Sunday, December 9, 2012

Wilkins on evolved dispositions

In Evopsychopathy 3: the explanatory target, that is, whatever the hell you're trying to account for, Wilkins tell us that Darwin
spent some time trying to work out how bees had an instinct for the formation of hexagonal honey combs. Instinct was a kind of Platonic remembrance, something that evolved before you were born but which you “knew” at birth. This is the hoary old chestnut* of nature-nurture. And it was employed at length by the nascent science of ethology that was spawned by Darwin, especially in the theories of Konrad Lorenz, who argued that the synthetic a prioria of Kant (things known to be true a priori that are not true by necessity) are the evolutionary a posterioria (1996). We are born with instincts.
He goes on to say that one Danny Lehrman took that apart back in the 1950s, concluding, in Wilkins's works, that
“instincts” must develop in the right environment. Change the environment during crucial developmental phases, and you do not get the “inherited” behaviour ... There is “learned information”, or better “acquired information” from the developmental environment. What is inherited is not the behaviour, but a disposition to develop it in the right circumstances.
As far as Wilkins is concerned
Genes do not have culture on a leash, they merely bias the ways in which culture is acquired. This is not really genetic determinism, so much as genes as one factor among many (and not even the most significant) for behavioural development. And moreover, once you have identified that target of explanation correctly, you cannot justify some behaviour as “natural” therefore “justified”, since the multiplicity of causes for the shared behaviour will include culture, social organisation, availability of food during childhood, the local climate...

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