Thursday, 24 April 2014

Neo-Darwinism & neo-Darwinsim

As shown in the previous post, Neo-Darwinism is a term with a history extending back into the past beyond the modern evolutionary synthesis. I noticed that it was mostly written with a capital N back then, whereas current usage seems to prefer the lower case n. The following Ngram chart also suggests that the usage shifted from Neo-Darwinisim (before 1930) to neo-Darwinism after 1970 (scroll to see the later years).

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

What Darwinism? Some historical quotes

John S. Wilkins has put up a survey What does "Darwinism" mean? at Evolving Thoughts. I thought I could complement this by delving into some archives and lifting historical quotes pertinent to the question. Below are historical quotes defining the term Darwinism by Thomas Huxley (1860), Carl Nägeli (1865), Ernst Haeckel (1866), Charles Hodge (1874), Samuel Butler (1880), Alfred Wallace (1889), George Romanes (1889), August Weismann (1893), Liberty Bailey (1894), George Romanes (1897), Petr Kropotkin (1902), Vernon Kellogg (1907), Thomas Morgan (1909), Richard Lewontin (1981) and George Williams (1992). 

Although I expected the usual disunity about terms and meanings, the researchers were surprisingly d'accord that Darwinism means explaining adaptation through natural selection. So far, theologian Hodge has been the only dissenter believing that Darwinism was truly about atheism.

The dissent among scientists only began with the question whether natural selection was the main or sole mechanism of evolution. The context of this dispute was intricate. Wallace denied other factors of evolution besides natural selection, such as sexual selection or the inheritance of acquired trait variations. In this respect he was more extreme than Darwin. Weismann joined Wallace in refuting use-inheritance. 

The relative importance of natural selection as a cause of evolution is a scientific question. Its relative importance in defining the terms Darwinism and Neo-Darwinism to distinguish different doctrines is a conceptual issue. 

Feel free to chime in with further relevant quotes from other times/authors.

---[update on Darwin's utilitarian doctrine, 16 April 2014]---

Carl Nägeli brings Darwin's utilitarian doctrine (Nützlichkeitstheorie) into his definition of Darwinism. It is therefore helpful to know what that utilitarian doctrine was. In The Origin of Species, Darwin (1859) dealt with Difficulties of Theory (chapter 6) in general and Organs of little apparent importance in particular. Some pages into that sub-chapter (p. 199-200) he wrote:

"The foregoing remarks lead me to say a few words on the protest lately made by some naturalists, against the utilitarian doctrine that every detail of structure has been produced for the good of its possessor. They believe that very many structures have been created for beauty in the eyes of man, or for mere variety. This doctrine, if true, would be absolutely fatal to my theory. Yet I fully admit that many structures are of no direct use to their possessors. Physical conditions probably have had some little effect on structure, quite independently of any good thus gained. Correlation of growth has no doubt played a most important part, and a useful modification of one part will often have entailed on other parts diversified changes of no direct use. So again characters which formerly were useful, or which formerly had arisen from correlation of growth, or from other unknown cause, may reappear from the law of reversion, though now of no direct use. The effects of sexual selection, when displayed in beauty to charm the females, can be called useful only in rather a forced sense. But by far the most important consideration is that the chief part of the organisation of every being is simply due to inheritance; and consequently, though each being assuredly is well fitted for its place in nature, many structures now have no direct relation to the habits of life of each species. [...] &c. Hence every detail of structure in every living creature (making some little allowance for the direct action of physical conditions) may be viewed, either as having been of special use to some ancestral form, or as being now of special use to the descendants of this form either directly, or indirectly through the complex laws of growth."
[My emphasis, here's an online version.]

This utilitarian doctrine is also implied in the first sentence of Weismann's quote below, where he said an organism consisted of adaptations new, old and ancient. Utilitarianism has later been exaggerated and criticized as adaptationism.

---[update on the term Neo-Darwinism, 22 April 2014]---

The term Neo-Darwinism is older than commonly believed today. In particular, it has a history before the modern evolutionary synthesis that is often called neo-Darwinian. Although most sources credit George Romanes (1883 or 1889) with coining the term Neo-Darwinism to designate the forms of Darwinism proposed by Alfred Wallace and August Weismann, I could not verify this attribution. The term appears in neither of these publications, but in his later book Darwin, and After Darwin (Romanes 1897). It's probably a mis-attribution.

The earliest source I could discover is by Samuel Butler (1880). Butler's usage of the term Neo-Darwinism may appear confused, because he applies it to Wallace and Charles Darwin somewhat indiscriminately, whereas it has later been used to distinguish the doctrines of Wallace and Weismann from Charles Darwin's. (Butler also applies the term Darwinism to Erasmus Darwin and Spencer, which a Whig retrospective would rather call Lamarckian.) Other terms to mark the difference between Charles Darwin on the one hand and Wallace or Weismann on the other have been pure Darwinism and ultra-Darwinism.

---[here they come]---

"But the planetary orbits turned out to be not quite circular after all, and, grand as was the service of Copernicus rendered to science, Kepler and Newton had to come after him. What if the orbit of Darwinism should be a little too circular? What if species should offer residual phenomena, here and there, not explicable by natural selection?"
Huxley, T.H. 1860. Westminster Review 17 (n.s.) 541-570; reprinted in Collected Essays 2: 22-79.

"Die Nützlichkeitstheorie ist der Darwinismus. Man bezeichnet irrtümlicher Weise nicht selten als Darwinismus die Theorie, dass die Arten aus einander entstanden seien, und dass dies auf dem langsamen Wege der Racenbildung geschehen. Beides wurde lange vor Darwin ausgesprochen. Der grosse Fortschritt, den die Wissenschaft diesem Forscher verdankt, beruht in der Idee, dass die Racen- und Artenbildung das Produkt der natürlichen Züchtung sei, welche durch den Kampf um das Dasein geleitet wird. Etwas anderes unter Darwinismus begreifen, heisst die Bedeutung Darwins verkennen und seinen Ruhm schmälern. Freilich wurde dieses sein Princip von manchem seiner Gegner nur halb oder auch gar nicht verstanden und daher auch oft schief und unrichtig beurtheilt."
Nägeli, C. 1865. Entstehung und Begriff der Naturhistorischen Art. Verlag der königlichen Akademie, München, p. 16, footnote.
The utilitarian theory is Darwinism. They often say that Darwinism was the theory that species arose from each other and that this happened through the slow development of races. Both has been said long before Darwin. The great progress that we owe to this researcher lies in the idea, that the development of races and species was the product of natural selection, which is conducted through through the struggle for existence. To understand something else as Darwinism means to misjudge Darwin's importance and to belittle his fame. Certainly, some of his opponents comprehended this, his, principle only by half or not at all and therefore also judged it askance or wrong."
My translation. [It is interesting to note that Nägeli saw the utilitarian doctrine as an alternative to progressionism, the idea that evolution follows a path upwards toward perfection.]

"Diese Selektions-Theorie is es, welche man mit vollem Rechte, ihrem alleinigen Urheber zu Ehren, als Darwinismus bezeichnen kann, während es nicht richtig ist, mit diesem Namen, wie es neuerdings häufig geschieht, die gesamte Deszendenz-Theorie zu belegen, die bereits von Lamarck als eine wissenschaftlich formulierte Theorie in die Biologie eingeführt worden ist, und die man daher entsprechend als Lamarckismus bezeichnen könnte.(Fußnote 1)
(Fußnote 1:) Die entgegengesetzte dogmatische Theorie von der absoluten Constanz und der selbstständigen Erschaffung der Species, kann eben so nach Cuvier, ihrem hervorragendsten Vertheidiger, Cuvierismus genannt werden."
Haeckel, E. 1866. Generelle Morphologie der Organismen. Zweiter Band: Allgemeine Entwicklungsgeschichte der Organismen. Georg Reimer, Berlin, p. 166.
"It is this theory of selection, which has rightly been called Darwinism, in honor of its sole author, while it is not correct to name the whole theory of descent thus, as is often done lately, because Lamarck has already introduced it as a scientific theory to biology, and it could therefore be called Lamarckism accordingly.(footnote 1)
(Footnote 1:) The contrary dogmatic theory of the absolute constancy and the independent creation of the species, can equally after Cuvier, its primary defendant, be called Cuvierism."
My translation.

"From what has been said, it appears that Darwinism includes three distinct elements. First, evolution; or the assumption that all organic forms, vegetable and animal, have been evolved or developed from one, or a few, primordial living germs; second, that this evolution has been effected by natural selection, or the survival of the fittest; and third, and by far the most important and only distinctive element of his theory, that this natural selection is without design, being conducted by unintelligent physical causes. Neither the first nor the second of these elements constitute Darwinism; nor do the two combined."
Hodge, C. 1874. What is Darwinism? Scribner, Armstrong, and Company, New York, p. 49.

"I had not as yet seen that the principle I was contending for was Darwinian, not Neo-Darwinian. My pages still teemed with allusions to "natural selection," and I sometimes allowed myself to hope that "Life and Habit" was going to be an adjunct to Darwinism which no one would welcome more gladly than Mr. Darwin himself." (p. 33)
"I had as yet no idea that a writer [meaning Mivart 1871] could attack Neo-Darwinism without attacking evolution." (p. 34f)
Butler, S. 1880. Unconscious Memory. David Bogue, London. [Note that St. George Mivart (1871. Genesis of Species. Appleton and Co., New York) did not use the term Neo-Darwinism, though some of what he described may well have counted as Neo-Darwinism to others. On later pages (52, 280ff, 282ff), Butler confusingly attributes the term Neo-Darwinism (sometimes also spelled with lower case neo-) to Charles Darwin at times, to Wallace and you name 'em at others as well as the term Darwinism to Erasmus Darwin, Spencer and you name 'em. Nevertheless I included the above quote as the earliest use of the term Neo-Darwinism I could find.]

"Even in rejecting that phase of sexual selection depending on female choice, I insist on the greater efficacy of natural selection. This is pre-eminently the Darwinian doctrine, and I therefore claim for my book the position of being the advocate of pure Darwinism."
Wallace, A.R. 1889. Darwinism. MacMillan and Co. New York, p. viii.

"It was the opinion of Mr. Darwin that natural selection has been the chief, but not the only, cause of organic evolution; while, in the opinion of Mr. Wallace, natural selection has been the all and in all of such evolution—virtually the sole and only principle which has been concerned in the development both of life and of mind from the amoeba to the ape—although he further and curiously differs from Darwin in an opposite direction, by holding that natural selection can have had absolutely no part at all in the development of faculties distinctly human. Disregarding the latter and subordinate point of difference (a re-presentation of which in the concluding chapters of his present work I may however remark appears to me sadly like the feet of clay in a figure of iron, marring by its manifest weakness what would otherwise have been a complete and self-consistent monument of strength), let us first clearly understand to what it is that the major point of difference amounts." (p. 245f)
     [...] "Now, it is evident that, according to this theory, natural selection; is constituted the one and only cause of organic evolution; and for this reason the followers of Weismann are in the habit of calling his doctrine "pure Darwinism," inasmuch as without invoking any aid from the Lamarckian principle above described, it constitutes the Darwinian principle of natural selection the sole, and not merely as he said "mein, means of modification." (p. 248)
    [...] "On the other hand, it is no less manifest that this doctrine, although not pure Darwinism, assuredly is, and always has been, pure Wallaceism." (p. 248)
Romanes, G.J. 1889. Mr. Wallace on Darwinism. Contemporary Review 56: 244-258. [This review is often cited as the place where Romanes coined the term Neo-Darwinism, and so is a Letter to the Editor by Romanes (1883. Nature 27: 362-364). The actual term Neo-Darwinism appears in neither, however, although the review of Wallace's book Darwinism aptly describes what Romanes distinguished as Wallaceism and what later became known as Neo-Darwinism before the synthesis (see Bailey 1884 and Romanes 1897 below). For a good candidate of coining the term neo-Darwinism see Butler (1880) above.]

"Denn der Organismus besteht, wie ich schon früher sagte, aus Anpassungen, neuen, älteren und uralten, und was an primären Variationen in der Physiognomie der Arten etwa mitspielt, it wenig und von untergeordneter Bedeutung. Ich halte deshalb die Entdeckung der Naturzüchtung für eine der fundamentalsten, die auf dem Gebiete des Lebens jemals gemacht worden ist, eine Entdeckung, die allein genügt, den Namen Charles Darwin und Alfred Wallace die Unsterblichkeit zu sichern, und wenn meine Gegner mich als „Ultra-Darwinisten“ hinstellen, der das Princip des grossen Forschers ins Einseitige übertreibt, so macht das vielleicht auf manche ängstliche Gemüther Eindruck, welche das „juste-milieu“ überall schon im voraus für das Richtige halten, allein mir scheint, dass man niemals schon a priori sagen kann, wie weit ein Erklärungsprincip reicht, es muss erst versucht werden, und diesen Versuch gemacht zu haben, das ist mein Verbrechen oder mein Verdienst."
Weismann, A. 1893. Die Allmacht der Naturzüchtung. Eine Erwiderung an Herbert Spencer. Gustav Fischer, Jena, p. 63.
"Then the organism consists, as I have said before, of adaptations, new, old and ancient, and whatever plays a role in the primary variation of the physiognomy of the species is few and of minor importance. I therefore regard the discovery of natural selection as one of the most fundamental ones that has ever been made in the field of the life science, a discovery that suffices on its own to secure immortality for the names of Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace, and if my opponents refer to me as an "ultra-Darwinist", who exaggerates and biases the principle of the great researcher, that may impress some anxious minds that in advance take the "juste-milieu" everywhere as the right one, however methinks, that it is impossible to tell a priori, how far an explanatory principle reaches, it needs to be tested first, and to have undertaken this trial, that is my crime or credit."
My translation.

"This, then, is Darwinism—that the controlling factor or process in evolution is selective: the survival, in the struggle for existence, of those individuals which are best fitted to survive." (p. 662f)
[...] "We are particularly concerned in its results, which are the distinguished marks of Neo-Darwinism—that the variation is of sexual or internal origin, and that acquired characters are not hereditary." (p. 668)
Bailey, L.H. 1894. Neo-Lamarckism and Neo-Darwinism. The American Naturalist 28: 661-678. [After defining the core of Darwinism on p. 662f, Bailey admits various correlative or incidental hypothesis attached to it. He continues to define Neo-Darwinism as Weismannism and in opposition to Neo-Lamarckism.]

"This question is whether natural selection has been the sole, or but the main, cause of organic evolution." (p. 1)
     [...] "Now Darwin's answer to this question was distinct and unequivocal. he stoutly resisted the doctrine that natural selection was to be regarded as the only cause of organic evolution. On the other hand, this opinion was—and still continues to be—persistently maintained by Mr. Wallace." (p. 2)
     [...] "Yet so greatly have some of the Neo-Darwinians misunderstood the teachings of Darwin, that they represent as "Darwian heresy" any suggestions in the way of factors "supplementary to," or "Co-operative with" natural selection." (p. 11)
     [...] "Weismann's Essays on Heredity (which argue that natural selection is the only possible cause of adaptive modification) and Wallace's work on Darwinism (which in all the respects where any charge of "heresy" is concerned directly contradict the doctrines of Darwin)—these are the writings which are now habitually represented by the Neo-Darwinians as setting forth the views of Darwin in their "pure" form." (p. 12)
Romanes, G.J. 1897. Darwin, and After Darwin, vol. II. The Open Court Publishing Company, Chicago.

"Consequently, when my attention was drawn, later on, to the relations between Darwinism and Sociology, I could agree with none of the works and pamphlets that had been written upon this important subject. They all endeavoured to prove that Man, owing to his higher intelligence and knowledge, may mitigate the harshness of the struggle for life between men; but they all recognized at the same time that the struggle for the means of existence, of every animal against all its congeners, and of every man against all other men, was "a law of Nature." This view, however, I could not accept, because I was persuaded that to admit a pitiless inner war for life within each species, and to see in that war a condition of progress, was to admit something which not only had not yet been proved, but also lacked confirmation from direct observation."
Kropotkin, P. 1902. Mutual Aid. McClure, New York.

"— the fact is that the name Darwinism has been pretty consistently applied by biologists only to those theories practically original with Darwin which offer a mechanical explanation of the accepted fact of descent. Of these Darwinian theories the primary and all-important one is that of natural selection."
Kellogg, V.L. 1907. Darwinism To-day. Henry Holt, New York.

"In the mind of the general public Darwinism stands to-day for evolution. The establishment of the theory of evolution is generally accepted as Darwin's chief contribution to human thought, and while Darwin did not originate this idea that forms the framework of our modern thinking, yet by general accord its acceptance is attributable, and justly so, to Darwin.
     To the zoologist Darwinism means more especially evolution accounted for by the theory of natural selection, yet also many other things, to which I shall refer in the proper place." (p. 367)
     [...] "There is a small group of writers scattered amongst these larger groups that are ranked or rank themselves Neo-Darwinians. I must pause a moment to pay them my tardy respects. They have set themselves up to be the true Darwinians. They seem less concerned with the advancement of the study of evolution than with expounding Darwinism as dogma. Their credulity is more remarkable than their judgment. To imagine a use for an organ is for them equivalent to explaining its origin by natural selection without further inquiry. Any examination, in fact, into the nature of variation, they appear to regard as superfluous, although harmless, but it is heresy to study critically the working out of the theory of natural selection. Such has ever been the procedure of the infertile followers of great leaders. In the present instance the result is the more deplorable, since Darwin's own independence of the traditions of all schools, his careful study of facts, his emancipation from prejudice, are his lasting virtues. The Neo-Darwinian, worshipping the letter of the law, forgets its import. Let us salute, and pass." (p. 373f)
     [...] "We stand to-day on the foundations laid fifty years ago. Darwin's method is our method, the way he pointed out we follow, not as the advocates of a dogma, not as the disciples of any particular creed, but the avowed adherents of a method of investigation whose inauguration we owe chiefly to Charles Darwin. For it is this spirit of Darwinism, not its formula, that we proclaim as our best heritage." (p. 380)
Morgan, T.H. 1909. For Darwin. Popular Science Monthly 74: 367-380.

"The controversies about evolution lie in the realm of the relative importance of various forces in molding evolution. One such controversy concerns the relative importance of direct "adaptive" natural selection for characters, as opposed to other forces of evolution such as genetic drift, genetic linkage, pleiotropy, allometry, and multiple adaptive peaks as explanations for particular events in evolution. A major cause of much of the present controversy—and the rich opportunity it affords creationists to find out-of-context quotations—is the growth of a vulgar Darwinism that sees direct adaptation in every feature of life. By making claims for natural selection that are as tortured as the absurd claims of the 19th century evolutionists who saw God's wisdom in everything, the vulgar adaptationists seriously weaken the power of evolutionary explanation. When called to account, they declare those who dispute them to be anti-Darwinians and even anti-evolutionists. And all the while creationists smile and take notes."
Lewontin, R.C. 1981. Evolution/creation debate: a time for truth. BioScience 31: 559.

"The second basis of modern biology is the assumption that the Darwinian process of natural selection accounts for all aspects of the adaptation of an organism to a particular way of life in a particular environment."
Williams, G.C. 1992. Natural Selection. Domains, Levels and Challenges. Oxford University Press, p. 5.

For German readers the following article may also be useful:
Junker, T. 2009. Was ist Darwinismus? Aufklärung und Kritik, special issue 15: 21-28.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Tansley's Temporal Genetic Series

In 2002, a previously unpublished paper by Arthur G. Tansley has eventually been published in the Journal Ecosystems. Tansley called it "The Temporal Genetic Series as a means of Approach to Philosophy" and presented it before the Magdalen Philosophy Club of Oxford University on 5 May 1932. Peder Anker eventually discovered it in some archive and prepared it for publication. I wanted to add a link to the full text, but Springer put it behind a paywall - gasp. So here's a digest instead.

By temporal genetic series Tansley simply meant the evolutionary transitions:
                      inorganic matter → living organisms  → mind.

He was particularly interested in the question whether the gaps between  (1.)  the not-living and the living and between (2.) the living and mind were bridgeable in terms of chemistry and physics. In philosophical discourses this is often called reducibility.

Tansley concludes that the 1. gap is not unbridgeable in principle, though it may well be in practice:
"I need not deal with the steady advance in our knowledge of the physico-chemical mechanism of life. That knowledge is certainly very far from complete. It may indeed never bee complete, but I see no reason to suppose that there are any phenomena of life (leaving "mind" for the moment out of consideration) that are not theoretically capable of "explanation" in terms of chemistry and physics." (Tansley 2002, p. 617)

When he reaches the 2. gap, however, he concluded that it is unbridgeable in principle. We cannot understand mind, because mind would have to understand itself. This is, he thinks, as if we had to study the structure and functioning of a microscope with the microscope, "permanently glued to our eyes. [...] We cannot hope to bridge the gap between the physiological and the psychical because all our knowledge is founded on the very power we seek to interpret." (Tansley 2002, p. 618)

At the end of this paper, Tansley touches on the emergence of values from mind as a third gap, which he suspects to be irreducible too, and summarizes:

"The first gap, between the inorganic and the organic, I have attributed to a lack of knowledge, an ignorance that we may possibly, perhaps probably, never surmount, but that I do not believe is theoretically unbridgeable by human knowledge. The organism I have thus considered is a physico-chemical system, so highly specific that we cannot help calling it a new phenomenon.    
     The second gap, between the physiological and the psychical, I attribute to the fact that psychical awareness is the foundation of all human knowledge and the instrument through which we contemplate the external world and also our own minds. For that reason, it is impossible to understand awareness in terms of anything else, though its antecedents are clearly physiological perceptions that we can explain theoretically in terms of chemistry and physics." (Tansley 2002, p. 624)

In conclusion, Tansley's heuristics for studying ecology and psychology are contrary. In ecology, he suggested the ecosystem because it already bridges conceptually  the gap between organic and anorganic factors. In psychology, however, he always defended the psychoanalytic approach of taking the mind as something that cannot be explained in terms of physiology.

Tansley, AG ([1932] 2002) "The Temporal Genetic Series As a Means of Approach to Philosophy." Ecosystems 5: 614-624.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Tansley was a polymath - not a monist

With polymath I mean someone who masters different "arts" - say various sciences, philosophy, some musical instrument - without needing to crudely transfer ideas or skills from one art to the other. A monist will, on the other hand, always find the same ideas reflected in the different arts he masters. I am convinced that Tansley was a polymath. In order to make that point, I will start with a counter example.

As it happens, Tansley revered Spencer as a juvenile, but he came to master philosophy pretty well. When, as a 24 year old, he helped Spencer to revise the second edition of Spencer's Principles of Biology, he already regarded himself as an equal to Spencer. As Ayres (2012, p. 185) writes, Spencer had to reign Tansley in, in order to keep his own synthetic world view represented in the Principles of Biology.

Nowadays, Herbert Spencer is not a very attractive historical figure anymore, and it is therefore understandable that nobody feels tempted to knit a myth about Spencer's philosophy having strongly influenced Tansley's ecology. Anyway, Tansley became a friend of Bertrand Russell as a student and member of the Magdalen Philosophy Club in Oxford as a professor, so there is no need to find Spencer's ideas in Tansley's ecology.

For some reason, however, the situation seems to be different with Sigmund Freud and his supposed influence on Tansley's ecology.

From annals to narrative
Here's a simple sequence of events:
1. Tansley was a botanist and pioneer of ecology by 1918.
2. His career as a botanist and ecologist experienced a slump, because his application for a professor's chair in Oxford was refused by academic enemies.
3. Tansley was also interested in Freud's theories and learned them by reading the original German publications. in 1920, he then wrote up his own take on the New Psychology and its Relation to Life and published it as a popular book meant to introduce Freud's ideas to a wider English audience. As his was the only English book on that topic on the market, it became a bestseller running through ten impressions in 5 years.
4. Later, he visited Sigmund Freud in Vienna - even settled there for  a while.
5. Eventually, however, he returned to England and became a full professor for botany at Oxford.

This sequence suggests a narrative about how Tansley must have learned something from psychology and transferred it into ecology. It is materializing itself and seems to become more plausible with every iteration.

Possible counter-narratives
The counter-narrative that Tansley has already been a distinguished ecologist and transferred knowledge from this discipline into psychology is not explored. So I will do it in the following.

As far as I know, Freud did not speculate about mental networks. Nevertheless, these figures of mental networks illustrate The Structure of the Mind (Tansley 1925, part ii).
Tansley, AG (1925, p. 58) The New psychology and its Relation to Life. [my own scan]

Tansley (1925) p. 61. [my own scan]

The question where that network metaphor came from and wither it went is difficult to answer.

On the one hand, the old psychology, that Tansley (1925) disparaged in his preface, knows a metaphor of the mind as an intricate system of connected tubes or channels through which mental energy flows. I do not remember which psychologist has priority for this idea, but it precipitated in Spencer's Principles of Psychology.

"Let us consider the nervous system as an immensely involved set of channels, some wide and allowing an easy flow, some narrow and little permeable some communicating with one another by large openings and others by openings through which nothing passes except under high pressure; but all of them more or less permeable and more or less connected." (Spencer 1890, part 5, ch. 8, §254, p. 586)

On the other hand, early ecologists wrote of food chains and food cycles rather than food webs or networks (e.g. Elton 1927).

While this seems to suggest a transfer from psychology into ecology, however, Tansley's ecological writings lack the network metaphor. His ecosystem concept (Tansley 1935), in particular, is void of any content. It only proposes to replace the classical distinction between abiotic and biotic systems (e.g. in Clement's distinction of vegetation from climate) by a system of study including both. Hence, the network metaphor did not enter ecology from psychology via Tansley (Dagg 2007).

Finally, Tansley's second book on psychology (Tansley 1952) also contains a chapter titled The Structure of the Mind, but mental networks do no longer feature in that book. Instead Tansley relates the scheme of Freud's id, ego, and super-ego and calls the mental components aggregates - not networks (Tansley 1952, p. 12).

It seems that Tansley's mental networks were not adopted by his psychoanalytic peers (Freud, Hart, Jones). maybe they identified it as belonging to the old psychology which they rejected and wanted to revolutionize. Hence no analogous transfer from ecology into psychology via Tansley either.

Until evidence for Tansley's analogous transfer becomes known to me, I shall stick with the null hypothesis that Tansley simply did not indulge in crude analogizing.

Alas, Tansley's connection to Freud seems to be irresistibly attractive. Narratives about how Tansley's knowledge of psychology and psychoanalysis must somehow have informed his ecology seem to be too good not to be told (for example, see here).

Last reiteration of the transfer-narrative
Peter Ayres (2012) has written an otherwise good biography of Arthur George Tansley, but he also reiterates, in one short passage, the legend that Tansley transferred ideas from psychology to ecology. This time, the analogy is not seen in a network pattern but in disturbance and deflection:

"The second reason why Tansley's involvement with psychology was important is that, as mentioned earlier, it affected his view of vegetational processes. At the core of his new psychology was his belief that, 'the abnormal activities of the mind, as seen in cases of hysteria and insanity, are but extreme and unbalanced developments of characteristics and functions which form integral parts of the normal healthy mind' (Cameron 1999, 10). When he and Godwin began their studies of Wicken Fen, he soon realised that the same principles were applicable to the dynamics of vegetation." Ayres (2012, 114)
"Vegetation within the 'Triangle' [an experimental plot of his student Harry Godwin] was not cut or managed in any way, its natural succession being slowly revealed to Godwin as year by year he mapped the plants. Within the additional plots, sections were cut at intervals of one, two, three, or four years, or left uncut. Thus, natural succession was 'deflected but not arrested' in the cut plots (Cameron 1999, 12). The different intervals between cutting revealed the extent to which different species were suppressed by cutting. Tansley called such deflected successions 'plagioseres' (where a 'sere' is an intermediate stage in succession); if the deflecting factors were removed then vegetation reverted to the normal development of water-logged ground, the 'hydrosere'. The parallels with the human mind, deflected from its normal healthy development into insanity or hysteria, are clear." (Ayres 2012, 115)

I'm not convinced and think the very next passage of Ayres (2012, 116) contradicts his own suggestion, because he details the conclusions of Transley and Godwin as a need to manage the Wicken Fens rather than simply leave them alone, in order to preserve the desired state of them. That is, they did not conclude that the plagiosere was a pathological state of the natural affairs that needs to be removed, like a deflected mind needs to be treated. That organismic conception of plant succession was, as Ayres (2012) also details elsewhere, Frederic E. Clements's doctrine, not Tansley's.

Source of the transfer-narrative
Ayres's source for this idea of Tansley's analogous transfer is Cameron (1999). She writes:

"This paper examines Tansley's dual interest, exploring the notion that histories of the self may be entwined with histories of the earth. The fact that Tansley and Godwin were actively sorting, fencing and mapping what they considered to be uncharted areas of disturbed vegetation during the 1920s, a period in which they were also fascinated by the possibilities of mapping the terra incognita of the human mind, occasions a compelling twist in the historical geographies of nature conservation and the self." (Cameron 1999, 5)

Again, I find the evidence far from compelling. Cameron (1999) surely provides no smoking gun proving Tansley's analogous transfer from psychology to ecology. It all boils down to an analogy between "disturbed" vegetation and "disturbed" mind and an inkling that the terms deflected succession and plagiosere may have some psychological connotation (p. 15).

Having myself searched for anything psychological about the term plagio, I found that it is an Italian term for brainwashing and a legal term for a crime of subjecting an individual to ones own will, so as to reduce that individual to a total state of subjugation. Hence, there may indeed be some psychological connotation in Tansley's use of the term plagiosere, but that hypothesis would have needed more evidence in its favor, not just an inkling by mention. As far as the use of the term deflected is concerned, it is a common sense word used in all sorts of contexts (e.g., ballistics).

On the other side, Cameron (1999) has to admit that Tansley rejected Clements' explicit (crude) analogy between vegetation and organisms already in 1920 (p. 16) and replaced it by the idea of a quasi-organism among which he counted (human) societies and vegetation. So, when returning to England and ecology, he cannot have been much of an organicist. Why should he have been inclined to analogize crudely between vegetation and organisms?

Counter evidence
Van der Valk (2013) shows that, on the contrary, Blackman and Tansley already criticized Clements' organism analogy much earlier:

"Crude concepts carried into a wider field cannot give anything but unsatisfactory and inconclusive results. […] His [Clements'] view of vegetation as an organism is as legitimate as the familiar idea of a human society from the same point of view. Both conceptions are useful and desirable so long as it is remembered that they are essentially analogical, that these quasi-organisms do not possess many of the essential features of real organisms." (Blackman & Tansley 1905 quoted in Van der Valk 2013).

The best evidence that Tansley did neither take the organism analogy nor Freudian psychology literal, like an acolyte, but was instead loftily mastering all intellectual issues and forming his opinion independently, comes from a letter of Tansley to Clements, wherein the compares Clements' fixation on the climatic climax as the sole natural outcome of succession to Freud's fixation on sex as the sole psychological drive (cited in Van der Valk 2013).

Surprisingly, a lot of the counter evidence also comes from Cameron and Forrester (1999). They show in minute detail, how Tansley discovered psychoanalysis independently of any influence of Freud, by simply letting himself freely associate meanings to one of his own dreams and thus finding an interpretation that immediately convinced him of the correctness of psychoanalysis before having read any of Freud's publications.

"To put it crudely: when Tansley was asked about Freud's influence upon him, he replied by saying influence was minimal, and offered as proof the dream he had had long before meeting or even reading freud." (Cameron and Forrester 1999, p. 79)

Tansley, feeling like an equal to Freud rather than an acolyte, probably had no need to introduce psychological ideas into other disciplines. He surely interested many of his students in psychology and Freud's literature, but not as a means for doing ecology.

The null-narrative
Therefore, until good evidence for an analogous transfer is found, I suggest a narrative in tune with the null-hypothesis that there is not much evidence for crude analogizing in Tansley's work.

Tansley had various interests, botany, ecology, psychology and philosophy among them. Does that mean that Tansley transferred ideas from psychology to ecology? Not necessarily. Almost everybody has various interests, but these are not necessarily consistent or connected.

  • Ayres, P (2012). Shaping Ecology. The life of Arthur Tansley. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, West Sussex.
  • Cameron, L (1999). Histories of disturbance. Radical History Review 74:4-24.
  • Cameron, L & Forrester, J (1999). A nice type of English scientist: Tansley and Freud. History Workshop Journal 48: 64-100. 
  • Dagg, JL (2007) Arthur G. Tansley's 'New Psychology' and its relation to ecology. Web Ecology 7: 27-34.
  • Elton, C ((1927] 2001) Animal Ecology; with new introductory material by MA Leibold and JT Wootton. University of Chicago Press.
  • Spencer, H (1890) The Principles of Psychology, vol. 1, 3rd edition. Williams and Norgate, London. 
  • Tansley, AG ([1920] 10th impression 1925). New Psychology and its Relation to Life. George Allen & Unwin, London.
  • Tansley, AG (1952) Mind and Life. Allen & Unwin; London.
  • Van der Valk (2013). From formation to ecosystem: Tansley's response to Clemets' climax. Journal of the History of Biology, online early.  

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The History and Social Influence of the Potato (excerpts from the preface)

Here are some entertaining excerpts, with an interesting connection to William Bateson, from the preface of Radcliffe N. Salaman's magnum opus of 1949:

The History and Social Influence of the Potato

"Now that, after many years, a record of my studies on the history and economic repercussions, consequent on the introduction of the potato, is near completion, it may not be inopportune to give some account of how my interest in this otherwise inoffensive vegetable came about. [...]

My career as a medical man and pathologist was brought by illness to a sudden close in 1903. [...]

In the following year, I retired to what promised to be a life of ease and leisure in the beautiful village of Barley, in north Herts. In less than a couple of years my health was completely restored and I was able, once more, to lead a physically active life. Thirty-two years of age, happily married, free from financial cares, and devoted to hunting, one was unconsciously graduating for the part of a Jane Austen character. But I discovered, as I believe her men also would have done, had not their careers invariably terminated with their capture and mental sterilization at the altar, that 'respectability', even with a corresponding income, is not enough. [...]

It was at this time that the study of heredity had taken on its new character and direction, following on the rediscovery of Mendel's epoch-making experiments. I was tempted to hope that within the field of the new science I might find an opportunity to satisfy my desire to do, as well as to learn.

In this connection, I was fortunate in knowing William Bateson, and it was at his suggestion that I enlisted as one of the small group of professionals and amateurs who, under his guidance, were building up the English school of Mendelian research.

With material supplied by Bateson, I set to work: in succession on butterflies, hairless mice, guinea-pigs, and Breda combless poultry. In my hands, all these adventures, I regret to say, were more or less complete failures. Loth to trespass further on Bateson's generosity and time, I decided that my next failure, if failure it was to be, should be in a field which, as far as I knew, had not been invaded by any of the new biologists.

Armed with this resolve, I confided to my gardener, Mr Evan Jones, that I felt it would be more becoming were I to confine my attention to some common kitchen-garden vegetable, and had he any suggestions to make? Jones was one of those men who, within the ambit of their own profession, feel themselves to be all but omniscient. His answer, prompt and to the point, remains fixed in my memory: 'If you want to spend your spare time on vegetables, then you had better choosen [sic] the potato, for I know more about the potato than any man living.' This seemed a promising beginning, though not without its dangers, seeing that Jones was an autocrat and I was instinctively opposed to dictation by others. However, I asked him to procure for me two distinct varieties, one bearing red, the other white tubers, and said I would 'try my luck'. With a sweep of the hand towards the kitchen garden, Jones informed me that all that one could wish for, in the matter of red and white potatoes, was already at my disposal, and introduced me to two plants: one, a white tubered variety, he said was 'Ringleader', and the other, a red one, was 'Flourball'. With these two, in the year 1906, I embarked on an enterprise which, after forty years, leaves more questions unsolved than were at that time thought to exist."
Max Liebermann: "Kartoffelernte" [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Robert Trivers tells how his suspension came about

Bob has gone online at with his view on his suspension case. He speaks out what everybody following the happenings at Rutgers anthropology also suspected. It might be a case of retaliation against an honest whistle blower.

Bob has not only blown the whistle against a fraud amongst his students, but also criticized the university administration for its behavior in this case, trying to sweep it under the rug.

Read Bob's account and try to support him via twitter, blogs etc.:

"According to Dr Trivers:

On October 8 (2013) Rutgers unilaterally dismissed Dr Amy Jacobson from teaching her signature course on Human Aggression, scheduled for the spring of 2014, a course it had begged her to teach 4 months earlier. Two days later they assigned the course to me, who had never taught such a course before.

 Why? I know a thimble full as much on human aggression as does Dr Jacobson while she receives a spoon full of my salary. I would be forced to divert my mind from what I was intending to concentrate on—solely in order to try to master something that she already knew. If I refused, my salary and job could be seized—for insubordination!"

-continue reading-

Monday, 24 February 2014

Interview with Trivers on his suspension

Robert Trivers got suspended by Rutgers University. For details see here.

Bill Anderson from Chasing New Jersey also interviewed Trivers concerning his suspension.

For the prehistory of this case see here and here.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Bill Hamilton, Ursus Major

In the epilogue of Narrow Roads of Gene Land, vol 1, Bill Hamilton mentions an early notion that humans were more closely related to bears, Ursidae, than great apes:
"In the early days of evolution applied to humans a rival notion was floated, and a book written I think, claiming that the family Ursidae, or bears--not any of the great apes--was the group closest to Homo. I wonder if this weird idea reflected not so much the logic of bones as the style and sociability of the theorist. I could well sympathize. And I wonder whether, as his theory became more and more rejected, this man stood out, continually more isolated and angr, as its best example. If I had found myself the crank that I feared, how easily I might have joined him. Instead, in new valleys after this 'dispersal', my Furies asleep. and my 'confession to murder' seemingly accepted and forgotten, I drew in a little my savage muzzle, sloughed some winter fur; shortly as I took another path I began even to imagine myself human." (Hamilton 1996, p. 529) 
In a later interview with Frans Roes, however, he could not remember where he read or heard about that bear theory:
"I wish I could remember who it was that founded this ridiculous theory about bears. I am sure that it exists, but I have not managed to recall the book. Perhaps one of your readers can help to remind me." (Interview at Speak, Darwinist! by Frans Roes)
Now, I haven't found the book proposing the descent from bears theory in earnest that Hamilton seems to remember, but a lot of mythology suggests a connection. There is firstly the ancient Greek myth of Zeus and Callisto, the latter being transformed into a bear and put onto the sky as Ursa Major. But there also seem to be some pagan rituals suggesting a connection of humans with bears as documented by Roslyn M. Frank, for example, here (look at the strawbears:) and here. The Basques, in particular, seem to have a myth according to which they descended from bears.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Hamilton's eugenic ideas

Disclaimer: I do not subscribe to eugenics and do not recommend accepting Hamilton's ideas on these issues uncritically. But for those with a historical interest in evolutionary biology, the following will be of interest.
Hamilton's eugenic ideas are usually scattered all over the volumes of Narrow Roads of Gene Land and secondary (biographical) literature, but there's an apt way to get a clear picture of his convictions.

As it happened, he published a book review of Kenneth Mather's Human Diversity in 1965 in the journal Population Studies, before he became famous. In 2000, the Annals of Human Genetics posthumously published another book review by Hamilton of Richard Lynn's Dyscenics. Hamilton took the occasions of both reviews to explicate his eugenic ideas. Reading these two reviews is much apter than trying to figure out his stance from secondary literature or his autobiographical essays.

The first one is hard to find, because Population Studies does not list the book reviews as separate articles but simply under book reviews and a string of all the authors of the various reviews. Anyway, I've scanned the book review and made a PDF from it (see below).  The second review is free from the publisher (see below).

From a historian's eye view, it seemed remarkable to me that Hamilton's eugenic convictions remained fairly constant throughout his career and that the early paper of 1965 already features themes we find again much later, when he extended his Red Queen hypothesis towards a dystopia of  human degeneration and global hospitalization (e.g. chapter 12, The Hospitals are Coming, in Narrow Roads of Gene Land, Vol. 2).

Finally, I recommend Intelligence, A very Short Introduction by Oxford University Press, as an antidote to the ideas of the following at least as far as intelligence is concerned.

Hamilton, W.D. 1965. "Human Diversity. By K. Mather. London and Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1964. Pp. 121." Population Studies 19: 203-205.

Hamilton, W.D. 2000. "Dyscenics: Genetic Deterioration in Modern Populations. By R. Lynn. Westport, Connecticut and London: Praeger, 1996. Pp. 237." Annals of Human Genetics 64: 363-374.

Lynn, R. 1996. Dysgenics: Genetic Deterioration in Modern Populations. Westport, Connecticut and London: Prager.

Mather, K. 1964. Human Diversity: The Nature and Significance of Differences among Men. London and Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd.

Fame does not protect whistleblower from politicking/retaliation.

Robert Trivers is still suffering for his honesty concerning a fraud case among his students. Or that's what I make of this news in combination with this. (On the retraction of the Nature paper in question see here.)