Darwin in Scotland with Dawkins, Chomsky, Rees et al.

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Darwin in Scotland with Dawkins, Chomsky, Rees et al.

#1  Postby JFDerry » Jun 03, 2010 4:22 pm

Dear All,

I would like to bring to your attention and welcome discussion on the following new publication:

Darwin in Scotland: Edinburgh, Evolution and Enlightenment
Whittles Publishing (31 Mar 2010)
ISBN-10: 1904445578

With exclusive contributions from Richard Dawkins, Noam Chomsky, Martin Rees, Aubrey Manning, Richard Holloway, Daniel C. Dennett, Randal Keynes, Brian Charlesworth, Ken Ham and others. This is the first book on Darwin and Darwinism that wholly concentrates on his time spent in Scotland and the key contributions to his future insights made by the Scottish Enlightenment and the University of Edinburgh. Darwin developed his theories because he attended Edinburgh University - although he participated little in formal tuition, it was through interaction with his tutors, peers and extracurricular groups that he was exposed to an ethos of naturalistic philosophy rooted in the Scottish Enlightenment and, by direct descent, the Ancient Greeks. If he had bypassed Scotland and gone straight to Cambridge, his education would have been theologically-based and unlikely to have given him the perspective that led him to question the prevailing doctrine. It is also the first book to explore the subsequent impact of his work on modern day biologists at the University of Edinburgh. How far have we moved on since Darwin made his discoveries? Are his theories still relevant to modern-day science? Can we say if they will be relevant in the future? And, what should we be teaching future generations? The relevance of Darwin in debate is as important and volatile now as when "The Origin of Species" was first published a century and a half ago. Science and religion seem to have reached an impasse. Intelligent Design, the conflicting view to Darwin's theory of natural selection, is the new kid on the block that the science gang wants nothing to do with. All the major issues in evolutionary study are covered here, through interviews with scientists, educators and creationists. They include some of the world leaders in the biological sciences at Edinburgh University, and they are most revealing about what Darwin has meant to them and their work.

atb,j.

JF Derry,
Institute of Evolutionary Biology,
University of Edinburgh
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Re: Darwin in Scotland with Dawkins, Chomsky, Rees et al.

#2  Postby ymitchell » Jun 03, 2010 4:52 pm

At his father's direction, Charles Darwin started university at 16 in Edinburgh, Scotland as a medical student. He showed little academic interest in medicine and was revolted by the brutality of surgery. He dropped out after two years of study in 1827 palomar.edu
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Re: Darwin in Scotland with Dawkins, Chomsky, Rees et al.

#3  Postby j.mills » Jun 03, 2010 4:58 pm

Crikey, that is a mix of names! Even Ham sandwiched in there!

This sounds an odd book: the above write-up suggests credence is given to creationism as some kind of 'theory', yet it's hard to imagine Dennett, Dawkins etc, choosing to appear in a work like that. The amazon review makes it sound a bit more promising. Can you tell us what form these 'contributions' to your book take, Mr D?
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Re: Darwin in Scotland with Dawkins, Chomsky, Rees et al.

#4  Postby Animavore » Jun 03, 2010 4:59 pm

Wait! Ken Ham?
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Re: Darwin in Scotland with Dawkins, Chomsky, Rees et al.

#5  Postby Horwood Beer-Master » Jun 03, 2010 5:04 pm

I hope Dennett tears Chomsky a new one.
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Re: Darwin in Scotland with Dawkins, Chomsky, Rees et al.

#6  Postby Animavore » Jun 03, 2010 5:09 pm

Horwood Beer-Master wrote:I hope Dennett tears Chomsky a new one.

Why would he do that?
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Re: Darwin in Scotland with Dawkins, Chomsky, Rees et al.

#7  Postby Horwood Beer-Master » Jun 03, 2010 5:19 pm

Animavore wrote:
Horwood Beer-Master wrote:I hope Dennett tears Chomsky a new one.

Why would he do that?

Read Darwin's Dangerous Idea. Dennett gives over about a third of a chapter to exposing Chomsky's fallacious "skyhook" thinking regarding mind and language.

Basically, Chomsky seems to think language in humans arises through magic (actually that's probably doing him a slight disservice - but only a slight one)
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Re: Darwin in Scotland with Dawkins, Chomsky, Rees et al.

#8  Postby Animavore » Jun 03, 2010 5:39 pm

Horwood Beer-Master wrote:
Animavore wrote:
Horwood Beer-Master wrote:I hope Dennett tears Chomsky a new one.

Why would he do that?

Read Darwin's Dangerous Idea. Dennett gives over about a third of a chapter to exposing Chomsky's fallacious "skyhook" thinking regarding mind and language.

Basically, Chomsky seems to think language in humans arises through magic (actually that's probably doing him a slight disservice - but only a slight one)

That book is on my list. It's funny because the impression I got from Pinkr is the Chomsky said that we had innate language facualties like we have innate walking or grabbing ability?
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Re: Darwin in Scotland with Dawkins, Chomsky, Rees et al.

#9  Postby Horwood Beer-Master » Jun 03, 2010 5:54 pm

Animavore wrote:...the impression I got from Pinkr is the Chomsky said that we had innate language facualties like we have innate walking or grabbing ability?

He doesn't think this innate ability is the result of evolution though, he see's it as some kind of 'mystery' which could only be explained (if it can be explained at all) at the level of the laws of physics, not the laws of biology. He also doesn't seem to think that consciousness can arise purely from the neurons of our brains, and that instead this is another 'mystery', and that therefore true artificial intelligence will prove impossible.


It's possible he may have changed his views on some of this since Darwin's Dangerous Idea was written for all I know, but he's probably still clinging to skyhooks of one kind or another.
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Re: Darwin in Scotland with Dawkins, Chomsky, Rees et al.

#10  Postby Animavore » Jun 03, 2010 6:28 pm

Horwood Beer-Master wrote:
Animavore wrote:...the impression I got from Pinkr is the Chomsky said that we had innate language facualties like we have innate walking or grabbing ability?

He doesn't think this innate ability is the result of evolution though, he see's it as some kind of 'mystery' which could only be explained (if it can be explained at all) at the level of the laws of physics, not the laws of biology. He also doesn't seem to think that consciousness can arise purely from the neurons of our brains, and that instead this is another 'mystery', and that therefore true artificial intelligence will prove impossible.


It's possible he may have changed his views on some of this since Darwin's Dangerous Idea was written for all I know, but he's probably still clinging to skyhooks of one kind or another.


I remember the Dennet mentioning "sky-hooks" in another book before (Either Breaking the Spell or Freedom Evolves as they're the only 2 I read) and Dennet mentioned it was more like "cranes" than "sky-hooks". Dawkins also used the analogy (attributing it to Dennet).
As I said, Dawin's Dangerous Idea is on my list but this list is like a road which stretches further as I draw nearer so when I get to it I'll never know.
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Re: Darwin in Scotland with Dawkins, Chomsky, Rees et al.

#11  Postby JFDerry » Jun 03, 2010 8:27 pm

Hello again,

well not quite the response I was expecting, but I will attempt to provide some responses, in the order that the posts appear above. Disclaimer: you can see from the signature in my original post that I am part of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Edinburgh. You can therefore deduce which side of the science-religion debate I am on.

ymitchell: not sure the point of your quote other than to trot out the usual over-simplified account of Darwin's time spent in Edinburgh. There is much more, and I would add, the book is "... in Scotland" which traces an all-the-more complete account of his influences towards his works, and later his influence on evolutionary science. It seems as if this book is made for you and you will be much the wiser for reading it.

j.mills: you only consider it a mix of names because you have never had them presented alongside one another. There is no suggestion that creationism is given theory status or any qualification. That is in your reading of the blurb. I have simply presented varying viewpoints in tandem and then carefully drawn conclusion from doing so. The contributions range from short paragraphs to many page interview transcripts, each elucidating on a topic about Darwinism.

Animavore: yes Ken Ham. You'd be surprised, especially when his views are compared to William Dembski. Have you ever spoken to Ken Ham? Ever asked him what he thinks about Darwin and evolution? I have taken the trouble to do so on your behalf. You can find the answers in the book.

Horwood Beer-Master: Chomsky's and Dennett's contributions to the book are unrelated and therefore appear at different points. Regarding Chomsky's ideas, I would strongly urge you, as I do everybody, to research the facts before commenting. The book provides a basis in Chomsky's and Skinner's models and how they relate to Darwinism.

I hope this is helpful.

atb, j.
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Re: Darwin in Scotland with Dawkins, Chomsky, Rees et al.

#12  Postby j.mills » Jun 04, 2010 9:31 pm

Thanks for that, JFDerry. Sounds interesting enough, not immediately objectionable. (High praise, eh? :grin:) Seems like one of those I'd be happy to get around to if I didn't have several hundred other books to read first... But good luck with it. :thumbup:
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Re: Darwin in Scotland with Dawkins, Chomsky, Rees et al.

#13  Postby JFDerry » Jun 09, 2010 2:36 pm

j.mills wrote:Thanks for that, JFDerry. Sounds interesting enough, not immediately objectionable. (High praise, eh? :grin:) Seems like one of those I'd be happy to get around to if I didn't have several hundred other books to read first... But good luck with it. :thumbup:


thanks very much for well wishes.

would be delighted to hear any feedback

atb,j.
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Re: Darwin in Scotland with Dawkins, Chomsky, Rees et al.

#14  Postby Mr.Samsa » Jun 13, 2010 5:52 am

JFDerry wrote:
Horwood Beer-Master: Chomsky's and Dennett's contributions to the book are unrelated and therefore appear at different points. Regarding Chomsky's ideas, I would strongly urge you, as I do everybody, to research the facts before commenting. The book provides a basis in Chomsky's and Skinner's models and how they relate to Darwinism.


Hi JFDerry,

Are you able to expand on this point a bit more? What angle are you taking with relating Chomsky and Skinner's ideas to Darwinism?
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Re: Darwin in Scotland with Dawkins, Chomsky, Rees et al.

#15  Postby Hollis » Jun 13, 2010 5:52 pm

I'll definitely it. At some point...
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The art of writing is mysterious, the opinions we hold are ephemeral... ~ Jorge Luis Borges
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Re: Darwin in Scotland with Dawkins, Chomsky, Rees et al.

#16  Postby JFDerry » Jun 15, 2010 4:34 pm

Mr.Samsa wrote:
JFDerry wrote:
Horwood Beer-Master: Chomsky's and Dennett's contributions to the book are unrelated and therefore appear at different points. Regarding Chomsky's ideas, I would strongly urge you, as I do everybody, to research the facts before commenting. The book provides a basis in Chomsky's and Skinner's models and how they relate to Darwinism.


Hi JFDerry,

Are you able to expand on this point a bit more? What angle are you taking with relating Chomsky and Skinner's ideas to Darwinism?


Hi Mr.Samsa,

I can do better than that and point you towards a paper containing the relevant section on psycholinguistics:

Derry (2009) Darwin in Disguise. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2008.10.002

hope this helps

atb,j.
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Re: Darwin in Scotland with Dawkins, Chomsky, Rees et al.

#17  Postby Mr.Samsa » Jun 16, 2010 12:53 am

JFDerry wrote:Hi Mr.Samsa,

I can do better than that and point you towards a paper containing the relevant section on psycholinguistics:

Derry (2009) Darwin in Disguise. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2008.10.002

hope this helps

atb,j.


Thanks for that, I just had a read through it now. Whilst I don't disagree with your general message (i.e. the concept of Darwinism has been overapplied in some areas and has resulted in, basically, pseudoscientific adpatationism) but I can't help but feel that you're being a little too harsh. Fields like evolutionary psychology do tend to misapply Darwinian principles to their study, but with fields like Neural Darwinism and "Evolutionary Cosmology" they aren't using 'evolution' as a metaphor, instead they are analysing the selectionist principles involved in those areas.

Cosmology is not my area so I might be mistaken on that point, but for neural Darwinism, even though the approach taken by Edelman was perhaps premature and speculative, it has been largely supported by the work of McDowell, Burgos, Donahoe, Palmer etc. As long as the basic units of selection are present (heritibility, variation and differential replication) then "natural selection" will occur - or rather, as long as those aspects are there then we are necessarily looking at a selectionist process in nature. This is true of neural networks and, as far as I'm aware, true of cosmological events like planet formation etc.

I thought your discussion of memes and evolutionary psychology was good though, as both concepts have become much too widespread for my liking. Although I must admit that I thought your google search example was a bit disingenuous as the term "meme" has a meaning outside of its scientific application; that is, the term "internet meme" refers to an image, joke, cliche, etc, that is spread digitally. Here it's not used as a "gene analog" but rather it's just an informal way of referring to a currently popular internet phenomenon. I do understand your point though, and it's hardly a major issue in the scope of your discussion.

I was a little confused by this section:

Skinner’s [16] version of verbal
behaviour (now augmented as relational frame theory)
proposed learning through Pavlovian conditioned response
as brain capacity, intelligence and society gradually coevolved,
in a Darwinian adaptationist fashion.


Skinner did not propose Pavlovian principles for his theory of language, and he largely left the notion of respondent conditioning out of every work he did (generally using it only as a "filler" to try to explain something he couldn't). And he applied selectionist principles to his ideas retrospectively - his whole career basically consisted of simply describing behavior and he refused to speculate on any aspect of his findings. Later on in his life, around 1970, it was pointed out to him that his description of behavior was practically identical to Darwin's natural selection (and that's when he wrote "Selection by Consequences"). So rather than applying Darwinian principles to his work, it was more a case of him "rediscovering" natural selection on the ontogenic level. (There are also issues with Relational Frame Theory, but I'll save that for another time).

It's an interesting perspective though. I think generally I agree with what you're outlining in that article, but perhaps you're being a bit hard on some of the approaches there. For example, Darwinian medicine has come up with some crackpot ideas (like depression being an adaptation), but applying these principles to medicine can be useful, like when explaining the spread of sickle cell anaemia in African countries.

Thanks for the link :cheers:
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