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Jul 28 2013

Tackling Pinker’s defense of evolutionary psychology

I previously addressed the criticisms of my criticisms of evolutionary psychology by Jerry Coyne; Now I turn to the criticisms of my criticisms he solicited from Steven Pinker. This is getting a bit convoluted, so let me first state the basics.

I dislike evolutionary psychology. Pinker is an advocate for evolutionary psychology. What brought on this back-and-forth was that I was a member of a panel at a science fiction convention that discussed evo psych; I made a few brief comments on my blog that were capsule summaries of my discussion there. In the section below, the paragraphs preceded by an “M:” and in italics are my words excerpted from those comments; the parts preceded by a “P:” are Pinker’s commentary. All clear?

M: Fundamental assumptions of evo psych: That you can infer an adaptive history from the distribution of current traits — that they are adaptations at all is an assumption usually not founded in evidence (this is not to deny that that there are features that are clearly the product of selection, but that you can’t pick an arbitrary attribute and draw elaborate scenarios for its origins). . .

P: Of course “arbitrary” and “elaborate” are the straw-man giveaways here. What about carefully selected attributes, and minimal assumptions about phylogeny with a focus on function, as we do for other organs? You can ask what the spleen is for – and it would be perverse to do physiology without asking such a question – without “drawing elaborate scenarios for its origins.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa — that skips right over the really important word: “adaptive”. Start there. That’s my primary objection, the habit of evolutionary psychologists of taking every property of human behavior, assuming that it is the result of selection, building scenarios for their evolution, and then testing them poorly.

We already know that that is impossible. The repertoire of human behavior is so complex and rich, and relatively recently evolved, that to argue that every behavior is the product of specific selection imposes an untenable genetic load. The bulk of the genetic foundation of our psychology (and I agree that there must be one!) must be byproducts and accidents. The null hypothesis of evolutionary psychology should be that a behavior is non-adaptive, yet for some reason all I ever see is adaptive hypotheses.

The spleen is an interesting example. There are components of the spleen that are definitely functional and almost certainly adaptive: its functions as a blood reservoir, as an element of the immune system, as part of the erythrocyte cycling mechanism. You can examine the evolution of those functions phylogenetically; for instance, some teleosts lack the erythropeotic functions of the spleen, while the majority use it as a blood reservoir. You can begin to dissect its history comparatively, by looking at what has a clear functional role and looking at the pattern of emergence of those properties.

What you can’t do is pick any particular property of the spleen and invent functions for it, which is what I mean by arbitrary and elaborate. For instance, the spleen is located in most people in the upper left quadrant of the abdomen; are you going to make an adaptive case for why it’s on the left rather than the right? The actual reason almost certainly has nothing to do with adaptation or selection, and everything to do with historical and developmental mechanisms that are neutral with respect to selection.

M:. . . That behavioral features that have been selected for in our history are represented by modular components in the brain – again with rare exceptions, you can’t simply assign a behavioral role to a specific spot in the brain, just as you can’t assign a behavior to a gene.

P: No one in Ev Psych points to specific spots in the brain – that’s cognitive neuroscience, not evolutionary psychology. The only assumption is that there are functional circuits, in the same way that a program can be fragmented across your hard drive.

Now this is one of my peeves with evolutionary psychology. The evo psych literature is thick with papers emphasizing “modularity”; that evolutionary psychology FAQ I referenced before makes it clear that it’s an important concept in the field (and also ties it to concepts in computer science). Yet it is meaningless. Sometimes there’s the implication that the “module” is a discrete element in the brain, but it’s never clear whether they’re talking about a genetic module (an epistatic network of genes) or a neural module (an interconnected network of neurons), and when pressed, they retreat, as Pinker does here, to an admission that it could be just about anything scattered anywhere in the brain.

So my question is…why talk about “modules” at all, other than to reify an abstraction into something misleadingly concrete? Evolutionary psychologists don’t do neurobiology, and they don’t do genetic dissections, and they don’t do molecular genetics, so why do they insist on modularity? It’s premature and a violation of Occam’s razor to throw the term around, and also completely unnecessary — a behavior could be a product of diffuse general phenomena in the brain without diminishing its importance at all.

M: . . . That the human brain is adapted to a particular environment, specifically the African savannah, and that we can ignore as negligible any evolutionary events in the last 10,000 years, that we can ignore the complexity of an environment most of the evo psych people have never seriously studied, and that that environment can dictate one narrow range of outcomes rather than permit millions of different possibilities.

P: The savannah is a red herring – that’s just a convenient dichotomization of the relevant continuum, which is evolutionary history. A minimal commitment to “pre-modern” gives you the same conclusions. By saying that the brain could not have been biologically adapted to stable government, police, literacy, medicine, science, reliable statistics, prevalence of high-calorie food, etc., you don’t need to go back to the savannah; you just need to say that these were all relevantly recent in most people’s evolutionary history. The savannah is just a synechdoche.

Ah, a synechdoche. This is the evolutionary psychology version of the religious argument that it’s “just a metaphor.”

Again, this is a peeve I have with the field. I agree with the general principle that of course the brain is a product of our evolutionary history, and that there is almost certainly a foundation of genetically defined, general psychological properties of the mind…and that a great many specific psychological properties are not biologically adapted. Pinker is writing good common sense here.

But over and over, you see evolutionary psychologists falling into this trap of examining a behavior and then fitting it to some prior specific environment. They talk of a Savannah Mind or they generalize it to the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness. It’s another reification of the unknown. You don’t like “savannah”? Change it to “Pleistocene”. It’s just as broad and meaningless. It’s an attempt to reduce the complex and diverse to a too simple unit.

M: I’d also add that most evo psych studies assume a one-to-one mapping of hypothetical genes to behaviors. . .

P: Completely untrue – this was Gould’s claim in the 1970s, which confused a “gene for x” (indispensable in any evolutionary thinking, given segregation) in the sense of “increases the probability of X, averaging over environments and other genes” with “a gene for X” in the sense of “necessary and sufficient for X.” Every honest biologist invokes “gene for X” in the former sense; evolution would be impossible if there were no additive effects of genes. No one believes the latter – it’s pure straw.

By one-to-one, I mean the assumption that a behavior trait can be mapped to a contribution from a gene that was subject to selection for that trait; that it might be an additive property of a pleiotropic gene will be nominally noted, as Pinker does here, but operationally ignored. Remember, the issue is not whether genes contribute to our psychology, a point I totally agree with, but whether we can assign a selective origin to a behavior. That is a much, much harder problem.

M [continuation of previous sentence]:. . . and never actually look at genes and for that matter, ignore most human diversity to focus on a naive typological simplicity that allows them to use undergraduate psych majors at Western universities as proxies for all of humanity”

P: It’s psychologists, not evolutionary psychologists, who focus on Western undergrads –field research and citations of anthropology are vastly more common in ev psych than in non-ev-psych. PZ is engaging in prosecution here, not analysis – he’s clearly ignorant of the sociology of the fields.

As for diversity – is he arguing for genetic differences among human groups, a la Herrnstein & Murray?

First, this has already been addressed by Stephanie Zvan: when you look in the evolutionary psychology journals at papers identified as evolutionary psychology, you find…a focus on Western undergrads. I throw up my hands in exasperation. Look at the actual work done in your field, not the abstract ideal you hold in your head. I get my vision of evolutionary psychology by reading the papers.

Secondly, what a weirdly off-target attempt at ad hominem. Once again, my criticisms are being addressed by imagining motives; in Jerry Coyne’s critique, I’m an uber-liberal offended at the consequences a genetic component to behavior might have on my egalitarian biases; now Pinker takes a swipe by tarring me with the likes of Herrnstein & Murray. Make up your minds!

For the record, of course there are genetic differences in human populations! It’s an open question whether any of them make significant contributions to human psychology, however. I’m open to evidence either way.

But my remark was about cultural diversity (which also, by the way, exists). Setting aside the notion of a genetic component for now, we know that culture creates different minds. How can you analyze the causes of a behavior if your work focuses on a relatively uniform sample?

M: Developmental plasticity vitiates most of the claims of evo psych. Without denying that some behaviors certainly have a strong biological basis, the differences in human behaviors are more likely to be a product of plasticity than of genetic differences. . .

P: Plasticity is just learning at the neural level, and learning is not an alternative to innate motives and learning mechanisms. Plasticity became an all-purpose fudge factor in the 1990s (just like “epigenetics” is today). But the idea that the brain is a piece of plastic molded by the environment is bad neuroscience. I reviewed neural plasticity in the chapter “The Slate’s Last Stand” in The Blank Slate, with the help of many colleagues in neuroscience, and noted that the plasticity that allows feedback during development and learning during ontogeny is superimposed on an innate matrix of neural organization. For example if you silence *all* synaptic activity in the brain of a developing mouse with knock-outs, the brain is pretty much normal.

Speaking of straw men…I found The Blank Slate entirely unreadable, unlike most of Pinker’s books, because of the gigantic straw man erected in the title. This flailing against me is a product of this weird idea that I reject the contribution of our genes to our minds, but just as there are no evolutionary psychologists who believe everything in our brains is genetically predetermined, there is no such thing in serious science as a “blank slater”.

There is a continuum, and we’re arguing about degrees. For example, take a child of French parents and raise them in the United States, they’ll grow up speaking fluent English (or Spanish, depending on the household), and vice versa — an American child raised in France will speak French like a native. There is no genetic component to the details of language. Yet when you compare diverse languages you can start to pick out commonalities, and when you look at the neural substrates of language you do see shared anatomy and physiology — I do not hesitate to accept that there is an evolved component of human language. The differences between speakers are learned, the universals may well be biological.

Which means that when evolutionary psychologists try to parse out variations between different groups, racial or sexual, I suspect it’s most likely that they are seeing cultural variations, so trying to peg them to an adaptive explanation is an exercise in futility. When evolutionary psychologists try to drill down and identify the shared components, I’m much more willing to see their efforts as interesting.

That last sentence by Pinker is a lovely example of nonsensical denial of the importance of plasticity. “Pretty much normal” means that on broad, superficial inspection the various components of the brain are present — hindbrain, midbrain, forebrain, various nuclei and pathways, they’re all there. I’ve seen the same thing in zebrafish: the peripheral motor nerves I studied as a graduate student form perfectly normally even if you knock out all the acetylcholine receptors, so that the muscles are totally unresponsive to physiological inputs.

This does not surprise me. Most of the patterning of the brain is set up in the embryo before neuronal connectivity is established; the clock-like activity of mitotic rate genes defines the size of various bits of the brain; adhesive and repulsive cell surface interactions lay out the major pathways. Does Pinker think someone trained in developmental neurobiology would expect that the brain would collapse into a formless blob in the absence of action potentials and synaptic transmission?

But it is still absurd to call the deprived brain “pretty much normal”. When you look deeper, you find subtle and important differences. The clearest examples are found in experiments with visually deprived cats: sew one eyelid shut, or both, or alternate, in a young kitten, and you can find all kinds of changes in visual processing, detectable at both the physiological and anatomical levels. The visual cortex forms, projections from the lateral geniculate terminate in roughly the right place, but they absolutely depend on visual input to fine tune their connections. Human children born with visual deficits in one eye will also have lifelong deficits in visual processing, even if the original problem is corrected.

Try raising a child without contact with other humans. I guarantee you that their brains, when physically examined, would look “pretty much normal”…but does anyone really believe that psychologically, on the level evolutionary psychologists study brains, that they’d be “pretty much normal”?

This is “pretty much normal” behavior from evolutionary psychologists, though. Point out that that their inferences about neuronal circuitry are bogus, they tell you that they don’t study neurons anyway; tell them that the behaviors they study are awfully plastic and flexible, and presto, hey, look, brains and neurons are patterned by genetic elements. The sleight of hand is impressive, except when you realize that science shouldn’t be about magic tricks.

654 comments

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  1. 1
    timgueguen

    [Guess what I think of "first" comments? --pzm]

  2. 2
    Cuttlefish

    A large part of the problem is that EP (and a related field, Animal Cognition) are, in the traditions of cognitive psychology, built on the axioms of a mechanistic view (the easy contrast here is mechanism vs functional contextualism). Mechanism, with its clockwork metaphor, requires an immediate, proximal cause for any observed “effect” (behavioral, in this case). If we know that there are functional causes in the history (evolutionary or learning) of an organism, but these particular causes are removed in time and space from the behavior we are observing now, the requirement of a proximal cause means that we must infer one, perhaps a “module” or “circuit”. Bad enough when a physiological “cause” is assumed and inferred (rather than directly observed); worse when the alleged cause is mental.

    A contextualist philosophical stance does not require an immediate and proximal cause. Behaviors are not seen as discrete instances, each requiring a separate trigger, but rather as extended in time and space (kind of the way we actually experience them). Stuff that gets treated as a proximal cause (personality traits or states, for instance) is just a reification of what contextualists see as an extended, observed pattern of behavior. We observe someone over time, and this pattern can be labeled, say, “outgoing”; a mechanistic view reasonably could conclude that an outgoing personality is the cause, but contextualism recognizes the circularity and looks outside the individual to demonstrated causes in the environmental history.

    As another example, I’ve seen “fitness” (in the evolutionary sense) treated as some sort of discrete module, a thing that individual creatures may possess more or less of. Fitness, of course, is not even definable within the bounds of one individual–it is necessarily extended in time and space, dependent on the particulars of an environment that is also changing. Sometimes, the philosophical underpinnings and assumptions just lead to different questions, experiments and interpretations. In this case, I think the mechanistic framework of EP leads to the wrong questions, experiments, and interpretations.

  3. 3
    David Marjanović

    P: Of course “arbitrary” and “elaborate” are the straw-man giveaways here. What about carefully selected attributes, and minimal assumptions about phylogeny with a focus on function, as we do for other organs? You can ask what the spleen is for – and it would be perverse to do physiology without asking such a question – without “drawing elaborate scenarios for its origins.”

    Uh, that won’t get you far.

    Nothing makes sense in evolution without a phylogeny (G. C. Gould & B. MacFadden 2002, 2004).

  4. 4
    coelsblog

    PZ:

    I agree with the general principle that of course the brain is a product of our evolutionary history, and that there is almost certainly a foundation of genetically defined, general psychological properties of the mind …

    So you agree with evolutionary psychology, you just think that most evolutionary psychologists are doing it badly?

    to argue that every behavior is the product of specific selection imposes an untenable genetic load.

    Can you quote anyone actually arguing that?

  5. 5
    PZ Myers

    Evolutionary psychology has a lot of baggage I disagree with, so no, I don’t agree with it. I agree with the broader principle that brains evolved.

    My argument is that most behaviors will NOT be the product of selection, but products of culture, or even when they have a biological basis, will be byproducts or neutral. Therefore you can’t use an adaptationist program as a first principle to determine their origins.

  6. 6
    coelsblog

    My argument is that most behaviors will NOT be the product of selection, … Therefore you can’t use an adaptationist program …

    If you didn’t know, a priori, whether a behaviour was selected/adapted or not, it would still be sound science to make the hypothesis that it was, see if you could make testable predictions from that hypothesis, and then see if you could confirm or reject the predictions. Of course that needs to be done sceptically, but there is nothing wrong in principle with the approach.

    Anyhow, it would seem that a large swath of basic human behaviour is indeed gene-programmed and adaptive since brains are very expensive and the genes wouldn’t bother specifying such an expensive brain if most brain-outputs were neutral w.r.t. genes. Second, there are large swathes of behaviour common across humans, which are thus unlikely to be purely cultural (though they could be common byproducts).

  7. 7
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    If you didn’t know, a priori, whether a behaviour was selected/adapted or not, it would still be sound science to make the hypothesis that it was,

    Sorry, it is sound science to make the null hypothesis everything is cultural, not genetic. That way, you must work harder to get to some tie to genes before saying it is an adaption. Otherwise, given the diversity of culture in the world, conclusions cannot be drawn as to what is genetic or cultural.

    Anyhow, it would seem that a large swath of basic human behaviour is indeed gene-programmed

    Citations needed for such a sweeping generalization….

  8. 8
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    I can’t help but notice two things here. One, that Pinker uses the word “assumption” a lot, for someone trying to refute PZ’s main criticism that EP researchers make too much unnecessary assumptions.

    The second is that, once again, the picture of pre-modern humans emerging from his words is a bit… simplistic.

    P: The savannah is a red herring – that’s just a convenient dichotomization of the relevant continuum, which is evolutionary history. A minimal commitment to “pre-modern” gives you the same conclusions. By saying that the brain could not have been biologically adapted to stable government, police, literacy, medicine, science, reliable statistics, prevalence of high-calorie food, etc., you don’t need to go back to the savannah; you just need to say that these were all relevantly recent in most people’s evolutionary history.

    (My emphasis.)

    Hmm. Lack of adaptation to medicine, science and reliable statistics, fine. But didn’t the Neolithic change our diet a lot? Witness the emergence of lactose tolerance in adults in Europe and some parts of Asia and Africa, within the last few millenia! (See Marlene Zuk’s recent book Paleofantasy. Adaptation to a diet rich in dairy products shows that evolution can work “fast” in our species.)

    And didn’t what we call civilizations arise during the Bronze Age? Cities, governments, law codes, etc. In several regions of the world, humans have relied on a “civilized” environment for millenia. Which reminds me that there’s a fascinating hypothesis about insulin resistance as a socio-ecological adaptation to living in societies with dense population and complex politics. (That this leads also to type II diabetis could have been an acceptable evolutionary trade-off in agrarian societies, where only a privileged few would have had access to unlimited amounts of food.) There’s an open access article: Watve and Yajnik, “Evolutionary origins of insulin resistance: a behavioral switch hypothesis”, BMC Evolutionary Biology, 2007. Dr. Harriet Hall also discusses a book on this subject by one of the authors of the article, Milind G. Watve, at the Science-Based Medicine blog:

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/doves-diplomats-and-diabetes/

    Watve’s hypothesis is obviously speculative, but at least it’s based on a fair understanding post-Neolithic human societies!

  9. 9
    Tethys

    LOL, Nerd has the same issues as I with coelblogs statements.

    I have recently watched a Nova documentary called Genie. It is about a girl who was kept in a locked room and never spoken to until social services found her when she was thirteen years old.

    If “large swaths” of behavior are gene-programmed (which is known to be false)) we would expect normal development. That is not what happened, and you can see a brain scan here that shows very clearly how her brain failed to develop without the proper stimulation. (scroll down to the bottom of the article)

  10. 10
    coelsblog

    Nerd of Redhead:

    Sorry, it is sound science to make the null hypothesis everything is cultural, not genetic.

    Sorry, “everything is cultural” should no more be the default null hypothesis than “everything is genetic”.

    That way, you must work harder to get to some tie to genes before saying it is an adaption.

    And less hard before saying it’s cultural. Anyhow, what I suggested was indeed comparing the two hypotheses (cultural, genetic) for predictive power regarding a trait.

    Citations needed for such a sweeping generalization….

    See the rest of the sentence that you didn’t quote for the justification of the claim.

  11. 11
    coelsblog

    Tethys:

    If “large swaths” of behavior are gene-programmed (which is known to be false)) we would expect normal development.

    First, it is not “known to be false”. Second, your claim about what we would expect is wrong. Genes are a recipe and of course depend on the environment for the playing out of that recipe. Of course the end result depends on both.

    But it’s still the case that, for example, the designs and behaviour of our hearts and lungs is genetically programmed, even though in the wrong environment (e.g. no food) you don’t end up with functioning hearts and lungs. What you need to consider is the variation in genes and the variation in environment.

  12. 12
    Tethys

    Hearts and lungs do not have behavior. They have a mechanical function.

    I gave you evidence that large swaths of human behavior are the result of environment, not genes.
    If you are going to contest that, I will need some evidence that shows a strong correlation between a gene and a behavior.

  13. 13
    PZ Myers

    Genes are not a “recipe”. That is probably the second most common fallacious metaphor for genes, right after “genes are a program.”

  14. 14
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Sorry, “everything is cultural” should no more be the default null hypothesis than “everything is genetic”.

    Nope, cultural until proven otherwise with good science. Otherwise, the ambiguity overexpressed by Pinker the master of ambiguity, not scientific definition, wins.

    Anyhow, what I suggested was indeed comparing the two hypotheses (cultural, genetic) for predictive power regarding a trait.

    Until you can show a genetic tie in, culture should win. After all, humans have a long childhood with lots of learning compared to other animals. Folks like Pinker ignore that fact.

    See the rest of the sentence that you didn’t quote for the justification of the claim.

    Nothing cogent said, don’t be truly scientific and rigorous. Which your ideas aren’t.

    But it’s still the case that, for example, the designs and behaviour of our hearts and lungs is genetically programmed,

    Category error. Physical functions not mental predispositions. What folks like PZ and myself argue for is greater definition, and following these definitions, rather than Pinker’s Humpty-Dumpty attitude that “practice of insisting that a word means whatever one wishes it to.” Adaptation should be rigorously defined having a proven genetic tie-in, whereas a cultural adaptation should be defined as such, and the two never, ever, confused.

  15. 15
    coelsblog

    Tethys:

    Hearts and lungs do not have behavior. They have a mechanical function.

    That’s just semantics. Hearts, lungs and brains are all material organs that do things.

    I gave you evidence that large swaths of human behavior are the result of environment, not genes.

    No you didn’t, you gave one example of where a highly abnormal environment had resulted in a highly abnormal outcome. Yes I accept that, there are lots of such examples. Another example is the past Chinese practice of binding girls’ feet which led to disabled feet. It still, however, is the case that genetic programming plays a large role in how our feet function.

  16. 16
    profpedant

    It occurs to me that part of the problem with evolutionary psychology is that the desire to ‘know the answer’ seems to frequently override the comprehension of how complicated a system is that involves genes, learning, and interactions between genes and the environment (which includes learning as an environmental characteristic). If you examine what enabled/caused/facilitated a particular behavior it is easy to come to the conclusion that genes play a role – all you have to do is look to what enabled/caused/facilitated the enabling/causing/facilitating of the behavior being examined, even the most complicated behaviors can be seen to have some sort of genetic basis after a few iterations of looking for what enabled/caused/facilitated the enabling/causing/facilitating of the enabling/causing/facilitating. What still remains missing though is an understanding of the details.

    It may be, for example, that a person with a particular set of “cognition-related genes” would almost never think of engaging in ‘Behavior B’. But, if that person grows up in a society that frequently engages in ‘Behavior B’ no significantly impeding difficulty is experienced in learning to engage in ‘Behavior B’. He or she may even be particularly good at engaging in ‘Behavior B’ and receive reproductive benefits as a consequence of that success. Thus genes that do not facilitate ‘Behavior B’ increase in prevalence among a population that continues to frequently engage in ‘Behavior B’. And this imaginary scenario is probably one of the simplest roles of genes in human psychology and culture. Asserting that genes play a role in human psychology and culture is easy, understanding what those roles are is far far far harder and will take centuries, even millennia, of patient, humble, and insightful, work.

  17. 17
    coelsblog

    Tethys:

    I will need some evidence that shows a strong correlation between a gene and a behavior.

    There is a strong correlation between propensity to murder and possession of a Y chromosome.

  18. 18
    Inaji

    That’s just semantics.

    No, it’s not. FFS, you aren’t being honest when you attempt to make behaviour and mechanical function to be the same.

    There is a strong correlation between propensity to murder and possession of a Y chromosome.

    Yeah, there’s certainly no cultural impact there. Nope.

  19. 19
    coelsblog

    Nerd of Redhead:

    Nope, cultural until proven otherwise with good science.

    Why? Why is default cultural more scientific than default genetic? Surely the scientific approach would be default we don’t know for a given trait, especially since things like twin studies show that 50:50 is a decent first stab.

    After all, humans have a long childhood with lots of learning compared to other animals.

    Which tells you that length of childhood (as with a lot of “cultural” things) is something than genes programme.

    Category error. Physical functions not mental predispositions.

    Are you a dualist, believing in separate mind and body? If not, why does your distinction matter?

  20. 20
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    Ack. I mistyped and botched the first link in my comment:

    http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2148/7/61

    “Evolutionary origins of insulin resistance: a behavioral switch hypothesis”, open access article by Watve and Yajnik.

  21. 21
    yngvebae

    Long time lurker temporarily delurking…

    PZ: I think you are unfair to Pinker in one respect, and that is regarding his choice of the title “The Blank Slate”. IIRC he explains his reasons for the title by explaining how the idea of the blank slate historically has been important politically and in some areas of social science. Within biologically centered sciences like neuroscience and developmental biology, the claim that biology plays some role towards explaining behavior is not controversial (how big of a role may still be very much debatable). In some parts of social science this realization is not universally accepted. Viewed in that light the title is understandable and I don’t think anyone is accusing you of believing in the blank slate theory. Does this make sense to you?

  22. 22
    coelsblog

    18. Caine,

    No, it’s not. FFS, you aren’t being honest when you attempt to make behaviour and mechanical function to be the same.

    I note the FTB-trademark “anyone who disagrees or thinks differently is being dishonest”.

    So explain it to me, given that hearts and lungs and brains are all physical, why would you make such a big distinction between behaviour and mechanical function?

  23. 23
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Why? Why is default cultural more scientific than default genetic?

    Long childhood and associated cultural learning. Also, definitions. Genetic adaption, one where a genetic tie-in has been proven. Cultural adaption, everything else. Prevent confusion as to what is meant by adaptation.

    Which tells you that length of childhood (as with a lot of “cultural” things) is something than genes programme.

    As PZ indicated, the genes allow for cultural learning. What is learned is non-genetic. You don’t seem to understand that basic concept.

  24. 24
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Are you a dualist, believing in separate mind and body? If not, why does your distinction matter?

    Show me one given culture has a genetic basis. Whereas, I will grant having a human culture has a genetic basis. You try for specific (say US culture) when it should be general–humans have a culture.

  25. 25
    coelsblog

    Caine:

    There is a strong correlation between propensity to murder and possession of a Y chromosome.

    Yeah, there’s certainly no cultural impact there. Nope.

    There likely is some cultural effect there, yes (nearly everything is some combination of genes and environment). Are you seriously arguing that genes (and their programming of testosterone etc) have zero effect on that issue?

  26. 26
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Are you seriously arguing that genes (and their programming of testosterone etc) have zero effect on that issue?

    Do you care to demonstrate which genes and what are the effects of those genes specifically, with a hand-waving generalization? That is what MRA fuckwits do. Hand-wave that evidence, and won’t show it makes a real difference in being able to be a productive human.

  27. 27
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Do you care to demonstrate which genes and what are the effects of those genes specifically, withOUT a hand-waving generalization?

    Correction to my fist sentence #26.

  28. 28
    coelsblog

    Nerd:

    Long childhood and associated cultural learning.

    You’re suggesting that a long childhood with lots of learning reduces the influence of genetic programming to a minimal level? Do you have a cite for that?

    Genetic adaption, one where a genetic tie-in has been proven. Cultural adaption, everything else.

    Really? So you plumb for cultural adaptation except where proven not? But our knowledge of these things is hugely rudimentary, whether we can *prove* a genetic link is very different from whether there *is* a genetic link.

    What is learned is non-genetic.

    That doesn’t follow, since much of the childhood and social environment can be influenced by genes. Your statement is thus as simplistic as saying that bone development that results from food is non-genetic, whereas it is the combination that matters. What one needs to do is compare ranges of learning and behaviour with differences in genes. This is hard to do (though studies with identical twins reared apart can help).

  29. 29
    coelsblog

    24. Nerd of Redhead:

    Whereas, I will grant having a human culture has a genetic basis. You try for specific (say US culture) when it should be general–humans have a culture.

    I think we’re in agreement here. The aspects of culture that are common across humanity likely derive (to quite an extent) from genetic programming.

    I am certainly not arguing that specific cultural differences (e.g. US culture) can be linked to specific genetic differences in the population of that country. I’d have thought that differences between human cultures really are non-genetic (at least mostly).

  30. 30
    coelsblog

    Nerd:

    Do you care to demonstrate which genes …

    The ones on the Y chromosome.

    … and what are the effects of those genes specifically

    Increasing propensity to murder. This effect is seen pretty consistently across all cultures and times. I’d be surprised if someone were to dispute this effect.

  31. 31
    PZ Myers

    I note the FTB-trademark “anyone who disagrees or thinks differently is being dishonest”.

    If you’re going to make such sweeping generalizations about a network you apparently despise, I have to wonder why you bother commenting here, and am going to suggest that you fuck right off.

  32. 32
    Tethys

    That’s just semantics. Hearts, lungs and brains are all material organs that do things

    Orly? Mechanical function is the exact same thing as learned behavior?

    Hearts and lungs are completely formed at birth, and do not change during the lifetime of an organism except to grow larger. This is not true of brains, which is the point of my link to Genie’s case.

    you gave one example of where a highly abnormal environment had resulted in a highly abnormal outcome.

    Science learns a lot from abnormal outcomes. Performing the necessary experiments to prove how human brains develop without normal stimulation would be unethical. Sadly, there is all sorts of evidence for learned behavior outweighing genes from the unethical science of Josef Mengele and his twin studies.

  33. 33
    PZ Myers

    Dear god.

    The ones on the Y chromosome.

    Are you even aware of what genes are on the Y chromosome? SRY, a few sperm maturation genes, a grand total of between 50 and 60 genes. Point to one that looks like a gene that causes “increasing propensity to murder”. Most of the effects of the Y chromosome are epigenetic and epistatic.

  34. 34
    torwolf

    PZ said: “My argument is that most behaviors will NOT be the product of selection, but products of culture, or even when they have a biological basis, will be byproducts or neutral. Therefore you can’t use an adaptationist program as a first principle to determine their origins.”

    I think the reason people who respect the field of evolutionary psychology (e.g. Dawkins, Coyne, Pinker, etc.) attribute more weight to the adaptationist basis for human behavior is because they attribute more weight to reason, in addition to the empirical reductionist scientific baseline.

    For example, there is great reason to believe that sex drives human behavior: while psychological studies and neuroscientific studies provide observational evidence for this, it is self-evident if one endorses the selfish gene perspective of how evolution works. Without ancestors who did everything in their power to mate, we would not be here.

    The neurochemicals, hormones, and resulting emotions that cause us to seek sex and to behave in ways that help secure those resources that enable us to get sex (social status, and the food, physical dominance, shelter, shiny things, rhetoric, spirituality, etc. that help confer status) are the product of strong selection pressures that have held throughout evolutionary time. Culture and development may modulate the direction of the expression of these emotions, but there are only so many outlets.

    Evolutionary psychology makes use of this powerful intuition that stems from understanding the selfish gene perspective. I agree, much of it is bunk, but much of it is not. Completely dismissing it is completely unwise.

  35. 35
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    You’re suggesting that a long childhood with lots of learning reduces the influence of genetic programming to a minimal level? Do you have a cite for that?

    What genetic programming? You haven’t shown any, just made vague assertions which need citations. You first.

    The aspects of culture that are common across humanity likely derive (to quite an extent) from genetic programming.

    Not necessarily. The main requirement of a culture is to keep the tribe functioning. A cultural objective, not genetic one.

    I’d have thought that differences between human cultures really are non-genetic (at least mostly).

    Which is the point of people like me. You claim a genetic component? Either demonstrate it or shut the fuck up about it. That is science. Sweeping generalizations are for armchair mental wankers, incapable of doing real science, that ties what they claim with real physical (genetic) evidence.

  36. 36
    coelsblog

    PZ:

    … about a network you apparently despise, …

    I don’t despise this network (which is not to say that I agree with everything written on it, there is a difference).

    I have to wonder why you bother commenting here, …

    Well, I was doing so because I’m interested in evolutionary psychology.

    SRY, a few sperm maturation genes, a grand total of between 50 and 60 genes. Point to one that looks like a gene that causes “increasing propensity to murder”.

    It’s the SRY, that “causes” increased propensity to murder in the sense of triggering other genes and setting in train a long line of causation that makes the embryo male with the end result that the resulting young adult will have a higher propensity to murder than if the SRY gene had not done that job.

  37. 37
    coelsblog

    Nerd:

    What genetic programming? You haven’t shown any, …

    The genetic programming that produces a brain. Given that brains of different species are clearly and consistently different it’s pretty obvious that there is genetic programming that produces brains.

    The main requirement of a culture is to keep the tribe functioning. A cultural objective, not genetic one.

    Surely the genes also have an interest in the functioning of a tribe? Humans clearly exploit a cooperative ecological niche, and are clearly genetically programmed to do so.

  38. 38
    clarewilkinson

    yngvevae — there is an odd propensity among certain evolutionary psychologists to make sweeping and unfounded accusations about the social sciences (anthropology, sociology etc.) that are, as PZ says, complete straw. Pinker has used in his books something like, as I recall, the SSSM (standard social science model??), a concoction of his own making by the way, that grossly mischaracterizes social science research as perversely interested in human diversity and stubbornly resistant to ideas about human commonality. There are many problems with Pinker’s position, including (but not limited to) his refusal to take into account the history and goals of social science, the insidiousness of racism in human biology in earlier decades, the fact that evolutionary theory may not be the best way to understand historical processes, etc. etc. The irony is that among evolutionary theorists in anthropology, I see certain evolutionary questions arising from a long and well-established precedent in cultural anthropology to challenge received wisdom — more among those doing genuine cross-cultural research than those doing the ol’ Intro to Psych questionnaires, certainly; in other words, the very social science that is slagged has influenced the way certain questions are asked (if not necessarily how they are answered..)

  39. 39
    Tethys

    torwolf

    I think the reason people who respect the field of evolutionary psychology (e.g. Dawkins, Coyne, Pinker, etc.) attribute more weight to the adaptationist basis for human behavior is because they attribute more weight to reason, in addition to the empirical reductionist scientific baseline.

    Dawkins respects evopsyche because he is more reasonable?

    I think you are getting confused by the title of his book. It is called the selfish gene, but thirty years later, he wishes he had given it a different title.

    Let me begin with some second thoughts about the title. In 1975, I showed the partially completed book to Tom Maschler, doyen of London publishers, and we discussed it in his room at Jonathan Cape. He liked the book but not the title. “Selfish”, he said, was a “down” word. Why not call it The Immortal Gene? Immortal was an “up” word, the immortality of genetic information was a central theme of the book, and “immortal gene” had almost the same intriguing ring as “selfish gene” (neither of us, I think, noticed the resonance with Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant). I now think Maschler may have been right. Many critics, especially vociferous ones learned in philosophy as I have discovered, prefer to read a book by title only. No doubt this works well enough for The Tale of Benjamin Bunny or The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but I can readily see that The Selfish Gene, without the large footnote of the book itself, might give an inadequate impression of its contents.

    source
    http://web.archive.org/web/20110615135027/http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article738678.ece

  40. 40
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    . Given that brains of different species are clearly and consistently different it’s pretty obvious that there is genetic programming that produces brains.

    Category error. What you are saying is that genes produce the hardware (like computer hardware). I say culture produces the end result of the being human, like good software. Which doesn’t matter what the hardware is, the software produces a similar results. And you haven’t shown otherwise.

    Surely the genes also have an interest in the functioning of a tribe?

    Then it’s up to you to produce the evidence that this is the case. SHOW ME YOUR EVIDENCE….

  41. 41
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Well, I was doing so because I’m interested in evolutionary psychology.

    No, you are interested in pontificating bullshit, not showing evidence like a scientist.

  42. 42
    torwolf

    clairewilkinson – You actually believe that because cultural anthropologists have questioned existing views in the past, they have in turn opened the doors for evolutionary psychologists who question existing views?

  43. 43
    coelsblog

    Nerd:

    What you are saying is that genes produce the hardware (like computer hardware). I say culture produces the end result of the being human, like good software. Which doesn’t matter what the hardware is, the software produces a similar results. And you haven’t shown otherwise.

    First, when considering neural networks there is no clear distinction between hardware and software. Second, the idea of the brain as hardware that can run any software at all is the “blank slate” argument, and to quote PZ from the OP, there is no such things in serious science as a blank slater.

    Third, I reject your suggestion that the null hypothesis should be that everything is cultural (until proved otherwise). Twin studies show that many traits have a variance that is roughly 50% environmental and 50% genetic (obviously any individual trait may differ).

    It’s clear that you asking for vastly less evidence before concluding that something is cultural than you do for concluding that it is genetic. I don’t see any scientific basis for that.

  44. 44
    coelsblog

    Tethys:

    Hearts and lungs are completely formed at birth, and do not change during the lifetime of an organism except to grow larger. This is not true of brains …

    OK, well if that’s your objection to my comparison with lungs and hearts then I’ll use sex organs instead of lungs and hearts.

  45. 45
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    First, when considering neural networks there is no clear distinction between hardware and software.

    Since the networks change as learning occurs, you are full of bullshit, and you know that.

    Twin studies show that many traits have a variance that is roughly 50% environmental and 50% genetic (obviously any individual trait may differ).

    Gee, and those studies are US versus Canada or Europe. Not New Guinea versus Africa. Why aren’t you citing the literature, instead of making sweeping statements. You like the bullshit EP allows….not the tightness required by science….

  46. 46
    torwolf

    Tethys wrote: “Dawkins respects evopsyche because he is more reasonable?”

    No, I said that Dawkins and others attribute more weight to reason (logic following from facts) than discounters of evolutionary psychology do.

    Tethys, no, I am not confused by the title of his book. I am speaking of its contents, re-read what I wrote. The issue of the title of his book is one of semantics, not content.

    Here is a quote from the Selfish Gene:
    pp.106 – “”The rival kin-altruistic gene runs the risk of making mistakes of identity, either genuinely accidental, or deliberately engineered by cheats and parasites. We therefore must expect individual selfishness in nature, to an extent greater than would be predicted by considerations of genetic relatedness alone.”

    There is plenty more where that came from. Have you read the book, Tethys, and do you understand it?

  47. 47
    coelsblog

    Nerd:

    Since the networks change as learning occurs, you are full of bullshit, and you know that.

    Yes, in a neural network learning changes both “software” and “hardware”. The corollary is that hardware differences are software differences — there is no real distinction in a neutral network. That’s one reason why “blank slate” ideas are a non-starter and why biological programming will affect brain behaviour.

    Gee, and those studies are US versus Canada or Europe. Not New Guinea versus Africa.

    I am aware of that limitation. However, they are still good enough to show that a default hypothesis of 100% cultural is not warranted.

  48. 48
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Colesblog, to quote Wiki: :Neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity, refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses which are due to changes in behavior, environment and neural processes, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury.

    Your concept everything is hard wired by genetics is refuted even by Wiki. You should be ashamed of yourself for being such an asshole.

  49. 49
    coelsblog

    Your concept everything is hard wired by genetics is refuted even by Wiki. You should be ashamed of yourself for being such an asshole.

    Excuse me, but I’ve never said or thought that “everything is hard wired by genetics”; all along I’ve said that both genetic programming and environmental development are important, and I’ve been suggesting (from twin studies) that the variance of human traits if only (roughly) 50% explained by genetic factors (with the other half being environmental).

    Indeed, the post you were replying to had me saying: “in a neural network learning changes both “software” and “hardware””. That is directly in contradiction to the idea that “everything is hard wired by genetics”.

  50. 50
    torwolf

    Detractors of coelsblog, here is another quote from Dawkins (Selfish Gene) that I hope causes you to reflect on the importance of “zooming out” from a focus on details and gene-behavior linkages, and instead to use reason to think these things through properly (like coelsblog, Pinker, Coyne, Dawkins, etc.):

    pp.47 – “Just as it is not convenient to talk about quanta and fundamental particles when we discuss the working of a car, so it is often tedious and unnecessary to keep dragging genes in when we discuss the behavior of survival machines. In practice it is usually convenient, as an approximation, to regard the individual body as an agent “trying” to increase the numbers of all its genes in future generations.

  51. 51
    Tethys

    coelsblog

    OK, well if that’s your objection to my comparison with lungs and hearts then I’ll use sex organs instead of lungs and hearts.

    Changing the organ does not help your argument. (behavior is genetic) Hormones can modify behavior, but they also modify brain structure. It becomes a chicken and egg type of conundrum.

    torwolf

    No, I said that Dawkins and others attribute more weight to reason (logic following from facts) than discounters of evolutionary psychology do.

    Thank you for the clarification, and citation needed.

    Have you read the book, Tethys, and do you understand it?

    Yes, thirty years ago. Yes, I understand it. Do you understand that the selfish gene is a metaphor and not to be taken as a literal gene?

  52. 52
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    here is another quote from Dawkins (

    Arguments from “authority” are not persuasive science. They are typical from godbots and creationist though….

  53. 53
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    and I’ve been suggesting (from twin studies) that the variance of human traits if only (roughly) 50% explained by genetic factors (with the other half being environmental).

    No evidence showing your conclusions, which if you were scientific, would acknowledge the cultural differences were not all that great, so the percentages may be exaggerated….

  54. 54
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Why Colesblog, are you afraid to cite literature? Are you nothing but a sophist?

  55. 55
    torwolf

    Tethys:

    You are not going to get a citation from me that demonstrates to you what should be obvious upon reading the writings of Dawkins, Pinker, Coyne, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, and evolutionary psychologists in general.

    The premise of The Selfish Gene is that organisms are constructed by genes, for genes. The goal of an organism is to reproduce, to maximize the number of copies of its constituent genes in the next generation. Humans sexually reproduce. Evolutionary psychologists employ logic to generate hypotheses about human behavior that stem from the centrality of sex and gene selection in the evolutionary process.

    The neurochemicals, hormones, and emotions that drive human behavior were established over evolutionary time in the service of maximizing fitness. To believe that these drivers of human behavior can be modulated by culture and development is sound. To completely discount the evolutionary origins of these drivers and the strength of their influence on human psychology is to abandon reason.

  56. 56
    Anthony K

    To completely discount the evolutionary origins of these drivers and the strength of their influence on human psychology is to abandon reason.

    Which maximises fitness? Being reasonable, or abandoning reason?

  57. 57
    Kongstad

    @torwolf

    If you had read the OP, then you would know that PZ questions the adaptationist view offered by many in the field of EP.

    So it is a little irrelevant to use a strong adaptationist as an authority.

    No one – least of all PZ Myers is denying that genes have an influence on behavior. What we would like to see is evidence that a given trait is an adaptation. It is never the default assumption that any genetic trait is an adaptation, selected for because it inferred some benefit. That has to be shown in each case.

    So the EV’s must first show that a trait is indeed genetic in nature, and then make a case for it being adaptive.

    In theory this should be possible, in reality it seems to be hard.

  58. 58
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    o believe that these drivers of human behavior can be modulated by culture and development is sound.

    Thanks for agreeing with us.

    To completely discount the evolutionary origins of these drivers and the strength of their influence on human psychology is to abandon reason.

    Has anybody here really says genetics plays no part whatsoever in human intellect and behavior? NO. What has been said is that until a genetic component is proved scientifically by it being general across all humans, it should be considered a cultural, not genetic, adaptation. Why is this so hard to comprehend, unless you presuppose all behavior is genetic???

  59. 59
    Anthony K

    Has anybody here really says genetics plays no part whatsoever in human intellect and behavior?

    That one guy descended from einkorn was, but he was cut down pretty easily.

  60. 60
    Tethys

    You are not going to get a citation from me that demonstrates to you what should be obvious upon reading the writings of Dawkins, Pinker, Coyne, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, and evolutionary psychologists in general.

    Oh? Well in that case I will just quote Hitchens. That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. *poof*

    Since you are more interested in being a pompous ass than having an intelligent conversation, Imma going to go pick raspberries as a better use of my time

  61. 61
    Anthony K

    Since you are more interested in being a pompous ass than having an intelligent conversation

    Do vervets eschew effectiveness for pomposity? Under what circumstances, I wonder?

    (I actually think pomposity is a spandrel.)

  62. 62
    Kagehi

    Surely the genes also have an interest in the functioning of a tribe? Humans clearly exploit a cooperative ecological niche, and are clearly genetically programmed to do so.

    Ugh.. Only skimmed all of this, but.. this is an example of what PZ is talking about. The “majority” of the EP stuff is focusing on “one culture”, and worse, “one subset, of said culture”. I imagine that, had they been around in the 60s and been interviewing hippies, the *current* theory would look damn silly. But, let me take a crack at it, based on a broader reading of things that I have had recently, and my own “narrower” assumptions of what is going on:

    1. There has always been some degree of commidification, and of personal “property”, even if it was only, “What I am currently trying to eat.”
    2. Certain things like sex, kind of like water, air, the tree you are currently in, the patch of land the tree is on, etc. didn’t need to be so commodified.
    3. However, some level of adaptability has to exist in this framework, to allow items that have some clear personal, and immediate, worth, to be so designated as owned, or unique, or rare, and, invariably, some sort of trade of favors is likely.

    Now.. Again, following the narrowist path from the above, when you figure out something like sex can be traded for those things, you get one set of behaviors. If, however, mates should, for some reason, become hard to come by, you are left with two options – trade, or keep them for yourself. Both solutions have benefits, and in the short term, it may be hard to work out which one is better.

    In the long run, however, picking the, “keep them for myself”, if you can manage to do that without the self same mate objecting violently, is going to have consequences – 1. It makes them a limited resource, even when, later on, there are more available. 2. It makes them a trade commodity, which can be handed off to someone else, in trade for some bigger favor, either temporarily, or permanently, such as with a daughter. 3. Since this results in a level of favoritism, and also denial of others, those not favored are going to look for ways to cheat. I think you can guess what the two methods of cheating are, which can happen, regardless of if its the last female, or the last banana, but if not – theft, or violence.

    Now, when its the last banana, this isn’t such a big deal. There is bound to be another one some place, or something else to eat, so, while some aggressive protest may happen, its not going to spiral out of control. But, if its something that is both “not” possible to find somewhere else, some idiot is holding on to tightly, and worse, the object in question, itself, may protest being stolen…

    None of these consequences need to be “adaptations” in and of themselves. They are, rather, logically consequences of some trigger event, which resulting in a shift in perception of the “value” of a particular object, and the overriding desire of others to have it. And, you see the same thing among chimps. If everyone had a banana, you get some low key conflict, and not true violence. You give them a box, with only one banana in it, and force them to try to get the thing out of there, and there will be, like happened with the worlds, “greatest primate expert”, and her doing that, a bunch of chimps, even from different groups, all showing up to grab free, first come, first serve, food, and getting really pissed, when they couldn’t get their hand on it, or one of them kept getting the prize. Pretty soon, you don’t just have mild aggression, you have anger, frustration, violence, and even murder.

    Are you honestly going to tell me that you can’t see this sort of, “You want this, but you can’t have it, and some of you will never have it!”, sort of stacked deck behavior, combined with a clearly, cultural, difference between the way men and women are taught to act, which leaves men, usually, with fewer alternate distractions, a greater drive to “gain” those things, and not just to have them, but because they think it will also get them other things, including women, if they do get them, and so on, all contributing to a, “Damn it, someone else got the banana, and the female too!”, mentality?

    How likely do you think it would be, if the women where the physically larger ones, and they had run into some trigger event, which led to turning men into a trade item, and all that follows from that, that someone would be coming here and babbling about how having and XX led to greater violence, and aggression? No, there is no reason to see these things as anything but cultural artifacts, driven by unfortunate past decisions, the have shaped not the “behavior”, which was already there, but low key, in a way that has amplified it, instead of reducing it. And, instead of trying to work out how to defuse this, we get EP people babbling about it being “normal”, and “adaptive”, and “genetic”, as though there isn’t one single scrap of evidence, at all, to suggest that it **just doesn’t happen** among people without the cultural drives that exist in the modern world.

    And, that, BTW, is one of the other big problems – these things actually are less common, among the few cultures that are not already steeped in either modern commercialism, the need to own everything in site, and the highly one sided, male dominated, religious ideologies that prevail nearly every place. Heck, it doesn’t even happen in some sub-cultures in the places it is common. But, all we get is article after article, and book after book, from these people, which looks at one group, in one culture, in one, more or less similar, sets of cultures, and then project that on everyone else, as being “normal”. So.. what.. the ones that don’t fit that model have different genes? Somehow, I seriously doubt it.

  63. 63
    Inaji

    Tethys:

    Imma going to go pick raspberries as a better use of my time

    Make sure you only pick the very pink ones, you wouldn’t want to go against your evolutionary psychological tendencies.

  64. 64
    Anthony K

    What has been said is that until a genetic component is proved scientifically by it being general across all humans populations.

    We’d still expect variation within populations, and some small or isolated populations may not have some traits at all.

  65. 65
    torwolf

    Tethys – Read my previous posts for intelligent conversation. My statement that Dawkins and others employ more reason (logic stemming from facts) than discounters of evolutionary psychology is an intuition that can be argued (see my previous posts), not found in a published source that I am aware of.

    Anthony K – Being unreasonable maximizes fitness unfortunately, at the expense of others when sufficient regulation of human behavior isn’t in place.

  66. 66
    sschneider7

    It’s a system, it’s a system, it’s a *system.* It’s never been nature “versus” nature. It’s always nature *and* nurture. When we learn, that changes our brains. Our behavior can activate gene transcription and change epigenetic settings. Once the ability to learn from consequences evolved, learned behavior started leading gene-based evolution. (Selectionism in both cases.) Everything works together, and everything interacts‑‑across all levels. All this is well-documented in the scientific literature, and, I hope, uncontroversial. Within science, anyway.

    Perhaps the best recent book on the inclusive, interdisciplinary “systems” approach to nature-nurture is Eva Jablonka & Marion Lamb’s epic Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life. Jablonka is a PhD geneticist with a past book on epigenetics to her credit. Yet she and Lamb also understand the basics of associative learning principles (my own area of expertise), neuroscience, and the other biobehavioral sciences. The nature-nurture system proves to be hugely messy and complex, not exactly a surprise. But what could be more empowering than all the flexibility we now know exists?–far more than we used to think was possible just a few decades ago–and in part because of all those messy interactions. Also worthwhile, a look at Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself for great examples of the change in views about neuroplasticity. (And don’t miss the section on new therapies for stroke victims that take advantage of the learning-neuroplasticity interaction.)

    The bottom line, I think: Everything works together, and everything interacts‑‑across all levels. We in the sciences all ought to be working together too. Call me a naive romantic . . . The evolutionary psych that I’ve seen frequently seems to be missing out on some of the pieces. Thanks to the other commentators for pointing some of these out, and thanks, PZ, for your sensible, evidence-based views.

    -Susan

    Susan Schneider, PhD
    Author, The Science of Consequences: How They Affect Genes, Change the Brain, and Impact Our World
    http://www.scienceofconsequences.com

  67. 67
    Tethys

    Caine

    Make sure you only pick the very pink ones, you wouldn’t want to go against your evolutionary psychological tendencies.

    Yes ma’am. Should I put them in a cooking pot or run them through the foodmill? Ladybrains has such issues with machinery.

    Anthony K

    :D Its spandrels all the way down.
    (congratulations btw….does your intended know about the queue?)

  68. 68
    Anthony K

    Being unreasonable maximizes fitness unfortunately

    Unfortunately? Do you not like fitness?

    Nonetheless, that’s clearly a claim that requires unpacking. I’ll leave it to you to simply declare it ‘obvious’.

    at the expense of others when sufficient regulation of human behavior isn’t in place.

    So then sufficient regulation of human behaviour is the fitness maximising behaviour, not unreasonability.

  69. 69
    Anthony K

    :D Its spandrels all the way down.

    Don’t get me wrong; I think there are probably many spandrels in human behaviour. Sussing them out is another matter.

    (congratulations btw….does your intended know about the queue?)

    Thanks. Yeah, she does. Why do you think it’s moving so slowly? Between you and me, I think someone’s continually jumping to the head of the line.

  70. 70
    erik333

    @14 Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    “Nope, cultural until proven otherwise with good science. Otherwise, the ambiguity overexpressed by Pinker the master of ambiguity, not scientific definition, wins.”

    What is implied by cultural here? Simply that the information about the specific behaviour is propagated culturally, or also that the behaviour is largely arbitrary and could just as easily turned out completely differently?

  71. 71
    torwolf

    sarenkongstad – I agree, empirically sorting out the linkages between groups of genes and traits is extremely difficult and will occupy the time and efforts of generations of scientists.

    What set off this entire dialogue was when Coyne posted an article criticizing PZ for completely discounting the evolutionary basis of human behavior (remember “Developmental plasticity is all”). PZ has gone on to state that he believes that adaptationist explanations for human behavior commonly used in the evolutionary psychology literature are faulty because we do not have strong understanding of gene-trait linkages and how these linkages are modified by the environment.

    The point is that we shouldn’t completely write off evolutionary psychology and published studies of human behavior interpreted in an evolutionary context. It is logical to hypothesize that many human behaviors, particularly those related to mating and status, are evolutionary and universal. For example, tactics for enhancing one’s mating possibilities and status level include spreading rumors about competitors, flattery, brute force, self-enhancement, and in-group/out-group formation and fighting. These are universals. I don’t have studies readily available to cite, but do you not see how these are logical universals stemming from the impetus to mate and thrive to pass on genes? Understanding how and why these behaviors occur can serve to make the world a better place. The same goes for the modulating effects of environment.

  72. 72
    torwolf

    Anthony K:

    I misunderstood you. I thought you were joking when you asked “Which maximizes fitness? Being reasonable or abandoning reason?”

    I am using “reasonable” in an ethical sense. It can be said that over evolutionary time being unreasonable, ethically, occurred more frequently than being reasonable (behaving in an altruistic, modest way).

    “Unfortunately? Do you not like fitness?” – I don’t like what the drive to maximize fitness does to people. Do you understand?

    Sufficient regulation of human behavior is how we maximize human well-being and equity.

  73. 73
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    What is implied by cultural here?

    Take the following two cultural statements: Women are second class humans. Women are the equal of men for almost all jobs, voting, and medical treatment. They are both cultural statements. Now, show which one is the one with genetic predisposition, or that creates a stronger culture in the long run. That is the problem with EP. You should see the problem, and why cultural explanations should be the null hypothesis, not genetic ones.

  74. 74
    Anthony K

    I misunderstood you. I thought you were joking when you asked “Which maximizes fitness? Being reasonable or abandoning reason?”

    Why would that be a joke? Is that not the sort of behaviour that one might consider through the lens of evolutionary psychology?

    I don’t like what the drive to maximize fitness does to people.

    So is the ability to recognise the drive to maximize fitness and find it unfortunate the kind of trait that one might consider through the lens of evolutionary psychology?

    Do you understand?

    Yes, it’s not a hard concept. Dawkins did the exact same kind of vacant hand-wringing in The Selfish Gene. ‘Man, we all have these biological urges that govern our behaviour, but luckily I’m one of the ones who can recognise it and find it abhorrent and refrain from engaging in it as much as possible and I’m not going to ask myself where exactly this ability came from.’

  75. 75
    Anthony K

    Sufficient regulation of human behavior is how we maximize human well-being and equity.

    As in culture?

    So that’s the evolutionary trait that’s most adaptive!

  76. 76
    Tethys

    do you not see how these are logical universals a perfect example of bias common in entitled males who equate selection pressure with the “imperatives” of their Very Important Penis ®

    FIFY

    I reject the notion that mating is the most important imperative because of genes. There is diddly in the form of evidence to support that opinion, but it gets repeated all the time by proponents of evopsyche. It’s a Just So story.

    Staying alive is every organisms primary goal. Helping your kingroup gather food and create shelter so that reproduction is possible is a highly effective method of passing on your genes. Your personal gonads aren’t important at the scale of evolution.

  77. 77
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    What set off this entire dialogue was when Coyne posted an article criticizing PZ for completely discounting the evolutionary basis of human behavior

    Which neither PZ nor anyone I regularly see around here ever did. In fact, I’ve never heard of such a thing excepting from EP Proponentists.

    The point is that we shouldn’t completely write off evolutionary psychology

    As a potential field of study? No. As it actually exists? Pretty much.

  78. 78
    Anthony K

    a perfect example of bias common in entitled males who equate selection pressure with the “imperatives” of their Very Important Penis ®

    ‘Evolution just wants us to fuck, but luckily we’re too smart for it.’

    Blockquote got borked in 74. Because of the savannah.

  79. 79
    chigau (違う)

    Savannah?
    What about wading?

  80. 80
    Anthony K

    Savannah?
    What about wading?

    Good point. It can be said that over evolutionary time being in the water occurred more frequently than not.

  81. 81
    Tethys

    What about wading?

    It can be said that over evolutionary time being in the water occurred more frequently than not.

    It can logically and reasonably be said that humans swim better and spend more time in the water than pink garden fairies.

  82. 82
    chigau (違う)

    Tethys
    What else were you picking along with the raspberries?

  83. 83
    Tethys

    Erm, I must be having an Algis flashback?

  84. 84
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Erm, I must be having an Algis flashback?

    Same type of presuppositional stupidity….

  85. 85
    torwolf

    Anthony K wrote:
    “Yes, it’s not a hard concept. Dawkins did the exact same kind of vacant hand-wringing in The Selfish Gene. ‘Man, we all have these biological urges that govern our behaviour, but luckily I’m one of the ones who can recognise it and find it abhorrent and refrain from engaging in it as much as possible and I’m not going to ask myself where exactly this ability came from.’”

    I’m not sure what the point of writing this was. You seem to agree that we have biological urges that govern our behavior. An evolutionary psychologist would use logic and say that those biological urges are driven by neurochemicals and hormones that perform an adaptive function: to mate. In fact, scientific studies have shown that neurochemicals like dopamine, estrogen, testosterone, and serotonin have strong links to mating as you know. Can a thinking person seriously believe that these chemicals are by-products of evolution, not adaptive but rather that just happen to cause sexual organisms to want to reproduce?

    I agree that the comforts and knowledge base of Western culture allow us to understand and transcend these biological urges to some degree.

    Tethys wrote:
    “I reject the notion that mating is the most important imperative because of genes. There is diddly in the form of evidence to support that opinion, but it gets repeated all the time by proponents of evopsyche. It’s a Just So story.”

    Why are we here Tethys? Why do we exist? The reason that you and I exist is the same reason that the trillions of ancestors that preceded us have existed: because a male and a female mated. What kind of evidence do you need? Is it not self-evident that evolution would forge strong behaviors within men and women that ensured mating would happen. Those with a weaker urge to do what it takes to mate did not mate and the genes they carried died with them. This gets on to your second point:

    “Staying alive is every organisms primary goal. Helping your kingroup gather food and create shelter so that reproduction is possible is a highly effective method of passing on your genes. Your personal gonads aren’t important at the scale of evolution.”

    Someone’s personal gonads are important at the scale of evolution, it’s just a matter of who: women will not mate with whoever, whenever, but rather require some sort of display of status and health, like the vast majority of the other extant and extinct sexual species. A man who helps his kin group create sound conditions for reproduction and the raising of children, but who does not mate himself and is cool with it, is an exception to the rule. He would grow frustrated if he had a normal, healthy level of libido, and wasn’t able to use it. Kin selection definitely plays are role, but how can you honestly write off sexual selection?

    For someone who needs gene-trait linkages and empirical evidence to believe some of the adaptationist claims of evolutionary psychology, your allusion to group selectionist explanations is confusing. You are either stuck (unconsciously) on arguing for the sake of arguing, or deliberately spewing nonsense for your own entertainment.

  86. 86
    vaiyt

    My statement that Dawkins and others employ more reason (logic stemming from facts) than discounters of evolutionary psychology is an intuition that can be argued (see my previous posts), not found in a published source that I am aware of.

    So, a bald assertion based on your gut feelings. Exactly the opposite of “logic stemming from facts”.

  87. 87
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Someone’s personal gonads are important at the scale of evolution,

    Actually no. Evolution is driven by populations, not individuals.

    For someone who needs gene-trait linkages and empirical evidence to believe some of the adaptationist claims of evolutionary psychology,

    There shouldn’t be any problem tying behavior to a genes, unless the claim is overly broad and ignored cultural learning. This is why folks have trouble with EP. The claims exceed the evidence by a huge degree. Or the claims ignore the real evidence.

  88. 88
    Anthony K

    I’m not sure what the point of writing this was.

    It’s a mating strategy. I’m trying to fuck. Right?

    You seem to agree that we have biological urges that govern our behavior. An evolutionary psychologist would use logic and say that those biological urges are driven by neurochemicals and hormones that perform an adaptive function: to mate.

    So, that’s why I wrote the paragraphs in question. Because of fucking. Oh, and there’s hormones to mediate the fucking. That makes it sound biological.

    I agree that the comforts and knowledge base of Western culture allow us to understand and transcend these biological urges to some degree.

    But not other cultures? All the other humans aren’t transcending? Just fucking?

  89. 89
    Rutee Katreya

    Unfortunately? Do you not like fitness?

    Fitness is great when it means putting women in the kitchen, or ensuring more resources given to the ‘fittest’ (IE White) people. It’s not so great when it generates results the EPer doesn’t like.

    Someone’s personal gonads are important at the scale of evolution,

    Explain hive insects.

  90. 90
    torwolf

    vaiyt wrote:
    “So, a bald assertion based on your gut feelings. Exactly the opposite of “logic stemming from facts”.”

    No, my intuition is based on logic and fact. Please read my previous posts.

  91. 91
    PZ Myers

    Torwolf: You keep using that word “logic”. You know logic is not enough, don’t you? You also have to build on valid premises.

    You don’t.

    An evolutionary psychologist would use logic and say that those biological urges are driven by neurochemicals and hormones that perform an adaptive function: to mate.

    This is so simplistic and naive that it verges on outright stupidity. People do things that aren’t logical, that aren’t driven by narrow biological purposes, that may have purposes that even contradict reproduction and survival. You cannot derive “neurochemicals” from logic alone.

    My post above was not at all illogical. It was driven by a knowledge of the evidence and the facts of evolution.

  92. 92
    torwolf

    Nerd Troll wrote:
    “Actually no. Evolution is driven by populations, not individuals.”

    Evolution acts on genes, which are spread by individuals that mate and interact with conspecifics in a population. Forces of natural selection and genetic drift (and maybe others) act on the genes in the individuals of the population over time.

  93. 93
    vaiyt

    Someone’s personal gonads are important at the scale of evolution,

    In terms of evolutionary success, it doesn’t matter if a gene X came from you, your brother, or some unrelated individual who happens to also be carrying gene X. As long as the gene spreads, the fate of specific individuals is irrelevant.

    A man who helps his kin group create sound conditions for reproduction and the raising of children, but who does not mate himself and is cool with it, is an exception to the rule. He would grow frustrated if he had a normal, healthy level of libido, and wasn’t able to use it.

    You’re assuming that
    a) mating is the same thing as sex is the same thing as sexual gratification
    b) that a man needs to engage in reproductive acts, with a woman, to satisfy their libido.
    Assumptions which are rendered useless by even the most cursory evidence, therefore your whole argument is bogus. It’s a just-so story – sounds pretty, but no basis in reality.

  94. 94
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Evolution acts on genes, which are spread by individuals that mate and interact with conspecifics in a population. Forces of natural selection and genetic drift (and maybe others) act on the genes in the individuals of the population over time.

    Which is a meaningless statement, implying rape is evolutionary good. It isn’t. Where is any citation to the peer reviewed scientific literature for your inane claims? Funny how EP folks are long on attitude, short on citations. Which is PZ’s point. Either pony up the evidence, not the “possibilities”, or shut the fuck up…

  95. 95
    torwolf

    Anthony K wrote:
    “But not other cultures? All the other humans aren’t transcending? Just fucking?”

    What I meant by that comment was that Dawkins comes from a region of the world (the Western world) where science as we know it has its foundations and hence a stronger tradition and culture that would make emergence of a forward-looking Dawkinsian character more likely than elsewhere.

    Why are you being like this?

  96. 96
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    hence a stronger tradition and culture that would make emergence of a forward-looking Dawkinsian character more likely than elsewhere.

    Total non-sequitur.

    Why are you being like this?

    Why are you being such an evidenceless obtuse asshole is a more appropriate question. Get your act together. Either evidence your claims, or shut the fuck up.

  97. 97
    Anthony K

    Why are you being like this?

    An evolutionary psychologist would use logic and say that my urges are driven by neurochemicals and hormones that perform an adaptive function.

    No?

  98. 98
    torwolf

    PZ: You left out the rest of that paragraph you just quoted. Here it is:

    An evolutionary psychologist would use logic and say that those biological urges are driven by neurochemicals and hormones that perform an adaptive function: to mate. In fact, scientific studies have shown that neurochemicals like dopamine, estrogen, testosterone, and serotonin have strong links to mating as you know. Can a thinking person seriously believe that these chemicals are by-products of evolution, not adaptive but rather that just happen to cause sexual organisms to want to reproduce?

    PZ, you wrote:
    “This is so simplistic and naive that it verges on outright stupidity. People do things that aren’t logical, that aren’t driven by narrow biological purposes, that may have purposes that even contradict reproduction and survival. You cannot derive “neurochemicals” from logic alone.”

    I am talking about biological urges and the neurochemicals, hormones that cause them. The purposes to which they are sometimes used often contradicts the biological purpose of reproduction and survival. That doesn’t mean they weren’t forged through selection and don’t serve their purpose >50% of the time.

    What do you think is more plausible? That neurochemicals and hormones like dopamine, testosterone, and estrogen are by-products of evolution, or that they are adaptive? I am interested to know.

  99. 99
    vaiyt

    No, my intuition is based on logic and fact. Please read my previous posts.

    Don’t you fucking condescend to me, you sanctimonious douche. When you say you’re basing yourself on fact, it helps to line up what those facts are, else you’re just asking me to take your word for it. Your “intuition” is worth absolutely jack shit without data points.

  100. 100
    torwolf

    Nerd Troll wrote:
    “Which is a meaningless statement, implying rape is evolutionary good. It isn’t. Where is any citation to the peer reviewed scientific literature for your inane claims? Funny how EP folks are long on attitude, short on citations. Which is PZ’s point. Either pony up the evidence, not the “possibilities”, or shut the fuck up…”

    How does what I wrote imply that rape is evolutionarily good?

    Do you really need me to cite all of the trials linking neurochemicals and hormones to mating, aggression, and other human behaviors? Do you need me to cite literature conducted in a lab that shows how a mouse’s fitness declines with testosterone? I don’t see you citing anything that proves that culture dictates human behavior, or whatever you belief, you haven’t really stated that from what I can remember (other than to say that any claim linking human behavior to adaptation is bunk).

  101. 101
    Inaji

    torwolf:

    Nerd Troll

    Cupcake, you’ve misplaced that troll. It’s quite easy to see where you’re coming from, and it ain’t pretty. It’s the same old shit, actually. Here’s a hint:

    He would grow frustrated if he had a normal, healthy level of libido, and wasn’t able to use it.

  102. 102
    torwolf

    Caine: I am very comfortable with my endowments and libido.

  103. 103
    Tethys

    Do you really need me to cite all of the trials linking neurochemicals and hormones to mating, aggression, and other human behaviors?

    Of course not, that would be silly! We are asking you to cite one or two well designed studies that show definite links between human behaviors and specific genes.

    Nobody contests that we have hormones that drive sexuality. It just isn’t particularly relevant to evolution.
    Evolution happens to populations, not individuals. When subject to heavy selection pressure, populations suffer massive decline. Any recessive traits which confer better fitness quickly become dominant traits in future generations. An example of this is the various human blood types which have evolved in response to environmental selectors such as plague, or tropical parasites.
    .Aggression is a poorly defined parameter, in addition to the cultural baggage of it being seen as a positive male trait but a negative trait in females..

  104. 104
    Tethys

    Interesting aside on agression, and example of cultural baggage affecting science.

    In a reexamination of Viking burials, about 50% of the skeletons are female.

    Originally, the researchers who have been studying Viking society mis-identified the remains of the settlers as male because they were often buried with swords and shields. Finally sorting them by their bones, instead, it was recently discovered that approximately half of the remains were female.

    And not only does this discovery prove that there were a lot more female Vikings than previously thought, but researchers are also theorizing that the whole “rape/pillage/war” thing that Vikings are stereotyped for has also been exaggerated.

  105. 105
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    That neurochemicals and hormones like dopamine, testosterone, and estrogen are by-products of evolution, or that they are adaptive? I am interested to know.

    Another fuckwit confused by the CPU versus the cultural software. No wonder you sound like you don’t know what you are talking about.

  106. 106
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    How does what I wrote imply that rape is evolutionarily good?

    If it is genetically driven, rather than culturally frowned upon. Don’t you even understand what your claims are between the lines?

  107. 107
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Nerd Troll wrote:

    Troll, you are the one posting for effect, not discussing with evidence your claims. Shut the fuck up on the troll, troll.

    Do you need me to cite literature conducted in a lab that shows how a mouse’s fitness declines with testosterone?

    Each and every claim you make you need to link to it. So we can see how bad you read the literature, which is typical of creobots. They claim X, but the real paper says Y. And hormone have nothing to do with IQ or human capabilities.

  108. 108
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Why can’t the EP defenders supply even one link to support their claims?. Obviously, they aren’t being scientific, just self-justifying….

  109. 109
    torwolf

    Tethys wrote:
    “.Aggression is a poorly defined parameter, in addition to the cultural baggage of it being seen as a positive male trait but a negative trait in females..”

    Although testosterone measurement is inaccurate without lumbar puncture, it is higher in males and there is evidence linking it to the higher rates of crime and aggression in males in many societies. Further evidence for a genetic basis in the greater aggression exhibited by human males is:
    1) in the vast majority of mammalian species, males exhibit aggressive displays in greater frequency and intensity
    2) human males are genetically programmed to grow more muscle mass than females on average
    3) >95% of all societies that we have anthropological data on are/have been patriarchal (arguably but not definitively a function of male strength and lack of burden of carrying a child)

    Culture undoubtedly intensifies this template, and in some places is beginning to overturn it entirely, for the better!

    If we are going to overcome patriarchy and all the ills that bad human behaviors bring to the world, we must understand the origins of such bad behavior. Evolutionary psychologists have neuroscience, sociological data (e.g. crime rates), globally-respected evolutionary thinkers (Harris, Dennett, Dawkins, Krauss, Coyne, etc.), basic facts about human biology, and other relevant sources of information to provide a template from which to conduct psychological trials within an evolutionary context and with an adaptationist hypothesis.

    Why write the whole EP enterprise off entirely when much of it is sound?

  110. 110
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    there is evidence linking it to the higher rates of crime and aggression in males in many societies.

    Unevidenced claim, dismissed without evidence.

    1) in the vast majority of mammalian species, males exhibit aggressive displays in greater frequency and intensity

    Unevidenced claim, dismissed without evidence.

    3) >95% of all societies that we have anthropological data on are/have been patriarchal (arguably but not definitively a function of male strength and lack of burden of carrying a child)

    Non-sequitur, nothing to do with capabilities.

    If we are going to overcome patriarchy and all the ills that bad human behaviors bring to the world, we must understand the origins of such bad behavior.

    Yet you present no evidence for your claims. Dismissed.

    Evolutionary psychologists have neuroscience, sociological data (e.g. crime rates), globally-respected evolutionary thinkers (Harris, Dennett, Dawkins, Krauss, Coyne, etc.), basic facts about human biology, and other relevant sources of information to provide a template from which to conduct psychological trials within an evolutionary context and with an adaptationist hypothesis.

    Why write the whole EP enterprise off entirely when much of it is sound?

    How is it sound? You showed no evidence. Made unevidenced claims, which are dismissed without evidence. Try real evidence, or shut the fuck up.

  111. 111
    Tethys

    2) human males are genetically programmed to grow more muscle mass than females on average
    3) >95% of all societies that we have anthropological data on are/have been patriarchal (arguably but not definitively a function of male strength and lack of burden of carrying a child)

    Taken together it is obvious to anyone who is logical that the male upper body muscle mass clearly evolved for the purpose of carrying babies.

  112. 112
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    And not only does this discovery prove that there were a lot more female Vikings than previously thought, but researchers are also theorizing that the whole “rape/pillage/war” thing that Vikings are stereotyped for has also been exaggerated.

    That’s actually been known for a while. Most Scandinavian travelers were peaceful traders, with a quite small proportion of them being brutal pirates.* It’s just that in an era when traders come into port from all the hell over the place, another bunch of foreigners isn’t that noteworthy; when a band of armed maniacs rolls in, kills the priest and anyone who resists them, steals everything in sight, and possibly engages in some rape and arson before they go, people tend to remember that shit, and talk about it a lot.

    *Viking is actually a job description, not an ethnic group per se; it means “Seafarer”; Vikings composed a relatively small portion of the overall Scandinavian population.

  113. 113
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    torwolf, you are a poster person for what is wrong with EP. Lots of assertions, no real evidence to back them up appropriately. Which is PZ’s point. EP needs to get rid of the just-so-stories, and concentrate on real science. Only then, can it gain credibility.

  114. 114
    Ing

    Which maximises fitness? Being reasonable, or abandoning reason?

    Yes /Vorlon

  115. 115
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    If you didn’t know, a priori, whether a behaviour was selected/adapted or not, it would still be sound science to make the hypothesis that it was, see if you could make testable predictions from that hypothesis, and then see if you could confirm or reject the predictions.

    And if those latter two were part of the traditional evo-phrenology approach we wouldn’t be HAVING this conversation.

  116. 116
    bad Jim

    It’s impressive to see the Pharyngulite Horde so united. Either Myers has us well trained, or we’re all birds of a feather.

    I would like to have seen more emphasis on human development, the fact that infants undergo substantial acculturation before their brains are completely wired. It ought to be axiomatic that the null hypothesis for any given behavior ought to be cultural, if only because our recognition or singling out of that behavior may well be cultural.

    That wiring is indistinguishable from programming in neural networks is delicious. It ought to be obvious that it’s anything but an argument for EP.

    I’m reminded of the issues in translations of Freud into medical English, where plain German turned into Latin: “ego” for “ich”, “id” for “es”, instead of the exact English equivalents “I” and “it”. They also spoke of “instincts” where Freud spoke of “drives”.

    None dispute that we are impelled by various drives of physical origin, but the details of our behavior are mostly not instinctive, certainly not sphexish, and that probably holds for other mammals and dinosaurs as well.

  117. 117
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    It’s the SRY, that “causes” increased propensity to murder in the sense of triggering other genes and setting in train a long line of causation that makes the embryo male with the end result that the resulting young adult will have a higher propensity to murder than if the SRY gene had not done that job.

    So, no, there isn’t a gene that actually codes for “a propensity for murder.”

    Glad we cleared that up, you disingenuous little shit.

  118. 118
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Detractors of coelsblog, here is another quote from Dawkins (Selfish Gene) that I hope causes you to reflect on the importance of “zooming out” from a focus on details and gene-behavior linkages, and instead to use reason to think these things through properly (like coelsblog, Pinker, Coyne, Dawkins, etc.):

    ….so evo-phrenology has descended to straight-up prepositional arguments. Good to know.

  119. 119
    anuran

    Maybe I’m just behind the times and don’t fully grasp the Grandeur and Majesty which is evopsych. But I was always taught strict adaptationism was at least a character flaw if not worse. Gould’s gentle but thorough takedowns of Wilson and his fans still seem timely

  120. 120
    gillt

    PZ

    First, this has already been addressed by Stephanie Zvan: when you look in the evolutionary psychology journals at papers identified as evolutionary psychology, you find…a focus on Western undergrads.

    Stephanie Zvan looked at one journal chosen for practical reasons, and not because it was necessarily the best journal in the field (that would be Evolution and Human Behavior, apparently). Here’s another overview of the field in an article titled: Hot Topics and Popular Papers in Evolutionary Psychology: Analyses of Title Words and Citation Counts in Evolution and Human Behavior, 1979 – 2008 which is looking at different criteria and is more indicative of trends and themes in EP.

    First, analyses of 8,631 title words published in these journals between 1979 and
    2008 (808 articles) show an increasing interest in researching sex, sex differences, faces,
    and attractiveness.

    So what came first, the media “interest” on sex and sex differences or the actual research?

    PZ:

    That’s my primary objection, the habit of evolutionary psychologists of taking every property of human behavior, assuming that it is the result of selection, building scenarios for their evolution, and then testing them poorly.

    The words “Selection” and “Culture” are used roughly equally from 2003 to 2008. And Selection has trended down since the ’70s. Which does not suggest that EP has an anti culture bias (adaptation is not ranked).

    Men, Male, Female, Woman are roughly equal across all 30 years.

    Sex, Evolutionary, and Human have always been at the top of the list.

  121. 121
    gillt

    I can’t let the males are violent argument go without plugging a good friend’s paper on the genetics of intermittent explosive disorder.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21812102

    No obvious gender associated with IED prevalence except for a deletion shared between IED and autism and the fact that more males are autistic.

  122. 122
    brucegee1962

    I agree with those who say that the null hypothesis should be cultural transmission of behavior (which, it should be noted, takes place in other species besides humans). I’m also pretty strong on the idea that cultures themselves are subject to evolution, just like species — the meme hypothesis.

    What about looking at a behavior that has a pretty clear negative physiological effect on descendants: incest. Sleeping with your sibling/parent. It’s a near-universal human taboo, so its development probably goes way back. If you assume that behavior is biologically determined by genes, then the mechanism for this taboo was that some early humans had it, and some didn’t, and the ones that didn’t died off from inbreeding. If you assume it came from culture, then the assumption would be that some cultures developed the taboo and some didn’t, and the cultures that had the taboo were more successful. (Hey, if you sleep with your sister, you’ll be like those people who live by the lake — and we all know how funny-looking and sickly their kids are!)

    The thing is, each theory comes with its own predictions. If the taboo is genetic, then pretty much everybody ought to have it, regardless of how isolated they are culturally. If it developed culturally, then we should expect that some cultures who are isolated culturally would lose the taboo over time — which is exactly what we see.

  123. 123
    playonwords

    What EvPsch really needs is a Newton or Darwin to establish a baseline from which to judge behaviours, until they have that they are just flailing around in the dark.

  124. 124
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    My statement that Dawkins and others employ more reason (logic stemming from facts) than discounters of evolutionary psychology is an intuition that can be argued (see my previous posts), not found in a published source that I am aware of.

    Then argue it. All I’ve ever seen from you is quoting Dawkins fawningly and with shallow understanding, and that idiotic, presuppositional, creationist-style lie that evo-phren skeptics reject the possibility of ANY genetic influence on behavior A Prioi.

    Also, how the fuck is drawing a conclusion from intuition

    logic stemming from facts

    ?

  125. 125
    coelsblog

    117: Azkyroth

    So, no, there isn’t a gene that actually codes for “a propensity for murder.” Glad we cleared that up, you disingenuous little shit.

    What do you mean by “actually codes for” (not the wording of my claim by the way)? Does the gene have to write out in some code “I want people do be killed?”. Does the gene have to leap out of the body, grab a gun, and fire it at someone? Does the gene have to do everything on its own?

    No, it doesn’t. The point is that the SRY gene does indeed “cause” propensity to murder in the sense that I outlined, namely setting off a train of causes that has that end result (compared to the end result without the SRY gene). That is the only way in which any gene “causes” anything. This is standard biology. Your objection is misplaced.

  126. 126
    bad Jim

    So, a general tendency, but not necessarily the sort of behavior that would show up in test administered to a random sample of undergraduates?

  127. 127
    jolthoff

    Does anyone have a citation for the study Pinker cites where they block synaptic activity and get a “normal” brain? Thanks!

  128. 128
    vaiyt

    That wiring is indistinguishable from programming in neural networks is delicious. It ought to be obvious that it’s anything but an argument for EP.

    Carrying the goalposts over from genetics to evo-devo ain’t gonna help your case, bub. You still need a ball to score.

  129. 129
    Gen, Uppity Ingrate and Ilk

    It’s the same old shit, actually. Here’s a hint:

    He would grow frustrated if he had a normal, healthy level of libido, and wasn’t able to use it.

    Caine Exactly. That’s what this ALWAYS boils down to when you get down to it. That
    a.) Men are entitled to not be sexually frustrated (or entitled to “use” their libido on women)
    b.) Sexual frustration can only be alleviated through genital intercourse with a member of the opposite sex

    Torwolf, It has nothing to do with your endowments and/or libido, cookie. It has to do with your SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT re: your endowments and libido. Care to answer the similar objections as first raised by vaiyt WAY back in 93 and ignored? Here they are again to refresh your memory:

    You’re assuming that
    a) mating is the same thing as sex is the same thing as sexual gratification
    b) that a man needs to engage in reproductive acts, with a woman, to satisfy their libido.
    Assumptions which are rendered useless by even the most cursory evidence, therefore your whole argument is bogus. It’s a just-so story – sounds pretty, but no basis in reality.

    That really is the crux of what it boils down to, so in continuing to ignore these objections, you’re not doing yourself or evo-psyc any good.

  130. 130
    Seggi

    Just cut the crap and fu-uh, I mean, debate already. Come on, we all want it.

  131. 131
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @torwolf #85

    … Can a thinking person seriously believe that these chemicals are by-products of evolution, not adaptive but rather that just happen to cause sexual organisms to want to reproduce?

    I agree that the comforts and knowledge base of Western culture allow us to understand and transcend these biological urges to some degree.

    But all those brown people, they’re basically animals. /snark

  132. 132
    csrster

    Surely it’s obvious that careful nurturing of our young is the prime requirement of reproductive success? Therefore, to be perfect men, we should all emulate those male penguins that mate for life and spend months warming their partner’s eggs in -60 degrees.

  133. 133
    birgerjohansson

    Stuff like this might make it easier to see what is bona fide evopsych and what is BS:

    First look into workings of the Neanderthal brain http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21929264.400-first-look-into-workings-of-the-neanderthal-brain.html

    If we can untagle what these changes mean, perahps we can get rid of much of the guesswork of what makes us tick.

  134. 134
    tyroneslothrop

    Just a quick comment on “language universals.” See below for a link to a nice paper on “the myth” of such putative “language universals:”

    http://www.umass.edu/preferen/You%20Must%20Read%20This/Evans-Levinson%20BBS%202009.pdf

    Pinker’s response actually highlights–again–his basic lack of knowledge about the diversity of human languages. Practicing linguists, like Nick Evans, know better.

    Wasn’t it Franz Boas who noted that language, race and culture did not map onto each other in any direct or natural way? I think he was concerned with historical particularism. Which reminds me, the pseudoscience of evolutionary psychology seems shockingly ahistorical. Oh well.

  135. 135
    torwolf

    Gen, Uppity Ingrate:

    Men are subject to sex drive, just as women are. What I wrote does not boil down to “Men are entitled to not be sexually frustrated (or entitled to “use” their libido on women)”.

    What I wrote is based on the theory of evolution and evidence of human male behavior. Men are more aggressive, in every culture. This aggression stems from biological makeup and the prevalence of patriarchal culture, which tends to endorse male aggressive behavior. Again, the reason I say that it partly stems from biological makeup (testosterone, muscle mass, lack of ability to bear children) is because this pattern of male aggression is universal. A biological/evolutionary explanation is more plausible than a cultural one. What an amazing coincidence it would be if the greater aggressiveness shown by men now and in the past in unconnected regions of the world was a product of individual cultures. Keep in mind I am dealing with averages, this is not to say that women had never fought in wars until recently.

    You also wrote that my comments boiled down to: “Sexual frustration can only be alleviated through genital intercourse with a member of the opposite sex.”

    No. Sexual frustration can lead to physical and sexual aggression on men, women, and children (think priests). For homosexuals, sexual frustration can be alleviated through genital intercourse with a member of the same sex or via the above. The point to make clear here is that over evolutionary time, homosexuality occurred at a much lower frequency than heterosexuality (or bisexuality if you need that caveat). This is a logical statement. You would not be here if it was otherwise and human population growth wouldn’t be out of control.

    The reason I didn’t respond to vaiyt’s comments is because I found it hard to believe that he/she was being genuine in writing:

    “You’re assuming that
    a) mating is the same thing as sex is the same thing as sexual gratification
    b) that a man needs to engage in reproductive acts, with a woman, to satisfy their libido.
    Assumptions which are rendered useless by even the most cursory evidence, therefore your whole argument is bogus. It’s a just-so story – sounds pretty, but no basis in reality.”

    I wasn’t assuming that, I was using logic based on the facts of human evolution, biology, and resource scarcity.

  136. 136
    Max

    Here we see PZ ironically co-opting tactics of Creationists — parroting bad arguments that have long been demolished. If any of you want to learn more about this, I wouldn’t recommend PZ’s blog entries on the subject (I do enjoy when he talks about other stuff, though…). Just go read the original debates from the 70s with Gould/Lewinton and Dawkins/Wilson. There are also several excellent books that discuss this:

    Defenders of the Truth by Ullica Segerstrale (this is a dense one, but it’s got EVERYTHING)
    The Ant and the Peacock by Helena Cronin
    The Triumph of Sociobiology by John Alcock

    Unfortunately, this kind of stuff from PZ is just a reminder to all of us that we as atheists are not immune to the kinds of bad arguments used by our theist opponents.

  137. 137
    Amy Cocks

    Vaginismus, meet Torwolf.
    Torwolf, Vaginismus.

    Go away and have a think.
    If you could perhaps do it whilst positioning yourself in line of site between any large female animal and her largely defenceless offspring, that’d be just swell.

  138. 138
    Rutee Katreya

    You also wrote that my comments boiled down to: “Sexual frustration can only be alleviated through genital intercourse with a member of the opposite sex.”

    Stealing a line from the amazing Yoram Bauman, it is incredibly obvious to the most casual observer of the meanest intelligence that the thrust of your point is wrong. Sex is not the only means to alleviate sexual frustration, and within the category of sex, there’s a large number of feel-good things you can do that aren’t going to lead to children (ever).

    I wasn’t assuming that, I was using logic based on the facts of human evolution, biology, and resource scarcity.

    If that’s actually true, and I have no reason to think it is, your knowledge of the facts can best be summarized by Dr. Cox.

  139. 139
    Rutee Katreya

    Here we see PZ ironically co-opting tactics of Creationists — parroting bad arguments that have long been demolished.

    So Pinker what, a deep plant or something? :psyduck:

  140. 140
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Here we see PZ ironically co-opting tactics of Creationists — parroting bad arguments that have long been demolished.

    Citation needed. PZ does legitimate criticism…

  141. 141
    Tom Adams

    It really does seem that PZ Myers is going the way of creationists here.

    Does anyone doubt that, say, males of certain species of mammals are more aggressive than females of those species? Does anyone doubt that, with a given species of mammal, some members are far more aggressive than others? Does anyone seriously believe that these differences are attributable to something other than culture, given that these species don’t really have a culture?

    But if such differences must be attributable to mechanisms other than culture, why should human beings possibly be the only species in which it is culture that plays a nearly exhaustive role?

    Who would believe in such human exceptionalism? Well, Creationists. And it seems like PZ Myers is among them.

  142. 142
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Unfortunately, this kind of stuff from PZ is just a reminder to all of us that we as atheists are not immune to the kinds of bad arguments used by our theist opponents.

    Gee, you used an “argument from authority”, a typical creationist tactic. Hypocrite.

  143. 143
    Tom Adams

    I meant above,

    Does anyone seriously NOT believe that these differences are attributable to something other than culture, given that these species don’t really have a culture?

  144. 144
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    ? Does anyone doubt that,

    Without you citing something yes. Doubt everything, including your own generalizations. They might be wrong. And usually are. Which is PZ’s point. Do real science, not hand-waving.

  145. 145
    Kristjan Wager

    Who would believe in such human exceptionalism? Well, Creationists. And it seems like PZ Myers is among them.

    Obvious troll is obvious

  146. 146
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Does anyone seriously NOT believe that these differences are attributable to something other than culture, given that these species don’t really have a culture?

    Seriously, what is the difference between most animals and humans. Brain size and complexity. Cultural helps to shape the brain connections through learning. Are you afraid to admit that truth? Which is why your claim is dismissed without a citation.

  147. 147
    Tom Adams

    PZ Myers’ invocation of plasticity is just his way of carving out human exceptionalism. But of course it is hardly only human beings who have plasticity in their brains. Yet, somehow, for Myers, it becomes a form of magic that pushes into utter irrelevance all the other aspects of our brains that have been under evolutionary pressures for tens of millions of years.

  148. 148
    Tom Adams

    Yeah, I get it Nerd.

    You too believe in human exceptionalism, like any creationist.

    Continue in your denialism of the essential continuity between human beings and other animals.

  149. 149
    coelsblog

    Nerd of Redhead:

    Doubt everything, including your own generalizations. They might be wrong. And usually are.

    If you’re willing to doubt your own stance that a behavioural trait should be taken as cultural unless proven otherwise, then we’re not that far apart on these issues.

    Seriously, what is the difference between most animals and humans. Brain size and complexity.

    Given that several species have larger brains than we do (elephants, whales, some dolphins, for example), that is not that convincing an argument. Elephants have long childhoods and large brains, so would you say — by your own argument — that their behaviour is nearly always culturally determined with little genetic component?

  150. 150
    chigau (違う)

    Algis, is that you?

  151. 151
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    Why the fuck are we even talking about SRY? It’s not a particularly human feature. It’s a mammalian feature. Evolutionary psychology isn’t likely to even address male aggression in terms of SRY unless somehow there is significant variation. Or I at least hope not.

  152. 152
    Rutee Katreya

    Does anyone doubt that, say, males of certain species of mammals are more aggressive than females of those species?

    Lions, Hyenas, and wild wolves, off the top of my head.

    Does anyone seriously believe that these differences are attributable to something other than culture, given that these species don’t really have a culture?

    Most species have learning, if not through a culture. PZ actually went over what a frickin’ pain it was to control for Learning in a lab a page or two back. Based on him HAVING TO ACTUALLY DO SO.

  153. 153
    Rutee Katreya

    Does anyone seriously NOT believe that these differences are attributable to something other than culture, given that these species don’t really have a culture?

    Wait, you rail against ‘human exceptionalism’ while highlighting a massive difference between humans and other species as critical to your argument? Are you an idiot?

  154. 154
    coelsblog

    It’s not a particularly human feature. It’s a mammalian feature.

    Isn’t the limitation of consideration of evolution to one species rather parochial, and isn’t it sensible to consider how things fit into the wider picture?

    Evolutionary psychology isn’t likely to even address male aggression in terms of SRY unless somehow there is significant variation. Or I at least hope not.

    Evolutionary psychology is about explaining features common to humanity as well as differences within humanity, so where is the problem?

  155. 155
    Rutee Katreya

    Also, pretending that evopsych claims are as bland as “There are biological differences between the genders is fucking rich. No, y’all tend to make specific fucking claims about how western society arose through a distorted narrative of history. If I never hear one more story about how we evolved to do whatever because men hunted and women gathered (lololololno) it’ll be much appreciated.

  156. 156
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    You too believe in human exceptionalism, like any creationist.

    Keep lying to yourself like any creationist does. Still generalizations not cited evidence.

  157. 157
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    PZ Myers’ invocation of plasticity is just his way of carving out human exceptionalism. But of course it is hardly only human beings who have plasticity in their brains.

    This is pure denialism on your part. Human brains are bigger and are more complex. Compare chimpanzees brain size of ~400 cc to humans at 1300 cc. This makes for a huge difference in possible behavior. Which is what you deny when you pretend everything is hard wired, not a CPU unit that used cultural software.

  158. 158
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    If you’re willing to doubt your own stance that a behavioural trait should be taken as cultural unless proven otherwise, then we’re not that far apart on these issues.

    I don’t claim all behavior is cultural. Just it should be the null hypothesis until a genetic link is found. What is wrong with doing science right. Don’t make unnecessary presuppositions you can’t back with evidence.

    Evolutionary psychology is about explaining features common to humanity as well as differences within humanity, so where is the problem?

    What is your problem that you must argue for bad unrigorous science.

  159. 159
    coelsblog

    Human brains are bigger and are more complex. Compare chimpanzees brain size of ~400 cc to humans at 1300 cc. This makes for a huge difference in possible behavior. Which is what you deny when you pretend everything is hard wired, not a CPU unit that used cultural software.

    Do you accept that the increase in brain size over the human lineage (~400 cc to 1300 cc) was under genetic control, resulting from genetic selection?

    Do you accept that the brain we have now is hugely expensive it evolutionary terms (energy requirements, nurturing requirements of extended childhood, increased risk of damage, etc)?

    If you accept those two, would you accept that there therefore must have been a gene-selective advantage to the larger brains?

    If that one is accepted, how then can the resulting brain behaviour be entirely cultural, and thus be neutral with respect to genes?

  160. 160
    coelsblog

    Nerd:

    What is wrong with doing science right. Don’t make unnecessary presuppositions you can’t back with evidence.

    Your presupposition that the null hypothesis should be “cultural” is just as much an “unnecessary presupposition” and is not backed by evidence.

  161. 161
    a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    Point of information: You are using the term “null hypothesis” wrong. The null hypothesis is simply an alternative to the hypothesis you are seeking to prove. It’s sole purpose is to show that your hypothesis explains the data better than some other reasonable alternative. The reason for the null hypothesis is that probability is comparative. It is a construct chosen so you can make the stats make sense.

    You never, ever under any circumstances “accept” the null hypothesis–you merely conclude that it cannot be rejected as performing significantly less well than test hypothesis.

  162. 162
    jefrir

    Elephants have long childhoods and large brains, so would you say — by your own argument — that their behaviour is nearly always culturally determined with little genetic component?

    Elephant behaviour is much less influenced by culture than ours, because elephants are significantly less intelligent and their culture is much less complex than ours. But there definitely are cultural influences – elephant herds willbehave in destructive ways if there aren’t enough mature adults to teach the adolescents appropriate behaviour, for example.

    And no-one is claiming that genes have no effect on human behaviour, just that positing an evolutionary reason for the kinds of behaviours that evo-psych tends to deal with, like shopping styles or colour preferences or playing with toy pans, is utterly ridiculous.

  163. 163
    coelsblog

    jefrir:

    no-one is claiming that genes have no effect on human behaviour

    Nerd’s suggestion that the genes provide “a CPU unit” that then uses “cultural software” comes close to that, though that’s perhaps taking it more literally than intended.

    kinds of behaviours that evo-psych tends to deal with, like shopping styles or colour preferences or playing with toy pans …

    And there I was thinking that evo-psych was more about why parents love their childen and why we fear snakes!

  164. 164
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    Evolutionary psychology is about explaining features common to humanity as well as differences within humanity, so where is the problem?

    Because SRY is plesiomorphic. It evolved hundreds of millions of years before humans, and doesn’t vary in humans. Even if some clear measure of aggression in human behavior were shown to vary between males and females, and even if this variation is demonstrated to be independent of variation in culture*, it would be no more relevant to the evolution of human psychology than it would be to the psychology of any other mammal. To point to a uniquely human behavior and attribute this to the SRY locus is pure extrapolation.

    *Which I don’t think is possible.

  165. 165
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Your presupposition that the null hypothesis should be “cultural” is just as much an “unnecessary presupposition” and is not backed by evidence.

    You refuse to get it. The null hypothesis is used as the starting point for the falsification of an idea. For example if the null hypothesis is “all behavior is cultural”, and you think there is a genetic component? Then prove that connection with hard science. If the null hypothesis is that it is all genes, there is a tendency to reject cultural considerations and just make sweeping genetic claims. Which is why the null hypothesis should be cultural, as it leads to better and more rigorous science by the EP practitioners, which is sorely lacking.

  166. 166
    chigau (違う)

    I don’t fear snakes .

  167. 167
    coelsblog

    Antiochus Epiphanes:

    … and even if this variation is demonstrated to be independent of variation in culture*

    It doesn’t have to be *independent* of variation in culture, all that matters is that some fraction of the variation be genetic (and some fraction be cultural).

    it would be no more relevant to the evolution of human psychology than it would be to the psychology of any other mammal.

    OK, so it’s also relevant to similar traits in other mammals, why is that a problem? Anyhow, no-one is suggesting that SRY does everything on it’s own, and that there are no other factors involved (whether other genes, or culture, etc), the claim is merely that SRY is one part of the explanation for the variation in the trait.

  168. 168
    coelsblog

    Nerd:

    If the null hypothesis is that it is all genes, there is a tendency to reject cultural considerations and just make sweeping genetic claims.

    And if the default hypothesis is that it is all cultural, there is a tendency to reject genetic considerations and just make sweeping cultural claims.

  169. 169
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @coelsblog #149

    Seriously, what is the difference between most animals and humans. Brain size and complexity.

    Given that several species have larger brains than we do (elephants, whales, some dolphins, for example), that is not that convincing an argument. Elephants have long childhoods and large brains, so would you say — by your own argument — that their behaviour is nearly always culturally determined with little genetic component?

    Brain size relative to body size (or more technically, what % of your body weight is made up by your brain) is what matters when estimating the average intellingence of a species. Nerd, being an intelligent human being, knows this and clearly meant this. I’m willing to bet you know it too, and at least suspected that that was what Nerd meant. Which means you were deliberately disingenuous in order to answer an easier point rather than Nerd’s actual point.

    Also, and more importantly to the conversation overall, define culture. Under some definitions, you could say any social animal (such as, for example, elephants, whales and dolphins) has “culture”, to a certain extent.

  170. 170
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    And if the default hypothesis is that it is all cultural, there is a tendency to reject genetic considerations and just make sweeping cultural claims.

    Only in your fantasy world. One, cultural or genetic, must be the null hypothesis to test your claims against. Cultural is the parsimonious null hypothesis, and in no way precludes a claim being genetic. Just that if it is genetic you must actually link it to at least heredity, or preferably something a little more concrete. It means that the proper science must be done to back up the claim.

    Try thinking through a problem, not making inane comments to keep the status quo of EP being a sewer of unproven claims.

  171. 171
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    It doesn’t have to be *independent* of variation in culture, all that matters is that some fraction of the variation be genetic (and some fraction be cultural).

    FFS. Fine. This is hair-splitting, and irrelevant to my primary point:a genetic locus that is largely invariant in humans who actually have the locus isn’t useful in explaining the evolution of human (vs. non-human) behavior . Which is exactly what Evo-Psych is trying to explain. Otherwise, why not just call it animal behavioral research?

    And this is all just happy horseshit anyway. Propose an experiment that quantifies the relative contributions of genetics and culture to human aggression. How do you quantify variance in aggression across cultures, and between mating classes? More difficult, how do you quantify genetic variance across males and females, given that one reproductive class includes a largely invariant* set of SRY haplotypes, and the other which lacks that locus entirely?

    *Except for neutral variation

  172. 172
    coelsblog

    Nerd:

    One, cultural or genetic, must be the null hypothesis to test your claims against.

    See 161. a_ray_in_dilbert_space for a sensible comment on this. You do indeed pick two hypotheses to test claims. However that does not mean one has to default to accepting one or other position. One could default to “I don’t know” or to “it is likely that both genetic and cultural factors are important”. The twin studies suggest that the latter would be a better default than either “all cultural” or “all genetic”.

    Cultural is the parsimonious null hypothesis …

    Eh? Why? This strong preference or “cultural” on your part seems a bit ideological.

    It means that the proper science must be done to back up the claim.

    Whereas no proper science need be done to back up a claim that it is cultural?

  173. 173
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    I mean, fuck me. Culture here is being used as a proxy for environment. What environmental conditions does one choose to measure? Nutrition? Family structure? Poverty? Segregation of mating classes during formative years? Taught notions of masculnity/femininity? Distribution of work? How does one devise an aggression index that applies equally across cultures?

    How much genetic data would it require to obtain power over a fairly vast landscape of independent environmental measurements?

  174. 174
    coelsblog

    169. Thumper; Atheist mate

    Nerd, being an intelligent human being, knows this and clearly meant this.

    OK, but Nerd is also capable of wording her/his claims accurately.

    So the claim is that because humans are more intelligent than other species this makes the behaviour that the intelligence produces nearly all cultural and only minimally genetic, correct?

    But given that the hyper-intelligence is programmed by genes and is the product of genetic selection (does anyone want to dispute this?) then the brain-products (= behaviour) must be dependent on genes and cannot be neutral w.r.t. genes, otherwise there would be nothing for selection to gain traction on.

    Or is there some other reason why humans have very big, expensive and intelligent brains, if the products of that brain are mostly neutral w..r.t. genes, and therefore the large and intelligent brain is not the product of selection/adaptation?

  175. 175
    coelsblog

    Antiochus Epiphanes:

    Which is exactly what Evo-Psych is trying to explain. Otherwise, why not just call it animal behavioral research?

    The whole point of evo-psych is to regard humans as an evolved animal, and to understand our behaviour in that light. Evo-psych would thus seek to understand both commonalities among mammals and differences among mammals, and does seek to learn from animal studies as well as studies of humans.

  176. 176
    Kagehi

    If it is genetically driven, rather than culturally frowned upon. Don’t you even understand what your claims are between the lines?

    Not to mention that its already been pointed out that it is ***not*** something that happens, universally, across all human cultures. Lets see… there is a whole mess of them discussed in the book, “Sex at Dawn”, and then there is the one they had on a sex special on TV a while back, where they asked the young women (who where, unlike ‘western’ societies, where the ones assumed to be in charge of who had sex with them, not the other way around), how often it happened and a) had to have it described to them, and b) basically replied, “Who the hell would do that to someone?”

    http://thebestworldhistory.weebly.com/uploads/8/3/0/1/8301857/lovehuts.pdf

    Find a citation for it, ha!

    So, yeah.. even the claim that rape is adaptive, never mind whether its good/bad is just BS right from moment one, since they are ignoring, as usually, cultures that don’t fit the narrow, and narrow minded, perception they have about what is “genetic”, instead of cultural.

  177. 177
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    So the claim is that because humans are more intelligent than other species this makes the behaviour that the intelligence produces nearly all cultural and only minimally genetic, correct?

    That’s not what I’m saying, and you know that if you had been listening.
    What I am saying is that by making the null hypothesis a cultural adaption, those claiming a genetic adaptation must do their homework and supply the evidence to back up their claim. Example, if the null hypothesis is that bigfoot exists, one will have to prove a negative to show bigfoot doesn’t exist, which is ludicrous. If the null hypothesis is that bigfoot doesn’t exist, then those making the claim of existence must supply the proper solid evidence to back up those claims. Like a captured bigfoot, a carcass, a skeleton, even skat or hair with genetic material that can be analyzed.
    It isn’t about which is more likely the case, which is a non-sequitur, but rather what causes the proper science to be done.

  178. 178
    Kagehi

    What about looking at a behavior that has a pretty clear negative physiological effect on descendants: incest. Sleeping with your sibling/parent. It’s a near-universal human taboo, so its development probably goes way back. If you assume that behavior is biologically determined by genes, then the mechanism for this taboo was that some early humans had it, and some didn’t, and the ones that didn’t died off from inbreeding.

    Argh!! Again, this is, and isn’t, genetic. Its genetic in the sense that pretty much “all” species that exhibit this trait, many of them to a much higher degree, will avoid sex with siblings, of parents. It is ***not*** genetic, in the sense that it only works when the individuals in question are “raised as” siblings, and, in species in which this trait is much stronger than in humans, they will avoid such sexual practices, even if they are absolutely, in no way, at all, genetically related (zoos had a real serious problem with some species breeding programs over this issue).

    If you where going to assume anything, it would not be that humans “developed” this trait, independently, somehow, but that, rather, some, say, bottleneck happened, some place along the line, where incest became a necessity, and thus, individuals who where more capable of overriding, or ignoring entirely, this taboo, survived, while the ones unwilling to do so didn’t. As for the “negative conseuences”, how many of those are cultural, religious, or otherwise driven by how society reacts to the behavior, rather than how the people doing it do? But, oh no.. we are right back to it being cultural, instead of genetic then… Damn, this Evo-Phrenology stuff is hard!

  179. 179
    eigenperson

    #174 coelsblog:

    Everyone agrees that the large human brain is large because it is genetically programmed to be large. But that gets you nowhere. To talk about evolutionary influences on human behavior, you have to talk about genes that have a significant amount of variability among the population you’re studying. Otherwise, you draw conclusions like “the genes that have the most influence on human behavior are those that code for cytochrome c.” Without CYCS your behavior resembles that of a rock. But fortunately, CYCS is functionally identical among all humans, so it is irrelevant to any study that tries to explain human behavior in evolutionary terms.

    Evolutionary psychologists generally claim that various behaviors evolved by selective pressure. They do not mean the selective pressure to have functional cyt c, or even to have large brains. They mean that there are supposed to be multiple alleles in the population, that these alleles produce different behavioral phenotypes, and that selection favors one of those phenotypes. But there is precious little evidence for the existence of this kind of genetic variability among humans in the first place, and basically none for the hypothesis that the resulting behaviors are selected for.

    Of course it is probable that in some cases, behaviors were subject to significant selective pressure, but that doesn’t tell us which ones, or how significant. And it certainly doesn’t give us license to speculate wildly and call it science.

  180. 180
    Tethys

    Elephants have long childhoods and large brains

    This is a comparison of brain size to body mass, according to the phht on encephalization quotient, humans and mice are at 1/40, elephants are 1/560, and the gentle , totally non-aggressive hippopotamus is 1/2789.

    To get the EQ, we have to account for allometric effects.

    relationship of body size to shape, anatomy, physiology and finally behaviour.

    I am stressing the behavior aspect for coelsblog, because they keep overlooking the fact that there are scientifically valid ways to compensate for behavior, but evopsyche does not use them.

    Intelligence in animals is hard to establish, but the larger the brain is relative to the body, the more brain weight might be available for more complex cognitive tasks. The EQ formula, as opposed to the method of simply measuring raw brain weight or brain weight to body weight, makes for a ranking of animals that coincide better with observed complexity of behaviour.

    Mean EQ for mammals is around 1, with carnivorans, cetaceans and primates above 1, and insectivores and herbivores below. This reflects two major trends. One is that brain matter is extremely costly in terms of energy needed to sustain them. Animals which live on relatively nutrient poor diets (plants, insects) have relatively little energy to spare for a large brain, while animals living from energy-rich food (meat, fish, fruit) can grow larger brains. The other factor is the brain power needed to catch food. Carnivores generally need to find and kill their prey, which presumably requires more cognitive power than browsing or grazing.

    Another factor affecting relative brain size is sociality and flock size. Rabbits, being solitary animals, have lower EQ than horses, a social species. Similarly, dogs (a social species) have a higher EQ than cats (a mostly solitary species). Animals with very large flock size and/or complex social systems consistently score high EQ, with dolphins and orcas having the highest EQ of all cetaceans, and humans with their extremely large societies and complex social life topping the list by a good margin.

    The null hypothesis that behavior is cultural is better supported by the evidence;
    A) humans have the largest societies, and the matching largest brains.
    B) humans deprived of normal developmental stimulation fail to develop big brains

    You could be born with the genetic potential to be a autodict, but genes only give you potential.
    Those traits will not develop unless you mature in the proper environment, with adequate nutrition*.

    * Humans who do not get adequate nutrition in childhood compensate by growing smaller bodies.

  181. 181
    Jacob Schmidt

    So the claim is that because humans are more intelligent than other species this makes the behaviour that the intelligence produces nearly all cultural and only minimally genetic, correct?

    Sure.

    But given that the hyper-intelligence is programmed by genes and is the product of genetic selection (does anyone want to dispute this?) then the brain-products (= behaviour) must be dependent on genes and cannot be neutral w.r.t. genes, otherwise there would be nothing for selection to gain traction on.

    You do realize that neutral with respect to genes and neutral with respect to selection are two seperate things, right?

    Now you keep on claiming that some aspects of human behaviour and thought are genetic; no one has argued otherwise. The question is what aspects? To what extent?

    EP has a difficult job; cultural variations in behaviour and thought create a massive amount of noise. This noise needs to be corrected for. Unfortunately, EP has a shitty track record of correcting for this.

  182. 182
    Kagehi

    Sex is not the only means to alleviate sexual frustration, and within the category of sex, there’s a large number of feel-good things you can do that aren’t going to lead to children (ever).

    And, this was in fact my point, in the “theoretical” scenario I came up with – its not enough to just want to jack off. To end up with the mess we have, you need to make females a) something that is inaccessible, b) more valuable than they would be normally, c) unable to decide for themselves, and d) therefor, vastly more desirable than they otherwise would be. Even today, when sex positive thinking, and the understanding that women are not “less” interested than men, is becoming more common, pretty much everything from the prevailing religions, to TV advertisements, promote some mixture of, “She isn’t attainable, unless you jump through a bunch of hoops, which most of you can’t afford.”, and, “She doesn’t want it as much as you do, but you can make her want it, if you have enough of the right stuff.” And, that is without even getting into the outright continued denial, by religions, that women do want sex, that they can make their own choices, and that they don’t, unless they fall for the same crap, necessarily want you to “buy” your way into their pants.

    I mean, what is a poor, clumsy, socially confused, guy, who maybe also spent his whole life being told that masturbation is dirty, and evil, supposed to do in such a situation? But, oh, no.. none of that crap has any effect on male aggression, or the desire to rape…

  183. 183
    Kagehi

    Oh, right, and.. the most recent research has shown that a) bonobo, to which we are the “closest” related are “not” overly aggressive, at all, and that chimps, which, stupidly, EP advocates, and others, point to instead, due to their perceived increased aggression, are not either, unless you create conditions of scarcity, where they need to compete for a commodity, then all hell breaks loose. Only.. that seems to be, more or less, the case with a lot of species, which get more aggressive, when something they want is both rare, and not sharable. But, heh, why not ignore one set of facts, which don’t fit the EP hypothesis, while only latching on to the ones that do? That’s how science works right? Or, am I confused? ;)

  184. 184
    eigenperson

    #181 Jacob Schmidt:

    EP has a difficult job; cultural variations in behaviour and thought create a massive amount of noise. This noise needs to be corrected for. Unfortunately, EP has a shitty track record of correcting for this.

    I would argue that cultural variation is not noise. That is the signal. The most salient feature of human behavior is the enormous variety of cultural behaviors that we exhibit.

  185. 185
    paulmccue

    I am not a biologist so this has given me a flange(collective noun for shitload of threads, or is that gorillas?) to go read up on. Great article, so I just wanted to thank you.

  186. 186
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    eigenperson: Environmental variation is noise if one is trying to investigate the genetic contribution to trait variation. This is why such work usually takes place in model organisms grown in uniform environments.

  187. 187
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    Kagehi: As far as I know, molecular phylogenies largely agree that the bonobo is sister to the common chimpanzee. Do you know of a study that indicates that bonobo is sister to Homo?

  188. 188
    eigenperson

    Well, sure.

    What I’m saying is, I think the most aspect of human behavior is probably our “blankslateyness”; that is, just how much of what we do is influenced by our environment (and particularly our culture). Even though that provides a huge amount of noise from the point of view of some of the evo psych people, I think that if you filter it out to examine any underlying genetic contribution to behavior, you end up describing something that doesn’t really resemble actual human behavior.

    I mean, let’s say it were possible to experiment with model humans in sterile bottle environments. And let’s say after a bunch of these experiments, we found a gene with two variants, one of which made the model humans behave more aggressively in the bottle environments than the other. So what? This tells us nothing about what human behavior is really like, any more than studying caged rats informs us about wild rat behavior.

  189. 189
    Jacob Schmidt

    I would argue that cultural variation is not noise. That is the signal. The most salient feature of human behavior is the enormous variety of cultural behaviors that we exhibit.

    And I would love the shit out of any book or paper that studied the evolution behind human culture.

    But in studying the evolution and genetics behind specific traits (such as the propensity for being fooled by optical illusions; PZ had a great post a while back on an EP study that looked into dozens of cultures and studied how susceptible they were), variations in those traits are indeed noise.

  190. 190
    vaiyt

    I wasn’t assuming that, I was using logic based on the facts of human evolution, biology, and resource scarcity.

    If you think I have inaccurately described your premises, you could try and correct me instead of handwaving “the facts!” like a magic word over my head.

    The facts I see only highlight that your argument is a crock of shit. You have posited that men with a “healthy” level of libido are incapable of living without making babies* with a woman regularly, so much that they wouldn’t ever give up their reproductive success for others. It’s so fucking out-there that I don’t even know where to start. It’s exactly the kind of fact-free, just-so story that PZ is decrying as par for the course on the field. By all means keep proving his point.

    *Your argument necessarily excludes other ways to prevent sexual frustration, or relegates it to an unclear “exception” status. To that, I ask: is masturbation an exception?

  191. 191
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    I mean, let’s say it were possible to experiment with model humans in sterile bottle environments. And let’s say after a bunch of these experiments, we found a gene with two variants, one of which made the model humans behave more aggressively in the bottle environments than the other. So what? This tells us nothing about what human behavior is really like, any more than studying caged rats informs us about wild rat behavior.

    Well stated.
    I understand now.

  192. 192
    coelsblog

    Tethys:

    The null hypothesis that behavior is cultural is better supported by the evidence;
    A) humans have the largest societies, and the matching largest brains.

    Doesn’t follow, since genes could program those large brains and hence program the enhanced sociability which leads to larger societies.

    B) humans deprived of normal developmental stimulation fail to develop big brains.

    It is true of almost any genetically programmed characteristic that the right environment is needed; genes never do it all themselves, all they do is manipulate a development program that also depends on environmental factors.

  193. 193
    coelsblog

    179. eigenperson:

    Everyone agrees that the large human brain is large because it is genetically programmed to be large. But that gets you nowhere. To talk about evolutionary influences on human behavior, you have to talk about genes that have a significant amount of variability among the population you’re studying.

    The only way the human brain can be “genetically programmed to be large” is if there is or was a significant amount of variation in genes for brain size. Ditto, our high intelligence must have derived from significant genetic variation for intelligence (and indeed twin studies show that nowadays there is still a large genetic factor in intelligence, larger than the average for human behavioural traits).

    Since the only point of high brain size and intelligence is the resulting behaviour, this shows that human behaviour has to have been (over swathes of the period of evolutionary history over which brain size and intelligence increased) under significant genetic control.

  194. 194
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    One practical reason for targeting cultural/environmental explanations is that we can change culture relatively quickly. We can, to some extent, direct it.

    When you finish your very unethical, expensive, and lengthy multigenerational pedigree analysis of behavioral trait X, and find that there is a strong genetic contribution (like, 15% is way strong for most complex traits), and have identified alleles involved, then what? What do you do?

  195. 195
    coelsblog

    177. Nerd:

    What I am saying is that by making the null hypothesis a cultural adaption, those claiming a genetic adaptation must do their homework and supply the evidence to back up their claim…. [it's about] what causes the proper science to be done.

    And if the default hypothesis were a genetic adaptation, those claiming a purely cultural origin would have to do their homework and supply evidence to back up their claim … thus forcing the proper science to be done.

    By the way, you talk about “cultural adaptation”, do you mean by this cultural changes that increase ones number of descendants (thus making a group-selectionist argument?), or are you using “adaptation” in a different sense here?

  196. 196
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    Everyone agrees that the large human brain is large because it is genetically programmed to be large. But that gets you nowhere. To talk about evolutionary influences on human behavior, you have to talk about genes that have a significant amount of variability among the population you’re studying.

    Since the only point of high brain size and intelligence is the resulting behaviour, this shows that human behaviour has to have been (over swathes of the period of evolutionary history over which brain size and intelligence increased) under significant genetic control.

    Stunning. What do we call an argument in which you rewrite your opponents argument but much less articulately, and present that as a counterargument rather than a strawman? Is there a name for this?

  197. 197
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Doesn’t follow, since genes could program those large brains and hence program the enhanced sociability which leads to larger societies.

    This doesn’t follow. How does presuming a genetic linkage help you prove a genetic linkage? It doesn’t, and presuppositions explain nothing. This exactly why EP is bullshit. They don’t prove linkages to genes, they presuppose them and won’t be refuted like creationists. Which I think they know, since they try to use the term against those who disagree with their sloppy methodology and conclusions.

    Doesn’t follow, since genes could program those large brains and hence program the enhanced sociability which leads to larger societies.

    Nobody is arguing genes don’t control the brain size. What we are arguing is that the functional human has behaviors adapted by culture, and not by genetics, due to the long learning childhood of humans. And you haven’t shown any EVIDENCE to negate that idea. Just keep trying to impose by fiat genetics as the primary component of human behavior. Not making your case at all, which requires EVIDENCE, not PRESUPPOSITION.

  198. 198
    Jacob Schmidt

    The only way the human brain can be “genetically programmed to be large” is if there is or was a significant amount of variation in genes for brain size.

    If you’ve backed up your argument to “evolution made our brains big; our brains affect our behaviour; therefor evolution affected our behaviour” then we’re done here. We agree.

    And if the default hypothesis were a genetic adaptation, those claiming a purely cultural origin would have to do their homework and supply evidence to back up their claim … thus forcing the proper science to be done.

    The difference being that we can point to behaviour that can be shown to be cultural; you can’t point to any behaviour that’s been shown to be genetic. The null hypothesis is noise, not signal.

  199. 199
    coelsblog

    Jacob Schmidt:

    The difference being that we can point to behaviour that can be shown to be cultural; you can’t point to any behaviour that’s been shown to be genetic.

    If I interpret that as “shown to have a genetic component” then yes I can, that’s what twin studies show, and they show that the genetic component of the variance is typically ~ 50%. I think it’s wrong to talk in absolutes: “shown to be cultural” and “shown to be genetic” since nearly everything will be some combination of the two.

  200. 200
    Jacob Schmidt

    You talk about those studies a lot, but there’s no link from you anywhere in this thread.

    I think it’s wrong to talk in absolutes: “shown to be cultural” and “shown to be genetic” since nearly everything will be some combination of the two.

    I think you can’t be bothered to understand what we write, since “absolute” or similar was never written. The point stands: I hate fish, some love it. There’s likely be some genetic factor in our food preference. That factor is heavily buried underneath culture.

  201. 201
    Tethys

    It is true of almost any genetically programmed characteristic that the right environment is needed; genes never do it all themselves, all they do is manipulate a development program that also depends on environmental factors.

    In Genies case, and in the case of the Romanian orphans, would you say genes or environment was lacking?

    Of these two factors which is more important for development?

    I have never read an EP study that adequately controls or even quantifies these basic variables, yet they somehow come to conclusions about gendered behavior and then proceed to blather on at length about their science. As the allometry article shows, it is not that hard to include the largest variable of behavior and end up with valid numbers that lead to predictive equations.

    I also quibble with the term manipulate. It attributes agency to genes, and is not a good descriptor for what genes do which is encode blueprints, mechanicals, replication, and maintenance information.

  202. 202
    coelsblog

    Nerd:

    This doesn’t follow. How does presuming a genetic linkage help you prove a genetic linkage?

    In that comment I was not trying to “prove a genetic linkage”, I was pointing to a POSSIBLE genetic component as refuting the claim I was replying to.

    Nobody is arguing genes don’t control the brain size. What we are arguing is that the functional human has behaviors adapted by culture, and not by genetics, due to the long learning childhood of humans.

    And if the function of the brain (= behaviour) is determined “not by genetics” then why do the genes go to vast expense to create the brain, when it doesn’t do anything for them? Whence the traction of natural selection that led to genetic selection for increased brain size if the genes had no affect on the resulting brain behaviour?

    You realise, I presume, that selection for larger brain size must have meant genes for larger brain size having increased numbers of descendants; why would that gene lead to more descendants it if had no effect on behaviour?

  203. 203
    Jacob Schmidt

    If I interpret that as “shown to have a genetic component” then yes I can, that’s what twin studies show, and they show that the genetic component of the variance is typically ~ 50%.

    What behaviour was shown to have a genetic component? Or does the whole specific vs. general thing confuse you?

  204. 204
    coelsblog

    Jacob Schmidt:

    I think you can’t be bothered to understand what we write, since “absolute” or similar was never written.

    Ok, then I’ll rephrase my sentence:

    I think it’s wrong to talk in absolutes: “shown to be cultural” and “shown to be genetic” since nearly everything will be some combination of the two.

    As:

    I think it’s wrong to talk in terms of: “shown to be cultural” and “shown to be genetic” since nearly everything will be some combination of the two.

    and my point still stands.

  205. 205
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I can, that’s what twin studies show, and they show that the genetic component of the variance is typically ~ 50%

    More non-sequitur. These studies tend to be flawed by close cultures, not wildly varying ones. Also, nobody is arguing that there can’t be a genetic component to some behaviors. What we are saying is show evidence, not just presupposition, that it is genetic before claiming it is a genetic adaptation. Which is good science in anybody’s book except for EP enthusiasts. Why do you keep arguing for bad science?

  206. 206
    coelsblog

    Tethys:

    In Genies case, and in the case of the Romanian orphans, would you say genes or environment was lacking?

    Environment.

    Of these two factors which is more important for development?

    Both are necessary. In the above cases a bad environment led to a poor outcome. It would be possible that even worse environments (the child dying in a fire for example) would have led to even worse outcomes. It’s also possible that defective genes could equally have led to worse outcomes (e.g. the child dying as an embryo owing to genetic defects).

    I really don’t understand this drive to minimise the effect of genes on all this and to continually push environment as the main factor. Isn’t it obvious that the interaction of the two is what counts?

  207. 207
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    and my point still stands.

    Yes, you are in favor of bad, sloppy science. Not rigorous and thorough science.

  208. 208
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    . Isn’t it obvious that the interaction of the two is what counts?

    Why isn’t it obvious to you, you need to quit arguing for bad science.

  209. 209
    coelsblog

    Nerd:

    What we are saying is show evidence, not just presupposition, that it is genetic before claiming it is a genetic adaptation.

    Why yes, I entirely agree. But what I am also saying is show evidence, not just presupposition, that something is primarily cultural before claiming that it is primarily cultural.

    Which is good science in anybody’s book except for EP enthusiasts. Why do you keep arguing for bad science?

    Which is good science in anybody’s book except for yours. Why do you keep arguing for bad science?

    [By the way, I have *never* said one should claim a genetic adaptation without evidence; whereas you have said that you don't need evidence before defaulting to it being cultural. You are far more guilty than I am of the sins you accuse me of.]

  210. 210
    Rutee Katreya

    Whereas no proper science need be done to back up a claim that it is cultural?

    Well, it did, something like 60 years ago. Pretty much every fucking question has come out with a strong cultural component in the interim. In the face of so many things that are based on culture, the null hypothesis SHOULD be “It’s cultural”. It just won’t be, because you jackasses, and those like you, just fucking love genetic excuses to be assholes.

  211. 211
    coelsblog

    Rutee Katreya:

    Pretty much every fucking question has come out with a strong cultural component in the interim.

    The twin studies have shown that the answer to a great many of these questions is that the *variance* in human traits is approx 50% genetic and 50% non-genetic, and that the commonality of human traits is much more than 50% genetically programmed.

    It just won’t be, because you jackasses, and those like you, just fucking love genetic excuses to be assholes.

    Personally I don’t think that genetics would or does provide any such excuse (any more than environment does), but I note your attribution of motives. To quote PZ from the OP: “Once again, my criticisms are being addressed by imagining motives”.

  212. 212
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    The twin studies have shown that the answer to a great many of these questions is that the *variance* in human traits is approx 50% genetic and 50% non-genetic, and that the commonality of human traits is much more than 50% genetically programmed.

    Quit riding this non-sequitur. Your argument is faulty, as I have demonstrated several times.

    So why should genetics be the null hypothesis, compared to culture. It is much harder to show genetic contributions, and there it should be the one to require positive evidence.

  213. 213
    Rutee Katreya

    The twin studies have shown that the answer to a great many of these questions is that the *variance* in human traits is approx 50% genetic and 50% non-genetic, and that the commonality of human traits is much more than 50% genetically programmed.

    Because pretty much every single time you morons come out with a difference that you claim is genetic, it gets shown to be cultural. Take spatial awareness, hailed as a ‘male trait’ for something like 20 to 30 years (and used to justify telling us we’re bad at math since)… until we looked at a culture where the women owned the land, that was somewhat matriarchal, and lo and behold, it was the women with stronger spatial awareness. Yet we keep saying ‘men have more spatial awareness’ as if it’s a genetics thing…

  214. 214
    coelsblog

    Nerd:

    Your argument is faulty, as I have demonstrated several times.

    You mean it isn’t fully robust, since both the range of cultures and range of genetic variability over which the studies were done are less than that in the human race overall. Yes, agreed. However, while this might well change the typical ratios for variance-contributions from 50:50 it is unlikely to reduce either to insignificance. And anyhow, it is still valid within the cultures where the studies were performed, and much commentary is indeed about those cultures (e.g. how things are in the US).

    So why should genetics be the null hypothesis, compared to culture.

    As I’ve said multiple times, I don’t think it should. I’d default to “likely both are important factors in explaining human variance, though I don’t know the relative ratios without further evidence”.

  215. 215
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    However, while this might well change the typical ratios for variance-contributions from 50:50 it is unlikely to reduce either to insignificance.

    This is exactly why you sound like you are doing bad science. It isn’t an either/or proposition. What is needed is good science. Which is better done by making cultural adaptations the null hypothesis, and having the EP folks work at showing the genetic tie-ins with solid evidence, not hand-waving. And you are hand-waving.
    Until you show your ideas give better science, you should listen to scientists.

  216. 216
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    coelsblog: Please link to the source of this information.

    The twin studies have shown that the answer to a great many of these questions is that the *variance* in human traits is approx 50% genetic and 50% non-genetic, and that the commonality of human traits is much more than 50% genetically programmed.

  217. 217
    coelsblog

    Nerd:

    What is needed is good science. Which is better done by making cultural adaptations the null hypothesis, and having the EP folks work at showing the genetic tie-ins with solid evidence, not hand-waving.

    Your preference for that default is ideological rather than scientific.

  218. 218
    Tethys

    Both are necessary. In the above cases a bad environment led to a poor outcome.

    Unfortunately, the question was “Which factor is more important for development?” genes or proper stimulation?

    I keep asking you to quantify the effects, you keep erecting strawarguments.

    You haven’t even provided a link to support your twins 50%- 50% statistic. Surely you can evidence your claims like a proper science based thinker?

  219. 219
    coelsblog

    Antiochus Epiphanes:

    coelsblog: Please link to the source of this information.

    One cite is the following:

    Science. 1990 Oct 12;250(4978):223-8. Bouchard etal
    Sources of human psychological differences: the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart.

  220. 220
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Your preference for that default is ideological rather than scientific.

    Gee, an unevidenced assertion about science. DISMISSED WITHOUT EVIDENCE.

    Try again, and realize I’m a professional scientist.

  221. 221
    Jacob Schmidt

    Your preference for that default is ideological rather than scientific.

    Point to the verifiable genetic component of any given behaviour.

    (Once again, noise is the default, not signal.)

  222. 222
    eigenperson

    The thing about the twin studies is that they don’t show anything like what evolutionary psychologists want to claim. (Evo psych is not the same thing as behavioral genetics.)

    If you ignore the prenatal environment, twin studies can show things like “the heritability of behavior X, among middle-class US-born twins who volunteer for experiments, is 50%.” This is completely useless for what the evo psych people want to do, which is say that behavior X was specifically selected for over evolutionary history (i.e. on “the savannah”).

    For one thing, I guarantee that if you take a sample that includes some people on “the savannah” and some middle-class Americans, the heritability of the behavior according to your experiment will plummet from 50% to, like, 5% or less. We exhibit very different behaviors now than we did even 500 years ago.

  223. 223
    coelsblog

    Tethys:

    Unfortunately, the question was “Which factor is more important for development?” genes or proper stimulation?

    Your question is not well posed as written, it’s a bit like asking which is more important for a child’s development: breathing or eating.

    The sensible way to pose the question is to ask which factor explains a greater fraction of the observed variation in outcome, but the answer to that (as Nerd has pointed out) then depends on the range of variation of genes and the range of variation of stimulation that one considers.

    Taking a literal interpretation of your question, I’d say that that genes are more important, since the worst-case scenario from bad genes is a dead embryo and no development at all. The worst-case scenario from lack of stimulation (none at all) still produces a child (even though a damaged one). But, as I say, the way the question is posed is not all that sensible.

  224. 224
    coelsblog

    Nerd

    Gee, an unevidenced assertion about science. DISMISSED WITHOUT EVIDENCE.

    You’ve made plenty of those, for example the claim that you should take as cultural anything that isn’t *proven* to be genetic.

  225. 225
    coelsblog

    Jacob Schmidt:

    Point to the verifiable genetic component of any given behaviour.

    Twin studies show that there is a genetic component to the behaviour, but they don’t then decompose the behaviour into components, each caused by the different inputs. Indeed I’m not sure that that concept is even sensible. It’s a bit like asking someone to point to the bit of the cake made by the egg.

  226. 226
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    You’ve made plenty of those, for example the claim that you should take as cultural anything that isn’t *proven* to be genetic.

    Gee, here is you showing your idiotlogical bias. What I have been saying is that more rigor needs to be applied to making claims about genetic linkages to behavior, and the best and most scientific way to do so is to make the null hypothesis cultural adaptations, and make the EP folks look for real linkages, not just making vague claims. You ignore this, and your idiotlogically driven replies show that you want to impose LESS RIGOR. WHY?

  227. 227
    coelsblog

    Nerd:

    What I have been saying is that more rigor needs to be applied to making claims about genetic linkages to behavior, …

    I agree. But what I have also been saying is that more rigour needs to be applied to making claims about behaviours being purely cultural …

    … and the best and most scientific way to do so is to make the null hypothesis cultural adaptations, and make the EP folks look for real linkages, not just making vague claims.

    … and the best and most scientific way to do so is to NOT accept culture as a default but to make the culture-folks look for real evidence, not just make vague claims (or, even worse, assume it by default).

    You ignore this, and your idiotlogically driven replies show that you want to impose LESS RIGOR. WHY?

    You ignore this, and your idiotlogically driven replies show that you want to impose LESS RIGOR. WHY?

  228. 228
    coelsblog

    Night night all, it’s bed time (though likely not where many of you are).

  229. 229
    Jacob Schmidt

    Twin studies show that there is a genetic component to the behaviour[1], but they don’t then decompose the behaviour into components, each caused by the different inputs. Indeed I’m not sure that that concept is even sensible. It’s a bit like asking someone to point to the bit of the cake made by the egg[2].

    1) This was never in question

    2) Here you go. Egg acts as the binder. Without it, you’ll just get a pile of powdery baking ingredients once everything is mixed in and cooked.

    So, with that in mind, how did the genetics affect those twins? Can EP show us the actual effects of genetics as it purports to do? So far, you’ve stopped at arguing that the effects exist. We don’t have any problem with that claim. The problem is that you can’t tell us what those effects are. The reason you can’t is because EP has a tendency to ignore cultural variation.

  230. 230
    Rutee Katreya

    Your preference for that default is ideological rather than scientific.

    Only if you ignore the body of evidence that exists. Your preference is clearly the ideological one, given how little is demonstrably down to genetics.

  231. 231
    David Marjanović

    Bonobos and chimps proper are sister-groups, and together they form the sister-group to us.

    Sorry, “everything is cultural” should no more be the default null hypothesis than “everything is genetic”.

    The null hypothesis is, by definition, “there’s no causation, it’s all just random, nothing to see here, go along” – in other words, “it’s not genetic”.

    So many behaviors vary culturally in humans that “there is a causation, but it’s cultural” has to be the next resort. This is further bolstered by comment 116.

    There is a strong correlation between propensity to murder and possession of a Y chromosome.

    For some time it was thought that XYY men are massively overrepresented among murderers; the extra Y was popularly called “the murderer chromosome”. That turned out to be completely wrong; even my massively outdated highschool biology textbooks knew that.

    If that’s what you meant, go back to school.

    For example, there is great reason to believe that sex drives human behavior: while psychological studies and neuroscientific studies provide observational evidence for this, it is self-evident if one endorses the selfish gene perspective of how evolution works. Without ancestors who did everything in their power to mate, we would not be here.

    *headshake* Doing everything in one’s power to mate doesn’t necessarily increase the number of surviving fertile offspring. Even increasing the number of offspring, which already isn’t the same, doesn’t necessarily increase the number of surviving fertile offspring.

    Viking [...] means “Seafarer”

    Source, please. Last time I checked, the etymology was still disputed between several options.

    I’m reminded of the issues in translations of Freud into medical English, where plain German turned into Latin: “ego” for “ich”, “id” for “es”, instead of the exact English equivalents “I” and “it”. They also spoke of “instincts” where Freud spoke of “drives”.

    Also, “superego” for “Über-Ich”.

    Worse yet, Freud deliberately refused to make up technical terms from Latin or Greek roots; he wanted to be widely understood, not to hide behind jargon.

    The thing is, each theory comes with its own predictions. If the taboo is genetic, then pretty much everybody ought to have it, regardless of how isolated they are culturally. If it developed culturally, then we should expect that some cultures who are isolated culturally would lose the taboo over time — which is exactly what we see.

    …Details, please. What happened to incest aversion? It’s well known that people don’t find those people sexy they grew up with. This goes both ways, so that siblings that didn’t grow up with each other lack incest aversion towards each other, while people growing up in the same kibbutz have it no matter whether they’re related.

    Culture can to some extent override it. Pharaos were pretty much required to, uh, mate with one of their sisters in order to keep the divine blood undiluted…

    penguins that mate for life

    Not much more so than humans.

    http://typo.uni-konstanz.de/rara/intro/index.php

    Gah. I just spent several hours reading most of it. It took me a time to notice that it has 64 pages! It’s also not just one paper, but a paper plus a whole flurry of replies plus a reply to all by the authors of the original paper.

    Highly interesting. Will ruin your life.

    Given that several species have larger brains than we do (elephants, whales, some dolphins, for example), that is not that convincing an argument. Elephants have long childhoods and large brains, so would you say — by your own argument — that their behaviour is nearly always culturally determined with little genetic component?

    Not sure about “nearly always”, but there’s a lot of culture in the behavior of lions.

    And there I was thinking that evo-psych was more about why parents love their childen and why we fear snakes!

    Who is “we”? How widespread is a fear of snakes among people who had no opportunity to be taught it? I lack it…

    Brain size relative to body size (or more technically, what % of your body weight is made up by your brain) is what matters when estimating the average intellingence of a species.

    Even that works much less well than you seem to think. Apart from comment 180, various small monkeys outperform us on that measure, and the elephant-snout fish pwn us all.

  232. 232
    SallyStrange

    It is true of almost any genetically programmed characteristic that the right environment is needed; genes never do it all themselves, all they do is manipulate a development program that also depends on environmental factors.

    Which is why it makes sense to treat the cultural, i.e., environmental explanation as the null hypothesis, since you can only get at the genetic part after controlling for that.

  233. 233
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    But what I have also been saying is that more rigour needs to be applied to making claims about behaviours being purely cultural …

    HOW DOES ONE APPLY RIGOR TO THE NULL HYPOTHESIS? Having a null hypothesis of of it is both genetic and cultural doesn’t force the issue on needing better and solid evidence for genetic linkages. That has been and will continue to be my point.

    The null hypotheis is the default position, like Bigfoot doesn’t exist without evidence. Which is what I have been saying. Genetic linkages must be shown with less hand-waving, and with solid evidence. Which you don’t supply, nor does it appear you think is required.

  234. 234
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    Ah. I thought you might be citing something much more recent. Bouchard et al. has correctly been criticised as not controlling for the actual variance in environment. It rests on two assumptions: 1) that the adoptive parents for each pair are randomly distributed in regard to the factors that might affect psychological traits, and 2) that the conditions experienced by adopted children recapitulate the variation of experience in the population that one would like to model.

    A reasonable refutation from the American Journal of Psychology

    One thing that maybe you don’t understand is that variance contributions are necessarily relative. If you raise two populations of plants in identical environmental conditions, all of the variance in phenotype is necessarily genetic, although one can reasonably expect their to be much less variance, than if they had been raised in very different environments. If the plants exhibit plasticity at all, less than 100% of the variance in phenotype will be attributed to genetic variance. Even if the plants selected are genetically identical across experiments.

  235. 235
    Jacob Schmidt

    Bouchard et al. has correctly been criticised as not controlling for the actual variance in environment.

    Ha. I honestly thought that such a control was so obvious that no one would forget it.

  236. 236
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    Also, fwiw, this discussion doesn’t touch on the second step assessing evolutionary scenarios (especially, adaptive ones). The ability of selection to act on a trait is dependent on that traits heritability, or the ratio of additive genetic variance to overall variance. This is also necessarily population dependent. Two genetically identical populations may exhibit quite different degrees of heritability for a trait depending on environmental variation. And we haven’t even begun discussing drift yet.

  237. 237
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    Jacob: I know, right?

  238. 238
    Jacob Schmidt

    Jacob: I know, right?

    I was gonna check out the study to see their methodology, but then I figured: why bother? We’ve been on this guys ass about proper controls all night. He’s not gonna cite a study that doesn’t have decent controls in place.

    I sometimes love it when I’m wrong.

  239. 239
    Tom Adams

    It’s a little depressing to see the ongoing gyrations of the Creationists here pretending that they know, or even have any evidence for, the claim that virtually all socially important traits are based almost exclusively on environment.

    Nerd is always asking for a “cite”, but can’t seem to understand that the thing he need to be able to “cite” is any kind of serious argument that the hypothesis of the dominance of environment and culture in all socially important traits is true. He seems to imagine, rather laughably, that it is the only correct “null” hypothesis. Does he even understand what a “null” hypothesis is? Nor does he offer any reasonable argument that it should be taken as some kind of default hypothesis. He’s accepting it as pure dogma, and nothing else — as it is for most of the others in this “debate”.

    And some of the other arguments offered up are equally pathetic. Does anyone seriously doubt that, in some (and almost certainly most, though that’s irrelevant to the point) mammalian species, males are more aggressive on average than females, and that that difference must of necessity be based on genetics?

    I have yet to see anyone offer up a single example of a human society in which females are the more aggressive gender — nor have I ever heard of one. Is it in any way plausible that that difference is something other than genetic? How much into dogmatic denial would one have to be to believe it’s not genetic?

  240. 240
    Tom Adams

    With regard to the twin studies, what is not being acknowledged is that a good deal of the “control” required is introduced by comparing identical to fraternal twins. What these twin studies show, consistently, is that identical twins raised in different homes are far more alike on many, many measures than fraternal twins raised together. There really is no explanation for this fact other than a genetic one.

  241. 241
    chigau (違う)

    Tom Adams
    Define ‘aggression’.

  242. 242
    Tom Adams

    Again, with regard to the identical twin vs. fraternal twin issue, it is a relatively simple matter to calculate heritability based on the differences in the correlations between the two groups of twins. Fraternal twins share only half their genes, identical twin all of their genes.

    This is very simple population genetics — something of which it seems no one here is aware.

  243. 243
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Nerd is always asking for a “cite”, but can’t seem to understand that the thing he need to be able to “cite” is any kind of serious argument that the hypothesis of the dominance of environment and culture in all socially important traits is true.

    What I mean you provide a citation to the peer reviewed scientific literture showing your inane and wrong presuppositions are correct. Your failure to provide such a citation is prima facie evidence of your lying, bullshitting, and posturing, typical of creationists. What a fuckwitted idjit who doesn’t understand science.

  244. 244
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    And some of the other arguments offered up are equally pathetic

    Compared to your pathetic presuppositions, posturing, and lack of EVIDENCE? Grow up. Science doesn’t give a shit about your OPINION. Just what EVIDENCE you and your buddies supply which is nothing but bullshit.

  245. 245
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    it is a relatively simple matter to calculate heritability based on the differences in the correlations between the two groups of twins.

    Citation needed. Your unsupported word is dismissed as fuckwittery. That is how SCIENCE operates. You put or you shut the fuck up. If you can’t/won’t put up, and can’t/won’t shut up, prima facie evidence you are nothing but a liar and bullshitter.

  246. 246
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    This is very simple population genetics — something of which it seems no one here is aware.

    I take your unevidenced word for bullshit and dismiss it. Welcome to science.

  247. 247
    Tethys

    This is very simple population genetics — something of which it seems no one here is aware

    Sorry, this argument is about evopsyche and its poor science.

    Population genetics is down the hall.

  248. 248
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Why hasn’t one defender of EP cited the literature to back up their claims. Colesblog did the typical creationist bit of putting up one citation, which didn’t really back him up at the end of the day. Pitiful scientific response by the EP fuckwits.

  249. 249
    Tom Adams

    Nerd, you really are quite the pathetic creationist.

    You got nothing, obviously, except your dogma.

    As far as the question of genetic basis of many socially important traits, I cite the many twin studies that compare identical to fraternal twins, finding higher correlations between identical twins even raised apart than between fraternal twins raised together.

    You want real science? That’s real science.

  250. 250
    chigau (違う)

    Fraternal twins may share considerably less than half their genes.

  251. 251
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Does he even understand what a “null” hypothesis is?

    Cricket, I’ve been practicing science as a professional for 35+years. What is your explaination (there is no excuse) for you fuckwitted and utterly unscientific attitude?

  252. 252
    Tom Adams

    “Fraternal twins may share considerably less than half their genes.”

    For Christ’s sake, it’s an average across all fraternal twins.

  253. 253
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Nerd, you really are quite the pathetic creationist.

    And you are an utterly pathetic fuckwitted idjit, and you are no scientist.. Just somebody with a Dunning-Kruger problem who thinks, but they aren’t, competent. In case you are interested, that is what is called a citation. I took my argument to third party evidence to show I know what I talk about. Unlike you and your EP fanboys. WHERE ARE YOUR LINKS TO REAL EVIDENCE….

  254. 254
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    or Christ’s sake, it’s an average across all fraternal twins.

    Citation needed, your unevidenced word is dismissed per Christopher Hitchens (top quote).

  255. 255
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    You got nothing, obviously, except your dogmaPot, Kettle, Black. You have no evidence….

  256. 256
    chigau (違う)

    For Christ’s sake, it’s an average across all fraternal twins.

    bwahahaha

  257. 257
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    You want real science? That’s real science.

    Your UNEVIDENCED WORD IS DISMISSED WITHOUT EVIDENCE.

  258. 258
    Tom Adams

    “Sorry, this argument is about evopsyche and its poor science.”

    Look, the general point PZ Myers is making about supposed plasticity is effectively a general argument about whether the basic assumptions made by EP might even be plausible.

    My point is that of course they are plausible.

    And yes of course there are bad EP arguments — just as there are very, very bad arguments that assume all is culture and environment.

  259. 259
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Dang, borked the blockquotes in #255. Capitals tell the BQ end.

  260. 260
    Tom Adams

    “Citation needed, your unevidenced word is dismissed…”

    I’m not going to waste my time educating an ignoramus.

  261. 261
    Tethys

    For Christ’s sake, it’s an average across all fraternal twins.

    Fuck off asshole, you’re the one who started off lecturing us about our apparent ignorance of population genetics.

    If you don’t like the snark, make a cogent, scientific argument for evopsyche complete with cites to supporting evidence.

    Fail to do that, and you will continue to be mocked for a fool.

  262. 262
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I’m not going to waste my time educating an ignoramus.

    Translation: I’m nothing but a posturing loudmouth with any scientific background. Thanks for the prima facie evidence of your incompetence. Presuppositiionalists never disappoint.

  263. 263
    alwayscurious

    Barely started reading the comments. However, I think it’s fair to say that we understand the basic workings of spleens, hearts, and lungs much more completely than we understand the basic workings of the brain (especially “higher” functions). Therefore, a lot of work (heaps more than for most other organs) is required to tie detailed mechanisms & genes to observable features & behaviors. Evo Psych hasn’t appeared to helpfully add any new details on this front. Not because it’s a bad idea; but because the actual work done in the “field” is low quality.

  264. 264
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    My guess is that Tom Adams is either a denizen of the ‘pit or a sympathizer. The super-ignorant and super-arrogant attitude is reminiscent of their blather.

  265. 265
    echidna

    Tom Adams:

    I’m not going to waste my time educating an ignoramus.

    And there we have it: obviously does not have enough expertise to recognise real expertise. DK in action.

  266. 266
    potira

    Just delurked to say it’s appalling that coelsblog seems to think that making some claim the null hypothesis is giving it the upper hand or an easy time. The null hypothesis should always be the contrary of what you are trying to establish. In EP, that would be “It is NOT genetic”. This way, if you show you can reject the null hypothesis, you show the test trait is indeed (at least in part) genetic.

    Other than that great work, guys.

  267. 267
    coelsblog

    231: David Marjanović

    For some time it was thought that XYY men are massively overrepresented among murderers; the extra Y was popularly called “the murderer chromosome”. That turned out to be completely wrong; even my massively outdated highschool biology textbooks knew that. If that’s what you meant, go back to school.

    No, that’s not what I meant, I was simply comparing XX with XY.

  268. 268
    cim

    potira: The experiments are far easier when you assume the opposite, though.

    Null hypothesis: aggression in humans has a substantial genetic basis.
    Method: ordered pizza, ate it.
    Analysis: no evidence found that null hypothesis is wrong. (p > 0.05)
    Conclusion: in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we must assume that aggression in humans has a substantial genetic basis.

    Anyone else want to try this experiment just to make sure its replicable? I reckon there’s at least one EP paper in it.

  269. 269
    coelsblog

    233: Nerd:

    The null hypothesis is the default position, like Bigfoot doesn’t exist without evidence.

    First, you are confusing two things, the null hypothesis and a default position. Read comment 161.

    HOW DOES ONE APPLY RIGOR TO THE NULL HYPOTHESIS?

    By not treating it as the null hypothesis! If you are asking whether you should *accept* what you have labelled as the “null hypothesis” then you need to test it against its contrary (that contrary then being the “null hypothesis” for testing whether you should accept your hypothesis). That step requires EVIDENCE.

    Having a null hypothesis of of it is both genetic and cultural doesn’t force the issue on needing better and solid evidence for genetic linkages. That has been and will continue to be my point.

    Again, while you might adopt “null hypotheses” of “entirely genetic” or “entirely cultural” for the purposes of comparison, that does not mean you should *adopt* either one as the default position! The sensible default position is some mixture of the two. Again, read 161.

    If you accept both a default and a null of “cultural” then that “doesn’t force the issue on needing better and solid evidence” for cultural claims.

    Genetic linkages must be shown with less hand-waving, and with solid evidence. Which you don’t supply, nor does it appear you think is required.

    And cultural explanations must be shown with less hand-waving and more solid evidence (and certainly less “we take it as a default”!). And on your last point, I think that evidence IS required for claims that something is genetic, AND for claims that something is cultural. You, however, seem to think that evidence is required only if it goes *against* your ideological position. That’s why your approach is less rigorous and scientific.

  270. 270
    coelsblog

    266: potira:

    The null hypothesis should always be the contrary of what you are trying to establish. In EP, that would be “It is NOT genetic”. This way, if you show you can reject the null hypothesis, you show the test trait is indeed (at least in part) genetic.

    I entirely agree. And equally, if you are seeking to establish “it is cultural”, the null hypothesis would be “it is NOT cultural”. This way, if you show you can reject the null hypotheis, you show the test trait is indeed (at least in part) cultural.

    The problem here is that people like Nerd do not want to do that, they do not want to have to supply evidence to reject the null “it is not cultural”, they just want to say “I’ll take it as cultural because it has not been proven not to be”.

    That is equally as bad as “I’ll take it as genetic because it has not been proven not to be”. Much of the criticism directed at EP here is correct, but ALSO needs to be directed at those opposed to EP!

  271. 271
    jefrir

    Coelsblog

    kinds of behaviours that evo-psych tends to deal with, like shopping styles or colour preferences or playing with toy pans …

    And there I was thinking that evo-psych was more about why parents love their childen and why we fear snakes!

    Perhaps this is where you are going wrong. Because all those things I mentioned came from actual, published, evo-psych studies.

    the variance of human traits if only (roughly) 50% explained by genetic factors (with the other half being environmental).

    Which traits? Loving their children? Being extroverted vs. introverted? Likelihood of engaging in criminal behaviour? Number of sexual partners? Favourite food? It matters – some are far more plausibly genetic than others.
    And twin studies aren’t as good as you think they are. For example, comparison of twins in the US shows that height differences are mostly genetic, which they are, within a culture. But the difference in height between the populations of the US and Japan is mostly environmental – and shrinking rapidly as those environmental differences change.

  272. 272
    coelsblog

    229. Jacob Schmidt:

    So, with that in mind, how did the genetics affect those twins? Can EP show us the actual effects of genetics as it purports to do? So far, you’ve stopped at arguing that the effects exist. We don’t have any problem with that claim. The problem is that you can’t tell us what those effects are. The reason you can’t is because EP has a tendency to ignore cultural variation.

    Yes, you’re right, I’ve stopped at arguing that genetic effects exist. That’s a start, and it seems that Nerd for one does have a problem with it (if it is the case that genetic affects are significant to some degree in many traits, then it does not make sense to adopt a policy of assuming something is purely cultural unless proven otherwise, since our ability to “prove” such things is so far meagre).

    And you’re right, the problem is indeed that disentangling the effects of culture and genes then gets a lot harder than simply establishing that both are significant. The reason this is hard is not that “EP has a tendency to ignore cultural variation” it’s that disentangling the effects is hard, even if you’re trying to do it properly, especially in the absence of utterly unethical controlled trials.

  273. 273
    coelsblog

    234: Antiochus Epiphanes

    Bouchard et al. has correctly been criticised as not controlling for the actual variance in environment. … One thing that maybe you don’t understand is that variance contributions are necessarily relative.

    I do understand that, thanks, indeed I’ve pointed it out myself up-thread, and I am aware of these criticisms of twin studies. For that reason one should not take the actual percentages (of genetic v environmental contributions) as solid and applying everywhere, however they are still sufficiently robust to show that both will be significant.

    Thus, different ranges of environment/genes might result in 30:70 rather than 45:55 or whatever, but it’s totally implausible that either would be reduced to insignificance (whatever we take insignificance as, less than 3% perhaps?).

  274. 274
    coelsblog

    271. jefrir:

    Perhaps this is where you are going wrong. Because all those things I mentioned came from actual, published, evo-psych studies.

    I’m certainly not defending any and all evo-psych claims/papers, and readily accept that a lot of it is poor. What I do think is that it is not the case that all of it is so poor as to be rejected out of hand.

    And twin studies aren’t as good as you think they are.

    I am aware of this, they do indeed depend on the range of environment (and range of genes) over which the study was done.

    For example, comparison of twins in the US shows that height differences are mostly genetic, which they are, within a culture. But the difference in height between the populations of the US and Japan is mostly environmental – and shrinking rapidly as those environmental differences change.

    This is exactly the sort of sensible analysis of the contributions of both factors that we should be doing, without ideological bias either to “it’s all cultural” or “it’s all genetic”. Which is all I’m arguing really, that a default of “cultural unless really-solidly-proven otherwise” is ideological rather than sound science.

  275. 275
    SallyStrange

    Which is all I’m arguing really, that a default of “cultural unless really-solidly-proven otherwise” is ideological rather than sound science.

    And yet, your arguments against treating the cultural/environmental explanation as the default seem to mostly boil down to accusing your interlocutors of denying genetic influences entirely.

  276. 276
    jefrir

    This is exactly the sort of sensible analysis of the contributions of both factors that we should be doing, without ideological bias either to “it’s all cultural” or “it’s all genetic”.

    But it’s not what evo-psych is doing. Seriously. That’s pretty much exactly our criticism of it.

  277. 277
    coelsblog

    276 jefrir:

    But it’s not what evo-psych is doing. Seriously. That’s pretty much exactly our criticism of it.

    If we could agree that it is what evo-psych *should* be doing, accepting that much of it currently falls short and is done badly, then we’re not far from agreement.

  278. 278
    jefrir

    Tell you what, Coelsblog, I’ll repeat the request we give pretty much every time this topic comes up: give us an example of good evo-psych.
    Its defenders keep telling us that its sound in principle, that its just some of it that is bad and not the whole field, so – show us. Provide us with some citations for evo-psych done properly, tackling interesting questions with scientific rigour. Because currently it appears to be a big pile of just-so stories and bullshit.

  279. 279
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    he sensible default position is some mixture of the two. Again, read 161.

    First, you are confusing two things, the null hypothesis and a default position. Read comment 161

    Who the fuck cares what you idiotlogical position is? It is irrational and unscientific.

    If you are asking whether you should *accept* what you have labelled as the “null hypothesis” then you need to test it against its contrary (that contrary then being the “null hypothesis” for testing whether you should accept your hypothesis). That step requires EVIDENCE.

    The problem with EP is that they claim a genetic compenent without EVIDENCE. Making the null hypothesis cultural makes them provide EVIDENCE it is genetic. That solves the PROBLEM. You don’t have to like the solution. Who cares what an unscientific fool like yourself thinks, or rather don’t thinks.
    You don’t have a solution. Just an idiotology.

  280. 280
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    If we could agree that it is what evo-psych *should* be doing,

    You have notrhing to say about how science is done. Science ignores your OPINION. You aren’t acting like a scientist.

  281. 281
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I entirely agree. And equally, if you are seeking to establish “it is cultural”, the null hypothesis would be “it is NOT cultural”. This way, if you show you can reject the null hypotheis, you show the test trait is indeed (at least in part) cultural.

    Sorry fool, cultural should be the default position, as there has to be a default position. Something that must be fallen back on if a genetic component can’t be found. That is culture. There is no third option, and you haven’t shown one. There is no good science done if your null hypothesis is nothing, which is what you propose.

  282. 282
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @coelsblog #174

    and therefore the large and intelligent brain is not the product of selection/adaptation?

    No one argued that. Ever.

  283. 283
    coelsblog

    Hi Nerd,

    You have nothing to say about how science is done. … You aren’t acting like a scientist.

    You’ve brought up your scentific credentials in this thread, out of interest what field are you in, what is your job description?

    Sorry fool, cultural should be the default position, as there has to be a default position. Something that must be fallen back on if a genetic component can’t be found. That is culture.

    No, we can go with a default of “we don’t know, likely both contribute, in unknown ratios”. [As explained, that is *not* the same as what null hypothesis you use when attempting to test a hypothesis.]

  284. 284
    coelsblog

    282 Thumper; Atheist mate:

    and therefore the large and intelligent brain is not the product of selection/adaptation?

    No one argued that. Ever.

    Excellent, good! Now, if we all accept that large, intelligent trains are the product of selection/adaptation, then doesn’t that imply that the products of that intelligence (= behaviour) must be under considerable genetic control and cannot be neutral w.r.t. genes, otherwise natural selection would have no traction to select for large, intelligent brains?

    That was the argument I was making (I’m always dubious when someone takes half a sentence and responds to one half alone).

  285. 285
    John Morales

    coelsblog, what’s the difference between natural selection and artificial selection? ;)

  286. 286
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    You’ve brought up your scentific credentials in this thread, out of interest what field are you in, what is your job description?

    I presented mine. What are yours?

    No, we can go with a default of “we don’t know, likely both contribute, in unknown ratios”.

    That is nothing solid to test against and says nothing. One needs something specific to test against, which makes culture a superior null hypothesis. As anybody who does science for a living would know.

    doesn’t that imply that the products of that intelligence (= behaviour) must be under considerable genetic control

    No it doesn’t. There is no connection. You wish there were. Culture is learning and adapting to ones environment. A large unspecific brain allows that to happen. As anybody who does science would tell you.

  287. 287
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Colesblog, you have this inane idea when one says a behavior is cultural, they are denying any genetic component. What is meant, as any scientist will tell you, is that at this time, no genetic component has been found for that behavior. That isn’t the same a denying the possibility of a genetic component. Scientists are always open to new evidence.

    Given the complex nature of humans, human’s large and plastic brains, and everybody grows up in some society with a culture, it makes sense to claim cultural adaption as null hypothesis. It gives the genetic tie-ins something to work against. Why are you so afraid your genetic components will be overlooked? They won’t be. Just evidenced better.

  288. 288
    jefrir

    Excellent, good! Now, if we all accept that large, intelligent trains are the product of selection/adaptation, then doesn’t that imply that the products of that intelligence (= behaviour) must be under considerable genetic control and cannot be neutral w.r.t. genes, otherwise natural selection would have no traction to select for large, intelligent brains?

    Large brains, and therefore intelligence in general, have been selected for. Specific uses of that intelligence, i.e. behaviours, are largely learned. That’s the major advantage of high intelligence; it allows us to adapt to different environments and circumstances, rather than relying on innate behaviours that may or may not be useful.

  289. 289
    coelsblog

    Nerd:

    I presented mine. What are yours?

    Yes, you’ve said you’re a professional scientists of many years’ standing. I was interested in your field and job description. (By the way, I’ve not made an issue of my credentials, whereas you did.)

    That is nothing solid to test against and says nothing. One needs something specific to test against …

    You are once again failing to distinguish between a null hypothesis used in a test, and the default position one should adopt in the absence of sufficient evidence. The fact that one cannot reject a “null hypothesis” does *not* *mean* that you should *adopt* the null hypothesis, it just means you can’t reject it!

    If you’re still unclear on this, take this example. Q: Are there intelligent lifeforms in the Andromeda galaxy?

    Null hypothesis: There are no intelligent lifeforms in the Andromeda galaxy.
    Alternative hypothesis: There are intelligent lifeforms in the Andromeda galaxy.

    Do we have sufficient evidence to support the alternative hypothesis and reject the null? No, we don’t. Should we therefore accept the null? No! We should default to “we don’t know”. That default is *different* from the null hypothesis we use in testing for intelligent lifeforms in Andromeda!

  290. 290
    coelsblog

    286. Nerd:

    doesn’t that imply that the products of that intelligence (= behaviour) must be under considerable genetic control

    No it doesn’t. There is no connection. You wish there were.

    So if there is “no connection” between the “products of that intelligence (= behaviour)” and the “genetic control” then what traction did natural selection have to select for large/intelligent brains?

    As I’ve said, I presume you are aware that in order to select for high intelligence, the genes causing it much have left more descendants by doing so.

  291. 291
    coelsblog

    287: Nerd

    Colesblog, you have this inane idea when one says a behavior is cultural, they are denying any genetic component. What is meant, as any scientist will tell you, is that at this time, no genetic component has been found for that behavior.

    This is revealling. Let’s assume that we’re actually very bad at proving a genetic component (which we do seem to be, everyone agrees that doing so is hard).

    Now let’s consider a Trait X whose variance is, say, 60% genetic and 40% cultural. And let’s say that (see last sentence) we can’t prove a genetic component.

    Now, what would you say about Trait X? You, from your explicit statement, would conclude: “that behaviour is cultural”. I would say: “I don’t know, most likely both are involved in an unknown ratio”.

    It seems to me that my statement is more sensible and more accurate than yours.

  292. 292
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I was interested in your field and job description.

    Doesn’t matter, what are you SCIENTIFIC credential. When people question mine without showing theirs, prima facie evidence for liars and bullshitters.

    You are once again failing to distinguish between a

    I fully understand the implications. And cultural should be the default explanation. You haven’t shown otherwise. And how does one claim a cultural amount, unless a genetic amount is known, as 100-genetic=cultural contribution.

    Do we have sufficient evidence to support the alternative hypothesis and reject the null?

    Bad example. When you are looking for answers, your null hypothesis should be one you can do falsification against. Intelligence in another galaxy is beyond our purview at the moment. When folks try this reductum ad absurdum like this, they are telling me they are on the losing end.

  293. 293
    coelsblog

    292 Nerd:

    Doesn’t matter, what are you SCIENTIFIC credential. When people question mine without showing theirs, prima facie evidence for liars and bullshitters.

    Fine, don’t answer, no probs. I only asked because *you* had brought up your credentials as relevant.

    Intelligence in another galaxy is beyond our purview at the moment.

    I was deliberately taking an example where we couldn’t answer, in order to illustrate the difference between a “null hypothesis” and a sensible default conclusion. The point stands.

  294. 294
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Fine, don’t answer, no probs. I only asked because *you* had brought up your credentials as relevant.

    Actually it is YOUR credentials that are relevant. I don’t think you have any. Nothing but hot air. Typical.

    I was deliberately taking an example where we couldn’t answer, in order to illustrate the difference between a “null hypothesis” and a sensible default conclusion. The point stands.

    Nope, you failed to make your point.

    You want to make your point. Cite a methodology for assigning %culture to a behavior that doesn’t require one knowing the %genetic. Then, and only then, do you have a point.

  295. 295
    coelsblog

    Nerd:

    Cite a methodology for assigning %culture to a behavior that doesn’t require one knowing the %genetic.

    That’s the point, you need to consider both and determine the two together. You can’t do them independently.

    I can, though, tell you what a good methodology is NOT, it is not “since it’s not been shown to be genetic, let’s take it as 100% cultural”.

  296. 296
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    That’s the point, you need to consider both and determine the two together. You can’t do them independently.

    Sorry fool, you can determine the %genetic independently. What is left is cultural. Don’t you know nothing?

    I can, though, tell you what a good methodology is NOT, it is not “since it’s not been shown to be genetic, let’s take it as 100% cultural”.

    Since 100-%genetic = %cultural, if you can’t show a genetic component, it is all cultural. That is how science works, and it is good science. You just can’t accept you are wrong. But everybody else here knows better.

  297. 297
    PZ Myers

    Nerd of Redhead: You aren’t helping. Non-specific demands for EVIDENCE and accusations of OPINION repeated over and over just drown the discussion in noise, especially when they are repeated multiple times. Back off unless you care to address details; general barking doesn’t contribute.

  298. 298
    coelsblog

    296. Nerd:

    Sorry fool, you can determine the %genetic independently [of culture].

    How?

    Since 100-%genetic = %cultural, if you can’t show a genetic component, it is all cultural. That is how science works, and it is good science.

    Sigh. No. See #291. Whether one can *show* a genetic component is different from whether there *is* a genetic component, and thus “if you can’t *show* a genetic component, it is all cultural” (added emphasis) is just flat-out wrong.

  299. 299
    PZ Myers

    There’s no such thing as a behavior that is all cultural or all genetic. These are not discrete & separable components.

  300. 300
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    I’m going to very cautiously point out that focusing on the “is it cultural or genetic?” question (in addition to really not being a good frame, because essentially every trait would be answered with “yes, both”), ignores the impact of epigenetics. Epigenetics, after all, are influenced by environment, affect how the genes are transcribed and translated (without modifying the underlying structure in any way), and can be transient in their effects – or not. Epigenetic modification can be heritable. The time frame of epigenetic inheritance affecting phenotype (I’m using a very sloppy definition of “phenotype” here, referring to any manifested trait – including behavior) can be much shorter than the genetic time frame of genetic inheritance – and yet, as epigenetic modification can affect transcription, an epigenetic modification can result in a given gene changing in sequence when a cell mitoses.

  301. 301
    gillt

    I’ll repeat the request we give pretty much every time this topic comes up: give us an example of good evo-psych.

    I’ll bite. And while I wouldn’t hang my hat on this paper, I believe the link below actually acknowledges a main criticism around here concerning the lack of cross-cultural analysis.

    Costly Punishment Across Human Societies
    http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~henrich/Website/Papers/Science/Henrichetal2006Science.pdf

  302. 302
    gillt

    Epigenetic modification can be heritable.

    If by heritable you don’t mean mitotic but transgenerational inheritance…well as much as I think this is highly probable the evidence for it (outside of paramutations in plants) thus far is pretty scant. Do you have specific examples? Maybe some evidence of imprinted genes escaping global demethylation.

  303. 303
    eigenperson

    So, I think that is a good paper, but it is not really that evolutionary. I mean, the authors do discuss evolution, and they point out that their paper supports one model for the evolution of cooperation, but they don’t dwell on it, which is probably for the best.

    The evolution of cooperation is one of my interests, but I think it’s important to take all the classic models with a grain of salt, because they all place cooperation at the center of the evolutionary picture, giving it great influence over fitness. When you do that, you get to rule out a lot of potential mechanisms for the evolution of cooperation, but it’s not clear to me whether that is a valid move. It’s entirely possible that cooperation is partly or wholly a spandrel that evolved as a side effect of some other trait with a much greater effect on fitness (e.g. having a large brain that can solve problems also allows you to understand when cooperation might be advantageous).

    The models also focus on natural selection. Sexual selection and genetic drift could also be involved.

  304. 304
    daniellavine

    For example, tactics for enhancing one’s mating possibilities and status level include spreading rumors about competitors, flattery, brute force, self-enhancement, and in-group/out-group formation and fighting. These are universals..

    In what sense are they universals? This argument makes no sense and is a great demonstration of how the “reasoning” underlying EP needs scare quotes.

    Consuming protein enhances one’s mating possibilities as well. One could call “eating protein” a universal but “eating insects” doesn’t seem nearly so universal to me. In some cultures insects are a common protein source and in others they are completely taboo. Eating insects is a tactic for enhancing one’s mating possibilities but it’s not a universal and it’s almost certainly a cultural rather than a genetic behavior — or, to be more specific, there’s no genetically-derived preference for eating insects as opposed to other protein sources such as legumes.

    This just isn’t an argument. It’s a presupposition with some window dressing.

    Do you accept that the increase in brain size over the human lineage (~400 cc to 1300 cc) was under genetic control, resulting from genetic selection?

    Do you accept that the brain we have now is hugely expensive it evolutionary terms (energy requirements, nurturing requirements of extended childhood, increased risk of damage, etc)?

    If you accept those two, would you accept that there therefore must have been a gene-selective advantage to the larger brains?

    If that one is accepted, how then can the resulting brain behaviour be entirely cultural, and thus be neutral with respect to genes?

    Whether or not one eats insects as a protein source is neutral with respect to genes despite this argument and yet it is a “resulting brain behavior”. Does that help you see what’s wrong with your argument, coelsblog?

    So the claim is that because humans are more intelligent than other species this makes the behaviour that the intelligence produces nearly all cultural and only minimally genetic, correct?

    But given that the hyper-intelligence is programmed by genes and is the product of genetic selection (does anyone want to dispute this?) then the brain-products (= behaviour) must be dependent on genes and cannot be neutral w.r.t. genes, otherwise there would be nothing for selection to gain traction on.

    Or is there some other reason why humans have very big, expensive and intelligent brains, if the products of that brain are mostly neutral w..r.t. genes, and therefore the large and intelligent brain is not the product of selection/adaptation?

    The reason why humans have very big, expensive, and intelligent brains is probably because the behavioral “products of that brain” are mostly neutral with respect to genes. Hard-wired behaviors can only be removed from a population by natural selection — death — whereas learned behaviors can be unlearned (or compensatory behaviors can be learned on top).

    There’s no doubt that the brain itself is a product of natural selection — as pretty much everyone arguing here has already explained to you numerous times. The point is that the human brain seems to allow more behavioral plasticity than those of other animals and that this plasticity — this ability to engage in behaviors that aren’t genetically pre-determined — is itself adaptive.

    Let’s try a specific example. Pro-EP people seem to be harping on some perceived tendency for males to be more aggressive than females among human beings. This is difficult to argue without a rigorous definition of “aggression” but going by my general idea of what “aggression” means my girlfriend is more aggressive than I am. How does EP explain this individual variation between me and my girlfriend? Genetic variation or environment?

    I’d guess environment and here is the point: even supposing I am genetically predisposed towards aggression and my girlfriend is not our environmental influences have been enough to completely swamp the genetic component. Hence, even assuming there are human behavioral tendencies directly encoded in genes how can we say that those are the behaviors that are actually exhibited? It seems to me that our genetic tendencies can be easily overcome by environment! The reverse does not seem to me to be true, though if pro-EP folks will cite specific examples I will be happy to rethink this. As a result of that state of affairs it seems to me that the null hypothesis should be that a particular behavior — say, eating insects — is determined environmentally rather than genetically.

  305. 305
    Kagehi
    What we are saying is show evidence, not just presupposition, that it is genetic before claiming it is a genetic adaptation.

    Why yes, I entirely agree. But what I am also saying is show evidence, not just presupposition, that something is primarily cultural before claiming that it is primarily cultural.

    In all honesty, because doing that may be impossible, and, by the same token, so is claiming that it isn’t cultural. Your doing the science from the wrong end. If you start out on the genetic end, find specific genes, and then work up from there, to what behavioral changes result, you get useful information, because you are working with clear, distinct, individual, clues, which all add up to a final result.

    What EP is doing is pre-forensics detective work. Its looking at the crime seen as a holistic whole, not bothering to even collect or examine any of the evidence, then jumping to the conclusion that the guy who seems to be holding a weapon must have committed the murder. The tiny detail that the actual “individual bits of actual evidence” show that the guy only just got their, it wasn’t even the right weapon, and, in fact someone else did it, is ignored, in favor of making up some story about what took place, based purely on what amount to, if truth be told, witness testimony (i.e. surveys, polls, and self reporting studies) and the “obvious” look of the scene (i.e., the culture most people being so studied share). But, you would have to be a complete idiot to conduct a criminal investigation this way, instead of actually collecting, and examining the small details, and working from that, back to the clear theory of what happened. But, no, according to you, demanding this is absurd, and bad science, but doing the opposite – coming up with a wild theory about what took place, then only looking at what little evidence you consider relevant, if any, before reaching a conclusion, in which you can’t even show what did it, how it was done, when, or anything else relevant to what took place.. is “good science”.

    The irony here is, your method would, if it was a crime scene, pin a murder on someone, even if it was a fake crime scene, from a movie set, because, its not based on even checking to make sure a murder even happened, just looking over the “visible” clues, not testing anything to see if its at all connected, and then leaping to a conclusion about it. You are working from the wrong end of the bloody case, when trying to find “genetic” reasons for behavior. You have to start with the bloody genes, the same way, in a crime scene, you start by first making sure its actually blood on the floor, and human at that. You don’t build sound conclusions, by only looking at the “surface” then guessing at all the shit going on underneath it.

  306. 306
    gillt

    I remember reading a paper a while ago on a model for the sexual selection of cooperation in sub-saharan individuals. I’ll try to find it.

    The possibility of genetic drift is always a given because populations are finite, and drift can overcome weak selection just as the random fixation of an allele may not stay blind to selection when it reaches a certain frequency. Basically drift and selection do not act in isolation. Still, drift tends to be largely ignored in these types of studies–it would be naive to assume that our lineage was always moving toward the most well-adapted state…on the SAVANNAH. But that bias certainly isn’t unique to EP.

    but I think it’s important to take all the classic models with a grain of salt, because they all place cooperation at the center of the evolutionary picture, giving it great influence over fitness.

    Are you talking about cooperation or altruism?

  307. 307
    eigenperson

    I’m thinking specifically of the various game-theoretical models for cooperation. You have a whole bunch of model organisms who do nothing but play the prisoner’s dilemma all day, for example. In that context, of course your performance on the prisoner’s dilemma is of prime importance. But it definitely isn’t the context in which cooperation actually involved. Rather, the brain has to perform all kinds of functions, and every so often it is incidentally called upon to play the prisoner’s dilemma.

    I think this is the sexual selection paper you’re talking about (it’s recent): Link. (Note: For some reason I can’t get the link to appear properly inline, at least in the preview. Sorry.)

  308. 308
    gillt

    If you start out on the genetic end, find specific genes, and then work up from there, to what behavioral changes result, you get useful information, because you are working with clear, distinct, individual, clues, which all add up to a final result.

    What do you think geneticists did before sequencing technology and modern molecular biology?

    Besides, I don’t see how you can do the forward and reverse engineering you’re describing in humans…humans aren’t model organisms. The closest I think you can get to what you’re describing is by starting with a phenotype(s) that seems uniquely human then map it on the genome (years go by), validate it’s human specificity, then claim human exceptionalism. Alternatively, there are still regions of the human genome that need to be mapped and are promisingly unique to our species.

  309. 309
    A. Noyd

    (I wrote this up before seeing daniellavine said pretty much the same thing. But it won’t hurt to repeat, I suppose.)

    coelsblog (#284)

    Now, if we all accept that large, intelligent [brains] are the product of selection/adaptation, then doesn’t that imply that the products of that intelligence (= behaviour) must be under considerable genetic control and cannot be neutral w.r.t. genes, otherwise natural selection would have no traction to select for large, intelligent brains?

    No. Large, intelligent brains (LIBs) could be selected for in place of particular behavioral traits. The exact programming of the LIB could matter far less in terms of selection than the potential to program it. LIBs could be adapted to accommodate complex culture, not the other way around. Or, in other words, humans could have evolved to become more blank slate-y because leaving ourselves open to culture—letting culture have more and more control over behavior—is more advantageous for us than having traits considerably determined by genes.

  310. 310
    gillt

    But it definitely isn’t the context in which cooperation actually involved.

    That’s certainly not what those who publish these experiments say. These games are simulations but why are they poor simulations? Can you point to some criticisms?

    Yep, that’s the very article. Thanks.

    The results suggest that in this non-Western population, sexual selection acts mainly on men’s cooperative behaviour with non-kin, whereas women’s cooperativeness is mainly influenced by nonsexual social selection.

  311. 311
    daniellavine

    gillt@310:

    That’s certainly not what those who publish these experiments say. These games are simulations but why are they poor simulations? Can you point to some criticisms?

    I think the argument here (and it makes sense to me) is that the survival and reproduction of organisms in the wild are not actually predicated on how well they perform in iterated prisoners dilemma games.

    Sometimes cooperation might be a more effective strategy and sometimes defection might be a more effective strategy. If one of the premises of the simulation is that cooperators survive and defectors don’t then it’s a flawed simulation.

    Whether or not that’s actually a problem of the simulations in question I just don’t know.

  312. 312
    alwayscurious

    @135:

    The point to make clear here is that over evolutionary time, homosexuality occurred at a much lower frequency than heterosexuality (or bisexuality if you need that caveat). This is a logical statement. You would not be here if it was otherwise and human population growth wouldn’t be out of control.

    No, it’s only logical that a population reproduce sufficiently often enough to maintain the population. The frequency of nonsexual, homosexual or bisexual members is only one variable which could be maintained at almost any level given sufficient population size, fertility & fecundity. Sure, there are practical limits but you haven’t provided ANY proof that nonreproducing humans change overall population growth or species survival.

  313. 313
    gillt

    The whole point of experiments such as the ultimatum game, dictator game and 3 player dictator game is to separate individual from group interest–if they’re going to be dismissed as overly contrived, what experiment would be more convincing?

    I don’t think a premise of these games is that the cheaters or defectors don’t survive but that humans are biased toward cooperation in a one-off experiment but over many iterations they become betrayers.

  314. 314
    eigenperson

    I should clarify that I’m not a biologist. I’m a mathematician. I think these games are great mathematical models of something, but I don’t know if that something is biology.

    I’m not saying that the games themselves are contrived. The games are fairly realistic portrayals of cooperation so far as that goes. I’m prepared to accept that your play in the prisoner’s dilemma is a decent proxy for your “play” in a realistic scenario.

    My problem is about the evolutionary context in which the games are placed. The evolutionary changes required to produce organisms that use Strategy X in the prisoner’s dilemma may, or may not, be otherwise neutral. The prevailing assumption seems to be that they are, and therefore, the evolution of Strategy X is tightly linked to the performance of Strategy X.

    Here’s an example from the paper you linked earlier: “The scale of cooperation in both contemporary and past human societies remains a puzzle for the evolutionary and social sciences, because, first, neither kin selection nor reciprocity appears to readily explain altruism in very large groups of unrelated individuals and, second, canonical assumptions of self-regarding preferences in economics and related fields appear equally ill-fitted to the facts.” This only makes sense if you assume that altruism is something that had to arise independently of all other characteristics of humans. Natural selection may not favor altruism but it could easily favor something that produces altruism as a byproduct (like LIBs, mirror neurons, or whatever — I’m just speculating, not making any claims).

  315. 315
    gillt

    My problem is about the evolutionary context in which the games are placed.

    Then we agree to the extent that the outcomes of these games differ across cultures, especially primitive tribal cultures.

    I disagree with that papers dismissal of kin selection as well and for the reason you mentioned. Also general increase in prosocial behavior may lead to what we call altruism. Besides, reciprocity is fully accounted for by inclusive fitness theory, which is a general method for analyzing selection that can also be used to study the evolution of social interactions among nonkin to paraphrase Lehmann.

    FYI: I think there’s a consensus that mirror neurons is a flawed idea.

  316. 316
    daniellavine

    gillt@315:

    You have a cite for the criticism of “mirror neurons”? I hadn’t heard of any widespread criticism of the idea.

  317. 317
    Tethys

    This only makes sense if you assume that altruism is something that had to arise independently of all other characteristics of humans.

    Altruism is found is other species, like this leopard seal. You cannot use it as a proxy marker for human evolution.

    The game studies are interesting, but I don’t see how measuring behavior tells you anything conclusive about human evolution or the genetic contribution to behavior.

    The results suggest that in this non-Western population, sexual selection acts mainly on men’s cooperative behaviour with non-kin, whereas women’s cooperativeness is mainly influenced by nonsexual social selection.

    Men were more cooperative when unrelated women were observers, but women were not influenced by the gender of their observer.

    How can anyone make such a result the basis for claiming sexual selection? That conclusion is overly broad, and not warranted IMO from their evidence. This study simply shows that men from Senegal think with their genitals just as much as Western men do. Women do not. How were the effects of culture controlled for, or quantified? Is this a patriarchal society? What effect does that have on cooperative behavior?

  318. 318
    alwayscurious

    @234
    That seems to be a common theme. I don’t do hard core genetics, but I went to an interesting talk given by a geneticist. She was tracing certain phenotypes through a large population of research animals housed under identical conditions. The first question after the presentation: “If the environment is identical, why aren’t ALL of the observed differences genetic?” Her paraphrased answer: Interplay of genetics and environment is a large, poorly defined factor. Simply dropping it overstates the singular power of both genetics and environment.

    Model species do have limits for sure, but being able to find a trait in a captive model species gives clues for where to look in the wild population. And those differences become interesting & useful just as the inter-species differences do. There always has to be a genetics-environment interaction factor & it is always unpredictable (random?) to some extent: therefore purely genetics + purely environment < 100%. For humans, I would expect that culture is just one more aspect of environment & the same equation holds true. Lastly, I would think that epigenetics would fit under genetics in the present framework–it is biologically inherited and forms internal instruction to the individual. The fact that it seems more rapidly affected by environment than conventional genetics will simply increase the gene-environment interaction term. Maybe after further research, it will earn itself its own places in the equation.

  319. 319
  320. 320
    gillt

    Altruism is found is other species, like this leopard seal. You cannot use it as a proxy marker for human evolution.

    I think we’re talking about the evolution of heritable traits, right? So that may be the case if it were also the case that humans and leopard seals shared the same altruism allele. I doubt if they do. Maybe though. If it arose independently then I don’t see a problem with using it to study human or primate evolution.

  321. 321
    gillt

    Lastly, I would think that epigenetics would fit under genetics in the present framework–it is biologically inherited and forms internal instruction to the individual.

    Since the heritability of epigenetics was brought up again. Please refer to comment 302.

  322. 322
    daniellavine

    gillt@319:

    I found the wiki criticism easily enough and while the op-ed looks interesting I don’t think the wiki article and the op-ed together constitute “consensus” of anything.

    Just as an example, the op-ed cites the following as evidence against the idea that autism is caused by dysfunctional mirror neurons:

    For a new review paper, Antonia Hamilton assessed the results from 25 relevant studies, concluding: “there is little evidence for a global dysfunction of the mirror system in autism.”

    But the evidence itself takes for granted the existence of the “mirror system”.

    I don’t think you’ve established the validity of your assertion except in a very weak sense:

    I think there’s a consensus that mirror neurons is a flawed idea.

  323. 323
    coelsblog

    304 daniellavine:

    Whether or not one eats insects as a protein source is neutral with respect to genes despite this argument and yet it is a “resulting brain behavior”. Does that help you see what’s wrong with your argument, coelsblog?

    No, because my argument is not that *every* aspect of behaviour is genetically programmed (I am not arguing for a gene for wearing a baseball cap backward), I am arguing that since large brains were selected for, a *sufficient component* of the resulting brain behaviour must have been under genetic control to give traction for natural selection.

    If Allele A programmed for a larger/more-intelligent brain and Allele B for a smaller/less-intelligent one, then in order for there to have been selection for Allele A that gene must have had some effect on the resulting behaviour. It must have tended to produce Behaviour 1 (whereas Allele B tended to produce Behaviour 2) and it must be the case that Behaviour 1 tended to produce more descendants than Behaviour 2 — hence Allele A winning out over Allele B.

    309. A. Noyd:

    Large, intelligent brains (LIBs) could be selected for in place of particular behavioral traits. … LIBs could be adapted to accommodate complex culture, not the other way around.

    That could only be the case if the “complex culture” was serving the interests of the genes that programmed the LIBs. Meaning, the complex culture was ensuring that the LIB genes were leaving more descendants than competing genes.

    In that sense the resulting culture cannot have been more or less arbitrary and neutral w.r.t. genetic interests, it needs to have been the case that the genes kept a tight rein on this culture, telling it what to do (namely, operate to maximise future copies of the gene).

    Given all this, while one can indeed call this “culture” it is not sensible to call it “not genetic”, it’s an admixture of the two. Indeed human culture, human cooperation is one of the things that the genes program (in the same way that termite mounds are something that termite genes program), for the reason that a gene prospered better as part of a cooperative tribe than in a lone individual/family.

    So I’m sticking to my stance that both genetics and environment (including culture) are significant in almost all traits. The idea that, owing to intelligence and learning, human behaviour can have become entirely detached from genetic underpinnings, doesn’t seem tenable to me.

  324. 324
    coelsblog

    305. Kagehi:

    But, no, according to you, demanding this is absurd, and bad science, but doing the opposite – coming up with a wild theory about what took place, then only looking at what little evidence you consider relevant, if any, before reaching a conclusion, in which you can’t even show what did it, how it was done, when, or anything else relevant to what took place.. is “good science”.

    No, I wouldn’t call the former “bad science”, it may be very good and highly desirable science; it may also be beyond our current capability.

    I disagree with you that the crime-scene-up approach to crime is the only sensible one. Police will do both “bottom up” and “top down”. They will indeed search the murder scene for clues, but they’ll also ask “who had a motive?” and pursue that enquiry also. Thus they’ll use any and all approaches that they can, and try to put them together.

    Now, if the individual-gene-up approach is too hard, it is entirely valid science to use other approaches. For example the twin studies can robustly reveal a genetic component even if you have no idea which genes and what those genes do.

    Another approach is the EP approach of asking *if* this were genetic/selected, what would that predict? And if that leads to predictions that are then tested and found to be verified, then that is valid evidence for a genetic component, even if you have no idea which gene. There is nothing invalid or unscientific about this.

    Let’s take a comparison. A properly controlled medical trial comparing a drug with a placebo can prove that the drug is effective against an illness, even if you have no idea about the biochemistry or the mechanism it uses. Thus demanding the EP must use an individual-gene-up approach and is invalid unless it can point to specific effects of specified genes, is not warranted.

  325. 325
    daniellavine

    colesblog@323:

    No, because my argument is not that *every* aspect of behaviour is genetically programmed (I am not arguing for a gene for wearing a baseball cap backward), I am arguing that since large brains were selected for, a *sufficient component* of the resulting brain behaviour must have been under genetic control to give traction for natural selection.

    What is this “sufficient component”? I’ve been trying to follow your argument but you are so incredibly vague I can’t actually see what you’re trying to say. This just sounds like gibberish to me. Can you give examples? Try to illustrate what you’re saying more directly? What is it precisely that you think is under “genetic control”?

    What critics of EP are saying is that it is wrong to arbitrarily assume that any particular behavior is “genetically programmed” — color preferences between genders, say, or wearing baseball hats backwards. What is it you disagree with about this thesis?

    If Allele A programmed for a larger/more-intelligent brain and Allele B for a smaller/less-intelligent one, then in order for there to have been selection for Allele A that gene must have had some effect on the resulting behaviour. It must have tended to produce Behaviour 1 (whereas Allele B tended to produce Behaviour 2) and it must be the case that Behaviour 1 tended to produce more descendants than Behaviour 2 — hence Allele A winning out over Allele B.

    This does not follow. First of all, size of the brain does not necessarily correlate to “intelligence” — which you’ve failed to define — along with every other term you’ve used so far! Secondly, it does not follow that because a particular allele is favored that it must have some consistent affect on behavior. Two people (one of them myself) have already argued that it’s quite likely that human brains were selected for on the basis of behavioral plasticity — in other words, less consistency in behavior. This isn’t so hard to understand. An organism slavishly following genetically-programmed behaviors might not survive changes to its environment that an organism with behavioral plasticity — the ability to learn which behaviors work and which don’t and act accordingly — would.

  326. 326
    daniellavine

    coelsblog@324:

    Let’s take a comparison. A properly controlled medical trial comparing a drug with a placebo can prove that the drug is effective against an illness, even if you have no idea about the biochemistry or the mechanism it uses. Thus demanding the EP must use an individual-gene-up approach and is invalid unless it can point to specific effects of specified genes, is not warranted.

    So what’s the “placebo” in a typical EP study? What controls are typically used?

  327. 327
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    A properly controlled medical trial comparing a drug with a placebo can prove that the drug is effective against an illness, even if you have no idea about the biochemistry or the mechanism it uses. Thus demanding the EP must use an individual-gene-up approach and is invalid unless it can point to specific effects of specified genes, is not warranted.

    Category error. The clinicals trials must use Placebo or test available treatment by ICH guidelines. There is no such thing as a placebo for your purposes. You only need to identify a heritable component. Just as Huntington’s was found to be inherited long before the actual gene was found. That is doing real science. Doing something more than hand-waving.

  328. 328
    jefrir

    If Allele A programmed for a larger/more-intelligent brain and Allele B for a smaller/less-intelligent one, then in order for there to have been selection for Allele A that gene must have had some effect on the resulting behaviour. It must have tended to produce Behaviour 1 (whereas Allele B tended to produce Behaviour 2) and it must be the case that Behaviour 1 tended to produce more descendants than Behaviour 2 — hence Allele A winning out over Allele B.

    No. Far more likely is that a larger brain would allow a creature to choose between Behaviours1 and 2 depending on which is more appropriate, and so would out-compete creatures that always follow Behaviour 1 and creatures that always follow Behaviour 2.

  329. 329
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I spent time today thinking about how much I do is reflexive and likely just genetically programmed, and how much is due to the large and plastic human brain, which adapts.
    Reflexive: Bodily functions, walking, talking (general), listening (general). affection for the Redhead.
    Cultural: Cooking, cleaning, caring for the disabled, driving, doing science, reading, speaking English, writing, typing, filing, planning, evaluating, watching the time, and a host of other typically mundane activities.

    There is an awful lot of activity, definitely the majority, that doesn’t use the primitive genetically driven behavior systems per se. Most of the behavior was cultural and learned. I fail to see any genetic tie-in to those behaviors beyond the general large and plastic human brain.

  330. 330
    gillt

    daniellavine: Ah you’re probably right, I should have said “highly controversial,” due to scant evidence.

    Tethys

    How can anyone make such a result the basis for claiming sexual selection?

    Here’s what they said: “The results suggest that in this non-Western population, sexual selection acts mainly on men’s cooperative behaviour with non-kin, whereas women’s cooperativeness is mainly influenced by nonsexual social selection.”

    Tethys

    “How were the effects of culture controlled for, or quantified?”

    The authors state:

    In addition, to our knowledge, no study has tested whether there is an effect of sexual selection using economic games in a non-Western culture. As human populations vary substantially in their level of individual cooperation, the potential influence of sexual selection for cooperative behaviour could be culture-dependent. The aim of our study was therefore to test whether there are effects of sexual selection on cooperativeness and to possibly extend previous conclusions to another culture, rural Senegal in this case.

  331. 331
    A. Noyd

    coelsblog (#323)

    That could only be the case if the “complex culture” was serving the interests of the genes that programmed the LIBs. Meaning, the complex culture was ensuring that the LIB genes were leaving more descendants than competing genes.

    It’s having culture at all that allows our species to be successful, not the specific, behavior-shaping contents of any particular culture. In fact, we’re better off when there are fewer links between specific behaviors and genes because cultures can adapt to new environments way, way faster than it will take for a gene to emerge (which could be never) and then spread. And cultures can be fine-tuned in ways that genes at the mercy of evolution cannot. Thus, a capacity for intelligence can easily be selected for without needing its products under the “tight reins” of genetic control.

    The rest of your reply to me is extremely vague word salad. Try doing as daniellavine suggests and cough up a concrete example of what you mean.

  332. 332
    Kagehi

    I disagree with you that the crime-scene-up approach to crime is the only sensible one. Police will do both “bottom up” and “top down”.

    Except that, the “top down” form of crime investigation is what is called “circumstantial”, and is only considered ‘sightly’ more reliable because they have an actual body. EP, more often than not, points at a chalk like, declares, “That’s where they say the body was, so.. lets look at what else we can see.” Its top down, without first proven there is even a bloody crime scene to begin with.

  333. 333
    Kagehi

    No, it’s only logical that a population reproduce sufficiently often enough to maintain the population. The frequency of nonsexual, homosexual or bisexual members is only one variable which could be maintained at almost any level given sufficient population size, fertility & fecundity.

    Actually, my major problem with this is that it defaults to the stupid assumption that “behavior” only ever exhibits “extremes”. But, that seems to be a cultural thing too. Bi isn’t even a word most people acknowledge. Hell, you won’t find it *anywhere* in an EP paper, unless its somehow connected to homosexuality, or maybe, if you are lucky, lesbians. Its certainly not something that precisely strict among other species, and there is no reason to think, other than that, in our culture, you are **assumed** to be either straight or gay, or lying to yourself about which camp you belong in. There is no “allowed” assumption in cultures that, pretty much, have, until recently, seem homosexuality as wrong, that people might, without being shoved one way or the other, end up some place more in the middle. Worse, its pretty much a 100% default assumption that women, if they do those things either *must be* lesbians, or, if not that, then, they don’t really do it to enjoy it in any way, but do it to “show off”, or “be edgy”, or.. just about any other damn thing someone can use to deny that, maybe, they are either more open to such experience, or just less forced into repressing them. And, can any of us, honestly, say that nothing in our upbringing could have forced us into a set of assumptions, even about ourselves, which could result in us believing, fervently, that, “Well, maybe some people are Bi, but I never could be!” Personally.. I am not at all so sure of that. There is too much driving the assumptions about what makes one male, in our culture, to assume this. And, for that matter, again, you get things, like cultures, who, when they have too many men in a village, will raise a boy like a girl, so completely that you can’t tell from their outward behavior, including things like aggression, or violence, that they are not. Bets on their “sexual orientation” not being, at the least, “none”, or even “gay”, if someone bothered to ask that question, as a result? Better yet.. how many of them would call themselves “Bi”? Do we even know, or is it just one more data point EP thinks is totally irrelevant to their hand waving, and guess work?

  334. 334
    Kagehi

    What do you think geneticists did before sequencing technology and modern molecular biology?

    You mean, besides write whole books on the subject of what they thought was true, normal, expected, etc., and getting about half of it, or in some cases, way more, dead wrong?

  335. 335
    Tethys

    gillt

    I quoted that bit that in the comment you responded to, and I read the article. I still see no basis for claiming that their game is measuring sexual selection. It is measuring gender differences in altruism. Human behavior is shaped more by culture than genes. I wonder if changing the game so that the altruism was real instead of hypothetical would make a difference in the measured effects?

  336. 336
    Kagehi
    Colesblog, you have this inane idea when one says a behavior is cultural, they are denying any genetic component. What is meant, as any scientist will tell you, is that at this time, no genetic component has been found for that behavior.

    This is revealling. Let’s assume that we’re actually very bad at proving a genetic component (which we do seem to be, everyone agrees that doing so is hard).

    Now let’s consider a Trait X whose variance is, say, 60% genetic and 40% cultural. And let’s say that (see last sentence) we can’t prove a genetic component.

    Now, what would you say about Trait X? You, from your explicit statement, would conclude: “that behaviour is cultural”. I would say: “I don’t know, most likely both are involved in an unknown ratio”.

    It seems to me that my statement is more sensible and more accurate than yours.

    And then, if you where an EP scientists, you would write a paper, in which you claimed, without one single scrap of evidence, that said behavior developed as a result of the need to find dry sticks, a hundred thousand years ago, because, presumably, only the people who “adapted” that trait genetically, would have been able to build fires. lol

  337. 337
    gillt

    Tethys

    I didn’t realize that until after I posted but it’s the second quote I wanted to point you to anyway. The paper takes an already established in the literature approach to measuring a certain type of cooperativeness and expands it to a non-Western population. So far so good. They hypothesize (see below*) that said cooperation could be influenced by sexual selection and non-sexual social selection. Okay, so the authors are certainly building on existing research. Their conclusions are tentatively worded, even inconclusive you might say (see below**). The methods seem straightforward and the interpretation of the data doesn’t seem overblown. So where did they go wrong in your opinion?

    *

    Alternatively, cooperative behaviour could be used by potential mates as a proxy for potential future parental investment. Indeed, parental investment is a form of cooperative behaviour (implying a cost for the cooperator as well as benefits in the form of improved offspring fitness). This hypothesis implies a positive link between cooperativeness with non-kin individuals and parental investment, but no study performed thus far has investigated this link. In humans, investment is biparental; thus, both sexes might be sensitive to the cooperativeness of potential mates.

    **

    Moreover, because human populations vary substantially in their levels of individual cooperation, the relative importance of sexual and nonsexual social selection for cooperative behaviour could be culture dependent.

    This isn’t some ground breaking study that’s to be held up as a shining beacon of quality EP research; I brought it up because I know EP gets a lot of flak here for using WEIRD datasets while this study clearly did not.

    Now to me it doesn’t make sense to say human behavior is shaped more by culture. What culture and what behavior? I’m sure cults are great at shaping behavior and so is being raised by wolves.
    Speaking of which, here’s an interesting piece on a sense of right and wrong in infants.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/magazine/09babies-t.html?adxnnl=1&pagewanted=1&adxnnlx=1328983403-9rOSDvPj2jKiBHiuBajWtw&_r=0

  338. 338
    coelsblog

    325. daniellavine

    What is this “sufficient component”? … Can you give examples?

    No, I can’t, that’s the whole point of the argument I gave. There can be valid arguments that there *are* genetic components even if you don’t know specifically what those components are.

    For comparison, a controlled medical trial that proves that a drug is effective compared to a placebo proves the presence of biochemical pathways for the drug having that effect, even if you have zero idea of what those biochemical pathways are.

    This is what some critics of EP are missing when they demand that one must always be able to point to specifc links to specific genes.

    What critics of EP are saying is that it is wrong to arbitrarily assume that any particular behavior is “genetically programmed” — color preferences between genders, say, or wearing baseball hats backwards. What is it you disagree with about this thesis?

    I am in total agreement with every bit of that.

  339. 339
    coelsblog

    327 Nerd:

    Just as Huntington’s was found to be inherited long before the actual gene was found.

    Which is exactly why conclusions about genetic effect can be valid even if you can’t (yet) point to a particular gene.

  340. 340
    coelsblog

    328: jefrir:

    No. Far more likely is that a larger brain would allow a creature to choose between Behaviours1 and 2 depending on which is more appropriate, and so would out-compete creatures that always follow Behaviour 1 and creatures that always follow Behaviour 2.

    Now let’s define “Behaviour Alpha” as “choosing between Behaviours1 and 2 depending” as compared to “always doing Behaviour 1″ and “Behaviour Gamma” and “always doing Behaviour 2″.

    My argument is then that genes for Behaviour Alpha will only be selected compared to those for 1 and 2 if the Behaviour Alpha is serving that gene’s interests, namely maximising descendants.

    In that sense, the Behaviour Alpha is still on a tight rein from the genes. It is not the case that Behaviour Alpha could be largely arbitrary and disconnected from genetic interests. The choice-selection integral to Alpha cannot be arbitrary choices, they must be choices that cause the gene for Alpha to have more copies in succeeding generations.

    If what Behaviour Alpha was doing is throwing a dice to select between 1 and 2, then the gene for Alpha would not prosper compared to the genes for 1 or 2.

    You are entirely right that behavioural flexibility is what the genes program large, intelligent brains for. But you are entirely wrong in supposing that that can make the resulting behaviour independent of genetic interests or genetic programming.

  341. 341
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    There can be valid arguments that there *are* genetic components even if you don’t know specifically what those components are.

    That’s called wishful thinking, not science. Science is what you can evidence, not what you want it to be.

    hich is exactly why conclusions about genetic effect can be valid even if you can’t (yet) point to a particular gene.

    You missed the point. There was EVIDENCE it was genetic. You keep trying to make claims without evidence.

    Now let’s define “Behaviour Alpha” as “choosing between Behaviours1 and 2 depending” as compared to “always doing Behaviour 1″ and “Behaviour Gamma” and “always doing Behaviour 2″.

    Vague hypothetical meaning nothing. Typical non-sequitur. If you have to resort to hypotheticals, you have no solid scientific argument. Science doesn’t do hypotheticals and possibilities, only what it can demonstrate with evidence. That is for sophist philosophy.

  342. 342
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @Coelsblog #284

    Now, if we all accept that large, intelligent trains are the product of selection/adaptation, then doesn’t that imply that the products of that intelligence (= behaviour) must be under considerable genetic control and cannot be neutral w.r.t. genes, otherwise natural selection would have no traction to select for large, intelligent brains?

    How is behaviour a product of intelligence? A predator using a particular hunting method is behaviour, as is a particular mating display or threat display. I would not say any of these things are the product of intelligence.

    And what do you imagine the objections to evo psych are? Because no one is saying that none of our behaviour has any genetic component. We are saying it is bad science to merely declare a particular behaviour to be adaptive when no such thing has been proven. Evo Psych is bad science because it identifies a behaviour and then dreams up plausible adaptive explanations for the behaviour, without ever considering that the behaviour may not be adaptive at all. It’s bad science because it starts with a premise and refuses to consider others. The whole field is an excercise in Begging the Question. No one is saying none of our behaviour is adaptive, we are saying that simply assuming all of it is adaptive is bad science. Prove it’s adaptive, then come up with the aforementioned plausible explanation, and I’m sure respect for the field would shoot up. But evo psychers never do, as far as I know.

  343. 343
    coelsblog

    341. Nerd:

    Science is what you can evidence, not what you want it to be.

    I think you should take your own advice, particularly with regard to your “default purely cultural” stance. I note that you’re still trying to pronounce on what is science based on your scientific credentials while being rather coy about those credentials.

    Vague hypothetical meaning nothing.

    No it isn’t, my argument follows directly from the logic of how Darwinian evolution works.

  344. 344
    coelsblog

    342: Thumper; Atheist mate:

    How is behaviour a product of intelligence?

    We were discussing those behaviours which are products of intelligence. High intelligence would not be selected for (and so could not have evolved) unless it resulted in behaviours (behaviours that then caused more descendants).

    We are saying it is bad science to merely declare a particular behaviour to be adaptive when no such thing has been proven.

    I entirely agree with you. It is also bad science to merely declare a particular behaviour to NOT be adaptive and be purely cultural when no such thing has been proven.

    Evo Psych is bad science because it identifies a behaviour and then dreams up plausible adaptive explanations for the behaviour, without ever considering that the behaviour may not be adaptive at all.

    Is that so, or is that a strawman? Can you quote evo-psych advocates explicitly stating that everything must be adaptive and refusing to consider that something may be non-adaptive? There is a heck of a lot of strawmanning on both sides in this dispute: both critics of evo-psych strawmanning evo-psych and advocates of evo-psych strawmanning the critics.

    … we are saying that simply assuming all of it is adaptive is bad science.

    If that’s all you’re saying then excellent, end of discussion because we’re now all in agreement! Hugs and kisses all round! Because every advocate of evo-psych that I’ve read (and I’ve read many critics of it, such as PZ, and many defenses of it) would not only agree wholeheartedly but consider that statement to be blindingly obvious.

  345. 345
    daniellavine

    coelsblog@340:

    Now let’s define “Behaviour Alpha” as “choosing between Behaviours1 and 2 depending” as compared to “always doing Behaviour 1″ and “Behaviour Gamma” and “always doing Behaviour 2″.

    You seem to be making some strong implicit assumptions here. How is “choosing between (1) and (2)” itself a behavior? How do you know it’s a “behavior” in the same sense that (1) and (2) are? Obviously “behavior alpha” is a higher-order behavior than (1) and (2) (since it is defined using (1) and (2)) — how do you know that higher-order behaviors work on the same exact principles as lower-order behaviors? How do you know anything about the relationship between higher-order and lower-order behaviors at all?

    My argument is then that genes for Behaviour Alpha will only be selected compared to those for 1 and 2 if the Behaviour Alpha is serving that gene’s interests, namely maximising descendants.

    But, due to the fact that your account here is missing a lot of details, you haven’t even shown “behavior alpha” is mediated by genes in the first place!

    In that sense, the Behaviour Alpha is still on a tight rein from the genes. It is not the case that Behaviour Alpha could be largely arbitrary and disconnected from genetic interests.

    That’s an assumption you’re making, not an obvious fact about biological systems.

    The choice-selection integral to Alpha cannot be arbitrary choices, they must be choices that cause the gene for Alpha to have more copies in succeeding generations.

    How do you know this?

    You are entirely right that behavioural flexibility is what the genes program large, intelligent brains for. But you are entirely wrong in supposing that that can make the resulting behaviour independent of genetic interests or genetic programming.

    Argument by assertion. Is that all you have? Make some real arguments already.

    The “genetic interests” are reproduction I take it. So how does my behavioral flexibility allow me to put on a condom? Shouldn’t my “genetic programming” get in the way? What do you mean by “independent” here? Obviously at some level all biological behaviors are dependent on genes — including your example of wearing baseball hats backwards. This assertion of yours is either trivial or it is false.

  346. 346
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    particularly with regard to your “default purely cultural” stance.

    Then tell me what genes have been selected for with the following behaviors: driving, typing reading, doing science; other than the big plastic human brain.

    No it isn’t, my argument follows directly from the logic of how Darwinian evolution works.

    No, behavior, as you used it, isn’t defined, I have no idea what you mean by it, so your argument is hypothetical drivel. Define your terms so you and your argument can be falsified.

    I entirely agree with you. It is also bad science to merely declare a particular behaviour to NOT be adaptive and be purely cultural when no such thing has been proven.

    There are two types of adapations, cultural and genetic. Cultural is the default, since it is easiest to show, as we exist in cultures. So, why aren’t you coming up with methodologies to separate the issue, instead of just saying “it’s to complex. It isn’t that complex, unless you presuppose every behavior must have a true genetic component past the big plastic human brain.

  347. 347
    coelsblog

    345. daniellavine

    How is “choosing between (1) and (2)” itself a behavior?

    Using intelligence to consider and choose between (1) and (2) is quite obviously a “behaviour”.

    How do you know it’s a “behavior” in the same sense that (1) and (2) are? … how do you know that higher-order behaviors work on the same exact principles as lower-order behaviors?

    It’s irrelevant whether they do or not.

    you haven’t even shown “behavior alpha” is mediated by genes in the first place!

    Behaviour Alpha is the high-level intelligent choice-making resulting from large, intelligent brains. If that behaviour were *not* mediated by genes then there would have been no selection for that behaviour, and thus no reason why large, intelligent, choice-making brains would have evolved.

    That’s an assumption you’re making, not an obvious fact about biological systems.

    No, it’s a statement about how Darwinian evolution works. It follows if large, intelligent brains are a Darwinian adaptation. And I’m told that everyone here does accept that.

    So how does my behavioral flexibility allow me to put on a condom? Shouldn’t my “genetic programming” get in the way?

    Nope, because no-one is arguing that *every* *single* aspect of human behaviour is a genetically controlled adaptation. My whole argument is that the behaviour resulting from large, intelligent brains has to have been an adaptation *to* *a* *sufficient* *extent* to give traction for natural selection, and thus for large, intelligent brains to have evolved.

    Nearly every objection to me is to the strawman notion that *every* aspect of human behaviour is an adaptation, when what I’m actually arguing — as I’ve said again and again — is that *both* genes *and* environment (inc. culture) are significant in many or most traits.

  348. 348
    coelsblog

    346 Nerd:

    There are two types of adapations, cultural and genetic.

    First, what do you mean by “adaptation” as used in “cultural adaption”? I asked that back in #195, and I’m not sure whether you answered, though I may have missed it.

    Second, when you say there are “two types of adapations” are you suggesting that it is impossible to have traits that derive both from genetic *and* environmental/cultural inputs?

    Cultural is the default, since it is easiest to show, as we exist in cultures.

    Really? How does one show that something is purely cultural (i.e. that there is no genetic component)?

  349. 349
    vaiyt

    These topics about EP are an exercise in futility. Both sides keep talking past each other – instead of substantive discussion, we get endless rounds of:

    “EP proponents keep making the mistake of assuming a behavior is adaptive and then dreaming up a Pleistocene scenario about how it arose”
    “WHAT ARE YOU SAYING THAT NO BEHAVIOR CAN BE ADAPTIVE EVER?”
    “You’re forgetting that culture shapes a lot of our behavior, it’s not all genetic”
    “But surely there is a genetic basis?”
    “There might be, but we want evidence that a behavior is adaptive before you start dreaming up a Pleistocene scenario about how it arose”
    “WHAT ARE YOU SAYING THAT NO BEHAVIOR CAN BE ADAPTIVE EVER?”

    etc.

  350. 350
    daniellavine

    Using intelligence to consider and choose between (1) and (2) is quite obviously a “behaviour”.

    I disagree that it’s “obvious”; or, if it is “obvious” then it’s not “obvious” what you mean by “behavior” and you need to define terms. Typically when someone makes an “argument” by merely asserting a point under dispute to be “obvious” I conclude that they have no arguments and that they simply can’t admit they might be wrong. I’ll give you one more chance to make a real argument before I give up on you.

    It’s irrelevant whether they do or not.

    Disagree. My position is that lower-order behaviors are more directly mediated by genes and higher-order behaviors are less directly mediated by genes — and perhaps sometimes not mediated by genes at all. This is exactly what’s under dispute here so it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to declare it to be “irrelevant”.

    No, it’s a statement about how Darwinian evolution works. It follows if large, intelligent brains are a Darwinian adaptation. And I’m told that everyone here does accept that.

    Incorrect. Here was your argument:

    In that sense, the Behaviour Alpha is still on a tight rein from the genes. It is not the case that Behaviour Alpha could be largely arbitrary and disconnected from genetic interests.

    But tying my shoelaces is not “on a tight rein from the genes”. Tying my shoelaces is “largely arbitrary and disconnected from genetic interests”. So you are wrong, plenty of behaviors are not as you describe them. You are making unsupported assumptions.

    Nope, because no-one is arguing that *every* *single* aspect of human behaviour is a genetically controlled adaptation.

    You are arguing that, though, or at least you seem to be. When you say “In that sense, the Behaviour Alpha is still on a tight rein from the genes.” where “Behavior Alpha” is some arbitrary high-order behavior it really seems like you are arguing that “*every* *single* aspect of human behavior is a genetically controlled adaptation”. You need to be more precise if this is not what you are arguing because it seems to be the basis of all your assertions (I won’t bother calling them “arguments”) so far.

  351. 351
    vaiyt

    Nope, because no-one is arguing that *every* *single* aspect of human behaviour is a genetically controlled adaptation. My whole argument is that the behaviour resulting from large, intelligent brains has to have been an adaptation *to* *a* *sufficient* *extent* to give traction for natural selection, and thus for large, intelligent brains to have evolved.

    But if the point of a large brain is to be MORE plastic in terms of possible behaviors, then looking at a specific behavior seen today, in specific subsets of a society with VERY DIFFERENT pressures from the distant past, and immediately positing it is a cemented part of our brains shaped by our savannah period IS BULLSHIT.

    If you want to study about how evolving giant brains in the past was adaptive because it let us flex our behavioral muscles, do it. But that’s not what we’re seeing in actual EP papers.

  352. 352
    daniellavine

    Really? How does one show that something is purely cultural (i.e. that there is no genetic component)?

    Show that it’s not consistent across cultures by finding examples. It really is pretty easy.

    There doesn’t seem to be a genetic component to eating or not eating insects to use an example I’ve already mentioned. Tying shoelaces. Almost every aspect of spoken language including grammar and phonology. Wearing baseball hats backwards. Color preferences between genders and a lot of other facets of gender roles as well. Standards for fairness and reciprocity. Do I really need to go on?

  353. 353
    daniellavine

    Oh — standards for physical beauty is a good one that is very relevant to criticism of EP.

  354. 354
    coelsblog

    vaiyt:

    #349:

    Very true, though your conversation attributes the strawmanning only to one saide, when really it is both.

    #351

    … and immediately positing it is a cemented part of our brains …

    Strawman alert!

  355. 355
    daniellavine

    colesblog@354:

    That’s not a strawman; vaiyt is correctly characterizing the sorts of EP arguments (which seem to be almost all of them) that are being criticized.

    Maybe it would be more constructive if you would point out what you consider to be a well-established and easily-defended conclusion of EP and cited a study supporting it rather than talking in vague generalities as you have been.

  356. 356
    coelsblog

    350 daniellavine:

    if it is “obvious” then it’s not “obvious” what you mean by “behavior” and you need to define terms.

    Wiki: “Behaviour: “… the response of the system or organism to various stimuli or inputs, whether internal or external, conscious or subconscious, overt or covert, and voluntary or involuntary.”

    My position is that lower-order behaviors are more directly mediated by genes and higher-order behaviors are less directly mediated by genes — and perhaps sometimes not mediated by genes at all.

    And my position is that the behaviours (of any “order”) that result from having large, intelligent brains must be — as least to a sufficient extent — mediated by genes, otherwise those large, intelligent brains would not have evolved.

    But tying my shoelaces is not “on a tight rein from the genes”. [...] So you are wrong, plenty of behaviors are not as you describe them.

    This is why I HAVE REPEATEDLY EMPHASIZED that I AM NOT asserting that EVERY SINGLE behaviour must be genetically controlled. Here is repeat directly from the post you were replying to:

    Nope, because no-one is arguing that *every* *single* aspect of human behaviour is a genetically controlled adaptation. My whole argument is that the behaviour resulting from large, intelligent brains has to have been an adaptation *to* *a* *sufficient* *extent* to give traction for natural selection, and thus for large, intelligent brains to have evolved.

    it really seems like you are arguing that “*every* *single* aspect of human behavior is a genetically controlled adaptation

    I am NOT. I am arguing that A SUFFICIENT FRACTION of the behaviours resulting from large, intelligent brains must be genetic, sufficient to provide traction for natural selection to evolve those brains.

  357. 357
    coelsblog

    352: daniellavine:

    Show that it’s not consistent across cultures by finding examples. It really is pretty easy.

    The trouble is that genes also vary across human populations, so it isn’t quite that easy. I do actually agree that good “rule of thumb” is that that behaviour which is consistent across all known cultures is likely mostly “genetic” and that which varies across known cultures is likely mostly non-genetic (cultural or other environmental), but it is only a rule of thumb.

    Taking your example of eating insects, it is likely that whether this occurs relates to the dfferent availability of different types of food in different places (that is “environmental”, though whether it is “cultural” depends a bit on how you define “culture”).

    Standards for fairness and reciprocity. Do I really need to go on?

    I disagree with you that standards of fairness and reciprocity are purely cultural, it seems that every culture has those notions, and that the cultural differences are variations on a theme. I’d suggest that those notions are classic cases of traits that are both genetic and cultural.

  358. 358
    daniellavine

    coeslblog@356:

    Wiki: “Behaviour: “… the response of the system or organism to various stimuli or inputs, whether internal or external, conscious or subconscious, overt or covert, and voluntary or involuntary.”

    By this definition, “wearing a baseball hat backwards” is also a behavior. It is not mediated by genes. Therefore, it is not obvious that “Behavior Alpha” is also mediated by genes. Try to be more consistent in your arguments. Specificity would probably help.

    And my position is that the behaviours (of any “order”) that result from having large, intelligent brains must be — as least to a sufficient extent — mediated by genes, otherwise those large, intelligent brains would not have evolved.

    So “wearing a baseball hat backwards” is mediated by genes now? Again, more consistency would be nice.

    This is why I HAVE REPEATEDLY EMPHASIZED that I AM NOT asserting that EVERY SINGLE behaviour must be genetically controlled.

    But you have also repeatedly emphasized that you are asserting that every single behavior must be genetically controlled, for example:

    And my position is that the behaviours (of any “order”) that result from having large, intelligent brains must be — as least to a sufficient extent — mediated by genes, otherwise those large, intelligent brains would not have evolved.

    Do you see why it might be hard for me to figure out what you’re actually arguing when you contradict yourself in the space of two sentences?

    I am NOT. I am arguing that A SUFFICIENT FRACTION of the behaviours resulting from large, intelligent brains must be genetic, sufficient to provide traction for natural selection to evolve those brains.

    That’s vague to the point of meaninglessness. What is a “sufficient fraction”? Which behaviors must be genetic? How do you know?

    @357:

    Taking your example of eating insects, it is likely that whether this occurs relates to the dfferent availability of different types of food in different places (that is “environmental”, though whether it is “cultural” depends a bit on how you define “culture”).

    I’ll stick with “environmental” for the sake of argument. Really, cultural has been used here as a stand-in for “not genetic” and so “environmental” seems to me the better term in context. However, insects are available everywhere and are an efficient source of protein no matter what so taboos against eating bugs would seem to be the very opposite of adaptive to me. And yet we have them in a great many cultures.

    This is an especially important example because EP advocates — especially Pinker — like to point to visceral disgust as an indication of genetic mediation rather than environmental mediation. However, the visceral disgust I feel at the idea of eating insects does seem to be purely a function of my environment and not my genes.

    I disagree with you that standards of fairness and reciprocity are purely cultural, it seems that every culture has those notions, and that the cultural differences are variations on a theme. I’d suggest that those notions are classic cases of traits that are both genetic and cultural.

    I disagree with you on this. I thought there was a genetic component until I read about cross-cultural studies involving the ultimatum game. Standards for fairness and reciprocity do seem to vary by culture depending on the economic patterns of the cultures in question.

    You might argue that having standards for fairness and reciprocity is itself a behavior that is mediated by genes but I can easily dispute that too by pointing out that any social animal must have some standard for fairness and reciprocity even if that standard is just “finders keepers”.

  359. 359
    vaiyt

    Strawman alert!

    Tell that to your friends in EP. From my point of view, there’s more scarecrows than corn in them fields.

  360. 360
    vaiyt

    @daniellavine

    This is an especially important example because EP advocates — especially Pinker — like to point to visceral disgust as an indication of genetic mediation rather than environmental mediation. However, the visceral disgust I feel at the idea of eating insects does seem to be purely a function of my environment and not my genes.

    Not to mention it’s kind of… circular? I mean, “Visceral disgust for insects must have been a a biological adaptation, and the evidence for that is… people have a visceral disgust of insects”. I think there’s a step missing here.

    (the step, of course, is to have DIFFERENT evidence besides the end result to show that it is, indeed, adaptation and not something else)

  361. 361
    coelsblog

    358 daniellavine:

    By this definition, “wearing a baseball hat backwards” is also a behavior.

    Agreed.

    It is not mediated by genes.

    Agreed, probably not.

    Therefore, it is not obvious that “Behavior Alpha” is also mediated by genes. Try to be more consistent in your arguments.

    Once again. If you consider the sum of the behaviours resulting from large, intelligent brains, then a sufficient fraction of that {sum of behaviour resulting from large intelligent brains} must be genetic, sufficient to give traction for natural selection to evolve those large, intelligent brains.

    There must be behaviours that are “Behavior Alpha”s as I described, that must be mediated by genes. If there were no such behaviours there would be no traction to evolve large, intelligent brains. This argument is entirely consistent. Are you willfully trying to misunderstand it?

    So “wearing a baseball hat backwards” is mediated by genes now?

    I wouldn’t have thought so. There may be some genetic component of “if you are a teenager, try to be different from adults and like other teenagers”.

    But you have also repeatedly emphasized that you are asserting that every single behavior must be genetically controlled, for example:

    No I am not.

    Me, cited by you: “And my position is that the behaviours (of any “order”) that result from having large, intelligent brains must be — as least to a sufficient extent — mediated by genes, otherwise those large, intelligent brains would not have evolved.”

    The sum of behaviourS (note the plural) must be TO A SUFFICIENT EXTENT mediated by genes. That refers to *some* *fraction* of the set {behaviourS resulting from large, intelligent brains}.

    Do you see why it might be hard for me to figure out what you’re actually arguing when you contradict yourself in the space of two sentences?

    There really is no contradiction.

    What is a “sufficient fraction”?

    If you’re asking what percentage, I don’t know. But it must be sufficient to give traction for natural selection. Large, intelligent brains are hugely expensive, there must have been a strong selective benefit to evolving them. That can only have occured if a significant fraction of the behaviour that they produce is advantageous to the genes for large, intelligent brains. This argument is independent of me knowing what that fraction actually is.

    Which behaviors must be genetic?

    I don’t know. And the above argument — that there must be such behaviours — is independent of knowing the specifics of which specific behaviours.

  362. 362
    daniellavine

    There must be behaviours that are “Behavior Alpha”s as I described, that must be mediated by genes. If there were no such behaviours there would be no traction to evolve large, intelligent brains. This argument is entirely consistent.

    The argument made by three or four people now is that there is no particular “Behavior Alpha” under genetic control that is “providing traction”. Rather, the behavioral flexibility — the very opposite of behavior specified by genes — allowed by the larger brain is what is adaptive rather than any particular behavior or set of behaviors. In response you just keep asserting that there must be such a “Behavior Alpha”. Insisting on it over and over does not make it so nor will it convince anyone skeptical of your assumptions. Are you willfully misunderstanding that argument? Because it contradicts yours and all you’ve done to get around it is to assert that your assumptions must be correct because Darwin or something.

    There may be some genetic component of “if you are a teenager, try to be different from adults and like other teenagers”.

    That seems like exactly the sort of idle, irresponsible speculation to which critics of EP are objecting. Also, I don’t like the way you’re insisting that higher-order behaviors “just are” equivalent to some lower-order behavior on which they’re predicated. Just because skiing requires legs and “having legs” is genetically mediated does not mean that I have a genetic predisposition towards downhill skiing.

    If you’re asking what percentage, I don’t know. But it must be sufficient to give traction for natural selection. Large, intelligent brains are hugely expensive, there must have been a strong selective benefit to evolving them. That can only have occured if a significant fraction of the behaviour that they produce is advantageous to the genes for large, intelligent brains. This argument is independent of me knowing what that fraction actually is.

    Same as the skiing problem. The rebuttal to your argument made several times and never addressed by you — ONCE AGAIN — is that there is no particular “significant fraction of the behavior” that is genetically mediated that makes larger brains adaptive. Instead, it might be that the larger brain allows more flexibility — the very opposite of genetically-determined behavior — and that’s what makes it adaptive. And no, I’m not asking you for a percentage, I’m asking for more specificity regarding what you think these crucial adaptive behaviors are in the first place.

    You can’t just hand-wave this argument away by saying “sufficient traction” over and over.

    I don’t know. And the above argument — that there must be such behaviours — is independent of knowing the specifics of which specific behaviours.

    And it doesn’t follow because you haven’t dealt with the very serious objection to it brought up several times now by several different people.

  363. 363
    coelsblog

    358: daniellavine:

    However, the visceral disgust I feel at the idea of eating insects does seem to be purely a function of my environment and not my genes.

    I could readily accept that insect-eating taboos are indeed purely arbitrary cultural taboos. That doesn’t, though, fully rule out genetically controlled visceral disgust.

    It’s possible that (1) we have an evolved (genetic) visceral disgust to eating any unfamiliar animal as food (as a protection mechanism). (2) This is over-ridden in dire emergency (try new things or starve). (3) If it’s over-ridden in the case of insects then it can become familar and thus (1) no longer applies. (4) This over-riding would be far more likely in places with, say, locust plagues, places/times where large insects are abundant and there is little alternative food. (5) This over-riding is much less likely in areas of the world were insects tend to be small, and don’t swarm in plagues, where the benefit of eating them would be small.

    Now I realise that I’m now going to be jumped on for a lot of unevidenced hypothesizing. But this sort of scenario illustrates how such things MIGHT be complex mixtures of (a) purely cultural factors, (b) environmental factors, such as nature of local insects, and (c) genetically programmed factors such as disgust.

    Yes, this COULD all be purely cultural. I’m not saying it can’t be. But it’s not quite that easy to be sure. In a lot of things it’s likely that all of (a), (b) and (c) are important.

    Note also that my above scenario gives a prediction. It says that insect eating would be most prevalent in places where (over history) there tends to have been food shortages accompanied by plagues of relatively large insects. I have no idea whether that is the case, having not looked into it, but if that correlation doesn’t hold I’ll readily ditch the above scenario as falsified.

  364. 364
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Now I realise that I’m now going to be jumped on for a lot of unevidenced hypothesizing.

    Right, that being a sophist philosopher, not a scientist, and we are trying to have a scientific discussion. Which mean abandoning hypotheticals, possibilities, presuppositions, and look at what can be shown with evidence.

    Yes, this COULD all be purely cultural. I’m not saying it can’t be. But it’s not quite that easy to be sure

    Actually it is. There is no genetic component you can demonstrate. QED.

  365. 365
    coelsblog

    362: daniellavine:

    The argument made by three or four people now is that there is no particular “Behavior Alpha” under genetic control that is “providing traction”. Rather, the behavioral flexibility — the very opposite of behavior specified by genes — allowed by the larger brain is what is adaptive rather than any particular behavior or set of behaviors. In response you just keep asserting that there must be such a “Behavior Alpha”.

    Behavior Alpha ***IS*** behavioural flexibility! That’s how I defined it. I entirely agree that the behavioral flexibility is what is adaptive.

    But that is NOT the same as saying that “behavioral flexibility” is “the very opposite of behavior specified by genes”, rather I’m saying that the behavioral flexibility is EXACTLY the behaviour specified by genes.

    Only if that behavioral flexibility WERE specified by genes could it have evolved.

    The point is that the behavioural flexibility cannot be arbitrary, it cannot be a dice throw, it cannot be unrelated to survival and leaving descendants. The only way it could have evolved is if it was promoting the interests of the genes that programmed it.

    Thus the genes cannot have said: “go and be flexible, and it doesn’t matter what behaviours the flexibility results in, choose your decisions however you like, up to you culture, no business of ours”.

    The genes must have said: “go and be flexible, we give you the flexibility to make choices, but we program your choice-making apparatus in such a way that your choices advance our interests. We leave the on-the-spot decision to *you*, dear brain, since you have the on-the-spot knowledge of local circumstances that we don’t, but your choice-making module is something we program — that choice-making module is under selective pressure, because we genes are under selective pressure, and thus many of the choices you make are to a great extent under our control”.

  366. 366
    Jacob Schmidt

    Once again. If you consider the sum of the behaviours resulting from large, intelligent brains, then a sufficient fraction of that {sum of behaviour resulting from large intelligent brains} must be genetic, sufficient to give traction for natural selection to evolve those large, intelligent brains.

    uh… no. Were we living in the environment in which our brains evolved, then you’d have a point. But we don’t; our environment is vastly different (when was that last time you slept in the rain?).

    It’s possible that (1) we have an evolved (genetic) visceral disgust to eating any unfamiliar animal as food (as a protection mechanism).

    Then we’ve gone from disgust with insects to disgust with the unfamiliar. There may be a genetic factor informing our behaviour, but not our behaviour towards insects specifically. Therefor, a genetic basis for disgust with insects specifically is pretty much ruled out.

  367. 367
    coelsblog

    364 Nerd:

    we are trying to have a scientific discussion. Which mean abandoning hypotheticals, possibilities, presuppositions, and look at what can be shown with evidence.

    Nerd, if you are indeed a scientist of many years’ standing, how come you don’t think like one? *Of* *course* theorising, hypothesizing, possibilities, thought experiments, deductions from reason, et cetera, are all part of science! Though, of course, one doesn’t claim *conclusions* without evidence.

    Would you say that Einstein was being hopelessly unscientific when he spent all his time with “hypotheticals, possibilities, presuppositions”, thinking through thought experiments, wondering what it would be like to be travelling alongside a light beam, wondering about the implications of different theories, et cetera?

  368. 368
    daniellavine

    colesblog@363:

    It has nothing to do with “emergencies”. Children brought up eating insects have no problems eating insects and children not brought up eating insects do have problems with it. There’s no reason to posit “overriding” anything — the evidence at hand simply doesn’t have anything to do with desperation or starvation or anything like that — just the local cultural environment.

    This seems to be a child development issue, and here’s where we get into the interesting part about the effects of genes on behavior. There’s a period early in a child’s life when the child will happily try just about any sort of food given to them by a parent. Then there is usually a period where the child gets much more picky and begins to display disgust at the prospect of unfamiliar foods.

    ref

    (Interestingly, that study also argues that fear of “contamination” is a culturally-acquired knowledge-based skill, not a genetic predisposition. The latter position has been argued by none other than Steven Pinker. Are you starting to understand why there’s so many objections to EP theorizing yet?)

    I would say it’s quite likely that the overall pattern — openness to food followed by pickiness during different phases of child development — is mediated by genes. However, which foods are taken to be good and which are taken to be disgusting seems to be almost entirely cultural (as argued in the paper just referenced).

    The point here is that the relationship of behaviors (eating foods) to the genes controlling it is not necessarily what one would expect if one just started naively hypothesizing about it without any data to work from — as evidenced by your own naive hypothesis. And what we are criticizing about EP is this same naive hypothesizing in the absence of any clear mechanism or evidence. The connections between genes and behavior can be very distant and convoluted. Eating is, of course, something we are genetically predisposed to do. What we eat seems to be almost entirely conditioned by environment.

    Note that we were eating long before we evolved large brains.

    Once more, I request that you give an example of a well-supported finding of EP and cite a study demonstrating it. It’s really tiresome arguing against the same vague, unevidenced assertions over and over.

  369. 369
    coelsblog

    366 Jacob Schmidt:

    Were we living in the environment in which our brains evolved, then you’d have a point.

    OK, are you then willing to accept that I have a point concerning everyone over the period ~ 6 million years ago to relatively recently (let’s say 10,000 yrs), the time over which human brains went from chimp sized to current size, and during which lifestyle changes were relativily slow?

    There may be a genetic factor informing our behaviour, but not our behaviour towards insects specifically. Therefor, a genetic basis for disgust with insects specifically is pretty much ruled out.

    Yes, ok, a genetic basis for disgust with insects SPECIFICALLY might indeed be ruled out, but it might also be a culturally-dependent and environment-dependent consequence of a more general genetic rule.

    This sort of COMBINATION of genetic, cultural and environmental factors is exactly what, all along, I’ve all been arguing to be quite likely.

  370. 370
    coelsblog

    368: daniellavine:

    I would say it’s quite likely that the overall pattern — openness to food followed by pickiness during different phases of child development — is mediated by genes.

    What you’re arguing for here seems to me entirely consistent with what I suggested in #363. It adds a definition of “familar” (presented by parents in early childhood) and “unfamiliar” (not presented by parents in early childhood) food stuffs. And that definition can be used in my (1). The rest of the scenario can then explain why some cultures end up eating insects and others don’t.

  371. 371
    Jacob Schmidt

    OK, are you then willing to accept that I have a point concerning everyone over the period ~ 6 million years ago to relatively recently (let’s say 10,000 yrs), the time over which human brains went from chimp sized to current size, and during which lifestyle changes were relativily slow?

    No. Mostly because there’s no discernible point in that paragraph. Yeah, lifestyle changes happened slowly compared to the 300 years of industrialization we just went through.

    This sort of COMBINATION of genetic, cultural and environmental factors is exactly what, all along, I’ve all been arguing to be quite likely.

    And it’s not something we contradicted, so I don’t see why you’re wasting your time (this sort of combination is what I meant about the egg being a binder).

  372. 372
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @coelsblog

    We were discussing those behaviours which are products of intelligence. High intelligence would not be selected for (and so could not have evolved) unless it resulted in behaviours (behaviours that then caused more descendants).

    High intelligence = the ability to solve problems. Is problem solving a behaviour? I’d have said it was an ability.

    It is also bad science to merely declare a particular behaviour to NOT be adaptive and be purely cultural when no such thing has been proven.

    I agree entirely, but I know of no Evo Psych people that do that. Admittedly I’ve not read many papers, but the trend seems to be assuming adaptive-ness without proving it. PZ, who has read many, agrees with that conclusion.

    Is that so, or is that a strawman? Can you quote evo-psych advocates explicitly stating that everything must be adaptive and refusing to consider that something may be non-adaptive?

    I never actually said Evo Psych people say everything is adaptive. Who’s straw man-ing now? I said I have never seen an example of Evo psych people coming to the conclusion that any behavioural trait is anything other than adaptive. More to the point, I have never seen one bother to prove that a trait is adaptive.

    …Because every advocate of evo-psych that I’ve read (and I’ve read many critics of it, such as PZ, and many defenses of it) would not only agree wholeheartedly but consider that statement to be blindingly obvious.

    They certainly appear to pay lip service to such an ideal, but I’ve never yet seen one bother to prove the trait they are discussing is adaptive. There’s a lot of “Well, this would have been developed because on the African Savannah we would have needed such a trait to X, Y, Z…” (i.e. plausible explanations for the purpose of such a trait), but they never bother to actually prove it’s adaptive before coming up with said explanation; at least in my experience. So in practice, they do not follow such an ideal.

  373. 373
    daniellavine

    Behavior Alpha ***IS*** behavioural flexibility! That’s how I defined it. I entirely agree that the behavioral flexibility is what is adaptive.

    But that is NOT the same as saying that “behavioral flexibility” is “the very opposite of behavior specified by genes”, rather I’m saying that the behavioral flexibility is EXACTLY the behaviour specified by genes.

    This seems like much more of a semantic game to me than the distinction between lungs and behaviors that you objected to earlier. The point of flexibility is that it is the opposite of specificity. You can’t specify flexibility because flexibility is the opposite of specificity. You can allow flexibility — but you’re arguing that genes provide some kind of “programming”. That seems to me just the opposite of “flexibility”.

    The point is that the behavioural flexibility cannot be arbitrary, it cannot be a dice throw, it cannot be unrelated to survival and leaving descendants. The only way it could have evolved is if it was promoting the interests of the genes that programmed it.

    No one argued that it’s a “dice throw”. The idea here — rather obvious, I would think — is that it starts off fairly arbitrary and then the behaviors that work and don’t work are learned. If you compare the behaviors of infants, toddlers, young children, adolescents, and adults you can even see that the behaviors start off fairly arbitrary and become less and less so as the person learns what works and what doesn’t.

    And no, learning doesn’t seem to be in control of genes either. What works in one environment often doesn’t work in another and so what is learned is — once again! — a function of the environment rather than genes.

    The genes must have said: “go and be flexible, we give you the flexibility to make choices, but we program your choice-making apparatus in such a way that your choices advance our interests. We leave the on-the-spot decision to *you*, dear brain, since you have the on-the-spot knowledge of local circumstances that we don’t, but your choice-making module is something we program — that choice-making module is under selective pressure, because we genes are under selective pressure, and thus many of the choices you make are to a great extent under our control”.

    1. You have no evidence that there is a “choice-making apparatus” or “choice-making module”.
    2. You have no knowledge of the nature of this “choice-making module” (assuming it exists in the first place) — whether it is “programmed by genes” as asserted here or conditioned by environment as I argued above.
    3. Even if we make charitable assumptions for you with (1) and (2), you still can’t say for sure that this “choice-making module” is actually under selective pressure in a Darwinian sense. I argued above that the choices that are made are a function of the environment rather than genes.

    Incidentally, when people learn what doesn’t work they pass that along culturally. For example, an aversion to a poisonous berry might very well have been learned by watching someone else eat the berry and get sick — there’s no need to assume any part of the aversion to berries is genetic rather than environmental.

  374. 374
    daniellavine

    @370:

    What you’re arguing for here seems to me entirely consistent with what I suggested in #363.

    It seems very different to me. Yours is predicated on the idea that aversions are “programmed by genes” but that programming can be “overridden” in the very narrow case of starvation. My account does not make any such assumptions and is based on actual research in child development rather than pulled out of my ass whole-cloth.

  375. 375
    daniellavine

    Once again, since you are defending EP why don’t you just provide an example of what you would consider good EP so that you can prove us all wrong right away without all this dickering around with your vague, question-begging assertions?

  376. 376
    daniellavine

    Oh, BTW, my account of child development and diet makes different predictions from yours. This means that evidence against your account would not necessarily constitute evidence against my account (and vice versa). That’s a very salient inconsistency between the two accounts since I think we can both agree that empirical evidence is what’s really important in deciding things like this.

  377. 377
    vaiyt

    Once again. If you consider the sum of the behaviours resulting from large, intelligent brains, then a sufficient fraction of that {sum of behaviour resulting from large intelligent brains} must be genetic, sufficient to give traction for natural selection to evolve those large, intelligent brains.

    Well, then YOU go back to the evolutionary psychologists who are happily considering SPECIFIC behaviors to be adaptive while completely ignoring the plasticity of large brains, and try to convince THEM they’re wrong.

  378. 378
    coelsblog

    368: daniellavine:

    Eating is, of course, something we are genetically predisposed to do. What we eat seems to be almost entirely conditioned by environment.

    Well not quite. For example, what is the most abundant foodstuff? Grass and leaves. We don’t eat them (in any culture really). That is surely for physiological (and thus genetic) reasons, namely that it doesn’t benefit us. We can’t digest cellulose and thus we have to eat loads and loads of grass to get any nutrition from it.

    But, if food choice were cultural and unrelated to genes, then why wouldn’t some cultures make it a significant feature of their diet? Afterall it’s abundant. The answer to this is presumably that our choices are under biological control and are not purely cultural.

    Given that for most of our evolutionary heritage food would have often been in short supply, and the limiting factor in who survived, it makes sense that we’d have evolved to eat all available foodstuffs tat do benefit us, but with the proviso that foods not tested to be safe by familiarity are suspect and possibly dangerous.

  379. 379
    coelsblog

    374: daniellavine:

    Yours is predicated on the idea that aversions are “programmed by genes” but that programming can be “overridden” in the very narrow case of starvation.

    No, I was not saying that specific aversion would be specified by genes, I was saying that the genetic rule would be aversion to *unfamiliar* foodstuffs (where “unfamiliar” can be, as you’ve outlined, foods not presented to you by your parents in early childhood).

    374: vaiyt

    Well, then YOU go back to the evolutionary psychologists who are happily considering SPECIFIC behaviors to be adaptive …

    There is nothing wrong with making a *hypothesis* that something is adaptive, *if* you then use that hypothesis to generate predictions, and then test those predictions, and only start liking the hypothesis if and when it has been demonstrated to have predictive power. That is what EP is often trying to do. I’m quite willing to accept that they often do it badly, but that method is not wrong in principle.

  380. 380
    daniellavine

    Well not quite. For example, what is the most abundant foodstuff? Grass and leaves. We don’t eat them (in any culture really). That is surely for physiological (and thus genetic) reasons, namely that it doesn’t benefit us. We can’t digest cellulose and thus we have to eat loads and loads of grass to get any nutrition from it.

    Then why do people eat so much spinach, lettuce, and other assorted greens? Not all people do this — some cultures don’t eat many greens at all.

    But, if food choice were cultural and unrelated to genes, then why wouldn’t some cultures make it a significant feature of their diet? Afterall it’s abundant. The answer to this is presumably that our choices are under biological control and are not purely cultural.

    This is the skiing problem again. Yes, of course — we have nutritional needs that are ultimately the result of our genes. That is not the same as saying we are genetically predisposed towards certain behaviors any more than “having legs” makes us genetically predisposed to “downhill skiing”. Maybe you could teach an infant to eat only grass and leaves but every infant trained like that would die and would not pass it on to offspring. Again as with my poison berries example there is no reason to assume that this is due to genetics rather than environment — learning what works (keeps you alive) and what doesn’t.

    Given that for most of our evolutionary heritage food would have often been in short supply, and the limiting factor in who survived, it makes sense that we’d have evolved to eat all available foodstuffs tat do benefit us, but with the proviso that foods not tested to be safe by familiarity are suspect and possibly dangerous.

    Sure, the child-developmental pattern is probably determined by genetics as I already said. But this seems to be a long way from what you’re arguing wrt the validity of EP.

    I’m sick of your semantic foolery. Pick a well-supported EP thesis and defend it using citations. That’s the only sort of argument I’ll respond to at this point other than to clarify where you might be misunderstanding my arguments.

  381. 381
    daniellavine

    No, I was not saying that specific aversion would be specified by genes, I was saying that the genetic rule would be aversion to *unfamiliar* foodstuffs (where “unfamiliar” can be, as you’ve outlined, foods not presented to you by your parents in early childhood).

    In that case, the behaviors in question are not at all mediated by genetics and you have abandoned your initial position without noting it.

  382. 382
    daniellavine

    Never mind 381, but I maintain that this:

    It’s possible that (1) we have an evolved (genetic) visceral disgust to eating any unfamiliar animal as food (as a protection mechanism). (2) This is over-ridden in dire emergency (try new things or starve). (3) If it’s over-ridden in the case of insects then it can become familar and thus (1) no longer applies. (4) This over-riding would be far more likely in places with, say, locust plagues, places/times where large insects are abundant and there is little alternative food. (5) This over-riding is much less likely in areas of the world were insects tend to be small, and don’t swarm in plagues, where the benefit of eating them would be small.

    is not, in fact, consistent with my account due to (2), (3), (4), and (5), none of which apply in my account.

    Furthermore, it’s not necessary that we evolved “visceral disgust” — it could have been (and almost certainly was) pre-existing in our lineage before the advent of the human mind.

    You still haven’t dealt with what I’m calling “the skiing problem” — you’re conflating higher-order behaviors with lower-order to maintain your thesis that “some of” our behaviors are genetically predetermined. Again, your arguments are so vague as to be almost meaningless.

  383. 383
    coelsblog

    373: daniellavine:

    The point of flexibility is that it is the opposite of specificity. You can’t specify flexibility because flexibility is the opposite of specificity.

    “Specify” = “state a requirement”. Here’s how to specify inflexibility:

    * Always go outdoors wearing a vest, shirt, jacket and coat.

    Here is how to specify a more flexible behaviour:

    * If temp > 25 deg, go outdoors in one thin layer, if 15 < temp < 25, go outdoors wearing two layers, etc etc. (Celsius by the way).

    I am suggesting that what large, intelligent brains are there to do (why genes programmed them, why they evolved) is this sort of specified, flexible behaviour.

    The idea here … is that it starts off fairly arbitrary and then the behaviors that work and don’t work are learned.

    First, development and learning are among the things that genes program. (Human childhood, learning and nurturing are not arbitrary). Second, your suggestion requires a criterion for what “works” and what “doesn’t work”. Those criteria must derive from genes (where else?).

    And no, learning doesn’t seem to be in control of genes either. What works in one environment often doesn’t work in another and so what is learned is — once again! — a function of the environment rather than genes.

    You mean that this is simply an extra layer of flexibility, and extra learning level, programmed by the genes.

    You have no evidence that there is a “choice-making apparatus” or “choice-making module”.

    Yes I do: human brains make choices.

    2. You have no knowledge of the nature of this “choice-making module” (assuming it exists in the first place) — whether it is “programmed by genes” as asserted here or conditioned by environment as I argued above.

    See my oft-repeated argument. This choice-making behaviour resulting from large, intelligent brains must have been under genetic control to give traction for natural selection to evolve those brains and that behaviour.

    3. Even if we make charitable assumptions for you with (1) and (2), you still can’t say for sure that this “choice-making module” is actually under selective pressure in a Darwinian sense.

    Yes we can, see last answer.

    For example, an aversion to a poisonous berry might very well have been learned by watching someone else eat the berry and get sick — there’s no need to assume any part of the aversion to berries is genetic rather than environmental.

    I entirely agree that the *aversion to berries* would not be genetically specifed, but the rule “if you see someone get sick the food is dubious” could well be. Thus the specific behaviour could well be an environmental switch acting on a more general genetic scaffold.

    The common human response of feeling nauseous if they see someone vomiting could well be a genetic response (arising from the likelihood of them having recently eaten the same foodstuff as a nearby person).

  384. 384
    daniellavine

    I am suggesting that what large, intelligent brains are there to do (why genes programmed them, why they evolved) is this sort of specified, flexible behaviour.

    “A choice of beverage” is still not itself a beverage. Behavioral flexibility is still not itself a “behavior” that can be “programmed”. Your example does not seem representative of the flexibility of human cognition to me.

    First, development and learning are among the things that genes program. (Human childhood, learning and nurturing are not arbitrary). Second, your suggestion requires a criterion for what “works” and what “doesn’t work”. Those criteria must derive from genes (where else?).

    1. Development is, learning is not. The capacity to learn is, but again, “a choice of beverage” is not itself a beverage.
    2. Learning does seem to be to a large extent arbitrary.
    3. Yes, of course the “criteria” derive from genes in some sense, but then we’re back to the skiing problem which you still haven’t dealt with.

    You mean that this is simply an extra layer of flexibility, and extra learning level, programmed by the genes.

    No, I reject that characterization. Learning is “programming” the brain through experience, not genes. I don’t see what’s “extra” about the “learning level” either.

    Yes I do: human brains make choices.

    That’s not the same as saying “there is choice-making module” unless the term “module” is completely meaningless.

    Yes we can, see last answer.

    No you can’t, see poison berries example.

    I entirely agree that the *aversion to berries* would not be genetically specifed, but the rule “if you see someone get sick the food is dubious” could well be.

    Could be but isn’t necessarily. “If you seem someone get sick don’t eat that food” could also be learned rather than “genetically specified.” This is the whole point of the argument: you cannot just assume various behaviors or aspects of behaviors are “genetically specified” when they could just as easily be learned.

    Thus the specific behaviour could well be an environmental switch acting on a more general genetic scaffold.

    And obviously that’s always true to some extent. It’s just the skiing problem again. If that’s really all you’re arguing then it really is a trivial assertion.

    The common human response of feeling nauseous if they see someone vomiting could well be a genetic response (arising from the likelihood of them having recently eaten the same foodstuff as a nearby person).

    I don’t feel nauseated when I see someone vomiting. Does that indicate that I’m a genetic anomaly or that this is an environmentally-determined behavior?

  385. 385
    coelsblog

    382 daniellavine:

    This … is not, in fact, consistent with my account due to (2), (3), (4), and (5), none of which apply in my account.

    They don’t *apply* in your account but are still *consistent* with it. Your account gives no explanation of why one culture/region might eat insects while enother does not. Mine does, it makes predictions. We could test the prediction. If the pattern that my scenario implies is not consistent with the evidence then I’ll readily ditch my scenario as falsified.

    Furthermore, it’s not necessary that we evolved “visceral disgust” — it could have been (and almost certainly was) pre-existing in our lineage before the advent of the human mind.

    I agree. I don’t see why that is a problem for my scenario. “Disgust” is indeed likely old in evolutionary terms, and likely evolved first for things like excrement, vomit and putrid meat. The application of it to unfamiliar foodstuffs may have come later (of course it may still pre-date humans, lots of animals can show suspicion about food stuffs they’re unfamiliar with).

    You still haven’t dealt with what I’m calling “the skiing problem” — you’re conflating higher-order behaviors with lower-order to maintain your thesis that “some of” our behaviors are genetically predetermined.

    Why does it matter? My argument is independent of what “order” the behaviours are. It only depends on their being behaviours resulting from large, intelligent brains that are (at least to quite an extent) under genetic control.

  386. 386
    daniellavine

    They don’t *apply* in your account but are still *consistent* with it.

    Disagree; (2), (3), (4), and (5) contradict my account. They are not consistent with it.

    I agree. I don’t see why that is a problem for my scenario.

    Because you’re arguing that aspects of human behavior are “genetically determined”. Well, sure, in the skiing problem sense that my ability to ski is “genetically determined” by the fact that I have legs. Again, if that’s what you’re arguing it’s incredibly trivial and doesn’t amount to much of a defense of EP.

    Why does it matter? My argument is independent of what “order” the behaviours are. It only depends on their being behaviours resulting from large, intelligent brains that are (at least to quite an extent) under genetic control.

    It matters because if “wearing a baseball hat backwards” — a high order behavior — is, by your argument, “genetically controlled” then your claims are essentially trivial. In the skiing problem sense, all behaviors are “genetically controlled” because without genes there would be no behavior. Not exactly a breath-taking revelation.

    I’ve been arguing with “quite an extent” this entire time. If you want to make it more precise go for it, but it seems to me that there is very little “genetic control” over human behavior except in the trivial skiing problem sense.

  387. 387
    daniellavine

    The argument so far:

    CB: Human behavior is to a large extent determined by genetics.

    DL: It seems to me human behavior is largely independent of genetics, for example X, Y, and Z.

    CB: Ah HA! But X, Y, and Z all depend on W, which is determined by genetics and therefore X, Y, and Z are also in some sense determined by genetics.

    DL: Actually, I don’t think W is determined by genetics either because of S, R, and T. Though admittedly, S and T are both determined by genetics.

    CB: Ah HA! So human behavior is largely determined by genetics!

    ::sound of me pounding my head against a desk::

  388. 388
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    DL, you are dealing with a presuppositionalist. He won’t allow himself to be proven wrong no matter what evidence is presented. Otherwise, he would:

    Define behavior precisely as is used in this discussion.
    Define genetic adaption as is used precisely in this discussion.
    Define cultural/environment adaption precisely as is used in this dicussion.
    Define the methodology to assess and assign cultural/environmental contributions.
    Define the methodology to assess and assign genetic contributions.
    Remove from the discussion the presupposition all behavior is genetic.
    Allow himself to be wrong, because until he can be wrong, he can’t be right.

  389. 389
    coelsblog

    384: daniellavine

    Behavioral flexibility is still not itself a “behavior” that can be “programmed”.

    Yes it is.

    Your example does not seem representative of the flexibility of human cognition to me.

    It was deliberately a very simple example to illustrate the point. A chess-playing computer is a good example of programmed flexibility. It doesn’t always make the same move, it chooses its move depending on the position and on what the opponent does. It is still programmed. I suggest that this is what the brain is doing — to a large extent, having been programmed to choose options depending on the local circumstances.

    This is the whole point of the argument: you cannot just assume various behaviors or aspects of behaviors are “genetically specified” when they could just as easily be learned.

    I agree. And nor can you just assume that various behaviours are independent of genes when they there might well be substantial genetic programming for that behaviour.

    That’s not the same as saying “there is choice-making module” unless the term “module” is completely meaningless.

    The term “module” here is defined in *functional* terms, it means the aspects of the brain resulting in that choice-decision (this is one problem with PZ’s OP, not realising that “module” is a functional concept, not a spatial one nor one about particular groups of neurons). That is not the same as identifying the “module” with the whole brain, since different “modules” of the brains might be acting semi-independently.

  390. 390
    Kagehi

    Argh! And around and around we go… Seriously, is anyone else getting to the point where they think that the argument “for” EP could be comparable to someone, prior to the development of GPUs, claiming that the mere existence of the game “Doom” proved that the people who developed the computers of the time “intended” 3D gaming as a consequence? Because, this is just nuts. They keep trying to shove everything, even if it might be an entirely a side effect, and purely accidentally beneficial, of an actual developmental change, into the, “There is a gene for it!” box. Because, you know, since neither they, nor anyone else, has damn clue if it was, that box is the one that makes the sense to put it in… :eyeroll: And, that makes just about as much bloody sense as claiming that most trees have branches that are parallel to the ground, because they “evolved” for things to climb them. After all, they wouldn’t be that way, if having things climb them wasn’t somehow “adaptive” right? :head-desk:

  391. 391
    daniellavine

    Martin Boudry described a type of “epistemic defense mechanism” which he claims is used by, for example, Freudian psychoanalysts, in which a significant claim is made. However, when the claim is challenged the claimant subtly redefines terms in such a way that the claim becomes highly defensible — but also becomes no longer significant, surprising or interesting. Based on my discussion here with coelsblog, EP would seem to have this in common with Freudian psychoanalysis.

    coelsblog@389:

    Yes it is.

    Oh, another bald assertion. How convincing. /s

    A chess-playing computer is a good example of programmed flexibility. It doesn’t always make the same move, it chooses its move depending on the position and on what the opponent does.

    Most chess-playing algorithms choose a move based on the position and not on what the opponent does, and most of them do, in fact, make the same move on the same position. Chess grandmasters will usually also make the same play on the same position — the exceptions are rare and thoroughly documented.

    I suggest that this is what the brain is doing — to a large extent, having been programmed to choose options depending on the local circumstances.

    If you mean this in a vague way — that genes generate the developmental conditions that cause are brains to grow — then I agree, but it is an uninteresting and unsurprising claim. If you mean this in a specific way — that the genes actually program our brains to make specific decisions — then I disagree.

    I agree. And nor can you just assume that various behaviours are independent of genes when they there might well be substantial genetic programming for that behaviour.

    In a trivial sense, all behaviors are predicated on “substantial genetic programming.” In a more interesting sense, almost all behaviors seem to be independent of genetics to me. You have yet to adduce any specific examples that would convince me otherwise and your arguments are too vague to convince anyone of anything.

    The term “module” here is defined in *functional* terms, it means the aspects of the brain resulting in that choice-decision (this is one problem with PZ’s OP, not realising that “module” is a functional concept, not a spatial one nor one about particular groups of neurons). That is not the same as identifying the “module” with the whole brain, since different “modules” of the brains might be acting semi-independently.

    Another example of a claim that is either trivial or false. Either “module” means something in which case this is an interesting but probably false claim, or it doesn’t in which case it is true but uninteresting.

    An example: I can claim that my computer has a “web page rendering module”. This claim is false if it’s meant to convey anything about how the computer actually renders web pages but it is true if it is just a fancy-sounding way of saying “my computer renders web pages.”

  392. 392
    coelsblog

    390: Kagehi

    If the flexible, choice-making behaviour that results from large, intelligent brains is a by-product, then what is the product? What is it about large, intelligent brains that is being selected for, such that they evolved?

    I asked this question way up-thread and (unless I missed it) nobody has answered. Large intelligent brains are hugely expensive, so there must have been considerable selection pressure towards them. What aspect of phenotype were they selected *for*?

  393. 393
    Kagehi

    Would you say that Einstein was being hopelessly unscientific when he spent all his time with “hypotheticals, possibilities, presuppositions”, thinking through thought experiments, wondering what it would be like to be travelling alongside a light beam, wondering about the implications of different theories, et cetera?

    If he had been doing it without at least being able to show some math, to indicate what was going on, then a) hell yes it would have been unscientific, and b) he probably wouldn’t have either 1) actually come up with near as much useful stuff at all, or 2) been seen as someone that did more than get bloody lucky about a few things. In short, he would have been a complete quack. But then, again, we are right back to the difference between what he did, and what EP does, which is in case #1, actually show the bloody math, and in case #2, propose some new sort of math, which they can’t define, or describe, or show has any relevance at all, then insist that, therefor, logically, 1 + 1 = 3464363.

  394. 394
    daniellavine

    coelsblog@392:

    Are opposable thumbs a “behavior” under your definition of “behavior”?

    If so then yes, behavioral flexibility would seem to be a “behavior” but only by stretching the definition of “behavior” so far as to arrive at completely absurd notions of what constitutes a “behavior”.

    If no, then the phenotype itself is behavioral flexibility which is not itself a behavior any more than a choice of beverage is itself a beverage.

    I’ll note your question was answered multiple times. Apparently you’re acting like it wasn’t because you didn’t like the answers you got.

  395. 395
    daniellavine

    And I’ll just mention again that this defense of EP has not yielded a single example of a defensible claim made by EP research.

  396. 396
    Kagehi

    If the flexible, choice-making behaviour that results from large, intelligent brains is a by-product, then what is the product? What is it about large, intelligent brains that is being selected for, such that they evolved?

    Sigh.. If we are going to continue with a computer analogy, then the “product” of such a computer is, “A wide level of flexibility, augmented by some specialized modules, which make this easier.” Pretty much **everything** beyond this, which you do with one, is a “by-product”.

    So, with a brain – well, obviously you have a shit load of stuff that is shared, like the need to be able to see, move, vocalize sounds, etc. Bigger means you can do more with these things, but it ***does no follow*** that every single bloody thing you do with it, “must be” adaptive, instead of “by-product”, much like with the computer. If you think something isn’t, then you need evidence for that, not hand waving.

  397. 397
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    There is nothing wrong with hypotheticals if they are used to define where/what evidence one needs to show the desired results. The hard work is in gather the evidence to back up the hypotheticals. Take warm-blooded dinosaurs. If they were warm blooded, then we should see X, Y and Z in the bone morphology. Paleontologist looked at bones. Some had it some didn’t, so not all dinosaurs were warm blooded. Yes, the hypothetical was shown to be true for some dinosaurs, only after the work was done.

    The EP folks use the hypotheticals as creationists do the presuppositions that their imaginary deity exists and their babble is inerrant. Simply a placeholder to avoid doing any work to show they are right. Then they complain when their sloppy work is criticized.

  398. 398
    Marcus Ranum

    And I’ll just mention again that this defense of EP has not yielded a single example of a defensible claim made by EP research.

    Funny you mention that. I just read through the whole thread, thinking surely someone would cough up something that wasn’t just a hypothetical.

    This is starting to remind me of the religious; after 2000 years of making arguments for the reality of god, the best they can come up with is (still) the ontological argument. Wow. In 2000 years there won’t even be evolutionary psychology – there probably won’t even be psychology, unless that becomes the term for “applied neuroscience” or something like that. How long have the EP researchers been at this? I’d expect some breakthroughs by now, rather than hypotheticals in blog postings.

  399. 399
    vaiyt

    It’s possible that (1) we have an evolved (genetic) visceral disgust to eating any unfamiliar animal as food (as a protection mechanism).

    It’s a possibility, but you still need to find independent evidence to avoid the circularity of using visceral disgust in humans as evidence that we have evolved visceral disgust in humans.

  400. 400
    cim

    coelsblog/383:

    * If temp > 25 deg, go outdoors in one thin layer, if 15 < temp < 25, go outdoors wearing two layers, etc etc. (Celsius by the way).

    Now, there’s an interesting one. Humans can survive in a massive environmental temperature range, from fifty degrees below freezing to fifty degrees above it (and beyond, in both directions).

    This is all accomplished through the use of our large brains. No other mammal – barely any other living thing at all! – has such a wide range. And the wide temperature range is clearly evolutionarily advantageous.

    Hypothesis 1: our genes code for a range of temperature survival behaviours, from which our brains are then able to select the appropriate one for the circumstance.
    Hypothesis 2: our genes code for no temperature survival behaviours beyond the low-level responses such as “shivering” or “sweating” common to many mammals. Additional behaviours are culturally developed: people use their brains to independently develop survival behaviour, and/or to learn survival behaviour from others. The genetic component is “develop a brain capable of ad hoc problem solving in novel situations”, nothing more specific.

    Which hypothesis seems most likely? Note that this is temperature regulation for the purposes of survival. Getting this wrong is seriously non-adaptive, and it is mostly or entirely genetically-driven in other animals.

  401. 401
    A. Noyd

    coelsblog (#392)

    Large intelligent brains are hugely expensive, so there must have been considerable selection pressure towards them. What aspect of phenotype were they selected *for*?

    BEHAVIORAL MOTHER FUCKING PLASTICITY.

    Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

    It’s the same thing that makes DVD players popular versus movie players that only play a single movie. The latter would initially be cheaper to make, but the former allows you to see as many movies as you want, making it more popular, and that popularity would drive down manufacturing costs below that of the simpler, single-movie machine. Even if not all titles available on DVD make a profit, the potential to play any movie, including the duds, is what gives the DVD player an edge.

  402. 402
    coelsblog

    394: danilelavine:

    Are opposable thumbs a “behavior” under your definition of “behavior”?

    No.

    If no, then the phenotype itself is behavioral flexibility which is not itself a behavior any more than a choice of beverage is itself a beverage.

    I disagree, a flexibility of behaviour is indeed a behaviour. If some animal wakes at night and sleeps in the day, that is “nocturnal behaviour” (notice the flexibility in that). The word “behaviour” would not be restricted solely to “sleeping” or “being awake”.

  403. 403
    coelsblog

    401. A. Noyd:

    BEHAVIORAL MOTHER FUCKING PLASTICITY. Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

    Why thank you, yes I agree. Behavioural plasticity/flexibility is indeed what is being selected for. That was the point of the question (though I’m somewhat doubtful that the mother fucking is an actual adaptation). Now, that behavioural plasticity/flexibility can only be selected for it it serves the genes interests. Agreed? And that can’t happen if the resulting choices are neutral w.r.t. genes.

  404. 404
    coelsblog

    400 cim:

    The genetic component is “develop a brain capable of ad hoc problem solving in novel situations”, nothing more specific.

    For your “hypothesis 2″ to work, the genes need to specify the end target (comfortable feeling) and they need to specify that the “problem solving” is a means to that end. Again, the problem solving here is not arbitrary, it serves the genes’ interests.

  405. 405
    coelsblog

    391 daniellavine:

    Most chess-playing algorithms choose a move based on the position and not on what the opponent does, …

    Agreed, though the position is a result of what the opponent does (plus what the computer does), so these are not alternatives.

    … and most of them do, in fact, make the same move on the same position.

    Wouldn’t humans make the same move in the same “position”, if by that we mean every molecule and electric/chemical potential being exactly the same?

    An example: I can claim that my computer has a “web page rendering module”. This claim is false if it’s meant to convey anything about how the computer actually renders web pages but it is true if it is just a fancy-sounding way of saying “my computer renders web pages.”

    This is a revealing example. You computer does indeed have a “web page rendering module”, a software package with the specific function of that task. It also has other software packages, whose function is not rendering web pages. It makes sense to think about your computer’s functionality as a collection of packages, each written for some task, some of them talking to other packages and some of them not. This is exactly a “modular” way of thinking about a computer’s software, and it makes entire sense. Another word would be an “app”, you can think about a brain “module” as a computer “app” — both of these are functionally defined.

  406. 406
    Tethys

    gillt

    I think we’re talking about the evolution of heritable traits, right? So that may be the case if it were also the case that humans and leopard seals shared the same altruism allele. I doubt if they do. Maybe though. If it arose independently then I don’t see a problem with using it to study human or primate evolution.

    I doubt there is such a thing as an altruism allele in humans or leopard seals. However, if there was such a thing, I would guess that the genes for it would be a feature commonly found in mammals, especially mammals that have one very helpless baby at a time.

    The seal behavior is interesting for several reasons. Leopard seals kill divers. This seal is behaving in a very atypical manner by spending a great deal of effort trying to feed the diver. She also shows rational thought by bringing him first live penguins, then disabled penguins, and finally dead penguins which she places right on top of his head.

    I surmiss that she has lost her calf, and is parenting the diver, or that she is an old female who has a lot of experience raising calves, or both.

    Therefore I think parenting behavior does have a genetic basis, but her particular response is more mediated by experience. Cross species adoption is not a particularly rare trait, but it is almost always found in animals who are experienced parents. I once had a male purebred Siamese cat who started treating mice like newborn kittens instead of prey after his mate had kittens, which is extremely odd behavior for a cat. It really freaked the mice out too.

    Their conclusions are tentatively worded, even inconclusive you might say (see below**). The methods seem straightforward and the interpretation of the data doesn’t seem overblown. So where did they go wrong in your opinion?

    In addition to not actually collecting any genetic data that might support that conclusion, they went wrong in their assumptions about culture. Observing a difference between male behavior and female behavior could lead to finding a genetic basis for that behavior, but first you have to control for culture.

    Comparing patriarchal western culture with patriarchal non-western culture is not going to give you any meaningful information on the genetic basis of that behavior.

    The game study is observing a gender difference, and claiming in the title that this gender difference is demonstrating sexual selection. No, it isn’t.

  407. 407
    A. Noyd

    Fuck it, I give up. Coelsblog’s “argument” is that in order for plasticity to be selected for, behaviors have to be sufficiently deterministic. He’s stuck on something so goddamn contradictory, all I can do now is point and laugh.

  408. 408
    coelsblog

    407. A. Noyd:

    Coelsblog’s “argument” is that in order for plasticity to be selected for, behaviors have to be sufficiently deterministic.

    Yes! This is one of the few occasions on this thread where someone has paraphrased my argument correctly!

    Let’s take a comparison with a computer chess program. A relatively simplistic and inflexible programmed rule might be: “always take the highest value piece you can”.

    However, a better and more “intelligent” strategy might take more account of position and realise that other moves might be better, and thus allow more flexibility in response, according to position, and not always “take the highest value piece you can”.

    However, these alternatives, while being more flexible, cannot be arbitrary, and cannot be independent of the programming (otherwise they would not be better, you do not do better than that rule by just doing any old thing), they have to be pretty much controlled by the programming.

  409. 409
    Tethys

    He’s stuck on something so goddamn contradictory, all I can do now is point and laugh.

    I stopped responding to him after he pompously informed me that asking him to quantify the effects of genes vs environment as a percentage was a stupid and unanswerable question.

    I see he has now moved on to positing that humans have a genetic “visceral disgust” mechanism. Oy, I suppose he has never observed a 9 month old human crawl around and eat anything they can fit into their mouth including lint, rocks, feces, and insects.

  410. 410
    daniellavine

    coelsblog@402:

    I disagree, a flexibility of behaviour is indeed a behaviour. If some animal wakes at night and sleeps in the day, that is “nocturnal behaviour” (notice the flexibility in that). The word “behaviour” would not be restricted solely to “sleeping” or “being awake”.

    LOL, thanks for the laugh. That is a truly pathetic attempt to save your argument.

  411. 411
    coelsblog

    409. Tethys:

    he pompously informed me that asking him to quantify the effects of genes vs environment as a percentage was a stupid and unanswerable question.

    Where did I say it was a “stupid” question? It may indeed, in a particular case, be a question that we, in practice, cannot answer.

    … I suppose he has never observed a 9 month old human crawl …

    Lots of things are under-developed in a 9-month-old human.

  412. 412
    daniellavine

    Let’s take a comparison with a computer chess program. A relatively simplistic and inflexible programmed rule might be: “always take the highest value piece you can”.

    However, a better and more “intelligent” strategy might take more account of position and realise that other moves might be better, and thus allow more flexibility in response, according to position, and not always “take the highest value piece you can”.

    Maybe you should learn something about your example before you try employing it. What most chess-playing algorithms do is to create a tree structure with the current position of the board as a root node and branches representing the next few possible positions. Then a deterministic evaluation algorithm is applied to each of the positions to determine which branch of the tree gives the computer the best future position.

    There is no rule like “take the highest value piece you can”. It’s strictly a static evaluation of possible future positions based on the current position. Of course, removing an opponent’s high-valued piece almost always yields a better position and so chess-playing algorithms almost inevitably do so, but where the edge cases occur it’s not because of “flexibility” “programmed” into the algorithm. It’s rather a result of an inflexible, deterministic evaluation of different positions that will probably result from the current position.

    And — this is where your comparison breaks down — chess playing algorithms are almost all incapable of learning. Chess playing algorithms don’t approach the problem of playing chess the way a human mind does. This should give you pause before you try to compare the way chess-playing algorithms work (which you don’t know in the first place) to the way the mind works (which you also don’t know, though you’re in good company here).

    However, these alternatives, while being more flexible, cannot be arbitrary, and cannot be independent of the programming (otherwise they would not be better, you do not do better than that rule by just doing any old thing), they have to be pretty much controlled by the programming.

    Suppose instead of a standard chess-playing algorithm you used one with a capacity to learn. It starts off with really fundamental, basic notions of “winning” and “losing” and knows the possible movements of the pieces but otherwise has no pre-determined knowledge of what constitutes a good or bad move. But crucially it can remember positions that led to losses and positions that led to wins.

    This algorithm programs itself. It is not “controlled by the programming” — it just makes essentially arbitrary moves until it “knows” enough not to make certain moves and in other cases “knows” which moves to make to win the game.

    That’s prima facie much more like human cognition than is a typical chess-playing algorithm. Furthermore, the condition under test — which moves are made — do start out as arbitrary contrary to your assertion that they cannot be! It starts off bad at chess and gets better and better and the rules for “good” and “bad” moves are not programmed in advance!

    In other words, you’re simply wrong.

  413. 413
    cim

    coelsblog/402:

    the genes need to specify the end target (comfortable feeling)

    No objection there. “Pain/discomfort avoidance” as an evolved behaviour predates humanity by hundreds of millions of years and is virtually universal in complex organisms. It’s not something which requires a large brain, or indeed any size of brain.

    and they need to specify that the “problem solving” is a means to that end

    Are you claiming that humans evolved a general problem solving capacity which can address thermal regulation, are you claiming that there is a specific set of (as yet unidentified) genes responsible for a specific problem solving capacity related to thermal regulation, or are you claiming that hypothesis 2 is therefore implausible and hypothesis 1 should be considered most likely? Or something else entirely?

  414. 414
    coelsblog

    412. daniellavine:

    to determine which branch of the tree gives the computer the best future position.

    Yep, and a lot of human thinking is similar, running through possible scenarios and evaluating outcomes, “if I do that then …”.

    There is no rule like “take the highest value piece you can”.

    Yep, it was a deliberately simplistic and UNintelligent rule! That was the point of the comparison! You *could* program a computer that way, but the outcome would not be as good as a computer with a more intelligent and flexible response (e.g. able to make sacrifices of material for positional advantage).

    It’s rather a result of an inflexible, deterministic evaluation of different positions that will probably result from the current position.

    There are two different concepts here. First, is it deterministic? Yes, in both computers and humans. Would you agree? Second, is it flexible? What do we mean by “flexible” in a deterministic system that will have the same output in the same situation? We mean that it can give a wider range of responses to *different* situations. E.g. able to make material sacrifices, not just grab material.

    This should give you pause before you try to compare the way chess-playing algorithms work (which you don’t know in the first place) to the way the mind works (which you also don’t know, though you’re in good company here).

    Actually, I have a decent idea how both work, thanks. You’re right that there are differences. Neural networks are trained by learning. Actually, that’s also how they trained the best computer programs, by learning, just as you suggest. Deep Blue trained itself by analysing thousands of chess games, adjusting it’s software parameters accordingly. And note that “learning” isn’t something that just happens, a machine (human or computer) has to be programmed to learn.

    The learning and development is one of the things that the genes program, just like the Deep Blue programmers programmed Deep Blue to learn.

  415. 415
    coelsblog

    413 cim:

    Are you claiming that humans evolved a general problem solving capacity which can address thermal regulation ..

    Yes, of your options, that one (though the concept of a “general” capability is rather dubious concerning neural networks).

  416. 416
    coelsblog

    410: daniellavine:

    LOL, thanks for the laugh. That is a truly pathetic attempt to save your argument.

    I have no idea why you’re objecting to the term “behaviour” to describe a complex bundle of more primitive/simple behaviours, with inbuilt flexibility as to which are displayed when.

    Afterall, aren’t all behaviours bundles of sub bits of behaviour? Something like “eating” is surely a behaviour but is actually a complex bundle of behaviours, including evaluating look/smell of food, picking stuff up, moving hands towards the mouth, opening the mouth, closing the lips, moving the jaws, sloshing things around with the tongue, swallowing, digesting, et cetera et cetera. What exactly is “pathetic” about this usage?

  417. 417
    Tethys

    What exactly is “pathetic” about this usage?

    The massive strawman you just erected, cherry-picking/quote mining of daniellavines comment, and your general lack of intellectual honesty all spring immediately to mind.

  418. 418
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    What exactly is “pathetic” about this usage?

    Intellectual dishonesty. You need to define your terms precisely. So precise, you and your presupposisions can and will be falsified. In other words, supply the intellectual and evidential rigor to your claims as real scientists do. Or stop claiming it is science.

  419. 419
    Camus

    Coelsblog, I think your Chess metaphor suffers on two accounts, one of self-contradiction and one of conflation; either are perhaps sufficient to act as a rejoinder to the utility of the metaphor in shedding light on the debate at hand. Please, given my unfamiliarity with this literature, move to correct me given lapses of thought.

    With respect to self-contradiction, you – roughly – simultaneously hold two intractable notions as so: (i) that behaviour is, for the most part, causally traceable to evolutionary pressures. That is, evolutionary pressures are significantly determinate of behaviour; (ii) that the general mechanistic framework of the brain allows sufficient agency that direct determinate relation between behaviour and evolutionary pressures is broken.
    What, I think, your Chess metaphor wants to say, is that the general mechanistic framework of the brain is causally traceable to evolutionary pressures and that, by extension, the limits of agency are determined therein. This, of course, is one step – if not an enormous leap – removed from any claim on behaviour.

    With respect to conflation, you conflate the algorithmic determinism of high-level Chess software with the existence of human agency.

    I suspect we may cross one another on the question of mind-body, however.

  420. 420
    cim

    coelsblog/415: In that case, does any higher-order behaviour need to have a genetic basis? The ability to generally [1] problem solve is itself selectable for on a genetic level; this then leads to the ability to evolve behaviours on a scale millions of times shorter than genetic evolution.

    That suggests the interesting problems in EP are not trying to work out the prehistoric basis for modern behaviours, but looking at how the behaviours have evolved over time (in a similar manner to the reconstructions of evolutionary trees between species, perhaps?). More a combination of history, anthropology and psychology than of genetics and psychology.

    [1] Your point about the word “general” accepted, though I’m struggling to think of any known problem which humans collectively have not attempted to solve.

  421. 421
    daniellavine

    colesblog@414:

    Yep, and a lot of human thinking is similar, running through possible scenarios and evaluating outcomes, “if I do that then …”.

    At some level, a Tesla roadster and Jetta TDI are very similar devices. But how they actually work is extremely dissimilar. The electric motor in the Tesla and the turbo diesel in the Jetta operate on completely different principles.

    So you can point out that there are in some limited and highly-abstract way similarities between the way a chess algorithm works and the way a human mind works but the evidence all suggests that the human mind works nothing like a chess-playing algorithm.

    Yep, it was a deliberately simplistic and UNintelligent rule! That was the point of the comparison! You *could* program a computer that way, but the outcome would not be as good as a computer with a more intelligent and flexible response (e.g. able to make sacrifices of material for positional advantage).

    But as I just explained, computers aren’t programmed to be flexible. In fact, they cannot be. Algorithms are by definition deterministic. And chess-playing algorithms are particularly inflexible. You are just wrong about this. Chess-playing algorithms are not programmed to be “intelligent and flexible” — they just aren’t! That’s not how they work. I’d encourage you to research the topic instead of demonstrating the Dunning-Kruger effect for us.

    There are two different concepts here. First, is it deterministic? Yes, in both computers and humans. Would you agree?

    Personally I would but it is still quite arguable. There is no commonly-accepted theory of mind in the first place.

    Second, is it flexible? What do we mean by “flexible” in a deterministic system that will have the same output in the same situation? We mean that it can give a wider range of responses to *different* situations. E.g. able to make material sacrifices, not just grab material.

    That’s a very limited and contrived notion of “flexibility”. The fact is that, as I’ve already explained at length, chess-playing algorithms simply aren’t flexible. They play chess in a very different way from humans do and when you compare the details you can see that chess-playing algorithms are, in fact, much less flexible than human beings playing chess. For a given position there is exactly one move that a chess-playing algorithm will make and it will always make the same move on the same position and won’t take into account any other factors such as the skill or temperament of the opposing player. Human beings, when presented with identical chess positions, can and often do make different moves. Furthermore, the human being might base the choice of moves on the temperament of the opposing player, for example “bluffing” and giving an aggressive player a good move that you think they won’t notice (because they’re playing quickly with a particular strategy in mind).

    So when you say “the chess-playing algorithm is programmed to be flexible” you are implicitly comparing the “level of flexibility” to that of a completely hypothetical chess-playing algorithm that you made up, that has never been implemented, and probably wouldn’t be a feasible way to make a chess-playing algorithm in the first place. Compare that to my hypothetical chess-playing algorithm that learns and try to determine which is more flexible in its choice of moves. My hypothetical is obviously more flexible than the standard chess-playing algorithm and not only that — it actually resembles how human beings play chess in the first place.

    You just don’t know what you’re talking about and it really shows.

    Actually, I have a decent idea how both work, thanks.

    Sorry, you’ve already demonstrated quite clearly that you have no idea how chess-playing algorithms work (or you’d already have seen what’s wrong with your argument) and no one knows how brains work. The amount of Dunning-Kruger style posturing you’re engaged in here is truly laughable.

    You’re right that there are differences. Neural networks are trained by learning. Actually, that’s also how they trained the best computer programs, by learning, just as you suggest. Deep Blue trained itself by analysing thousands of chess games, adjusting it’s software parameters accordingly.

    Actually, Deep Blue didn’t “train itself”. It operates primarily on a standard chess-playing algorithm but also had the world’s history of grandmaster chess matches programmed into it (it didn’t “train itself”, it was explicitly programmed with how to deal with particular openings and end-game scenarios).

    And note that “learning” isn’t something that just happens, a machine (human or computer) has to be programmed to learn.

    Citation please.

    The learning and development is one of the things that the genes program, just like the Deep Blue programmers programmed Deep Blue to learn.

    Skiing problem again. “Genes program” the ability to learn just like “genes program” the ability to ski (or wear baseball hats backwards). Do you think that means we have special skiing genes?

    @416:

    I have no idea why you’re objecting to the term “behaviour” to describe a complex bundle of more primitive/simple behaviours, with inbuilt flexibility as to which are displayed when.

    Because, as I’ve mentioned several times already, a “choice of beverage” is not a beverage. A “box of chocolates” is not a chocolate. This simply isn’t how concepts work.

    Now, there might be a sense in which a choice of behaviors is behaviors but this hasn’t been demonstrated and for you to assume such is simply to beg the question. Which is what you’ve been doing this entire discussion so I’m not sure why I’d expect any better from you at this point.

    Afterall, aren’t all behaviours bundles of sub bits of behaviour? Something like “eating” is surely a behaviour but is actually a complex bundle of behaviours, including evaluating look/smell of food, picking stuff up, moving hands towards the mouth, opening the mouth, closing the lips, moving the jaws, sloshing things around with the tongue, swallowing, digesting, et cetera et cetera. What exactly is “pathetic” about this usage?

    Sure, behaviors are. But you haven’t established that “a choice of behaviors” is itself a behavior so this argument is circular. Your original argument is pathetic because it doesn’t even follow. “Eating at night is a nocturnal behavior therefore a choice of behavior is itself a behavior” just isn’t a valid argument.

  422. 422
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @Coelsblog

    I note you never responded to my last. Ho hum.

  423. 423
    daniellavine

    Camus@419:

    Please, given my unfamiliarity with this literature, move to correct me given lapses of thought.

    There is no literature in this case, coelsblog is pulling this all out of his or her ass.

  424. 424
    daniellavine

    You’re right that there are differences. Neural networks are trained by learning. Actually, that’s also how they trained the best computer programs, by learning, just as you suggest. Deep Blue trained itself by analysing thousands of chess games, adjusting it’s software parameters accordingly.

    Just to be clear, Deep Blue does not incorporate neural networks and does not use learning algorithms. The fact that coelsblog would try to show off his “knowledge” by simply making (completely false) stuff up about it says volumes to me.

  425. 425
    alwayscurious

    So, with a brain – well, obviously you have a shit load of stuff that is shared, like the need to be able to see, move, vocalize sounds, etc. Bigger means you can do more with these things, but it ***does no follow*** that every single bloody thing you do with it, “must be” adaptive, instead of “by-product”, much like with the computer. If you think something isn’t, then you need evidence for that, not hand waving.

    This got me to thinking: Throughout our lives, our brain is continuously trimming down extra neurons, reducing synaptic connections, generally reducing down–furiously at some points. What’s the distribution of this activity across the entire structure? Do neurons get trimmed at the same rate in the brain stem and the frontal lobe? Are connections between some regions more preserved than others?

    Perhaps our brains completely overshot the mark for what was required to simply survive–the end result being an over-sized organ that has to be trimmed & tuned for months/years before it can handle rudimentary tasks that other mammals can do within days/weeks of being born. Therefore, it doesn’t “have” to be that any cognitive function be hardwired or be under fine genetic control. The only conditions that need exist are a)over-sized brain; b)trimming mechanism which recognizes & preserves neurons that appear to be doing something. If some brain regions are more heavily affected by this process (say, fronal lobe), talking about preserved functions originating from these regions would be require much more data [than analyzing the functions of less trimmed regions of the brain]. Any apparently conserved functions aren’t likely to be hardwired–they are more likely to be the result of common environmental shaping happening at a level that we haven’t been able to identify.

  426. 426
    coelsblog

    421 daniellavine:

    But as I just explained, computers aren’t programmed to be flexible. In fact, they cannot be. Algorithms are by definition deterministic.

    As I said in 414, you are confusing two different concepts: being flexible and being deterministic. Something can be both deterministic and flexible. Do you think that humans are deterministic?

    And chess-playing algorithms are particularly inflexible. You are just wrong about this. Chess-playing algorithms are not programmed to be “intelligent and flexible” — they just aren’t!

    Your assertions aren’t that convincing, and I suspect that you’re misunderstanding “flexibility”, confusing it with being deterministic.

    the human being might base the choice of moves on the temperament of the opposing player, for example “bluffing” …

    All you’re doing is adding in an extra level of flexibility that the human can take into account. That doesn’t do anything to refute my claim.

    Actually, Deep Blue didn’t “train itself”. … it didn’t “train itself”, it was explicitly programmed with how to deal with particular openings and end-game scenarios)

    Here’s what wiki says: “Deep Blue’s evaluation function was initially written in a generalized form, with many to-be-determined parameters (e.g. how important is a safe king position compared to a space advantage in the center, etc.). The optimal values for these parameters were then determined by the system itself, by analyzing thousands of master games.” That’s learning.

    And note that “learning” isn’t something that just happens, a machine (human or computer) has to be programmed to learn.

    Citation please.

    Get yourself a pile of bricks. Watch it for a while (or for ages). Report back if it starts learning. Learning only happens in very rare instances of entities *programmed* to learn (biological animals and some human-created devices).

    Because, as I’ve mentioned several times already, a “choice of beverage” is not a beverage. A “box of chocolates” is not a chocolate. This simply isn’t how concepts work. Now, there might be a sense in which a choice of behaviors is behaviors but this hasn’t been demonstrated …

    It’s entirely obvious. “Choosing” is a behaviour. Choosing other behaviours is thus a bundle of behaviours. Bundles of behaviours are “behaviours”. This is obvious — see my example up thread that the behaviour “eating” is actually a bundle of behaviours. Most behaviours are bundles of behaviours.

    If a cat is given some food, selects some of the items to eat, and ignores the others, would that whole be fairly described as a “behaviour”? Yes, of course it would.

    “Eating at night is a nocturnal behavior therefore a choice of behavior is itself a behavior” just isn’t a valid argument.

    Well, that wasn’t my wording. What I was demonstrating is that a bundle of behaviours is a “behaviour”.

  427. 427
    alwayscurious

    I disagree, a flexibility of behaviour is indeed a behaviour. If some animal wakes at night and sleeps in the day, that is “nocturnal behaviour” (notice the flexibility in that). The word “behaviour” would not be restricted solely to “sleeping” or “being awake”.

    I have no idea why you’re objecting to the term “behaviour” to describe a complex bundle of more primitive/simple behaviours, with inbuilt flexibility as to which are displayed when.

    I believe the objection is that nocturnal, just like opposable thumbs, are the complex product of evolution (genes to the rescue!). In both instances, there are trade-offs and neither is a behavior. Each trait creates its own opportunities and restrictions. So you declined his comparison, countering with the same comparison.

  428. 428
    coelsblog

    422 Thumper:

    I note you never responded to my last. Ho hum.

    If you really want a reply here goes:

    Is problem solving a behaviour?

    Yes.

    I’d have said it was an ability.

    Problem *solving* (verb) is a behaviour. *Ability* to solve problems is an ability.

    I agree entirely, but I know of no Evo Psych people that do that.

    It’s the ANTI evo-psych people who do that, just assuming zero genetic contribution without proof. Nerd is an explicit example.

    PZ, who has read many, agrees with that conclusion. [...] I said I have never seen an example of Evo psych people coming to the conclusion that any behavioural trait is anything other than adaptive.

    Does the fact that you’ve *never* *seen* examples of evo-psych people concluding against adaptation result from you only reading anti-EPs such as PZ? Have you read the many pro-EP responses to such as PZ? It is actually quite easy to find examples of EP papers saying that something is likely non-adaptive.

    More to the point, I have never seen one bother to prove that a trait is adaptive.

    This comment shows a misunderstanding of science. It is *not* the case that the only valid way to proceed is *first* prove that a trait is adaptive, then consider the implication. It is entirely valid to *hypothesize* that a trait is adaptive, then use that hypothesis to generate predictions, and then test those predictions. If the predictions are verified that is then evidence for the hypothesis. That’s what a lot of EP tries to do, in that sense nearly all of what they are doing is trying to prove whether traits are adaptive. It is a complete misunderstanding to suggest that they don’t “bother”.

    they never bother to actually prove it’s adaptive before coming up with said explanation; at least in my experience.

    That comment shows you misunderstand the method! And that method is entirely valid. Hypothesis testing is a key part of science, it is *not* the case that you have to *first* prove that a trait is adaptive before discussing whether it is!

  429. 429
    coelsblog

    427: alwayscurious:

    I believe the objection is that nocturnal, just like opposable thumbs, are the complex product of evolution (genes to the rescue!). In both instances, there are trade-offs and neither is a behavior.

    I’m baffled, what do you mean by “behaviour” if you think that a nocturnal habit (being awake at night, and asleep in the day) is not a “behaviour”?

    A couple of examples of the usage:

    “Nocturnality is an animal behavior characterized by activity during the night and sleeping during the day.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nocturnality

    “Nocturnal animals are primarily active at night rather than during daylight hours. There are all sorts of reasons why this behaviour might be a good idea.”
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/adaptations/Nocturnality

  430. 430
    alwayscurious

    Nocturnal creatures are active at night (sleep during the day) due to regulation by internal “clock” genes. They have no more choice in the matter than diurnal creatures doing essentially the same activities during the day. In the same way, our animals lacking opposable thumbs don’t get to choose “opposable thumb requiring” activities vs. “opposable thumb optional” activities.

    So here’s the problem: it might sound like there is a lot of good reasons to be nocturnal/have opposable thumbs/etc, but the animals didn’t choose one or the other; the exact forces behind it may have had little to do with present conditions; and they will not have offspring in the next generation that will suddenly have these traits.

  431. 431
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Well, that wasn’t my wording. What I was demonstrating is that a bundle of behaviours is a “behaviour”.

    You were demonstrating nothing other than you won’t actually consider the presuppositions of EP, and ask what is the real evidence as their truth of them. You presume they are true. They can’t be false, or you whole existence is false. Which it is. You don’t demonstrate a damn thing without a third party citation.

  432. 432
    Marcus Ranum

    Deep Blue trained itself by analysing thousands of chess games, adjusting it’s software parameters accordingly

    Sorry, but that’s just flat-out wrong. Deep Blue’s algorithms, among other things, included textbooks of opening moves based on games and variations played by masters. During the course of Big Blue’s games against Kasparov, its programmers were actually tweaking some of the parameters that made up the program’s knowledge-base – it wasn’t learning, it was being taught – if anything. Though I don’t think anyone would argue that Big Blue resembled an intelligence capable of learning; it was basically a scoring system atop a very fast tree-searching engine with a tree populated with encoded information about historical decisions made by human experts. When it went off that decision tree then it tried to make its own ‘decisions’ mostly moves intended to get it back onto a decision tree that would lead to a known successful conclusion. That approach would glue together game opening textbooks to checkmate textbooks.

    (From Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge:
    It should be noted however, that in game 6, Kasparov blundered very early into the game. Kasparov cites tiredness and unhappiness with the IBM team’s conduct at the time as the main reason.

    Kasparov claimed that several factors weighed against him in this match. In particular, he was denied access to Deep Blue’s recent games, in contrast to the computer’s team that could study hundreds of Kasparov’s.

    After the loss Kasparov said that he sometimes saw deep intelligence and creativity in the machine’s moves, suggesting that during the second game, human chess players, in contravention of the rules, intervened. IBM denied that it cheated, saying the only human intervention occurred between games. The rules provided for the developers to modify the program between games, an opportunity they said they used to shore up weaknesses in the computer’s play revealed during the course of the match. Kasparov requested printouts of the machine’s log files but IBM refused, although the company later published the logs on the Internet.[9] Kasparov demanded a rematch, but IBM refused and dismantled Deep Blue.)

  433. 433
    coelsblog

    430 alwayscurious:

    Nocturnal creatures are active at night (sleep during the day) due to regulation by internal “clock” genes. They have no more choice in the matter than diurnal creatures … but the animals didn’t choose one or the other

    Do you accept that animals are deterministic?
    Do you accept that humans are deterministic?
    What do we mean by “choice” in a deterministic system? (google “compatibilism” or read Dennett’s “Freedom evolves” for accounts of that).

    Unless you are a vitalist or dualist, believing in a supernatural soul or similar, your comment above applies just as much to human choice as to nocturnal animals, and thus is in no way a refutation of my position. Indeed what you’re saying amounts to saying that human “choice” and “culture” will be entirely specified by genes and environmental constraints.

  434. 434
    coelsblog

    431 Nerd:

    you won’t actually consider the presuppositions of EP, and ask what is the real evidence as their truth of them. You presume they are true.

    What are these “presuppositions of EP” and which of them do I “presume are true”?

    If you mean, there is a *likelihood* that *many* aspects of human behaviour and psychology are adaptive, and thus that they are *influenced* by genetic programming — then yes on both of them.

  435. 435
    coelsblog

    432 Marcus Ranum:

    Deep Blue trained itself by analysing thousands of chess games, adjusting it’s software parameters accordingly

    Sorry, but that’s just flat-out wrong.

    See quote below.

    During the course of Big Blue’s games against Kasparov, its programmers were actually tweaking some of the parameters that made up the program’s knowledge-base – it wasn’t learning, it was being taught – if anything.

    It was a mixture of BOTH.

    From Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge:

    And here’s my quote from wiki, as already given a little up thread:

    “Deep Blue’s evaluation function was initially written in a generalized form, with many to-be-determined parameters (e.g. how important is a safe king position compared to a space advantage in the center, etc.). The optimal values for these parameters were then determined by the system itself, by analyzing thousands of master games.”

  436. 436
    John Morales

    coelsblog, for the second time: what’s the difference between natural selection and artificial selection?

    (I suspect you’ll ignore the question again)

  437. 437
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    What are these “presuppositions of EP” and which of them do I “presume are true”?

    One is that all behavior is genetically based, as you continue to argue. Don’t you understand what you are defending? Evidently not. Dishonesty all the way down with your responses.

  438. 438
    coelsblog

    436: John Morales

    coelsblog, for the second time: what’s the difference between natural selection and artificial selection?

    The latter is done deliberately by humans. The former is not.

    (I suspect you’ll ignore the question again)

    I’ve posted a heck of a lot of replies to a heck of a lot of questions. I also have a day job. If I’ve no idea what the point or relevance of a question is I often don’t respond since it doesn’t seem a priority.

  439. 439
    coelsblog

    437 Nerd:

    One is that all behavior is genetically based, as you continue to argue.

    All human behaviour is indeed genetically “based” in the sense that without genes you wouldn’t have a human and thus no human behaviour.

    That does not mean that all human beahviour is adaptive, or that nothing but genes is relevant to explaining it. Neither of those is assumed by EP or by me.

  440. 440
    John Morales

    coelsblog:

    If I’ve no idea what the point or relevance of a question is I often don’t respond since it doesn’t seem a priority.

    Its relevance was to your immediately-prior comment, where you claim humans traits are the result of natural selection.

    Do you accept that most modern humans have lived in an environment shaped by their cultural milieu?

    (Do you think there’s no selective pressure to (for example) accept authority or (for another) to conform to societal norms?)

  441. 441
    vaiyt

    I’m quite willing to accept that they often do it badly,

    But that was supposed to be the whole point of what we’re doing here. PZ is contending that, so far, he hasn’t seen anybody do anything remotely approaching the level of work needed to confirm an adaptive hypothesis to a behavior. It’s all rationalizations and cultural bias, all the way down.

  442. 442
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    All human behaviour is indeed genetically “based” in the sense that without genes you wouldn’t have a human and thus no human behaviour.

    Assertion made with evidence, just your OPINION. Your OPINION can be dismissed without evidence per Chritopher Hitchens, et al. You have presented no scientific evidence to back your claim. Just mountains of more OPINION.

    Take it outside of yourself and your inane arguments to the real scientific/academic literature. Your arguments and “demonstrations” nothing are self-serving self-generated bullshit.

  443. 443
    coelsblog

    440 John Morales

    Its relevance was to your immediately-prior comment, where you claim humans traits are the result of natural selection.

    I claimed that *many* human traits would be *at* *least* *partially* the result of natural selection, along with other factors such as environment, culture, etc.

    Do you accept that most modern humans have lived in an environment shaped by their cultural milieu?

    Yes. (Note, by the way, that I don’t consider human culture to be independent of natural selection. Much of human culture is an adaptation. — that is, unless you define “culture” as meaning only that fraction of human social living that is not adaptive.)

    (Do you think there’s no selective pressure to (for example) accept authority or (for another) to conform to societal norms?)

    I’d have thought that there was strong selective pressure to conform to societal norms. Someone who acts contrary to social norms is likely to find themselves ostracised or punished in ways that could well reduce their Darwinian “fitness”.

  444. 444
    coelsblog

    442 Nerd:

    All human behaviour is indeed genetically “based” in the sense that without genes you wouldn’t have a human and thus no human behaviour.

    Assertion made with evidence, just your OPINION.

    ????? ROTFL!! Nerd, are you trying to be a caricature of yourself? Are you really asking for evidence for the claim that without human genes there would be no human?

    So, if we took a fertilized human egg, and then extracted all the genes out of it, and then replaced the egg, you’re seriously suggesting that — through learning and culture — this entity could develop to end up displaying the same behaviour as a human?

    How about if we replaced all the human genes in a fertilized egg with the genes from a wasp (Vespula germanica) or something similar. Given your “genes have no effect” stance, are you claiming that, if you brought this entity up in a human family, absorbed in human culture, that it would end up displaying human behaviour in line with that of other humans?

  445. 445
    John Morales

    coelsblog:

    I claimed that *many* human traits would be *at* *least* *partially* the result of natural selection, along with other factors such as environment, culture, etc.

    What then of their complement — i.e. those that aren’t inherited, but rather acquired?

    (Isn’t the entire point to determine which are which?)

    I’d have thought that there was strong selective pressure to conform to societal norms.

    Well then, since societies change markedly in evolutionarily-short spans of time, the easiest adaptation would be behavioural plasticity, no?

    (But isn’t that plasticity most easily achieved by the etiolation of hard-coded behavioural traits?)

  446. 446
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    So, if we took a fertilized human egg, and then extracted all the genes out of it, and then replaced the egg, you’re seriously suggesting that — through learning and culture — this entity could develop to end up displaying the same behaviour as a human?

    Another absurdity, showing you know you have lost the argument, and a total non-sequitur.

    claimed that *many* human traits would be *at* *least* *partially* the result of natural selection, along with other factors such as environment, culture, etc.

    No, you claim EVERY BEHAVIOR has a genetic component. Not all do. For example, from the OP, the ability to talk is genetically controlled brain function. The ability to speak English is totally a cultural/environmental function. You fail to see at some point, the basic brain gives way to the plastic learned brain, and there is where it shifts to cultural/environment/social.

  447. 447
    coelsblog

    445: John Morales:

    What then of their complement — i.e. those that aren’t inherited, but rather acquired? (Isn’t the entire point to determine which are which?)

    Yes indeed. Or, rather, the idea of everything being one or the other, and us determining “which”, is not plausible. Nearly everything will be some combination of the two (and the “entire point” is to learn about that mixture).

    Well then, since societies change markedly in evolutionarily-short spans of time, the easiest adaptation would be behavioural plasticity, no?

    I entirely agree that behavioural plasticity is an adaptation. (I’m not so sure about it being an “easy” adaption, since it requires large and expensive brains and long and expensive childhoods; and the rapid cultural change would be the product of that behavioural-plasticity adaptation, not the facilitator of it.)

    But isn’t that plasticity most easily achieved by the etiolation of hard-coded behavioural traits?

    Yes. However, my whole argument is that that behavioural plasticity cannot go off in its own direction unrelated to genetic interests and adaptation. Rather, all along there has to be an entwined dance between genetic and cultural influences. The genetically programmed element of human culture and behaviour is always going to be there.

  448. 448
    daniellavine

    coelsblog@426:

    As I said in 414, you are confusing two different concepts: being flexible and being deterministic. Something can be both deterministic and flexible. Do you think that humans are deterministic?

    I’m not sure. No one is. It’s an open debate.

    Regardless, I’m not “confusing two different concepts”. I’m pointing out that algorithms will always return a given output given a particular input. Human beings often give a different output when presented with a particular input. Human minds do not seem to work algorithmically. This is a huge problem with your argument.

    Your assertions aren’t that convincing, and I suspect that you’re misunderstanding “flexibility”, confusing it with being deterministic.

    They aren’t merely assertions. I’ve backed them up at every step with explanations of how chess-playing algorithms actually work. You can’t acknowledge that you’re wrong, but that’s just your ego.

    As explained above I’m not “misunderstanding” anything. I’m pointing out a very salient way in which minds differ from algorithms.

    Here’s what wiki says: “Deep Blue’s evaluation function was initially written in a generalized form, with many to-be-determined parameters (e.g. how important is a safe king position compared to a space advantage in the center, etc.). The optimal values for these parameters were then determined by the system itself, by analyzing thousands of master games.” That’s learning.

    God forbid I should contradict the great and all powerful wiki, but it might very well be wrong here:

    However, programs such as those described by Shannon and exemplified by Deep
    Blue are essentially static. Human programmers invested massive amounts of time in
    constructing the rule set of Deep Blue, in an attempt to approximate human position
    evaluation. There is a vast body of literature on this problem; several references,
    [Shannon], [Mar81], [Sch86], [Sch96], and [Hyatt], contain more information.

    ref

    Note that the part of wiki you cited has “citation needed” in place of a citation. Unless you can find a citation to support your contention other than wikipedia I’m going to conclude you’re wrong about this.

    Get yourself a pile of bricks. Watch it for a while (or for ages). Report back if it starts learning. Learning only happens in very rare instances of entities *programmed* to learn (biological animals and some human-created devices).

    Your argument is: “bricks don’t learn therefore all learning things are programmed to learn”. This is another “argument” where the conclusion simply doesn’t follow from the premises.

    Define “programmed”. No conscious mind programmed the human brain to be able to learn so the meaning of the word “programmed” is essential to your argument here.

    It’s entirely obvious. “Choosing” is a behaviour. Choosing other behaviours is thus a bundle of behaviours. Bundles of behaviours are “behaviours”. This is obvious — see my example up thread that the behaviour “eating” is actually a bundle of behaviours. Most behaviours are bundles of behaviours.

    This isn’t a valid argument. We’re not talking about choosing a behavior — which I agree would be a behavior. We’re talking about “a choice of behaviors” — a “choice” is different from “choosing”. One is an abstract noun, the other is an action. I agree that behaviors are bundles of behaviors but it does not follow that all bundles of behaviors are therefore behaviors (implication only goes one way). Furthermore, I deny that “a choice of behaviors” is actually a bundle of behaviors in the sense that you mean. A choice of behaviors is no particular behavior or collection of behaviors. One might say it’s a potentiality for different behaviors but that is not the same thing as being a behavior itself.

    If a cat is given some food, selects some of the items to eat, and ignores the others, would that whole be fairly described as a “behaviour”? Yes, of course it would.

    Sure, but that’s not what I mean by “choice of behaviors”. That’s a choice of foods. Choice of foods is not the same thing as a choice of behaviors.

    Well, that wasn’t my wording. What I was demonstrating is that a bundle of behaviours is a “behaviour”.

    It’s not your wording but it is the structure of the argument you made. I paraphrased — it’s not an unusual thing to do. You haven’t demonstrated that all “bundles of behaviors” are themselves behaviors. I agree with you that behaviors are bundles of behaviors but implication only goes one way so we can only conclude from that that some bundles of behaviors are behaviors are themselves behaviors. You have not demonstrated that all bundles of behaviors are behaviors.

    Besides that, I’m not actually talking about “bundles of behaviors”. A “choice of behaviors” is not “a bundle of behaviors”. They are two different entities.

    We’re getting mired in semantics, here. You’re a sloppy thinker, you’re disingenuous, and you can’t admit you might be mistaken.

  449. 449
    daniellavine

    coelsblog, can you agree that human behavior is flexible in a way that can’t be achieved using computer algorithms? You gave an example of a hypothetically flexible algorithm above with regards to clothing and temperature but please note where the flexibility comes in: the only source of flexibility is the environment — the temperature itself over which the algorithm has no control. However, as a human being I can choose to be uncomfortably cold or uncomfortably hot — I don’t need to abide by your algorithm. How do you account for this?

  450. 450
    coelsblog

    446, Nerd:

    The ability to speak English is totally a cultural/environmental function.

    Then take a fertilised human egg, remove the human genes, replacing them with wasp genes, and see if you can get the entity to talk English (apply as much culture and learning as you wish).

    Now, if you meant that the *difference* between talking English versus Spanish (or whatever) is entirely cultural, and not genetic programming, then yes I entirely agree with you. And I’ve never said otherwise.

    Note that being able to point to one behavioural *difference* that is cultural (and not genetic) in no way shows that *all* human behavioural differences are such (let alone that all human behaviour is such). Despite your best straw-manning attempts, neither I nor any EP advocate that I’m aware of thinks that any and all human behavioural differences must result from genetic differences.

  451. 451
    daniellavine

    Despite your best straw-manning attempts, neither I nor any EP advocate that I’m aware of thinks that any and all human behavioural differences must result from genetic differences.

    Not “any and all”. You’re saying “a large fraction” or something like that. How large? How do you know? You don’t seem to be saying much of anything at all.

  452. 452
    daniellavine

    @coeslblog:

    Anyhow, it would seem that a large swath of basic human behaviour is indeed gene-programmed and adaptive since brains are very expensive and the genes wouldn’t bother specifying such an expensive brain if most brain-outputs were neutral w.r.t. genes.

    This is the thesis which is being disputed. From this, it seems to be implied that most brain outputs — i.e. behaviors — are “gene programmed”. Are you backing off this claim or are you still claiming that most behaviors are “gene programmed”?

  453. 453
    daniellavine

    Anyhow, it would seem that a large swath of basic human behaviour is indeed gene-programmed and adaptive since brains are very expensive and the genes wouldn’t bother specifying such an expensive brain if most brain-outputs were neutral w.r.t. genes.

    BTW, let’s suppose you’re right that most brain outputs aren’t neutral w.r.t genes. It still doesn’t follow that they are “gene-programmed”. The poison berry example refutes this entirely. Avoiding poison berries is a learned behaviors but it is obviously not neutral with respect to genes.

  454. 454
    coelsblog

    449, daniellavine:

    coelsblog, can you agree that human behavior is flexible in a way that can’t be achieved using computer algorithms?

    No, so far I don’t agree with that. First, I regard human brains as material and deterministic (there may be some element of quantum indeterminacy but that doesn’t change the basic issue).

    Second, on “computer algorithms”, are you including artificial neural networks? If the question is whether human behavior is flexible in a way that couldn’t, in principle, be emulated by an artificial neural network then my answer is, no, I don’t accept that it is.

    If the question is whether human behavior is flexible in a way that couldn’t, in principle, be emulated by a Universal Turing Machine, then I’d offer a more hesitant “no”, though am willing to be convinced otherwise. I’m certainly not aware of a proof that it is.

    You gave an example of a hypothetically flexible algorithm above with regards to clothing and temperature but please note where the flexibility comes in: the only source of flexibility is the environment — the temperature itself over which the algorithm has no control.

    If humans are deterministic (which I argue that they are), then their only source of flexibility is the internal state of the brain (= internal state of the algorithm) and different environment (= sensory input). I don’t see a difference here.

    If you want to argue for quantum dice throwing, then one could in principle build some quantum dice throwing into Deep Blue or whatever. I don’t see a difference here.

    Your only other recourse — it seems to me — is to argue for dualism and a supernatural soul doing the flexible decision making. Do you really want to do that?

    However, as a human being I can choose to be uncomfortably cold or uncomfortably hot — I don’t need to abide by your algorithm. How do you account for this?

    I account for your *claim* by suggesting that you are a closet dualist who has not thought through properly whether humans are deterministic, and what “choice” and “flexibility” mean in a deterministic system.

    I suggest that your “human deciding to be uncomfortably cold” is the choice of a deterministic brain, and that it is not different in principle to a chess computer deciding to sacrifice the queen.

  455. 455
    coelsblog

    452, daniellavine:

    the genes wouldn’t bother specifying such an expensive brain if most brain-outputs were neutral w.r.t. genes.

    This is the thesis which is being disputed. From this, it seems to be implied that most brain outputs — i.e. behaviors — are “gene programmed”. Are you backing off this claim or are you still claiming that most behaviors are “gene programmed”?

    For the 136th time, I am suggesting that gene programming is ONE INPUT to behaviour, along with environment and culture, and that most behaviours are products of a complex interaction between genes, environment and culture.

    In my above, saying that much behaviour has to be NOT “neutral w.r.t. genes”, is not saying that there is no cultural/environmental input.

  456. 456
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I account for your *claim* by suggesting that you are a closet dualist

    Ovious ad hominen argument. Boy, do you keep arguing like you know you lost the argument. And your analysis of that is wrong, but you can’t/won’t admit that do to what appears to be your ego.

  457. 457
    coelsblog

    453 daniellavine:

    BTW, let’s suppose you’re right that most brain outputs aren’t neutral w.r.t genes. It still doesn’t follow that they are “gene-programmed”.

    Exactly!

    The poison berry example refutes this entirely.

    This is a good example of an interaction between genes and environmental switches. The genes would program the “if tastes bad or makes you sick then avoid those berries”. They would not program: “These berries taste bad and make us sick, let’s eat many more of them”. They would also program the “sugary = tastes good”. But then there is a layer of learning on which actual berries do taste bad or make you sick.

  458. 458
    coelsblog

    451 daniellavine:

    How large? How do you know?

    How large? Sufficient for traction for natural selection. As I have said umpteen times.

  459. 459
    coelsblog

    448 daniellavine

    I’m pointing out that algorithms will always return a given output given a particular input. Human beings often give a different output when presented with a particular input. Human minds do not seem to work algorithmically.

    I don’t agree. The algorithm can give a different output depending on (1) the internal state of the algorithm, and (2) different inputs. The human can give a different output depending on (1) the internal state of the brain, and (2) different inputs.

    What other difference is there? You are arguing very like a closet dualist.

    As explained above I’m not “misunderstanding” anything. I’m pointing out a very salient way in which minds differ from algorithms.

    No you are not, you are acting like a dualist in claiming that human brains are not deterministic. You are also assuming that a “flexibile” response is a non-deterministic one. I submit that both of these are misunderstandings.

    Your argument is: “bricks don’t learn therefore all learning things are programmed to learn”.

    Yep.

    Define “programmed”. No conscious mind programmed the human brain to be able to learn so the meaning of the word “programmed” is essential to your argument here.

    In the human case it is programming by the “blind watchmaker” of evolution.

    We’re not talking about *choosing* a behavior …

    Aren’t we? That’s what humans *do*. *Choosing* a behaviour is what I’m talking about when I say that “choosing a behavior” is a behaviour.

    You’re a sloppy thinker, you’re disingenuous, and you can’t admit you might be mistaken.

    Pot, kettle, black. And what do you think that adding such remarks actually contributes to the discussion?

  460. 460
    daniellavine

    Second, on “computer algorithms”, are you including artificial neural networks? If the question is whether human behavior is flexible in a way that couldn’t, in principle, be emulated by an artificial neural network then my answer is, no, I don’t accept that it is.

    No, I’m not including neural networks. I specifically said “algorithm” whereas a neural network is a data structure, not an algorithm.

    If the question is whether human behavior is flexible in a way that couldn’t, in principle, be emulated by a Universal Turing Machine, then I’d offer a more hesitant “no”, though am willing to be convinced otherwise. I’m certainly not aware of a proof that it is.

    I’m not offering a proof of anything — you’re the one purporting to prove a thesis. I’m simply pointing out ways in which you might be wrong. If you’re willing to acknowledge the possibility that human behaviors can’t be emulated by a UTM then I’ll take that as an acknowledgement that you might be wrong.

    If humans are deterministic (which I argue that they are), then their only source of flexibility is the internal state of the brain (= internal state of the algorithm) and different environment (= sensory input). I don’t see a difference here.

    This implicitly assumes that the brain works algorithmically which you have not yet demonstrated (and which I seriously doubt is the case).

    Your only other recourse — it seems to me — is to argue for dualism and a supernatural soul doing the flexible decision making. Do you really want to do that?

    “It seems to me” being the operative part of this assertion. This is an argument from lack of imagination. Since you’ve already admitted that it’s possible that the brain can’t be emulated by a UTM you’ve already acknowledged the possibility of human behavior being determined by a non-algorithmic system so you’ve already acknowledged that you might be mistaken here.

    I account for your *claim* by suggesting that you are a closet dualist who has not thought through properly whether humans are deterministic, and what “choice” and “flexibility” mean in a deterministic system.

    I think it’s you that hasn’t thought of what “choice” and “flexibility” mean in a deterministic system. I’ve given quite a bit of thought to the matter. A great deal more than you have to judge by your arguments. (I have, in fact, already said that I agree humans are probably deterministic, but that is not the same as saying human behaviors are determined algorithmically which is what you are claiming).

    I suggest that your “human deciding to be uncomfortably cold” is the choice of a deterministic brain, and that it is not different in principle to a chess computer deciding to sacrifice the queen.

    You can “suggest” anything you like but that doesn’t demonstrate it’s true. While I agree “deciding to be uncomfortably cold” is the choice of a deterministic brain it’s not clear that it’s “not different in principle” to a chess algorithm sacrificing the queen. The principles involved are almost certainly very different. If you disagree please point out where the floating point unit is in the human brain. The brain does not look very much like a Von Neumann machine.

    For the 136th time, I am suggesting that gene programming is ONE INPUT to behaviour, along with environment and culture, and that most behaviours are products of a complex interaction between genes, environment and culture.

    In my above, saying that much behaviour has to be NOT “neutral w.r.t. genes”, is not saying that there is no cultural/environmental input.

    It seems to me that “gene-programmed” means “not subject to environmental inputs”. If that is not the case then it is because you have completely failed to make clear what you mean by “gene-programmed”.

    This is a good example of an interaction between genes and environmental switches. The genes would program the “if tastes bad or makes you sick then avoid those berries”. They would not program: “These berries taste bad and make us sick, let’s eat many more of them”. They would also program the “sugary = tastes good”. But then there is a layer of learning on which actual berries do taste bad or make you sick.

    This is a great example of why I can’t agree with you. It doesn’t seem to me that “genes program” me to avoid berries if they make me sick. Rather, I get sick and then I don’t want to eat the berries because I don’t like the experience of being sick. The fact that I can’t digest the berries and that they make me sick obviously depends on genes in some respect but that doesn’t mean I’m “programmed not to eat things that make me sick”. Lots of people take ipecac precisely to make them sick. There doesn’t seem to be any “programming” preventing them from doing so.

    In other words, human behavior just doesn’t seem nearly so algorithmic as you’re making it out to be. I can eat something even if it makes me sick or if I think it will make me sick. There doesn’t seem to be any “programming” involved.

    Ultimately, it seems to me that just about any behavior that might be “gene programmed” can be overcome either through learning or willpower. Can you think of even a single exception? You don’t seem to be able to provide even one example of a behavior that is truly “gene programmed”.

  461. 461
    daniellavine

    How large? Sufficient for traction for natural selection. As I have said umpteen times.

    What is “sufficiency for traction for natural selection”? You can say it however many times you want but if you don’t define terms you aren’t really saying anything at all, just repeating yourself like a parrot.

    I don’t agree. The algorithm can give a different output depending on (1) the internal state of the algorithm, and (2) different inputs. The human can give a different output depending on (1) the internal state of the brain, and (2) different inputs.

    Again, this assumes that the brain works algorithmically (you haven’t demonstrated this). Besides that, this makes no sense because algorithms are stateless — they don’t have internal states (by definition of “algorithm”).

    What other difference is there? You are arguing very like a closet dualist.

    Ad hominem. Just because I don’t agree with you doesn’t mean I’m “arguing very like a closet dualist”.

    No you are not, you are acting like a dualist in claiming that human brains are not deterministic. You are also assuming that a “flexibile” response is a non-deterministic one. I submit that both of these are misunderstandings.

    Forget the term “deterministic” then because we’re using it in different ways. You’re using it in a philosophical sense and I’m using it somewhat loosely to try to get across an idea. I’m not assuming a “flexible” response is non-deterministic in a philosophical sense but I am asserting that human behavior is flexible in a way that algorithmic behavior is not. I’m arguing this means that there is an important sense in which human behavior is not “gene programmed” as it is not determined by inputs (as I believe “gene-programmed” behaviors would be).

    Your argument is: “bricks don’t learn therefore all learning things are programmed to learn”.

    Yep.

    You should be a little embarrassed to admit this since as I just pointed out that conclusion does not follow from that premise. Just because bricks aren’t programmed to learn and don’t doesn’t mean that things other than bricks can’t learn without being programmed to do so. Logic fail on your part.

    In the human case it is programming by the “blind watchmaker” of evolution.

    That’s not a definition of “programmed” which is what I was requesting.

    Aren’t we? That’s what humans *do*. *Choosing* a behaviour is what I’m talking about when I say that “choosing a behavior” is a behaviour.

    But I’m not talking about “choosing”. I’m talking about “having a choice”. I’m talking about the broad repertoire of behaviors available to human beings, not the actual choice of behaviors from among that repertoire.

    Pot, kettle, black. And what do you think that adding such remarks actually contributes to the discussion?

    It doesn’t add anything more than accusing me of being “a closet dualist”, you’re right there.

  462. 462
    daniellavine

    But I’m not talking about “choosing”. I’m talking about “having a choice”. I’m talking about the broad repertoire of behaviors available to human beings, not the actual choice of behaviors from among that repertoire.

    To expand on this, I’m arguing that it’s “having the choice” — having a broad repertoire of possible behaviors available that makes the human brain adaptive. It’s not that any particular choice that could be “gene-programmed” would be adaptive as you (coeslblog) are arguing. If that was the case then wouldn’t it stand to reason that just that one particular behavior would be “gene programmed” instead of creating this big, expensive brain?

    It’s the flexibility that is adaptive, not particular outcomes of that flexibility since particular outcomes could always be more easily accommodated by “gene-programmed” behaviors that don’t require a big, energy-intensive brain.

  463. 463
    coelsblog

    460 daniellavine

    I’m not offering a proof of anything — you’re the one purporting to prove a thesis.

    You are offering the claim that human choice-making cannot be emulated by an algorithmic computer as a refutation of my position.

    … saying human behaviors are determined algorithmically which is what you are claiming

    Firstly, I’m not hung up whether to use a algorithm on a digital computer or a neural network. No part of my argument depends on it being one or the other. I fully accept that human brains are neural networks and unlike our algorithmic digital computers in that sense. But, one can emulate neural networks on a Universal Turing Machine, and I’m not aware of any proof that anything the brain does cannot be emulated that way.

    Anyhow, none of that — whether it is a neural-network behaviour or a digital UTM behaviour — makes any difference to my basic arguments.

    It seems to me that “gene-programmed” means “not subject to environmental inputs”.

    I don’t accept that it means that, and I’ve referred to things like gene-programmed learning. If I program a heating/cooling system to measure the ambient temperature and do different things according to that temperature, then that is programming to take account of environmental inputs.

    All along this is what I’ve been saying: most human psychology and behaviour is an entwined mixture of gene-programming, environment and culture and learning.

    Rather, I get sick and then I don’t want to eat the berries because I don’t like the experience of being sick.

    And the “don’t like the experience of being sick” sounds pretty adaptive to me, and is likely contributed to by genetic programming.

  464. 464
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    DL:

    It’s the flexibility that is adaptive, not particular outcomes of that flexibility since particular outcomes could always be more easily accommodated by “gene-programmed” behaviors that don’t require a big, energy-intensive brain.

    This is exactly what many people have been arguing. Learning language is due to the brain being able to do so. Which language(s) has no genetic component, and is entirely due to the plasticity of the brain.

  465. 465
    coelsblog

    461 daniellavine:

    What is “sufficiency for traction for natural selection”?

    I’ve answered before that I don’t know the actual fraction.

    this makes no sense because algorithms are stateless — they don’t have internal states (by definition of “algorithm”).

    Yes they do, where you are in an algorithm matters; algorithms have internal memory, their internal state will depend no previous steps of the algorithm.

    I am asserting that human behavior is flexible in a way that algorithmic behavior is not.

    Now argue for it rather than asserting it.

  466. 466
    coelsblog

    461/462 daniellavine

    But I’m not talking about “choosing”. I’m talking about “having a choice”. I’m talking about the broad repertoire of behaviors available to human beings, not the actual choice of behaviors from among that repertoire.

    In the case of making a chess move, the human being will have exactly the same number of potential choices as the algorithmic Turing Machine. Therefore the only possible distinction between them is indeed the doing the choosing.

    I’m arguing that it’s “having the choice” — having a broad repertoire of possible behaviors available that makes the human brain adaptive.

    Agreed, yes.

    It’s not that any particular choice that could be “gene-programmed” would be adaptive as you (coeslblog) are arguing.

    You’re misintepreting what I mean by “gene-programmed”. Learning a language is gene-programmed (it’s blatantly obvious that young children have innate dispositions to learn the language that they hear around them.) The details of the particular language are cultural.

    If that was the case then wouldn’t it stand to reason that just that one particular behavior would be “gene programmed” instead of creating this big, expensive brain?

    No, because the optimum decision will depend on local circumstances. That’s why the genes program a device (the brain) that can take inputs from the local environment and use those inputs in arriving at a choice.

    It’s the flexibility that is adaptive, …

    I agree.

    … not particular outcomes of that flexibility …

    No! It’s both — and this is revealling about this whole dispute. It has to be that the flexibility is adaptive AND the particular outcomes of that flexibility have to be (to a sufficient extent) adaptive. It cannot be the case that the flexibility is adaptive if all the particular outcomes of that flexibility are maladaptive, nor if they are neutral and random w.r.t. adaptiveness — that is a logical contradition.

    The flexibility itself can only be adative IF the ” particular outcomes of that flexibility” are adaptive! This is what I’ve spent a couple of hundred comments arguing.

    since particular outcomes could always be more easily accommodated by “gene-programmed” behaviors that don’t require a big, energy-intensive brain.

    No! If the best “particular outcome” depends on local circumstances, then they cannot be hard-wired without any need for the big, energy-intensive brain. It is that big, energy-intensive brain that is sampling the local environment and arriving at the adaptive “particular outcome”.

  467. 467
    daniellavine

    You are offering the claim that human choice-making cannot be emulated by an algorithmic computer as a refutation of my position.

    No, I’m suggesting that it’s possible that human choice-making cannot be emulated by an algorithm as a refutation of your position that human-choice making must be comparable to chess-playing algorithms. It’s also true that I don’t think it’s the case but I’m not trying to prove that — just show that your assertions of what must be true are false because there are other possibilities you don’t seem to have considered.

    Firstly, I’m not hung up whether to use a algorithm on a digital computer or a neural network. No part of my argument depends on it being one or the other. I fully accept that human brains are neural networks and unlike our algorithmic digital computers in that sense. But, one can emulate neural networks on a Universal Turing Machine, and I’m not aware of any proof that anything the brain does cannot be emulated that way.

    1. I don’t need proof because as I just explained I’m just pointing out your assertions of what must be true are false because there are other possibilities.
    2. Your arguments have extensively used an example of chess-playing algorithms — which do not operate using neural networks. I have been arguing that this is not necessarily a valid comparison as a result.

    Anyhow, none of that — whether it is a neural-network behaviour or a digital UTM behaviour — makes any difference to my basic arguments.

    It actually does. If the brain isn’t UTM-emulatable a lot of your arguments don’t apply at all.

    I don’t accept that it means that, and I’ve referred to things like gene-programmed learning. If I program a heating/cooling system to measure the ambient temperature and do different things according to that temperature, then that is programming to take account of environmental inputs.

    Then tell me what you do mean by it! We keep asking you to define terms and you keep ignoring those requests!

    And the “don’t like the experience of being sick” sounds pretty adaptive to me, and is likely contributed to by genetic programming.

    You’ve shifted the goalposts.

    I’ve answered before that I don’t know the actual fraction.

    I didn’t ask you for the actual fraction, I’ve asked you to clarify what you mean.

    Yes they do, where you are in an algorithm matters; algorithms have internal memory, their internal state will depend no previous steps of the algorithm.

    You don’t know what you’re talking about. Algorithms are by definition stateless. They can operate on data structures which are stateful — but different data structures would be different inputs to the same algorithm.

    Now argue for it rather than asserting it.

    I already have at great length. See in particular my 462.

  468. 468
    coelsblog

    467 daniellavine:

    If the brain isn’t UTM-emulatable a lot of your arguments don’t apply at all.

    Not really, the comparison with chess-playing algorithms was an illustration, not the core of my argument.

    Then tell me what you do mean by it! We keep asking you to define terms and you keep ignoring those requests!

    I have told you time after time after time after time. By something being “genetically programmed” I mean that genes AND environmental inputs such as culture mix in a complex interaction such that the genetic influence is important for the end behavioural product.

    I didn’t ask you for the actual fraction, I’ve asked you to clarify what you mean.

    By “there must be a sufficient component of the end-product behaviour that is adaptive, sufficient to give traction for natural selection” I mean exactly what I say.

    You don’t know what you’re talking about. Algorithms are by definition stateless.

    No they are not. I’ll repeat: “where you are in an algorithm matters; algorithms have internal memory, their internal state will depend no previous steps of the algorithm”. You can’t start an algorithm halfway through and expect the same output. It’s the same as saying that where you are on the tape of a Turing Machine matters.

  469. 469
    coelsblog

    The flexibility itself can only be adative IF the ” particular outcomes of that flexibility” are adaptive! This is what I’ve spent a couple of hundred comments arguing.

    Just to amplify this — because it’s the heart of the whole dispute — let’s take the claim: “trading on the stock market makes you lots of money”.

    Now, that claim cannot be true if every particular, individual trade you make actually loses you money. Nor can it be true if — averaged over all your trades — the average outcome is neutral, neither making nor losing you money.

    That claim can only be correct if — ON AVERAGE — the individual trades TEND to make money. It must be the case that a *sufficient* *proportion* of the individual trades make you money. (Though plenty of individual trades could lose you money or be break even.)

    In the same way, it cannot be the case that “behavioural flexibility” is adaptive if the actual behavoural-choices that flexibility results in are all maladative, nor if they are — overall — adaptively neutral. If can only be the case that “behavioural flexibility” is adaptive if a sufficient fraction of the resulting behaviours are adaptive.

  470. 470
    daniellavine

    In the case of making a chess move, the human being will have exactly the same number of potential choices as the algorithmic Turing Machine. Therefore the only possible distinction between them is indeed the doing the choosing.

    That’s simply not true at all. For example, a human being can make an invalid move whereas a computer can only make an invalid move if it is programmed to make invalid moves. A human can do so mistakenly or willfully. A human being is not constrained by the rules of chess the way a computer algorithm would be. A human being can invent a new game using the same board and pieces in a way a computer cannot. And on and on. Human behavior is a great deal more flexible than that of a computer in ways very pertinent to this discussion.

    When I wake up on a Saturday morning I get to decide what to do — whether to read a book or ride a bike or sleep in a little longer. A computer doesn’t decide what it wants to do in the same way — it does exactly what it’s told to do. Your chess-playing comparison is weak and you should drop it.

    You’re misintepreting what I mean by “gene-programmed”. Learning a language is gene-programmed (it’s blatantly obvious that young children have innate dispositions to learn the language that they hear around them.) The details of the particular language are cultural.

    I’m not misinterpreting you, you’re refusing to explain what you mean by “gene programmed”. I’ve asked for clarification several times and you haven’t provided it. It’s on you.

    Are you sure it’s learning a language in particular that’s “gene-programmed”? Is it possible that children are instead “gene-programmed” to imitate what other human beings are doing around them and since they are speaking a language the child learns to speak the language through imitation? In that case, wouldn’t “speaking a language” actually be environmentally-determined rather than “gene-programmed”? (In this case, obviously “imitating other human beings” would be gene-programmed. That doesn’t mean we can conclude that all higher-order behaviors predicated on “imitating other human beings” are likewise gene-programmed any more than we can conclude that we are “gene-programmed” to engage in downhill skiing just because we happen to have legs.)

    No, because the optimum decision will depend on local circumstances. That’s why the genes program a device (the brain) that can take inputs from the local environment and use those inputs in arriving at a choice.

    The brain isn’t exclusively “programmed” by genes, right? It’s also programmed by the environment. Can the environmental “programming” override the “genetic programming”? I think you’re vastly overstating the extent to which genes control human behavior exactly because I think behavior is so much more dependent on “environmental programming” than “gene programming” — and I think that’s exactly what is adaptive about the human brain, that it allows a greater deal of “environmental programming” than in other animals where their brains are, to a greater (but not total) extent “gene programmed”.

    No! It’s both — and this is revealling about this whole dispute. It has to be that the flexibility is adaptive AND the particular outcomes of that flexibility have to be (to a sufficient extent) adaptive. It cannot be the case that the flexibility is adaptive if all the particular outcomes of that flexibility are maladaptive, nor if they are neutral and random w.r.t. adaptiveness — that is a logical contradition.

    It’s not actually a logic contradiction. Imagine a set of triplets — genetically identical. One engages in behavior A which is maladaptive, one engages in behavior B which is neutral, and one engages in behavior C which is adaptive. The one engaging in A dies — and now the other two know not to engage in behavior A. The one engaging in behavior C flourishes and now the two survivors know that behavior C is preferable. However, there is no selective pressure being applied because the three triplets are genetically identical. Or rather, the selective pressure is applied purely at the level of environment, not genetics.

    The flexibility itself can only be adative IF the ” particular outcomes of that flexibility” are adaptive! This is what I’ve spent a couple of hundred comments arguing.

    And you’ve been wrong this whole time as I’ve just demonstrated. Behavioral flexibility allows selective pressure to apply to culture or environment INSTEAD OF genes.

    No! If the best “particular outcome” depends on local circumstances, then they cannot be hard-wired without any need for the big, energy-intensive brain. It is that big, energy-intensive brain that is sampling the local environment and arriving at the adaptive “particular outcome”.

    But smaller, less-energy intensive brains also sample the local environment to arrive at a particular outcome. This doesn’t explain why larger, more energy-intensive brains are adaptive compared to smaller less energy-intensive brains.

  471. 471
    daniellavine

    In the same way, it cannot be the case that “behavioural flexibility” is adaptive if the actual behavoural-choices that flexibility results in are all maladative, nor if they are — overall — adaptively neutral. If can only be the case that “behavioural flexibility” is adaptive if a sufficient fraction of the resulting behaviours are adaptive.

    But this doesn’t imply that the resulting behaviors are “gene programmed” unless you define “gene programmed” specifically with this in mind. Presumably agriculture is adaptive but I don’t think anyone is arguing that we are “gene programmed” to engage in agriculture. Agriculture is a cultural phenomenon, not a genetically-determined phenomenon. Adaptive behaviors don’t need to be genetic in nature.

  472. 472
    daniellavine

    I have told you time after time after time after time. By something being “genetically programmed” I mean that genes AND environmental inputs such as culture mix in a complex interaction such that the genetic influence is important for the end behavioural product.

    That sounds more like a definition for “NOT genetically programmed” to me. “Genetically programmed” seems to be to indicate that it is determined by genes RATHER THAN environment rather than IN ADDITION TO environment.

    By “there must be a sufficient component of the end-product behaviour that is adaptive, sufficient to give traction for natural selection” I mean exactly what I say.

    And it’s not clear what you mean so you should provide a better explanation if you want to be understood.

    No they are not. I’ll repeat: “where you are in an algorithm matters; algorithms have internal memory, their internal state will depend no previous steps of the algorithm”. You can’t start an algorithm halfway through and expect the same output. It’s the same as saying that where you are on the tape of a Turing Machine matters.

    You’re obviously not a programmer. Citation please.

    Here’s a bit from the wiki page on algorithms that suggests my understanding is correct:

    Typically, when an algorithm is associated with processing information, data is read from an input source, written to an output device, and/or stored for further processing. Stored data is regarded as part of the internal state of the entity performing the algorithm. In practice, the state is stored in one or more data structures.

    The entity performing the algorithm, not the algorithm itself. The state is stored in data structures. The algorithm itself is stateless.

  473. 473
    daniellavine

    Based on the definition of “gene programmed” you just gave, I think this is exactly the case I was talking about where you make an interesting but unsupportable claim but when it is challenged subtly redefine terms to make it a supportable but entirely uninteresting claim. Everyone agrees that genetics and environment work together to make a human being capable of a wide repertoire of behaviors; what is under dispute is whether it is, as you say, “a large swath” that is under direct genetic control or if environment is more salient in determining a human’s behaviors.

    When you define “gene programmed” to mean “a mix of environment and genes” you are essentially introducing a fudge factor. No matter how much evidence that I supply that human behavior is largely determined by environment rather than genes you can just say, “Yeah, that’s what I meant by “gene programming”!”.

    In other words, you’ve convinced me that your defense of EP is largely word-games, rather like defenses of Freudian psychoanalysis. I’m guessing that was not your intended result but I’m having trouble coming to any other conclusions.

  474. 474
    coelsblog

    470 daniellavine:

    a human being can make an invalid move whereas a computer …

    That’s pedantry. The rules of chess say that if you make an invalid move you take it back and make a valid one.

    A human being is not constrained by the rules of chess …

    Shrug. But when playing *chess* (which is what I was talking about) the number of options is the same.

    Human behavior is a great deal more flexible than that of a computer …

    Agreed, and the human brain is a lot more complex than any chess computer. I don’t see how this counters anything I’ve said.

    you’re refusing to explain what you mean by “gene programmed”….

    See 468

    Is it possible that children are instead “gene-programmed” to imitate what other human beings are doing around them and since they are speaking a language the child learns to speak the language through imitation?

    Not only “possible” but obviously true! But the children also seem to have an innate “scaffolding” on which to learn language.

    In that case, wouldn’t “speaking a language” actually be environmentally-determined rather than “gene-programmed”?

    The particulars of a particular language will OF COURSE be environmentally determined. But learning to speak the local language is an activity with a huge amount of genetic programming behind it.

    The brain isn’t exclusively “programmed” by genes, right? It’s also programmed by the environment.

    Well it’s greatly *affected* by the environment, but I wouldn’t use “program” for that, I’d use “program” only for a set of instructions (resulting from human programming or from evolution).

    Imagine a set of triplets — genetically identical.

    You are pointing to cultural/environmental effects that reuslt in learned behaviour. I agree with your scenario. But your scenario would not evolve large brains. In your scenario there is no genetic variation so nothing to drive Darwinian evolution. Thus you need to drop the genetically identical scenario if you’re going to actually evolve large brains — and it’s that that all my arguments have been about.

    Behavioral flexibility allows selective pressure to apply to culture or environment INSTEAD OF genes.

    Then it can’t be relevant to *evolving* the large brains that *result* in the behavioral flexibility.

    But smaller, less-energy intensive brains also sample the local environment to arrive at a particular outcome. This doesn’t explain why larger, more energy-intensive brains are adaptive compared to smaller less energy-intensive brains.

    Yes, if the smaller, less-energy intensive brains were indeed equally as good at sampling the local environment, weighing up choices, and making the optimal decision, then you’re right that we woudn’t have evolved larger, more energy-intensive brains. So we can conclude that they’re not.

    Presumably agriculture is adaptive but I don’t think anyone is arguing that we are “gene programmed” to engage in agriculture. Agriculture is a cultural phenomenon, not a genetically-determined phenomenon.

    What do you mean by “agriculture is adaptive”? Food-seeking is certainly adaptive, and likely does have genetic programming underpinning it. Are you referring to the *difference* between hunter-gathering and farming, and asking whether that is (a) adaptive, and (b) a genetically-determined phenomenon?

    “Genetically programmed” seems to be to indicate that it is determined by genes RATHER THAN environment rather than IN ADDITION TO environment.

    Then you’re using the phrase differently from me. I’ve been clear from way up-thread that I’m arguing for a genetic/environmental admixture for nearly everything.

  475. 475
    gillt

    In addition to not actually collecting any genetic data that might support that conclusion

    So, neither do psychiatrists before they diagnose someone with bipolar and prescribe medication. It’s obviously hypocritical for you to be hyperskeptical about things you disagree with, EP, while making arguments with YouTube videos.

  476. 476
    coelsblog

    472: daniellavine:

    The entity performing the algorithm, not the algorithm itself. The state is stored in data structures. The algorithm itself is stateless.

    Making this distinction between the computer and the algorithm it is running is just pedantry, from the point of view of our discussion.

    We are discussing the fact that the output of a computer/algorithm depends on (1) inputs to the computer/algorithm system, and (2) the internal state of the computer/algorithm system (hardware, software, datastores).

    I was comparing this to the fact that (I claim) a human decision also depends on (1) sensory inputs, and (2) the internal state of the brain.

    Quibbling about whether data is stored in the computer that is running the algorithm or in the algorithm itself is irrelevant. Many of your counters are pretty irrelevant pedantry that doesn’t counter my basic arguments.

    Everyone agrees that genetics and environment work together to make a human being capable of a wide repertoire of behaviors;

    I’m glad that’s agreed.

    what is under dispute is whether it is, as you say, “a large swath” that is under direct genetic control or if environment is more salient in determining a human’s behaviors.

    I wouldn’t use the phrase “direct genetic control ” since it seems to imply that that “large swathe of behaviour” would be independent of environment. I don’t think that that is the case. Rather, as I have been consistently arguing throughout, I regard the resulting behaviour as result of a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors, and suggest that regarding it as either one or the other is not sensible.

    No matter how much evidence that I supply that human behavior is largely determined by environment rather than genes you can just say, “Yeah, that’s what I meant by “gene programming”!”.

    Can we be clear on the difference between “behaviour” and “differences in behaviour”? I would assert that most human behaviour *is* a result of genetic programming, and that you couldn’t find evidence to the contrary.

    If you disagree, please feel free to try the test of removing the human genes from a fertilised egg, replacing them with wasp genes, and seeing how much “human behaviour” results.

    If you’re talking about the *differences* within human behaviour, then I can readily accept that sometimes it *is* largely independent of genes (e.g. the difference between German and Spanish languages).

    BUT, we also know, from twin studies, that for many human traits a large fraction of the variance in the behaviour (often ~ 50%) does result from genetic differences.

    From there we then need to get into nitty gritty of deciding the case for any individual behaviour. All I’m saying is that one cannot just ignore the genetics, either in analysing behaviour common to most humans, or the differences in behaviour between humans — unless one has first established that on *that* trait genetic differences are unimportant.

  477. 477
    daniellavine

    That’s pedantry. The rules of chess say that if you make an invalid move you take it back and make a valid one.

    It’s not pedantry to point out that a computer algorithm is bound to abide by the rules with which it is programmed but human beings are not.

    Shrug. But when playing *chess* (which is what I was talking about) the number of options is the same.

    Sure, but that’s because it’s determined by the definition of the game. We’re talking about whether chess algorithms are flexible in the way that human minds are. I’m arguing that the fact that chess algorithms are bound by the rules of chess and human minds aren’t demonstrates that human minds are more flexible. Not sure how you can really disagree with that.

    Agreed, and the human brain is a lot more complex than any chess computer. I don’t see how this counters anything I’ve said.

    It demonstrates that the sort of “flexibility” demonstrated by chess-playing algorithms is not necessarily the same kind of “flexibility” demonstrated by human minds which completely undermines the value of using chess-playing algorithms as an example of flexibility.

    See 468

    Cross-posted, genius.

    Not only “possible” but obviously true! But the children also seem to have an innate “scaffolding” on which to learn language.

    Citation please. This is very much under debate.

    Well it’s greatly *affected* by the environment, but I wouldn’t use “program” for that, I’d use “program” only for a set of instructions (resulting from human programming or from evolution).

    1. This would seem to contradict your definition of “gene programming” which you state allows for environmental input. Apparently “gene programming” isn’t actually a kind of programming?
    2. Give me an example of “human programming”.

    You are pointing to cultural/environmental effects that reuslt in learned behaviour. I agree with your scenario. But your scenario would not evolve large brains. In your scenario there is no genetic variation so nothing to drive Darwinian evolution. Thus you need to drop the genetically identical scenario if you’re going to actually evolve large brains — and it’s that that all my arguments have been about.

    My example was constructed specifically to demonstrate that adaptive behaviors can be purely cultural or environmental rather than genetic in origin. Furthermore, my example operates under the condition that the human brain has already evolved. It’s not supposed to be a scenario that demonstrates how brains evolve, it’s a scenario that demonstrates that adaptive behaviors aren’t necessarily genetic — which you claimed they were!

    Then it can’t be relevant to *evolving* the large brains that *result* in the behavioral flexibility.

    It can be relevant to it without explaining it, but you’re shifting the goalposts. The example doesn’t demonstrate how brains evolved, it demonstrates the potential value of having behaviors decoupled from genetic control. I’ll explain this more below.

    Yes, if the smaller, less-energy intensive brains were indeed equally as good at sampling the local environment, weighing up choices, and making the optimal decision, then you’re right that we woudn’t have evolved larger, more energy-intensive brains. So we can conclude that they’re not.

    Sure they are. Chimpanzees still exist with their smaller, less energy-intensive brains and they’re much better adapted to their environments than we are (to their environments, obviously). Chimpanzees are quite good at sampling the local environment, weighing choices, and making optimal decisions.

    What do you mean by “agriculture is adaptive”? Food-seeking is certainly adaptive, and likely does have genetic programming underpinning it. Are you referring to the *difference* between hunter-gathering and farming, and asking whether that is (a) adaptive, and (b) a genetically-determined phenomenon?

    Yes, obviously.

    Then you’re using the phrase differently from me. I’ve been clear from way up-thread that I’m arguing for a genetic/environmental admixture for nearly everything.

    Then what are you disagreeing with? Everyone agrees that a mixture of genes and environment contributes to human behavior. The question is whether environmental factors or genetic factors are more salient given a particular behavior. We’ve been arguing that environmental factors are in just about every case more salient. You’ve apparently been disagreeing but whenever you’re challenged you retreat behind your “environment too!” excuses.

    To explain why I think human brains are adaptive:

    We can agree that some behaviors are less subject to “genetic control” than others, right? What I am arguing is that the human brain may very well be adaptive exactly because it decouples human behavior from genetic control. That is, human behavior has the potential to be adaptive regardless of genes and that’s what makes the human brain adaptive. This is exactly why I disagree with you: because I think human behavior is less subject to control by genes than that of any other animal and that is precisely why the human brain is adaptive. You seem to be insisting that the human brain is only adaptive because of genetic control of behaviors and I am saying the opposite — that it is freedom from genetic constraints on behavior that makes the human brain adaptive.

  478. 478
    daniellavine

    Making this distinction between the computer and the algorithm it is running is just pedantry, from the point of view of our discussion.

    We are discussing the fact that the output of a computer/algorithm depends on (1) inputs to the computer/algorithm system, and (2) the internal state of the computer/algorithm system (hardware, software, datastores).

    I was comparing this to the fact that (I claim) a human decision also depends on (1) sensory inputs, and (2) the internal state of the brain.

    Quibbling about whether data is stored in the computer that is running the algorithm or in the algorithm itself is irrelevant. Many of your counters are pretty irrelevant pedantry that doesn’t counter my basic arguments.

    I disagree that my “counter” is irrelevant to your basic arguments. Your “basic argument” in question takes for granted that the human mind is algorithmic in nature. I am disputing that assumption. That human behavior depends on environment and internal state of the brain the same way an algorithm depends on inputs doesn’t make a difference here, you still just haven’t established that the human mind is an algorithm.

    I wouldn’t use the phrase “direct genetic control ” since it seems to imply that that “large swathe of behaviour” would be independent of environment. I don’t think that that is the case. Rather, as I have been consistently arguing throughout, I regard the resulting behaviour as result of a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors, and suggest that regarding it as either one or the other is not sensible.

    But I think it’s quite obvious that some behavior is more directly controlled by genetics than others. Compare tying your shoes to pulling your hand away from a hot stove. I’d say the latter is more directly determined by genes. Thus while we can’t regard any behavior as strictly “one or the other” I would argue that it very much makes sense to distinguish between degrees of genetic control, and as I’ve argued above what makes the human brain adaptive is exactly that it is under less genetic control.

    Can we be clear on the difference between “behaviour” and “differences in behaviour”? I would assert that most human behaviour *is* a result of genetic programming, and that you couldn’t find evidence to the contrary.

    If you disagree, please feel free to try the test of removing the human genes from a fertilised egg, replacing them with wasp genes, and seeing how much “human behaviour” results.

    Only in the trivial sense that we can only ski because we have legs and having legs is determined by genes. Therefore skiing is under genetic control?

    BUT, we also know, from twin studies, that for many human traits a large fraction of the variance in the behaviour (often ~ 50%) does result from genetic differences.

    I actually think such studies are seriously flawed. “Getting mugged” is a heritable trait according to those studies. Where do you suppose the genes for “getting mugged” reside?

  479. 479
    daniellavine

    From there we then need to get into nitty gritty of deciding the case for any individual behaviour. All I’m saying is that one cannot just ignore the genetics, either in analysing behaviour common to most humans, or the differences in behaviour between humans — unless one has first established that on *that* trait genetic differences are unimportant.

    How does one do that?

    I’d argue instead that human behavior is so flexible, so detached from genetic control, that unless there’s good reason to think otherwise one should assume that it is not under genetic control. If you want to demonstrate that a behavior is under genetic control then you should supply evidence that it is.

  480. 480
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I’m saying is that one cannot just ignore the genetics, either in analysing behaviour common to most humans, or the differences in behaviour between humans — unless one has first established that on *that* trait genetic differences are unimportant.

    This a typical ass backwards statement from a TrueBeliever™ who can’t be refuted. Negatives can’t be proven. Which is why the null hypothesis must be set up so that positive evidence is required for claims. You claim every behavior has a genetic control to it. Now, where is the evidence to back up said claim? Try here or a similar facility, not just reiterating your opinion.

  481. 481
    coelsblog

    477 daniellavine:

    It’s not pedantry to point out that a computer algorithm is bound to abide by the rules with which it is programmed but human beings are not.

    You can program leaning into a computer. However, since you’re making a big issue of the difference between digital computers and neutral networks I’m happy to compare with artificial neutral networks instead (in order avoid side issues, and leaving aside whether a neural network can be fully emulated by a UTM).

    that chess algorithms are bound by the rules of chess and human minds aren’t demonstrates that human minds are more flexible.

    Sure, I agree. A chess-playing algorithm is one “app” and human brains are huge bundles of apps, some talking to each other, some not. Of course that makes the human brain more flexible.

    This would seem to contradict your definition of “gene programming” which you state allows for environmental input. Apparently “gene programming” isn’t actually a kind of programming?

    It’s consistent. I use the term “programming” for a set of instructions or a recipe to follow. The genes provide that. There is indeed environmental input, that doesn’t mean that that input is necessarily a set of instructions.

    2. Give me an example of “human programming”.

    An airplane’s auto-pilot.

    My example was constructed specifically to demonstrate that adaptive behaviors can be purely cultural or environmental rather than genetic in origin.

    Yes, but only given a substrate of genetic rules. E.g. “If twin A dies, don’t copy A”. (or even just “if something seems to result in death, avoid it”). This is similar to “if eating those berries makes you ill, don’t do it”. I entirely agree that this sort of learned behaviour is adaptive, but one can argue that the adaptiveness depends on the genetcic rules.

    Furthermore, my example operates under the condition that the human brain has already evolved. It’s not supposed to be a scenario that demonstrates how brains evolve, …

    OK, but then my argument is all about how those brains evolve (rather than how they play out once evolved). I agree that culture can play out already-evolved genetic rules.

    The question is whether environmental factors or genetic factors are more salient given a particular behavior.

    Agreed.

    We’ve been arguing that environmental factors are in just about every case more salient.

    Only in a very few cases — such as choice of the German langage instead of Spanish — have you provided good reason that a particular difference-in-trait is environmental.

    Then what are you disagreeing with?

    I’m arguing that your conclusions that “environmental factors are in just about every case more salient” is unsupported. (By the way, if by “more salient” you’d include traits where the variance is 55:45 environment/genetic then even on those the genetic contribution is highly significant. If you’re suggesting that “in just about every case” it’s >95% to <5% environment/genetic then I don't see that you have the data to support that.)

    We can agree that some behaviors are less subject to “genetic control” than others, right?

    Yes.

    What I am arguing is that the human brain may very well be adaptive exactly because it decouples human behavior from genetic control. That is, human behavior has the potential to be adaptive regardless of genes and that’s what makes the human brain adaptive.

    OK, but you need to argue it rather than assert it. It sounds wrong to me. If the culture is getting decoupled from genes to too large an extent, what keeps the behaviour focussed on adaptiveness? Group selection? I’m aware that some biologists do argue for that, though I’ve not yet been convinced by group selection.

    I agree that the genes give culture and learning some lee-way, that’s the whole point of them programming brains. But they need to keep culture/learning on a lease to keep it focussed (at least sufficiently) on Darwinian “fitness”.

  482. 482
    daniellavine

    Sure, I agree. A chess-playing algorithm is one “app” and human brains are huge bundles of apps, some talking to each other, some not. Of course that makes the human brain more flexible.

    I disagree that human brains are huge bundles of apps. You haven’t demonstrated this. That is the point of the “chess-playing algorithm” tangent.

    It’s consistent. I use the term “programming” for a set of instructions or a recipe to follow. The genes provide that. There is indeed environmental input, that doesn’t mean that that input is necessarily a set of instructions.

    1. I don’t believe that the human mind operates as a series of instructions in the first place and you haven’t demonstrated that it has.
    2. Behavior does not seem to be determined by genes directly in this way — the genes don’t provide explicit instructions to the body as to what it should do. Behavior is mediated through the brain which, as I’ve already objected, has not been demonstrated to operate algorithmically.

    Yes, but only given a substrate of genetic rules. E.g. “If twin A dies, don’t copy A”. (or even just “if something seems to result in death, avoid it”). This is similar to “if eating those berries makes you ill, don’t do it”. I entirely agree that this sort of learned behaviour is adaptive, but one can argue that the adaptiveness depends on the genetcic rules.

    Sure, in the same trivial way that skiing depends on having legs. Nonetheless skiing is not determined by having legs. Again, you are simply assuming that the human mind operates algorithmically which you have not demonstrated. There does not seem to be any explicit instructions encoded in the human brain that say things like “If twin A dies, don’t copy A”. I’ve already disputed your “make you ill, don’t do it” example by showing that human beings can and do things that make them ill and that they know will make them ill.

    OK, but then my argument is all about how those brains evolve (rather than how they play out once evolved). I agree that culture can play out already-evolved genetic rules.

    I used the example to refute a particular argument you made in service to your larger argument. It is, however, relevant to your