Evolution and Moral Ecology Seminar at UNSW

17 04 2012

Picture this: a philosopher giving a seminar on evolution and moral ecology to a bunch of evolutionary biologists and ecologists. It’s bonkers. But I’m going to give it a shot. I mean, what could go wrong?

Actually, I’m hoping the audience will teach me a thing or two. I’m going to use the opportunity to hurl at them the most ribald version of my moral ecology thesis and see if the analogy sticks.

And I’m going to flop out the full length of my evolutionary story for how our highly polymorphic psychology came to be as it is and see if anyone chops it off.

I’m not sure on the attendance rules, but it’s at the Evolution and Ecology Research Centre at the University of New South Wales at 3pm in the Biomed C theatre on Friday 27th April. Do come!

Here’s the abstract:

In this talk I introduce the notion of ‘moral ecology.’ This is the thesis that there is no one way to promote optimal levels of prosocial and cooperative behaviour in a population. Instead, certain behavioural strategies will be more or less successful depending on the environment in which they’re situated. The environment includes both the physical environment, such as resources and climate, and the social environment, which includes the behavioural strategies employed by other members of the group. What emerges is a pluralism of strategies that are able to sustain high levels of prosocial and cooperative behaviour in their particular environment, forming a meta-stable equilibrium. I suggest that human social and moral psychology evolved in light of this phenomenon and, as such, we evolved a polymorphism of psychological types that promote a pluralism of behavioural strategies while retaining sufficient plasticity to adapt to changing environments. This polymorphism is maintained primarily through negative frequency-dependent selection. I argue that moral ecology can help explain the existence of human psychological diversity, and the existence of moral diversity in the world.


Synthesis in Provence

4 04 2011

Sacrebleu! I’ve had an abstract on interdisciplinarity and Synthesis accepted for the International Journal of Arts & Sciences conference in Aix-en-Provence in southern France.

It goes a little something like this:

Most would agree that interdisciplinary research (IDR) is oft lauded but relatively little employed in contemporary academia. While the benefits of IDR are widely recognised – such as it yielding new questions, approaches and insights by combining the findings and methodologies of multiple specialist disciplines – there are considerable barriers to effective IDR. These include inherent difficulties in communication between specialist disciplines, challenges securing funding, a lack of journals dedicated to non-specialist research and cultural clashes and power struggles between individuals and departments within institutions and between disciplines. These challenges are compounded by the lack of an overarching framework guiding how IDR is conducted. In this paper, I propose the formation of just such a framework. Where traditional IDR is conducted in a bi-lateral manner, this new framework represents a multi-lateral approach, analogous to a United Nations of IDR. Under this framework, IDR would be driven by specially trained specialist-generalists who are able to communicate and translate between individuals from multiple disciplines, raise new questions to be investigated, bring individuals from disparate disciplines together, help secure funding, and facilitate IDR, outputting it to both specialist journals as well as new journals dedicated to IDR. Such an approach could encourage greater IDR, thus liberating many insights locked away within specialist disciplines to be shared more broadly.

It was a somewhat off-the-cuff initiative, sending an abstract in. But I’ll be in Latvia early May, Turkey for a week after that, goodness knows where for a week after that (attempting to complete a production deadline on Australian Life Scientist remotely), and then this is just after. Figured I’d pop in.

It’s a part of my ongoing sub-obsession with interdisciplinarity and my mad dog idea of how to improve it called Synthesis.

In fact, I had a very motivating meeting with some other interested individuals, including John Wilkins from Evolving Thoughts, on how to make the idea of a massively-interdisciplinary meta-discipline work. I’ll be posting something soon on what was discussed at that meet, and where we’re going next.

So, if you’re in France in the first week of June, do drop in to the conference. I’ll be the chap with the beard and antipodean accent rambling on about having all disciplines hold hands around a tree and cry together, then go get a grant.


Chaos, Levels of Explanation and Interdisciplinarity

27 03 2011

I’ve been thinking a lot about interdisciplinary research (IDR) of late. (One day I’ll spend a lot of time thinking about finishing my thesis, but hey.)

It seems that one of the most fundamental questions to ask is: why do we have separate disciplines at all?

Seems obvious, but often the unanswered obvious questions are the most interesting. Delving into them can reveal something illuminating about our assumptions about how things are, and even reveal some false intuitions.

The simple answer might be that there’s no one discipline that can tackle every question we might want to ask. Okay, why?

Well, probably because such a discipline would be unmanageably complex. Far easier to carve up nature – and the questions we want to ask about her – into bite size pieces.

But why carve it where we do?

Read the rest of this entry »