Showing posts from May, 2006

E.O. Wilson now places group selection above kin selection

The idea that group selection (or multilevel selection) could have any validity is sometimes dismissed in rather derogatory terms. It may therefore come as a surprise that one of the main "fathers" of ev psych, Edward O. Wilson, now theorizes that kin selection is NOT the why of the evolution of eusocial insects, as widely accepted, but rather group selection -- and the same seems to hold true for humans.

In an interview in the June 2006 Discover Magazine(pp. 58-61), Wilson says that one reason he now rejects the "standard theory" he helped develop is that there's very little evidence that ants and termites in the early stages of evolution could determine who's a brother, sister, cousin, etc. He says: "They're not acting to favor collateral kin. The new view that I'm proposing is that it was group selection all along, an idea first roughly formulated by Darwin."

The key to Wilson's new theory is the relatively recent recognition that gen…

Environment modifies genes

From Discover Magazine online

A Mother's Touch
Good parents can change children's DNA.
By Victor Limjoco
May 12, 2006 | Mind & Brain

Be grateful to your mom. Not only did she carry you around for nine months, but now new research suggests that her mothering style may have triggered genes that help determine your parenting style.

Columbia University neurobiologist Frances Champagne says that previous research across species showed that maternal behaviors are passed down from mother to daughter.

"So if your mother held you a lot, you will hold your infants a lot," Champagne says.

But she wanted to know whether mothering tendencies are passed on through genetics or experience. Her team studied mother rats that spent time licking and grooming their babies, and others that didn't.

As she wrote in the journal "Endocrinology," without enough licking and grooming, female rats had certain genes turn off, prevent…

Rapid gene change via behavior

Individuals with mutations in the tumor suppressor gene PTEN are prone not only to tumors but also to brain disorders, including macrocephaly (enlarged head circumference), seizures and mental retardation. Although PTEN mutations have been reported in autistic patients with macrocephaly, it is not clear whether there is a causal link between this gene and autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). Writing in Neuron, Chang-Hyuk Kwon and colleagues provide direct evidence that inactivation of Pten in mice results in neuropathological changes as well as abnormalities in social interaction.

Using several behavioral models, the researchers show that the Pten-mutant mice have deficits in social learning and interaction. For example, the mutant animals spent less time investigating the social target (a new mouse) compared with controls. When presented with a choice between the social target and an inaminate object, the Pten mutants spent similar amounts of time interacting with both. When the social …

Kwame Anthony Appiah on Cosmopolitanism

The fear is that the values and images of western mass culture, like some invasive weed, are threatening to choke out the world’s native flora.

The right approach, I think, starts by taking individuals – not nations, tribes or ‘people’ – as the proper object of moral concern. It doesn’t much matter what we call such a creed, but in homage to Diogenes, the fourth-century Greek Cynic and the first philosopher to call himself a ‘citizen of the world’, we could call it cosmopolitan. Cosmopolitans take cultural difference seriously, because they take choices individuals make seriously. But because difference is not the only thing that concerns them, they suspect that many of globalisation’s cultural critics are aiming at the wrong targets....

Yes, globalisation can produce homogeneity. But globalisation is also a threat to homogeneity.That prospect is unsettling for some people (just as it is exciting for others)....

Urbanity: the big, polyglot, diverse world of the city.

Human variety matter…

Tom Wolfe on writing

Robert Cole [Director of the National Endowment for the Humanities]: Let me turn to your work. You've described yourself as a chronicler. What is that exactly?

Wolfe: Balzac enjoyed saying, "I am the secretary of French society," meaning a secretary who takes notes, not like the Secretary of Labor or something . . . He keeps tabs on what is happening in society, in the sense of social mores as well as just "society" with a small s. If I'm working well, I'm first and foremost bringing the news.

That was Nietzsche's expression when he said "God is dead." He said this is not a manifesto for atheism. He said, I'm just bringing you the news. I'm bringing you the news of the biggest event in modern history. God is dead, by which he meant, of course, that educated people were beginning to have no faith in God any longer. This was the 1880s. He predicted that in the twentieth century would come the rise of "barbaric nationalistic brothe…

Oochy woochy coochy coo

May 11th 2006
From The Economist
Women can read men like books

A GROUP of scientists has discovered that women are attracted to men who are fond of children. In years gone by, that announcement might have qualified for one of the late Senator William Proxmire's Golden Fleece awards for pointless scientific research—except that what this particular group of scientists has shown is that women can tell who is and is not fond of children just by looking at their faces.

The members of the group in question, led by James Roney of the University of California, Santa Barbara, are part of the revival of a science that once dared not speak its name—physiognomy. In the late 18th century, and during most of the 19th, it was believed that the shape of a person's head could tell you something about his character. Such deterministic thoughts fell out of favour during the 20th century. Most behavioural scientists thought that environment, not biology, shaped behaviour, and even those who did not…

The importance of delayed gratification

Self Control is the Key to Success

AROUND 1970, psychologist Walter Mischel launched a classic experiment. He left a succession of 4-year-olds in a room with a bell and a marshmallow. If they rang the bell, he would come back and they could eat the marshmallow. If, however, they didn't ring the bell and waited for him to come back on his own, they could then have two marshmallows.

In videos of the experiment, you can see the children squirming, kicking, hiding their eyes -- desperately trying to exercise self-control so they can wait and get two marshmallows. Their performance varied widely. Some broke down and rang the bell within a minute. Others lasted 15 minutes.

The children who waited longer went on to get higher SAT scores. They got into better colleges and had, on average, better adult outcomes. The children who rang the bell quickest were more likely to become bullies. They received worse teacher and parental evaluations 10 years later and were more likely to have drug probl…

Race and War

White Guilt and the Western Past
Why is America so delicate with the enemy?

Tuesday, May 2, 2006
Wall Street Journal Online

There is something rather odd in the way America has come to fight its wars since World War II.

For one thing, it is now unimaginable that we would use anything approaching the full measure of our military power (the nuclear option aside) in the wars we fight. And this seems only reasonable given the relative weakness of our Third World enemies in Vietnam and in the Middle East. But the fact is that we lost in Vietnam, and today, despite our vast power, we are only slogging along--if admirably--in Iraq against a hit-and-run insurgency that cannot stop us even as we seem unable to stop it. Yet no one--including, very likely, the insurgents themselves--believes that America lacks the raw power to defeat this insurgency if it wants to. So clearly it is America that determines the scale of this war. It is America, in fact, that fights so as to make a litt…


Monday » May 8 » 2006

On the 150th birthday of Sigmund Freud, Roger Scruton explains why Freud's improbable theories still dominate the way we think about our minds

Roger Scruton
The Spectator
Saturday, May 06, 2006

Freud was born 150 years ago today, on May 6, 1856, the same year that Richard Wagner finished work on his opera Die Walkure, a work that dramatizes all the themes, from dreams to incest, that were to fascinate Freud.

There is no doubt in my mind that it was Wagner, not Freud, who got things right, and that a knowledge of Wagner's masterpiece casts serious doubts on Freud's claims to originality. However, Freud's reputation remains as great today as it was in my youth, when the Kleinians, the Jungians and the Adlerians were disputing his legacy. The idea of sexual repression has entered the culture, as has the doctrine (not one of Freud's) that repression is harmful. It is almost universally assumed that the mind has a large unconscious component, that the se…

Resilience and genes

The Question of Resilience


Excerpts from New York Times Magazine article April 30, 2006In recent years, biological science has proposed a new paradigm. The latest research shows that resilience can best be understood as an interplay between particular genes and environment — GxE, in the lingo of the field. Researchers are discovering that a particular variation of a gene can help promote resilience in the people who have it, acting as a buffer against the ruinous effects of adversity. In the absence of an adverse environment, however, the gene doesn't express itself in this way. It drops out of the psychological picture. "We now have well-replicated findings showing that genes play a major role in influencing people's responses to adverse environments," says Sir Michael Rutter, a leading British psychiatrist ... Scientists have determined that 5-HTT is critical for the regulation of serotonin to the brain. Proper regulation of serotonin helps promote w…

Launching myself into the blogoshere

Testing one, two, three...three, two, one, we have lift off. Here I am with my chum, Bacchus.