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Evolutionary psychologist E. O. Wilson: Time has come for philosophy to become biology

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In UK Prospect magazine:

Wilson declares, in The Meaning of Human Existence, that the “time has come… to make a proposal about the possibility of unification of the two great branches of learning”—science and the humanities (philosophy, in particular). It has to be said, though, that what Wilson calls “unification” actually looks more like submission—of the humanities to the territorial ambitions of the natural sciences. He told me he’d like to see a “rebirth of philosophy,” by which he seemed to mean philosophers learning to ask “just the sort of questions we [biologists] are asking here.”

“As late as the 1970s,” Wilson writes, “the orientation of the social scientists was primarily towards the humanities. Their prevailing view was that human behaviour is primarily or even entirely cultural, not biological in origin… By the end of the 20th century the orientation flipped towards biology. Today it is widely believed that human behaviour has a strong genetic component.” (There are, of course, differences of opinion among biologists as to which evolutionary story best fits the facts. The day before I met Wilson, he’d appeared on Newsnight, where he was asked about remarks he makes in the book about Richard Dawkins, whom he describes as an “eloquent journalist.” In 2012, Dawkins reviewed Wilson’s book The Social Conquest of Earth for Prospect and dismissed his theory of “group selection,” which he proposes as an alterntive to “kin selection”, as “implausible” and “unsupported by evidence.” Wilson, though, insists that “no one has… refuted the mathematical analysis” underpinning the theory.)

Our friend comments, “Oh, E.O.,” then notes, “The reporter does a poor job here in engaging or refuting him but I don’t think he’s of that caliber.”

Well no, friend. But media today thrive on not asking the tough questions. Like: When you, E.O. Wilson, say give half the planet to wild animals, surely you don’t mean that the environmentalist elite will give up their fashionable bicoastal digs. You mean that third world families will be dispossessed. Right? How else would it really turn out?

That kind of journalism is dead and gone, and the legacy media will not be far behind.

See also: New Coynage: E.O. Wilson calls Richard Dawkins a “journalist”

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5 Replies to “Evolutionary psychologist E. O. Wilson: Time has come for philosophy to become biology

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    Wilson is a century behind the curve, the materialistic/atheistic philosophy has been driving biology since shortly after Darwin.

    Eugenics anyone?

    The Biology of the Second Reich: Social Darwinism and the Origins of World War 1 – video

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    OT: Is it time for science to catch up with common sense?

    Yes, “We’ve Been Wrong About Robots Before,” and We Still Are – Erik J. Larson – November 12, 2014
    Excerpt: Nothing has happened with IBM’s “supercomputer” Watson,,, Outside of playing Jeopardy — in an extremely circumscribed only-the-game-of-Jeopardy fashion — the IBM system is completely, perfectly worthless.,,, IBM, by the way, has a penchant for upping their market cap by coming out with a supercomputer that can perform a carefully circumscribed task with superfast computing techniques. Take Deep Blue beating Kasparov at chess in 1997. Deep Blue, like Watson, is useless outside of the task it was designed for,,,
    Self-driving cars are another source of confusion. Heralded as evidence of a coming human-like intelligence, they’re actually made possible by brute-force data: full-scale replicas of street grids using massive volumes of location data.,,,
    Interestingly, where brute computation and big data fail is in surprisingly routine situations that give humans no difficulty at all. Take this statement, originally from computer scientist Hector Levesque (it also appears in Nicholas Carr’s 2014 book about the dangers of automation, The Glass Cage):
    “The large ball crashed right through the table because it was made of Styrofoam. What was made of Styrofoam, the large ball or the table?”
    Watson would not perform well in answering this question, nor would Deep Blue. In fact there are no extant AI systems that have a shot at getting the right answer here, because it requires a tiny slice of knowledge about the actual world. Not “data” about word frequencies in languages or GPS coordinates or probability scoring of next-best chess moves or canned questions to canned answers in Jeopardy. It requires what AI researches call “world knowledge” or “common sense knowledge.”,,
    Having real knowledge about the world and bringing it to bear on our everyday cognitive problems is the hallmark of human intelligence, but it’s a mystery to AI scientists, and has been for decades.,,,
    Given that minds produce language, and that there are effectively infinite things we can say and talk about and do with language, our robots will seem very, very stupid about commonsense things for a very long time. Maybe forever.

  3. 3
    phoodoo says:

    I find the idea of driverless cars in an urban environment to be a complete joke. How can a car read someones body language, or look at someones eyes to know if they are going to step out in front of a car, or if a bicyclist is going to swerve around a sewer grate, or know if a car is really going to stop for that stop sign or not. It would have to be braking for any potential threat, and it has no way of distinguishing which ones are serious.

    The guy up ahead is slowing, do you move into another lane, do you wait, and which lane is best to move through traffic, and still have enough time to make the left turn? Oh wait, there is a car about to pull out from the right, but no, he sees me and nods to let me go first…

    No chance

  4. 4
    liljenborg says:

    An interesting notion given that less than 200 years ago science was called “natural philosophy” and was considered merely one part of the field of philosophy. We still grant students of science PhD degrees, and the “Ph” does not stand for “Physics”.

    The nineteenth century naturalists pulled off a revolution of sorts to “free” the search for the natural laws that governed the natural universe (natural philosophy) from the philosophical search for the moral laws that governed the supernatural universe (philosophy proper). Then, since the search for universal moral laws proved in vain as every philosopher came up with a different moral law (usually corresponding with their initial preconceptions about how moral or immoral their own society was since they a priori dismissed revelation as a valid source for knowledge about the supernatural world), whereas one of the hallmarks of the scientific method was the very repeatability of experiments that confirmed or refuted individual hypothoses, the “scientists” (no longer natural philosophers) claimed that “science” (that is, methodological naturalism) should be the only basis for “true” knowledge. (Even though every few years scientific “truth” was adjusted, modified, rejected or replaced as new theories emerged which resulted in whole “paradigm shifts” in physics or chemistry. Yes previous generations of scientists were fundamentally wrong about the nature of reality, but they weren’t wrong about methodological naturalism!)

    Since John Steward Mill, there has been a movement to put those esoteric disciplines known as the “humanities” under the purview of “science”. Now that science was free of philosophy, it sought to bring philosophy under its own umbrella. The proper study of humanity should be conducted via the sciences of biology, neurology, psychology, evolutionary psychology, and anthropology. Philosophers insist on asking “why?”, “what is real?”, “how do you know that is true?”. For the naturalist, those are settled questions, or, in the case of the “why” question, meaningless nonsense.

    Yet the philosophers still hold onto some whacky notion that they, rather than the scientists who study “real” stuff, are some sort of gatekeepers to “Truth” and “wisdom”. The notion that there are other types of knowledge, other ways of discovering truth outside of methodological naturalism are not to be countenanced. Science is the only game on the block when it comes to real Truth. The humanities should just get used to it and learn their place.

  5. 5
    Silver Asiatic says:

    liljenborg – that was a helpful analysis. Thanks. There are very few scientists brave enough to truly promote and live the idea that everything should be subsumed under empirical science. They’ll still appeal to “the human spirit” or “artistic inspiration” or even “moral values” and things like that which are so commonly accepted in our culture. Anyone who really placed every human activity in the realm of physical science would be considered cold-hearted, so that’s another reason why the practice doesn’t match the theory.

    We have arguments on UD quite often and materialists fiercely object to the idea that there is no meaning or that there can be no real distinction (or reason to make a distinction) between good and evil, truth and falsehood.

    But the discussion rarely gets beyond that point. There’s an outrage, maybe an appeal to the majority (“the vast majority of people are against murder”), or some sort of personal statement (“I am very serious about morals”).

    But it’s almost impossible to get an acceptance that, as you said, “…there are other types of knowledge, other ways of discovering truth outside of methodological naturalism …”

    It’s understandable, I guess, since once you accept something other than that which is accessible to physical science, the idea of including revelation as a source of knowledge cannot be dismissed as easily.

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