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"THE TWO STEVES"-Pinker vs. Rose - A Debate (Part II) Continued

QUESTION for Pinker and Rose: As our environment is changing by the decade, and our interactions with the environment impact who we are, how can our genetics keep up? Surely we're way out of date genetically, so how are we surviving?

ROSE: I think it's a great mistake to argue about our genetics being way out of date. The point is that it is precisely, if you like, the human capacity given to us by our genome, given to us by environmental and cultural history, that enables us go on creating this changing society all the way along the line. And that is that it's our genetics that enable us to make these transformations. I think it's really a mistake to believe that somehow genes got left behind somewhere in the Stone Age, or somewhere in the evolutionary process and they're running to keep up with the things that we are doing as a result of it. It's that way of thinking that we need to transform if we're to understand the complexity of the processes. Some people get round it by talking about gene environment, co- evolution. I think that's a step in the right direction, but it really doesn't begin to address the complexity of the interactions which you're hinting at there, and which are for the biology of the future, once we've got rid of the sterile dichotomies of gene and environment and understand the richness to try to come to terms with it.

PINKER: Let me answer that in a slightly different way. I don't think that our man-made environment is necessarily running away from us and it's going to be a matter of how the genes are going to keep up. I do think there are some aspects of human nature that are stuck in the Stone Age, and it's BECAUSE our minds are adapted to that period that we change our technology and our environment to make ourselves feel at home. An example is the design of computers-I assume that's one of the things you were referring to as "rapid environmental change." Computers work on ones and zeros. Our minds have not been able to grasp that way of interacting with machines, on their own terms, but there hasn't been a problem of how are we going to cope with all these ones and zeros. Indeed, the brain is not plastic enough to get itself to think that way. Instead we've designed computers so that THEY mesh with OUR way of thinking. We have designed elaborate graphic interfaces that translate quite abstract information into representations of physical objects, in a particular location in space, that can be moved in a particular way, because that's how human intuition works. So I think the answer is: our minds are going to shape the environment in ways that we can cognitively deal with.

QUESTION: It seems to me that the only constant in societies over the last four thousand years has been the presence of some sort of religious suasion forming a moral and ethical framework. Where is the God module in the brain?

PINKER: As I mentioned, I don't think that religion is an adaptation, so I don't think there is a God module. I do discuss at some length in the book how it arises as an interaction of other parts of the minds. One part is an intuitive psychology. Once you have an ability to interpret other people's behavior in terms of unobservable beliefs and desires, that is, a mind. We impute minds to one another; we don't treat one another as wind-up dolls. That faculty can, then, in a sense, run amok, and imagine minds that exist independently of bodies, namely spirits, souls, ghosts, and so on. That's an example of how a part of the mind that evolved for one purpose can give rise to something quite different. I don't think that's the totality of religious belief, and I discuss some of the other components that collectively give rise to it, but that's an example of how a kind of belief can be a major part of human experience, but not necessarily specifically selected by evolution.

ROSE: I'm not sure that I have a mind that deals either in god or in modules, so I'm not sure I can answer the question. I do think it's extremely important to understand the function religion has played through humanity's history and the moral vacuum which is the result perhaps in the loss of the faith and the creation either of a religious society or of a more socially just society, which we're facing at the moment. I would not like to see ultra-Darwinism become the religion of the future.

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