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The "disentanglement research program": a fragment

From something I'm working on -- & closely related to what is described here, of course.

The "disentanglement project": an empirical research program

“Evolution” refers not only to a scientifically grounded account of the natural history of life on earth but also to a symbol in relationship to which people's stances signify membership in one or another cultural group.  The confounding of the former and the latter are at the root of a cluster of related societal problems. One is simply how to measure individual comprehension of evolutionary science and science generally. Another is how to impart collective knowledge on terms that avoid needlessly conditioning its acquisition on an abandonment or denigration of cultural commitments collateral to science.  And a final problem is how to protect the enterprise of acquiring, assessing, and transmitting knowledge from becoming a focal point for cultural status competition corrosive of the reciprocal benefits that science and liberal democratic governance naturally confer on one another.  This paper discuss the “disentanglement project,” an empirical research program aimed at identifying an integrated set of practices for unconfounding the status of evolution as a token of collective knowledge and a symbol of cultural identity within the institutions of the liberal state. 

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Reader Comments (6)

Humans evolved in groups, and only by understanding group logic, and more specifically "cultural group" logic, can we hope to explain or predict human behavior.

But in the evolutionary scheme of things, multi-level selection theory is infinitely more complex than either naive individual-level selection theory or naive group-level selection theory.

This is one of the reasons why those of a more reductionist and dogmatic bent, such as the neoliberals with their quasi-religious belief in individual-level selection theory or Marxists with their quasi-religious belief in group-selection theory, cling to simplistic selection theories like a drowning man would cling to a life raft in turbulent waters.

But on further examination, I suppose both neoliberals and Marxists are members of "cultural groups" too.

Dr Pakistani anyone?

January 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Stehle

What do you think the issues are with individual level selection?

January 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@ NiV

See my latest comment on this thread

January 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Stehle


I've had a look, and it doesn't actually answer the question. What are the technical problems with individual selection that you're talking about?

January 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@ NiV

This paper delves into some of the more nitty-gritty issues:

Mandeville’s fable of the bees [1705], along with Adam Smith’s metaphor of the invisible hand, has long been used to convey the idea that a well-functioning society can be forged out of individual self-interest.

This idea has become such a tenet of modern thought that for many it is an unquestioned axiom and for decades it has served as the foundation of formal economic theory.

Since Mandeville wrote his fanciful tale, an authentic scientific theory has arisen that explains how beehives and other adaptive animal societies evolve. This theory has much to say about human societies, but it fundamentally challenges the concept of individual self-interest as we know it. In this essay I will update the fable of the bees based on modern evolutionary theory. The updated version retains Mandeville’s emphasis on self-organization, in which an adaptive society can operate without any centralized intelligence. However, it rejects the concept of self-interest as an adequate description of either the thoughts or actions that enable individuals to self-organize into adaptive societies.


As does this one:

Is evolution a team sport, or is the contest for survival played out strictly between individuals? There’s no question that natural selection acts on individual organisms: Those with favorable traits are more likely to pass along their genes to the next generation. But perhaps similar processes could operate at other levels of the biological hierarchy. In this way natural selection could perpetuate traits that are favorable not to an individual but to a social unit such as a flock or a colony, or to an entire species, or even to an ecosystem made up of many species. The underlying question is: Can biological traits evolve “for the good of the group”?....

The controversy over levels of selection started earlier and is not yet quite over. In Adaptation and Natural Selection, Williams performed both a service and a disservice. The service was to forcefully assert that adaptation at any given level requires a process of selection at the same level and should not be invoked otherwise. The disservice was to adopt the extreme view that “group level adaptations do not, in fact, exist.”

We think that the time has come to declare a victory for the middle ground. Future evolutionists will look back and wonder what the fuss was about. Of course natural selection operates at multiple levels of the biological hierarchy. The Russian-doll logic of MLS theory must be used to evaluate the importance of each level on a case-by-case basis.


January 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Stehle

Glenn, thanks.

In this case, our mutant no-cost public good provider does not increase her relative fitness within her group, but she does increase the fitness of her group, relative to other groups in the total population. The mutant trait can spread through the total population on the strength of among-group selection, even if it is selectively neutral within groups.

That's still individual selection. The mutant trait spreads by virtue of its individual value over a subset of the population - the part outside the group.

But there could be an argument that the rest of the group spreads by virtue of having mutants in the same group. That would be a case of getting a selective advantage not by means of your own personal genes, but by means of those within a group that you're a member of.

OK. That sounds reasonable. Individual selection can drive a sort of group selection by accidental association.

It would only work for long, though, if you can keep the mutants within your own group, and not allow them to defect to other groups. (And there would, of course, be selective pressure on members of other groups to encourage them to defect.) So I think the situation would be unstable without other group members evolving methods to police group membership. Again, the spread of this policing trait would be a case of individual-level selection.

On the whole, I don't think evolutionists like Dawkins would argue with any of that. But it's an interesting perspective I hadn't considered before. Thanks.

January 14, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

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