Monday, June 26, 2006

Are scientists immature?

Neoteny is described as the retention, in the adults of a species, of juvenile physical characteristics well into maturity. Some psychologists believe there is selective pressure to keep a "plastic" child-like brain in humans to adapt to the fast evolving modern world. "People such as academics, teachers, scientists and many other professionals are often strikingly immature outside of their strictly specialist competence in the sense of being unpredictable, unbalanced in priorities, and tending to overreact.”


Bayman said...

Interesting...I would suggest that the root of all this immaturity is actually driven by growing up in the absence of any real immediate selective pressures. Western societies are now so affluent that the surivial of young people into reproductive age is pretty much a given, basic needs are guaranteed to be met. No matter what course of action young adults now choose (student, bum or blue-collar worker), the high wealth of our society will easily support one's basic needs (food, shelter etc. - through salaries,stipends, student loans their garbage or just plain old charity). Thus we have the luxury of short attention spans, self-indulgent behaviour, philosophization, freedom from responsibility, a shallow popular culture and often an ignorance of our own histories. For previous generations, less wealthy contemporary societies, and a lot of animal species, I would argue that a need to struggle for basic survival against harsher environments drives "responsible" behaviour. You do what the boss tells you to because you need a paycheck just to put food on the table. A lion starves for days, hunting to bring food back to the cubs, because if it doesn't, the germline's finished (Emperor penguin would have been an even better example..). People interact with others in their communities and learn the lessons of their histories in order to gain any suvival advantage in the harsh circumstances under which they find themselves. You don't overindulge in trivialities because spending your time/money on these things could lead your death. Collaboration in a common struggle against the elements replaces indulgent introspection.

Actaully the immaturity may help to balance the relative successes of populations. One society may become extremely rich at the expense of others, but eventually balance could be restored as, in the absence of harsh selective circumstances, its people lose the very attributes and common culture that made them affluent in the first place.

Bayman said...

Not to knock science...I think you can be responsible AND mentally plastic at the same time. The two need not be mutually exclusive.