Re: Sociobiological Concepts

From: Stevan Harnad (
Date: Sun Oct 12 1997 - 18:59:03 BST

> From: Nik Bollons <>
> Questions - 1) How then are these characteristics in
> individuals passed onto the next generation and 2) how do we
> get species with different characteristics? Plus, 3) how does
> the past environment allow for one characteristic to be passed
> on, but not another?
> species Genotype (GT), a species Phenotype (PT)

Species do not have genotypes or phenotypes; individual organisms
(survival machines) do. (However, there is some controversy in Biology
over what is to count as an "individual": Some theorists think species
are individuals -- and those who subscribe to the "Gaia Hypothesis"
think the entire biosphere is an individual. See:

BBS, 1981, VOL.4, NO.2, PP.269-283

> The EEA, is this past environment in which certain mutant
> characteristics were chosen over others.

Mutant or just recombinant.

> The choice of which
> characteristic is successful and passed on is not in the
> control of the instruction manual or the house, nor is it in
> the hands of the environment - as that is continually
> changing - but it is the hands of chance, because only chance
> decides which instruction manual and house ^—fits
> successfully^“ into which environment.

No, I think it IS the environment. Chance is involved in mutation and
recombination, but the "choice" of what works and what doesn't is NOT a
matter of chance: It is a matter of the success of the blueprint in the
given environment. (Chance proposes, the environment disposes.)

> Over time, houses have become extremely complicated physical
> structures with sets of behaviours, and so have the
> instruction manuals needed to create them.

During evolution I suppose things got more complex (but in some cases
they got simpler too). Learning was a major development (and probably a
gradual one, with organisms having more and more flexibility, that is,
degree of freedom that would be "set" by the particular environment in
which the organism found itself).

> 3) The past
> environment allows for one characteristic to be passed on and
> not another, but only when that characteristic fits that
> particular environment. However, the population of a species
> have no control as to whether their particular variant
> characteristic will be successful in that environment, and
> neither does the environment - the whole process is done by
> blind chance

No control over the fit of the recipe and the environment, that's
true. But within the degrees of freedom that our capacity to learn (and
think, and explain) allows us, are we not exercising control? If
someone inherits a normally deadly recessive gene, and we have a
surgical way of fixing the phenotype, isn't that control?
And won't recombinant DNA techniques be a form of control?

One way to separate the random part from the environmental part is to
think of the variation that occurs as blind and based on chance
(although it's often the reshuffling of existing structures) but to
think of the environment as the (disinterested) arbiter of what
variants can stay and what variants must go.

How cognition fits with all these adaptive goings-on is the theme of
this seminar.

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