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Bloggingheads 03-20-2010 03:17 AM

Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 

hamandcheese 03-20-2010 03:50 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong?
 
Jerry Fodor is an exemplar thinker. Even if he's wrong ... often ... his existence is still necessary in the same way a debilitating genetic mutation is: even if 99.9999% of the time the mutation is utterly useless or damaging, on the extreme off chance that the variation is beneficial (like when the environment changes dramatically) it may end up saving the entire species.

Thinking outside the box is a redundant turn of phrase. If you're thinking inside the box you aren't thinking. You're reminiscing.

maximus444 03-20-2010 07:26 AM

Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober
 
I thoroughly enjoyed this diavlog even though they stayed(argued) on the same point continuously for nearly the entire diavlog, just reframing it again and again.

I had never come across this point before about natural selection and it's ability to deconstruct adaptive traits in the way Fodor argues it. I assumed these problems are inevitable in evolutionary theory because of it being an historical science.

themightypuck 03-20-2010 10:12 AM

Re: Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober
 
I thought the same thing. I'm no expert and I really wanted them to get deeper into the stuff I might be able to understand. My take was that Fodor sees "natural selection" as a trivial explanation for what he sees as a black box. I'm not sure what his position means for the project of evolutionary biology though. Assume everything Fodor says it true. How does this change the field?

thprop 03-20-2010 10:23 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
All we need - a philosopher (not a biologist) giving a critique of the theory of natural selection - and gets a big shout out from the folks at Disco.

Don't waste your time with Fodor. Jerry Coyne takes him apart completely in a series of posts. Coyne's review is coming in a few weeks. He quotes from Massimo Pigliucci's review in Nature (protected):
Quote:

By misusing philosophical distinctions and misinterpreting the literature on natural selection, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini make a mess of what could have been an important contribution. The authors are correct in two of their assessments. Namely that: mainstream evolutionary biology has become complacent with the nearly 70-year-old Modern Synthesis, which reconciled the original theory of natural selection with Mendelian and population genetics; and that the field needs to extend the conceptual arsenal of evolutionary theory. But in claiming that there are fundamental flaws in an edifice that has withstood a century and a half of critical examination, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini err horribly. . .

. . . Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini offer only sterile and wrongheaded criticism. Fortunately, other philosophers of science and theoretical biologists are coming together to clarify and build on the conceptual foundations of science and explore issues of its practice; this is a better way to bridge the two cultures.
Bob Wright still insists on giving a platform to this kind of rubbish. Which has led to the loss from BHtv of Carl Zimmer, Sean Carroll, PZ Myers, Jennifer Ouellette, etc.

Bloggin' Noggin 03-20-2010 10:50 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Jerry Fodor! -- another philosophical superstar appears on BHtv. Of course, Sober gets much the better of this argument, it seems to me.

It takes a very long time to finally get to the nub of the argument -- which occurs about here. I might almost recommend that people who haven't seen the diavlog start by watching this clip and then proceed to the whole thing.

What Sober agrees to is that the laws of natural selection are not at the very general level of "adaptation" and "fitness" -- and that this distinguishes it from Newtonian laws of motion and gravitation, where the laws are precisely about the most general level of "mass" and "acceleration" and "force". The most general statement of Natural Selection is not itself a law, but a sort of explication of a general strategy of explanation.

Does this show that there's something wrong with Natural Selection? Fodor seems too obsessed, ultimately with the contrast between physics and biology. It may be that the general statement of natural selection is not the statement of a law, but the statement of a strategy for looking for the lower-level genuine laws of biology. Only in total abstraction from the context in which Natural Selection arose, could that make Natural Selection seem empty. The theory of natural selection did have a competitor -- namely intelligent design -- a competitor which, until that time, seemed like the only strategy in town. In that context, it's quite clear that Natural Selection as an explanatory strategy is not empty, even though it does not turn out to be itself an interesting absolutely general law of nature on the model of Newton's laws of motion.

Bloggin' Noggin 03-20-2010 11:07 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
thprop,
You seem to equate all critiques of natural selection. I'm less concerned than you and your favored Heads about the motivations behind arguments -- if even a Discovery Institute guy comes up with an interesting argument against evolution (tremendously unlikely, but conceivable), then I'm happy to listen. But it seems to me pretty clear that Fodor is not at all in the Discovery Institute mold anyway. I get no sense that he has any secret agenda. Anyway, if Fodor and his co-author have even done as much as the review you quote states (exposed biologist's complacency, etc.) then it's a useful critique and not just rubbish -- even if it goes too far.
I don't know if the Heads you mention would have left BHtv over Fodor's contribution, which, I think, is clearly sincere and which certainly doesn't seem to be particularly motivated by any religious agenda, but rather by a certain view about what a science should be like etc. If they would have, then I think they'd be way too narrow-minded and dogmatic.
You'll see from my other post that I'm not particularly sympathetic to Fodor's critique, as far as I understand it (based only on this diavlog), but if biologists are going to react to all critical questions from intelligent outsiders trying to strike up an interesting interdisciplinary dialog as heretics, then something has gone very wrong.
Not everyone who raises questions about evolution is automatically to be treated as an "enemy" -- and I'd think Fodor would be a paradigm case for this point.

bjkeefe 03-20-2010 11:22 AM

Further reading
 
Some links, to augment what thprop has offered:

Reviews of the book:

• Ned Block and Philip Kitcher "Misunderstanding Darwin: Natural selection’s secular critics get it wrong."

• Massimo Pigliucci "A misguided attack on evolution" (requires subscription).

• Michael Ruse "Origin of the specious" and "What Darwin's Doubters Get Wrong."

Larry Moran's comments on the first of the Ruse pieces.

• Peter Forbes "Did Charles Darwin get it wrong?"

Reviews based on Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini's summary of their ideas that appeared in New Scientist:

• PZ Myers "Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini get everything wrong."

• Jerry Coyne "New Scientist blurbs dumb ideas about evolution."

• Bob O'Hara "Jerry Fodor Fails Evolution 101. Again."

• Brian Switek "Jerry Fodor: Still getting it wrong about evolution"

Additional comments from PZ Myers, Bob O'Hara, and Adam Rutherford.

Jerry Coyne is working on a review of the book. Meantime, some preliminary comments from him here, here, and here. He also notes:

Quote:

If you want to see the Discovery Institute’s prize loons—David Berlinski, Jonathan Wells, Stephen Meyers, and Michael Behe—falling over each other to praise F&P-P’s misguided attack on evolution, go here.

Ocean 03-20-2010 11:41 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Bloggin' Noggin (Post 154993)
Jerry Fodor! -- another philosophical superstar appears on BHtv. Of course, Sober gets much the better of this argument, it seems to me.

It takes a very long time to finally get to the nub of the argument -- which occurs about here. I might almost recommend that people who haven't seen the diavlog start by watching this clip and then proceed to the whole thing.

What Sober agrees to is that the laws of natural selection are not at the very general level of "adaptation" and "fitness" -- and that this distinguishes it from Newtonian laws of motion and gravitation, where the laws are precisely about the most general level of "mass" and "acceleration" and "force". The most general statement of Natural Selection is not itself a law, but a sort of explication of a general strategy of explanation.

Does this show that there's something wrong with Natural Selection? Fodor seems too obsessed, ultimately with the contrast between physics and biology. It may be that the general statement of natural selection is not the statement of a law, but the statement of a strategy for looking for the lower-level genuine laws of biology. Only in total abstraction from the context in which Natural Selection arose, could that make Natural Selection seem empty. The theory of natural selection did have a competitor -- namely intelligent design -- a competitor which, until that time, seemed like the only strategy in town. In that context, it's quite clear that Natural Selection as an explanatory strategy is not empty, even though it does not turn out to be itself an interesting absolutely general law of nature on the model of Newton's laws of motion.

Thank you for this post. I didn't enjoy the diavlog and I was identifying intensely with Elliot's frustration. However, reading your posts made it somewhat worthwhile, at least in the sense of increasing my level of tolerance to the kind of argument that Fodor presents.

In terms of the reaction from other commenters, and their suspicions about possible agendas, in my opinion their point is valid. I kept wondering throughout the diavlog about the reason behind writing a book on this topic. I could see this kind of argument, perhaps in an academic debate or a scholarly paper, but the central argument seems to be both narrow and weak and rather uninteresting to the general public.

Ocean 03-20-2010 11:43 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by hamandcheese (Post 154980)
Jerry Fodor is an exemplar thinker. Even if he's wrong ... often ... his existence is still necessary in the same way a debilitating genetic mutation is: even if 99.9999% of the time the mutation is utterly useless or damaging, on the extreme off chance that the variation is beneficial (like when the environment changes dramatically) it may end up saving the entire species.

Thinking outside the box is a redundant turn of phrase. If you're thinking inside the box you aren't thinking. You're reminiscing.

When the thinking is too much "outside the box", and indeed it is outside all identifiable rational boxes, one has to wonder whether it is inside some other not-so-rational box.

Bloggin' Noggin 03-20-2010 01:20 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Ocean (Post 154996)
Thank you for this post. I didn't enjoy the diavlog and I was identifying intensely with Elliot's frustration. However, reading your posts made it somewhat worthwhile, at least in the sense of increasing my level of tolerance to the kind of argument that Fodor presents.

In terms of the reaction from other commenters, and their suspicions about possible agendas, in my opinion their point is valid. I kept wondering throughout the diavlog about the reason behind writing a book on this topic. I could see this kind of argument, perhaps in an academic debate or a scholarly paper, but the central argument seems to be both narrow and weak and rather uninteresting to the general public.

Thanks, Ocean. I'm glad my post was of some help.

Physics has long been the model of science for philosophers of science (and quite generally for people trying to make some kind of distinction between what counts as science and what doesn't count as science). More recently, philosophers of science (though usually not popular writers who attempt to distinguish between science and pseudoscience) have tried to break free of this physics-idolatry and have taken up philosophy of biology. On the evidence of this diavlog alone (I haven't read the book), I don't see anything more than an old-fashioned attachment to the physics model leading Fodor into a misinterpretation of the general statement of the principle of natural selection as a general law. The mere fact that the argument looks "narrow" or "weak" to us hardly shows that it doesn't seem powerful to Fodor (given his preconceptions about science).

And this brings me to a general statement of what's wrong with appeals to motive in intellectual discussions:

(I) To prove a bad or deceptive motive on the part of your opponent you must show that his argument is (a) unsound and (b) so clearly unsound that no one of his intelligence could possibly advance the claim seriously. Otherwise, it's quite possible (given that we cannot read minds) that he is advancing the argument in all intellectual honesty and with no intention to deceive.

(II) But if you have so powerful an argument against the soundness of the argument as to establish anything close to (b), the appeal to your opponent's motive completely drops out of consideration -- you already have knock-down argument against him that in no way relies on his supposedly bad motives. If your own argument against him is based upon lots of unexamined assumptions of your own and it is actually not strong enough to establish anything close to (b), then your argument winds up being circular (I don't have to believe him because his motives are bad and I know his motives are bad because I already know his argument is no good) and you wind up in a shouting match about unobservable motives that will lead nowhere rather than to an examination of premises and inferences, which can lead to greater understanding.

Does this mean that I examine with interest every paper produced by Tobacco funded institutes that show that smoking doesn't cause cancer? No -- life is too short. As a non-expert in the field without even an amateur's interest in such discussions, I leave the taking-apart of the science of those papers to medical researchers who understand experimental protocols etc. better than I do. I don't engage in the intellectual argument with those people. Instead, I rely on the epistemic division of labor, relying on a few heuristics (e.g., who funds these institutes) to guide me in determining which supposed "experts" I should listen to. But if everyone were relying on such crude heuristics (rather than at least sometimes engaging their opponents arguments directly), then the epistemic division of labor would simply become group-think and we would thereby lose our reasons for confidence in that division of labor and in our own crude heuristics.

In any case, there is no equivalent in Fodor's case to an argument equivalent to being funded by Big Tobacco. Fodor is a very respected philosopher -- the very same people who object to what he says about evolution would very likely respect his cognitive science contributions.

I would actually go further and point out that even the Discovery Institute differs from Tobacco-funded science in that the people at DI presumably actually BELIEVE that life is the product of intelligent design, and this is the real reason they argue for this conclusion. Tobacco companies don't fund tobacco science only because they believe that Tobacco isn't harmful. It really doesn't matter to the companies or to their "experts" whether they actually believe that cigarettes don't cause cancer. They have to argue this quite apart from whether they believe it.
But I don't want to rest anything on that point (because I don't want to stir up a hornets' nest). I'll leave it that Fodor is certainly not to be dismissed out of hand by appeal to his motives, since the only evidence we seem to have about his motives rests on how good we think his arguments are. His arguments may not ultimately be that good (or maybe they are pretty good insofar as you accept his underlying philosophical world-view), but that's something to be demonstrated by argument.

I would add that, I think when people are impatient with discussions like the one that takes place in this diavlog, they may be too focused on the "bottom line". Yes, I think Fodor is wrong, but what i think gets illuminated in the exchange I dingalinked above is that Fodor and Sober are actually agreeing on a very interesting potential contrast between physical laws and biological laws, even as they disagree on what conclusions to draw from that agreement. Even a discussion which doesn't result in one side convincing the other can illuminate how different points of view fit together with one another.

BornAgainDemocrat 03-20-2010 01:21 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Hopefully razib will chime in. Pending that a few random points by an amateur in the peanut gallery:

1. Darwin did not originate the idea of evolution, only the mechanism of differential selection acting on variation in traits to explain how species evolve over time. Strictly speaking his was not a theory of the "origin" of existing species, let alone a theory of the origin of life, so much as a theory of how species change in a changing environment. He did not rule out Lamarkianism and, of course, knew nothing about genes, let alone the structure of DNA, whose discoveries did so much to establish his theory. He did "predict" deep geological time however in the sense that he admitted his theory could not be true if the age of the earth did not turn out to be not many millions of years, which was not as yet a firmly established fact.

2. There is no single "theory of evolution" even today. Rather there are many variations of the basic theory which share a couple of basic assumptions (variation, selection) from which certain conclusions logically follow. In that sense it is tautological, as are many modern "models" of evolution. The theory makes few predictions about the future course of evolution because there are an infinite number of possible mutations of unknown effect in an infinite number of possible environments, which are themselves unpredictable.

3. The fitness of a genome or of any particular genetic variation within a genome are not quantifiable attributes that can be measured. A trait that is adaptive one moment may be maladaptive or neutral the next and vice versa, depending upon the ever-changing environment. For example a fortuitous resistance to some disease -- say small-pox -- may not matter unless and until the germ that causes small-pox is introduced into the environment. On the other hand it is very possible to compare the genomes of various species and populations and identify genetic sequences that have been conserved over long periods of time and which are therefore presumed to have been selected for. Just what they were/are selected for and why is often (usually) unknown at present, though biologists are constantly looking to answer these questions along with hundreds and hundreds of others.

Bottom line: there is no theory of evolution in the same way there is a theory of special relativity for example. There are many versions of the theory, many of which have been ruled out, but there are others, including new ones, that are still being tested for consistency both logical and empirical. So when someone tells you they "believe" in evolution or that "the theory of evolution" is a "fact" they probably don't even know what they are talking about.

Ocean 03-20-2010 02:10 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Bloggin' Noggin (Post 155001)
Thanks, Ocean. I'm glad my post was of some help.

You're welcome and most deserving of my previous comment.

Quote:

Physics has long been the model of science for philosophers of science (and quite generally for people trying to make some kind of distinction between what counts as science and what doesn't count as science). More recently, philosophers of science (though usually not popular writers who attempt to distinguish between science and pseudoscience) have tried to break free of this physics-idolatry and have taken up philosophy of biology.
I'm glad to hear that.

Quote:

On the evidence of this diavlog alone (I haven't read the book), I don't see anything more than an old-fashioned attachment to the physics model leading Fodor into a misinterpretation of the general statement of the principle of natural selection as a general law. The mere fact that the argument looks "narrow" or "weak" to us hardly shows that it doesn't seem powerful to Fodor (given his preconceptions about science).
Yes, I understand that.

Quote:

And this brings me to a general statement of what's wrong with appeals to motive in intellectual discussions:
Good. We're getting to comment on the comment.

Quote:

(I) To prove a bad or deceptive motive on the part of your opponent you must show that his argument is (a) unsound and (b) so clearly unsound that no one of his intelligence could possibly advance the claim seriously. Otherwise, it's quite possible (given that we cannot read minds) that he is advancing the argument in all intellectual honesty and with no intention to deceive.
I'll interrupt your post here to point out that, at least in my original comment, I wasn't implying that Fodor's argument was intentionally deceptive or dishonest. Rather, as I was listening to him, I was wondering whether there was some other motivation behind his argument. If I want to ascertain that indeed there was another agenda behind his argument, perhaps I would have to meet the criteria that you articulated above. However, in order to have a moderate level of suspicion, I don't think that I would need to meet criteria (b).

Quote:

(II) But if you have so powerful an argument against the soundness of the argument as to establish anything close to (b), the appeal to your opponent's motive completely drops out of consideration -- you already have knock-down argument against him that in no way relies on his supposedly bad motives.
Yes, that's correct, if all I want to do is knock down unsound arguments, without finding out why such arguments were made.


Quote:

If your own argument against him is based upon lots of unexamined assumptions of your own and it is actually not strong enough to establish anything close to (b), then your argument winds up being circular (I don't have to believe him because his motives are bad and I know his motives are bad because I already know his argument is no good) and you wind up in a shouting match about unobservable motives that will lead nowhere rather than to an examination of premises and inferences, which can lead to greater understanding.
I agree on the value of examining premises and inferences. Aside from that, please note that you're qualifying arguments and/or motives as "bad". In my considerations about motives I try not to label them as good or bad. Understanding motives, which are not being explicitly articulated in a discussion, helps me understand possible perspectives that are hidden and that can better explain the argument. Once the motives are identified, they can be explored openly, so that it brings greater understanding about what is being discussed.

Quote:

Does this mean that I examine with interest every paper produced by Tobacco funded institutes that show that smoking doesn't cause cancer? No -- life is too short. As a non-expert in the field without even an amateur's interest in such discussions, I leave the taking-apart of the science of those papers to medical researchers who understand experimental protocols etc. better than I do. I don't engage in the intellectual argument with those people. Instead, I rely on the epistemic division of labor, relying on a few heuristics (e.g., who funds these institutes) to guide me in determining which supposed "experts" I should listen to. But if everyone were relying on such crude heuristics (rather than at least sometimes engaging their opponents arguments directly), then the epistemic division of labor would simply become group-think and we would thereby lose our reasons for confidence in that division of labor and in our own crude heuristics.
Yes, I agree with all that.

Quote:

In any case, there is no equivalent in Fodor's case to an argument equivalent to being funded by Big Tobacco. Fodor is a very respected philosopher -- the very same people who object to what he says about evolution would very likely respect his cognitive science contributions.
I'm not familiar with his work, but I'll take your word for it, following the same epistemic division of labor you referred to above. :)

Quote:

I would actually go further and point out that even the Discovery Institute differs from Tobacco-funded science in that the people at DI presumably actually BELIEVE that life is the product of intelligent design, and this is the real reason they argue for this conclusion. Tobacco companies don't fund tobacco science only because they believe that Tobacco isn't harmful. It really doesn't matter to the companies or to their "experts" whether they actually believe that cigarettes don't cause cancer. They have to argue this quite apart from whether they believe it.
Your point about different levels of dishonesty is well taken.

Quote:

But I don't want to rest anything on that point (because I don't want to stir up a hornets' nest). I'll leave it that Fodor is certainly not to be dismissed out of hand by appeal to his motives, since the only evidence we seem to have about his motives rests on how good we think his arguments are. His arguments may not ultimately be that good (or maybe they are pretty good insofar as you accept his underlying philosophical world-view), but that's something to be demonstrated by argument.
Yes, I wouldn't dismiss his argument out of hand by appeal to his motives. I looked at his arguments, found them unsound, and wondered about his motives.

Quote:

I would add that, I think when people are impatient with discussions like the one that takes place in this diavlog, they may be too focused on the "bottom line". Yes, I think Fodor is wrong, but what i think gets illuminated in the exchange I dingalinked above is that Fodor and Sober are actually agreeing on a very interesting potential contrast between physical laws and biological laws, even as they disagree on what conclusions to draw from that agreement. Even a discussion which doesn't result in one side convincing the other can illuminate how different points of view fit together with one another.
Yes, I can see the usefulness of listening to this diavlog from the perspective of the process, rather than the particulars. I also realize that a significant number of viewers may be more interested in the bottom line, as you said before, precisely because they are interested in science per se , and not so much in philosophy of science, or debate process.

Thank you for your feedback.

ohreally 03-20-2010 02:22 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Fodor is essentially right. I enjoyed his book but it's for philosophers (eg extensional vs intensional). This is what I would ask Sober: in which part of, say, population dynamics or foraging theory do we need Darwin? Nowhere in fact. This is basic dynamics modeled on common sense and observation (eg, Fodor's grandma can understand the premise behind Lotka Volterra with no need to mention natural selection). Biologists love Darwin because he is their Newton. The comparison is fundamentally misguided. Here is why. You can build all of population dynamics without Darwin. You can't begin to build thermodynamics and statistical mechanics without Newton. Newton's theory is simple but deep and synthetic (ie, f=ma didn't have to be that way). Natural selection is neither. Maybe it's a fact (as Dawkins says for the wrong reasons) but it's not a theory. It's too trivial for that.

Most biologists don't know squat about philosophy so they can't understand Fodor's point. But analytic philosophers deserve some of the blame. You can't write tomes about the meaning of the sentence "this apple is red" and not expect your audience to tune out. Hence the uninformed criticism of Fodor by biologists who, we've noticed, tend to be rather touchy about Darwin.

Bloggin' Noggin 03-20-2010 03:11 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
[QUOTE=Ocean;155006]
Yes, I can see the usefulness of listening to this diavlog from the perspective of the process, rather than the particulars. I also realize that a significant number of viewers may be more interested in the bottom line, as you said before, precisely because they are interested in science per se , and not so much in philosophy of science, or debate process.

[QUOTE]

Hi again Ocean. Just back to make two points about the above paragraph. No obligation for you to come back and respond to my logorrhea.
I actually think that what was revealed by Sober's admission that the abstract statement of the principle of natural selection was not itself a law of nature was pretty revealing about the science itself. Of course, I'm not a believer in any radical distinction between science and philosophy of science -- I think they blend into each other and you can draw a sharp line wherever you will (just as the bald and the non-bald blend into each other, but you can draw a line to-the-hair if you like). So you could probably mark off this point as being within the philosophy of biology and not as part of biology itself. But I guess I'd be inclined to regard it as pretty squarely a part of the science itself.
Anyway, wherever you place it, I'd say that my point about taking an interest in what the debate reveals rather than just in the bottom line does not presuppose an interest in philosophy of science. It's analogous to someone arguing that a tennis player should cultivate an interest in the playing of the game itself, apart from the winning and losing. There's a lot to be gained from playing the game (all the while trying to win), even if you lose, or even if the you have to leave the game at a point where your scores are evenly matched. The bottom line view of tennis is a very impoverished view of the value of playing the game. Even if antecedently a player has no interest in anything but winning, I'd encourage the player to care about the challenge, the excitement and the art of tennis -- at least if he's going to be playing at all. Similarly, if we're going to listen to (or take part in) dialogs of the sort we have here, I think it's important to realize that a great deal can be learned and appreciated in the course of the discussion even when no one is convinced -- or even when one side seems pretty wrong-headed to you and even when you are not ultimately convinced by this "wrong-headed" view.

Second, I'd just like to point out that few people lack an interest in questions that belong to the philosophy of science -- they tend to hold very strong views within philosophy of science, whether or not they like to defend them. For example, many people think they know how to distinguish science from pseudo-science or that science functions as Karl Popper thought it did, etc. These unexamined assumptions are often similar to Fodor's in that they take physics as THE model for science (or more generally THE model for all rational inquiry).
It's one thing to have no interest in philosophy of science, it's another to hold views within the philosophy of science, but just have no interest in questioning or defending these positions.

testostyrannical 03-20-2010 03:29 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Good to see I'm not the only one who agrees with Fodor. His argument seems relatively semantic to me, but the semantics has consequences, particularly for hard to understand features of biology. He gets the short end of the stick because the examples are perhaps too simple (of course slow zebra are the first to become zebra steaks). But there are plenty of hard cases that are not so easy to understand (for instance, why do mammals play? One can generate plenty of convincing sounding Darwinian explanations, but so far no one has come up with a way of explaining the behavior in terms of selection.) His attack on the status of Darwin's theory as "theory" isn't an attack on evolutionary biology generally. He admits that we can make sense of the biological world all sorts of ways. He just doesn't think that natural selection has as much explanatory power as it is generally conceived to have among the public generally and to a certain extent among practitioners too. I don't know enough to say whether his criticism of other theorists holds up, but I am certain he is right about the way it is thought of among the layfolk.

ohreally 03-20-2010 05:30 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by testostyrannical (Post 155013)
I don't know enough to say whether his criticism of other theorists holds up, but I am certain he is right about the way it is thought of among the layfolk.

A side note: One has to appreciate the irony that fierce Darwinists just can't help stuffing their language with teleological references. "Zebra run fast in order to escape from lions." "Genes are selfish," "kin selection is for the benefit of the group." When caught, they huff and puff about the metaphorical quality of the language. But there is a conceit behind the amusement. The mass appeal of say evolutionary psychology is not the science but the teleology. It's so scary and sexy to hear that we love our children just to make sure they live long enough to give us grandkids. Never mind the complete lack of scientific evidence. My point is that natural selection provides plausible descriptions (not even explanations) in a cool, crisp manner. And since it's almost tautological you can apply it to almost anything. But you know what? Medieval science was pretty good at that, too. The problem is that biology involves complex systems for which we still have no workable theories. One day, we will.

themightypuck 03-20-2010 05:36 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
So is natural selection to evolution what gravitons are to gravity?

ledocs 03-20-2010 05:41 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
I'll read at least some of the reviews of Fodor's book listed by bj above. I take it that Fodor is to some extent recapitulating arguments made in the book that has influenced florian so much. That is, Fodor seems to be saying that the theory of natural selection is not predictive. You can't take data about a species and its current environment, run them through the natural selection model, and get a predictive output. The theory is only good retrospectively, and only with the addition of a lot of "gossip" that is not supposed to be immediately germane to the theory, or to provide necessary input data. At least, that's what I think I heard from Fodor. And I hear distinct echoes in Fodor of florian's formulation that natural selection is tautologous. If what I'm saying is right as far as it goes, then is the reason that the theory can't reliably produce predictions because the theory is too threadbare, is it because it's too difficult to specify all the environmental inputs, is it because the coefficients of the environmental inputs, what their relative weights are, cannot be known in advance, or is it because of all of these factors?

This all begs another question. Suppose it were true, a la bloggin' noggin''s account, that our interlocutors agreed that evolutionary theory is a theory, but not in the same way that Newtonian mechanics is a theory. Is it surprising that the conditions of knowledge in the domain of living creatures should be different from those in the domain of inanimate objects, or is this not something to be expected, as Aristotle instructed us (the degree of accuracy one should expect of a science depends upon the objects of the science)?

I would have to read the book, and the reviews, and perhaps a lot of biology, in order to decide how cogent Fodor's arguments are, or to what extent characterizing the theory of natural selection as tautologous makes sense.

themightypuck 03-20-2010 06:12 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
I'm still unclear whether this is a parochial debate about epistemology or whether Fodor expects evolutionary biologists to alter their practice in response to his thesis.

ohreally 03-20-2010 06:14 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by ledocs (Post 155046)
If what I'm saying is right as far as it goes, then is the reason that the theory can't reliably produce predictions because the theory is too threadbare, is it because it's too difficult to specify all the environmental inputs, is it because the coefficients of the environmental inputs, what their relative weights are, cannot be known in advance, or is it because of all of these factors?

OK, let's apply the theory of natural selection to physics. Physics is transmitted from one generation to the next. It mutates (people formulate new hypotheses), and natural selection weeds out new theories that do not agree with experiments. So special relativity contains the phenotypes that survived the onslaught of the Michelson-Morley predator!

That's it. How in a world is that a theory of physics?? It does not begin to tell you anything about tomorrow's new theories?

Florian 03-20-2010 06:17 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by ledocs (Post 155046)
I'll read at least some of the reviews of Fodor's book listed by bj above. I take it that Fodor is to some extent recapitulating arguments made in the book that has influenced florian so much. That is, Fodor seems to be saying that the theory of natural selection is not predictive. You can't take data about a species and its current environment, run them through the natural selection model, and get a predictive output. The theory is only good retrospectively, and only with the addition of a lot of "gossip" that is not supposed to be immediately germane to the theory, or to provide necessary input data. At least, that's what I think I heard from Fodor. And I hear distinct echoes in Fodor of florian's formulation that natural selection is tautologous. If what I'm saying is right as far as it goes, then is the reason that the theory can't reliably produce predictions because the theory is too threadbare, is it because it's too difficult to specify all the environmental inputs, is it because the coefficients of the environmental inputs, what their relative weights are, cannot be known in advance, or is it because of all of these factors?

This all begs another question. Suppose it were true, a la bloggin' noggin''s account, that our interlocutors agreed that evolutionary theory is a theory, but not in the same way that Newtonian mechanics is a theory. Is it surprising that the conditions of knowledge in the domain of living creatures should be different from those in the domain of inanimate objects, or is this not something to be expected, as Aristotle instructed us (the degree of accuracy one should expect of a science depends upon the objects of the science).

I would have to read the book, and the reviews, and perhaps a lot of biology, in order to decide how cogent Fodor's arguments are, or to what extent characterizing the theory of natural selection as tautologous makes sense.

You flatter me ledocs. I have read a few things by Fodor but I confess that I don't always understand him. I agree, however, with much of what he says in this diavlog about the weakness of "natural selection" as an explanatory device. But he is not my main authority.

The charge that natural selection is tautologous was in fact first made by a reputable Edinburgh biologist in 1959, C.H. Waddington. The charge was repeated by Karl Popper, who however recanted or at least piped down when warned by some American evolutionary biologists that such heterodoxy might give encouragement to anti-Darwinian fundamentalists. If you are interested in pursuing the history of this controversy, I recommend a long out-of-print book by Norman Malcolm, Darwin Retried, (1971).

I thought this was a great discussion. Quite an improvement over last week's Transhumanism rubbish.

Correction: the author of the book was Norman Macbeth

ohreally 03-20-2010 06:30 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by ledocs (Post 155046)
And I hear distinct echoes in Fodor of florian's formulation that natural selection is tautologous.

Natural selection is not entirely tautological like say "survival of the fittest" (which is tautological) but that's not the issue in my view. There is nothing wrong with tautologies: that elliptic curves are modular is one of the greatest intellectual discoveries of mankind and it's tautological. No, the issue is triviality.

On the one hand, you have biology, a field vastly more complex than physics; and the one tool everyone raves about is so lame it's hard to think of any statement in physics that is so damn trivial. And with that puny slingshot you'll explain why parents love their kids... Dream on.

Florian 03-20-2010 06:43 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by ohreally (Post 155052)
Natural selection is not entirely tautological like say "survival of the fittest" (which is tautological) but that's not the issue in my view. There is nothing wrong with tautologies: that elliptic curves are modular is one of the greatest intellectual discoveries of mankind and it's tautological. No, the issue is triviality.

On the one hand, you have biology, a field vastly more complex than physics; and the one tool everyone raves about is so lame it's hard to think of any statement in physics that is so damn trivial. And with that puny slingshot you'll explain why parents love their kids... Dream on.

Natural selection and survival of the fittest are more or less synonymous, aren't they? The principle of natural selections states that the fittest individuals in a population (defined as those which leave the most offspring) will survive and leave the most offspring. TA DA!

Trivial, trite, and no doubt true.

JonIrenicus 03-20-2010 07:30 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by hamandcheese (Post 154980)
Jerry Fodor is an exemplar thinker. Even if he's wrong ... often ... his existence is still necessary in the same way a debilitating genetic mutation is: even if 99.9999% of the time the mutation is utterly useless or damaging, on the extreme off chance that the variation is beneficial (like when the environment changes dramatically) it may end up saving the entire species.

Thinking outside the box is a redundant turn of phrase. If you're thinking inside the box you aren't thinking. You're reminiscing.

So long as I am still allowed to get a headache at thinking that lies too far outside the box, all is well.

Jay J 03-20-2010 08:07 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Bloggin Noggin,

Your proposed solution, (that it may be that natural selection is a general strategy of explanation for discovering lower level laws of biology, rather than a law itself), seems very promising. It's just that in most or all of the responses to Fodor I've seen, I must have missed that the problem could be handled this way. Don't get me wrong, perhaps you're way ahead of the curve, it wouldn't surprise me. But if you are, then you disagree with Fodor, but for different reasons than most. It seems like Sober gestured at what you're more explicitly explaining, but he also made an analogy to Newton's laws that seemed to accept Fodor's terms of the argument. Maybe your writing is just much more illuminating than the other critiques I've seen, because most of what I've seen actually seems to want to refute Fodor on his own terms, while what you've said seems to grant much of what he says, while critiquing his underlying assumption.

So first, is it your impression that say, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, et al would be as open to Fodor's argument as you are, while pointing out what he misses, or would they attempt to refute him on his own terms and claim that Evolution by Natural Selection is in fact a scientific law, accepting the burden Fodor assigns to such laws?

Secondly, in terms of looking for lower level laws, are these the kind involving slower and faster zebras trying to elude lions, and their respective offspring levels?

ohreally 03-20-2010 08:10 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 155053)
Natural selection and survival of the fittest are more or less synonymous, aren't they?

To be fair, survival of the fittest alone does not imply heritability. So it would leave open the possibility that random mutations lead to phenotypes that are then selected for fitness and that's it. Ie, if you luck out and survive because you're more fit, you get to reproduce more but your offsprings do not inherit your luck.

Darwinism rules that out. Your good genes get passed on, so the dynamics will be different because of this reinforcement factor. Without it, polar bears would have never had a chance to develop their shaggy coat. That also explains why fitness is harder to pass on than other traits only loosely connected to it, etc.

So heritability adds a nice twist. But, still, how can one hope to build a theory on such trivialities?

A clue that something is seriously wrong is that heritability + natural selection (ie, the core of Darwin's theory) can be explained without appealing to biology. So this incredible level of generality (much higher than anything physics ever came up with) is a giveaway you won't get much out of it.

ohreally 03-20-2010 08:18 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Don't mean to hog this space but one more thing. Suppose species never went extinct. (Forget about limited resources, etc) All the leaves in your tree of life are living species. OK? Now please explain to me why you have this tree and not any of the exponentially large number of possible trees?

Good question. What's evolution got to say about it? Zippo (the point of my thought experiment being to control out natural selection).

Fodor alluded to that problem obliquely with his Central Park story? Seems a crucial point to me.

ohreally 03-20-2010 08:29 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by themightypuck (Post 155049)
I'm still unclear whether this is a parochial debate about epistemology or whether Fodor expects evolutionary biologists to alter their practice in response to his thesis.

Excellent question. Darwinists are caught between a rock and a hard place. They have the nut jobs of the Discovery Institute on one side and people like Fodor who question how much of a theory neo-Darwinism amounts to. No wonder they're defensive. They probably shouldn't change the way they do science. But people like Dawkins, PZ Myers, etc, also engage in philosophy of science and mostly don't have a clue what they're talking about.

JonIrenicus 03-20-2010 08:30 PM

Predictive power required for a theory?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by ledocs (Post 155046)
I'll read at least some of the reviews of Fodor's book listed by bj above. I take it that Fodor is to some extent recapitulating arguments made in the book that has influenced florian so much. That is, Fodor seems to be saying that the theory of natural selection is not predictive. You can't take data about a species and its current environment, run them through the natural selection model, and get a predictive output. The theory is only good retrospectively, and only with the addition of a lot of "gossip" that is not supposed to be immediately germane to the theory, or to provide necessary input data. At least, that's what I think I heard from Fodor. And I hear distinct echoes in Fodor of florian's formulation that natural selection is tautologous. If what I'm saying is right as far as it goes, then is the reason that the theory can't reliably produce predictions because the theory is too threadbare, is it because it's too difficult to specify all the environmental inputs, is it because the coefficients of the environmental inputs, what their relative weights are, cannot be known in advance, or is it because of all of these factors?

This all begs another question. Suppose it were true, a la bloggin' noggin''s account, that our interlocutors agreed that evolutionary theory is a theory, but not in the same way that Newtonian mechanics is a theory. Is it surprising that the conditions of knowledge in the domain of living creatures should be different from those in the domain of inanimate objects, or is this not something to be expected, as Aristotle instructed us (the degree of accuracy one should expect of a science depends upon the objects of the science)?

I would have to read the book, and the reviews, and perhaps a lot of biology, in order to decide how cogent Fodor's arguments are, or to what extent characterizing the theory of natural selection as tautologous makes sense.



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predictive_power



Seems to me any idea that involves chaotic inputs and fluctuations for the outputs would not give predictive power in the same way as say, statistical mechanics.


But Natural Selection does come across as more descriptive of a mechanism than predictive in form. But I think that is fine.


All natural selection is is a theory of the change in allele frequencies through differential reproductive success. Beyond that, why the alleles change to x frequency instead of y in case A as opposed to case B is a matter for people to sort out, and that is beyond the scope of natural selection in terms of its power to explain and predict. And that is OK. The mechanism holds, even if the inputs do not, that is the equivalent of the laws of motion. I think Fedor gets thrown off track because the predictions do not flow freely directly from the mechanism. So what?

testostyrannical 03-20-2010 09:28 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
I think evolutionary theory is always going to be inherently descriptive, rather than predictive, in large part because one of the features of evolution is a trend that cuts diagonally across ecological, phenotypical, and genetic (potentially) nomological contexts. We are already in a situation where we can only really talk about events after the fact anyway, but I'm doubtful that we'd really be able to make great non-trivial guesses about the direction evolution might take in the future. And I don't think that we should be that hopeful that we'd be able to generate a series of "models" that are strongly reductive the way physical laws are, that might "capture" essential things about biology. In the ontological game of rock/paper/scissors, life beats logic; all we can do is collect a huge set of rules of thumb that seem to bear out most of the time and watch over the course of millenia to see which of those rules remain stable and which ones change as we see changes in ecology, taxonomy, and genetics.

claymisher 03-20-2010 10:20 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by testostyrannical (Post 155069)
I think evolutionary theory is always going to be inherently descriptive, rather than predictive, in large part because one of the features of evolution is a trend that cuts diagonally across ecological, phenotypical, and genetic (potentially) nomological contexts. We are already in a situation where we can only really talk about events after the fact anyway, but I'm doubtful that we'd really be able to make great non-trivial guesses about the direction evolution might take in the future. And I don't think that we should be that hopeful that we'd be able to generate a series of "models" that are strongly reductive the way physical laws are, that might "capture" essential things about biology. In the ontological game of rock/paper/scissors, life beats logic; all we can do is collect a huge set of rules of thumb that seem to bear out most of the time and watch over the course of millenia to see which of those rules remain stable and which ones change as we see changes in ecology, taxonomy, and genetics.

Well said. I think this point is intuited by most folks familiar with science but its nice to see it spelled out. And it's not just biology. Undertheorized pattern matching can be tough to defend but it's had plenty of successes. For example, the periodic table predicted undiscovered elements but there wasn't much theory behind it. Heck, even math isn't as pure as people think.

listener 03-21-2010 04:10 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by claymisher (Post 155072)
Well said. I think this point is intuited by most folks familiar with science but its nice to see it spelled out. And it's not just biology. Undertheorized pattern matching can be tough to defend but it's had plenty of successes. For example, the periodic table predicted undiscovered elements but there wasn't much theory behind it. Heck, even math isn't as pure as people think.

Having had trouble even following the arguments made in this diavlog, I never thought I'd even consider jumping into this discussion. But the ideas in this thread got my little brain thinking. So -- supporting testostyrannical's point from the perspective of one of the folks mostly unfamiliar with science (me, that is): humans notoriously suck at predicting future events (Scott Brown, anyone?), so why should evolutionary theory be expected to predict what turns evolution will take in the future? (Yeah, I know the validity of Einstein's theories of relativity depended on the outcome of certain predictions, but it seems to me that Einstein's explorations of physical laws are different from what Darwin was up to.)

Or maybe I'm completely off the mark. But for whatever it's worth, that's my completely unscientific two cents' worth.

maximus444 03-21-2010 07:30 AM

Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober
 
Here's an excellent talk by Sober at Caltech from his website:

"Did Darwin Write the Origin Backwards,"

http://philosophy.wisc.edu/sober/AV.html

Florian 03-21-2010 09:54 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Bloggin' Noggin (Post 154993)
Jerry Fodor! -- another philosophical superstar appears on BHtv. Of course, Sober gets much the better of this argument, it seems to me.

It takes a very long time to finally get to the nub of the argument -- which occurs about here. I might almost recommend that people who haven't seen the diavlog start by watching this clip and then proceed to the whole thing.

What Sober agrees to is that the laws of natural selection are not at the very general level of "adaptation" and "fitness" -- and that this distinguishes it from Newtonian laws of motion and gravitation, where the laws are precisely about the most general level of "mass" and "acceleration" and "force". The most general statement of Natural Selection is not itself a law, but a sort of explication of a general strategy of explanation.

Does this show that there's something wrong with Natural Selection? Fodor seems too obsessed, ultimately with the contrast between physics and biology. It may be that the general statement of natural selection is not the statement of a law, but the statement of a strategy for looking for the lower-level genuine laws of biology. Only in total abstraction from the context in which Natural Selection arose, could that make Natural Selection seem empty.

The theory of natural selection did have a competitor -- namely intelligent design -- a competitor which, until that time, seemed like the only strategy in town. In that context, it's quite clear that Natural Selection as an explanatory strategy is not empty, even though it does not turn out to be itself an interesting absolutely general law of nature on the model of Newton's laws of motion.

As a matter of historical fact, natural selection had one other competitor, the Lamarckian theory of evolution--that change comes about through acquired characteristics and habits being passed on to later generations. Much derided today, it was taken seriously in scientific circles throughout the 19th century.

As for your broader point, that natural selection is not the statement of a law (as in Newtonian physics) but a "strategy" (?) for looking for lower-level genuine laws of biology, I confess my incomprehension. Darwin most certainly thought of natural selection as a "law of nature." i.e. as a causal account of the origin and evolution of species. Without it he would not have had a scientific theory at all, but only a naturalist's description of the variety of living forms and their transformations through time. Natural selection, which was modelled on the idea of "artificial selection" by animal breeders, purports to explain how, i.e. by what causes, species evolve and how new species come into being.


If more people actually read Darwin on natural selection, instead of relying on the stale repetitions of the theory by contemporary biologists, with all the ancillary hypotheses that make the theory irrefutable (because tautologous), they might have a better idea of what Darwin meant. In Darwin's mind natural selection and the "struggle for existence" were one (See Book 3 of the Origin): Because species overbreed (in geometric ratio, says the Malthusian Darwin) there is overpopulation and hence competition, both within species and between species, for scarce resources and mates. The elimination of the unfit (who cannot feed themselves or reproduce) and the multiplication of the fit (who can) follow inexorably from this condition. That is as clear a statement of a causal connection as anyone could desire. Whether Darwin's premises are true or not, is another matter.

So why do you say that natural selection is not a law of nature?

ohreally 03-21-2010 11:54 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 155096)
Because species overbreed (in geometric ratio, says the Malthusian Darwin) there is overpopulation and hence competition, both within species and between species, for scarce resources and mates. The elimination of the unfit (who cannot feed themselves or reproduce) and the multiplication of the fit (who can) follow inexorably from this condition.
So why do you say that natural selection is not a law of nature?

Certainly not the way you phrased it. All you said above is that to make a living has some requirements. So by definition if the environment cannot satisfy everyone's requirements some will die. We'll call them unfit. The others will reproduce simply because that's what you do when you live. So all you said is that living makes demands.

Darwinism might not be much but you're shortchanging it if you leave out heritability. Good traits get passed on. That's the closest thing to a law you'll get out of that. (The only problem is that it's not specifically a biological law. That's because it's more a mechanism than a law.)

claymisher 03-21-2010 01:19 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by listener (Post 155089)
Having had trouble even following the arguments made in this diavlog, I never thought I'd even consider jumping into this discussion. But the ideas in this thread got my little brain thinking. So -- supporting testostyrannical's point from the perspective of one of the folks mostly unfamiliar with science (me, that is): humans notoriously suck at predicting future events (Scott Brown, anyone?), so why should evolutionary theory be expected to predict what turns evolution will take in the future? (Yeah, I know the validity of Einstein's theories of relativity depended on the outcome of certain predictions, but it seems to me that Einstein's explorations of physical laws are different from what Darwin was up to.)

Or maybe I'm completely off the mark. But for whatever it's worth, that's my completely unscientific two cents' worth.

I'm not an expert either, but I get the impression that everybody has taken on Popper's falsification criterion. I think that's a mistake. There's plenty of interesting and useful science that make no predictions. For example, Linnaeus's taxonomy was hugely important and it makes no predictions.

claymisher 03-21-2010 01:51 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 155096)
If more people actually read Darwin on natural selection, instead of relying on the stale repetitions of the theory by contemporary biologists, with all the ancillary hypotheses that make the theory irrefutable (because tautologous), they might have a better idea of what Darwin meant. In Darwin's mind natural selection and the "struggle for existence" were one (See Book 3 of the Origin): Because species overbreed (in geometric ratio, says the Malthusian Darwin) there is overpopulation and hence competition, both within species and between species, for scarce resources and mates. The elimination of the unfit (who cannot feed themselves or reproduce) and the multiplication of the fit (who can) follow inexorably from this condition. That is as clear a statement of a causal connection as anyone could desire. Whether Darwin's premises are true or not, is another matter.

The natural selection algorithm doesn't require scarcity, death, or competition, only differential reproduction.

Me&theboys 03-21-2010 02:37 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
Here are my questions for the evolutionary biologists: is colossal hubristic self-satisfaction of the sort that Fodor exemplifies in this discussion a selected-for trait or a free-rider trait? And is the revulsion I feel when I listen to Fodor's style of interaction a selected-for trait or a free-rider trait? And can the forthcoming deletion of this comment by the comment nanny serve as an example of natural selection in action that could be predicted?

Rather than generating my own substantive comments about this discussion, I’d like to free-ride on the excellent comments of several people far more knowledgeable than I:

From Ned Block and Philip Kitcher (via BJKeefe):
Quote:

“We suggest that the question [Fodor’s] deserves a shrug.”
AND
Quote:

“Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini take the role of philosophy to consist in part in minding other people’s business. We agree with the spirit behind this self-conception. Philosophy can sometimes help other areas of inquiry. Yet those who wish to help their neighbors are well advised to spend a little time discovering just what it is that those neighbors do, and those who wish to illuminate should be sensitive to charges that they are kicking up dust and spreading confusion. What Darwin Got Wrong shows no detailed engagement with the practice of evolutionary biology, nor does it respond to the many criticisms that have been leveled against earlier versions of its central ideas. In this latter respect, the authors resemble the creationist debaters who assert that evolution is incompatible with the second law of thermodynamics, hear detailed refutations of their charge, and repeat their patter in the next forum. We admire the work that both Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini have produced over many decades. We regret that two such distinguished authors have decided to publish a book so cavalier in its treatment of a serious science, so full of apparently scholarly discussions that rest on mistakes and confusions—and so predictably ripe for making mischief.”
From E. O Wilson in Consilience:
Quote:

“To the extent that philosophical positions both confuse and close doors to further inquiry, they are likely to be wrong.”
AND
Quote:

“There have always been two kinds of original thinkers, those who upon viewing disorder try to create order, and those who upon encountering order try to protest it by creating disorder. The tension between the two is what drives learning forward. And in the Darwinian contest of ideas, order always wins because – simply – that is the way the real world works.”

tom 03-21-2010 03:00 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Who Got What Wrong? (Jerry Fodor & Elliott Sober)
 
You find Fodor personally objectionable and rather than say a single worthwhile thing about any of his positions you find satisfaction in quoting the replies others have made to him (and then you barely even give us their arguments, just their conclusions), even though BJKeefe already provided those replies. I find this objectionable, smug, defensive, and self-serving, all from a guy complaining about the same in Fodor.


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