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Friday, November 11, 2011

Anthropology Focus: Edward Wilson and Sociobiology

My Question: Can Sociobiology Exist Without the Consideration of Culture?

Reading and deciphering Edward Wilson’s biological and anatomical jargon was like being back in Anatomy class, only this time around, I hadn’t a clue what the professor was talking about. I tried to find the anthropological focus in Wilson’s research, but it seems to me that his focus is purely on the anatomical makeup of a person’s mind. Attributing behaviors and actions to the hypothalamic-limbic complex of a highly social species. A man, “knows”, or more precisely it has been programmed to perform as if it knows, that its underlying genes will be proliferated maximally only if it orchestrates behavioral responses that bring into play an efficient mixture of personal survival, reproduction, and altruism. What a statement and where to start!

I hate to break it to this poor chap, but the hypothalamus is nowhere near as glamorous as Wilson is making it out to be. Furthermore, the limbic system, or rather the idea of its function, is completely erroneous and obsolete. It’s true; the hypothalamus is responsible for regulating body temperature, fat and carbohydrate metabolism, and several psychological drives like sex and hunger. I can’t believe I remembered that from Anatomy class! It’s difficult, however, to attribute the triggers of those drives to something purely biological. Environment and culture both play a part in the entire complex system.

Consequently, Wilson’s anatomical perspective carries over to his views on sociobiology, which he believes is the basis of all social behavior . His focus includes animals as well as man and their social behaviors. I see no issues with this, as many of our behaviors are similar to the behaviors of animals. There’s a problem, however. Animals don’t have culture, and culture is not biological. To study sociology one must study culture. To study sociobiology, one must still use culture, but now the biological characteristics of behavior are considered.

Wilson speaks of sociobiology like one describes phenotypes-that behavior is no more than the physical expression of genetic information. He’s essentially saying that our genetic makeup is entirely the cause of our actions. This is, of course, incorrect. If human behavior were this easily described, there would be no need for psychologists, anthropologists, or sociologists. Human behaviors are a reaction, or can be affected by, several environmental, economic, materialistic, cultural, genetic, and social factors.

In my opinion, it’s much easier to observe similar patterns in human culture than it is to decipher the biological similarities we share with certain species. Wilson is more than welcome to observe the behavioral differences and similarities in vertebrate and invertebrate species, but comparing an ant colony and kinship groups in human culture makes no sense whatsoever. Furthermore, studying the division of labor in an insect society is a stretch, I believe, from the characteristics of labor in human society. There are parallels in the societies mentioned, but I can’t ignore the strong biological basis for every point argued by Wilson.


Bisnis Hari Ini said...

Nice Article !
Keep posting, and i want to ask !
Where button to subcribe this site ?

Lauren Axelrod said...

@Bisnis Hari Ini

The subscribe button is at the top right. The big orange button. Or you can click on the feedburner widget and subscribe there.

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