GENES, MIND, AND CULTURE: The Co-evolutionary Process by Charles J. & Edward O. Wilson Lumsden
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GENES, MIND, AND CULTURE: The Co-evolutionary Process

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Sociobiology takes on a new dimension in this latest manifesto from its father, E. O. Wilson, now teamed with a ""son,"" the young physicist Charles Lumsden. The union, described as serendipitous, pays off in a far more comprehensive and intellectually stimulating theory of gene-culture interaction. Saying this does not negate the potential for counterargument and controversy, but at least it elevates the domain of argument from the tedium of territoriality, kin selection, and male dominance to a plane that embraces all the artifacts and symbols that make up patterns of culture. The heart of the matter is the linkage between the human genome--the DNA blueprint--and human culture. The new thesis proposes that genes and culture co-evolve through the mechanism of ""epigenetic rules."" Epigenesis refers to development, itself a complex combination of genetically timed events interacting with environmental factors and chance. The ""rules"" are strictures or biases that direct development along certain lines. We know a lot about the primary rules: these are sensory filters that determine what human eyes, ears, chemical senses, detect about the world. We know less, but something, about the secondary rules: higher order processing in the brain (memory, language, learning, feeling, decision-making). The epigenetic rules operate on ""culturgens""--a neologism for tools, ideas, behaviors that generate culture--with varying degrees of strength. Certain culturgens may be strongly genetically determined. Others may be more neutral but their selection by individuals may lead to an increase in genetic fitness. Successive generations may then see a selection of whatever alternate forms of a gene bias behavior toward that culturgen (possibly through structural changes in the brain). Thus culture and genes feed forward and back on each other over time. All this is wrought in a text amplified with much mathematicizing in terms of probabilities, frequencies, and strategies not unlike the game theoretic approach of Eigen and Winkler (see above). Examples abound, too, and it is good to report that the cognitive psychologists, Piaget, Chomsky and other structuralists are given their due. The result is a volume of impressive depth and breadth. But still it is not enough. Sociobiology reifies reason and genetic fitness; it has little to say about the human need and capacity to create and to believe, about spiritual love, humor, risk-taking. Its feet are still mired in Marvin Harris' materialist infrastructure while its head swims in clouds of ""postulational-deductive hypotheses."" We are promised that sociobiology will predict history, as well as subsume all of behavioral and neuroscience. A fine hue and cry may be expected against such delusions of grandeur; but the delusions are getting more interesting--inarguably so.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press