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Selected Books by Edmund Blair Bolles

  • Galileo's Commandment: 2500 Years of Great Science Writing
  • The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age
  • Einstein Defiant: Genius vs Genius in the Quantum Revolution

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Gordon Worley

Two points.

First, you say "The basis of community behavior cannot be genetic", which, is of course, nonsense. All behavior is "genetic" insofar as any physical or psychological or social trait or behavior is tied to human genetics. To deny genetic influence anywhere is to deny Darwin. Rather, perhaps you mean it arose as information passed between generations?

Further on the issue of genetic influence, although modern behavior is clear, the explanation given doesn't show an evolutionary path to "community breeding". How did these animals go from "individualists" to "communalists"?

One possibility follows. Humans (and some other animals) live in groups. To consider just humans, they live in social groups of kin, even if there are several generations of removal between the extrema of the group. Even with members entering and leaving, the group remains fairly close genetically, and caring for the young of deceased group members leads to the propagation of "adoption genes". But the "adoption genes" have a broad effect and humans become willing to adopt any human child, even out of group, and as a side effect we get "community breeding" for the entire human community.

I'll leave the remainder of the explanation for now; I have to go to work.

BLOGGER: Most people, including most Darwinians, believe that there is some behavior that is not genetic. Amongst humans the idea is usually not controversial because so much behavior is cultural. There is probably not a genetic distinction between, say, those who favor the war in Iraq and those who do not. Amongst animals it is less obvious, but even there we have local habits, the Manyara tree climbing lions are a famous example as are the different tools used by different chimpanzee groups. There is also a great deal of "imprinted" behavior, as in the famous case of goslings following Konrad Lorenz. Identical twins have identical genes but they do not have identical personalities or identical behaviors.


I agree with the blogger, but would just add the addendum that many culturally learned behaviors may still have a basis in genetics, just an indirect one. Chimps learn to use to different tools (cultural), but they are all able to use them (genetic).

Also, reading students of identical twins who have been separated at birth is fascinating. One in fact finds that such twins often develop very similar personalities and even behaviors (choosing highly similar occupations and spouses, for example). Its a bit scary to think such things might have such a strong genetic basis.
BLOGGER: Thanks for the support. While I take your point about a basis in genetics, the question is really where the explanatory power lies. A great deal of behavior can be explained in cultural, conditioned, emotional, intellectual, or imprinted terms. The genetic basis is so general that it adds nothing to the explanation, not even in selective terms. Similarly, the chemical bonds making the structure of a gene possible rests on quantum laws, but those laws offer no explanatory assistance when discussing, say, emotional behavior.

There is a lot to be said about identical twins, and they do enable some statements about what percent of many things are genetic. It is only when confronted by an over the top claim like all behavior is genetic that I would appeal to their differences.

Gordon Worley

I put my point rather tersely and sharply, but you can find a gentler explanation of this position here:

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