No leap involved

February 7, 1997

Guy Cook (THES, January 10) is totally mistaken in his claim that I make "a triumphalist QED leap" to assert "the victory of sociobiology over cultural determinism".

I have always been an outspoken and radical critic of sociobiology, cf. my paper in Sociobiology Examined. Further, I have long argued that: "The time is now conspicuously due, in both anthropology and biology, for a synthesis in which there will be, in the study of human behaviour, recognition of the radical importance of both the genetic and the exogenetic and their interaction, both in the past history of the human species and in our problematic future." (Margaret Mead and Samoa) Cultural determinism is an unscientific ideology that actively excludes crucially important phylogenetically given variables from consideration. In The Cognitive Neurosciences, Cosmides and Tooby present evidence to show that the human brain (which is the organ of behaviour) is "an information-processing device that was designed by the evolutionary process". There is, to the best of my knowledge, "no scientific alternative" to this view. Yet, accepting it in no sense involves the exclusion from consideration of the cultural and other variables which have been brought into being by the phylogenetically given capacity of the human brain to make choices.

Derek Freeman

Research school of Pacific and Asian studies, The Australian National University

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