Wilkins is about to review a new paper on sociobiology by Wilson and Wilson, but he hasn’t quite done it yet. I’ll be looking forward to it, though.
Wilkins calls himself an unflinching sociobologist. I’m more of a lapsed sociobiologist with a fairly positive view of the field. The book Sociobiology was actually my very first serious introduction to the depth of biology — I picked it up when I was an undergraduate, way back in 1975, and read it all the way through. I was impressed in my naive fashion, and was baffled by the sociobiology wars that raged for a time — I was particularly distressed because I idolized Gould, and there he was treating Wilson like a pariah. But of course human nature, brains and behavior were subject to evolutionary change! Why all the disagreement?
Then, of course, sociobiology morphed into evolutionary psychology, which was very useful: EvPsych extracted all the bad and objectionable parts of sociobiology and amplified them, making it easy for an innocent, budding biologist to see the problems. I don’t think that was the intent of EvPsych, but it’s what it accomplished for me.
Wilkins points out the two glaring flaws of EvPsych: the excesses of panadaptationism and the unwarranted oversimplification of modularity.
Jonathan Eisen has a good example of adaptationist excess. The worst of EvPsych gets carried away with treating every quirk of human biology as an adaptationed honed for some specific function — but that’s an assumption that has to be tested, not taken for granted. As for modularity, well, it’s there…but it’s not as sharp as it’s often made out to be. I’ve got my own take on how the genome hangs together, and it’s not about discrete components, but about deeply intertwined interactions.
But still, I expect human behavior does have a strong biological influence, so I’m going to enjoy Wilson and Wilson’s redemption of the field. Probably. We’ll have to see. Wilkins will have to give us more than a brief introduction, I think.