Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Molly is a subscriber to Scientific American, probably the premier popular science magazine in the world. Imagine the pleasant surprise that I experienced when I read the latest (February, 2009) edition to find the theories of the anarchist Peter Kropotkin discussed in Michael Shermer's 'Skeptic' column. The title of the essay was 'Darwin Misunderstood'. the first part of Shirmer's screed was devoted to the term "natural selection" and how this can be misunderstood as implying either a conscious 'selector' or the idea that there is some sort of "progressive arrow" to evolution that adapts organisms to future conditions rather than the conditions in which they survive and reproduce. The second misconception discussed is that 'fitness' means simplistically individual competition rather than the capacity to cooperate. This is where Kropotkin's ideas come in. Organisms that cooperate often increase their fitness by such cooperation and thus contribute genes to their progeny that incline them to cooperation because this is the optimum strategy for both survival and reproduction.
Molly knows that the genetics that Kropotkin held to were outdated, being as he was a life-long Lamarkist. Still, Kropotkin's work pretty well has to be acknowledged as a precursor of the present research programs in the fields of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. If you are inclined look up the article and send a little thank you note to Shirmer and Scientific American. The email for SA's letters is editors@SciAm.com

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