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The Triumph of Sociobiology (Englisch) Taschenbuch – 1. Mai 2003

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Scientists tend to be a bit insecure about their position in society. Nowhere is this more evident than in the decades-old sociobiology debate, and behavioral scientist John Alcock tries to shore up his side against the sometimes hysterical opposition in The Triumph of Sociobiology. Inevitably, the book is somewhat defensive and apologetic, but the author explains himself and his field well and will convince most readers that studying the evolution of behavior is no more controversial than any other aspect of evolution. Between charming, engaging tales of field study and intriguing analyses of the chief arguments against sociobiology, Alcock disarms the reader's natural discomfort with the topic and makes his case clearly.

Humans have not always had all the cultural accouterments of Hutus or Englishmen. At one time not so many million years ago, our ancestors could make only rudimentary tools while surely communicating in a far less sophisticated manner than we do currently. The immense increase in brain size over the last million or so years must have had profound consequences for our capacity to learn and acquire our culture. If you accept the less-than-revolutionary assumption that brains are necessary for learned behavior, then past selection on hominids that varied in their capacity for culture is a certainty.

But doesn't sociobiology justify rape, racism, and genocide? Not so fast, says Alcock. Just because behavior has a natural explanation, that doesn't make it moral. It would seem that those who want to prevent this sort of behavior would be keenly interested in understanding why it manifests, but often the opposite case pertains. Through gentle dissection of the differences between scientific and ethical knowledge, Alcock shows that we can use them to complement each other. The Triumph of Sociobiology takes time and care to examine all the claims made against the field, both political and scientific, and ends up making a strong case for deeper research. --Rob Lightner -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine andere Ausgabe: Gebundene Ausgabe.


"A clear, evocative, and accurate account of the history and content on the subject, inviting to the student and the general reader alike."-Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University "It doesn't matter whether you call it sociobiology, behavioral ecology, evolutinoary psychology or even selfish genery, John Alcock shows that triumph is exactly the right word. It is a field of research in its mature growing season, with new young scientists flocking to join in. Alcock captures the active spirit of this once-controversial subject perfectly."-Richard Dawkins, Oxford University "This book rights some of the intellectual wrongs that have r s2 perpetrated on sociobiology and certain of its practitioners by individuals who either do not understand what sociobiologists really are saying or who have subverted the truth in pursuit of their own agendas. Not everyone will agree with Alcock's conclusions, but everyone will have to reckon with them-to the delight of the sociobiologists and the chagrin of their critics."-Paul W. Sherman, Cornell University "Darwinist heavyweight Alcock understands what's at stake in evolution as well as any scientist living... The author argues against the competing blank-slate 'culture is all' theory, and he dispels the misconception that sociobiology is in any way an ideological endorsement of racism, sexism or the social dominance of the rich over the poor... This is an important and necessary reappraisal of humankind's place in the Darwinist puzzle-one that will undoubtedly provoke renewed debate."-Publishers Weekly

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58 von 60 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
An Excellent book for the Educated Layman 28. Juli 2001
Von Herbert Gintis - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
Sociobiology is the application of the principles of evolutionary biology to humans. Since we are a biological species that has evolved an extremely powerful form of sociality, how could a scientist studying human society NOT be a sociobiologist?
The answer to this question is simple, and is well laid out by Alcock: if the human brain has evolved into a general purpose instrument on which knowledge, culture, and behavioral norms can be written as though it were a blank slate, then there would be no need to study the biology of social behavior. Despite the overwhelming evidence against the blank slate belief---an impressive amount of the evidence is carefully presented and clearly explained by Alcock---many social scientists and science journalists refuse to believe it.
Alcock makes a valiant attempt to show that the reasons given for rejecting sociobiology are specious. The most important scientific critique is that we need powerful and accurate models of human behavior, not simply vague and unprovable evolutionary just-so stories purporting to explain human behavior. Alcock shows that evolutionary thinking provides an incredibly rich source of hypotheses concerning behavior, so is the essential basis for conceiving of plausible models of behavior. In no way does evolutionary thinking substitute for analytical model building and testing.
But virtually all of the hostility to sociobiology is motivated not by scientific interests, but rather by political interests. Alcock exhibits skill and patience in both demonstrating the errors in reasoning in politically-motivated attacks on sociobiology, and showing that sociobiology is in fact neither hostile to nor partial to any particular political position. For instance, he explains that the fact that there is a natural explanation for certain immoral behaviors (e.g., neglecting stepchildren, male philandering, ethnocentrism) does not justify these behaviors or suggest that they are inevitable.
I think, however, sociobiology does conflict with certain strongly held positions common on both the right and the left wings of the political spectrum. The hallmark of many politically committed people (and social theorists), I believe, is the belief in the attainability of a social utopia based on eradicating the social influences that lead to 'evil' behavior, and socializing people to conform to a utopian vision of behavior and belief. For such a vision to be possible, one must hold the 'blank slate' model that sociobiogists have shown not to exist. To my mind, this is the most important contribution of sociobiology to making a better world: utopian visions based on blank slate models of the human mind do not work and never will. Let's get on we making a better world with what we have: human nature as it is, not as we would have it be.
35 von 38 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
A perfect marriage? 7. März 2002
Von Stephen A. Haines - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
Is EPM an element in your life? Extra-Pair Mating is but one of many animal behaviour traits examined by John Alcock in this excellent overview of research in sociobiology. Many species of birds have been typified as monogamous - pairing for life, or during a mating season. Alcock cites avian studies that modify that picture. Red-winged Blackbird females will flit from the nest to take up with a different male although remaining partnered with her original mate. Alcock stresses that without the research spurred by Edward O. Wilson's 1975 book, Sociobiology, The New Synthesis, we would never have discovered this novel avian behaviour. He goes on to show even more unexpected traits in birds, such as warblers whose offspring remain in the nest area to assist in supporting the next clutch of hatchlings. These birds, faced with varying available resources actually possess the means to control the sex of their offspring depending on forecast needs.
Don't mistake the title of this book. "Triumph" is not a victory celebration, it's a paean to the successful maturing of a young science. Many of the studies, superbly related in this book, show how much the depth of knowledge has increased since Wilson's appeal. Alcock shows how sociobiology, instead of being a "revolution" as many of its critics tag it, is in reality the fulfillment of Darwin's original premise. Wilson defined the discipline as "the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behaviour." To Alcock, that means seeking the role natural selection played in shaping the evolution of the particular social behaviour under study. Alcock relates how this foundation has led to inquiries and results rarely or never considered prior to Wilson's call for this type of study. Nor is the work confined to birds. Insects, spiders, mountain goats, chimpanzees and other animal life are covered. Nor are the botanists overlooked - plant reproductive strategies are also examined. The key phrase throughout is "adaptation" and its role in evolution. Anyone wishing to gain insight into the way life adapts to conditions will find this book a priceless treasure.
Alcock must spend time dealing with the critics of sociobiology because they have reached such a broad public audience. Gould's pernicious attacks are a particular concern of Alcock's since the Harvard paleontologist's adroit turn of phrase has deceived many unwary readers. Gould's mantle as "the pope of paleontology" has allowed him to characterize studies of adaptation as expressions of "Darwinian fundamentalism." This oft-repeated phrase, plus his characterization of "just so stories" to studies he disapproves of, have made the lot of several young researchers difficult. Alcock recounts one case in which an admittedly tentative field study was the target of Gould's vituperation. The long career of Gould's irrational attacks on sociobiology are analysed, then gently dismembered by Alcock. If for no other reason, this book should achieve wide circulation for its service in exposing the fallacies of Wilson's critics.
However, this book has far more value than puncturing "punctuationists." Alcock shows that sociobiology isn't the "gene determinist" science it's been labeled. The many studies cited in this book remove the idea that only humans are flexible in the decision-making process. Extending our evolutionary roots as Alcock's many examples do, leads him in to see sociobiology as the basis for many practical human social issues. The diamond in this tiara of evolutionary roots for social behaviour is the application of the research to the future human condition. His chapter on "practical applications of sociobiology" nearly justifies the price of the book in itself. With no illusions about immediate success given the ongoing squalls of opposition by such as Gould, Alcock still suggests reasoned, pragmatic solutions for social issues derived from sociobiological research. Instead of jousting with the opposition, Alcock says "let's try this or that solution and see if we achieve positive results." What better example of adaptation?
Alcock's citation method is novel, but one which we can only hope more writers will follow. Instead of a duality of footnotes and bibliography, Alcock simply lists his sources alphabetically. Assigning each author a corresponding number, he then inserts the number in the main text. The reader avoids the distraction of footnote references, the bibliography is a ready reference back to the text and the size of the book is reduced - saves paper. Of far greater novelty and function, however, is the appendix of this excellent work. Where other authors use an appendix to flesh out arcane topics for the dedicated student, Alcock, again, is more practical. His appendix is a study guide, complete with thought-provoking questions. It's a crafty tool for reconsidering your own ideas and expand your thinking.
NOTE: Alcock devotes much attention in this book to mating strategies. One such strategy, outside his scope, is matching compatible books. Where Alcock has given us a splendid picture of sociobiology research, another work on the people involved should be mated with TRIUMPH on your shelves. Ullica Segerstrale's DEFENDERS OF THE TRUTH is an in-depth study of Wilson and his critics. Both are valuable contributions in understanding the workings and workers in science.
21 von 22 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
A good book, with caveats 18. Dezember 2005
Von Nicholas Sterling - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch
First let me say that I found this book interesting and convincing; I considered giving it 5 stars.

Second, let me say that if you are looking at this book because you read the highly popular book "Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea" and you are hoping that this similarly named book is similar in presentation and content, beware -- it is not. Carl Zimmer's book on evolution is a beautifully illustrated, highly readable book for the masses; this book is not. If you are not already well-versed on the mechanics of evolution, or for some reason can't accept them, then it seems unlikely that you will truly understand this book.

Third, I consider the title of this book slightly inappropriate for the book's content. Better titles might be
- In Defense of Sociobiology
- Sociobiology: the Maligned Science
A constant theme throughout the book is that detractors of sociobiology have judged the discipline unfairly. Alcock makes an excellent case for this, particularly in the chapter near the end on practical applications of the discipline. Still, this is probably the most defensive book I have ever read -- quite a lot of text is devoted to what opponents of sociobiology say and why they are wrong, so understand what this book is: a defense of the discipline in the face of harsh, even abusive criticism. Of course, Alcock explains a lot about sociobiology in the process of defending it.

If you're OK with that, and you have the appropriate background and interest to read about how natural selection appears to have shaped the behavioral mechanisms of birds and beetles, then you will find this a good read.

The controversy over sociobiology is evident in discussions about why some men rape women. Sociobiology explores, via the scientific method, the possibility that there could be a genetic influence -- i.e. that in our ancient ancestral males, genes that increased the likelihood of rape might have been more likely to be passed on to future generations. The problem many people have with this is that they feel that an argument that there is anything in our genome which would contribute to the likelihood of a man raping a woman is in effect a justification of rape, a declaration that rape is natural and therefore morally excusable. Alcock does an excellent job of dealing with this subject in his chapter on practical applications, and in fact turns the tables by explaining the harm in pretending that there is no such influence if in fact there is.

Alcock makes repeated mention of "blank slate theorists" -- those who believe that the human brain is not genetically predisposed to any behavior, instead being "programmed" by its environment. To me it seems incredible that anyone could think that humans are exempt from genetic influences on behavior.

Take human obesity, for example. In the environment of our ancient (pre-human, no doubt) ancestors, it was a highly useful adaptation to be able to detect the presence of sugars and fats in vegetable matter and to preferentially eat such tissues. It is easy to imagine how individuals with such genes would be more likely to survive to pass on their genes.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, when we are less active physically but have stores chock full of foods with very high concentrations of fats and sugars. Our taste buds direct us to such foods. The result? -- maladaptive behavior, poor eating habits that lead to obesity, diabetes, and a host of other problems. Isn't it clear...
- that genes influence our behavior?
- that those influences may be maladaptive in the modern environment?
- that genomic influences on our behavior do not imply moral correctness?
If you were trying to combat obesity in the population through education, would you shy away from talking about these genetic contributions for fear that people would consider it natural and good to eat lots of sugars and fats? Or would you help people understand these tendencies in hopes that they would understand that what feels good is not necessarily good for them and ultimately exercise more control in their dietary choices?

And given that human reproductive systems come online at about age 13 but many modern cultures don't condone sex at that age, would acknowledging that there is a genetic basis for sexual desire at that age effectively condone teenage sex and make it more rampant? Should we deny that there is any such genetic foundation, instead treating teenage sexual desire as a cultural artifact -- the "in thing" -- so as not to imply its moral correctness? Would that help?

I'm making up these examples and I'm not a sociobiologist, so take them with a grain of salt, but hopefully they illustrate the point: what would it mean if there were genetic influences that contribute to behaviors that we consider objectionable?

This book, for those with sufficient background, is a good treatment of sociobiology itself and the controversy around it.
13 von 13 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
proximate and ultimate causes 6. Dezember 2004
Von Ahimsa Campos Arceiz - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch
Has sociobiology triumphed? I am afraid yes, in all its forms. Doesn't matter whether you call it sociobiology or evolutionary ecology, animal behavior, evolutionary psychology, etc., the underlying principle, the neo-Darwinian perspective to explain the evolution of organisms, including their social behavior has become paradigm. There is no more debate as it happened in the 70s and 80s. Actually this book doesn't refer much to such debate. This book is basically a review of the state of the art of animal social behavior from the neo-Darwinian perspective. In that sense the book largely succeeds in making you understand what the state of this art is.

Perhaps the best quality of this book is that it helps to clearly distinguish the meaning and differences of proximate and ultimate causes. Once you understand the division it will change the way you see your everyday life. You will be more indulgent with apparently stupid human behaviors, but also stronger to get free of the iron claw of the proximate causes.

Alcock's narrative is clear and comprehensible, and you don't need any strong background in biology to understand the contents. If you happen to have such background you won't find yourself bored with redundancies.

Chapters eight and nine, dedicated to human culture and the practical applications of sociobiology have some wonderful parts. For instance, I was especially delighted reading about the effect of eye-contact-policies by checkout workers in a big supermarket chain and the too-positive response of male clients.

At the end you will find an interesting list of selected references. I find it a really good selection, and I also liked that is a short list, only the most interesting books from the field.

This was a necessary book, and Alcock did it well. I recommend you read it!
19 von 21 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
The Triumph of Sociobiology 31. Mai 2001
Von J. Richmond - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
The Triumph of Sociobiology, by John Alcock, is an incredibly well argued peice of work. If you are at all interested in the ins and outs of the study of animal behavior this is the book to read. Of course the author's primary audience is, I think, other evolutionary biologists, it is fine for a layreader. The work masterfully exposes the particulars of sociobiology, what this branch of biology trys to do, what it is not trying to do, and in the process expertly roasts critics of the disipline. Of sociobiology's critics, Stephen J. Gould and Richard Lewontin are the ones Alcock choses to nail. And nail them he does. With ease even. The work is long overdue. It is a wonderful book, that is rich in information, not just on the state of the discipline of sociobiology, but also with information about the behavior of a great many animals. Wonderful, just wonderful.
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