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Ch. 1: Apes in the Family
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Author:  Chris OConnor [ Sat May 10, 2008 9:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Ch. 1: Apes in the Family

Please use this thread for discussing Ch. 1: Apes in the Family. :bananadance:

Author:  Saffron [ Fri May 16, 2008 9:47 am ]
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Just started to read the book and was struck by the paragraph at the bottom of page 1. It starts and ends:


Quote:
This opinion is still very much with us.....We are born with impulses that draw us to others and that later in life make us care about them.


I can't agree more with the opening ideas in this book. I think that when people think about and write about human nature the focus tends to be on the negative, i.e. the selfish genes and aggression. Rarely is there any real weight given to the qualities that pull us together and keep us interdependent. I believe these are the stronger more important behaviors/qualities of human beings.

Author:  bradams [ Mon May 19, 2008 4:32 am ]
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You're right Saffron. de Waal is very critical of what he calls "veneer theory" - the idea that we are really nasty to the core and this nastiness is covered by a thin veneer of altruism. This seems very popular in evolutionary circles, and I agree it's wrong. I think we have the capacity to be both good and bad, to state the bleeding obvious.

Author:  Chris OConnor [ Mon May 19, 2008 11:34 pm ]
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On page 2 the author asks, "But if all that people care about is their own good, why does a day-old baby cry when it hears another baby cry?"

As much as I'd like to reject Richard Dawkins gene-centered view of biological evolution I'm more inclined to say that Frans de Waal might be taking the "selfish gene" concept out of context.

So why do they cry? How about "they just do." Babies do what nature has selected them to do. Empathy is a trait natural selection ensures we all possess. We're all born with it because without it our forebears would have perished. The genes that control empathetic responses are passed along from one generation to the next.

Babies are cute for the same reason....kinda. Ugly babies don't get the same level of attention, support, security and love that cute babies do. Oh, I know. You and I are different. We'd love even the most grotesquely deformed mutant baby...because we've risen above our animal origins. :| I'm more taking about those other people out there who can't control their primal instincts.

Author:  Chris OConnor [ Mon May 19, 2008 11:38 pm ]
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Quote:
...the idea that we are really nasty to the core and this nastiness is covered by a thin veneer of altruism


I don't think Dawkins holds such a view.

Author:  Chris OConnor [ Mon May 19, 2008 11:56 pm ]
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The story of Kuni trying to help the injured starling is very touching but I don't think it contradicts Dawkins selfish gene view. The empathy Kuni felt and displayed was probably very genuine AND a product of natural selection.

Author:  tarav [ Tue May 20, 2008 4:17 pm ]
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Yeah, De Waal mentions The Selfish Gene no less than three times in this first chapter, I believe! He really has a problem with that book and/or Dawkins. The Selfish Gene is one of my favorite books and one that made me look at evolution in a different way. I wonder how Dawkins would respond to De Waal's criticism.

Author:  Chris OConnor [ Tue May 20, 2008 5:26 pm ]
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I'd be happy to call or email Dawkins for a response. Let's get further into this discussion period and see if we're understanding Frans de Waal. It could be our misunderstanding.

Author:  Robert Tulip [ Wed May 21, 2008 6:31 am ]
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Saffron wrote:
Just started to read the book and was struck by the paragraph at the bottom of page 1. It starts and ends:
Quote:
This opinion is still very much with us.....We are born with impulses that draw us to others and that later in life make us care about them.
I can't agree more with the opening ideas in this book. I think that when people think about and write about human nature the focus tends to be on the negative, i.e. the selfish genes and aggression. Rarely is there any real weight given to the qualities that pull us together and keep us interdependent. I believe these are the stronger more important behaviors/qualities of human beings.
The clash between Christianity and Darwinism is to some extent encapsulated in this theme

Author:  Chris OConnor [ Wed May 21, 2008 10:32 am ]
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Quote:
Christian ideas such as love, mercy, forgiveness, justice and grace are precisely the impulses that draw us to others and make us care.


How are these Christian ideas? Weren't they around long before Christianity arived on the scene? These concepts don't owe their origins to Christianity. Seeing as chimps and bonobos display all of the above tendencies or behaviors, AND few chimps or bonobos regularly attend any sort of Christian religious service I'd be hesitant to say these are "Christian ideas."

If you want to give Christianity credit for love, mercy, forgiveness, justice and grace you also must link it with hate, cruelty, condemnation, unfairness, and good old evil. And you probably would rather seperate Christianity from it's dark and disgusting history.

Author:  Robert Tulip [ Thu May 22, 2008 10:35 pm ]
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Chris OConnor wrote:
Quote:
Christian ideas such as love, mercy, forgiveness, justice and grace are precisely the impulses that draw us to others and make us care.
How are these Christian ideas? Weren't they around long before Christianity arrived on the scene? These concepts don't owe their origins to Christianity. Seeing as chimps and bonobos display all of the above tendencies or behaviors, AND few chimps or bonobos regularly attend any sort of Christian religious service I'd be hesitant to say these are "Christian ideas." If you want to give Christianity credit for love, mercy, forgiveness, justice and grace you also must link it with hate, cruelty, condemnation, unfairness, and good old evil. And you probably would rather seperate Christianity from it's dark and disgusting history.


Hi Chris, the New Testament proposed a shift from the Mosaic Law of 'eye for an eye' to a more forgiving and merciful approach, and introduced the concept of a loving God as a central theme. Earlier approaches had focussed more on God as a wrathful judge than a creative source of love. As well, the idea of salvation by grace was a distinctively Christian invention, introduced by Christ and explained by Paul. In anthropology, it is interesting to see how the injunction from Christ to love your enemies has led to cultural change in countries, such as Papua New Guinea, where traditional religion taught people to love friends and hate enemies. Yes, it is essential to separate Christianity (the teachings of Jesus) from its history (the behaviour of the church). Robert

Author:  bradams [ Fri May 23, 2008 7:45 pm ]
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Chris OConnor wrote:
I'd be happy to call or email Dawkins for a response. Let's get further into this discussion period and see if we're understanding Frans de Waal. It could be our misunderstanding.


Okay, since I gave my copy of the book to my grandfather I'm working off Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved until I pick up a copy at the library.

In the introduction, it gives this summary re Veneer Theory:

Quote:
De Waal's aim is to argue against a set of answers to his "whence morality?" question that he describes as "Veneer Theory" - the argument that morality is only a thin veneer overlaid on amoral or immoral core.".... His main target is Thomas Huxley.... De Waal's other targets include some social contract theorists (notably Thomas Hobbes)...and some evolutionary biologists who, in his view, tend to overgeneralize from the established role of selfishness in the natural selection process.


I can't remember whether De Waal specifically mentions Veneer Theory in Our Inner Ape but the book clearly forms part of his long-running attempt to show that apes (and thereby humans) are innately moral creatures.

Author:  bradams [ Sun May 25, 2008 7:48 am ]
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The key sentence in the first chapter for me is on page 36 of the hardcover edition (look up Panzee in the index if your copy doesn't match):

"... caretakers generally have a higher opinion of apes' mental abilities than the philosophers and psychologists who write on the topic, few of whom have interacted with these animals on a daily basis."

The same could be said for many other animals too!

Author:  Ophelia [ Wed May 28, 2008 8:23 am ]
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My copy has arrived earlier than I thought, and this is just the sort of book I like.

Yes, De Waal mentions selfish genes, and this seems to be rather complex- perhaps we'd need to start reading a third book now to understand the first two... in the mean time, here are extracts from the beginning of the article about Dawkins's book at Wikipedia.



[quote]The Selfish Gene is a book on evolution by Richard Dawkins, published in 1976. It builds upon the principal theory of George C. Williams's first book Adaptation and Natural Selection. Dawkins coined the term selfish gene as a way of expressing the gene-centered view of evolution, which holds that evolution is best viewed as acting on genes, and that selection at the level of organisms or populations almost never overrides selection based on genes. An organism is expected to evolve to maximize its inclusive fitness

Author:  Ophelia [ Wed May 28, 2008 8:45 am ]
Post subject: 

Saffron wrote:

Quote:
Just started to read the book and was struck by the paragraph at the bottom of page 1. It starts and ends:


Quote:
This opinion is still very much with us.....We are born with impulses that draw us to others and that later in life make us care about them.


I can't agree more with the opening ideas in this book. I think that when people think about and write about human nature the focus tends to be on the negative, i.e. the selfish genes and aggression. Rarely is there any real weight given to the qualities that pull us together and keep us interdependent. I believe these are the stronger more important behaviors/qualities of human beings.


This is a good point to make, especially at the start of the discussion.
We're so used to thinking in terms of all the reasons why people make choices that have a negative impact on others -whether it's "selfish genes", psychology or culture, that it may become difficult to see those positive forces you mention. Perhaps observation, or books you read, lead to feeling reserved, if not pessimistic, about the good in the human race.
Another thing is that a lot of people write to explain human bad behaviour, and indeed there are volumes to write in many fields, but it is more difficult perhaps to give positive explanations for positive behaviour-- unless you refer to religious beliefs and explanations.
I have no simple explanation for positive forces. Somehow it may become difficult to dare to believe that good things just are.
Explaining it away by hypocrisy and veneer theory certainly sounds too simple -- I imagine these explanations are only valid in some cases.

De Waal writes, page 20:
"This veneer theory, as I call it, became a dominent theme in post-war discussion. deep-down, we humans are violent and amoral."

p 21:
Quote:
Taken to its extreme, the everything-is-selfish position leads to a nightmarish world. Having an excellent nose for shock value these authors
haul us to a Hobesian arena in which it's every man for himself, where people show generosity only to trick others. Love is unheard of, sympathy is absent, and goodness a mere illusion. The best-known quote of those days, from biologist Michael Ghiselin, says it all " Scratch an altruist, and watch a hypocrite bleed."


altruism: Etymology:
French altruisme, from autrui other people, from Old French,
1853
1 : unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others
2 : behavior by an animal that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species .
Merriam Webster's Dictionary.

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