A well-reasoned article, Jonatan. Pinker's work is too often glib and insufficiently considered. He fails to understand the concept of emergent properties, whereby each thing must be studied at the appropriate level of abstraction. For example, if we look at an individual cell undergoing apoptosis, it clearly makes zero sense. How is this in any way helpful to the cell? But when we look at the organism as a whole we see that apoptosis is crucial; cancer is what happens when apoptosis fails. With regards to group selection, Pinker seems to forget that our behavioral hardwiring occurred during the hundreds of thousands of years in which group members were highly inter-related. We already know that degree of kinship is a strong indicator of altruism; it doesn't take a genius to realize that when we were all inter-related within a group, behaviors that favored the group en mass could arise even if they were occasionally to the detriment of an individual member of the group - just as with the example of apoptosis above. Perhaps if Pinker spent less time on popularizations and just a little more time on thinking things through, his books would be less glib and more valuable to society as a whole.

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