Thursday, October 28, 2010

musings from Bruce Alexanders lecture on Group Selection

Last weeks guest lecture, SFU Prof. Emeritus Bruce Alexander, presented an interesting array of quotes, passages and ideas that up until now - would have been considered in opposition to the concepts that we generally uphold as being from the writings of Darwin, particularly 'On the origins of species'. The adaptive view presented is that it is social unit, our 150 person tribe, that has shaped homo sapient evolution in the past 50'000 years (or so) and given rise to concepts of morality, sharing, altruism.

Interestingly, Prof. Alexander noted in dialogue with a residing biology classmate that the term for this form of evolution by natural selection: 'group selection' has become not just a debated concept, but almost dismissed by many of the sciences and social sciences.

As a psychology major, I have had the opportunity to raise the question within the contexts of Evolutionary Psychology - which pulls explicitly from a Darwinian perspective - but have so far not found much support for it. My current textbook for the course dedicates 1.6% of the content on the subject, and notes in the introduction of the subject that the brunt of research died out in the 1960's.

Similarly, cultural psychology is equally dismissive, but they do so in a much 'nicer' off hand way. In office hours conversation, I was given the reasoning: 'Of course we will never say that evolutionary pressures do not have an affect upon our behavior now. That is blatantly fallacious, however the types of behaviors that they influence and the strength of that relationship is tenacious at best and much better explained through current paradigms.'

Again, not overly supportive - but I am concerned if this is because Bruce's argument was mainly taken from 'the Descent of Man' and not 'the Origins' and thus less popular and therefore less known? Or perhaps it is like art, where only passage of time will show us the value of a work? Hopefully a (future) better understanding of these arguments will help.

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