05 May 2011

More on Marc Hauser

In September I wrote about Marc Hauser director of the Behavior Program at Harvard University, now on leave.

As I noted, Hauser acquired some renown for experiments on the cognition of primates, especially cotton-top tamerin. His experiments were thought to contribute to evolutionary psycholigy, i.e. to an understanding of the biological roots of our behavior as humans. His results, though, are now regarded as presumptively tainted, due to "evidence of scientific misconduct" in connection with some of his reported data.

So ... what is new? One of his controversial results has been rehabilitated -- has been, if you will, cleansed of that taint. This is big news, now just for those other primates but for human beings, and for the study of psychology as a natural science.

Justin N. Wood was the first named author, and Hauser the second, on the original paper, published in September 2007.

It found that certain non-human primates can distinguish intentional gestures by human beings from merely accidental or random movements.

This rather confirms my view, expressed last week, that the most humanly important fact taught to laypeople in general by scientific work on evolution is that we are path dependent beings. Who we are depends upon our history. For a discussion of the notion of path dependence in the social sciences go here.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.