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← Jonathan Haidt: Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Jump to comment 11 by Richard Dawkins

Comment 7 by Stafford Gordon :

Comment 1: mgjinich.

"I would love to read Richard's opinion."

My first thought; is group selection back in the frame?

What a maddening, infuriating, enraging talk, a talk as badly misguided as it is well delivered (albeit with a style of slick, adman showmanship that rubs me personally up the wrong way). I have to go and catch a plane, so no time to spell it out. But, briefly:-

  1. No, group selection is not back in the frame. E.O.Wilson, for all his merits, has never understood kin selection. Even in 1975, in Sociobiology he was treating kin selection as a kind of group selection, which it utterly is not. Maynard Smith coined the phrase 'kin selection' precisely in order to distinguish it from group selection.

  2. The social insects work entirely by kin selection. The theory is well-worked out and it works. Sterile workers contain copies of genes that are also in reproductives. The worker phenotypes are driven by those genes to work for their copies in reproductives.

  3. Mitochondria and other 'membrane-bound' examples. As I have spelled out at great length in numerous places (e.g. The Extended Phenotype, The Selfish Gene, Unweaving the Rainbow) the key here is that groups of genes who share the same exit route from the present vehicle into the future have common interests and work together. My earliest attempt to explain this actually made use of exactly the same metaphor of rowing crews (developed at some length in two places in The Selfish Gene).

  4. It is true that Darwin, in The Descent of Man, did uncharacteristically resort to a form of group selectionism for the particular example of humans. But I suspect that if Darwin had known of the later work of men such as Hamilton, Trivers and Maynard Smith, he would not have done so. The only good part of Haidt's talk, where he evokes the group solidarity of humans, for example in warfare, is beautifully explained in non group selectionist terms. For example, kin selection using 'fictive kin'. Consider the lengths to which military and paramilitary units go to foster notions of 'brotherhood'. Look it up in Andy Thomson's excellent book.

Got to rush, sorry

Richard

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 09:16:21 UTC | #928880