left holes in his attack on science that a myopic could drive a space ship through.

  167. #167 Kel, OM
    February 7, 2010

    Apparently “real philosophers” spend all their time huddled in squalid cubbyholes, muttering cryptic, jargon-laden whispers to other philosophers and writing in obscure journals read only by other properly licensed and certified philosophers.

    Maybe, though it seems you’re putting a false equivalence between philosophy and philosophers. People say stupid things, people fall into their own mental traps and this shouldn’t be unexpected even of those who are well trained in particular matters. As Michael Shermer says: “Smart people are great at rationalising things they came to believe for non-smart reasons”.

    The point I’m trying to get at is that this is not justification for dismissing the entire field of inquiry. This is why I feel its important to take the argument and not the man (or woman).

  168. #168 redliterocket4
    February 7, 2010

    I’ve read the entire thread and wanted to toss a few thoughts into the mix for whatever they are worth. In light of Darwin’s own admission that variation under natural selection was by no means a complete account of speciation*, I think Fodor’s criticisms would be better directed at neo-Darwinists like Dennett and Dawkins, whose absolutist attitude seems to distort via over-extension Darwin’s more modest proposal. Fodor seems to want us to consider the role of endogenous organization in the evolutionary drama, instead of assuming that all form is imposed from without by the environment. Not only evo-devo, but complexity theory have gone a long way in providing insight into the role played by endogenous organization. It seems that most biologists are well aware of the gaps that need filling, and Fodor doesn’t give them enough credit. I would like to defend his apparently “consequentialist” reasoning, however. Evolutionary psychology (especially Pinker) is filled with ad hoc explanations that really cannot be separated from political ideology. Hume’s too easy “is” v. “ought” dichotomy may hold for physics (though even there, it is apparent that research into nuclear weapons technology blurs the boundary), but in biology and especially psychology, when science begins to study the very life processes that generate our own cognitive capacities, core philosophical issues quickly rise to the surface. The knowing scientist, after all, is a part of the universe he or she is trying to understand. Moral considerations cannot be treated as if they exist outside the facts of nature. Morality IS a fact of (human) nature. All too often, those with a scientistic bent treat such philosophical considerations as if they were irrelevant: now that the scientific method has been formulated, they believe all that is left for us to do is fit our theories to the data**. The consequences of over-zealous reduction of evolution to a Darwinian algorithm (a la Dennett), when unreflectively applied as a “universal acid” to other fields like psychology–while certainly generating lucrative research grants–cannot be ignored unless we mean to uphold the sort of Cartesian dualism between the human soul and the rest of the natural world that Hume assumed to construct his “is”/”ought” dichotomy. The way humanity thinks of nature (whether scientifically or philosophically) is not at all separate from the sorts of social forms and ecological policies we adopt.

    In closing, as a final defense of the importance of philosophy even in our technophilic and scientistic age, I’d like to recommend a book by Evan Thompson (Univ. of Toronto): “Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Science of Mind.” He has plenty of criticisms of Fodor’s approach to cognitive science, as well as Dennett and Dawkins approach to biology. Most relevant to what has been discussed on this thread is chapter 7 (starting on page 166). Most of it is on google books and can be read here: http://books.google.com/books?id=OVGna4ZEpWwC&lpg=PA170&ots=4madrcfcui&dq=evan%20thompson%20evolution&pg=PA166#v=onepage&q=&f=false

    Thompson argues that Darwin’s mechanism assumes without explaining the self-production of biological individuals (which is logically prior to reproduction). Self-production (or “autopoiesis”) cannot be accounted for in Darwinian terms, and may require re-thinking the mechanistic ontology of nature that has gained ascendency since the Scientific Revolution. I’ve written a lengthy essay about this which also attempts to break down the “is”/”ought” dichotomy by showing how the modern conception of the biosphere in terms of competition and mechanism has more to do with capitalist social relations than it does with empirical facts.

    The essay: http://www.4shared.com/file/167360855/ca8c5526/Towards_an_Integral_Economics.html?

    *Darwin spoke of “evolution” only once in the 6th edition of “Origin.” The concept arose in Romantic philosophy long before Darwin. Lamarck (even if his proposed mechanism turned out to be misguided) was really the one who first made the idea plausible as an account of phylogenic change. Darwin wanted to avoid it because he wanted his theory to be strictly empirical, mechanistic, and therefore non-directional. Evolution implies the unrolling of something enveloped, and is therefore somewhat teleological. Romantic philosophers (Kant, Goethe, Coleridge, etc.) employed the concept to counter the mechanistic forms of thought that gained prominence in the late 18th and early 19th century. A good anthology on this: http://www.amazon.com/Romanticism-Evolution-Bruce-Wilshire/dp/0819143839

    ** Thomas Kuhn’s working out of the underlying perceptual re-orientations responsible for paradigm shifts should clue us into the fact that what makes science so successful is the plasticity of its method. Data and evidence are not the only relevant factors in scientific investigation. Facts are underdetermined by theories.

  169. #169 redliterocket4
    February 7, 2010

    Also, I’d be curious to here what Pharyngulites think of this other NS article on horizontal gene transfer. It seems to me to present a much stronger case than anything Fodor has to say for the eclipse of Darwin’s mechanism as the most important factor in evolution:

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20527441.500-horizontal-and-vertical-the-evolution-of-evolution.html

  170. #170 Antiochus Epiphanes
    February 7, 2010

    redliterocket4: Astute.

    You should comment more often.

  171. #171 Tulse
    February 7, 2010

    Apparently “real philosophers” spend all their time huddled in squalid cubbyholes, muttering cryptic, jargon-laden whispers to other philosophers and writing in obscure journals read only by other properly licensed and certified philosophers.

    And that is true of almost every academic discipline, including biology.

    The problem here is not philosophy as a discipline, but that the philosopher Fodor is a smug, pompous iconoclast, the kind of person about whom someone once said “Big man, pig man, ha ha charade you are”. (I think this is a much better example of a flying pig.)

  172. #172 efrique
    February 7, 2010

    More of the vapid, contentless sensationalism that led me to stop buying NS. A decision I have yet to regret.

    Anyone want several shelves full of old New Scientists?

  173. #173 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 7, 2010

    In closing, as a final defense of the importance of philosophy even in our technophilic and scientistic age,

    Sorry, not the peer reviewed scientific literature, which is the only thing that counts to science.

  174. #174 raven
    February 7, 2010

    Prenat Diagn. 2008 Oct;28(10):929-33.

    PGD on a recombinant allele: crossover between the TSC2 gene and ‘linked’ markers impairs accurate diagnosis.
    Altarescu G, Eldar Geva T, Brooks B, Margalioth E, Levy-Lahad E, Renbaum P.

    Medical Genetics Unit, Zohar PGD Lab, Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem, Israel.

    OBJECTIVE: Accounting for possible recombinations in developing an accurate preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) protocol based on familial haplotypes. METHODS: Haplotypes were constructed from genomic DNA in a family where the male was affected with tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC). Embryos were biopsied at day 3, and single blastomeres were analyzed by multiplex polymerase chain reactions (PCRs) including multiple microsatellite markers and single-cell sequencing. RESULTS: Informative markers used in the initial haplotype analysis, based on the genomic DNA of the parents and affected child, were analyzed in the first PGD cycle. All embryos appeared to show recombination and none were transferred. Prior to the next cycle, the parents of the affected male were included in the haplotype analysis, demonstrating that the affected child had a recombinant allele. In the second PGD cycle, two non-recombinant intragenic single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were used with the TSC2 mutation and four microsatellite markers for a second PGD cycle. In this cycle two wild-type embryos were transferred, resulting in the birth of a healthy girl carrying the wild-type TSC2 allele. CONCLUSIONS: PGD analysis requires the use of more than one meiosis for constructing accurate haplotypes. Testing for multiple closely linked markers and the familial mutation are necessary to detect recombination events and enable precise diagnosis. Copyright (c) 2008 John Wiley & Sons,

    We also see intragenic recombinants in humans, often enough to be a problem.

    To simplify. Allelic markers are chosen near a deleterious gene such as tuberous sclerosis, a serious genetic disease, to allow screening of blastocysts in vitro before implantation.

    These markers are chosen to be near the screened gene so that recombination during meiosis won’t separate them to the other homologous chromosome. As to how close, hundreds to thousands of bases, not much. They still see recombinants and have to sort things out by looking up a generation. The first afflicted child was a recombinant so his haplotype was different from both parents.

    Shorter, Fodor’s phenotypes linked forever at the genetic level don’t even exist.

  175. #175 phoenixwoman
    February 7, 2010

    “You could weigh in at any point PZ. You do travel around giving lectures on these things.”

    Except, as you would know if you read the post to which this thread is attached, PZ’s currently on a transatlantic flight and therefore incommunicado.

  176. #176 redliterocket4
    February 7, 2010

    Nerd of Redhead,

    Sorry, not the peer reviewed scientific literature, which is the only thing that counts to science.

    Let us hope that science never ceases to deeply engage with the philosophical underpinnings of its method. Once it severs its ties to philosophy, there is nothing to prevent it from becoming another unreflective form of dogmatism. Do not forget that the epistemological basis and ontological conclusions (if there be any) of scientific investigation are not themselves amenable to empirical investigation.

    Scientific journals are where the nitty-gritty experimental work is hashed out, no doubt. But we will always need philosophy to put all the pieces together into some coherent picture of the universe and our place in it. This is especially true in light of the proliferation of scientific fields and the fragmentation of knowledge which has resulted.

  177. #177 AJ Milne
    February 7, 2010

    Honestly, reading this stuff, my impression of these guys is: they’re fucking morons.

    I say this as gently as they deserve. Get these idiots a reading list, and tell them to shut the fuck up until they’ve actually read it and demonstrated they have a fucking clue what any of it means. The reality is they baldly misrepresent the reality of the current consensus, inventing wildly caricatured strawmen ‘Darwinians’ out of whole cloth just to have something to argue against. It’s long been widely appreciated that there are complex constraints upon the range of possible variations that can occur from any starting point, that sometimes you just can’t get there from here, that contingency frequently plays a role, that drift can fix traits with natural selection having exactly nothing to do with it. The archest of the arch adaptationists doesn’t say what these clowns imply they do. They’re slaying a parody of evolutionary biology that doesn’t exist outside the briefest one paragraph introductory text first chapter nutgraph below the title rendition thereof, and that one only stands as long as it takes for the reader to get into the third paragraph, I’d expect…

    And that ain’t even the half of this. Already lying their asses off about that consensus, they then they go from this to wildly overstated nonsense about the implications of natural selection ‘disappearing from biology’?

    Fuck. There are creationists no less dishonest about the implications of these (oh yes, by the way, already widely acknowledged and widely studied) constraints. And this comparison strikes me as being richly deserved. Wotta pair of lying, feckless, stupid shits.

    (/Or, to borrow a line from the great Mr. Reed, stick a fork in their ass and turn ‘em over. They’re done.)

  178. #178 Kel, OM
    February 7, 2010

    I think Fodor’s criticisms would be better directed at neo-Darwinists like Dennett and Dawkins, whose absolutist attitude seems to distort via over-extension Darwin’s more modest proposal.

    That’s kind of rough on both of them, for example in his new book Dawkins talked about pleiotropy in that fox breeding experiment, not to mention he talked about Neutral Theory in there too. So much for an absolutist attitude.

  179. #179 raven
    February 7, 2010

    Also, I’d be curious to here what Pharyngulites think of this other NS article on horizontal gene transfer. It seems to me to present a much stronger case than anything Fodor has to say for the eclipse of Darwin’s mechanism as the most important factor in evolution:

    It doesn’t. Horizontal gene transfer in higher taxa isn’t common enough to make much difference. We know that by sequencing a whole lot of genomes. Billions of nukes. Horizontal gene transfer is just another source of variation anyway. This is pseudoscience once again.

    Thompson argues that Darwin’s mechanism assumes without explaining the self-production of biological individuals (which is logically prior to reproduction). Self-production (or “autopoiesis”) cannot be accounted for in Darwinian terms, and may require re-thinking the mechanistic ontology of nature that has gained ascendency since the Scientific Revolution.

    Cthulhu, more fucking bafflegab. Autopoiesis is another word for abiogenesis, life from nonlife. Why in the hell do these crackpots have to make up new words for words that already exist?

    Darwin’s theory is about evolution, life changing through time. It doesn’t address abiogenesis because that is a separate question and field. Everyone knew this a century ago, nothing new here. Darwin’s theory of evolution also doesn’t explain where socks hide after you do the laundry.

    The strange ones are coming over the transom harder than we can bail. Later.

  180. #180 Kel, OM
    February 7, 2010

    But we will always need philosophy to put all the pieces together into some coherent picture of the universe and our place in it.

    This I find an odd statement, given how much scientific inquiry has changed how we see ourselves and the universe around us.

  181. #181 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 7, 2010

    But we will always need philosophy to put all the pieces together into some coherent picture of the universe and our place in it.

    I disagree. Scientists will look at the evidence. Philosophy should stay on the side, watching realists do their jobs.

  182. #182 raven
    February 7, 2010

    Fuck. There are creationists no less dishonest about the implications of these (oh yes, by the way, already widely acknowledged and widely studied) constraints. And this comparison strikes me as being richly deserved. Wotta pair of lying, feckless, stupid shits.

    Hear, hear!!! Might as well call a toad a toad.

    Science is self correcting. If you are wrong someone will figure it out. Your reputation will head downhill. It may get harder to get collaborators, grants, and tenure. You don’t want to look like an idiot in front of your colleagues.

    In biomedical science, the penalties can be even higher. In worst case scenarios the bodies literally start stacking up. Shortly after that all hell breaks loose. You don’t want to be wrong. That is why biomedical research is so expensive. Things get checked over and over again.

    So what is the penalty in philosophy for being wrong? Does anyone even notice or care? Doesn’t look like it. Steve Fuller and the Postmodernists have been wildly wrong about science for a decade. Who noticed and who cared? Very few that I’ve seen.

  183. #183 Kagato
    February 7, 2010
  184. #184 raven
    February 7, 2010

    But we will always need philosophy to put all the pieces together into some coherent picture of the universe and our place in it.

    So where is this coherent picture of the universe and our place in it that philosophy has provided?

    All we’ve seen lately is a few philosophers making demonstrably false statements about science which they never bothered to understand, burning up poor defenseless strawpeople, and then staggering off in random directions acting like they are totally drunk and crazed.

  185. #185 Owlmirror
    February 7, 2010

    This might be useful:

      BioNumbers – The Database of Useful Biological Numbers
    http://www.bionumbers.hms.harvard.edu/

  186. #186 Ichthyic
    February 7, 2010

    The fact is that I’m not sure from the linked article that they have much of an understanding of how any of this works at a molecular level.

    I took a look at some of the commenter reviews of his actual book over on Coyne’s site, but yeah, you’re probably correct that we are over-analyzing his reasoning here.

  187. #187 Kel, OM
    February 7, 2010

    I guess for me what doesn’t match up is what the argument is really over. Do people honestly see that Dawkins et al. think that the only reason that blood is red is because it had a selective property to be red? Now that seems a little credulous, the arguments I’ve seen from Dawkins et al. when talking about natural selection are talking about a means to build structure. Blood may not be red because it was selected for being red, but the reason we have blood in the first place would make no sense without natural selection.

    From my layperson perspective, it does feel like this is arguing one huge straw-man. This may be down to my misunderstanding of the argument and of biology, but I really don’t see what the problem with stating that natural selection is the only means of building cumulative complex structures. And in what I freely admit is my ignorance, I don’t see an alternative for building complex structure that is being proposed.

    On a side note, I wonder if Fodor really wants natural selection out of engineering / computer science. Evolutionary algorithms work damnit, and I’m quite happy for them to be used for design. Why does Fodor hate blind selection? ;)

  188. #188 Ichthyic
    February 7, 2010

    Also, I’d be curious to here what Pharyngulites think of this other NS article on horizontal gene transfer. It seems to me to present a much stronger case than anything Fodor has to say for the eclipse of Darwin’s mechanism as the most important factor in evolution:

    It doesn’t. Horizontal gene transfer in higher taxa isn’t common enough to make much difference. We know that by sequencing a whole lot of genomes. Billions of nukes. Horizontal gene transfer is just another source of variation anyway.

    emphasis mine.

    Raven has it exactly right from my PoV.

    selection is not the source of the variation, it acts on the source.

    last i checked, I believe there are something like 30 mechanisms that generate genetic variability, thus phenotypic variability, that are heritable and can be acted on by selection.

  189. #189 Ichthyic
    February 7, 2010

    Darwin’s theory of evolution also doesn’t explain where socks hide after you do the laundry.

    It doesn’t?

    Crap. another year of my life wasted.

    *puts new thesis into paper shredder*

  190. #190 AJ Milne
    February 7, 2010

    Might as well call a toad a toad.

    Indeed.

    I gotta say: that ‘disappearing’ line really jumped out at me for a particular reason. That very kind of absurd jump is regularly made by the most glaringly obviously dishonest of quote-mining creationist wanks. Guzman, anyone? Clown would grab anything that says things are a bit more complex than his own bald parody of the modern synthesis, any mention of drift, and jump straight to: ‘Thus natural selection is wrong’… (And from there straight on into ‘goddiddit’. And he was far from the only one.)

    It’s the idiocy of binary thinking, and a glaringly obviously dishonest false dichotomy. None of the issues raised means natural selection is going to ‘disappear’ from evolutionary biology. That’s not just a leap. That’s just flat out bullshit. And whether you’re actually going to ‘goddiddit’ or just grinding your own weird little axe against what your own dazed excuse for an intellect considers excessive confidence in the influence of environmental factors, it’s exactly the same flavour of bullshit. And you equally deserve to wind up face down in the mess of it, and inhaling.

  191. #191 Ichthyic
    February 7, 2010

    He has plenty of criticisms of Fodor’s approach to cognitive science, as well as Dennett and Dawkins approach to biology.

    you do of course realize, not a single one of these people are actually practicing scientists, these days right?

    all you are doing is saying one philosopher attacks the positions of others.

    that said, at least Dawkins supports his positions via the primary literature on the subject.

    In any case, evolutionary biology just keeps marching on, publishing papers regardless of the musings of men who don’t do science.

  192. #192 Kel, OM
    February 7, 2010

    Darwin’s theory of evolution also doesn’t explain where socks hide after you do the laundry.

    Just don’t tell Ben Stein.

  193. #193 RBH
    February 7, 2010

    Why don’t pigs have wings? Gack.

    Years ago the Ohio branch of Intelligent Design Network contained an essay by an engineer named Walter L. Starkey. The essay is long gone from the site, but thanks to the Wayback Machine it’s still accessible. Starkey argued

    If evolution were indeed a fact, then there is no reason to assume that it has stopped acting. It must be active today. If that be true then, on your body, there should be developing now some new features. Maybe you could evolve another eye on the back of your head. This would be very useful and it would enable you to see an enemy approaching you from the rear. Or, maybe the people in a foreign country where they are starving to death could evolve four stomachs so they could eat grass. This would save their lives

    Fodor’s thinking is on the same level.

  194. #194 artconserv
    February 7, 2010

    Just hoping you get home safe and sound. :-)

  195. #195 Blake Stacey
    February 7, 2010

    Knockgoats (#54) quoting Fodor:

    The conclusion of the Impossibility Argument is supposed to be that the set of unlearned concepts is approximately coextensive with the set of concepts whose structures are not displayed by the corresponding English expressions.

    But the “structures” of “English expressions” are obscured by time — by ongoing variation in the mouth and on the page, and the differential propagation of those variants through the human brain. Components which were once distinct can be slurred together: ampersand from “and per se and“, or bedlam from “Bethlehem”, for example. Also, meanings of words can drift: naughty once meant “having nothing” or “needy”, and came to mean “evil” or “wicked” by the early 16th century, though today it seems neutered so far as to refer primarily to troublesome children. (“‘e’s not the Messiah. ‘e’s a very naughty boy!”) The modern meaning of the word is doubly removed from its structure.

    David Marjanovi? (#108):

    Not only is it extreme, it’s laughably wrong. Fodor should learn a couple more languages!

    Even within English, the meaning of “friend” differs; to some Americans, it means “anyone I know who’s not my enemy”, for instance.

    Then, “aunt” can be explained as “sibling of a parent, or spouse of a sibling of a parent”.

    There are languages out there that lack a single word for “aunt” and instead have words for concepts like “father’s elder sister”…

    The English word aunt, incidentally, derives (via Old French) from the Latin amita, which means “paternal aunt”, that is, a father’s sister. Latin has a separate word, matertera, for a mother’s sister. The latter word clearly has “structure” (mater means “mother”).

  196. #196 redliterocket4
    February 7, 2010

    Raven,

    I’m admittedly not an expert on the subject of HGT, but so far as I’m aware, there is ample evidence that it has played an enormous role in the evolution of bacteria, fungi, plants, protists and evidence has been found that it takes place in higher animals, as well. Granted, the evidence of it taking place in animals is sparse in comparison to other kingdoms, but perhaps this is just because biologists have been working with different paradigmatic assumptions and so haven’t been looking for it yet. The work of Lynn Margulis and, more recently, Irina Arkhipova is especially insightful in this area. Even if it is discovered that HGT doesn’t play a huge role in animal evolution, less complex organisms have been sharing genes laterally for approx. 3 billion years before the first multicellular animal evolved. This would mean that the vast majority of evolution on earth has taken place non-vertically. I don’t think we can say HGT is just another form of variation: whole genes being transfered between different species of organism is quite different than chance mutations in nucleotide sequences being passed on within the same species.

    Autopoiesis is related to abiogenesis, but should not be conflated with it. It is more a systematic description of living organization than an explanatory theory.

  197. #197 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawn7i2_FcThqbTLm8SXCYljUaxeLyH7WNKM
    February 8, 2010

    Somewhat off-topic, but since the value of philosophy relative to science has come up in the discussion, I thought this would be of interest: The Templeton foundation is awarding $4.4 million to FSU philosophy professor Alfred Mele to study whether or not we have free will. Some of that money will probably get redirected to actual cognitive scientists, so it’s not a complete waste. But still!

    One quote from the press-release is a real howler:

    If we eventually discover that we don’t have free will, the news will come out and we can predict that people’s behavior will get worse as a consequence,” Mele said. “We should have plans in place for how to deal with that news.

    Kind of reminds me of all those science fiction movies where the government has to protect us from finding out that aliens really exist, so society doesn’t break down!

  198. #198 Sven DiMilo
    February 8, 2010

    less complex organisms have been sharing genes laterally for approx. 3 billion years before the first multicellular animal evolved. This would mean that the vast majority of evolution on earth has taken place non-vertically.

    What? No, of course it wouldn’t mean that. Your less complex organisms have always been reproducing and passing on genes vertically. Given the number or individual organisms and their reproductive rates, HGT has probably always been a very rare occurance relative to vertical transmission.

    I don’t think we can say HGT is just another form of variation: whole genes being transfered between different species of organism is quite different than chance mutations in nucleotide sequences being passed on within the same species.

    These are value judgments and opinions. You don’t think? Quite different?
    A whole new gene (or set thereof) is the same as a great big mutation–a duplication, or insertion, or deletion–to a population gene pool. It’s genetic variation that gets sorted out vertically like all other genetic variation. If the horizontally transferred gene is translated into a protein that doesn’t do its new host any good, then it doesn’t matter. If it’s beneficial, it’s beneficial in exactly the same sense that a pont mutation may be beneficial: it increases, on average, the offspring produced by its hosts.

  199. #199 F
    February 8, 2010

    Hume’s too easy “is” v. “ought” dichotomy may hold for physics (though even there, it is apparent that research into nuclear weapons technology blurs the boundary)

    Dangerous and immoral, therefore they don’t work? Were the universe so kind…

  200. #200 llewelly
    February 8, 2010
    Except, as you would know if you read the post to which this thread is attached, PZ’s currently on a transatlantic flight and therefore incommunicado.

    Utterly false. PZ can use his secret mind-control satellites to force one of his helpless minions to post for him.

  201. #201 redliterocket4
    February 8, 2010

    Sven,

    Ah, yes my wording was sloppy. I didn’t mean to imply that vertical transfer didn’t take place, just that it took place along side HGT. Your other points are well taken. My cautious tone is a result of the the sense I get from the biologists I’ve read doing research in this area that the full extent of HGT remains unknown until a great deal more research is done.

  202. #202 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawkiGF2ZBmSSmv7yE-FvTxAJTOteQD0R1YY
    February 8, 2010

    As someone who’s a semester away from finishing his undergraduate studies for a degree in philosophy, stop acting like it’s the epitome of importance in regards to modern science. The majority of it is “intellectual masturbation.”

  203. #203 co
    February 8, 2010

    When answering [some very tricky] questions about physics, I found myself saying stuff like, “Hm. That’s almost a question about philosophy.” I’ve seen other scientists answer roughly the same way.

    I quickly realized that was bullshit, and have changed those answers to be a little more honest: “That’s almost a philosophical question. When I say that, it means, almost always, that I don’t have a ready answer, but am willing to do some soft-shoe dance around the subject. Perhaps no one knows the answer yet, and the phrase ‘That’s philosophical’ means a session of brainstorming, but no anchor to the real world. Once we find an anchor, then it becomes science, and magically loses the odour of philosophy.”

  204. #204 redliterocket4
    February 8, 2010

    F,

    My point is that it is incorrect to suppose scientific research doesn’t always take place within certain sociopolitical climates. Science is a cultural activity subject to the same human motivations that guide, for better or worse, all our other endeavors.

  205. #205 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    I don’t think we can say HGT is just another form of variation: whole genes being transfered between different species of organism is quite different than chance mutations in nucleotide sequences being passed on within the same species.

    no, it really isn’t.

    entire chromosomes can be duplicated to produce an entirely new species in a single generation in plants.

    it’s still just another source of genetic variation, that selection can then act on.

    it’s a category error to compare the effects of HGT with that of selection.

  206. #206 Glen Davidson
    February 8, 2010

    I think HGT is better understood as another form of inheritance, rather than another form of variation.

    Of course it’s “variation” in some sense, so I don’t want to get into word games of denial or of absolutism.

    It just seems to make more sense that it’s a variant sort of genetic inheritance than that it’s an inheritance that should be understood as another form of variation.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  207. #207 Scott Hatfield, OM
    February 8, 2010

    Raven wrote:

    It doesn’t. Horizontal gene transfer in higher taxa isn’t common enough to make much difference. We know that by sequencing a whole lot of genomes. Billions of nukes. Horizontal gene transfer is just another source of variation anyway. This is pseudoscience once again.

    Exactly. That was what I was getting at in post #116. All Fodor is doing is exploring the set of possible sources of variation, and I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    After all, it is true that we don’t have a complete understanding of exactly how and when some of the mechanisms occur. I would love to know, for example, why the recent chromosomal fusion event in our own lineage didn’t kill us or make us sterile, as most chromosomal mutations seem to do. If Fodor is simply proposing that we look more carefully at such events in terms of their contribution to evolutionary theory, I wouldn’t bat an eye.

    But….

    That’s not what the F and PP paper/book is purporting to do. They are clearly urging readers to substitute an explanatory framework that does not yet exist for a well-tested, robust model that is widely accepted. As far as I can tell, they don’t provide any evidence to justify this radical move.

    That really is something like pseudoscience, and will be a quote mine for out-and-out creationists for years to come. Shame on them.

  208. #208 raven
    February 8, 2010

    I’m admittedly not an expert on the subject of HGT, but so far as I’m aware, there is ample evidence that it has played an enormous role in the evolution of bacteria, fungi, plants, protists and evidence has been found that it takes place in higher animals, as well.

    I said higher taxa. Can’t you read? Lower taxa is way different and way more complicated. Horizontal gene transfer occurs on a routine basis and we see it every day. It is how antibiotic resistance spreads through whole huge groups of otherwise unrelated pathogens.

    Most of us focus on the evolution of eukaryotic metazoans because that is where our interests lie. It is also because the owner of the blog, PZ Myers is a eukaryotic metazoan evo devo sort of scientist. If you want to talk about prokaryotes, there are probably fora devoted to them.

    Human genome: A recount on horizontal gene transfer
    When the human genome sequence was published in February, 113 apparent incidents of direct horizontal gene transfer (HGT) of bacterial genes into vertebrates were identified, with no known ‘stepping stone’ in the form of non-vertebrate eukaryotes. But phylogenetic analysis of 28 of these proposed HGT genes against non-vertebrate sequence databases reveals that most of these genes are present in more anciently derived eukaryotes, and can be explained in terms of descent through common ancestry rather than by a leap from bacteria to vertebrates.

    Phylogenetic analyses do not support horizontal gene transfers from bacteria to vertebrates
    MICHAEL J. STANHOPE, ANDREI LUPAS, MICHAEL J. ITALIA, KRISTIN K. KORETKE, CRAIG VOLKER & JAMES R. BROWN
    Nature 411, 940-944 (21 June 2001)

    Bornavirus genes found in human DNA
    Viral hitchhiker has been hanging on in mammalian genome for more than 40 million yearsBy Tina Hesman Saey January 30th, 2010; Vol.177 #3 (p. 10) Text Size People may not be quite the humans they think they are. Or so suggests new research showing that the human genome is part bornavirus.

    Bornaviruses, a type of RNA virus that causes disease in horses and sheep, first inserted their genetic material into ancestral human DNA at least 40 million years ago, the study shows. The findings, published January 7 in Nature, provide the first evidence that RNA viruses other than retroviruses (such as HIV) can stably integrate genes into host DNA.

    Sure horizontal gene transfer occurs in higher taxa. But how common is it. Most of the suspected human genome cases seem to predate the vertebrates. The vertebrates arose something like 400 million years ago.

    One of the more recent and now all defective retrovirus invasions is dated at 5 million years ago.

    The Bornaviruses have 4 sequences in the human genome. The article above says they have been there for 40 million years. Apparently doing nothing but get passed down. Modern humans aren’t even 1 million years old. This had to happen at the dawn of the primates.

    There are 3 billion nukes in the human genome, 27,000 genes. So we pick up a virus genome or some new gene every few million years. It changes things but not by much. Some of those HGT look like they might have been dead ends for those gene sequences.

  209. #209 redliterocket4
    February 8, 2010

    I have to make a confession. I don’t do any of my thinking inside a laboratory–unless, that is, you are willing to grant me a metaphorical use of the term. Perhaps systematically thinking about thinking, and about thinking’s relation to our bodies, to other thinking bodies, and to the world, is a sort of scientific investigation. Except in my case, the laboratory is the Universe.

    The relationship between science and philosophy has and will inevitably remain an intimate one. I will quote Alfred North Whitehead below because he seems uniquely positioned to provide insight into the turf war that always plays itself out here on Pharyngula. He lived through the quantum and relativistic revolutions as a physicist and came to realize their implications would require totally re-imagining the philosophical foundation of Classical physics. The classical relationships between space-time, energy/matter, and observation/consciousness that Galileo and Newton had assumed to be true could no longer serve as the metaphysical background of the scientific worldview. The results of scientific investigation, in this case, lead Whitehead deeper into philosophy.

    From “Adventures of Ideas” (1933), chapter 9: ‘Science and Philosophy’, p. 143:

    The emphasis of science is upon observation of particular occurrences, and upon inductive generalization, issuing in wide classifications of things according to their modes of functioning, in other words according to the laws of nature which they illustrate. The emphasis of philosophy is upon generalizations which almost fail to classify by reason of their universal application. For example, all things are involved in the creative advance of the Universe, that is, in the general temporality which affects all things…

    Philosophy is concerned with the most universal aspects of human experience. Science is after the details. In the end, though, science must assume the imaginative background that the great philosophers have intuited and systematized (it is usually not the same philosopher to do both). There have not been many great philosophers, as has been pointed out several times on this thread already. Perhaps all of Western philosophy is simply footnotes to Plato, as Whitehead suggested. But when a particular field of science tries to trace back its ideas to their basic notions, it eventually reaches a point where further pursuit of their source is no longer relevant to its immediate purposes. They must hand the baton of knowledge to the philosophers. As Whitehead says, These basic notions [of science] are specializations from the philosophical intuitions which form the background of the civilized thought of the epoch in question… The collapse of nineteenth century [Classical] dogmatism is a warning that the special sciences require that the imaginations of men [and women] be stored with imaginative possibilities as yet unuitilized in the service of scientific explanation.

    Philosophy provides this great service to human ideas, that it keeps them fresh and free to re-imagine the world when, as a result of ongoing experimentation in the laboratory of the Universe, old world-conceptions fail the tests of empirical adequacy and logical coherence.

    To recap, philosophy is concerned with the universal aspects of experience, some examples of which are space, time, and consciousness. Physicists cannot measure or observe any of these three, because they are universal forms of intuition and not particular sensory objects. Space, time, and consciousness are pre-conditions for special scientific investigation into this or that corner of the natural world. We can only approach these categories philosophically.

    None of this is to say that philosophy somehow provides us access to the ultimate truth. Knowledge is an evolving process, and I’d offer that balanced constructive competitiveness between scientific and philosophic attitudes will best allow our civilization to continue its historic adventure.

  210. #210 rerdavies
    February 8, 2010

    I find all of this a bit disturbing: a critique of what the man might have said, rather than a critique of what the man actually said.

    In his defense:

    It doesn’t. Horizontal gene transfer in higher taxa isn’t common enough to make much difference. We know that by sequencing a whole lot of genomes.

    The qualification gives away the fallacy: “in higher taxa”. In the lowest taxa, it’s common enough that phylogeny becomes difficult, if not impossible. It’s an open question as to whether we will be able to find the root of the phylogeny because it is obscured by HGT.

    Horizontal gene transfer is just another source of variation anyway.

    Perhaps. But the theory that lifeforms have evolved by swapping huge chunks of genetic material across species bears little resemblance to the classic neo-Darwinian model. Remember, he’s not claiming that it conflicts with the Darwinian model, but that it conflicts with the neo-Darwinian model. At least according to the article.

    That may not be earthshaking to news to many. But it’s a valid point, all the same. That is a non-neo-Darwinian mechanism.

    But that leaves aside the point that he seems to be making, from reading a very thinly written reivew: that social organization may also be a driver of evolution, in addition to pure neo-Darwinian evolution.

    That seems reasonable. In the extreme case, the technology of the society in which we currently live selects for numerative literacy; and no long selects against obese pasty-skinned office rats, who would have fared poorly if they had to bring down their own meat with bare tooth and nail. So which came first? Development of the technology, or the magic lightbulb mutation that enabled humans to do calculus?

    Ok. Fine. Now how about 2,000 years ago; or 10,000 years ago? Or 20,000 years ago? To what extent did tool technologies precede evolutionary selection?

    In the big picture that may seem like a minor quibble; but for someone in the cog-sci field, that’s a very real question, with potentially large implications.

  211. #211 Kel, OM
    February 8, 2010

    In terms of the science / philosophy that gets played out on here… I’m not sure if you read this place much but a lot of the “hate” towards philosophy it seems from those who try to use philosophy as a trump-card. It’s like watching Zeno running up to tell you motion is impossible. They look for a philosophical “gotcha” by which they can defeat you with. And in the creation / evolution arguments, so many push scientific inquiry down the path of post-modern deconstruction to dismiss what is valid science.

    I can see why many turn off to what philosophers say or even go so far as to dismiss the discipline, though personally I don’t go that far. In The Problems Of Philosophy, Bertrand Russell said it well: “Thus, to sum up our discussion of the value of philosophy; Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.”

  212. #212 redliterocket4
    February 8, 2010

    Raven,

    Perhaps we can agree then that evolution is indeed more complicated than we currently understand, and that while vertical transfer of variation under natural selection may be the norm for higher taxa, evolutionarily prior to that (i.e., for roughly 3 billion years) the rules were very different. Evolution itself seems to have evolved.

    To all,

    It seems like Pharyngula is more concerned with the cultural implications of our biological origins than with the specific details of evolutionary theory (though of course I’ve read some fantastic scientific blogs by PZ here, too). While I agree that the fact of the common descent of species MUST be integrated into our self-conception as human beings, I tend to think that the materialism taken for granted here is just as misguided an understanding of the complexity of our universe as intelligent design. Neither takes seriously the implications of a thoroughgoing evolutionary philosophy. Yes, complexity emerges from simplicity over time without the need of an external designer. But when put in a cosmological context, the mechanistic assumptions of both materialism and intelligent design fail to adequately account for our current experience as self-conscious animals. Traditional religion is indeed dead, and has no better explanation for our existence;, but dead, too, is the clock-work conception of the universe that initiated the Scientific Revolution and inspired Darwin’s attempt to find a mechanistic law working to produce living phenomena. I’m not suggesting his theory is incorrect; it is demonstrably true. But its truth is conditional, not universal.

    Perhaps we might take a step back and consider for a moment the larger arc of the history of ideas. It seems to me, from such a view, that we should remain ever-vigilant for the sort of hubris which leads us to suppose our age is the first to see clearly, whereas all prior ages were living in the dark. Humanity has deepened its understanding in light of modern science, but that doesn’t mean there is no longer any room for imaginative speculation and appreciation for the mystery of the sheer fact that such a beautifully ordered universe should exist at all. Pre-modern answers to spiritual questions no longer inspire us–and so we must go in search of our own. But search we must. Scientific certainty about this or that particular fact will never be enough to keep the human spirit alive.

  213. #213 redliterocket4
    February 8, 2010

    rerdavies,

    thanks for that especially insightful post!

  214. #214 redliterocket4
    February 8, 2010

    Kel,

    I don’t think post-modern relativism deserves the name philosophy, because philosophy is concerned with the True and the Good whereas post-modernists believe neither exists. Not that, as Burt said, philosophy can give us a final answer as to what constitutes these. But it is the only means we have of pursuing them (I say ‘only’ because I mean to include science as a special method within philosophy more generally).

  215. #215 Rorschach
    February 8, 2010

    but that doesn’t mean there is no longer any room for imaginative speculation and appreciation for the mystery of the sheer fact that such a beautifully ordered universe should exist at all.

    I fail to see how this universe is beautifully ordered, wouldn’t thermodynamic equilibrium actually mean the universe was dead ?

    I don’t think post-modern relativism deserves the name philosophy, because philosophy is concerned with the True and the Good whereas post-modernists believe neither exists

    Define those terms, otherwise this is just the mother of all ambiguous statements.

  216. #216 redliterocket4
    February 8, 2010

    Rorschach,

    The expansionary model of the universe, as well as the seeming infinite potential of the quantum vacuum, calls into question the idea that it is all destined for heat death.

    I hold, as Plato did, that Truth and Goodness cannot be finally defined, but only approached through ongoing dialectical struggle. That they exist as ideal forms is an assumption I seem unable to avoid. But that I might once and for all define them for you in abstraction from the concrete actuality of the always new particular situations in which they are to be applied is hardly possible. It is a bit like what Augustine said about time, that he knew what it was (the very essence of the life of his soul!) only until he was asked to define it. All but the most poetic language fails us in these situations, but unless we buy into the relativism of our intellectually impotent age, we cannot avoid the conclusion that we have at least intuitive access to these ideals.

  217. #217 John Morales
    February 8, 2010

    rerdavies,

    But that leaves aside the point that he seems to be making, from reading a very thinly written reivew: that social organization may also be a driver of evolution, in addition to pure neo-Darwinian evolution.

    What led to social organisation? ;)

  218. #218 John Morales
    February 8, 2010

    redliterocket4,

    I hold, as Plato did, that Truth and Goodness cannot be finally defined, but only approached through ongoing dialectical struggle.

    Then you’re reifying them.

    (You use the terms, yet you claim they’re ineffable. Do you see the oddity in this?)

  219. #219 redliterocket4
    February 8, 2010

    John Morales,

    You use the terms, yet you claim they’re ineffable. Do you see the oddity in this?

    Not at all. Language allows us to approach intelligibility, but not to arrive at it in the form of fixed definitions. Inquire seriously into the meaning of most words and you’ll find you eventually reach an aporia. The ground of language is speech, which at its root is a matter of communication between persons. When we talk about Truth and Goodness, we are attempting to share attentional ‘space’ about ideas which do not in fact exist anywhere in our sensory experience of the physical world, but rather come to us as spiritual intuitions. I use the loaded word “spiritual” because our own self-conscious capacity to think (i.e., our spirit, or “I”) doesn’t appear to exist anywhere in the spatially extended world of material objects. Rather, it is that which is able to conceive of the world as a spatiotemporal manifold in the first place. Space and time, like Truth and Goodness, are ideas. You’ve never literally seen space. You’ve only seen shades of color. Nor have you seen time, only motion. You intuit space-time and can never be quite sure what it might be independent of your intuitions. Said otherwise, you can never be quite sure what the words “space” and “time” actually refer to; though of course this doesn’t mean we can’t have meaningful conversations about them so long as we are willing to take the imaginative leap necessary give them content.

  220. #220 Kel, OM
    February 8, 2010

    It seems like Pharyngula is more concerned with the cultural implications of our biological origins than with the specific details of evolutionary theory

    To be honest, I want to understand evolution. If I’m wrong, I want to know that I’m wrong and I want to know how I’m wrong so I can know better for the future. Like the objection I raised above, natural selection is not the full story in evolution – but what else is there than can build complex structures? I honestly don’t know, which is why I put the argument out there.

    If evolution changes, so be it. I’m not married to any of the ideas in evolutionary theory, I’m just trying to understand it.

    I don’t think post-modern relativism deserves the name philosophy, because philosophy is concerned with the True and the Good whereas post-modernists believe neither exists.

    I would say No True Scotsman for the reason that there are many schools of thought that try to deal with what’s true in a manner that negates the ability for there to be knowledge, but I share your opinion on post-modernism. But in that, I think you’ve missed why I brought it up. Those who bring it up aren’t post-modernists. They aren’t trying to destroy knowledge, they are young earth creationists who are trying to devalue science and use the tools of philosophical rhetoric to do so. My point was that it’s understandable people here have a distrust of the use of philosophy because a lot of times they just see sophist nonsense presented in a pompous manner.

    Like I said before, I’m seeing many trying to prove that it’s impossible for Achilles to overtake the tortoise whereas science solved the problem a long time ago.

  221. #221 John Morales
    February 8, 2010

    [OT — why don't we take this off-thread? I suggest the Endless Thread (link on upper-left of page) — I shan't continue this here after this.]

    redliterocket4,

    Language allows us to approach intelligibility, but not to arrive at it in the form of fixed definitions. Inquire seriously into the meaning of most words and you’ll find you eventually reach an aporia.

    The solution is simply for interlocutors to agree on their terms, so as to establish a shared universe of discourse.

    When we talk about Truth and Goodness, we are attempting to share attentional ‘space’ about ideas which do not in fact exist anywhere in our sensory experience of the physical world, but rather come to us as spiritual intuitions.

    But we don’t! You speak of Truth and Goodness as if they were entities, rather than descriptors.
    Nor do I agree that these concepts “come to us as spiritual intuitions”, but consider that they describe certain judgements (which may be intersubjective, but hardly objective).

    I use the loaded word “spiritual” because our own self-conscious capacity to think (i.e., our spirit, or “I”) doesn’t appear to exist anywhere in the spatially extended world of material objects.

    Um, I consider both you and I are material objects, and that our consciousness is an epiphenomenon thereof.

    Space and time, like Truth and Goodness, are ideas.

    I doubt that. If every sapient being were to cease to exist, would time and space do likesise? :)

    You’ve only seen shades of color. Nor have you seen time, only motion. You intuit space-time and can never be quite sure what it might be independent of your intuitions.

    That would be because my perception is not direct, but subject to the limitations of my senses. Nonetheless, unless I embrace solipsism, my senses inform me that there is an external reality that I can perceive. Hence, it’s not an intuition, but an experience.

    Said otherwise, you can never be quite sure what the words “space” and “time” actually refer to; though of course this doesn’t mean we can’t have meaningful conversations about them so long as we are willing to take the imaginative leap necessary give them content.

    But we can define them in such a way that we both agree on their definition, we can make predictions and test them; this is what science does.

    I think you’re waxing mystical when there’s no actual need for it.

  222. #222 redliterocket4
    February 8, 2010

    I don’t mean to create some dualism between the mind and the extended world of nature here (a la Descartes). The challenging thing about a thoroughgoing evolutionary philosophy is that it requires we articulate how it is possible for mental experience and material process to share a common origin. The universe doesn’t do what it does because of some extra élan vital; rather, the expansion of space-time and organization of matter/energy constituting our ongoing cosmogenesis was from the beginning in possession of interiority or mind. To speak of “matter” (or exteriority) as if it might exist in abstraction from “mind” (or interiority) is to employ a form of substance dualism. Unless our concepts of both mind and matter have a necessary relation to one another such that the one requires the other for its meaning, they sink into incoherence. We cannot conceive of them as separate substances requiring nothing but themselves in order to exist, even if, like many here at Pharyngula, we chose to ignore mind in favor of explanation by way of material substance alone.

    All this is to say that while thinking, ideas, and intuitions cannot be outwardly sensed or weighed, they remain integral to the universe. They are not immediately evident anywhere “out there,” perhaps, but they nonetheless require and participate in the becoming of the world. Only by becoming real does the ideal complete its mission.

    Language is itself a feature of the outside world, and so it cannot entirely contain the inwardly experienced meaning of our ideas–certainly not as abstract definitions. But we seem nonetheless able to change the world with our words, because by speaking with each other we give rise to shared networks significance, to entire civilizations.

  223. #223 redliterocket4
    February 8, 2010

    John Morales,

    Sure we can continue there.

  224. #224 Kel, OM
    February 8, 2010

    even if, like many here at Pharyngula, we chose to ignore mind in favor of explanation by way of material substance alone

    But doesn’t this fall from the fact that we are collections of the material? It’s all well and good to posit something else to explain mind but there’s just so much now that points to the mind as a product of the physical. When emotion can be stimulated electrically, when chemicals can alter perception – is it really necessary to posit something beyond the material?

  225. #225 redliterocket4
    February 8, 2010

    Well, it seems the off-thread options have been closed.

    I’ll respond here to #221.

    Agreeing on use of terms is important, but it is only because we can never quite agree that culture evolves by continually realizing new forms of language that give insight into our relationship to the physical world. We can only know the world, whether through judgement or otherwise, because of our relations to other people. I can conceive of perspectival space, for instance, only after taking into consideration the fact that others see the world from a different angle than myself. Truth and Goodness are not entities in the way that the apple I hold in my hand is an entity. They are ideal forms. As soon as I speak and give them a name, they become mere abstractions unless in some concrete encounter between myself and other people an immediate intuition is shared concerning their participation in our given situation. These ideas could be thought of as strange attractors guiding our complex interactions with one another in the world.

    As for an account of self-consciousness as epiphenomenal to the brain, I refer you to my reasoning (#222) concerning the incoherence of any definition of matter in abstraction from mind. Yes, we are both material objects; but so are we spiritual subjects. Otherwise we would not be capable of the sort of knowledge science claims we have of the spatiotemporal world.

    Human beings are not the only creatures with an interior perspective on the world, and so if we went extinct, space-time would still be realized by other beings.

    I don’t think it is so easy to distinguish between perception and intuition. We always already perceive the world in terms of the concepts of space and time. These are the very conditions for the possibility of experience in the first place. We do experience a real world, certainly. But the constitution of this world includes both a mental and a material pole and can’t be reduced to one or the other.

    This all sounds awfully Kantian, and I think his approach fails in the end to overcome Descartes dualism, but so far as it goes I think he successfully destroyed any hope for a materialistic account of thinking and self-consciousness.

  226. #226 Peter Ashby
    February 8, 2010

    Reading the opinion piece in my copy of last week’s New Scientist my conclusion was firstly that they are confusing constraints on the range of phenotypic variation with selection. They betray that in the comment on pigs with wings. Also at one point with their examples they seem to accept natural selection then later on with their example of linked features they seem to think NS acts individually on each feature instead of the overall effect of the sum of all features on the organism’s chances when faced with a selection event, whether that is a predator, a parasite, a fellow of their own species or inorganic environmental change. it comes over as though they are being deliberately obtuse. I credit both of them with sufficient smarts to see the difference between constraints on variation and selection so I can only conclude that they are being dishonest and on a campaign.

    The answer to their example of two linked genes one of which is beneficial and one deleterious is it depends on the overall summation in the context of each and every selection event, duh! That is such an elementary failure of understanding to beggar belief in people who claim to be professional academics.

    That conclusion is reinforced by their continued use of ‘Darwinist’ and ‘Darwinism’ when what they mean is ‘Modern Evolutionary Theory’. That may work as a dog whistle in America but in a British science mag it simply looks weird and misinformed which makes it a major fail as an attempt to persuade.

  227. #227 redliterocket4
    February 8, 2010

    Kel,

    It’s not so much that there is something “beyond” the material. It’s that within matter itself there lies the capacity to think, to be aware, to know. This has implications so far as our general conception of the universe is concerned, the sort of implications that force us to wonder if perhaps the modern scientific notion of a dead, mechanistic universe–rather than the pre-modern one of an organic, living universe–is the mistaken projection. Science has corrected much that was wrong with ancient cosmology and totally reoriented us in the universe based on empirical observation, no doubt about that! But the total sterilization of the universe by reduction to exterior matter in motion according to deterministic law has turned out to be a bit premature. Such a picture leaves the human observer entirely out of the picture. Since relativity and quantum theories over-turned the Classical conception of the physical world, such an oversight is no longer excusable even within science, much less philosophy. We are in need of a metaphysical scheme that ties mind and matter together into a single evolutionary process. There’s no doubt they are intimately wed. But it is a huge leap to the assumption that we can hope to account for our very ability to give an account of anything (Plato referred to this ability as our participation in Logos, which could be translated as mind) in terms of external brain mechanisms alone. To do so is to ignore the significance of our own thinking activity.

  228. #228 Stephen Wells
    February 8, 2010

    None of the empirical claims in post 227 seem to be true. Science does not neglect the human observer, it just doesn’t assume that observers have magic powers to alter the reality of what they’re observing. And the metaphysical scheme that allows for both mind and matter is scientific materialism; our minds are what our brains do. No additional metaphysics required.

  229. #229 redliterocket4
    February 8, 2010

    Stephen Wells,

    Observers don’t have magic powers to alter reality, but reality independent of experience cannot be conceived of but as an empty abstraction.

    I agree that our minds are what our brains do, but I’d add that what our brains do in any given moment is in no way separate from what the rest of the universe is doing. Mind is not contained in the human skull, but leaks out to participate in the realization of the world.

  230. #230 redliterocket4
    February 8, 2010

    I just discovered the open thread that John Morales suggested and am going to continue this there.

  231. #231 Kel, OM
    February 8, 2010

    It’s not so much that there is something “beyond” the material. It’s that within matter itself there lies the capacity to think, to be aware, to know.

    It does? I find this statement a little contentious, it’s like saying that “within” matter itself there lies the capacity to form living organisms. While Chalmers may argue that any notion of vitalism can be whisked away under function and that there’s a hard problem of consciousness, one thing biological science has taught me is to be sceptical of a hard problem of anything.

    I’ve got to say, I find this a little greedy reductionist. Why do we need to go any lower than the brain itself in order to explain consciousness? With all the experiments showing links between physical activity in the brain and sensation of experience, surely it would be better to explore consciousness in a physical form before going to something else.

    But the total sterilization of the universe by reduction to exterior matter in motion according to deterministic law has turned out to be a bit premature.

    I disagree with this, a deterministic universe does not make the universe sterile. And the success of the predictive power of such theories gives reason enough to try to fit phenomena into that framework first.

    Such a picture leaves the human observer entirely out of the picture.

    We’re trying to put ourselves into the position of external observer, to do otherwise would be anthropomorphising reality – something we should be very wary of doing.

    Since relativity and quantum theories over-turned the Classical conception of the physical world, such an oversight is no longer excusable even within science, much less philosophy. We are in need of a metaphysical scheme that ties mind and matter together into a single evolutionary process.

    The main problem I see with this is that biology at its core is chemistry, what you’re proposing would overturn physics itself!

    But it is a huge leap to the assumption that we can hope to account for our very ability to give an account of anything (Plato referred to this ability as our participation in Logos, which could be translated as mind) in terms of external brain mechanisms alone. To do so is to ignore the significance of our own thinking activity.

    I’m not denying that thinking is not significant, just that there’s a lot of empirical evidence to point to experience as a form of brain function.

    Of course if it turns out to be something beyond the brain, then that’s amazing too. But really, what we have here is freaking amazing no matter which way it turns out. That matter can form together and make thinking, feeling, intentional agents – how is that diminishing to us or to thinking in the slightest?

  232. #232 negentropyeater
    February 8, 2010

    redlitelrocket4,

    The expansionary model of the universe, as well as the seeming infinite potential of the quantum vacuum, calls into question the idea that it is all destined for heat death.

    Wordsalad.

    This all sounds awfully Kantian, and I think his approach fails in the end to overcome Descartes dualism, but so far as it goes I think he successfully destroyed any hope for a materialistic account of thinking and self-consciousness.

    You mean Kant succesfully refuted Physicalism ? That’s new to me.

  233. #233 Knockgoats
    February 8, 2010

    I know, I know, Ignorant Engineer obsessing on pigs again. – But this implies – at least to me – that F & PP doubt that pigs and bats share a common ancestor. A creationist position if I ever heard one. – Steve V.

    Frodo has probably concluded that bats cannot possibly exist, so any empirical evidence of their existence can be safely ignored.

  234. #234 Knockgoats
    February 8, 2010

    Darwin’s theory of evolution also doesn’t explain where socks hide after you do the laundry.

    True, but it does explain why the frequency of this behaviour is increasing over time. We know that socks reproduce (because we occasionally find a completely unaccountable sock in the sock drawer), although the mechanism remains a mystery. Now, from the sock’s point of view, the wearer is simply a parasite, reducing its mating opportunities and wearing it out. Hence any sock that is better at hiding after the laundry will have a selective advantage. Assuming differences in this ability are heritable, we’re there!

  235. #235 windy
    February 8, 2010

    Frodo has probably concluded that bats cannot possibly exist, so any empirical evidence of their existence can be safely ignored.

    We could also ask him if it would have been developmentally impossible for dinosaurs to evolve wings.

  236. #236 Knockgoats
    February 8, 2010

    The majority of it is “intellectual masturbation.” – final-semester-philosophy-undergrad

    I tried that at one time, but I found it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as the real thing ;-)

  237. #237 Knockgoats
    February 8, 2010

    It just seems to make more sense that it’s a variant sort of genetic inheritance than that it’s an inheritance that should be understood as another form of variation. Glen D

    Indeed: some organisms just have more than two parents.

  238. #238 Knockgoats
    February 8, 2010

    rerdavis,
    You never heard of the Baldwin Effect?

  239. #239 co
    February 8, 2010

    negentropyeater, quoting redlitelrocket4, with a comment:

    “”

    The expansionary model of the universe, as well as the seeming infinite potential of the quantum vacuum, calls into question the idea that it is all destined for heat death.


    “Wordsalad.”

    The expansionary model takes care of it all on its own. The ‘infinite potential of the quantum vacuum’ is just wrong.

  240. #240 raven
    February 8, 2010

    The answer to their example of two linked genes one of which is beneficial and one deleterious is it depends on the overall summation in the context of each and every selection event, duh!

    Fodor:

    It’s a main claim of our book that, when phenotypic traits are endogenously linked, there is no way that selection can distinguish among them: selection for one selects the others, regardless of their effects on fitness.

    Fodor gets the science completely wrong at the beginning, totally wrong. Everything after that is meaningless.

    Just summarizing a lot of what was posted previously. Meiosis and recombination will separate two genes or traits that are linked and rather quickly. It occurs often enough that even intragenic alleles separated by a few hundred or thousand base pairs can and do get separated. This is thought to be one of the main purposes of an otherwise wasteful process…..sex. Why we tolerate all those drone males that don’t have babies :>).

    Fodor got the basic undergrad science wrong. Set up a strawperson. And then cold bloodly murdered it. After that everything really went downhill.

    Hard to say if this is fake philosophy or real incompetence.

  241. #241 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 8, 2010

    The conclusion on the eternal thread is that redliterocket4 is probably Matthew Seagall, inane sophist philosopher extraordinaire, who couldn’t tell a scientific fact if he tripped over it and it bit him in the family jewels.

  242. #242 raven
    February 8, 2010

    redliterocket4 is probably Matthew Seagall, inane sophist philosopher extraordinaire,

    Oh. Glad it was late and time to sleep.

  243. #243 frog, Inc.
    February 8, 2010

    Wow, this thread is almost as bad as Fodor’s comments. Fodor is just giving a sloppy recap of arguments settled back 30 years ago — that natural selection is highly constrained by contingency.

    Nothing new here. Nothing to get so upset over, other than the old story that Fodor is a high-class bullshitter putting lots of fancy words to cover up pretty simple ideas. His “modular mind” works is a classic of obfuscation and semi-mystical reverie.

    The fact that so many commenters seem to miss the fact that he’s saying nothing unorthodox, just repeating orthodoxy in a stupid way — well, it’s not impressive. Yes — pigs are extremely unlikely to evolve wings, they’ve committed to a subset of possible evolutions. Yes, you can distinguish generalists that still have wide evolutionary potential, and specialists who have dead-ended themselves via over-adaptation to a very small ecology.

    Yes, it’s more likely to lose toes than to gain toes — see the trouble of Panda’s and their thumbs, and their crappy digestive systems. Talk about an extinction that is well-deserved.

    History matters. Big whoop.

  244. #244 Blake Stacey
    February 8, 2010

    Knockgoats (#234):

    True, but it does explain why the frequency of this behaviour is increasing over time. We know that socks reproduce (because we occasionally find a completely unaccountable sock in the sock drawer), although the mechanism remains a mystery. Now, from the sock’s point of view, the wearer is simply a parasite, reducing its mating opportunities and wearing it out. Hence any sock that is better at hiding after the laundry will have a selective advantage. Assuming differences in this ability are heritable, we’re there!

    Won: one (1) internets.

  245. #245 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    Perhaps.

    wrong.

    But the theory that lifeforms have evolved by swapping huge chunks of genetic material across species bears little resemblance to the classic neo-Darwinian model.Remember, he’s not claiming that it conflicts with the Darwinian model, but that it conflicts with the neo-Darwinian model. At least according to the article.

    He’s wrong either way.

    it doesn’t “conflict” with the original darwinian model because darwin never knew what the mechanism of inheritance was to begin with.

    it doesn’t “conflict” with the modern synthesis, because, as has been said several times now, it is indeed just another source of variation, much like any other inclusion mutation.

  246. #246 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    That may not be earthshaking to news to many. But it’s a valid point, all the same. That is a non-neo-Darwinian mechanism.

    it’s only a valid point if you wish to make a category error.

  247. #247 Tulse
    February 8, 2010

    Horizontal gene transfer is not at all a problem for natural selection. It does pose some serious issues for notions of species, speciation, and monophyletic descent, but that’s not what Fodor is addressing.

  248. #248 Oran Kelley
    February 8, 2010

    Antiochus Epiphanes | February 7, 2010 4:02 PM
    Oran: Frodo and Super Mario are conflating the source of variation with the mechanism by which a variant becomes prominent or fixed in a population. Changes in gene interactions/expression patterns/pleiotropic genes induce breathtaking variation in traits or suites of traits, upon which drift or selection may act to change population phenotype means. In other words, the rejection of the one gene/one trait model (a paradigm that hasn’t really existed in a bazillion years), doesn’t imply ANYTHING* about the mechanisms by which changes become fixed or lost when they have been introduced.
    This much is text-book evolutionary biology.
    *OK…it implies something about trait heritability, but this is NOT what the article is dealing with.

    OK, going waaaaaaay back to comment 101.

    I think F&M aren’t confusing propose and dispose (as in mutation propose, selection disposes).

    What they’re saying is that there is so much limitation on the propose stage, that those are what characterize evolution, not selection.

    As, say, presidential nominations characterize the composition of the Supreme Court, not the Senate’s yae or nae.

  249. #249 Oran Kelley
    February 8, 2010

    Oh, and it doesn’t matter for the purposes of Fodor’s argument that a lot of the stuff he points out as complicating factors in Darwin’s model have been around for a long time, his central argument is that the weight of these complications is now at a point where natural selection ought to lose its pride of place in our understanding of how evolution works.

    In short that this statement: “I am convinced that natural selection has been the main but not the exclusive means of modification,” is no longer sustainable in the face of all the factors we now see on the proposal side of the evolution equation.

    It simply doesn’t matter how much of this stuff Darwin knew about or Fisher or whomever.

    I think Fodor’s wrong, but I don’t see many people addressing what he’s arguing, as opposed to quote mining for high-flying rhetoric.

  250. #250 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 8, 2010

    OK, this is a scientific debate, where the philosopher got his science wrong. Now, either cite the scientific literature to show the philosopher is not a fool, or shut the fuck up. Welcome to science, where bullshitting, like philosophers do, is frowned on.

  251. #251 Oran Kelley
    February 8, 2010

    OK, this is a scientific debate, where the philosopher got his science wrong. Now, either cite the scientific literature to show the philosopher is not a fool, or shut the fuck up. Welcome to science, where bullshitting, like philosophers do, is frowned on

    Well, study hard and stay out of trouble and I’m sure they can find room on some lab bench for you, too, junior.

  252. #252 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 8, 2010

    Well, study hard and stay out of trouble and I’m sure they can find room on some lab bench for you, too, junior.

    Sorry fuckhead, 30+ years as a science professional (PhD). Take your attitude and stick it where the sun don’t shine. Now, put up the citations, or shut the fuck up. Welcome to science, not bullshit.

  253. #253 Oran Kelley
    February 8, 2010

    Sorry fuckhead, 30+ years as a science professional (PhD). Take your attitude and stick it where the sun don’t shine. Now, put up the citations, or shut the fuck up. Welcome to science, not bullshit.

    Really? I wouldn’t have put you north of 15.

    Citations of what? What the hell are you talking about?

    Perhaps you mean yours? Let’s see the results of 30 years as a science pro–a rather oddly worded claim. You, who are so in love with authority, show us yours.

  254. #254 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 8, 2010

    Citations of what? What the hell are you talking about?

    What the scientists here have been talking about all along, for 200+ posts. Where the sophist philosophers got the science wrong (philosophy without evidence is sophistry). That has been our discussion. What you think about the philosophy is utterly irrelevant, since philosophers tend to ignore the evidence. We don’t. So, where is your evidence (not philosophy) to prove they are right?

  255. #255 Oran Kelley
    February 8, 2010

    Well, nerd, I suggest you actually break down and read the paper. Carefully. Trying to figure out what the authors are saying rather than what you want them to have said.

    And read carefully your last post, parse it, and tell me what those words are supposed to indicate that I’m supposed to provide in the way of citations.

    Really, give it a whirl. I imagine it’s your native language or one that you use pretty often.

  256. #256 Kel, OM
    February 8, 2010

    Oh, and it doesn’t matter for the purposes of Fodor’s argument that a lot of the stuff he points out as complicating factors in Darwin’s model have been around for a long time, his central argument is that the weight of these complications is now at a point where natural selection ought to lose its pride of place in our understanding of how evolution works.

    The problem with such an argument is twofold: firstly as has been shown in engineering and computer science, natural selection as a concept works. Secondly that despite his insistance that natural selection doesn’t work, he’s proposing nothing that could play the role of natural selection in return. If his argument is against panadaptation then as frog, Inc suggested he is about 30 years too late. But that’s doesn’t take away natural selection completely.

    What alternative is there to natural selection that could build complex structures?

  257. #257 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 8, 2010

    I suggest you actually break down and read the paper.

    I don’t have to. I know the science, unlike you and the philosophers. You are wrong. If you were right, you could cite the peer reviewed scientific literature. We are waiting for you, the claimant, to prove yourself right, with science, not sophistry. Science is grounded in reality, philosophy is not. Welcome to science.

  258. #258 Oran Kelley
    February 8, 2010

    I don’t have to. I know the science, unlike you and the philosophers. You are wrong. If you were right, you could cite the peer reviewed scientific literature.

    Pontificating on a paper you haven’t even read: the very pinnacle of bullshit.

    I don’t give a shit about philosophy one way or the other, btw, so you can stop pretending it’s an issue.

    You should really apply your 30+ years of vaguely defined science professionalism and ask yourself if a) condemning something you haven’t read is consistent with it; and b) whether “peer review” really is this Oracle at Delphi you hold it up to be.

    Isn’t “peer review” just people applying their critical thinking and knowledge to new work? can’t you give an honest try at that yourself? If not, then you are no scientist. If so, the first step is to read the paper. Or to shut the fuck up as you seem so fond of telling others.

  259. #259 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 8, 2010

    whether “peer review” really is this Oracle at Delphi you hold it up to be.

    Yes it is. Put up citations, or shut the fuck up. That is what people of honor, truthfulness, and integrity do. This includes most scientists in their professional work. Now, do you have any scientific evidence to show the philosophy is correct? If so, present it by citing it. If you don’t, shut the fuck up. Only liars, bullshitters, con-men and professional trolls show that lack of integrity.

  260. #260 Oran Kelley
    February 8, 2010

    I’ll post citations, as soon as you parse this so I know what to post:

    What the scientists here have been talking about all along, for 200+ posts. Where the sophist philosophers got the science wrong (philosophy without evidence is sophistry). That has been our discussion. What you think about the philosophy is utterly irrelevant, since philosophers tend to ignore the evidence. We don’t. So, where is your evidence (not philosophy) to prove they are right?

    Surely you can ask for what you want in plain English?

  261. #261 Oran Kelley
    February 8, 2010

    people of honor, truthfulness, and integrity do

    . . . post citations when you incoherently demand them, but they don’t read things they condemn.

    Curious notions of honor, truthfulness and integrity. They should really look into that scientific professionalism curriculum.

  262. #262 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    What they’re saying is that there is so much limitation on the propose stage, that those are what characterize evolution, not selection.

    then they are making a category error, as has been pointed out numerous times.

  263. #263 Oran Kelley
    February 8, 2010

    My philosophy? What the hell are you talking about? Have you been drinking or something?

  264. #264 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    I think Fodor’s wrong,

    then you would be right.

    but I don’t see many people addressing what he’s arguing, as opposed to quote mining for high-flying rhetoric.

    then you would be wrong.

  265. #265 Oran Kelley
    February 8, 2010

    then they are making a category error, as has been pointed out numerous times.

    “In evolution, mutation proposes, selection disposes.” This is a category error?

  266. #266 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    Surely you can ask for what you want in plain English?

    let me translate for my vehement buddy:

    He wants you to actually peruse the actual literature on the subject at hand, which is evolutionary biology, instead of the philo lit, and show him where evolutionary biologists have been wrong when they have continued testing hypotheses involving selection.

    like i said, the lit is full of papers that have concluded, even within the last year, that selection is STILL an important mechanism driving evolution.

    as to what Fodor et al have done? All they did was “independently” derive constraints on the totality of selection as a mechanism driving evolution, which, given that those of us who have ever actually studied the field have been aware of these constraints for around 40 years, ain’t exactly saying much.

    Moreover, since anyone actually in the field has been aware of these constraints, and yet we still publish papers regularly showing the effects of selection in the field, do you really think that Fodor’s arguments hold water given the reality of the publication record?

  267. #267 Tulse
    February 8, 2010

    I knew I would eventually dig up this quote:

    ?I think many philosophers secretly harbor the view that there is something deeply (i.e., conceptually) wrong with [this scientific field], but that a philosopher with a little training in the techniques of linguistic analysis and a free afternoon could straighten it out.?
    - Jerry Fodor
    Psychological Explanation, 1968, vii

    Of course, the discipline I elided is ?psychology?, and the remark was meant sardonically. It now seems that nearly 40 years later, Fodor actually harbors this view about biology.

  268. #268 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    …and with that, if you still don’t get it, you can talk to yourself until you’re blue in the face.

    frankly, I think you probably would get better traction attempting to address this way back from #14:

    To put it bluntly: time has not been kind to Fodor’s Modularity of Mind thesis.

    because it’s quite obvious to those of us IN this field he’s quite wrong about the current issue. You might have better luck defending him, and garner more interest, since most of us are not cog sci folk, and might actually be interested in seeing his earlier work defended.

  269. #269 malletman
    February 8, 2010

    There’s already been links citing specific work in evolutionary biology (such as the Price equation) that have addressed his specific qualms.

    Fodor at times strikes me a lot like Feyerabend, except he’s contrarian instead of real anarchist, pulling what he thinks his contemporaries need to hear rather than what he may or may not actually believe. However, his larger project in the cognitive sciences is abhorrent at best. He engages in some of the most dubious arguments from consequences, which is really how he summarily dismisses problems such as semantic holism. His functionalist bend is so strong at times he seems hostile to the neurosciences, when defending his modularity “hypothesis”. Basically, he generally hasn’t really ever given a crap about evidence, and has always preferred how he thinks minds “ought” to work.

  270. #270 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    see, ^^ (269) perfect chance for you, Oran, to see if you can defend Fodor’s primary work on his modularity hypothesis.

    I would be much more interested in that than watching you beat a dead horse.

  271. #271 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 8, 2010

    Surely you can ask for what you want in plain English?

    I have. Show evidence for the philosopher’s inane and unscientific ideas. You can’t. You know better. You have nothing, and prove it with your evasions. In science, evidence trumps ideas every time. Present your evidence, shut the fuck up. Philosophical ideas are dime a dozen, and worthless without evidence.

  272. #272 Oran Kelley
    February 8, 2010

    Moreover, since anyone actually in the field has been aware of these constraints, and yet we still publish papers regularly showing the effects of selection in the field, do you really think that Fodor’s arguments hold water given the reality of the publication record?

    Being in the field doesn’t liberate you from the bounds of logic, I’m afraid.

    Now: philo lit . . . What philo lit have I cited aside from the paper you guys haven’t read and are bitching about?

    How’s this, if we are going to have a call to order, let’s see some citations from the paper being bitched about. Not one-sentence citations, but longer ones, with a little effort at comprehension, a little effort to actually figure out what the argument is.

    It isn’t difficult to tease out, and most everyone here failed to do so. Why? Because they figured they could attack it without reading merely because it was hostile to Darwin. Much like the church used to blindly attack anyone who questioned Aristotle.

    and show him where evolutionary biologists have been wrong when they have continued testing hypotheses involving selection.

    Why should I bother? There is a paper attempting to show just that already. Fodor’s paper, which he proudly refuses to read or consider properly. QED: His mind is closed and his call for citations just more bullshit.

    And since you seem to know the literature so well, cite something that shows Fodor wrong–is there a paper that demonstrates definitively that natural selection is the preponderant factor in the evolution of life on this planet? If so, cite it and we needn’t bother considering Fodor. Easy.

  273. #273 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    Show evidence for the philosopher’s inane and unscientific ideas.

    ah, but you don’t understand… the philosopher mind must be free and unfettered by an constraints in order to properly flesh out a logical argument.

    …THEN we get to trash it with real world evidence.
    :P

    I say that tongue in cheek, but really, I kinda hold to that. I don’t think philosophy would create any kind of new potential directions for exploration if they were limited first by what evidence we currently have at hand.

    they just should be a bit more willing to accept the thrashing most of their ideas take when actually filtered through reality afterwards.

  274. #274 Oran Kelley
    February 8, 2010

    Fodor’s primary work on his modularity hypothesis.
    I would be much more interested in that than watching you beat a dead horse.

    No, I’m more interested in the purported category error. Please elucidate.

  275. #275 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    No, I’m more interested in the purported category error. Please elucidate.

    focusing on the sources of variation, instead of the mechanisms affecting variation in a population afterwards.

    again, any of us would be fine with Fodor attempting to compare, say, drift vs. selection, but comparing developmental constraints with selection is a category error.

    now, if you please, either get on with something more interesting, or STFU.

  276. #276 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    Now: philo lit . . . What philo lit have I cited aside from the paper you guys haven’t read and are bitching about?

    well, that too, since you mention it.

    …and fuck your implication while I’m at it.

    How’s this, if we are going to have a call to order, let’s see some citations from the paper being bitched about. Not one-sentence citations, but longer ones, with a little effort at comprehension, a little effort to actually figure out what the argument is.

    no need. the paper’s intent was entirely clear to us, who have been quite consistent as to what the errors are, both here and on Coyne’s blog, where not just the paper but the book are being debated.

    have you figured out what that makes you yet?

    I’ll tell ya:

    confused.

    now run along, sonny.

    Why should I bother?

    like i said, then, STFU.

  277. #277 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    is there a paper that demonstrates definitively that natural selection is the preponderant factor in the evolution of life on this planet?

    good thing that wasn’t what Fodor was implying (which was dumping selection as a mechanism alltogether), or what we were addressing (like when i said to check the literature regarding selection in the field).

    enough of your prattle. Nerd is right, you haven’t a clue what you’re talking about.

  278. #278 windy
    February 8, 2010

    What philo lit have I cited aside from the paper you guys haven’t read and are bitching about?

    What ‘paper’? The opinion piece?

  279. #279 Oran Kelley
    February 8, 2010

    focusing on the sources of variation, instead of the mechanisms affecting variation in a population afterwards.

    Evolution is made up of both of these things, no? And which part merits focus is precisely the question he is raising.

    He recognizes the distinction, and in fact the distinction is crucial to his argument.

    It is not a category error.

    And I’m writing about the topic of the thread. You, on the other hand are . . . I don’t know what exactly. Talking about an argument you haven’t acquainted yourself with, calling it boring and asking that we talk about something else. What do you call that?

  280. #280 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    Evolution is made up of both of these things, no? And which part merits focus is precisely the question he is raising.

    *sigh*

    you don’t even understand why the two things are not directly comparable.

    you aren’t a philosopher, you aren’t a scientist, and you aren’t interesting.

    any reason I should keep listening to you?

    no.

    *plonk*

  281. #281 Oran Kelley
    February 8, 2010

    good thing that wasn’t what Fodor was implying (which was dumping selection as a mechanism alltogether), or what we were addressing (like when i said to check the literature regarding selection in the field).

    You haven’t read the paper, what do you now about what Fodor implied?

  282. #282 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 8, 2010

    You, on the other hand are . . . I don’t know what exactly. Talking about an argument you haven’t acquainted yourself with, calling it boring and asking that we talk about something else. What do you call that?

    Backing a creationist into a corner. You have no evidence, but can’t shut the fuck up. We have your number and it is a liar and bullshitter.

  283. #283 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    And which part merits focus is precisely the question he is raising.

    last clue for you:

    read post #10.

    *plonk*

  284. #284 Oran Kelley
    February 8, 2010

    windy: yes, I should be saying “piece.”

  285. #285 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    btw, I don’t think you’re a creationist, but it’s obvious you haven’t a clue how selection operates, have never read the lit, and are just a knee-jerk reactor because you overheard “bad things” about the implications of sociobiology at some point in your life.

    it’s sad, really, but you just aren’t worth listening to.

    educate yourself on the topic first.

  286. #286 Oran Kelley
    February 8, 2010

    read post #10.

    Where Coyne says absolutely nothing to the point, but makes several good points in support of selection’s power.

  287. #287 Oran Kelley
    February 8, 2010

    Oh, Nerd, it’s come to namecalling, has it.

    Admit it, you really are 15 years old!

  288. #288 Oran Kelley
    February 8, 2010

    *shut the fuck up*

    Or what? You’ll burn me at the stake?

  289. #289 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    Where Coyne says absolutely nothing to the point, but makes several good points in support of selection’s power.

    fuck me but you’re blind:

    But the ‘by-product’ explanation cannot explain apparent design.

    read for comprehension much?

    oh, and here’s a productive exercise for you to do:

    I know you are a big fan of Spandrels.

    Have you EVER gone on and looked at the actual critiques of the arguments presented in that paper?

    I bet not.

    Use the science citation index (at your local uni library) and see who has cited that paper since it was published.

    you might be surprised to find how little traction it has these days within evolutionary biology, and why.

    not to say it’s not a good cautionary tale, but we do our own policing over over-adaptationist programmes, thankyouverymuch.

  290. #290 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    Or what? You’ll burn me at the stake?

    frankly, that WOULD be more interesting.

  291. #291 Kel, OM
    February 8, 2010

    You haven’t read the paper, what do you now about what Fodor implied?

    I read the paper, as well as his previous paper and the discussions afterwards between Fodor and biologists / philosophers. It would make more sense just to watch a Sean Carroll lecture on The Making Of The Fittest instead. I mean, you could do both, just that reading Fodor becomes quite redundant.

  292. #292 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 8, 2010

    Admit it, you really are 15 years old!

    Sorry fuckwit, try AARP card age. Time for you to stop being a fuckwit, acknowledge you have no evidence, and then go away. Like a good troll.

  293. #293 Oran Kelley
    February 8, 2010

    btw, I don’t think you’re a creationist, but it’s obvious you haven’t a clue how selection operates, have never read the lit, and are just a knee-jerk reactor because you overheard “bad things” about the implications of sociobiology at some point in your life.

    This looks like the kind of argument that Christians make: I can’t reject their savior until I’ve read Augustine and Aquinas and I can’t expect a decent case right now from anyone living–I’m stuck with a bunch of willfully ignorant but enthusiastic believers.

    The name-calling is pretty much to the mark as well. Ah well, keep up the defense of orthodoxy and try not to think too much. Ta!

  294. #294 Antiochus Epiphanes
    February 8, 2010

    What they’re saying is that there is so much limitation on the propose stage, that those are what characterize evolution, not selection.

    Re: the statement natural selection is the most important agent of evolutionary change:
    The crux of the disagreement is indicated in the word “characterize” . Developmental constraints are not mechanisms of change…they are the opposite–mechanisms of stasis. In my view the conflation still stands. It is hardly novel to recognize that not all variation imaginable is possible. Haldane recognized this ~70 years ago. However stasis and limitation may characterize evolution, they are not agents of evolution. The only forces that result in change are mutation, drift, and selection (and here I include draft, sexual selection, etc). Of these, only selection is non-random, allowing for rapid evolution of complex traits.

  295. #295 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 8, 2010

    The name-calling is pretty much to the mark as well. Ah well, keep up the defense of orthodoxy and try not to think too much. Ta!

    There is no orthodoxy, just evidence. Which you lack. And you still claimed the idea. That shows you had your mind made up. Just like a creationist fuckwit.

  296. #296 Antiochus Epiphanes
    February 8, 2010

    FWIW: Calls for evidence seem irrelevant on this issue. When we are talking about the most “important” mechanism of evolutionary change, the question of “important how?” arises. I am assuming that we are mostly talking about complex characters but there is no “importance” or “preponderance” index that to calculate. In fact if we were talking about the evolution of something like microsatellite loci, selection wouldn’t be important at all.

    I argue that selection is the most important driver of change in complex characters. However, this isn’t based on evidence but on a coherent theoretical framework applicable to diploid sexual populations. How many studies supporting the role of selection in driving complex characters would comprise enough evidence that selection was the most “important” factor? Seems like a ridiculous endeavor. However, one can demonstrate that the probability agents (drift/mutation) producing coordinated change is pretty low, based again on theory.

  297. #297 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    This looks like the kind of argument that Christians make: I can’t reject their savior until I’ve read Augustine and Aquinas and I can’t expect a decent case right now from anyone living–I’m stuck with a bunch of willfully ignorant but enthusiastic believers.

    I’ve browsed your blog though.

    My characterization of you is accurate.

  298. #298 AJ Milne
    February 8, 2010

    Essay warning:

    The trouble with Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini isn’t just that they’re wrong. It’s that they’re fractally wrong. They’re so wrong, so very many ways, you hardly know where to begin.

    Nonetheless, to give you a flavour of just how wrong they are:

    Some of what Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini got wrong

    1. First, a nitpick, but a telling one, I think, and an oddly familar one to those watching the creobots in actoin. Focusing on ‘Darwinism’, even using the term is misleading. If they want to talk about contemporary evolutionary biology, talk about the modern synthesis. There’s lots Darwin didn’t know.

    I get to wondering, reading that, if they do it consciously. They don’t want to argue with the modern synthesis and the contemporary understanding, because they know they’d lose. But if they can act like they’re somehow part of a vanguard that’s overthrowing that terribly outdated Victorian old guard, maybe their hopelessly overstated claims as to what post-Darwin refinments to evolutionary biology actually mean will hold more weight than they should from their actual substance.

    2. The claim that ‘The possibility that anything is seriously amiss with Darwin’s account of evolution is hardly considered’ is utter bullshit. Again, we’ve moved on from Darwin significantly. The fact that natural selection is only one of several operating principles is well understood.

    3. The claim that ‘The methodological scepticism that characterises most areas of scientific discourse seems strikingly absent when Darwinism is the topic’ is also misleading. They’re essentially talking about adaptationism, here, notably, and there are ongoing bunfights about when adaptationist explanations are valid. People don’t get to just spin ‘just so’ stories anymore. Try that in front of Larry Moran, if you’d like a little entertainment for the week.

    4. The bit about Darwin (again!) expecting a random generator, and their line about ‘we don’t think this is true’ is again old news. We don’t just ‘think’ this isn’t true. We know this isn’t true, to the degree these clowns discuss here, anyway.

    5. The bit about caveats misses a whole fucking pile of points, and reading it, I even begin to get a sense of where these guys started going wrong. The ‘all else being equal’ thing is theoretically correct, and important to keep in mind as a mathematical principle, but understood almost never to hold in the real world, anyway. Environments change constantly. The environment of an individual gene, being all the other genes it’s working with, is a particularly important case in point I’ll be getting to further in a moment. This, too, is well understood.

    But note, interestingly, this doesn’t mean natural selection doesn’t do anything. It’s still in the game, selecting away, but often doing so at a lag. What comes out the end will sure as hell bear its marks, even tho’ in this case it won’t be shaping the organism necessarily against its current environment. Again, well understood, long acknowledged. And in no way saying that natural selection isn’t a factor. Just that it doesn’t work the way these feeblebrained wanks seem to think it should. Or the way they’re trying to say other folk are saying it does, when they don’t.

    6. Talking about ‘overestimating’ the effect of the environment and ‘underestimating’ endogenous variables is just incredibly stupid. The two things work hand in glove, and this is, again, well understood in the modern synthesis. If you’re going to start asking which does what, you could even argue natural selection does absolutely nothing, since it creates nothing, only killing off what it doesn’t like. (Which would be great, ‘cos then we’d be done, and we could all go home.)

    But this would be a trivially stupid semantic argument–like arguing a sculptor who does his work by carving rock does nothing because all he’s doing is removing stuff. In fact, think of that analogy, and think of the fact that this is a living rock, and after a piece is trimmed off, what else can grow and where it will grow is affected from thence forward, and you’ll get a better sense of what’s going on. Because remember, again: a gene by itself doesn’t make a baby’s eyes blue: it makes a gene product other gene products work with, the whole thing adds up to a phenotype at the end of a potentially very long, complex process that’s only going to work in a certain kind of cell anyway. A gene’s environment is also the other genes. And when each of those genes is shaped at each stage both by what’s possible and by selection picking off some it doesn’t like, well…

    Well, grasp this, and you get a sense of just how stupid it is to talk about ‘overestimating’ and ‘underestimating’ these things as two discrete factors as even being that interesting or meaningful a question. It’s more: at every stage, natural selection carves a bit, what can grow and what can work in that new environment shifts right then and there. You can’t separate the two, add them up, say the internal processes and constraints are terribly more important. One only makes sense in the light of the other.

    This, again, I think, is the kernel of where these idiots are going wrong. Even giving a fuck about whether natural selection is more or less ‘important’-whatever the hell you could even mean by that in this context–than the endogenous constraints is the kind of thing you only even bother to do when your brain is so rotted from having ground an axe on so-called ‘radical environmentalist theories’ for too long, and your desire to somehow demote a principle that just happens to get on your apparently anti-imperialist nerves gets the better of you. It’s a stupid reason to go after it, and leads you to make incredibly silly arguments that don’t come close to addressing or reflecting the real world–either the way people talk about reality or the reality itself. More importantly, if you’re going to grasp what’s going on, you’re going to need to understand: it’s a complex, interwoven tapestry, our metaphorical sculptor, again, working unfeelingly and impersonally, but working on a very odd sort of clay with some very, very complex responses to being carved. At the end of the day it *is* incredible what happens, and natural selection is especially fascinating the way it tends to tune bits and pieces to work with one another in delightfully intricate ways, within, again, the limits of C, N, O, H and a bunch of trace minerals can get themselves up to, and generally in the shorter term within the limits of what you can do with a lot of blocks you’ve already got to work with. And it’s absolutely fair to say: for that aspect of living things, you do need time and natural selection.

    7. Going on, anyway, this bit about endogenous factors ‘wreaking havoc with the theory’, again, simply wrong. First, there are no ‘Darwinists’, second, the people you keep calling ‘Darwinists’ don’t even say that, third, ‘Darwinists’ already grasp that selection works in a complex way within the limits of those factors, and even, again, as noted, will effect, in concert with the rest of these factors, what those factors will be in the next go-round.

    8. The conclusion is simply ridiculous. Blazingly silly. Natural selection is not going to ‘disappear’ from biology. And as to whether it’s ‘true’… What? Please rewrite that sentence, you pathetically tritely oversimplistic fucking morons. Do you mean ‘does it happen?’ Do you mean ‘is it significant, and if so, how much so’? These are questions we could at least address, if not easily answer in less than a few thousand paragraphs.

    So again, to summarise: fractally wrong. Or, rather: not even wrong. Silly, confounding and confounded. Setting fire to a million straw men, and getting far more heat than light from it. In structure, they do what any number of creationist wanks have done: dredged up a lot of old news, and wildly misrepresented its actual impact upon the larger question, here. Needless to say, they get nowhere worth being.

  299. #299 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    How many studies supporting the role of selection in driving complex characters would comprise enough evidence that selection was the most “important” factor? Seems like a ridiculous endeavor.

    you would have to freeze time itself, and somehow determine what number of populations of all organisms that have ever existed would constitute a sufficeint sample size to be able to actually represent the issue for all populations.

    then, you would have to determine for all phenotypes documentable within each of those populations, a relevant sample size.

    then, you would have to go and test whether selection or drift, for example, represent the bigger influence on the development of each trait chosen, for each population chosen…

    unpossible.

    that said, there HAVE been efforts to measure the relative impacts of selection and drift within specific populations of specific organisms.

    might start with Kimura, and move up from there, but IIRC, there is no discernable pattern emerging as yet, and no clear winner.

    not unexpected.

  300. #300 Antiochus Epiphanes
    February 8, 2010

    AJ Milne knocked it out of the park. I think we are done here.

  301. #301 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 8, 2010

    AJ Milne knocked it out of the park. I think we are done here.

    Can’t argue with that. Time for bed. And PZ’s snow storm is comin’ into town…

  302. #302 Kel, OM
    February 8, 2010

    Why is the obvious question being ignored? What is Fodor proposing that can build complex structures as an alternative to natural selection? As far as I can see, nothing. He’s calling the concept of natural selection incoherent, talking about sources of variation and constraints – but as for his thesis that NS is not doing so well… well it’s nowhere to be found.

    Maybe I’m misreading Fodor here, but why do we have to accept that because blood is red despite not being selected for it that we can’t conclude that certain flowers are red because they attract nectar-sucking birds? That when violet opsin genes are knocked out on nocturnal creatures it might be down to the gene no longer being necessary nor advantageous for survival? Or that a particular species of Hawk can see in the ultra-violet because its prey that happens to reside in long grass has urine that reflects in the ultra-violet?

    Fodor is explicitly attacking selection and putting in no alternative.

  303. #303 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    Fodor is explicitly attacking selection and putting in no alternative.

    he’s saying the constraints themselves, coupled with developmental variation (like epigenetics), are sufficient to explain everything that selection would.

  304. #304 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 9, 2010

    like epigenetics

    Aren’t they selected for too?

  305. #305 Ichthyic
    February 9, 2010

    Aren’t they selected for too?

    yes, of course. which is also something unnoticed by Fodor et. al.

  306. #306 AJ Milne
    February 9, 2010

    Thanks re #300, #301, and speaking of, yeah. Bed.

  307. #307 Ichthyic
    February 9, 2010

    yes, of course. which is also something unnoticed by Fodor et. al.

    actually, i should clarify that and say that epigenetic effects are arguably not heritable (much debate on this), and so would in cases come under “not affected by selection”.

  308. #308 Kel, OM
    February 9, 2010

    he’s saying the constraints themselves, coupled with developmental variation (like epigenetics), are sufficient to explain everything that selection would.

    That was my point though.

  309. #309 Owlmirror
    February 9, 2010

    *shut the fuck up*

    Or what? You’ll burn me at the stake?

    I believe the canonical response is:

    We shall taunt you a second time.

    Ta!

    We SIWOTI in your general direction.

  310. #310 Ichthyic
    February 9, 2010

    That was my point though.

    no, what I’m saying is that he PROPOSED those developmental mechanisms and constraints were sufficient.

    that this indeed IS his alternative.

    yeah, it’s, as AJ noted, fractally wrong.

  311. #311 Owlmirror
    February 9, 2010

    i should clarify that and say that epigenetic effects are arguably not heritable

    OK, why not? Does it have to do with the definition of “heritable”?

  312. #312 Ichthyic
    February 9, 2010

    OK, why not? Does it have to do with the definition of “heritable”?

    by definition, the effects on phenotypes are dependent on localized environmental variables.

    that’s not to say that the root of the epigenetic effect isn’t heritable (there is an underlying genetic component, after all), but that the effects on phenotype are not.

    ergo, no, selection cannot act directly on the epigenetic effect itself.

  313. #313 Ichthyic
    February 9, 2010

    …well, it can, obviously, but it won’t matter to the next generation.

  314. #314 Kel, OM
    February 9, 2010

    Aren’t there epigenetic effects that have been heritable?

  315. #315 Ichthyic
    February 9, 2010

    well, like i said, there is some controversy surrounding the issue.

    I do recall a paper that tried to speak of epigenetic effects being passed from grandparents to grandkids, but really it didn’t have much empirical support.

    I can’t recall anything else recently that implied direct heritability, but I could have missed something.

    still, in general when we are speaking of epigenetic effects, we are talking about things that selection can not act on to influence allelic frequencies.

    does that help?

    if not, I can point to some good general references on the subject.

    I always liked the “Tale of Two Mice” thing NOVA did a while back. sets out the issues pretty clearly.

    have you seen that?

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/3411/02-tale-flash.html

  316. #316 Kel, OM
    February 9, 2010

    no, what I’m saying is that he PROPOSED those developmental mechanisms and constraints were sufficient.

    Which I supposed is what I was missing from his argument. I don’t see that those mechanisms alone could be sufficient to explain mimicry or camouflage for example, nor how it could explain the spectral range of the eye. Hence my charge that he wasn’t providing a mechanism. I see now, cheers.

  317. #317 Ichthyic
    February 9, 2010

    …focus on the two very different (phenotypically) mice.

    both are genetically identical.

    so, selection cannot act to change allele frequencies, because these simply aren’t involved in how these phenotypes are produced to begin with.

    does that help?

  318. #318 Kel, OM
    February 9, 2010

    I can’t recall anything else recently that implied direct heritability, but I could have missed something.

    I read it recently in an article about a potential extended synthesis: “Last year, Eva Jablonka, an epigeneticist at Tel Aviv University in Israel, published a review article in the Quarterly Review of Biology that details more than 100 published cases of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, documented in groups from bacteria and protists to plants and animals.

    Jerry Coyne’s response:
    ?Usually epigenetic characters aren?t inherited past one or two generations,? says Jerry Coyne, a University of Chicago evolutionary geneticist who studies speciation using Drosophila as a model organism. ?Given the billions of characters that have evolved over evolutionary time, that?s not going to change our concept of evolution.?

    have you seen that?

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/3411/02-tale-flash.html

    I have not. Will hopefully get a chance to watch soon.

  319. #319 strange gods before me, OM
    February 9, 2010

    Jablonka and Raz are claiming heaps of epigenetic inheritance.

  320. #320 strange gods before me, OM
    February 9, 2010

    Or I could have refreshed the page and seen Kel’s comment. :)

  321. #321 Kel, OM
    February 9, 2010

    Jablonka and Raz are claiming heaps of epigenetic inheritance.

    Damn science being behind a paywall. How are we meant to familiarise ourselves with primary research if they restrict the information to those who pay? It’s like charging a poll tax!

    /pseudo-outrage

  322. #322 a_ray_in_dilbert_space
    February 9, 2010

    Oran Kelly,
    Look, all you need to do to see how wrong Fodor et al. are is look at a little Lemur called the Aye-Aye. I love those little guys. A lemur that evolved to fill an ecological niche of a woodpecker–and it does everything but fly (which it doesn’t need to do to fill the niche)!

    Science is not simply a body of facts preserved in amber. It is a living body of knowledge the builds upon itself and allows deeper understanding even of well established principles. The fact that there may be things going on in addition to evolution by natural selection does not negate the critical–indeed central–role of natural selection. Fodor’s reasoning is a wonderful example of a thesis that is so bad it’s not even wrong.

    More disturbing, though, is his motivation–namely attacking natural selection because he doesn’t like analogues of it being proposed in fields like psychology, etc. This is a little like the drunkard who loses his keys by his car but looks for them under the spotlight because the light is better!

  323. #323 David Marjanovi?
    February 9, 2010

    A lemur that evolved to fill an ecological niche of a woodpecker–and it does everything but fly (which it doesn’t need to do to fill the niche)!

    Compare also: Dactylopsila, the possum that does the exact same thing in woodpecker-free New Guinea (but with the ring finger instead of the middle one); the pre-woodpecker (Eocene) apatemyids, more or less placental mammals from the northern continents that did the same thing again (index and middle finger); and the Early Cretaceous near-bird(s) Scansoriopteryx/Epidendrosaurus/Epidexipteryx (middle finger again; may have been able to fly).

  324. #324 SparrowFalls
    February 9, 2010

    I cancelled my subscription to New Scientist last summer (too much sensationalism, not enough science), deciding to buy the odd issue if it had anything interesting in it. I bought the 6 February issue (the second in 6 months) to read the article about how the Earth got its oxygen.

    As a special bonus I got to read Jerry’s and Massimo’s opinion piece. My interpretation is that because they don’t like their perceived consequences of the idea of Natural Selection on other ‘~ologies’ they want to disprove Natural Selection. Arguing from consequences (even when camouflaged by other ‘concerns’) is just poor scholarship and does more harm than good, in my opinion.

  325. #325 Peter Ashby
    February 9, 2010

    @Oran Kelly

    The category error is that Fodor and his sidekick are confusing things that set limits on what variation a population has (the essence of the pigs with wings line) which operate prior to selection with selection which selects for and against the variation on display.

    So in a population of cheetahs some individuals with have average speed, some will be faster, others slower. They are extremely unlikely to include individuals that can fly or have evolved crossbows mounted on their heads. Those are Fodor’s constraints.

    Then you have a selection event: ability to catch enough antelope to sustain life and enable successful reproduction. If the antelope are not changing their running speed then those who are faster will likely be selected against because that speed has energetic costs which bring no benefit. The slower ones will likely be selected against because they will be unable to catch enough antelope. If the antelope get faster the faster cheetahs will be selected for.

    Fodor confuses the first process of producing the variation with the second of selection. Thus he makes a category error by contending that apples are oranges when it is trivial and ordinary to be able to demonstrate that they are different as those who have and are working in the field have pointed out to you.

  326. #326 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 9, 2010

    It is intriguing how many idjits like OK think the revolutions in science come from outsiders. They read too much fiction. All the “revolutions” come about because some scientist gets the idea, checks it out, and presents it to his peers with the supporting evidence. That means publishing in the scientific literature, and presenting papers at various societal meetings. Anybody who skips that step, and goes directly to the public, is discredited to a degree. The book should come after the scientific presentations.

  327. #327 Oran Kelley
    February 9, 2010

    The category error is that Fodor and his sidekick are confusing things that set limits on what variation a population has (the essence of the pigs with wings line) which operate prior to selection with selection which selects for and against the variation on display.

    So you say, what passage do you have in mind where Fodor makes this slip?

  328. #328 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 9, 2010

    So you say, what passage do you have in mind where Fodor makes this slip?

    You are wrong until YOU prove yourself right with evidence. We are waiting…

  329. #329 Oran Kelley
    February 9, 2010

    My interpretation is that because they don’t like their perceived consequences of the idea of Natural Selection on other ‘~ologies’ they want to disprove Natural Selection. Arguing from consequences (even when camouflaged by other ‘concerns’) is just poor scholarship and does more harm than good, in my opinion.

    Well, you can argue that the consequences on social sciences & humanities are their true motivation, but you cannot have read the piece and say that they “argue from consequences.” The only place they do so in in answer to the question, Why Should We Care?, and consequences are pretty much generally why we care.

  330. #330 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 9, 2010

    Yawn, still no evidence from the evidenceless troll, who is wrong until he proves himself right from the peer reviewed literature. Nothing to date. What a loser.

  331. #331 Oran Kelley
    February 9, 2010

    You are wrong until YOU prove yourself right with evidence. We are waiting…

    Why don’t you provide the tiniest evidence that you aren’t a socially awkward adolescent, rather than continuing to provide evidence in support.

    Or better yet go read the short piece you have so many opinions about. It isn’t terribly difficult.

    Or perhaps you can get back to demanding Obama’s birth certificate.

    Or whatever.

  332. #332 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 9, 2010

    Why don’t you provide the tiniest evidence that you aren’t a socially awkward adolescent, rather than continuing to provide evidence in support.

    I would show you my AARP card, but then you might use it to steal my ID. Fuckwit, in science, which I know from 30+ years experience, the burden of proof is upon those making the claims. You are claiming natural selection is insufficient to account for evolution. Show us the evidence by citing the peer reviewed scientific literature, or shut the fuck up. Welcome to real science, not that pretended to by irrelevant trolls.

  333. #333 Oran Kelley
    February 9, 2010

    “Real science.” You seem oddly urgent in your self congratulation on this point. And in your claims to authority–like you behaving as if this were your blog, and claiming the ability to “welcome” someone to science, or to vaguely demand “proof” as if you had the authority of a judge . . . all of this combined with a closed mind and an exceedingly limited verbal repertoire . . .

    Thwarted in our ambitions were we? I can imagine that perhaps having your identity stolen might represent a kind of ambition for you, as, in truth, nobody would have it.

    But anyhow, if I’m irrelevant, why try so hard to dog me? Either I’m at least somewhat relevant or someone’s got something to compensate for or some great void to fill.

    But anyhow, enough free psychoanalysis . . .

  334. #334 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 9, 2010

    But anyhow, if I’m irrelevant,

    You are irrelevant, nothing but an idjit troll, without any knowledge of how science is done. You will not be allowed to pretend that ideas supplant evidence. So, either you have the evidence, which you must present, or you don’t, and are nothing but an idjit troll to be demeaned into submission. What is the truth idjit troll?

  335. #335 Oran Kelley
    February 9, 2010

    Though I’ll take issue with some of what Milne and Kel and AE and a few others write in response to F&M, I salute you for actually having the intellectual honesty to read the piece and for actually bringing up some interesting points against it.

    I wanted to take a few points in Milne’s blow-by-blow.

    1. First, a nitpick, but a telling one, I think, and an oddly familar one to those watching the creobots in actoin. Focusing on ‘Darwinism’, even using the term is misleading. If they want to talk about contemporary evolutionary biology, talk about the modern synthesis. There’s lots Darwin didn’t know.
    I get to wondering, reading that, if they do it consciously. They don’t want to argue with the modern synthesis

    Reason for using Darwin is that the particular point he want to dispute goes back to Darwin, and that is the explanatory power of natural selection. The idea that natural selection provides a fairly substantial chain of causation for present day biological diversity. Some other, intervening findings he wants to try to deploy in his support, so this tack is pretty natural to the argument he’s making.

    I think the tendency to relate arguments like F&M’s to creationism is a vice.

    . The claim that ‘The possibility that anything is seriously amiss with Darwin’s account of evolution is hardly considered’ is utter bullshit. Again, we’ve moved on from Darwin significantly.

    Maybe so, but Gould and Dawkins fought pretty hard over the legacy of Darwin, over at GNXP, Razib’s calling him a genius for how many aspects of the evolutionary debate he foresaw, and how many evolutionary scientists reject the mantle “Darwinian?” Darwin’s ideas are still the foundations stones of the field of study. I don’t think it can be pretended otherwise.

    Commenting system (?) really bogging down the old CPU here . . . I’m going to submit this before seemingly inevitable crash.

    AND finding Milnes’ other points a bit complicated to talk about so, if I do write on those it’ll be a bit later.

    Anyhow, thanks Milne for an interesting take on F&M.

  336. #336 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 9, 2010

    Yawn, OK, you are wrong. Deal with it elsewhere. You said goodbye yesterday, and proved yourself a liar by reposting today. Still no evidence. You have nothing but attitude, which with two dollars, will get you a cup of coffee. Without the attitude, still two dollars. Take a hike.

  337. #337 Oran Kelley
    February 9, 2010

    demeaned into submission

    Well, as I have no regard whatsoever for your intelligence, your judgement or your honesty, I don’t see what you think you’ll gain, but demean away! Tell me how unscientific I am! Tell me about real science and what they say behind closed doors at those NAS meetings. Tell me what a flea dropping I am. Immolate me in your hot, burning suspended adolescent scorn. Come on, keep my feet warm–see if you can manage something the least bit interesting. Meanwhile, I’ll go floss my teeth, so no great hurry.

  338. #338 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 9, 2010

    Ah, OK, still no evidence to prove yourself right, so you are wrong. Welcome to real science. Now, get the fuck out of here. You have nothing to add to the discusssion without scientific evidence, since the discussion is about science, not inane sophistry, which is all you have.

  339. #339 strange gods before me, OM
    February 9, 2010

    But anyhow, if I’m irrelevant, why try so hard to dog me? Either I’m at least somewhat relevant or someone’s got something to compensate for or some great void to fill.

    Did you really think this false dichotomy made sense? Do you have delusions of grandeur?

    You aren’t demonstrating yourself to be relevant. You are demonstrating yourself to be annoying. In response to such annoying people, repeating the request to put up or shut up is an understandable response.

    So, please, put up or shut up. I couldn’t care less whether you prove Nerd wrong or not. I do care that you go ahead and do it, then, or quit wasting other people’s time. That shit ticks me off.

  340. #340 Oran Kelley
    February 9, 2010

    @a_ray_in_dilbert_space:

    I appreciate the kindly worded missive, but, really, Dawkins, Gould & company have already filled me with wonder about the “ingeniousness” of natural selection, and I already figure Fodor is wrong. My main thing is I think he’s wrong in a kind of interesting way, and that his error might well be fruitful error. To which idea the people who haven’t read him (and some who have) are adamantly opposed.

  341. #341 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 9, 2010

    My main thing is I think he’s wrong in a kind of interesting way, and that his error might well be fruitful error.

    No, he is just in error. Move along, nothing to see here. At least, nothing of scientific interest. Sophist philosophers like you should look elsewhere…

  342. #342 Oran Kelley
    February 9, 2010

    put up or shut up

    Put up what? A post explaining I don’t really give a damn what ticks you off and find it comical that you’d expect I’d care? Fine. Done.

    If you were looking for something else to be put off, try putting nouns, verbs and adjectives together in such a way as you form a coherent sentence indicating what it is you seek to be “put up” in specific terms.

    And no, I do not have delusions of grandeur despite the current company of mantra-spouting mental midgets, I still realize that my own accomplishments are modest. The grandeur you may have noticed is only relative to present company.

  343. #343 'Tis Himself, OM
    February 9, 2010

    Reason for using Darwin is that the particular point he want to dispute goes back to Darwin, and that is the explanatory power of natural selection. The idea that natural selection provides a fairly substantial chain of causation for present day biological diversity. Some other, intervening findings he wants to try to deploy in his support, so this tack is pretty natural to the argument he’s making.

    The terms “Darwinism” and “Darwinian” are used by creationists. As a result biologists tend to dislike the terms. Fodor is slapping biologists in the face. “Ha ha, I’m not a creationist, I’m just using creationist terms even though there are other terms more acceptable to biologists.” Sorry, but what that tells me is that Fodor is being a conscious asshole.

    I think the tendency to relate arguments like F&M’s to creationism is a vice.

    Got it. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck and swims like a duck then it’s a philosopher.

    Darwin’s ideas are still the foundations stones of the field of study. I don’t think it can be pretended otherwise.

    Nobody does pretend otherwise. However:

    (1) relativity is a cornerstone of modern physics but nobody calls it “Einsteinism.”

    (b) As I explained above, there are political reasons to object to “Darwinism,” reasons that Fodor, who is supposedly a “philosopher of biology” would be familiar with.

    (iii) Darwin’s book was published 150 years ago. Evolutionary science has moved on since then. Darwinian natural selection is combined with Mendelian inheritance to form the modern evolutionary synthesis, which connects the units of evolution (genes) and the mechanism of evolution (natural selection).

    (D) Fodor and the other guy don’t like natural selection because it infers things about their pet theory of cognitive science they find distasteful. That is the argument from consequences (argumentum ad consequentiam) and is a logical fallacy! How can you or anyone else tell us that Fodor is a great philosopher when he indulges in fallacious thinking? He may be the smartest philosopher since Plato but as far as I’m concerned he ain’t shit.

  344. #344 strange gods before me, OM
    February 9, 2010

    Put up what? A post explaining I don’t really give a damn what ticks you off and find it comical that you’d expect I’d care? Fine. Done.

    Not a clever fellow, are you? Oran, you asked why you were being dogged here. I answered. It’s because you are being insufferably annoying.

    If you were looking for something else to be put off, try putting nouns, verbs and adjectives together in such a way as you form a coherent sentence indicating what it is you seek to be “put up” in specific terms.

    Evidence indicating that Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini are worth taking seriously, obviously. I would have expected that to be apparent given not only the whole context of the thread but also your specific complaint against Nerd, but I’m sorry if I overestimated you.

    And no, I do not have delusions of grandeur despite the current company of mantra-spouting mental midgets, I still realize that my own accomplishments are modest. The grandeur you may have noticed is only relative to present company.

    Nope, that’s a lie. You are lying. You simply won’t admit that this was a false dichotomy:

    Either I’m at least somewhat relevant or someone’s got something to compensate for or some great void to fill.

    You won’t admit that there’s at least one more option, that you are simply annoying and tiresome and wasting everyone’s time.

  345. #345 Oran Kelley
    February 9, 2010

    Kel:

    Why is the obvious question being ignored? What is Fodor proposing that can build complex structures as an alternative to natural selection?

    Me:

    Fodor doesn’t need to propse an alternative. He’s arguing for the inadequacy of the current model, and to say “How would we explain X then?” is essentially to argue from consequences.

    Fodor’s willing to go back to “We don’t know” or “It’s complicated.” It doesn’t matter whether he has a fully working alternative model: he’s crtiqueing the current one. If it’s wrong, it wrong, regardless of presence or absence of a powerful alternative explanation.

  346. #346 Oran Kelley
    February 9, 2010

    You won’t admit that there’s at least one more option, that you are simply annoying and tiresome and wasting everyone’s time.

    Don’t believe “everyone” is here, and I certainly don’t think my presence here compels anyone else’s. So if you feel this is a waste of time, go do something else. I don’t mind.

    And I am totally open to options. You though are not.

    If you aren’t interested in F&M’s piece, fine. Go somewhere other than the thread purportedly dedicated to discussing that piece. If what they’ve written doesn’t persuade you to waste time on it, go do something else.

    Why do I feel like a parent?

  347. #347 Kel, OM
    February 9, 2010

    Fodor’s willing to go back to “We don’t know” or “It’s complicated.”

    He is? I didn’t get that impression. Though it hardly matters, his criticism of Natural Selection is false. If he is like you say, arguing against panadaptationism, then his article would look very different. But he’s not, he decries the whole endeavour of selection which makes no sense whatsoever.

    Is it just we happen to have eyes that coincide with the peak spectral range of the sun as filtered through our atmosphere? Is it just coincidence that a type of hawk can see in the ultraviolet which just happens to correspond with the urine of its prey? Is it just coincidence that nocturnal creatures can have their violet opsin gene knocked out, or that moles and cavefish have non-functioning remnants of eyes? That apes with trichromatic vision have many smell pseudogenes?

    Far from Fodor not offering an alternative, natural selection clearly works and has been shown to work in study after study. Like I said earlier, natural selection won’t explain why our blood is red (beyond that the components that our blood use happen to be red) but it will explain why flowers that pollinate through birds will be red (insects like bees can’t see red light). Fodor has completely fluffed natural selection, like Zeno trying to argue that Achilles can’t outrun the tortoise. The race has been run and it’s clear that Achilles can.

  348. #348 Oran Kelley
    February 9, 2010

    (1) relativity is a cornerstone of modern physics but nobody calls it “Einsteinism.”

    I think the appropriate parallel to Darwin would be Newton–and . . . yes, there is such a thing as Newtonian physics.

    Most people don’t care about your fight with creationists. It is not the context for everything.

  349. #349 strange gods before me, OM
    February 9, 2010

    Oran, again, you asked. I answered. It’s fine to ask and then say you don’t like the answer. But to ask and then pretend you don’t give a shit about any answer? That’s disingenuous.

    As for wasting my time, if this is going to be an examination of your character flaws, I’d consider that an improvement from your earlier empty bullshittery.

  350. #350 strange gods before me, OM
    February 9, 2010

    And I am totally open to options.

    So you admit that it may be possible that the reason you’re being dogged here is because you’re insufferably annoying?

    Will you actually acknowledge that? You’d prove me wrong in a single stroke.

    You though are not.

    Again, evidence needed.

  351. #351 Oran Kelley
    February 9, 2010

    strange gods talking to themselves . . . the gods must be crazy. I’m not really interested.

  352. #352 Antiochus Epiphanes
    February 9, 2010

    If it’s wrong, it wrong, regardless of presence or absence of a powerful alternative explanation.

    But Frodo and Samwise don’t demonstrate that the model is wrong.

    Many commenters have presented arguments indicating why this article is illogical. It is laughably ridiculous, in fact. The recognition that developmental constraints exist is not an indicator that the current evolutionary model is flawed. It doesn’t matter HOW heritable variation arises…if the variation is present, and organisms within a population have variable fitness, selection will happen. What is it that you don’t understand about this?

    I’m hardly a dogmatist on this issue. I starfarted on a thread (something regarding Jerry Coyne’s book) about panadaptationalism being a metaphysical snare for the young biologist…or something less eloquent than that. I take the spandrels argument seriously *ducks*. I love complexity like a mofo. But this article…is…sheep turds. At best.

    From now on, I am not going to comment on why this article sucks. Instead I will turn my attention to how badly it sucks.

    It sucks hardcore.

  353. #353 John Morales
    February 9, 2010

    Oran,

    He’s [Fodor] arguing for the inadequacy of the current model [...]

    I take it you believe the proposed argument is valid, regardless of its soundness or its purported motives, and accordingly in some way meritorious.

    Care to adumbrate, in your own words and with reference to (at least some) specific contentions, the alleged inadequacies as detailed in said argument?

    It doesn’t matter whether he has a fully working alternative model: he’s crtiqueing the current one.

    A vaguely-interesting but feeble (implicit) argument; I note critiques are themselves basically arguments, so they too can be valid and sound (hence compelling).

    Your argument would serve no less well in validating any kook’s rant, so long as it was critical — because it ignores the nature of the criticism.

  354. #354 strange gods before me, OM
    February 9, 2010

    So you won’t admit that it may be possible that the reason you’re being dogged here is because you’re insufferably annoying. And we’re back to the likely explanation that you are suffering (as it were) from delusions of grandeur.

  355. #355 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 9, 2010

    And I am totally open to options.

    No, you aren’t open to the option where you go away like idjit trolls should. You have said nothing cogent to date.

    Why do I feel like a parent?

    You aren’t a parent as their is no responsibility on your part. You are just an idjit troll, who we aren’t interested in conversing with, because there is no scientific evidence to back you up. As your failure to provide acknowledged. Why you can’t see that means you are an even bigger idjit, with an ego.

  356. #356 Oran Kelley
    February 9, 2010

    AE:

    I certainly respect & appreciate your point of view and your cordiality in stating it.

    Something nags me about Fodor’s line of argument, though which I can’t quite put my finger on yet altogether.

    But anyhow, I appreciate the intervention ;-)

  357. #357 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 9, 2010

    Something nags me about Fodor’s line of argument, though which I can’t quite put my finger on yet altogether.

    It is wrong and unscientific. Period, end of story. Take your inane opinions elsewhere. We don’t have to satisfy you, but you have to satisfy us as to what you say. Which so far, is “I am an idjit”.

  358. #358 Antiochus Epiphanes
    February 9, 2010

    OK–I’m actually a huge unlikable dick, but I appreciate and respect your respect and appreciation, right back at you.

    In other news, Frodo and Merry are the suckiest sucks who ever sucked a suck. They would blow, but they suck too hard.*

    *I AM actually 15.

  359. #359 echidna
    February 9, 2010

    Oh, my word, this Oran is tedious.

    And in your claims to authority–like you behaving as if this were your blog, and claiming the ability to “welcome” someone to science, or to vaguely demand “proof” as if you had the authority of a judge . . .

    Oran, don’t you know that any discussion of science is meaningless without evidence? Rhetoric alone is worth less than nothing?

    Authority on this blog comes from two sources: a) owning the blog, as PZ does, and b) knowing your stuff. In science, “knowing your stuff” isn’t a matter of opinion, but a matter of fact.

    On the type of blog based on opinion, anyone other than the owner speaking with authority is probably stepping on toes, and I’m guessing that’s why you’re bristling a bit. But on a science blog, the rules are different. No-one here needs that authority of a judge. Anyone can speak with the authority that knowing what is real, and what is make-believe, automatically confers.

    You don’t seem to get this concept, and think that respect is something you are entitled to, even though you insist on evidence-free blithering on a science blog. If you want respect, you need to cough up the evidence.

  360. #360 Oran Kelley
    February 9, 2010

    John:

    Yes, I do think there’s a couple of kinds of “merit” to Fodor’s line of argument. I don’t think he’s right, but I think the argument does kinda . . . push the orthodoxy off the dime to an extent.

    I don’t think natural selection is as bankrupt as way of tracing past causation as Fodor seems to think, but I do think the current acceptable range as to your estimation of the power of selection as a explanatory model (for all sorts of things) is much too sanguine. Fodor, I think, if anyone gives him a fair reading, may end up being a welcome check to that. I usually am not one to argue for fighting one error with the equal and opposite error, but this field has been pretty resistant to all suggestions of modesty–see dawkins, wilson, the other wilson & a fair number of followers.

    This is not just because he attacks natural selection, but because he presses it on a number of points that have been too readily dismissed heretofore.

    As to what I think the nature of the criticism is, you can search my comments up higher–not the bickering with the various namecallers . . . I’m a bit too close to sleep to retype at the moment, but if you’d like to take issue, I’m happy to discuss that reading of F&M further.

  361. #361 Kel, OM
    February 9, 2010

    Something nags me about Fodor’s line of argument, though which I can’t quite put my finger on yet altogether.

    Two things come to mind: his inflated rhetoric, and him throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    Like I mentioned earlier, just watch / listen to Sean Carroll’s lecture: The Making Of The Fittest. It would save time and energy for all involved. Even Dawkins’ new book: The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution should probably be retitled “The plausibility of natural selection” would be something worth reading. The explanation for a step-by-step account of how plants and insects can share a symbiotic relationship illustrates the explanationatory power of natural selection.

  362. #362 'Tis Himself, OM
    February 9, 2010

    I think the appropriate parallel to Darwin would be Newton–and . . . yes, there is such a thing as Newtonian physics.

    Of course I wasn’t equating Einstein to Darwin, but making another point. Do you care to address the point I was actually making rather than drop a non sequitur?

    Most people don’t care about your fight with creationists. It is not the context for everything.

    If Fodor is trying to poke holes in a major piece of biological theory then he’s going to be dealing with biologists. It doesn’t matter if aircraft engine mechanics care about creationism or not, biologists do.

  363. #363 Oran Kelley
    February 9, 2010

    Himself:

    (1) relativity is a cornerstone of modern physics but nobody calls it “Einsteinism.”

    I think the appropriate parallel to Darwin would be Newton–and . . . yes, there is such a thing as Newtonian physics.

    How is that a non-sequitor, exactly?

  364. #364 Oran Kelley
    February 9, 2010

    OK–I’m actually a huge unlikable dick, but I appreciate and respect your respect and appreciation, right back at you.
    In other news, Frodo and Merry are the suckiest sucks who ever sucked a suck. They would blow, but they suck too hard.*
    *I AM actually 15.

    Salutations!

  365. #365 Malcolm
    February 10, 2010

    Oran,

    I don’t think natural selection is as bankrupt as way of tracing past causation as Fodor seems to think, but I do think the current acceptable range as to your estimation of the power of selection as a explanatory model (for all sorts of things) is much too sanguine.

    What you don’t seem to understand is that without evidence to back up your position, your opinion is irrelevant.
    It is this evidence that NOR has been asking you for since you started posting.

  366. #366 John Morales
    February 10, 2010

    Oran:

    I take it you believe the proposed argument is valid, regardless of its soundness or its purported motives, and accordingly in some way meritorious.

    Yes, I do think there’s a couple of kinds of “merit” to Fodor’s line of argument.

    So, you think it’s a valid argument.

    As to what I think the nature of the criticism is, you can search my comments up higher

    OK.
    #21:What I think Fodor is really attacking here is the sort of verbal & conceptual freehand that evolutionary theorists often use and abuse.

    #48:By amping up the rhetoric and attacking selection as such, Fodor is forcing adaptionists to recapitulate their arguments in a more limited way and to explicitly come to terms with the limitations on natural selection.

    @51:Fodor’s basic point being that constraint and contingency may play a much bigger role in the world around us than hitherto acknowledged, and if so natural selection would begin to evolve into a very different looking animal.

    @65:Someone else noted that Fodor isn’t interested in anything written between Darwin and 1990, I think that’s correct in one respect: he’s mainly interested in what Darwin wrote and how recent findings tend to weaken his explanatory model. For the purposes of the article he’s not so interested in all the intervening hedges and codicils.

    @84:It is attacking the central assumption that natural selection accounts for most of what we see before us in nature.

    (I grow weary of this.)

    @345:Fodor doesn’t need to propse an alternative. He’s arguing for the inadequacy of the current model, and to say “How would we explain X then?” is essentially to argue from consequences.

    So, adumbrating your thoughts on the nature of the criticism, since you’ve enjoined me to:
    Fodor is really attacking the sort of verbal & conceptual freehand that evolutionary theorists often use and abuse, by amping up the rhetoric and attacking selection as such; this by opining that constraint and contingency may play a much bigger role in the world around us than hitherto acknowledged¹, and if so natural selection would begin to evolve into a very different looking animal.
    Though he does this by being mainly interested in what Darwin wrote and how recent findings tend to weaken his explanatory model, this is a challenge to current theory — and for this purpose there’s no need to propose an alternative.

    Apparently, your idea of what is valid criticism seems rather different to mine, given that it seems to me to rely on understanding evolutionary science more accurately than evolutionary scientists do, though he relies on their findings to do so.

    ¹ (I thought natural selection already takes constraint and contingency into account.)

  367. #367 Stephen Wells
    February 10, 2010

    Darwin summed up his theory as: reproduction, inheritance (almost implied by reproduction), variation, ratio of increase leading to a struggle for existence, hence natural selection. Constraint comes into the “inheritance” bracket, I think; if offspring aren’t limited to be quite like their parents you can’t get natural selection!

  368. #368 Kel, OM
    February 10, 2010

    No-one explained it better than Chuckie D himself back in 1859:

    “Let it be borne in mind how infinitely complex and close-fitting are the mutual relations of all organic beings to each other and to their physical conditions of life. Can it, then, be thought improbable, seeing that variations useful to man have undoubtedly occurred, that other variations useful in some way to each being in the great and complex battle of life, should sometimes occur in the course of thousands of generations? If such do occur, can we doubt (remembering that many more individuals are born than can possibly survive) that individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind? On the other hand, we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed. This preservation of favourable variations and the rejection of injurious variations, I call Natural Selection. Variations neither useful nor injurious would not be affected by natural selection, and would be left a fluctuating element, as perhaps we see in the species called polymorphic.” – Charles Darwin (The Origin Of Species, Chapter 4)

    Is natural selection really that hard to grasp?

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