Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Jonathan Haidt: Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence

Jonathan Haidt: Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence

Jonathan has a book out on this topic: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.

The above video is mostly about group selection. Memes get briefly mentioned at 07:00 - Jonathan says:

Many scientists who study religion take this view: the "New Atheists", for example, argue that religion is a set of memes, parasitic memes that get inside our minds and make us do all kinds of crazy religious stuff, self-destructive stuff like suicide bombing. And after all, how could it ever be good for us to lose ourselves? How could it ever be adaptive for any organism to overcome self-interest? Well, let me show you.
That's when the material about group selection begins.

Jonathan says:

In other words, Charles Darwin believed in group selection. This idea has been very controversial over the last 40 years, but it is about to make a major comeback this year especially after E. O. Wilson's book comes out in April making a very strong case that we and several other species are products of group selection.
Does Jonathan understand that the "new" group selection makes all the same predictions as inclusive fitness theory - which has been orthodoxy in evolutionary biology for decades? If so, that doesn't come across in this video. Kin selection doesn't even get mentioned - which seems to be pretty ridiculous in a talk about why humans are so other-oriented. Indeed, from this talk, it isn't clear whether Jonathan Haidt actually understands the issue he is discussing very well.

I notice that - like me, Jerry Coyne is not too impressed.

I also notice that the Jonathan Haidt page on Wikipedia says he was given the 2001 Templeton Prize in "Positive Psychology" - a hundred thousand US dollars.

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