The Third Culture

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Edge 73


Certainly, human nature is fixed. It's universal and unchanging — common to every baby that's born, down through the history of our species. But human behavior — which is generated by that nature — is endlessly variable and diverse. After all, fixed rules can give rise to an inexhaustible range of outcomes. Natural selection equipped us with the fixed rules — the rules that constitute our human nature. And it designed those rules to generate behavior that's sensitive to the environment. So, the answer to 'genetic determinism' is simple. If you want to change behavior, just change the environment. And, of course, to know which changes would be appropriate and effective, you have to know those Darwinian rules. You need only to understand human nature, not to change it.

A Talk with Helena Cronin


Helena Cronin achieved prominence in the early 90's as the author of The Ant and the Peacock: Altruism and Sexual Selection from Darwin to Today,, named one of the Nine Best Books of the Year by the New York Times Book Review in 1992, and widely considered the definitive history and integrative summary of altruism and sexual selection in modern evolutionary biology. It is also unusual in being as well informed in the history and philosophy of the subject as it is up-to-date with modern evolutionary theory.

For several years she ran a highly influential program of public lectures and debates at the London School of Economics which thrust evolutionary biology, psychology, medicine, and social science onto center stage. In convening the intellectual salon known as the Darwin@LSE seminars � the "hottest intellectual ticket in London" � Cronin carved for herself a unique niche as the convener of a cutting edge intellectual salon of worldwide repute and, in so doing, she has become an important public intellectual in the UK.

Cronin, who is also co-editor of the Darwinism Today book series, has become a renowned champion of Darwinian theory, especially as it applies to the human species and can be used to inform social policy. Through many articles, interviews, and appearances in the British media, she has become known as an eloquent and tough-minded spokesperson for the importance of Darwinism in modern intellectual life.

HELENA CRONIN is a Co-Director of London School of Economic's Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Sciences, where she runs the wide ranging and successful program "Darwin@LSE" which fosters research at the forefront of evolutionary theory. She is the author of The Ant and the Peacock: Altruism and Sexual Selection from Darwin to Today.

LINK: Darwin@LSE


J. Doyne Farmer

Getting Human Nature Right
A Talk with Helena Cronin

HELENA CRONIN: The questions I'm asking myself at the moment are about the connections between two things. On the one hand, there's what science tells us about the evolved differences between women and men — what we know from modern Darwinian theory. And, on the other hand, there's the public perception of the science, which is largely negative and riddled with misunderstandings. Of course, when evolutionary theory gets applied to our own species, it always arouses opposition. But when it comes to sex differences … that sparks off hostilities and misconceptions all of its own.