The Dangers of Hyperselectionism

Harvey Blume takes E.O. Wilson, Stephen Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Robert Wright to task in comparison to Stephen Jay Gould. The Origin of Specious : And why reductionists are winning the Darwin wars.

Gould’s science and literary style owed more to art and artists than to algorithms. His opponents’ approach to art, on the other hand, is, as a rule, so doggedly reductionist as to sow doubts about their whole enterprise. It is painful, for example, to read Wilson, so often a superb writer himself, as he attempts to squeeze every artistic motif known to man into a few universals consistent with a genetic approach to human culture. Gould was concerned that human culture and history not be boiled down to code. There were times one felt that what offended him most about his foes was not the particulars of their argument but the relentless monism driving it. He called Pinker, Dennett, Dawkins, et al. hyperselectionists, pan-adaptionists and, when truly annoyed, out and out Darwinian fundamentalists. But sometimes he simply called them hedgehogs. The hedgehog, according to one of his favorite parables, knows only one thing and is determined to explain everything with it. Gould identified with the fox, which is a pluralist; Darwin was a fox, he said, and nature is, too.

With Gould gone, the hedgehogs control the Darwinian heights. It would be nice to have at least one fox around to right the intellectual balance. But there seems no one now prepared to brave, and perhaps dull, their needles.