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Darwin-L Message Log 5:175 (January 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<5:175>From mwinsor@epas.utoronto.ca  Thu Jan 27 09:34:15 1994

From: mwinsor@epas.utoronto.ca (Mary P Winsor)
Subject: RE: human fitness
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu (bulletin board)
Date: Thu, 27 Jan 1994 10:42:08 -0500 (EST)

I apologize for this morning's poorly-phrased message
about Rousseau.  What I meant to offer, in reply to the
discussion about whether humans are "fitter" (!!) - tougher
faster, can win in hand-to-hand combat with, another ape
[we all know that is not what either Darwin or modern biologists
mean by "fitter"]  - was this historical footnote: Rousseau
was of course familiar with this very old notion.
 Surely every culture has a myth about the maker of people
saying, "your eyes are less sharp than the eagle's, you are
less fleet than the deer, but I give you such cleverness that
you are king of them all."
 Rousseau objected that the weak-animal thesis may be true of
civilized humans, it ain't true of ones who live closer to nature.

That's an historical footnote.  How clever of Bob O'Hara to lump
together evolutionary biologists, geologists, linguists...as users
of historical method.  And to spice it all up, he includes history,
that is, the historical development of these fields.  That introduces
still another dimension altogether.
 That dimension I make use of myself when I teach Darwinism: I
tell the true story of how Darwin on the Beagle was impressed
by Lyell's geological method, and beautifully practiced it
to explain the formation of coral reefs.  That was the equivalent
of his doctoral dissertation, and that training in method was what
he then applied in his search for a cause or organic change.  So I
use a true story to explain what Darwin's method was.

But every historical story doesn't have such a clear pedagogic
use or moral.  I forwarded the purely historical query, "who
introduced the idea that tools put a stop to human biological
development?" without meaning to raise the quite separate
issue, "how did the invention of tools affect human evolution?"
I took it for granted that the idea of tools stopping evolution
is outmoded, that is, they might affect the direction of evolution
- which characters are selected for - but the only way to stop
evolution is either to eliminate all variation or open the floodgate
of unlimited population growth, so nobody fails to reproduce.

Polly Winsor (=Mary P. Winsor) Univ. of Toronto
mwinsor@epas.utoronto.ca

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