… at the Royal Society’s November meet on evolution.
Sir Patrick Bateson: Zoologists Should Not ‘Hog’ Upcoming Royal Society Evolution Meeting
Suzan Mazur: When will the speakers for the November Royal Society event be announced?
Patrick Bateson: Very shortly, I think.
Suzan Mazur: Can you say what the subject of your talk will be?
Patrick Bateson: I want to talk about a subject that has interested me for many years, namely how the organism plays an active role in the evolution of its descendants through its adaptability. When the challenge is one never previously experienced by the organism’s ancestors, the mechanisms generating the plasticity may be inherited but the outcome can be entirely novel. The idea of the adaptability of the organism initiating evolutionary change really goes back to a man called Douglas Spalding, who wrote a paper in 1873 [“Instinct: with original observations on young animals”] that preceded Konrad Lorenz’s work on behavioral imprinting by about 50 years or more. At the end of his paper Spalding mentions how the learned behavior of individuals can be eventually expressed without learning.
Overdue for serious discussion. Claims that natural selection can accomplish these wonders miss the point: How did a complex behaviour pattern become available for selection in the first place?
Apparently the meeting is not supposed to be to “deal with” Dawkins & Co. That said,
Suzan Mazur: So you’re saying within biology the idea of genetic determinism is pretty much passé, but the social scientists and people in the humanities don’t recognize that this shift in thinking has happened.
Patrick Bateson: I think that’s correct. More.
Patrick Bateson: I’m not sure we’re going to be talking about a completely new set of ideas, a lot have been around for a while. Frankly, I think some evolutionary biologists have not shed their neo-Darwinist clothing. There are some conservative-minded biologists who still think of the organism as being essentially passive, a view about which I am particularly concerned. However, the overall movement in biology is to integrate different disciplines making it a very lively area at the moment. The molecular biologists are talking to the ethologists, the ecologists to the physiologists, the population geneticists to the paleontologists, and so forth.
Now, about the hogging?
Bateson: It so happens that I am a zoologist but I certainly don’t think the Royal Society/British Academy meeting should be hogged by my own discipline. More.
The sense one gets is that Bateson is in an awkward position. He wants the Royal Society to address the growing list of issues constructively. But he is anxious to avoid a cave-emptying onslaught of Darwin trolls, defending the honour of their piles of bones. Not that he would admit that of course.
Don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work on the first try. The Society may need to make it a regular biennial event.
See also: Royal Society’s fall rethinking evolution meet is progress n science
Mazur’s Origin of Life Circus now available on Kindle
There’s a gene for that… or is there?
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