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Unread August 13th, 2006, 08:40 PM
James Brody James Brody is offline
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Default ISHE 2006: Intimations of Yoshiki Kuramoto

(The abstracts can be found at

For students: ISHE has several prizes of several thousand dollars plus transportation for the best student papers. There were five awards for the Detroit meeting. More information on the ISHE site.

The next ISHE Congress is in Prague (but maybe Bologna), August, 2008.

Thanks to Glenn Weisfeld (ISHE President) and his wife Carol, especially to Carol, not only for leading the Detroit Congress but also for realigning my confusions, even about times, places, and the size of poster board. I am neither so organized nor so smart as once upon a time.

I'm a seeker but an isolate and almost ignored Glenn Weisfeld's announcement of the Biennial Congress of the International Society for Human Ethology to be held in Detroit. ISHE was created in 1972, meets every two years at sites in Europe and North America, and carries the preoccupations of Tinbergen, Lorenz, and Hess into the future. Adaptive function, immediate cause, development across the life span, and evolutionary history must be sewn together. The membership list comes to about 175...globally.

These folks not only study mate choice but talk about genes as factors in international relations, the heritability of IQ, or the inclusive fitness of terrorism. They appear to be more open to ideas of statistical physics than seems true of HBES. Ethology's modern icons such as Karl Grammer are nurturing but can be abruptly dismissive of an impulsive idea. They also like you to notice the small details in nature rather than spend time on hypotheticals. As an Oxford pediatrician remarked at lunch: "I don't waste time on things that can't be proven."

Despite their extraordinary abilities, the ISHE members were consistently the nicest, easiest to engage bunch that I have ever met. (My ambivalence about attending vanished at registration.) Academic degrees were not on name tags and first-name was the rule. And despite the Detroit site, Americans may not have been the majority. Austria, Holland, Germany, the UK, and the Czech Republic probably accounted for about half of the approximately 100 in attendance. Also throw in some Canadians and one Israeli! And in regard to original thinking and quality of work, many of the presenters were not only damned nice but also damned bright and damned determined. They also have some impressive toys and use them well. With a few exceptions, American science was usually no better than the American men's soccer team. My chauvinism whimpered, circled three times, and died...


Ullica Segerstrale spoke about William Donald Hamilton. My impression already was that Hamilton, a rebel, a bit schizoid, and maybe a little bipolar, was nonetheless a genius who provided a theoretical foundation for social behavior, sex ratios, and even the evolutionary value of sex. She gave a fine talk, I will treasure her book once it appears in 2007 from Oxford University Press. And Ullica shocked my socks: she recognized my name and sometimes visits this forum!

Randy Nesse considered the theories and fly boxes where we put a client and links between where we put him and how we treat him. Evolution might provide one such bridge. The topic is important: every shaman tells a different story but many of them offer similar recommendations for any one client. Nesse may be right about evolution, I use it all the time in my own office stories. I suggest, further, that the client defines what we do as much as the reverse! And some concepts from Barabasi and from Kuramoto, via Steven Strogatz, may be more useful than models from ChuckD and JohnB.

I later lunched in the dorm cafeteria with Nesse when Mike McGuire joined us. (Nesse is a fresh pie on a kitchen window sill. And the company he attracts likes him forever!) Mike asked about my interests and I stared at my shoes and mumbled "Stu Kauffman..."

Mike cut in, "Kauffman of the Santa Fe Institute? He sends me email!"

Eye contact: "Ohmigod, can I touch you?!!"

McGuire is tall, silver-haired, lean, mirrored sunglasses, and prefers to drive a pickup truck! He wanted to see my paper on emergent networks and later offered some encouragement. He's a hell of a nice guy or else I did something pretty good or maybe both. (McGuire and Troisi wrote a marvelous book, Evolutionary Psychiatry. McGuire went to Africa, fed Prozac to subordinate vervet males, and watched the druggies become kings! But only if there were females in the group! Higher serotonin levels were associated with more "affiliative behaviors" with females who had a vote in who moved up. I think Clinton knew this...)

Steven Suomi: my reason for driving 10 hours...Suomi noted that humans and rhesus are "weed species" that thrive anywhere and that of all the many kinds of macaque, rhesus, like humans, are heterozygous for an allele that regulates serotonin availability. Short alleles are associated with impulsive, aggressive nasty little bastards who are usually chased from the troop by packs of adult females and left to die. Further, the impulsive rhesus are usually delayed on infant scales of development. They are not only reactive, they are also a little delayed. Further, separating infant rhesus from their mothers, feeding them formula, and rearing them with peers heightens impulsiveness and leads them to "drink alcohol like sponges."

An environmental component: Impulsive mothers tend to have impulsive children and need help with their first offspring. But, insert a nurturing aunt as a substitute mother and the offspring normalizes even though her alleles are no longer than they were. The same kind of aunt sometimes leads not to death but to leadership roles for the hyperactive males. She has the time-honored job of detecting which of us is worth her investment. Nasty individuals and nasty settings often make each other. Genes and environments tune each other into synchrony: Kuramoto applies. More later...

A great finding: David Rowe noted that higher testosterone causes problems mostly in the socially disconnected males, unmarried, with erratic work histories, and of lower social class (SES has substantial contributions from IQ). Suomi's rhesus perhaps demonstrate a similar interaction. I had earlier noticed two large studies that confirmed Trotter's two-hundred-year-old hypothesis: attenuated breast feeding predicts adult alcoholism. I chased Suomi without mercy when he tried to escape for coffee and asked him about possible roles for omega 3s.

He remarked that fish oil supplements in the infant formula "washed out" the differences between experimental and control monkeys. There may be K and r-selection patterns in personalities as well as in environments - Burt & Trivers make a similar speculation in Chapter 5 - and, still again, consider Kuramoto: genes make environments and the two players move each other into resonance.

Karl Grammer: a chipper hypomanic, dedicated to his students, and willing to say, "It won't work." He may be right but Grammer may also wash out the mediocre and kiss-asses when he provokes the student. Science is both an exploration and a fitness contest, one not for the lazy or easily discouraged. And not a mere ticket to a good job and a better seat at holiday dinners. There is every incentive for the best aunts and uncles to limit their investment in slackers or fools...

One of Grammer's projects adds facial and postural companions to the verbal directions from a robot. The nominal goal is to make the robot less annoying when it tells park visitors what to do. So he probably tells his funding sources! His implicit goal is to use robotics to understand foundations of normal human conduct. (A familiar gambit: Herb Barry, III, once told pharmacologists that he used well-understood behaviors to analyze complex drug effects but psychologists that he used well-understood drugs to analyze complex behaviors. Same study, two audiences.)

Grammer also wants to find embedded communication that cannot be used for deception, stuff so phylogenetically old that it operates without conscious direction but predicts future conduct.

There are surprises.

Grammer showed film clips of strangers moving into "sync." University students, a man and a woman, strangers to each other, were left with each other in front of the cameras. Hair flips by her led to fidgeting by him. If he made a remark and she laughed, he felt better although he couldn't say why. Lots of laughs and hair flips predicted more of the same and long walks together in the park immediately after the session.

In a variation, the guy rated a girl's solo dancing from a distance of about 4 feet. He held a small sign up in his left hand that identified the experimental session. An inspired snoop noticed that the sign twitched and the computer found that it twitched more if the dancer were ovulating! So much for hidden ovulation, so much for some of our stories about mate guarding. By fidgets and laughter, we move into partnerships and we do it more readily when an egg rolls down her chute.

I asked at break if Grammer were aware of Kuramoto: a smile, "Yes, he visited us at Blefield!"


There was no need to say more. Yoshiki Kuramoto about 30 years ago developed a formal proof that similar, loosely linked oscillators will always move into synchrony. This holds for pendulums, runners, automobile traffic, cardiac neurons, crickets, and fireflies.

Lovers, like friends, can be oscillators, too...

So can shrinks and clients: Erwin Geerts and his team filmed depressed clinic patients and scored not what was said but whether the client and interviewer showed parallel body movements. The less the sync, the slower the recovery and the greater the probability of relapse! No surprise...if fitness and health are associated with connectedness, with the ability to move into synchrony with another oscillator (a husband, friend, kid, a stranger on the bus, or your doctor), then depression disconnects those partnerships and advertises problems with fitness. Could also line up Geerts's work with research that predicts divorce as a function of hostility. (How many MH difficulties advertise problems with sync? And is this a better anchor for diagnoses than statistics or complaints?)

Phil Rushton...fascinating guy, nearly lynched for a decade when he insisted that Blacks have lower IQs for genetic reasons. The numbers continued to arrive, however, the mobs dispersed, and there are no rope burns on Phil's neck. (It was a near thing...he took as much crap as Ed Wilson and for similar reasons. It was probably an instinctive thing. See below on regression-to-the-mean.)
Mate preference is influenced most by characteristics that are not only similar but also have a substantial contribution from heritability! In the case of IQ, g is more heritable and more influential than scores for specific abilities. Rushton also argued that randomly chosen co-ethnics often have relatedness roughly equal to first cousins. We fight for reasons of inclusive fitness! Phil has a long paper in Nations and Nationalism, well-written, lots of data from multiple sources. (Heritability for psychopathology also loads significantly in mate choice: not sure what Phil would say.)

My Rant About The Mideast:
I pulled this segment three hours after posting it. The topic deserves more than I gave it. More later...

Frank Salter: Wealth stays in families far longer than customary genetic analyses predict. That is, old money rests in old hands. I wonder about two contributions to his puzzle: first, Rushton's comments that mate choice is more strongly influenced by heritable characteristics. The management of money might be heritable and if there is a question of retaining resources instead of acquiring them, some of the contribution might come from mothers who are selectively recruited into wealthy families.

Second, IQ is usually forced into a Gaussian distribution. The bell curve, however, is apt to be a fundamental distortion of information that better fits a power law. Power laws describe emergent organzations and recognize higher frequencies of extreme scores at both ends. Power functions might increase our ability to sort people on the basis of their smarts and enhance our formal measures of the heritability of g. Gaussian g may not be the best clue for our ability to find minds of similar complexity and partner with them. Possibly a good doctoral project for one of Salter's students...

Eibl-Eiblsfeldt, short and tanned, an oak that still takes pictures at age 78. "Eibl" traveled the world and his photographs, augmented by work from Paul Ekman, demolished blather from Boas and Meade that emotional expression is a cultural artifact. He used a modified Leica that shot at right angles to the direction that he faced. (He still has the Leica.) I have his book on human ethology: it's huge, fascinating, convincing, and filled with pictures taken without the subject's permission! Do it today in New York City, bent lens or not, and you would be arrested, fined, or sued. And nobody would publish your work...

Coolest research technique (probably should have its own
ISHE award, especially if divided by the reciprocal of oney spent!): Jay Feierman lives in the American southwest and watched Mexican TV in order to learn Spanish. (He did this improbable thing for ten years after each day's work treating bipolars.) He punched a button on his remote whenever an attractive female went through a sexual display. Ten years produced 160 hours of tape, selected down to about 12 minutes of clips. He played back each woman's eye and body movements x5 so it was easier to take notes. The movements were funny in themselves and made more so because the nearest male was completely out of sync, as if thinking, "What IS she doing?" No analysis, no statistics, just a lot of fun! Tinbergen would have loved it...

The Russians: a matriarch and a pair of students with interests in finger lengths and cultural heritage. They did thorough work both in Russia and in Africa and got a mix of results. An aside: There was a marvelous jazz trio at the banquet and the bass player was a Black lady who was a little taller than her imposing instrument. I sipped a Guinness and fantasized about Marina's using her tape measure to check knuckle lengths. And how would the performer, drunk or sober, react to Marina's odd requests and Russian accent?

ISHE ethological fact: beautiful women in the King of Prussia Mall swarm near Niemann Marcus but not Sears. Female graduate students at conferences do an adaptive when they hang with guys who can underwrite trips to Niemann Marcus. I remember Buss's squad at my first HBES in Davis, California. I would have known David to be alpha by the glamour of his escorts.

Within ISHE, Karl Grammer is on top for reasons that might also have influenced McGuire's lemurs but without Prozac! That is, Karl appears to have resources and seems affiliative. The beauty of the East Europeans, however, suggests that American science is in real trouble. One of Karl's students also mentioned that women have better complexions and show more skin when ovulating. If so, then the entire Czech group was ovulating and so was one of the Russians. The women, thank whatever gods may be, also appeared to enjoy being Darwinian products: for example, a fellow noticed an empty seat beside a redhead but two cups of tea in front of her.

"Is someone else sitting here?"

"No, they're both mine. I didn't want to run out."

Gotta track that kid through a mall...maybe Feierman will bring a camera...


Copyright, James Brody, 2006, all rights reserved.

Last edited by James Brody; August 14th, 2006 at 01:13 AM.
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Unread August 14th, 2006, 02:17 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: ISHE 2006: Intimations of Yoshiki Kuramoto

Ullica Segerstrale spoke about William Donald Hamilton. My impression already was that Hamilton, a rebel, a bit schizoid, and maybe a little bipolar, was nonetheless a genius who provided a theoretical foundation for social behavior, sex ratios, and even the evolutionary value of sex. She gave a fine talk, I will treasure her book once it appears in 2007 from Oxford University Press. And Ullica shocked my socks: she recognized my name and sometimes visits this forum!
Interesting article about Segerstrale and her views on the 25-Year-Old Battle Over Sociobiology in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the issue dated July 7, 2000, (I like Wilson’s comment, at the end of the piece, best, regarding the controversy: "I have not decided in my own mind whether the famous sociobiology controversy was an important event in intellectual history, or whether it was just an academic sideshow," he says. "I always thought of the criticisms as lightweight.")—

Why the 25-Year-Old Battle Over Sociobiology Is More Than Just 'an Academic Sideshow,' A scholar's book says the dispute stems from fundamental clashes over research principles, By LILA GUTERMAN, Chicago

Ullica Segerstrale is not immodest. Yet the sociologist believes she has gotten to the bottom of one of the most contentious scientific disputes of the last quarter-century: the battle over the evolutionary basis of human behavior.

No, she has not proved definitively that nature trumps nurture, or vice versa.

But after 25 years of listening carefully to the heated arguments, interviewing more than 80 of the players, and reading hundreds of articles and books, she has concluded that despite all the personal attacks, all the charges that the theories are politically and ideologically based, the sociobiology dispute is, first and foremost, about "genuine and deep scientific disagreement." Her account of the debate reveals how different approaches to research can often result in bitter disputes about scientific ideas.

Both sides -- the sociobiologists, led and personified by Harvard University's Edward O. Wilson, and their most vocal critics, Stephen Jay Gould and especially Richard C. Lewontin, also of Harvard -- wanted to see scientific methods prevail, Ms. Segerstrale argues in her new book, Defenders of the Truth: The Battle for Science in the Sociobiology Debate and Beyond (Oxford University Press). And the leaders of each side also felt they were working on science for the good of society -- one by spurring on a new field and the other by chipping away at it.

But the two held fundamentally opposed notions of what good science is. They disagreed not only about what a scientist must do to get at truth but also about how science could (or should) ultimately affect society. Today, although the intellectual climate is more receptive to the notion that genes influence behavior, neither side has backed down.

"The news is that this is a debate about science, very much," says Ms. Segerstrale, a native of Finland who teaches at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

That's news because from the beginning, the scientific disagreements have been clouded by political ones. Mr. Wilson was criticized not only by fellow scientists but by political groups. In his 1975 book, Sociobiology, he defined a new area of study dedicated to the biological basis of animal behavior, including that of humans. Everything from aggression to religious belief, he suggested, has been influenced by our evolution and now lies coded in our genes.

To many left-leaning intellectuals at the time, his ideas stank of genetic determinism and social Darwinism. If human nature had evolved through survival of the fittest, then a relationship between economic status and evolutionary fitness might be seen as an inevitable consequence. Quickly, a group of Boston-area academics wrote a letter to The New York Review of Books tying Mr. Wilson to determinist theories that had supported "the eugenics policies which led to the establishment of gas chambers in Nazi Germany."

Mr. Wilson defended himself by saying that his views had been distorted, but the controversy only grew. In 1978, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, protesters interrupted Mr. Wilson, just as he was about to begin a presentation, with chants of "Racist Wilson, you can't hide, we charge you with genocide!" and poured a pitcher of ice water over his head.

The political controversy "from the very beginning undermined serious scientific discussion about the real merits and shortcomings of sociobiology," writes Ms. Segerstrale. She herself, at the time a graduate student in sociology at Harvard, was inclined to write off sociobiology as "very dangerous." But then she spoke to Mr. Wilson. "I asked him some direct questions, if he believed the things they said he believed. And he said no," she recalls.

Over time, she learned more about how the opposing sides differed in their approach to science, she says. Although Mr. Gould and Mr. Lewontin, both Marxists, signed on to many of the political attacks on Mr. Wilson, they also believed that his scientific methods were fundamentally flawed. Still, they didn't make that argument until after they had raised their political concerns.

The dispute had to do with the use of models in research. Mr. Wilson, like many other evolutionary biologists -- including the University of Oxford's Richard Dawkins and William D. Hamilton, then at the University of Michigan -- used data collected by population biologists to build theoretical models of how evolution might have taken place. The models explained aspects of social behavior. Such modeling inherently requires assumptions and simplifications, such as the premise that evolutionary changes are prompted by organisms' adapting over time and becoming "fitter."

"Wilson thinks the proof is in the pudding," says Ms. Segerstrale. "You have models, you test them; if they pan out, you are onto truth."

But such methods violate Mr. Lewontin's conception of, in his terms, "good science." He has an "almost holy sense of what good science is," Ms. Segerstrale says. He and Mr. Gould see modeling as overly simplistic. They believe that postulating a gene for a type of behavior or oversimplifying an evolutionary process is "bad science." Good science requires studying molecular behavior directly, in the laboratory. Even models that work perfectly may not be accurate representations of reality, they point out.

Ms. Segerstrale calls that view unrealistic, saying, "Most of science depends on plausibility arguments. Science is an ongoing project." Scientists always have incomplete data, so they try to conjure up mechanisms that seem credible, and await further testing to prove or disprove their theories. Mr. Lewontin lacks that "visionary" approach, according to Mr. Wilson, who is quoted in the book as saying of his opponent that "He was always, even in the '60s, sitting in the safe domain, questioning and so on."

Differing conceptions of scientific practice butt up against one another in many controversies, Ms. Segerstrale says, but don't rear their heads otherwise.

For instance, in the early days of the controversy over genetically modified foods, molecular biologists were certain that if they understood a plant in the laboratory, they could predict what would happen in the environment. Ecologists insisted that the biologists should not assume that the plant would behave in the same way once planted in a field.

To take another example, in the cold-fusion debate, many physicists insisted that the reported results were impossible. But other scientists entertained the idea that perhaps B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, of the University of Utah, had discovered a new form of energy, or at least a new phenomenon, and went about trying to replicate their results. The conflict over cold fusion stemmed from "deep beliefs about what is good science and what is possible," Ms. Segerstrale says.

Such debates might be more quickly and rationally resolved if scientists were to "have a nice meta-discussion about what science is" before any specific controversies came up, says Ms. Segerstrale, but she doesn't see that happening anytime soon. "I think that scientists are almost impossible to steer in this direction."

The sociobiology controversy was especially contentious because it touched on sensitive topics about the nature of personhood and because the two sides differed so markedly on the role of science in society. Mr. Wilson and Mr. Lewontin both "had deep scientific ambitions and moral/political ambitions," she says. Underlying all of Mr. Wilson's books and most clearly stated in his 1998 book, Consilience, is a long-term humanistic goal: as Ms. Segerstrale puts it, "The salvation of mankind. And the saving of the earth." He believes that understanding human nature can help us use culture to circumvent problems -- such as violence -- that may be rooted in biological tendencies.

But he intended no immediate social use of his work. In that way, he differed from his critics, who were concerned by the short-term social consequences of scientific statements. When Mr. Wilson said that human behavior had a genetic basis, Mr. Lewontin and Mr. Gould feared that policymakers could take such a statement as a defense of social inequality or support for racist or sexist beliefs.

Mr. Gould, in fact, presented an alternative view of evolution that, were it applied to society, would have more-favorable implications. He said that some changes over time were random rather than adaptive, and that evolution worked by multiple mechanisms. "If you talk about evolution as being very pluralistic, you don't speak about anything that sounds like social Darwinism," says Ms. Segerstrale.

Professional ambition may even have encouraged Mr. Gould and others to promote the sociobiology controversy, she writes. Their political stance could have been "a deliberate maneuver to gain a later hearing for their fundamentally scientific argument."

Although she admits that she thinks Mr. Wilson behaved better than his critics, Ms. Segerstrale says she can't say which scientist was right. "I am not Wilsonian, and I am not Lewontinian," she says, but in her book she tries to present balanced scientific criticism of both sides. As for the moral ambitions of the opponents, she sees them both as "defensible."

Lawrence Busch, a professor of sociology at Michigan State University, praises her evenhanded treatment of the divisive controversy. "Usually, once you talk to one side, you've been branded as a partisan and it's impossible to talk to the other folks," he says.

Even scholars closer to the debate praise Ms. Segerstrale's book. Irven DeVore, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard, says it is "unlikely that there will be another review of this tumultuous period in evolutionary biology that is so thoughtful and comprehensive."

But she has yet to convince many of her readers of some of her interpretations. "My impression of Lewontin is that everything he does is political," says Mr. Dawkins, the Oxford biologist.

Stephen Cole, a sociologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, agrees. "In this area of science, politics and values play more of a role in various scientists' deciding what they think is true than [does] empirical evidence."

In the intervening years, however, the science has moved forward. "The idea of a biological foundation for human behavior has become more acceptable on both scientific and intellectual grounds," Ms. Segerstrale writes.

Sociobiology has spawned several journals and at least two scientific societies, as well as a new field, evolutionary psychology, which deals with universal features of the human mind. The study of animal behavior has become more complex, paying greater attention to nongenetic effects on behavior such as development, perhaps because of the early scientific criticisms of sociobiology. And various genes tied to behavior have been discovered, making Mr. Wilson's original ideas less hypothetical. The decoding of the human genome may reveal even more.

But Mr. Lewontin remains resolute in his criticism of the field. "It's just bad science," he says in an interview. "It remains the same kind of storytelling it always was." He says he has not read Ms. Segerstrale's book and has no immediate intention to do so: "I don't know what it'll tell me that I don't already know." Mr. Gould did not return The Chronicle's telephone calls.

Mr. Wilson has clearly not forgotten the debate either, saying he is "very happy that Ullica has finally brought out her book." He says he thinks that more than a thousand scientists now study sociobiology, but "there are no young people that I'm aware of -- I can't think of a single one -- that is continuing this criticism."

"I have not decided in my own mind whether the famous sociobiology controversy was an important event in intellectual history, or whether it was just an academic sideshow," he says. "I always thought of the criticisms as lightweight."

Ms. Segerstrale is not surprised that the leaders of the warring factions have not changed their minds in decades. Neither has she. "I've figured them out already," she says. "They are just continuing to behave in the same way. The more they behave, the more I am right."
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