Sexual Fluidity

fluidityThis book has two basic points:

1. Women’s sexuality is markedly different from male sexuality

2. Women’s sexuality, although likely grounded in an actual biological orientation, is highly susceptible to context and culture and is not fixed but fluid

This books traverses a wide terrain of sexuality studies in a thorough and critical manner. Although it doesn’t take a hard line position on almost anything, it presents enough material for a reader to form and informed opinion.

Several points of interest from this book include:

1. It demonstrates a substantial lack of research on women’s sexuality as compared to men’s.

2. Does a fairly critical overview of  Neuroendocrine Theory. This is the study of the effects of prenatal hormonal exposure on sexuality.

3. It exposes the inadequacies of the homo/hetero/bi sexual labels. Given the changing nature of women’s sexuality and the rather rigid boundaries proposed by such categories, the author argues against their use, more or less.

4. Proceptivity refers to the hormone-driven aspect of sexuality and arousability refers to the contextual aspects of sexuality such as triggers or cues. The author suggests that fluidity is most strongly connected to arousability.

5. Something about love. Coming soon.

This book presents a rigirous overview of sexuality studies particulary in relation to women and more particularily in relation to women and same-sex relationships. Where it lacks is in the rather toned down references to cultural and historical influences and social structures that impede this topic. She does mention it at times but there is a wealth of theory and criticicms in regards to the ways in which women’s sexuality is tied to capitalism and patriarchy in a variety of forms. Perhaps this literature is too radical and the author was wise in avoiding it, but I think they would make a great pairing.


Anthropomorphism, primatomorphism,

mammalomorphism: understanding

cross-species comparisons


Biology and Philosophy 19: 521–540, 2004.

In this article, the author argues that the “sin” of anthropomorphism is rooted in an outdated theological tradition that equated describing God in terms of human qualities to a blasphemous act that reduced God to mere mortal and elided his “beyond our ability to know” status. The author suggests that the severity of this charge underpins present resistance to anthropomorphism.

The author is concerned with cognitive ethology which is the study of animal behavior that uses the tools and methods of cognitive science. In such a practice, studies of animal behavior draw on such concepts as “play,” “rape,” or “mindreading” as part of an investigative framework. The charge from antianthropormophites is that the attribution of such “human” qualities is inappropriate and imposes a human perspective on the non-human world thus masking a true understanding of what is “really” happening.

The author more specifically argues that the fallacy of anthropomorphism is a myth because it is not a problem in principle and in fact it is reasonable to consider that other animals may share some forms of cognitive capacities with humans given the shared evolutionary history. What is important, however, is that anthropomorphism not be offered as intuitive anecdotal explanatory evidence but rather be investigated by means of testable hypothesis and empirical evidence.

Universal Darwinism

Dawkins, Richard. “Universal Darwinism.” Philosophy of Biology eds. Hull & Ruse, London: Oxford, 1998

Basic point of this paper is to argue that darwinism is approximately a universal maxim. In other words, it will work well anywhere. Dawkins reviews seven different evolution theories, points out their strengths and weaknesses in order to show that indeed darwinism is the best.

Defining complexity

“Complexity is a statistical concept…A complex thing is a statistically improbable thing, something with a very low a priori likelihood of coming into being” (16).

“Living things are not just statistically improbably in the trivial sense of hindsight: theory statistical improbability is limited by the a priori constraints of design. They are adaptively complex” (17).

Certainly there is some problem with this definition. The problem for me comes with the comparison of human artifacts with living entities. What I mean to say is that complexity should be a statement of how a thing comes into being as much as a statement of the current organization. Earlier in this essay, Dawkins refers to Paley’s watch argument. That argument goes something like this: “if you find a watch on the beach, the complexity of if demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that it was designed by and intelligent agent.” Though a living entity may be as structurally complex as a watch, it is the way in which it is formed that makes it “adaptive.” A watch is not adaptive, it cannot change itself. A living entity grows. It develops from a bottom-up process whereas a watch is constructed from a top-down process. Stark contrast here.

Theory 1: Vitalism. Living entities have within them a drive which motivates them toward progressive goodness or perfection. This idea is disregarded with little fanfare. Dawkins says that this theory does not explain anything.

It’s kind of a shame that he dismisses this theory so quickly. Not that I think it holds much water, it is just that this notion is so pervasive in culture, language etc that it deserves a bit more attention.

Theory 2: Lamarcksim. This is the theory that giraffes got long necks by trying to eat the leaves on high trees. It somehow stretches and this stretched neck is passed on to the next generation. This theory is sometimes referred to as the use/disuse theory.


1. Only works in some cases, such as muscles and not others (giraffe’s neck).

2. Changes are not always an improvement (if a parent is injured, this theory would suggest that the injury would be passed on).

3. Doesn’t explain why beneficial traits culminate, natural selection is still necessary

“The Lamarckian theory, on the other hand, relies on a much cruder coupling: the rule that the more an animal uses a certain bit of itself, the bigger that bit ought to be. The rule occasionally might have some validity, but not generally, and as a sculptor of adaptation, it is a blunt hatche in comparison to the fine chisel of natural selection” (19)

“If you have a complex and reasonably well-adapted system, the number of things you can do to it that will make it perform less well is vastly greater than the number of things you can do to it that will improve it” (20).

I seem to think that Dawkins has much too rosy a picture of natural selection. On the one hand, he explains it in terms of a chisel and on the other hand portrays it as being so fragile. Well I guess this is a consistent metaphor, but to me, that ns produces such vulnerable entities is a mark against it, not for it.

Theory 3: Environmental Imprint. This is to say that organisms take on the shape, color, or whatever directly from their habitat. The example is a frog that has the same coloration of the long grass in which it lives.


1. the environmental info must get into genetic form in order to be passed on, this theory does not account for this.

2. How does the organism get rid of problematic traits.

3. Can only work if embryology is perforministic (not sure what this means, something to do with reversibility)

Theory 4: Saltationism. A sudden appearance of a fully formed complex entity.


1. Too much like magic

2. Doesn’t actually explain how it came to be

3. Confuses with punctuated equilibrium

4. Confuses 747 and dc8 (there can be big changes is magnitude but not in major information)

“whenever in the universe adaptive complexity shall be found, it will have come into being gradually through a series of small alteration, never through large and sudden increments in adaptive complexity” (24).

I disagree with this and partly because I find there to be a problem with the definition of “adaptive complexity.” I do not think that there is such thing as magic or anything other than what is in the natural world; however, certainly, theories such as complexity and dynamic systems theory have shown that at certain tipping points, major newness, novelty, levels of complexity, or whatever you want to call it appear. This of course is not the same as a 747 appearing in from the junkyard, but nonetheless, it might count as a saltation of sorts. At least it might look like a saltation. I think that if emergence was considered and explained appropriately, it would actually strengthen Dawkins arguments against magical saltation.

Theory 5: Random Evolution. This is the notion that mutation is the true evolutionary force and selection merely weeds out the bad apples, so to speak.


1. Contradicts most of the evidence of natural selection so far.

2. Mutations have to be directed to account for any degree of adaptability thus far.

Theory 6: Direction (order) imposed on Random Variation by Natural Selection. Darwinism. Works every time, and probably everywhere (says Dawkins). It contains replicators (genes), phenotypic controls, causal process, and cumulative selection gets adaptive complexity.

“Darwin’s theory is falsifiable, but he was much too wise to make his theory that easy to falsify!” (29).

I wonder what type of information could falsify Darwinism?

Intelligent Design

Johnson, Phillip “Evolution as Dogma.” Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics Ed. Robert Pennock. Boston: MIT Press, 2001.

This article covers some basic tenets of the Intelligent Design perspective. Micro-evolution, or the development and modifications of species, is not denied. The objection is with macro-evolution, or the extrapolation of the micro-evolution to the broad and overarching principles of a common ancestor and life from non-living matter. The author suggests several things to support his thesis: problems with the fossil record undermine evolution theory—both in the past and present; scientists committed to naturalism require faith just as they accuse creationists; if scientists admit to God in any form, they effectively give up control because who can control God? (something like this); naturalism is so ingrained in our culture that people (including scientists) can not even dream of other ways of looking and so settling on the truth will come down to who controls the discourse; the definition of science a priori excludes creation science, thus governing bodies in science are biased against ID and prevent it from opportunities to state (prove) its case; most people believe in some form of a creator, which in itself should be a red flag to naturalistic movements; evolution is a religion; scientism methodology is logically flawed (must sort out this argument). Taken together, the author suggests,there is sufficient reasoning to at least consider the possibility that the natural world is the product of an Intelligent Agent.

“The important claim of ‘evolution,’ however, is not that limited changes occur in populations due to differences in survival rates. It is that we can extrapolate from the very modes amount of evolution that can actually be observed to a grand theory that explains how moths, trees, and scientific observers came to exist in the first place” (60). I have to admit that although I do not think that the world was created by a supreme being, I can see the author’s point. On the surface, and from an intuitive perspective, it does seem kind of crazy. But luckily, there is a lot more information to cover and so we need not rely totally on intuitive perspectives (though I am not advocating a total dismissal of it either).

There are arguments within the evolution discourse as to the mechanisms of evolution, and some of these arguments are against classical Darwinism. “If classical Darwinism isn’t the explanation for macroevolution, however, there is only speculation as to what sort of alternative mechanisms might have been responsible. In science, as in other fields, you can’t beat something with nothing, and so the Darwinist paradigm remains in place” (61). Two points to make here:

  1. The language is constructed in such a way as to appeal to common sense. By this I mean that using words like “can’t” and “isn’t” is not typically academic and might be a type of endearment to the commonsense Joe. This is not necessary a problem except that terms of endearment might draw people in to agreement on grounds (such as a sense of camaraderie) and not consider the statements critically. There is probably a technical term for this, and I will try to figure out what it is.
  2. Why can we not simply say “I don’t know”? That seems like a plausible trumping of something with nothing.

“That there is a controversy over how macroevolution could have occurred is largely due to the increasing awareness in scientific circles that the fossil evidence is very difficult to reconcile with the Darwinist scenario” (61). I really want to be fair, but the problem is is that there are NO REFERENCES. Who says this? Where? Why? Based on what? I have read a fair number of academic papers that say the opposite, that refer to actual studies. Coupled with the language issue, I am beginning to seriously doubt the authenticity of this author’s objectives. Not that I think I know what they are or might be. That being said, I think he is making some interesting and perhaps valid points, but he is not making them well (in my opinion). He does quote and refer to some people, including Darwin, but with no account of the sources.

“Some reader may wonder why the scientists won’t admit that there are mysteries beyond our comprehension…the reason is that such an admission is out of the question is that it would open the dorr to creationism, which in this context means not simply biblical fundamentalism, but any invocation of a creative intelligence or purpose outside the natural order” (63). It is still not clear why scientist would want to do this? What reason would they have to oppose a supernatural explanation? There is an underlying accusation here that the author is not getting at. Is it because if scientists accepted anything other then natural they would have to do something they would not want to do i.e obey certain rules, regulations, commandments….whatever? If this is the underlying accusation, then certainly scientist are justified in objecting to non-natural causes…they are then objecting to religious ideas which have historically been intricately connected to social structures and power/control issues. Again, this author makes good/interesting points, but does so quite poorly (in my opinion).

“Because the claims of Darwinism are presented to the public as ‘science,’ most people are under the impression that they are supported by direct evidence such as experiments and fossil record studies. This impression is seriously misleading. Scientists cannot observe complex biological structures being created by random mutation and selection in a laboratory or elsewhere” (65). Okay, someone is outright lying. Do we or do we not see evolution? I am going to dig into this a bit more, Creationists say “no we don’t” and biologists say “yes we sure do.” What is going on here?

“There are no scientific points in favour of creation and there never will be any as long as naturalists control the definition of science, because creationist explanation by definition violate the fundamental commitment of science to naturalism” (67). I am just not sure what is expected. Why change science? Why not simply set out a new kind of science, with a new name and an open agenda? I guess the question is: can there be truth beyond the current definition of science?

“By skilful manipulation of categories and definitions, the Darwinists have established philosophical naturalism as educational orthodoxy in a nation in which the overwhelming majority of people express some form of theistic belief inconsistent with naturalism” (68). Now this is an important point!!! Forget about what the facts are, who gets to decide them etc. The important point, in my mind anyway, is how do we all get along? How is it that so many people are either 1. irrational (a point of view that I do not necessarily hold but is often asserted by strong public atheists) or 2. Insignificant…in other words, their brand of rationality or way of thinking or worldview or whatever it is, is deemed unimportant.

Evolution–Levels of Selection

Sober, Elliot and David Sloan Wilson. “A Critical Review of Philosophical Work on the Units of Selection Problem.” Philosophy of Science, 62:4 (1994), p. 534-55.

As the title suggests, this article reviews the debate over the level of selection in the evolutionary process. More specifically, it reviews the specific questions of evolutionary altruism—a phenomenon in which an organism sacrifices its own individual fitness for the sake of the group. Darwin formulated a type of groups or population selection, which is sometimes countered by notions of individual selection. Dawkins suggests a type of genetic selection which gets expressed in the fitness of phenotypes. The central question seems to revolve around the prominence of genes. Selection clearly favours organisms, groups and/or genes. Yet at times, evolutionary altruism is apparent in individuals and groups, but is that evident in genes? Would genes sacrifice themselves for the group of genes, would not that be going against a key functional constant of genes? These are just a few of the topics discussed.

Pg 536 “Dawkins distinguished replicator and vehicles. Genes are examples of the former and organisms are examples of the latter.” This vaguely resembles the mind/body dualism.

Evolution-Level of Selection

Sterelny, Kim and Philip Kitcher. “The Return of the Gene.” The Journal of Philosophy 85:7 (1988), p339-61.

This article reviews two versions of natural selection: natural selection as a process of survival and reproduction of individual organisms and the other, proposed by Dawkins natural selection at the genetic level, with replicators and active germ-line replicators. Against the Dawkins version is an argument that sometimes gene replication is not an asset to natural selection and in fact it is the context in which a gene exists that accounts for its expression. Thus, genes alone cannot not be heralded as the primary locus of natural selection. Dawkins’ response is to suggest that just because genetic activity is context-dependent does not preclude it from individual scrutiny—it is just a different level of analysis (individual versus group). The authors generally agree with Dawkins as they argue that contextual analysis would require so broad of an approach as to be untenable (contexts are too vast to ever hope to assess appropriately). Besides, it would defeat the purpose which is to learn about the individual organism—not to mention the fact that one organism makes up another’s environment anyway. The authors argue that selection at the genetic level is an sufficient for natural selection. Furthermore, they suggest several reasons as to why it such a perspective is beneficial. Chief among these reasons is the explanatory power “on the pluralist account, [which] is not that it alone gets the causal structure right but that it is always available” (359).

Pg 344 “Although Sober rejects determinism, principle (A) seems to hanker after something like the uniform association of effects with causes that deterministic accounts of causality provide. We believe that the principle cannot be satisfied without doing violence to ordinary ways of thinking about natural selection, and, once the violence has been exposed, it is not obvious that there is any way to reconstruct ideas about selection that will fit Sober’s requirement.”

Principle (A) is: “There is selection for property P only if in all causally relevant background conditions P has a positive effect on survival and reproduction” (342). I am not sure what is the problem with challenging ordinary ways of thinking about natural selection. Perhaps Sober leans more towards a developmental perspective? I am not sure what is the matter with that.


Six Sayings About Adaptationism

Elliot Sober (full reference coming shortly)

This article sets out the discussion of adaptationism as a universal evolutionary law analogous to Newtonian physics as a framework for investigating various points of contention within the evolutionary discipline. If the analogy is true, then barring the intrusions of other possible forces, natural selection will always favour the fittest trait(s); thus the effects of other forces can be relegated to the status of unimportant because, most of the time, natural selection will achieve or mostly achieve its goal. Some of the issues in regards to this topic that are addressed are: the role of exaptations, the significance of developmental constraints, and the testability of adaptationist stories.

(Page 72) “In a population subject to natural selection, fitter traits become more common and less fit traits become more rare, unless some other force prevents this from happening…resulting phenotype is said to be optimal, not in the best conceivable trait, but in the sense that it is the best of the traits available.” I am worried here about the criteria for optimal. It seems to me that underlying these parameters are value judgments about the persistence of life. In other words, optimal is optimal because it contributes to the sustenance of life, so the persistence of life is the greatest locus of value. Why is this so and does this value actually contribute, detract from or is neutral to life cycles? Is death not also important?

(Pg 74) “Saying number 1: ‘Natural selection is the only natural process that can produce adaptive complexity.”

Criticism: Certain things like waterfalls and crystals also display a complexity yet we would not classify them as products of natural selection.

Response: But they are not evolved, in terms of decent and modification. Did they thus evolve via another process? But what other process of evolution is there? At some point, evolution must have been a set of chemical reactionswaterfall…which is what crystals are, and what waterfalls are, in a much broader extension of that of course, so why the differentiation of evolutionary processes? A trait is not adaptive until it is present is all members of a population and benefits survival or fitness. How then do we describe things, be it traits or behaviors, that are present in all members of a population but deter fitness? I am thinking of things like addiction, for example. Or poor rational abilities. I admit that it is difficult to think of any trait that is truly ubiquitous. Regardless of these criticism, the author suggests that adaptationism concerns the pervasiveness and power of natural selection, thus is a tool to not be readily dispensed with.

(Pg 75) “Saying 2: ‘Adaptationism is incompatible with the existence of traits that initially evolve for one adaptive reason but then evolve to take over a new adaptive function.’”

Criticism: some people label something as an “adaptation” when is merely a co-option of an adaptation for something else. In other words, the trait is merely a by-product of the development of a different trait.

Response: Yes this is true, it may be some form of secondary adaptation but it is still adaptation none the less and should not be cause for a disruption in the adaptationist program over all. This response seems a little weak to me in that it seems like it would be difficult to be anywhere near certain about the adaptation story, thus, aside from a pure aesthetic value (which I do not necessarily dismiss), what is the value?

(Page 76) “Saying number 3: ‘Adaptationism is incompatible with the existence and importance of constraints that limit the power of natural selection.’”

Criticism: If adaptation is to Natural Selection like is like a bowling ball is to gravity in the Newton analogy, the law of reproduction of the fittest will always prevail. Thus, other forces are too minute to be of much consequence. If adaptation is more like a feather, then other forces that may interfere are important. The criticism is that there are other forces, constraints, that are very important, thus the adaptation program is seriously flawed.

Response: Constraints might well be an aspect of adaptationism achieving fitness. It is not clear if constraints are actually separate and distinct forces. Thus this criticism is not sufficient for abandoning adaptationism.

(Pg 80) “Saying number 4: ‘Adaptationism is untestable; it involves the uncritical formulation of Just So Stories.’”

Criticism: Well adaptations are subject to stories. These stories are a bit dynamic, and are only replaced with other stories if some portion does not fit the evidence.

Response: Individual stories are easily testable and falsifiable; however, more generally, it is difficult to prove that the no true story could possible exist. Well biologists have just not found a good way to test yet, as long as stories are based on strong evidence, the pursuit of better testing is a viable goal. I find this problematic, and a bit of a cop-out. Surely there could be a better answer than this. But I have to think about it more before I can come up with a good criticism of this response.

(Pg 82) “Saying number 5: ‘Populations of organisms are always finite, always experience mutation, and frequently experience migration and assortative mating. Optimality models fail to represent these non-selective factors and therefore are false.’”

Criticism: Optimality models are unrealistic because they cannot represent all the forces at play in population.

Response: True, but they come close. Because they are generally monistic, their breadth is not all that it could be. Pluralistic models are better but it really all comes down to the data: the better the data the better the model and predictability….and plural models are typically better. Whatever.

(Pg 83) “ Saying number 6: ‘Adaptationist thinking is an indispensable research tool. The only way to find out whether an organism is imperfectly adapted is to describe what it would be like if it were perfectly adapted.’”

Criticism: there is none, the author agrees.


Again, I would like to know how one knows what the criteria of optimality are. Does one have to play ‘god’ so to speak? Hypothetically, if each organism could reach the optimal…wouldn’t this diminish diversity?