Reason: the God that fails, but we keep socially promoting….

By Razib Khan | May 29, 2012 1:03 pm

One point which I’ve made on this weblog several times is that on a whole range of issues and behaviors people simply follow the consensus of their self-identified group. This group conformity probably has deep evolutionary origins. It is often much cognitively “cheaper” to simply utilize a heuristic “do what my peers do” than reason from first principles. The “wisdom of the crowds” and “irrational herds” both arise from this dynamic, positive and negative manifestations. The interesting point is that from a proximate (game-theoretic rational actor) and ultimate (evolutionary fitness) perspective ditching reason is often quite reasonable (in fact, it may be the only feasible option if you want to “understand,” for example, celestial mechanics).

If you’re faced with a complex environment or set of issues “re-inventing the wheel” is often both laborious and impossible. Laborious because our individual general intelligence is simply not that sharp. Impossible because most of us are too stupid to do something like invent calculus. Many people can learn the rules for obtaining derivatives and integrals, but far fewer can come up with the fundamental theorem of calculus. Similarly, in the 18th century engineers who utilized Newtonian mechanics for practical purposes were not capable of coming up with Newtonian mechanics themselves. I’m using these two examples because calculus and mechanics are generally consider “high level” cognitive tasks, but even they at the root illustrate the principle of collective wisdom and group conformity. Calculus and mechanics is included in the curriculum not because all of the individuals who decide the curriculum understand these two topics in detail, but because individuals whom they trust and believe are worthy of emulation and deference, as well as past empirical history, tell them that this is the “reasonable” way to go. (science and engineering have the neat property is that you don’t just trust people, you trust concrete results!)

This sort of behavior is even more evident in political and social viewpoints. Recently there have been signs of shifts in African American attitudes toward same-sex marriage, and a more general trend in that direction across the population. Is this because individuals are sitting in their armchair and reflecting on justice? Of course people will enter into evidence the experience of knowing gay people, and the empathy which that generates, but are you willing to bet that these public policy shifts are primarily and independent driven by simply these sorts of dynamics? (i.e., run a regression and trying predict the change in attitude by the number of people coming out of the closet over time) Similarly,people like Chris Mooney have documented the shift among the Republican grassroots in issues like climate change which seem to have moved very rapidly likely due to elite cues, rather than a deep analysis of the evidence.

But let’s look at something less controversial, at least on this weblog. Most people who accept evolution really don’t understand how it works, nor are they very conversant in the reasons for why evolutionary process is compelling. The vast majority of the 50 percent of Americans who accept evolution have not read Charles Darwin, nor could they tell you what the neo-Darwinian Synthesis is. They have not read Talk Origins, or Why Evolution is True. So why do they accept evolution? Because evolution, like Newtonian mechanics, is part of established science, and educated people tend to accept established science. But that’s conditional. If you look in the General Social Survey you notice a weird trend: the correlation between education and acceptance of evolution holds for those who are not Biblical literalists, but not for those who are Biblical literalists! Why? Because well educated Biblical literalists accept a different set of authorities on this issue. In their own knowledge ecology the “well-informed” perspective might actually be that evolution is a disputed area in science.

At this point everything is straightforward, more or less. But I want to push this further: most biologists do not understand evolution as a phenomenon, though they may be able to recall the basic evidence for evolution. If you are working in molecular biology, medical research, neuroscience, etc., there isn’t a deep need to understand evolutionary biology on a day to day basis on the bench (I would argue the rise of -omics is changing this some, but many labs have one or two -omics people to handle that aspect). The high rates of acceptance of evolution among researchers in these fields has less to do with reason, and more to do with the ecology of ideas which they inhabit. Evolutionary biologists in their own turn accept the basic structural outlines of how axons and dendrites are essential in the proper function of the brain without understanding all the details about action potentials and such. They assume that neuroscientists understand their domain.

So far I’ve been talking about opinions and beliefs that are held by contemporaries. The basic model is that you offload the task of reasoning about issues which you are not familiar with, or do not understand in detail, to the collective with which you identify, and give weight to specialists if they exist within that collective. I would submit that to some extent the same occurs across time as well. Why do we do X and not Y? Because in the past our collective unit did X, not Y. How persuasive this sort of argument is all things equal probably smokes out to some extent where you are on the conservative-liberal spectrum. Traditional conservatives argue that the past has wisdom through its organic evolution, and the trial and error of customs and traditions. This is a general tendency, applicable both to Confucius and Edmund Burke. Liberal utopians, whether Mozi or the partisans of the French Revolution, don’t put so much stock in the past, which they may perceive to be the font of injustice rather than wisdom. Instead, they rely on their reason in the here and now, more or less, to “solve” the problems which they believe are amenable to decomposition via their rational faculties.

Both methods of coming to a decision result in errors, at least in hindsight. I argue at Secular Right that American conservatives should just accept that they were on the wrong side of history on Civil Rights, just as 19th century conservatives were often on the wrong side of history on slavery. In fact, it is the latter case which is more interesting, because slavery was accepted as a viable institution in all civilized societies up until that era (even if it was perceived as an evil). Yet today we can agree that the collective wisdom of the ages was on some level wrong-headed.

Does that then mean that we should rush to every new enthusiasm and establish justice in our time? Obviously as someone who identifies as conservative I do not. Just as conservatives have been wrong in the past on relying upon the wisdom of the past, liberals have been wrong about their grasp of the details of the architecture of human reality in their own age. Though Edmund Burke defended institutions which we might consider retrograde, in broad strokes his criticisms of the excesses of the French Revolution were spot on. The regime which abolished slavery and emancipated Jews also ushered in an age of political violence which served as the template for radicals for generations. French Jews may have been more fully liberated before the law at an earlier period than British Jews, but were French Jews more accepted within French society one hundred years later than British Jews? More recently progressives and liberals accepted the necessity of coercive eugenics as part of the broader social consensus in the West (which only a few institutions, such as the Roman Catholic Church, resisted with any vigor). Obviously this specific reliance on reason and rational social engineering was perceived to be a failure. Less controversially, some of the excesses of the Great Society and the 1960s revolution in the United States in the area of social welfare and criminal justice seem to have exacerbated the anomie of the 1970s, which abated concomitantly with the rollback of open-ended nature of the welfare state and tougher law & order policies in the 1990s. Even the most well conceived experiments sometimes end up failing.

Whatever your political or social perspective, the largest takeaway is that attitudes toward complex issues which are relevant to our age are almost always framed by the delusion that reason, and not passion, has us by the leash. The New Right which championed the “pro-life” movement in the late 1970s, and the progressive Left which espouses “marriage equality” now, can all give individual reasons when prompted why there was a shift in opinion. But the reasons proffered will be interestingly invariant, as if people are reading off a collective script, which they are. Social milieus can sometimes crystallize consensus so quickly that individuals caught in the maelstrom of the new orthodoxy construct a whole internal rational edifice which justifies their conformity. This does not mean that the conformity and the viewpoints are frauds, just that as humans we tend to self-delude as to the causal chain by which we come to our conclusions.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Anthroplogy, Psychology
MORE ABOUT: Cognitive Science

Comments (26)

  1. Dm

    Conformity is not a one-way street. It’s not like you decide to identify with a group, and therefore to listen to its key opinion leaders.

    No, for your delegation-of-wisdom to work, the group must be really yours at its core. You should be well accepted as a member, and the opinion leaders should care about your issues. Conversely, if you choose to join a group as an outcast and remain an outcast, then your professed readiness to accept the group wisdom won’t run too deep or last too long.

    The core ethos of the conservative in-group may be too xenophobic and too science-phobic for people like you, Razib, to move beyond a role of an outcast. It’s perfectly OK if you seek (as you probably do) to remain an independent and a skeptic. But if someone is compelled to rely on the shared group-wisdom, then it better come from a group which reciprocates one’s trust and acceptance

  2. Euler

    This is a great post, and I agree with the general outlines of what you are saying, but I do take issue with the specific way you dealt with calculus and celestial mechanics.

    “Many people can learn the rules for obtaining derivatives and integrals, but far fewer can come up with the fundamental theorem of calculus. Similarly, in the 18th century engineers who utilized Newtonian mechanics for practical purposes were not capable of coming up with Newtonian mechanics themselves. ”

    This recognizes just following the rules you were taught based on authority and being smart enough to invent those rules yourself as the only two ways of being competent in calculus. I know that introductory courses on the subject tell students to accept a lot on authority, but math is the one area of human knowledge where the dynamic you are talking about least applies I think.

    If you read books where the reasoning behind the theorems is explained (though not the original works of Newton and Leibniz, which are now generally acknowledged to contain numerous gaps in logic, see e.g., you can accept their truth not on the basis of the authority of people considered important in your social groups, but be forced to accept them based on reason. Math is probably the area of study where it is most practical to take an absolute minimum on authority, to point of almost nothing being taken on authority.

  3. But if someone is compelled to rely on the shared group-wisdom, then it better come from a group which reciprocates one’s trust and acceptance

    which would be???

    Math is probably the area of study where it is most practical to take an absolute minimum on authority, to point of almost nothing being taken on authority.

    the reality is that most math books remain pretty impenetrable to the average person. i.e., derivation of theorems. also, i think in some areas of experimental science the empirical accessibility is lower hanging fruit than in mathematics. e.g., dropping balls of constant size to confirm the constant rate of acceleration is easier than working one’s way through proofs.

  4. Karl Zimmerman

    I’m particularly pleased you made the point that “smart” people are just as likely to do this as anyone else. Hell, I’d say smart people are, on the whole, more likely to engage in herd dynamics regarding public policy, given they’re well-informed enough to know what the “correct” responses are.

    In contrast, a “low-information voter” may not have even heard about the hot-button social issue to determine their social cues. This is part of the reason why moderate voters, by and large, are of lower intelligence and less informed than those who occupy either ideological pole. When they have stances, they’re just as likely to “go with their gut” as answer to trusted authorities.

    Part of it, as I mentioned once in the comments before, is a lack of understanding about what intelligence is for on the part of many, including most bright people. Of course intelligence played a role in devising basic survival strategies, but much of it is undoubtedly social in nature – being able to argue your own (or your allies) points, probably in large part to increase standing within your band and have increased chances for further offspring.

    One thing we shouldn’t expect is that second-guessing would be positively selected for. In most situations where your life is on the line, you wouldn’t have time to consciously consider and then discard plans, as you’d die in some horrible manner while engaged in introspection. Similarly, while leadership, even in paleolithic times, probably required you to consider the opinions of your allies, even in the modern day backing down and admitting you are wrong is largely considered a political vice.

    This is why, I think, humans as a whole are so unaware of how and why we make decisions. I’d like to think to a certain extent I’m an aberration here, as a childhood with ADHD, coupled with somewhat above average intelligence, led me to realize a lot of my instinctual actions were wrong-headed socially, and to consciously consider why I acted the way I did. That said, in a world where 90% of people consider themselves above-average drivers, I have no illusions that like many people, I cannot see all of my own mental blind spots.

  5. In this one sentence “science and engineer have the neat property is that you don’t just trust people, you trust concrete results!” you have neatly summarized the crux of the problem. As apes we have an inherent need for “belonging”, to fitting ourselves into some social order. This lends itself to acceptance of whatever stance a higher ranking ape takes on anything. Science by it’s very nature of ignoring the individual and relying only on results is antithetical to social order and I’d think why you see such push back on evolution etc. from those most heavily invested in social hierarchies.

  6. Superfast Jellyfish

    Good post, it’s helpful to keep in mind the extent of one’s own ignorance. If some religious group decided that despite the claims of so-called “scientists” the sun actually revolves around the earth, I would probably have a hard time explaining why they’re wrong.

  7. Anything can be explained with a cocktail napkin, a swizzle stick, and some blood: “I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work that way. So I stole a bike and asked God for forgiveness.” Are there any further questions about god?

    If science required concrete results, string/M-theory, all quantum gravitations; SUSY, dark matter; economics, and psychology would be dead. There is little in the last that cannot be explained by rats leaking urine as they translate.

  8. Professor Booty

    “most biologists do not understand evolution as a phenomenon, though they may be able to recall the basic evidence for evolution”

    Jesus Christ, are you kidding? Define “biologists,” cuz I am one and I’ve never met more than a few colleagues who don’t understand evolution. That goes from undergraduate majors on upwards. Evolution is not hard to understand, that’s one reason that the idea was so quick to catch on.

  9. Brian Too

    There are powerful cultural reasons for adopting the attitudes and opinions of those around you. Reasons over and above the perfectly functional logic that experts, if we stipulate to their competence, are more likely to steer us right than wrong.

    So long as the issue is not one of life and death, adopting conventional attitudes is a bonding mechanism with great social value. The more you conform to the group the more support you can hope to gain from the group. Conformity also tends to make you more eligible to increase in social status, which often translates directly into greater financial rewards and enhanced lifestyle.

    Furthermore there is more than reinforcement of the positive. There is protection from the negative. If you are socially conventional, and conventional wisdom is eventually proven to be wrong, you can avail yourself of the defense that “everyone thought so, how was I supposed to know?” This takes many forms.

  10. #8, when i meant understanding evolution as a *phenomenon*, i am basically meaning that you understand evolution is more than a set of descriptions, along with the standard arguments about common descent, adaptation, and biogeography. those are on the face of persuasive enough, but the newest iteration of creationists are beyond that, and now have bizarro arguments drawn from pop-gen (e.g., objections about haldane’s rule, etc.), so to really face them full on you need someone with the requisite background, and not just an undergrad class + sj gould. to make an analogy, most science people outside of physics have taken newtonian mechanics, etc., in the broadest sketch, but they can’t really speak the language nor are they familiar with modern advances in mechanics. you just assume that the physics course you took is sufficient for the most general understanding you need, and usually it is.

  11. Karl Zimmerman

    9 –

    I suppose a question to ask then is why any people are nonconformists?

    Speaking personally, although I have mellowed a bit with age, when I was in my teens and 20s, I was of the attitude that if there was anything by the majority, it must be bad, because, to quote one a great character from a famous webcomic “nothing is any good if other people like it.” Even though I’m older now, much less of an elitist, and can admit there is occasionally a catchy song on the radio, I feel no real desire to belong.

    Presumably in my own case, the sense of self-esteem that elitism brought (confidence which ran primarily through my own opinions of my good taste), outweighed any potential in terms of group dynamics.

    Anyway, it was a lot more fun being a freak in high school and college than merely a nerd in middle school.

  12. So far I’ve been talking about opinions and beliefs that are held by contemporaries. The basic model is that you offload the task of reasoning about issues which you are not familiar with, or do not understand in detail, to the collective with which you identify, and give weight to specialists if they exist within that collective“.

    This appears to be a reasonable perspective and may also help to explain apparent contradictions where they do appear.

    For example, I recently found a copy of a paper in my email inbox, after a disagreement about evolutionary psychology in which I was the proponent for, and the other party dismissed the subject matter, by pointing out that those who did not believe in evolution, were much more likely to accept the tenets of evolutionary psychology, than those who did accept the theory of evolution.

    My supposition is that the intent behind this, was that having been shown evidence that people of faith accept a certain theory, that this should be sufficient cause for me to discard it, and join in “reading off a collective script“.

    Quite frankly, I was completely flummoxed. The paper for your consideration is this one:

    Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology
    2011, 5(2), 1-9. 2011 Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology

    Our results revealed a double dissociation, whereby endorsers of human evolution displayed relatively weak support for claims derived from evolutionary psychology, whereas non-endorsers of human evolution displayed relatively strong support for such claims“.

    My current working hypothesis after reading the paper, was informed by statements such as this one from the paper which notes that:

    When they learned that the relevant survey items had been drawn from evolutionary theory, opponents of the theory were much less likely to endorse them“.

    The issue may be attributed to an ideological constraint within a clearly defined boundary, revealing that the individuals have not examined or understood in any great detail what they accept. They have in effect outsourced thinking about these precepts to others.

    Under this hypothesis, a grouping such as liberals who accept evolution, reject evolutionary psychology, because their religious beliefs include articles of faith such as the Blank State. Whereas those who believe in God, will accept empirical observation that match their experiences, even if they tie into evolutionary psychology, but their religious beliefs will incline them to reject propositions clearly identified with the theory of evolution.


  13. I suppose a question to ask then is why any people are nonconformists

    probably differs for a lot of people. for me it is probably a combination of lower than average social awareness and raw egotism. i don’t understand too well the need for validation from the herd, but it’s pretty common. my own experience with the less wrong crowd is very low to no social intelligence does eliminate the worse problems of group conformity. unfortunately it still doesn’t abolish the issue whereby smarter people can trick or convince less intelligent people through the fluency of their argumentation.

  14. Karl Zimmerman


    Speaking from my own experience, there definitely was a period where I became of social desires for conformity and tried to fit in. I found when I did things which were supposed to make me more popular (get a spike haircut, or grow a tail in the back – god, I’m dating myself), I was just mocked even more incessantly. I decided that if doing what other people wanted didn’t earn me anything but ire, I might as well show my dislike for those same people by doing things I knew they wouldn’t like. In retrospect, I realize a lot of what I did was essentially IRL trolling – of course I didn’t know the term yet though.

    A funny story. My brother and I both independently became vegans at the same time. He folded after two years (I am still a vegan, going on 16 years now). When he stopped, he told me he couldn’t stand being alienated and not being able to eat the same food as everyone else. My response, in total honesty was “But the alienation is the best part!”

  15. #14, interesting personal story. one issue that i have had with my contemporaries is when they judge people from the past for being racist, sexist, religionist, etc., in very personal terms, as if these people were morally unfit or lacking. i don’t see much gain in being a total dick, but i do try and imply that the people who they are criticizing are people very much like themselves, who were conforming to social norms of their day. being evil is not a moral failing, most people are not. but given the right social contexts evil becomes normative, and people conform. i guess this is what psychologists would call the fundamental attribution error.

  16. Under this hypothesis, a grouping such as liberals who accept evolution, reject evolutionary psychology, because their religious beliefs include articles of faith such as the Blank State. Whereas those who believe in God, will accept empirical observation that match their experiences, even if they tie into evolutionary psychology, but their religious beliefs will incline them to reject propositions clearly identified with the theory of evolution.


    Here’s my take on the mileage and I don’t believe it differs much from your working hypothesis.

    Acceptance and rejection are not totally dependent upon comprehension and in fact there are likely instances where there is a total disconnect between acceptance and rejection and comprehension.

    If comprehension of the factors in play was the dominant engine leading to adoption of positions then we should expect the following model to be active:

    Facts + analysis ——> conclusion.

    What I suspect is going on is the following:

    Conclusion ——-> Search for facts + analysis which support the conclusion.

    In the first model understanding is developed from a process. In the second model there is limited understanding developed because a conclusion is adopted by some method other than using logic and the understanding that develops is limited by a selective parsing of evidence. A conclusion is assumed and evidence is sought to back it up and so the understanding that develops is shaped by that process.

    So like Razib points out, one needn’t understand Evolution in order to accept it and one needn’t understand EP in order to reject it, and so acceptance and rejection in your paper have little to do with a careful analysis of evidence and process. Acceptance of evolution occurs with a group because it works to advance, as you point out, a religious viewpoint, and rejection of EP occurs because doing so similarly works to advance a viewpoint.


    I agree that most biologist can do their work and do it very well without ever hearing the the term neo Darwinism much less the constructs that make up this modern synthesis. I also wonder how many know that within the smaller percentage of biologist who actually do specialize in evolutionary theory such as evolutionary development biologist/evo devo. That even within this group, there are many dissenters who are either trying to extend the evolutionary synthesis because they feel it is outdated and lacking explanatory cause, (Ala the Altenberg 16 and other meetings on this topic), or other evo devo’s who for the same reason are issuing a direct challenge to neo Darwinism and want to reformulate evolutionary theory altogether.

  18. #17, you’re a bit behind on the fads, aren’t you? evo-devo is SSSOOO 2005. you need to talk up the epigenetic challenge to the central dogma now! in any case, you are pretty much wrong about how evolutionary biology works. from what i know and hear there isn’t a focus on ‘neo-darwinists’ vs. ‘punc equilibrianists’ vs. ‘evo-devo’ types. rather, everyone is just trying to figure stuff out, without a strict adherence to school.

  19. April Brown

    I wish I had the bandwidth or intelligence ot understand everything I believe – it actually really bugs me that, for example, I’m one of those people who accepts evolution but hasn’t read the things I should read, nor can I debate the pros of evolution very well. At best I can flummox a creationist who believes that Darwin thought his grandmother was a monkey.

    The problem for me is that every single aspect of my existance is like that. Cooking, well that’s chemistry, which I was terrible at, and I have to take recipes for granted without understanding why ingredients interact. Driving, that’s mechanics, which I also sucked at, and thought I feel like I should understand and be able to work on an internal combustion engine… going to have to blindly believe experts on that too. Coaxing my toddler in the road to toilet training -that’s another area where I’m sort of hoping the collective wisdoms of ‘moms’ is ok, although if I could spend time reading a bunch of developement psychology papers, I might come up with something better. The computer I’m typing on – I can’t even grok the gazillions of assumptions based on somebody else’s wisdom I’m relying on when it comes to IT, even though I used to work in the field.

    And then there’s all the math and physics and stuff with weather, all very cool, which I can’t possibly ever process. Really depressing. I have to rely on Newton and clever people building microchips and those helpful people at Knorr who make prepackaged meals that you just boil for a while. If I didn’t have the capacity to rely on the conclusions of smart people who’s expertise I can’t understand, I’d be completely worthless.

    I suppose when it comes to social/political stuff, the trick is figuring out who’s reasonable.

  20. Justin

    It strikes me that maybe the tendency for members of a group to buy into the ‘groupthink’ may be related to the development of a society with specialists in it. For years the conventional wisdom has been that as food production efficiency scaled upwards, so did population density. And with this increase in ‘excess’ labor came specialization which hypothetically allowed a group of individuals access to greater capabilities. For instance, one skilled metalworker in your village who can make a quality plow can greatly increase food production for everyone. So it makes sense for him to not waste efforts on his own farm and instead increase output for everybody’s farm by making lots of plows. As the areas of specialization become more and more complex and abstracted from food production, the value of specialists is a function of how much the rest of us who aren’t specialists in that field trust what the specialist says.

    You’ve talked in the past about how some deleterious genetic traits may be promulgated in a population because of their proximity to positive ones. Maybe this is a similar situation? Humans have the capability to trust what specialists tell us and incorporate it into our belief system; and yet the down-side of this is that it also means that we have the tendency to buy into groupthink simply because people in positions of respect and authority in our communities support an idea?

  21. Violet

    @ April Brown,
    LOL, I feel exactly like that. It is impossible to know domain-specific knowledge of all the things we use everyday, let alone the knowledge of abstract disciplines. (Also, having toilet trained a boy, and read a bunch of developmental psychology papers, I would go with ‘Collective wisdom’ of moms – sometimes theory is incomplete and funded research aims differ from what we need). One of my mentor used to define engineering as ‘decision-making under uncertainty’. I think that is a pretty good definition for life too.

    I have to add that for reasonable and “sharp” people there is ‘opportunity cost’ of not inventing other things if time is spent on re-inventing the wheel. When resources are finite, it is a rational decision not to read ‘Origin of species’ and instead spend time repeating ‘Good night moon’, from a non-biologist perspective.

  22. The newest iteration of creationists are beyond that, and now have bizarro arguments drawn from pop-gen…

    Organized crankery also evolves. But it remains intellectually dishonest at its core. In each iteration, as their arguments are punctured, their beliefs remain the same. Which means that the arguments they make have little to do with why they believe as they do.

    Of course, you’re arguing that’s true of most people. But on the science side, we expect the actual practice of reason and application of evidence in the work of those who are immersed in the field and forwarding its development. It doesn’t take too many dips into creationism and evolutionary biology to tell on which side that is the case. Otherwise, there’d be no point in criticizing creationists.

    That does tend to divide the world between those who can tell such things, and those who can’t. Many people haven’t taken a science course since high school, and avoided them then. And wouldn’t know Newtonian mechanics from the ones working at Jiffy Lube. So if they listen to Rush Limbaugh, why shouldn’t they think climate change is all a hoax? And if they listen to their preacher, why shouldn’t they think the earth but 6,000 years old? And even if they catch Limbaugh and their preacher in lies, they might think every advocate for a view spins, and so it’s a matter of which spin they like more.

    Which lends weight to the Burkean argument against radical social change that stems from newly popular political views. The one thing I’d point out is that those called “conservative” in the US today are more radical than Burkean.

  23. It’s interesting to agree with a lot of Razib’s post while identifying as pretty liberal by most standards.

    Every four years here in the US, I read about how this time, no politician may win the primary process, and the party convention will be brokered. I’ve stopped paying attention to that. The safer bet is that the future will behave like the past. OTOH, ever since 1876 we were warned that the presidency could go to the candidate who lost the popular vote, and it never happened. Until it did happen, in 2000.

    So what about Peak Oil. Many similar predictions have been made in the past and they haven’t come about. Knowing when the overused term of paradigm shift actually occurs is the trick I haven’t quite figured out.

    On a normative level, my liberalism is experimental outcome based – I like seeing that something worked, and then follow up with it. Gay marriage and gay service in the military has worked just fine in some states and other countries, so let’s adopt those policies. Every other developed country in the world has an equal or better health system than the US at much lower cost, so socialized medicine sounds fine to me.

    Maybe liberalism and conservatism exist in tension within us as well as operating on societal levels.

  24. Charles Nydorf

    Back in the 1960’s the rational component in calculus and physics was very different. My teachers generally encouraged an interest in the logical foundations of the calculus going back to Zeno’s paradoxes. Physics teachers, on the other hand, were very much in a “shut up and calculate” mood.

  25. Petr

    I do believe that almost everyone can reinvent anything, there is mostly no limit to that.

    Also I think that brain is using only procedures from a definitive set of genetically given procedures, which are characteristic for all species. So we are freely choosing just from definitive set of possible promotions which is characteristic for us as humans, but complexity raises with different tools, surroundings and than with cultures and so on, which are utilized in those promotions. I have seen a study proving that for insects, but additional research could be interesting.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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