Darwin: grey is every theory

In an earlier post I referred to the science of epigenetics.
Bob from Politics in the Zeros left a comment about the political context of Darwinism which I'd like to take up here.
polizeros said...

Many Darwinists say their theories were never meant to be applied to social structures and the like, a favored ploy of conservatives and neocons to justify rapacious capitalism.

Dave Riley said...

Social Darwinism, right? But there's more to that as Darwinism as conceived by Darwin is very much the imposition of a Victorian capitalist template on nature. That doesn't cheapen the science but it does suggest how limited some of the concepts were that he espoused. I love Darwin. I think his work had revolutionary implications but it isn't enough to explain existence/life as though his theory is the final word. Today we are being besieged by a crude determinism that promotes the ideology of DNA as an absolute motor of human existence. Well they're wrong --and I'm glad they're wrong because at stake is what Alexander Luria, the Russian neuropsychologist, called "romantic" science.

His memoir The Making of Mind(you can read it on the web) was a seminal work for me in my biological perspectives. Sure I'm no scientist and I may be rather plebeian in my tastes, but Luria's concepts have impressed me greatly. His take on romantic science comes from Goethe:"Grey is every theory but green alone is the tree of life."

And the problem with Darwinism -- as Marx and Engels noted --- that it doesn't go far enough to 'explain' nature. But that hasn't stopped the geneticist determinists using a Darwinian short hand to sentence us to the absolute vagaries of our genes. Henry Ford may have been a keen exponent of Social Darwinism but today the same notions are being embraced to explain human success and failures, our diseases, our metal illnesses, homosexuality and our social conditioning -- even our relationship with the environment -- by harnessing the attributes of individual genes as encompassing all-in cause.

I'm not going to stand up against the science of genetics of course, as I'd be a Luddite if I did -- but I will point out that the rush to find the absolute code of our existence in replicating DNA misses the core question of why genes change. We all know Darwin's Theory of Evolution and I hope we are all enamoured with it -- but it still fails to address change other than through the brutality of operational hierarchy and the survival of the fittest.

A Darwinian gene, if you like -- not that he was aware of all this DNA stuff -- is a blind brute whose day only comes once its competitors are dealt with by overbearing Nature. Advancement of a trait is achieved by dint of a lucky break and being appropriate to ecological circumstance. It is mastering of the genus 'herd' because suddenly your genetic makeup 'fits' better than that of your peers.

I think there's problem with that so I am into the alternative take on change that is espoused by , for want of a better term, Epigeneticists.

But this approach is so well espoused by Luria: " Classical scholars are those who look upon events in terms of their constituent parts. Step by step they single out important units and elements until they can formulate abstract, general laws.... Romantic scholars' traits, attitudes, and strategies are just the opposite. They do not follow the path of reductionism, which is the leading philosophy of the classical group. Romantics in science want neither to split living reality into its elementary components nor to represent the wealth of life's concrete events as abstract models that lose the properties of the phenomena themselves. (Cole_).

So I come back to Goethe:
And so philosophers step in
To weave a proof that things begin,
Past question, with an origin.
With first and second well rehearsed,
Our third and forth can be deduced.
And if no second were or first,
No third or fourth could be produced.
As weavers though, they don't amount to much.
To docket living things past any doubt
You cancel first The living spirit out;
The parts lie in The hollow of your hand,
You only lack the living link you banned.
(Goethe, 1988, p.95)

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