Monday, February 9, 2015

Biology as culture

Artist David Brooks has called biologists the true avant-garde of our time.

Wikipedia defines avant-garde as, "people or works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics," suggesting subtly that the duty of cultural creation belongs in the realm of the arts, not the sciences.

But sometimes it's not so clear.

The conflict has calmed in the past 20 years (perhaps leaving a ripe vacuum) but this 1996 article in the Wilson Quarterly explores the theme of biology's collision with the sacred cow of human nature as envisioned by western cultural mythology:

"Even while provoking vicious criticism, the new applications of Darwinian principles--whether called sociobiology, biosociology, or evolutionary psychology--have shed valuable, and appreciated, light on everything from violence to sexist practices. The debate, however, is far from over. The very notion of an underlying human nature flies in the face of contemporary postmodernist theories held dear by many intellectuals and artists."

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