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← A misguided attack on kin selection

LetsHaveAnAdventure's Avatar Jump to comment 24 by LetsHaveAnAdventure

YES! Sometimes I wish religion would hasten its departure to make room for more fun discussions like this.

Richard's comment above is important and worth listening to. This stuff is brilliant, and finding oneself confused about an article like this is a perfect opportunity to run off and read about some of the most interesting ideas of the past century. However, it`s not always easy to know where to look for the best references.

After 34 years, The Selfish Gene is still a wonderful place to start. The book gives fantastic introductions to Hamilton's concept of inclusive fitness (relevant to this discussion), as well as to Robert Trivers's theories of parental investment and parent offspring conflict that play a major role in research that attempts to explain animal behavior (humans included).

Indeed, the preface to The Selfish Gene was written by Robert Trivers, and was (as Steven Pinker has noted) probably one of the most important prefaces in the history of publishing (Trivers outlines his massively influential theory of self-deception in one sentence, almost as if he was making casual bar conversation).

Other great sources are the foundational papers themselves, which are fairly easy reads once one understands the basics. Hamilton's two-part paper on kin selection can be found here The Genetical Evolution of Social Behavior 1 (change "64a" to "64b" in the url for part 2). Robert Trivers's famous paper on reciprocal altruism is here The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism

If you're more interested in understanding the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis via its application to those bizarre bipedal apes, you`re looking for books on Evolutionary Psychology. Some of the better textbooks are: Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind by David Buss and Evolutionary Psychology: An Introduction by Lance Workman and Will Reader. As for more rigorous resources, a classic compilation of essays and papers is The Adapted Mind and another destined to become a classic (in which Richard wrote the afterword) is The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, which is my current preferred distraction from my less interesting math research.

If you`re looking for popular accounts, look for any book by Steven Pinker, in particular How the Mind Works or The Blank Slate.

Finally, whether applied to humans or non-human animals, the cousin-subjects of sociobiology, behavioral ecology, evolutionary psychology, and human ethology are very frequently the subject of criticism so hostile that the unacquainted reader might have difficulty deciding whether they`re legitimate fields of study at all. Most of the works cited above address these claims in detail, but a good compilation of responses to such criticisms can be found here: The Critical Eye.

Anyways, sorry for the mountain of babbling. As a mathematical physics student, I rarely get an opportunity to talk about this other obsession of mine.

Wed, 01 Sep 2010 00:45:54 UTC | #508905