Robert Trivers

by Chris Bertram on August 27, 2005

Don’t miss the Guardian’s profile of evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers . A nervous breakdown after reading too much Wittgenstein, friendship with Huey Newton of the Black Panthers and the following priceless comment on Richard Dawkins: “My first wife, a wonderful woman, used to refer to Dick as the Selfish Gene, just because of the way he acts. ” Definitely worth a look.



Andrew Brown 08.27.05 at 10:40 am

By a happy coincidence, there is “a rejoinder”: to one of Trivers’ jokes published in the “Philosophy of Biology”: blog today. There was a reference to the Loyd theory in the original article, but it fell out for lack of space.


eudoxis 08.27.05 at 2:36 pm

Dawkins did remove Trivers’ introduction to his book from several releases of “The Selfish Gene” causing some personal animus. Remember, though, that Trivers is in the same adaptationist camp as Dawkins and his professional criticism has been directed primarily at Lewontin.


PK 08.27.05 at 2:45 pm

From the article:

While recovering, he took courses in art, and was hired to illustrate, and then to write, a series of textbooks for high schools. Despite his history degree, it was obvious to his supervisors that he knew little about human biology, so he was given the animals to write about, and started to learn modern Darwinian biology.

Does that make any sense? What are the words “despite” and “so” supposed to mean here?


Seth Edenbaum 08.27.05 at 2:51 pm

I feel a little guilty at not being more familiar with Trivers, -hey, I’m lazy- but I like him alot. I’m less fond of the company he keeps. So what does the passage imply about the arrogance of ‘Brights’?

Boston Globe
The book on deceit and self-deception that he’s now starting grows out of a brief but widely cited passage from his introduction to Dawkins’s ”The Selfish Gene.” If deceit, he wrote, ”is fundamental to animal communication, then there must be strong selection to spot deception and this ought, in turn, to select for a degree of self-deception, rendering some facts and motives unconscious so as not to betray-by the subtle signs of self-knowledge-the deception being practiced.” Thus, the idea that the brain evolved to produce ”ever more accurate images of the world must be a very naive view of mental evolution.” We’ve evolved, in other words, to delude ourselves so as better to fool others-all in the service of the great game of propagating our genes.


Maynard Handley 08.27.05 at 8:06 pm

Regarding Seth’s comment: you might do well to go read some Trivers then. His point, among other things, is that we would all be better off understanding the ways in which we deceive ourselves so as to view the world more realistically.
Rather than proving whatever snarky point you have in mind regarding brights, this pretty much shows the difference between them and, say, the ID crowd.

Brights are perfectly willing to admit that humans are not perfect, including that they are imperfect thinkers, and are interested in the details of that imperfection. The ID crowd, on the other hand, claim that humans, like, apparently, every other living thing, are perfect; an excuse then has to be found for every human imperfection, but don’t worry, the excuses will be found — perhaps body thetans will make an entrance at some point.


Seth Edenbaum 08.27.05 at 9:20 pm

When in God’s name have I ever defended the ID crowd? I’m attacking positivism. And I’m a third generation atheist.
I meant my question seriously. I’m a fan of Lewontin as a writer on politics and side with him -if you can call it that- in his arguments with Max Perutz. But Trivers’ politics is seems also to be on the left, and precisely for the reasons mentioned above:our ability to delude ourselves, our inability consistently to trace the line between objective awareness and conditioned response; my definition, by the way, of the state of consciousness (and the reason I hate not only at ID but AI !)

Again: I meant the question seriously.


Seth Edenbaum 08.27.05 at 9:22 pm

And I still forget about the -f’ing- dashes.


Maynard Handley 08.27.05 at 10:10 pm

Seth, I haven’t a clue what you are talking about. I responded to your snarky comment about bright’s. Your insider baseball response may mean something to someone somewhere, but it is incomprehensible to me.
As for complaining about the company Trivers keeps, you may want to explain to those of us who are not psychic exactly what this means. Is it the black panthers you are against or Richard Dawkins and friends?
You may also want to keep in mind that criticizing scientists on the basis of their politics may score points with the politician crowd, but leaves the scientifically literate unmoved. Their is a long history of scientists, good, very good and exceptional, with loony political views. That’s why smart people listen to their science and tune out, or at least mark to market, their political opinions.


Seth Edenbaum 08.28.05 at 10:00 am

A scientist who operates on what he sees as the ‘necessary truth’ that all people are equally capable of abstract reason is doing little more that proving himself as incapable of reason as his opponent.
For mystics moral truth precedes logical truth. At some point an observant scientist as a self proclaimed rational actor, would do best to shut up, listen, and observe. It amzes me how many scientists seem incapable of this; but that seems to be Trivers’ modus operandi, and I appreciate it, and I find it amusing that it is seen by many as revolutionary.
And I do wonder what his response is to Dawkins’ Bright bullshit.
As to Lewontin and Perutz you might start here but it’s been going on for a while.

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