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Unread January 1st, 2007, 02:46 PM
James Brody James Brody is offline
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Default HNY: Dinichism & Universal Human Nature

"While we accept certain cultural values as propriate, as important for our own course of becoming, it is equally true that we are all rebels, deviants, and individualists. Some elements in our culture we reject altogether; many we adopt as mere opportunistic habits, and even those elements that we genuinely appropriate we refashion to fit our own personal style of life." Allport, 1955, p. 82

Dinichism sprouted in the '80s when paleotologists noticed differences in the size of male and female A afarensis and in the details of their legs and feet. One explanation is that for roughly 4 million years, the males moved on the ground to find water and food, the females, because they were smaller, remained in tree cover. Differences in physical structure led to differences in environments.

Some modern consequences are that our children between 4-6 years old show behaviors that may be relics of African times. That is, girls are more afraid of nasty things under the bed, boys expect the nasties to be alongside. Boys in playgrounds don't climb as much or as well as girls. Girls are more likely to grip the edges of a narrow surface with their toes and to spread their arms to the side. Girls also spend less time looking for foot and handholds when climbing.

Further, our primate cousins do similar things but at an older developmental age.

Such variation also occurs still in our physical structures: girls tend to have more supple joints and, depending on the group studied, between 2% and 40% of us have extra lumbar vertebrae. (Irreverent aside: Raff speculates that DNA sequences may remain intact for 5 million years after their last expression: if you want to study Pleistocene hominids, irradiate, heat, or poison some of our gametes!) Thus, so long as women carry wombs, we will have dinichism. And whatever overlaps exist, men and women continue to have corresponding differences in their psychological averages.

Problem: genes had enough time to change physical tools but what about the mental? That is, if we believe, as I do, in emergent organizations, there will be a few dominant, core organizations that retain smaller ones when such are encountered, whether by accident or exploration. Any given trait may have a dozen or a hundred supporting regulators. And, the real problem, any given gene might participate in any of a dozen or a hundred of different networks.

Dinichism, thus, represents a larger issue. If physical differences imply environmental ones, will thought accompany them or go its own way, separate from the physical? More simply, do physical differences imply psychological? Probably, almost certainly, yes, and the keys may be simpler than we suppose. We not only have different faces but the physical variations in our brains equals or exceeds that in our looks and eventually we can tell a lot about the contents of a book from its cover.

A "universal human nature," wherein creatures that don't look alike manage to act alike while the genes that changed physical forms haven't had sufficient time to change the mental, becomes another Special Creation. ("Universal human nature" was spun in a Harvard seminar because it matched the genes of both the individuals in the seminar and those in surrounding seminars who would eventually buy books from those in the first one. Self-selection in whatever setting implies genetic similarity; proximity and linkage predict synchrony: Kuramoto's ideas on pendulums apply to graduate students at Harvard.)

Dinichism, however, becomes nichism and applies in detail that is far greater than gender: each individual makes his own niche for reasons of phylogeny as much as for those of ontogeny.

- The students of either genetics or environment concern themselves with the outcomes of multiple influences, each of small magnitude.
- Genes and culture both implement processes that we find in statistical mechanics.
- Culture represents a stabilizer, that like genes, lines up what we do with what we need to do.
- 14 billion years elapsed before local minds and local contexts sanctioned exploration and a set of rules, science, to keep it in bounds.
- Despite all the bombast and territorial calls, the contest that matter between scientists and environmentalists is that of finding the effective switches and levers manage very individual aggravations and those become societal when individuals share their quirks.

Gordon Allport in the '50s described us as an aggregate of rebels, deviants, and individualists, he was right!

Time to warm up my coffee, Happy New Year...



Allport, G. (1955) Becoming: Basic Considerations for a Psychology of Personality. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Cosmides L. & Tooby, J. (1992) The psychological foundations of culture. In J. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.) The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. NY: Oxford, pp. 19-136.
Coss RG & Moore M (2002) Precocious knowledge of trees as antipredator refuge in preschool children: An examiniation of aesthetics, attributive judgments, and relic sexual dinichism. Ecological Psychology. 14(4): 181-222.
Coss RG & Charles EP (2004) The role of evolutionary hypotheses in psychological research: Instincts, affordances, and relic sex differences. Ecological Psychology, 16(3): 199-236.
Lewontin, R. (1998/2000) Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, Environment. Cambridge, MA, Harvard. (Lewontin says in here a lot of things that also win endorsement by Thomas Bouchard. Lewontin, however, concluded that humans escape their genes. See Ruse, 1999.)
Raff, Rudolf (1996) The Shape of Life. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Ruse, M. (1999) Mystery of Mysteries: Is Evolution a Social Construction? Cambridge, MA: Harvard. (Contrasts Kuhn with Popper and compares two Darwins, Julian Huxley, Dobzhansky, Dawkins, Gould, Wilson, Lewontin, Geoffrey Parker, & Sepkosky as agents for both science and for cultural values.)

Copyright, James Brody, 2007, all rights reserved.
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