Most research in the natural sciences passes through repeated cycles of a analytic reduction to the next lower level of organization, then resynthesis to the original level, then new analyticareduction, and so on. A residue of unexplained phenomena at the original level appears at first to require a holistic description independent of the lower level, but the residue shrinks as knowledge increases.This principle is well illustrated by recent studies from the social organization of insects, several examples of which are cited (...) here. In theory it should also apply to human social organization. Culture is biological: meaning in culture can be approached as the outcome of mechanism-based causation, because culture stems from individual cognition, which has a biological basis. It would seem to follow that the most effective way to study culture is across all levels of organization from gene to society, passing repetitively through a cycle of reduction and synthesis in the manner of the natural sciences. Reductionistic analysis is favored by the tendency of semantic memory and culture to occur in discrete units that are arranged hierarchically. (shrink)
After biologist Deborah Gordon made a series of experimental discoveries in the 1980s, she argued that a change in terminology regarding the division of labor among castes of specialists was needed. Gordon’s investigations of the interactive effects of ants in colonies led her to believe that the established approach Edward O. Wilson had pioneered was biased in a way that made some alternative candidate adaptive explanations invisible. Gordon argued that this was because the term “division of labor” implied a (...) division among specialists that was unwarranted, and proposed “task allocation” as a better description that did not bias research against the alternative causes she had discovered. Gordon’s empirical findings and theoretical proposals also vindicate the initial critics of Wilson’s human sociobiology who have been dismissed as political radicals, but her proposals have been widely misunderstood by many contemporary behavioral ecologists. The terminological and methodological confusions rampant in contemporary discourse can be clarified by applying a framework developed by Elisabeth Lloyd involving an analysis of the constraints imposed by different research questions. Applying this framework will show how the methodological problems involving description raised by the initial critics of Wilson’s human sociobiology extended to his analysis of ants, indicating that they were not challenging Wilson’s naturalistic approach to the study of human evolution, but rather his methods. It will also show how confusion over how Gordon’s proposed research questions have been conflated with the possible answers she has argued ought to be investigated. This in turn will clarify contemporary disputes over her proposal to abandon the term “division of labor.”. (shrink)
Some months ago, when giving a paper about Sir Francis Bacon's philosophy, I mentioned that, according to him, Nature was a woman; true knowledge treats her like his legitimate wife, while false knowledge deals with her as if she were a barren prostitute. In the same paper, I also mentioned that according again to Bacon, there are three kinds of intellectual attitudes, or three kinds of philosophers, namely the pure rationalists, who are like spiders, the empiricists who are like (...) class='Hi'>ants, for they gather materials but do not work on them, and a third category—good philosophers who are like bees, for they gather and work on the material gathered. Now, during the discussion a gentleman strongly objected to Bacon's use of ants as a metaphor. He explained that there are many different species of ants, and some of them do not merely gather, some have gardens for instance, where they grow mushrooms. The gentleman concluded that philosophers do not know what they are talking about when they use metaphors. This is true enough, but I felt sorry indeed that nobody observed that it is not true that a woman is either a wife or a prostitute; nobody asked whether ‘nature as her’ implied that the scientist is, as a matter of course, male; nobody said that the simple fact of using ‘woman’ as a metaphor is questionable in itself. So, when speaking of feminism in contemporary French philosophy, one has to keep in mind that, on the Parisian stage, the honour, dignity, diversity and reality of insects are better defended than the honour, dignity, diversity and reality of women. (shrink)
Communication and recognition are essential for social life. Social insects are good model systems to study social behavior and complexity because their societies are evolutionarily stable and ecologically successful. Ants, in particular, show a large variety of adaptations and are extremely diverse. In ants, social interactions are regulated by at least three levels of recognition. Nestmate recognition occurs between colonies, is very effective, and involves fast processing. Within a colony, division of labor is enhanced by recognition of different (...) classes of individuals. Ultimately, in particular circumstances, such as cooperative colony founding with stable dominance hierarchies, ants are capable of individual recognition. The underlying recognition cues and mechanisms appear to be specific to each recognition level, and their integrated understanding could contribute to the identification of the minimum requirements for the emergence of sociality. (shrink)
Much ink has been spilt in consideration of the once pervasive reliance on military metaphors to depict the relationships between science and religion in the nineteenth century. This has resulted in historically sensitive treatments of secularization; and the realization that the relationship between science and religion was not a bloody war between intellectual nation states, but a protracted divorce of former partners. Moreover, historians of science have been encouraged to throw off the yoke of the internalism–externalism debate, and to explore (...) the cultural boundaries that impinged upon practitioners of a natural knowledge of the world. Within the historiography of nineteenth-century science, this has resulted in many new perspectives on science and natural knowledge in relation to cultural control and authority. (shrink)
For several years now, early cinema historians have developed certain notions that can help us define, in a much broader context, the axes of research in intermedial studies. Even though I’ll be giving it a slightly different importance, the notion I will be borrowing from these historians here is that of the “parameter.” Work by André Gaudreault and Philippe Marion on the emergence of the cinematographic medium relies on the idea that the medium appears as the result of a choice (...) made by the historian. To write the history of any given medium and separate it into periods, one must also select the components “that gathered together as a way of giving ‘birth’ to that medium at.. (shrink)
Does the imperative that we ought to try to understand one another make any sense? Presumably not – if it is correct that there are indeed different truths, and that the quest for objectivity is appropriate only in certain cultural contexts. After carefully mapping out the epistemological and ethical terrain, with special reference to the notions of ‘outsider understanding’, ‘other ways of knowing’ and epistemic injustice, this article presents a case for outsider critique. Education for belief and commitment necessarily includes (...) education for understanding. Given our shared humanity, with many overlapping facets that make up our identities, and considering that the standard arguments against outsider understanding fail to stand up to critical scrutiny, this arguably also paves the way for the possibility of critical interrogation ‘from the outside’. Such interrogation should display virtues such as sensitivity, patience, perseverance, imagination, empathy and open-mindedness – and should be guided by an honest attempt at understanding. (shrink)
Starting from a clear, experimentally verified, example of a flexible biological system -- an ant colony --, it is hypothesized that adaptability is enhanced at the "edge of chaos ", that is, in the vicinity of a point of instability. An ant colony exhibiting an appropriate combination of group and mass recruitment can adaptively switch to a newly introduced food source if it is richer: this is precisely the case of some species, such as Tetramorium caespitum, whose behavioral parameters are (...) argued to be those characterizing the edge of chaos. Several simple models of foraging show the robustness of the argument. (shrink)
Anthropic reasoning is a form of statistical reasoning based upon finding oneself a member of a particular reference class of conscious beings. By considering empirical distribution functions defined over animal life on Earth, we can deduce that the vast bulk of animal life is unlikely to be conscious.
Clark & Thornton speculate that intervening in the real world might be a way of transforming type-2 problems into type-1, but they state that they are not aware of any definite cases. It is argued that the active construction of external representations often performs exactly this function, and that recoding via the real world is therefore common, if not ubiquitous.