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Re: mexican standoff

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  • Robert Karl Stonjek
    Jay R. Feierman: Bent Henderson proposed in an off-list e-mail to Robert Stonjek and I that perhaps Robert and I could not come to an agreement on whether
    Message 1 of 2 , Jan 1, 2006
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      Jay R. Feierman:
      Bent Henderson proposed in an off-list e-mail to Robert Stonjek and I that perhaps Robert and I could not come to an agreement on whether function can be the object of natural selection because of a semantic difference in how we each were defining the word "function." I believe it is important to understand why, after several weeks of debate, neither of us could convince the other that our respective point of view was correct. After all, we are both scientists and should be playing by the same rules. This is not like the I.D. folks debating the evolutionists, where they are each using different rules of evidence. I believe there are several possibilities: (1) semantic (also suggested by Ralph Holloway), (2) dominance struggle (neither could give in and remain socially dominant), (3) Beliefs are not amenable to being changed by reason. (Both of our positions were based on beliefs.) We were both using reason to try to convince the other of our point of view. I'd be curious if anyone else on the list who has followed this debate has any other thoughts as to other reasons it could not be resolved. Or, if there are no other reasons, which of the three reasons above were the culprits.
      Also to consider is my take on this.  I am less worried about winning or losing and the archive reveals many instances of where I have discovered an error in my thinking and publicly changed my view as a result.  Jay has also modified his position from time to time to incorporate new information into his thinking.
      But I'll keep plugging away as long as I am still discovering new ways to approach the same issue.  Think of the issue as being like a piece of pumice stone that you turn over in your hand and then say 'ahah - I never noticed that shape before' referring to a newly discovered feature of the shape.  And then you write a note exposing and sharing the new view.
      The issue may seem straight forward at first glance, but turning the word function over in my mind I found one area of its meaning which agreed perfectly with Jay's and Lorenz's view, that of purpose which is entirely prospective, interpretative, and an evolution no-no: teleology.  With that definition of function in mind, I am compelled to agree with the other side.  But I did not have that definition in mind when I started off and I think that Darwin, in his writings, also used the function='what a thing does' definition.  And in this he seemed to be pointing out that natural selection looks at what structure does and how well it does it and then selects the structure on that basis.  This is selection of function when considering what natural selection does, and selection of structure when considering what natural selection actually did (the physical result). 
      In evolutionary psychology we are tilted toward the present as we are predominantly considering what is happening to Homo sapiens NOW, that is, from the above, what natural selection is doing rather than look at what natural selection had done.  If we are to extract predictive power from natural selection we find that looking back at structure we are not able to predict what the progression will be.  Maybe the human brain will get bigger because in the past it was smaller.  But when we look at what the brain was used for and exactly what was selected in the moment, we come up with a different solution - we see what function was being selected and so we ask how that function can be improved in the future.  We find that increased brain size, beyond what we already have, is unnecessary.
      Thus I am less concerned with winning or losing but more excited by the exploration that such a debate generates.  Finding myself considering the same issues in entirely new and novel ways is exciting and interesting (to me) and I do enjoy turning the stone over in my hands and discovering those new nooks and crannies.
      Kind Regards
      Robert Karl Stonjek
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