Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Fido on Pinker on Race

I've been meaning to link to Fido the Yak, because the posts are consistently good, and if nothing else, I want to remember to go read them. The recent post on Pinker's "dangerous idea" makes for a nice linking opportunity. First of all, Fido gets Pinker exactly right. As I've said many times, Pinker has a nasty habit of speaking authoratatively about topics on which he is anything but an authority (like, say, gender differences in mathematical ability). And Fido also links to this very informative forum on race and genomics, titled "Is Race 'Real?'" Like Pinker, I'm not an expert in genomics, or anything remotely related to genetics, but unlike Pinker, I'm not going to comment on the issues discussed in the forum as though I am an expert. You should just go read the articles, which were written by people who are, in fact, experts. But the best part of the post is its discussion of "conventional wisdom" vs. "common sense." Fido writes:
[W]hat's this business about going against conventional wisdom in favor of common sense [in Pinker's comments on the biology of race]? Is that particularly scientific, or even reasonable? Common sense tells us that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. Conventional wisdom among astronomers, at least since Copernicus, is that the earth orbits the sun while rotating on its axis once every twenty-four hours or so (a period astronomers call "mean solar time"--go figure). The common sense view of sunrises and sunsets is not invalidated by conventional astronomical wisdom, although with advances in technology, we see that it in some regards common sense, like conventional wisdom, is open to revision. The common sense view is rooted in the experiential world, encompassing certain facts of perception like the way we inhabit perspectives, the way we pattern our everyday activities in accordance with environmental, cultural and physiological regularities, and also some hard physical realities like being relatively puny bipeds dwelling on the surface of a planet that stretches farther than the eye can see.
And ends the post with:
The antithesis to "convential wisdom," I've decided, is not common sense at all, but "invidious stupidity." Whatever problem you're having with conventional wisdom, invidious stupidity is not likely to solve it. That's just common sense.
That's just good stuff. And it means I can finally get my link to Fido in.

9 comments:

Fido the Yak said...

Thanks for the kind words. And the recognition--but it does scare me a little. Your readers should know that all intellectual pretensions to the contrary, Fido is neither a scientist nor a scholar, and has absolutely zero academic credentials to talk about philosophy, the field he is most likely to ramble into.

My take on Pinker *has* been influenced by a discussion you began on scientists speaking authoritatively about topics outside their primary areas of expertise. I've been mulling over the interface between specialized and popular discourses, but it's not something I could theorize or even conceptualize very firmly.

Anonymous said...

You know, there is a bit of an echo chamber effect going on. thanks for the heads up, fido.

Lars said...

The validity of the concept of race is typically obscured by semantics, but for anyone interested in what biology has to say, the criteria used to conceptualize and distinguish subspecies (races or breeds) within the animal kingdom unambiguously classify the human species into a minimum of five races.

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