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Literary Darwinism

Not quite Literary Darwinism for Dummies:
Darwin to the Rescue: A group of scholars thinks evolutionary science can reinvigorate literary studies

by Britt Peterson

Chronicle of Higher Education 1 August 2008
Literary Darwinism should be deselected, naturally

Shirely Dent

Guardian blog,  5 September 2008

The Literary Darwinists by D T Max     NYT Magazine  6 November 2005

A short post expressing doubts on LD by Stephen Berlin Johnson

7 November 2005

links back to Dennis Dutton’s, The Pleasure of Fiction, in Philosophy and Literature 28 (2004)

September 7, 2008 Posted by | Darwin, evolutionary biology, Literature | | Leave a comment


Darwin and Wallace’s papers were presented to the Linnean Society on 1 July 1858. Neither attended.

The Guardian’s contribution to the anniversary.  My eye was caught by the  panel at the top left bylined Teflon Charlie.  There are a few interesting blog posts by Adam Rutherford.

In a TimesOnline promo-interview for Dawkin’s new Channel 4 Series, Dawkins on Darwin, Dawkins says:

“There’s a very important misunderstanding of the relationship between Hitler and Darwin, which is relevant to this,” ….. “A lot of people think that Hitler sort of was a Darwinian, which he absolutely wasn’t. What Hitler did was to take the principle of domestic breeding of animals and apply it to humans. What Darwin did was to take the principle of the domestic breeding of animals and apply it to nature. It’s all done by nature…[].”

which made me think yet again of section 2 of a short 1997 paper by Allison Barnes and Paul Thagard, Empathy and Analogy, dealing with Analogy as a cognitive process. To explain what they mean, they use Darwin’s use of analogy in The Origin of Species, as an example.

Just as artificial selection by breeders using the natural variability of organisms explains how new breeds of plants and animals can arise, so variability and natural selection explain how new species arise.

The analogical comparison in this example involves more than seeing the correspondences between attributes such as develop and relations such as selects. The explanatory power of the analogy derives from the correspondence between the high-level causal relations: just as human selection of traits causes new breeds to develop, so natural selection of traits causes new species to develop. In this example, natural selection is the target analog which needs to be understood and developed, while artificial selection is the source analog that is intended to further explanation and problem solving.

A lot of people might react to the Dawkin’s Hitler point by saying we are animals.

The clarity of the explanation of analogy in the paper could be used by Dawkins.

The Rhetorical Structure of Darwin’s Origin of Species


John Angus Campbell

The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online

Dawkins ( Why Darwin Matters, Guardian, 9 February 2008 ) :

….natural selection is all about differential survival within species, not between them.

July 27, 2008 Posted by | analogy, argument by analogy, Darwin, evolution, evolutionary biology, science | , , , | Leave a comment

It’s true: Its truth

Apparently Chaucer didn’t use the word its in The Canterbury Tales or perhaps any of his writing. He uses his for its in the opening line of The Prologue:

Whan that April with his shoures soote {1}

There are any number of wonderful websites on Chaucer, including the Harvard University Geoffrey Chaucer, but so far I have not found a mention of why no its. It’s a mystery! However, pages such as this English Language in the Fourteenth Century: The Status of English are fascinating.

We can learn where and how and why Chaucer used fart {2}, but not its. It’s a bit frustrating to find its not mentioned. One expects to be able to find an instant answer to anything nowadays but there just isn’t one on its. Perhaps if a Chaucer expert comes across this post while idly checking for mentions of his or her own work in Google, or other reputable search engines, he or she will pass on the story of itslessness.

Presumably it’s not just Chaucer but everyone who had no its, so it will be a general story about the development of English with particular reference to its.

The Historical variability of English

Introduction to “The General Prologue” of The Canterbury Tales

This a lecture given by Ian Johnston which covers an awful ot of ground and is also interesting

The Making of Chaucer’s English: A Study of Words [1998] By Christopher Cannon

A Google Book, and therefore not completely transcribed, but there is enough there to get the idea. Don’t forget the text is searchable through the Google ‘Search in this book’ feature on the bottom right. The page may need to be scrolled down a bit.


Ian Johnson’s home page is full of lecture and essays on all sorts which also look….very interesting.

This one written in 1998, The Illogic of a Creationist Argument, I noted, noting particularly how he has come to the nub so clearly that even Richard Dawkins might learn something from it. It might give a clue as to how well he does on other themes, including many literary and philosophical one’s he covers.

Equally readable, a lecture to biology students, Some Non-Scientific Observations on the Importance of Darwin [1998] Ian Johnston, Liberal Studies Department, Malaspina-University College, Nanaimo, BC.


All for the want of a horse shoe nail…..

February 2, 2008 Posted by | Biology, Chaucer, English language, evolutionary biology, science | , , , | Leave a comment

The Science Network Forum – Enlightenment 2.0 {2}

My immediate reaction to the talks in Enlightenment 2.0 was there wasn’t quite enough discussion on Enlightenment 1.0 (the cool new way to say The Enlightenment). Presumably the assumption was (many speakers were apologetic about covering the basics in such august company) the other participants knew all about it. However, because the Forum has been publicly broadcast with an wider, general educational aim –so will be watched by many to whom much of this is relatively sketchy, and some totally new to them — it might be worth TSN’s while to fill in some of the the gaps by adding to the website.

If you like me feel a need to start with the basics of The Original Enlightenment, the {Wiki: enlightenment} is a good way to start checking its main features were. It helpfully gives a list of names associated with the enlightenment and quite a few links.

This short student guide to The Age of Enlightenment lists Voltaire’s view in a seven point list, which is also a short-cut way of getting to the nub. If you are not proud: SparkNotes on The Enlightenment (1650 – 1800) is also useful.

The point, if you have watched Enlightenment 2.0, is to figure out what E v 2.0 might be or aim to be. I am not too convinced the talks did this. Some clever chap might have put up a comparison chart.

I started by looking at what was available on-line on the academics who contributed. People like Dawkins and Dennett are pretty well know public intellectuals, but there are other who are not but who introduced interesting research or ideas.

I will, later, put up a list of those speakers who I thought were really useful, those less useful, and those plainly there to sell books. One in the useful category is Melvin Konner, who wrote The Tangled Wing, considered a pop classic on nature v nurture, or as someone in a talk termed it, “hard-wired or culture”. This is Konner’s Notes and References (Caveat: The Dangers of Behavioral Biology), a chapter critique / analysis (pdf, be warned) of The Tangled Wing. Two good reviews of The Tangled Wing : here and here.

Sam Harris stands out in the “I’m here to sell my book” category. Now famous for his book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason , that topped the New York Times bestseller list. Or, maybe it is back there now? I wonder if they read him in the UK, us being heathens ‘n all He later wrote Letter to a Christian Nation. He features in the E 2.0 debate a lot. Makes sense to me! One of the themes across several speakers was natural morality vs. religious morality. Harris argues at least once that there is no need for morality derived from religions because natural morality suffices. In the main he seemed to reiterating small sections of his book on two main areas: Islam (and religion – bad things) and meditation (he has become interested in Buddhist meditation, which is vaguely 70s). I haven’t read the book, and am not likely to just yet, but you can be pretty sure any ideas he has have been around in some form or other since the last Enlightenment, apart from the neuroscience, evidement.

Dawkins (“that’s rubbish”; anti-God book out), Dennett (author of Consciousness Explained; anti-God book now out) and Harris (anti-God books now out) were the three most strident anti-religionists. Many others debated reasonably the ins and out, advantages and disadvantages of religion (and or science) while professing atheism. A small number simply put out their research interests without contextualisation. In the end it was up to the viewer to see how the ideas fitted into any notion of what E 2.0 might be. For example, there was a significant amount of neuroscience and a bit of psychology which was implied we know more about ourselves, but at no point did anyone say because we understand ourselves more clearly this and this is therefore true for E 2.0 over E 1.0

Professor Mahzarin Banaji, a Harvard psychologist, presented research results in cognitive illusion that reminded me of Daniel M Wegner’s Ironic Process Theory. Not listed on Wegner’s papers on ironic effects (pdfs!) is The Seeds of Our Undoing (1999).

January 24, 2008 Posted by | Enlightenment, Enlightenment 2.0, epistemology, evolutionary biology, Ironic effects, religion, science | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

FOVA.TV Debate – My Brain made me do it

My Brain made me do it

I didn’t want to do it

Raymond Tallis discusses the debate in a Times article

January 24, 2008 Posted by | epistemology, evolutionary biology, free will vs. determinism, human nature, neurolaw, neuroscience, Philosophy, science | Leave a comment

10 Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature

Again, I use the title of another article entire, but acknowledge it came from an article in Psychology Today

10 Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature

By Alan S Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa

It came to pass because I was reading a particularly unsatisfying piece from The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Robo Love {via 3 Quarks}. Though robots are cleverer than they ever were, the AI debate went a bit flat decades ago. Remember Marvin Minsky’s The Society of Minds?

The section of the article which perked me up was:

……what scientists know about why humans fall in love with other humans. There are 10 factors, he writes, including mystery, reciprocal liking, and readiness to enter a relationship. Why can’t these factors apply to robots, too?

which made me think that the factors they come up with are generally applied with more alacrity to humans than robots. Well, they would since we don’t all have robots handy.

January 3, 2008 Posted by | AI, Artifical Intelligence, evolutionary biology, human nature | Leave a comment