Notes on Summer Reading

Today I read the first section of the three books that are (unofficially) on the reading list for Genetic Politics, a class taught by an innovative researcher that I am looking forward too. I tried to take my notes by subject, and I have illuminated them with graphics when possible. The three portions I read were:

Interesting, Adapting Minds was featured on Gene Expression, a genetics blog that I have been frequenting. You can read more here, or over there.

Topic: Press Incompetence and Bias
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“The refusal to acknowledge human nature is like the Victorians’ embarrassment about sex, only worse: ti distorts our science and scholarship, our public discourse, and our day-to-day lives.” (Pinker ix)
“‘Revealed: the secret of human behaviour,” read the banner headline in the British Sunday newspaper the Observer on 11 February 2001. ‘Environment, not genes, key to our acts.'” (Ridley 1)
“It [nature v. nurture] had divided fascists from communists as neatly as their politics.” (Ridley 3)
“For invoking nurture and nature, not nurture alone, these authors have been picketed, shouted down, subjected to searing invective in the press, even denounced in Congress.” (Pinker viii)
“During almost every wait in the supermarket checkout line, I would find reference to the evolutionary psychology of human mating on the covers of women’s and men’s magazines.” (Buller 3).
“I found that published criticisms of evolutionary psychology typically contained more vitriol than serious analysis of the reasoning and evidence behind the claims made by evolutionary psychologists… Accordingly, it was too easy to find critics attacking evolutionary psychology for its ‘directly political dimension’ and its ‘culturally pernicious’ political claims.” (Buller 4)


Topic: Identities of the Field
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“This book i s about the moral, emotional, and political colorings of the concept of human nature in modern life.” (Pinker viii)
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“The two sides of this argument are the nativists, whom I will sometimes call geneticists, hereditarians,, or naturians; and the empiricists, whom I will sometimes call environmentalists or nurturists.” (Ridley 3)
“A year’s research later, it was clear to me that there were distinctly different lines of research being conducted undre the ‘evolutionary psychology’ label…” (Buller 3)
“The term ‘evolutionary psychology’ is sometimes used simply as a shorthand for ‘the evolutionary study of mind and behavior’ or as a shorthand for theories ‘adopting an evolutionary perspective on human behavior and psychology.’ When used in these ways, ‘evolutionary psychology’ designates a field of inquiry… For fields of inquiry are defined not by specific sets of doctrines, but by sets of related questions. Fields of inquiry are
defined not by specific answers to questions, but by the importance they place on particular kinds of questions. Mayn researchers in the field of evolutionary psychology often deliberately resist the ‘evolutionary psychology’ label, however, preferring to calsify their work as, for example, human ethology, human behavioral ecology, or evolutionary anthropology.” (Buller 8)
“When the term ‘evolutionary psychology’ is used to designate only work conducted under the auspices of the above theoretical and methodological doctrines, the term designates what the late historical and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn called a paradigm…. The paradigm is the cluster of fundamental doctrines on which scientists agree, and once a paradigm emerges within a field of inquiry it provides a large number fo working scientists with a common research focus… a paradigm provides scientists with a shared theoretical understanding… a paradigm provides scientists with a shared set of methods… a paradigm involves one or more exemplays, which are specific examples of empirical research that the scientists working within the paradigm accept as significant achievements and as exemplary of how their science is to be done.” (Buller 10-11).
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Topic: Nature v. Nurture
“Genes are designed to take their cues from nurture.” (Ridley 4)
“Human nature is indeed a combination of Darwin’s universals, Galton’s heredity, James’ instincts, De Vries’ genes, Pavlov’s reflexes, Watson’s associations, Kraepelin’s history, Freud’s formative experiences, Boas’s culture, Durkheim’s division of labor, Piaget’s development, and Lorenz’s imprinting.” (Ridley 6)
“The idea that nature and nurture interact to shape some part of the mind might turn out to be wrong, but it is not wishy-washy or unexceptionable, even in the twenty-first century, thousand of years after the issue was framed.” (Pinker viii).

Topic: Important Founders
“Charles Darwin: seek the character of man in the behavior of the ape… there are universal features
Francis Galton: fervent champion of heredity
William James: instinct and… human beings have more impulses than other animals, not fewer
Hugo De Vries: discovered the laws of heredity — beaten to them more than 30 years before by a Moravian monk named Gregor Mendel
Ivan Pavlov: empiricism.. the key to the human mind lies in the conditional reflex
Emil Kraepelin, Sigmund Freud: away from “biological” explanations and two very different notions of personal history
Emile Durkheim: reality of social facts as more than the sum of their parts
Franz Boas: culture shapes human nature
John Broadus Watson: “behaviorism” .. claim to be able to alter personality at will merely by training
Jean Piaget: imitation and learning
Konrad Lorenz: revive the study of instinct and describe the vital concept of imprinting
others: David Hume, Immanuel Kant, George Williams, William Hamilton, Noam Chomsky, Jane Goodall (Ridley 4-6)
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“Robert Wright introduced many of the ideas of this paradigm to a broad audience with his 1994 book The Moral Animal… Steven Pinker articulated the theoretical underpinnings of the paradigm in two books written for a general audience, How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate… David Buss introduced the public to many of the details of the sexier aspects of the paradigm in his books The Evolution of Desire… and The Dangerous Passion… this group f researches has been so effective in marketing gits paradigm that it has become the single most dominant paradigm within the field of evolutionary psychology… To repeat, this book is a critique of Evolutionary Psychology — the paradigm associated with thte work of Buss, Pinker, Cosmides, and Tooby, and Daly and Wilson.” (Buller 11-12)
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Topic: Social Engineering
“The belief that human tastes are reversible cultural preferences has led social planners to write off people’s enjoyment or ornament, natural light, and human scale and force millions of people to live in drab cement boxes.” (Pinker x).

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