Part of my friend’s question that I didn’t answer last time was about misogyny, which he hopefully speculated is now maladaptive. I deferred this because from an evolutionary viewpoint it is in a different category from xenophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism. Let me state clearly at the outset, as I did about the other categories of prejudice: I think we are gradually creating conditions in which misogyny is maladaptive, and we must continue to do that.
However, it has to be recognized that for the long span of human evolution Read more
David Blumenthal, a good and wise friend who is a Jewish studies professor and a rabbi wrote me recently asking about the former adaptiveness and present maladaptiveness of xenophobia. The operative passage in his letter was, “In the global world, however, survival requires the cooperation of varying and different groups. Humanity, in its groups, cannot survive without the quintessential other. Xenophobia has ceased to be adaptive. So has antisemitism, racism, orientalism, and misogyny.”
I have little trouble agreeing that at some times in the past these behaviors were adaptive for the perpetrators. Read more
A couple of weeks ago I posted some musings about “the self” in anticipation of being on a panel with Steven Pinker (author of The Blank Slate and The Stuff of Thought) and Noga Arikha (author of Passions and Tempers: A History of the Humours) at Tufts University. The panel, convened by Jonathan Wilson, was titled “The New Biology and the Self,” and what follows was my contribution. The graduate student referred to is Monica Chau of Emory University.
I told a very smart neurobiology graduate student named Monica yesterday that I’d been asked to speak on “The New Biology and the Self.” She said, “What’s the new biology?” I said, “I don’t know, but that’s the least of my problems. What’s the self?” Read more
In the Darwin bicentennial, new insights into fossils, genes, birdsong, and cancer.
The latest issue of Nature to land in my mailbox-the May 28th one-was not a tribute to Darwin in honor of his 200th birthday and the 150th of The Origin of Species; Nature has been there, done that. But it might as well have been another celebration for him, Read more
Obesity is an evolutionary legacy, which is why it’s so hard to control.
I said a few weeks ago (before I was rudely interrupted by the swine flu epidemic) that I would try to explain why the battle against overweight is such a hard and so far losing one, for the species if not for the individual. Read more
It’s always wrong to panic, but it’s never wrong to be prepared.
There is an ancient relationship between humanity on the one side, and parasites, microbes, and viruses on the other. It has been rightly called an evolutionary arms race—or more exactly, a series of them—and I will return to that idea in a moment.
But the writer in me prefers another metaphor, used by the virologist Richard Krause as the title of a book: The Restless Tide. As the subtitle explains, Read more
Can we say anything about human beings to come? In a word, yes.
Recently after lecturing about human evolution, I had a student come up to me and ask—she apologized first, as some do, despite my mantra that there are no bad questions—if I had any thoughts about future evolution. I did, although I hesitated to offer them; the political correctness monitors are everywhere in universities today. But, casting caution to the winds,
At the end of their second century, two strange, brilliant men shape our lives
February 12, 1809 was a great day in the history of the human species, since two of its best specimens took their first breaths that day on two sides of the Atlantic. Both those infants grew into odd boys.
A wise man with a provocative theory of violence may help us understand and save ourselves.
I just returned from a meeting in Paris (alright, a meeting followed by a marvelous three-day vacation) at which, along with some very pleasant wining and dining, I spent several days talking about imitation and violence. What do these two seemingly separate things have in common? According to René Girard, everything.