More On Jerry Fodor, Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, And Evolution

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on March 27, 2010

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I posted in the past on the weakness of Jerry Fodor’s and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini’s book purporting to tell us “what Darwin got wrong.” As the title of my previous post indicates, Fodor’s and Piatelli-Palmarini’s effort on this issue is a classic example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action. It is worth noting that Fodor engaged in a Bloggingheads discussion on the issue with philosopher Elliott Sober:

The following exchange (it’s somewhat long, but bear with it) really seems to point out the weaknesses with Fodor’s position, not to mention the tediousness of his argument, even when viewed in the best light:

The part near the end of the entire diavlog, where Fodor tells us that it is not worth listening to what evolutionary biologists have to say about their work is a real head-scratcher as well. I do not, for the life of me, understand what Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini think they have achieved with the publication of their book, other than to have embarrassed themselves in the field of evolutionary biology. It is one thing to be intellectually adventurous in discussing evolution. But one needs to bring a certain level of expertise to the discussion, no?

  • http://waxingerratic.wordpress.com/ ECM

    The good news is that evo biology is pretty embarrassing as a 'scientific' endeavor, so they have good company if that is the case. (No, I'm not a Creationist.)

  • http://www.strangedoctrines.com Michael Drake

    Just…bizarre. Dunning-Kruger – yes, very apt.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    What precisely has revealed evolutionary biology as an embarrassment? Points if you cite something that is not primarily advanced by ID advocates and creationists.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    More than anything else, the argument is tedious, though it certainly does have the potential to lead people astray. Who cares if “thump-thump” noises are free-riders? What possible significance could it have? And how is it that Darwin–having wisely avoided entering into this assault on the capillaries–could possibly be accused of having gotten it “wrong”?

  • http://waxingerratic.wordpress.com/ ECM

    How about an entire book:

    http://www.amazon.com/Altenberg-16-Exposé-Evolu

    And not a filthy Creationist in site–not even the author! Thank God! No, wait, I mean thank Nature!

    Now where do I collect my points?

  • http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/ WinteryKnightBlog

    That book is secular through and through. But another good thing to do, for those who are open-minded, is to watch a debate between a practicing scientist who doubts evolution and a practicing scientist who doesn't.

    For example, you could watch Jonathan Wells and Michael Shermer debate at the Cato Institute.

    http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=8502D6B

    Wells has Ph.Ds from Yale and Berkeley, and is a microbiologist. Shermer is the editor of Skeptic magazine.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    I'd be glad to give you points. Alas, I can't.

  • http://waxingerratic.wordpress.com/ ECM

    Oh well, if he says it's true, it must be! Consider me chagrined. (Alas I'm not.)

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    Am I supposed to apologize for finding the critique of the book persuasive?

  • http://waxingerratic.wordpress.com/ ECM

    Of course not, even if the 'critique' amounts to a couple hundred words/ad hominem.

    And of course you find it persuasive: as with your impression of the linked story, you write off everyone that isn't a dyed-in-the-wool Darwinist, even when people at said conference, as admitted in the post you find so perusausive, agree that there are serious problems with Darwinism.

    In fact, one of the links at the post you proffer also offers this:

    “The Altenberg 16 have some interesting ideas…”

    And that:

    “Jerry Coyne was wrong. There are some things that need fixing.”

    (And yes, maybe there were cranks involved at the A16 (again, nothing like argument by ad hom), but he seems to think there was some value in it, but you have, as is the case with most dyed-in-the-wool Darwinists, happily ignored that because it doen't comport with your worldview that Darwinism has to be right, even in light of very recent research about 'junk' DNA, epigenetics and a whole host of other topics that do not appear to fit the predictions made by Darwinists, and all without invoking ID or Creationism or even “cranks”–feel free to educate yourself on any and all those topics, as it should keep you busy for mnoths and, perhaps, even expose the huge chinks in Darwin's theory.)

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    No one ever said that we aren't learning more about evolution that causes us to rethink a number of our theories. But talk of conspiracy is absurd, and I have no problem stating as much. There is a huge difference between Susan Mazur, and Stephen Jay Gould, and the former is most certainly not the latter. As for “cranks,” you would perhaps do a better job of critiquing them if you weren't so cranky and condescending in your own comments. Just my two cents.

  • http://waxingerratic.wordpress.com/ ECM

    Here's what I suggest:

    1. When someone offers you a compliment on your intelligence in a field, re: economics, maybe you should take it at face value. (I wouldn't be visiting your posts daily if this weren't the case.)

    2. Read the book and draw your own conclusions rather than relying on a few hundred words in a blog post as the be-all, end-all on the matter–there were some heavyweight evolutionists involved and what they said is of value, period.

    3. Read up on the latest research on epigenetics and junk DNA, and, in that light, perhaps re-evaluate Darwin's theory and decide if what Darwinism predicts*, in light of recent research, can be reconciled with it without being completely re-written from scratch.

    And, with that, I leave you to it.

    *The ability of a theory to accurately predict its suppositions is very, very important, something that Darwinism, at least since Gould's heyday, has been lacking.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    1. Compliments to my intelligence on the issue of economics–while welcome–aren't really at issue here.

    2. I don't have time to read every book on the planet. Would that it were otherwise. As such, I rely on reviews to filter the wheat from the chaff. I see this as an utterly non-controversial policy.

    3. I am always glad to read up on the latest in evolutionary theory. That having been written, Darwin has held up surprisingly and amazingly well. As mentioned above, we are always finding out new things, and people like Stephen Jay Gould have made remarkable contributions to the study of biology and paleontology. But Darwin's ghost can still walk around with his head held high.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    By the way, does this also qualify as ad hominem?

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/R6RC5JVVCD23LGBIXMASLYHQDU Erp

    F&PP are wrong regarding many if not most of the petty quibblings that their book included about natural selection (NS), evolution by natural selection (EBNS), and about what empirical studies of NS and EBNS can and cannot disentangle; but they got the most important thing right:

    Game theory (GT) is mathematics and by definition it cannot be a scientific theory. GTal themes may show up in scientific theories as can a lot of math of course (albeit some great math cannot possibly show up despite its being great!), but it's not the math what makes a model “scientific” but the direct and indirect experimental support for the ontological entities assumed by the model and for their predicted behavior and consequences. Abstract generalizations with abstract “natural-like” GT entities are not science but rather scientifically “instructive” math.

    A scientific theory like that of gravitation does include math but not only. Natural selection (NS) narratives fall between these two extremes: they mobilize a firework of circumstantial natural-historical details that are GTally relevant (in ceteris-paribus or dynamically positive ways), but abstractly speaking the winners are always “the result” of the Bauplan’s potential to be altered (due to mutation, etc) so that modified “units” show up that deal with the specific selective agent/regime better than existing units do.

    This *non-exhausted* Bauplan’s potential is part of the unifying “gravity-like” force driving evolution by natural selection (EBNS), and existing GT-oriented evol.bio narratives have nothing “ontologically” comparable to offer (i.e., they have no obligate links to a unifying natural force or entity).

    This potential of Bauplaene is part of what Van Valen went after when he proposed what he called “the 3rd law of natural selection” (1976; he meant EBNS when writing “natural selection”).

    No need to say that the unifying “gravity-like” force driving NS (as opposed to that driving EBNS) cannot be studied in the same way and time scales as that driving EBNS…

    All in all, the trailer-park-level understanding of what a scientific theory should be that has been put on display by most of the phil.of biol and evol.biol establishment frauds who have commented on F&PP’s “idiots-savants” book rivals non-necessarily favorably with that of the peddler of puerilo-retarded animistico-suggestive anthropomorphizations, Dawkins; and their arguments are barely less misguided and heuristically less pernicious that D’s syllogistic imbecility about “DNA with intentionality”.

    Like many others before, F&PP had the gut feeling that the unifying “gravity-like” forces driving NS and EBNS are unknown and neglected, and that available NS and EBNS stories are “different for each case” (let’s celebrate diversity!) because these narratives are ontologically truncated: Imagine people discussing cases of selection imposed by a predator and hearing them talk non-stop about faster muscle fibers, better camouflage, favorable shifts in activity pattern, better olfactory detection of the predator, etc, i.e., seeing them list a litany of sufficient but *not* necessary things under selection, but never witnessing anybody mention the necessary thing which is “to avoid being killed by the predator” (but note that a narrative organized around the latter statement would still be “ontologically truncated” because it would not be phrased in terms that apply to all living systems!).

    Yes, in a tired recent NYRB piece on this affair, Lewontin mentioned that F&PP have stated that they are not asking for such a unifying force/unified narrative, but the real question is whether they would have had anything to grumble if the unified force/narrative was already a highly visible central concern and a main research focus in evol.bio.

    Truly, it’s shocking to see –among “professional” philosophers of science– such ignorance of the deep epistemological canons that distinguish better-developed scientific theories from crude best-intentioned “early” narratives, and so is to see –-among “professional” evolutionary biologists– such ignorance of deep evolutionary biology.

    This whole debate shows one more time what kind of charade the american system of promoting self-complacent paper-churner/grant-chaser hybrid frauds has generated…

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/R6RC5JVVCD23LGBIXMASLYHQDU Erp

    F&PP are wrong regarding many if not most of the petty quibblings that their book included about natural selection (NS), evolution by natural selection (EBNS), and about what empirical studies of NS and EBNS can and cannot disentangle; but they got the most important thing right:

    Game theory (GT) is mathematics and by definition it cannot be a scientific theory. GTal themes may show up in scientific theories as can a lot of math of course (albeit some great math cannot possibly show up despite its being great!), but it's not the math what makes a model “scientific” but the direct and indirect experimental support for the ontological entities assumed by the model and for their predicted behavior and consequences. Abstract generalizations with abstract “natural-like” GT entities are not science but rather scientifically “instructive” math.

    A scientific theory like that of gravitation does include math but not only. Natural selection (NS) narratives fall between these two extremes: they mobilize a firework of circumstantial natural-historical details that are GTally relevant (in ceteris-paribus or dynamically positive ways), but abstractly speaking the winners are always “the result” of the Bauplan’s potential to be altered (due to mutation, etc) so that modified “units” show up that deal with the specific selective agent/regime better than existing units do.

    This *non-exhausted* Bauplan’s potential is part of the unifying “gravity-like” force driving evolution by natural selection (EBNS), and existing GT-oriented evol.bio narratives have nothing “ontologically” comparable to offer (i.e., they have no obligate links to a unifying natural force or entity).

    This potential of Bauplaene is part of what Van Valen went after when he proposed what he called “the 3rd law of natural selection” (1976; he meant EBNS when writing “natural selection”).

    No need to say that the unifying “gravity-like” force driving NS (as opposed to that driving EBNS) cannot be studied in the same way and time scales as that driving EBNS…

    All in all, the trailer-park-level understanding of what a scientific theory should be that has been put on display by most of the phil.of biol and evol.biol establishment frauds who have commented on F&PP’s “idiots-savants” book rivals non-necessarily favorably with that of the peddler of puerilo-retarded animistico-suggestive anthropomorphizations, Dawkins; and their arguments are barely less misguided and heuristically less pernicious that D’s syllogistic imbecility about “DNA with intentionality”.

    Like many others before, F&PP had the gut feeling that the unifying “gravity-like” forces driving NS and EBNS are unknown and neglected, and that available NS and EBNS stories are “different for each case” (let’s celebrate diversity!) because these narratives are ontologically truncated: Imagine people discussing cases of selection imposed by a predator and hearing them talk non-stop about faster muscle fibers, better camouflage, favorable shifts in activity pattern, better olfactory detection of the predator, etc, i.e., seeing them list a litany of sufficient but *not* necessary things under selection, but never witnessing anybody mention the necessary thing which is “to avoid being killed by the predator” (but note that a narrative organized around the latter statement would still be “ontologically truncated” because it would not be phrased in terms that apply to all living systems!).

    Yes, in a tired recent NYRB piece on this affair, Lewontin mentioned that F&PP have stated that they are not asking for such a unifying force/unified narrative, but the real question is whether they would have had anything to grumble if the unified force/narrative was already a highly visible central concern and a main research focus in evol.bio.

    Truly, it’s shocking to see –among “professional” philosophers of science– such ignorance of the deep epistemological canons that distinguish better-developed scientific theories from crude best-intentioned “early” narratives, and so is to see –-among “professional” evolutionary biologists– such ignorance of deep evolutionary biology.

    This whole debate shows one more time what kind of charade the american system of promoting self-complacent paper-churner/grant-chaser hybrid frauds has generated…

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