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Dialectical Biologist - Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin

Dialectical Biologist - Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin...

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Unformatted text preview: Warning Concerning Copyright Restrictions The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be “used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research.” If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of “fair use,” that user may be liable for copyright infringement. This institution reserves the right to refuse to accept a copying order if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the order would involve violation of copyright law. Printing note: If you do not want to print this page, select pages 2 to the end on the print dialog screen. THE I DIALECTECAL BIOLOGIST Richard Levins and Richard Lewon’rin ‘ Harvard University Press Cambridge, MaSSachusetts, and London, England 1985 SElF-NIIES: like other intellectuals, cantata shsir...n9rlr.iritttangrld a set of preconceptions that provides the framework for their analysis of the world. These preconceptions enter at both an explicit and an implicit levei, but are wheat“?9.15s?....saritsitirtssstssaned and, unexpressed assumptions on r iemthem. The attempt to analyze evolution-as-anminteraction between internal genetic causes and external environmental causes makes the distinction between organism and en- vironment explicit. Yet underlying that distinction is the unexamined and implicit principle that organism and environment are indeed sepa— ' rate systems with their own autonomous properties. too harssurqws terrestrial..prsssncertiess- If we differ from most scientists, it is in our deliberateattempt:tolinalt’ethese preconcep— tions explicitwherewegan. The earlienrichapters in this boolt wété'ttta- ten largely from a Marxist perspective. They reflect the conflict be- tween the materialist dialectics of our conscious commitmentand the meshanimic... resustipaist;Iafid'fissitirist one; that dbminafed"6ur academic education and that pervades our intellectual environment. We have nowhere, however, attempted to define the dialectical method or set forth its principles in an explicit list. These chapters were not based on some clearly enumerated list of “dialectical principles.” Rath~ er, they reflect certain habits of thought, certain forms of questioning that we identify as dialectical. Nevertheless, it seems necessary, in order to pursue the intellectual program of this coliection, to attempt some ' explicit discussion of this way of thinking. Formalizations of the dialectic have a way of seeming rigid and dog matic in a way that contradicts the fluidity and historicity of the Marx— ist world view. This is especially the case when it is set out as “laws,” by analogy with the laws of natural science. Yet most scientific laws estab- lish quantitative relations among variables and serve as a basis for pre- 268 CONCLUSlON diction. The “laws” of dialectics are clearly not analogous to, say, Ein— stein’s equation e m mc’, but rather are analogous to prior principles, the constancy of the speed of light in all inertial frames, and the conser- vation of momentum. Perhaps the principles of dialectics are analo- gsxus “t9, Darwinis .princiriléi'fiffréfiafibh ..hs1"ilaiiilily;fifld. 'Sélébtidillln tha they create the terms whichquantitigationsmand .. " second reason for our reluctance to formulate the dialectic in terms of laws is that it creates the illusion that dialectics are rules cle— rived simply from nature. They are not. A dialectical view of dialectics”; would emphasize that the principles and vocabulary taken over fromi f philosophers have been transformed and invoked polemically in oppo- sition to, as a negation of, the prevailing ideological framework of bourgeois science, the Cartesian reductionist perSpective. fiftievaluguof -3 tassiaiestigis as a conscious challenge tattlestainsanarstsrrsspf the pro knt, aiid '63;de EiéEEiifiiiafi’Hi dialectical principles is specifi‘ cally designed to help solve the problems we work with in both our sci- entific and our political lives. Given the remarkable flexibility and capacity for novelty that char- acterize human thought, it is at least possible that any conclusion about the world could be reached by anyone, irrespective of the person’s pre~ vious commitment to an ideology or world view. Newton, who accept- ed the supernatural world of religious belief, nevertheless conceived of a world of uncompromising mechanical necessity. But it is not neces— sary to insist that construction of a particular model of nature needs a particular world view to argue that ideology strongly predisposes us to seemsownge in the world and not others: It tibiii‘d' have ‘Bé‘éiiVéHEi- traordinary indiiedif'fi natfifaligttrfiiielirig with Columbus or Magellan around the turn of the sixteenth century had returned home with the same views that Darwin held when he stepped off the Beagle. Indeed, one can hardly imagine even sending a naturalist on a trip around the world in 1519. Ideas! of cause and effect, subject and partwland whaletgrnaa,indignant" 536.1 ' ,. a§tmctiqa...9f.re- ality, although we are barely aware dif'itsexistence or, if we are, we af- iiriri it as a self—evident reality that must constrain all thought. We do not and cannot begin at square one every time we think about the world. Knowledge is socially constructed becauseonruniinds are social- 1y .sonstocedifiia'iiétftagging tournaments "airy substratum. edge by a process of being ad ptedint alien ‘ ‘ veistiéationorphefimaa. Whisk! .....en'b,é99mes. arsmfp .Lin's mastic... or théwiiltbliitfligéfi- CONCLUSION 269 I Ine‘flifibly£9916_.,Pr°bl¢ll‘5...9f..llflil§lf§tanflll§8 Flt? World, cannot be . er. These afé innascidahle. or distantly ignored either conSidered Il‘Ifundamenflt-alw m _ in the 'rriartihtpif‘discovery. The'grflowth of knowiééigéiit‘itsn akin to the conquest of land by a medieval army. Cities are laid seige to, and most surrender, but a few hold out indefinitely. The army sweeps around these, leaving behind some of its troops, who settle down to a- long and frustrating encirclement. This has certainly been the case in biology, where the extraordinary progress made in molecular studies has been the consequence of a straightforward reductionist program, while the understanding of embryonic development and of the func— tioning of the central nervous system have remained in a rudimentary state. Even evolutionary biology, which is widely accepted as a triumph of modern science, has swept a lot of problems under the rug of undecid- ability. Thedominant mode of___analysis of the physical and“ biological world and byeaersignihe sqcia2w.ar1a':aih bananas. sen .msiystinnism- This Candied fields-is Eli'a'iaéiéfiied by four ontological commitments, which then put their stamp on the process of creating knowledge: 1- There..isanstutalsstginninnrpans of which any whole sys- tem is made. _ 2- 11129.5? trainers12.9{usesassnsnithiatnsnsslreSg at least inso- far as they affect the whole of which they are the parts. 3- TheharassBushman pristtethsntals: that is, the parts e'irist in isolation and come together to make wholes. The parts have intrinsic properties, which they possess in isolation and which they lend to the whole. In the simplest cases the whole is nothing but the sum of its parts; more complex cases allow for interactions of the parts to produce added properties of the whole. 4. Qauses are separate from effects, causes being the properties .. W. .. ., , . wringéafigés g from the elfects (so— called “feedback loops”), there is no ambiguity about which is causing subject and which is caused object. (This distinction persists in statistics as independent and dependent variables.) We characterize the world described by these principles as the gig;- ntgd'world, the world in which parts at 270 CONCLUSION tii锑rii“st glimrri'erings o erchant entrepi‘ tury Europe, and culminating in the bourgeois revolutions of the seven- teenth and eighteenth centuries, social relations have emphasized the primacy of the alienated individual as a social actor. By successive acts of enclosure, land was alienated from the peasant cultivators, who for— merly were tied to it and it to them. Individuals became social atoms, colliding in the market, each with his or her special interests and prop— erties intrinsic to their roles. No individual person, however, is con— fined to a single role in bourgeois s0ciety. The same people are both consumers and producers, owners and renters, bosses and bossed. Yet bourgeois social theory sees society as constructed of homogeneous in— terest groups. “Consumers” have their interest, “labor” its interest, “capital” its interest, the whole of society talring'a shape determined by the action of these V, .. . MMWWW.VM swat...“ w WWW/«m the...aiienateangrnsighhangars and rear. Clearly. the ciaim that the social order is the natural result ollthewadjwiistments of demands and interests of competing groups is __ani_deolqgical formulation meant to mks the Shastatasssninsvitaizls Plant alter . H orkers and employers generally. Consumers do have an interest in the com- modities oflered them that is antithetical to the interest of the produc~ ers. But these interest groups have been created by the very system of social relations of which they are said to be the basis. In like manner, the alienated physical world is not only a structure of knowledge, but a physical sti- chi; iié ione of' it'aiai‘fif‘ér"iiitéiiseéiiiighafigét"iiecomes thévcause of a given effect is determined in part by social practice. For example, medical research and practice isolate particular causes of disease and treat them. The tu- bercle bacillus became the cause of tuberculosis, as opposed to, say, un~ regulated industrial capitalism, because the bacillus was made the point of medical attack on the disease. The alternative would be not a ‘.‘medi— cal” but a “political” approach to tuberculosis and so not the business of medicine in an alienated social structure. Having identified the ba— cillus as the cause, a chemotherapy had to be developed to treat it, rath~ er than, say, a social revolution. Sometimes problems are sartsrtssrsrrsslutioasisrsne ed’to thfihjfi‘hé‘ competition of certain weed species with CONCLUSION 271 crop plants is a serious problem for farmers, a problem that is now “solved” by wholesale application of herbicides. But not all weeds are bad for crops, and weed species compete among themselves. By using broad—spectrum herbicides, beneficial weeds, those that compete with harmful weeds, are destroyed along with the harmfui weeds they dis~ place, so the “weed problem” is partly created by the very operation that is supposed to cope with it. The same is true for insects, which are selected for genetic resistance to insecticides by the very insecticides used to cuntrol them. As a consequence, the greater the cure, the great~ er the problem. 7 No War of thinking about,.thrnsrlssfshssonssa can I . . ,. d . ‘ H ER? ‘ . events. Iii-s our contenti' V p 7 ticulariy impoverished shadgw of the-actual- relations among phenom- . fl. an: hi: , r " w— rriensional objects on fixed planes of low dimensionality. Indeed, it is an explicit objectifieofmcarfesian‘Fedfibfiibfil'shimtdlihd'amvery small: set of independent causal pathways or “factors” that can be used to reconm struct a large domain of phenomena. An elementary exercise in design courses is to make an object that is circular in one projection square in a second projection and triangular in the third. (We leave the solution as an exercise for the reader.) Alienated science deals with the alienated world of these projections, while a dialecticalwviewarrangingnggnder- “giggld the objectmin its Of course, some objects, iike sphéi'Ei";“éiE"ifiE"séiifie' ihiiall projections, so the reductionist strategy suc- ceeds. { The error of reductionism as a general point of view is that it sup— poses the higher~dirnensional object is somehow “composed” of its lower—dimensional projections, which have Ontological primacy and which exist in isolation, the “natural” parts of which the whole is com- posed. In the alienated world things are at base homogeneous; indeed, the object of reductionist science is to find those smallest units that are internally homogeneous, the natural units of which the world is made. The history of classical chemistry and physics is the epitome of this view. In classical chemistry microscopic objects were made of a mixture mof molecules, each of which was homogeneous within itself. With the development of the atomic theory of matter, these molecules were seen to be made of mixtures of atoms of different sorts, so the molecules were then seen as internally heterogeneous. Then it appeared that the very atoms defied their name (aromas, indivisible), because they too 272 CONCLUSION were internally heterogeneous, being composed of elementary neu~ trons, protons, and electrons. But even that homogeneity has disap— peared, and the number of “elementary” particles has multiplied with each creation of a more powerful particle accelerator. Physicists believe that the present theory predicts all particles that can exist, but since that theoretical apparatus is only half a dozen years old, the cautious person may reserve judgment. Iflfigflififlain til?.SiifilSEElEflfiQEiQ.3.535% things are assumed from Téiiiiheproslemnisisssiifr the anatdinical,mbehavidiai’rour physroldgiiimafilf intign. Is the handa initial"é‘taitiiiéfi,"3f is"itihenentireliaielimb or, on the contrary, is each finger or each joint of each finger the appropriate unit? The an~ sner..sisri=aslsspanrestraints?tinterestmattress.grannies“ 06 the” development of the hand and the way‘inwhich natural selection‘vbp- email“ "litigate 'iiiiéiiaiiii6h§iliéiii§i£fiésmevolveiiand"theViiiiiiifémiif‘the race of natural selection varies from time to time and species to spe— cies, so the hand Iii) Jets. Moreover, the by its very evolution, .annihilat , é agitator Simple 1cgi6iii5t‘ parts ééii'té’péttEonIy when there is a whole for them to be parts of. Part implies whole, and whole implies part. Yet reductionist practice ignores this relationship, isolating parts as preexisting unitssoi‘ which wholes are then composed. In the dialecti— cal world the‘logical dialectical relation between part and whole is tak- en seriously. Bart mtglgqsvwhglegandh hole maggspart. it seems “clearwthat allhits of thé 'WWW ' H flashlights who--- a..- - M .... _-- . ismirrelevant. It may be that “thou canst not stir a fi0wer without tron- bling of a star,” but in fact, our gardening does not have any effect on the sun, because gravitation is a weak force that falls off as the square of the distance. The grewth of our flowers, on the other hand, is affect— ed by the sun because photons travel across 80 million miles without losing their energy. The community in ecology does not lose its meaning as a unit of analysis nor its effectiveness as a level of interaction just be— cause it is possible to connect every species in the world with every oth- CONCLUSION 273 a“. -.f6 .. ” " ‘Vart'nro‘ng‘"interacndiis and betwm _ I ah ie species may be p ‘Eommunihésnwithhutl thereby Joining those communities into one. The owl as a predawr belongs to one community; as a defecator it is part of a quite different one. The first principle of a dialectical view, then, is that a wnhwglgisawgela- height}.,REiSZLiElSiERFIISkillsiéifilfiafigfl I The second principle, which flows from the first, is that, 5r , the properties of parts have no prior alienated existence but are ac~ quired by being parts of a particular whole. In the alienated world the intrinsic properties of the alienated parts confer properties on the whole, which may in addition take on new properties that are not char- acteristic of the parts: the whole may be more than the sum of its parts. ether indeed whenes may have id . ' Darts .Qf. who. hQPEOQ‘Efliai tflhatmrrialgevs_thewhgle. A person cannot fly by flapping her arms, ho ' matter how much she tries, nor can a group of people fly by all flapping their arms simultaneously. But people do fly, as a consequence of the social Organization that has created airplanes, pilots, and fuel. It is not society that flies, however, but individuals in society, who have ac— quired a property they do not have outside society. The limitations of individual physical beings are negated by social interactions. The whole, thus, is not simply the object of interaction of the parts but is the subject of action on the parts. 7 The dialectical emphasis on wholes is shared by other schools of mm...” mm W..W.m_.._...,..w..m,,.. , W Mm ., ,....._..W.M.,H=MM thohght"'that'ie5Elmagainstwtiiefragmentati in oflii‘iihhder capitalism, fii'é‘fiiiiidiiiiieéé"diépecializatibh, the redilEiiBiiiEih”chiéfiiééifiiiéifigii- cultural theory. ' lthfitutipmvements stress the inseparabiiity of psychological and physro ogical processes; the relevance to health of nutrition, exercise, and emotions; and the complex interactions of dif— ferent nutrients. eclglogymmovernent emphasize thewurflrityijrna— tar?! whigh‘ifiqudggus‘ -. . .. . - .. .. We agree with these criticisms of current practices, but we differ iterathssssresptisms: Most of the atternative health (movements focusuon the individual, without integrating thatwiiidividiial 274 CONCLUSION into social processes either in analysis or program. And their organiz- ‘ P1 '5 h - Marissastifoaenessf? cinnam- ,ltiihfifli?" re milinher_sailyflhalans§dfisherme- e e loci of internal opposing hair tem- filfianly. A third dialectical principle, then, is that the interpenetrationwof entailing lanthanum“abjects are the E‘atéiii’éjtiiflgéaV ts ‘of’other active, causal subjects. In evolution~ ary theory organisms are usually seen as the objects of evolution: through natural selection, autonomous changes in the environment cause adaptive alterations in the passive organism. As we argued in Chapter 3, however, the actual situation is quite different. Organisms are both the subjects and the objects of evolution. They both make and a; .. . tionary history. ""‘i‘h’é’i‘éparsaon between cause and efiect, subject and object in the alienated world has a direct political consequence, ‘summed up in the expression, “You can’t fight city hall.” The external world set the con- ditions we must adapt ourselves sB'E'i ,.Q.1.1_fl_1ent ; “’ZiifL'Tji'fi "ideoiogy of “being realis- tic” manifests itse in theories of human psychic development, such as Piaget’s (1967) claim that “equilibrium is attained when the adolescent understands that the proper function of reflection is not to contradict but to predict and interpret experience.” To this we counterpose Marx’s (1845) eleventh thesis on Feuerbach: ‘fIhe.philosophersuhave only insurers.ths...mrls.iasalesman; therein , is to . . . . .. ., ' “Two other schoolsof thoughtualso recognize the heterogeneity of the Liberals harshesttransmit Situations “are not all black or white,” that each course of action has its advan- tages and disadvantages, costs and benefits. Their solution is to see the world as shades of gray, to weigh costs and benefits on some scale that comes with a single resultantwnet profit or lossmor to insist that, giv— en two extremes, “The truth lies somewhere in between.” I’neach case the gifferenegsmage Quadrature..and.....contr.adietione..are...reso. . .. oist tradition in China shares with dialectics the emphasis on wheelies; the, Whglsmbsing maintainssl...brtssparasites CONCLUSION 275 such as yin and yang. Although balanced, yin and yang do not lose their identities in some puddled intermediate. Chinese medicine recog- nizes excess of yin and deficiency of yang as distinct pathologies. How ever, balance is seen as the...
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