2: The Tree of Knowledge
Joseph Ching
12

The author talks about shared myths/ fictions in this chapter. If you are not careful, you might think he is attacking religion or culture or things like human rights. But he’s just trying to separate out what is truly naturalistic and base human biology, and what emerges more broadly from a societal aspect. He is not being dismissive at all. But instead, he is able to demarcate pure naturalism away from higher human philosophies and social constructs.

You could say he is separating biology and sociology. And he argues that the cognitive revolution in biology gives rise to the possibility of more advanced sociologies.

It’s a good useful working framework to argue his points. But at the same time, I think we should be careful and not ignore many fields of modern research which connect biology with social behaviors. For example, human baby brains are very neuroplastic. Their social surroundings (immediate caregivers, etc.) will have a high impact on how their brain develops in the early crucial years, impacting how their brain biology develops, which in turn affects their social development. You could say a “loving family that cares for a baby” is a social fiction and that a “irresponsible parent that doesn’t give any attention” is also another equivalent social fiction. But these two types of fictions lead to two very biological outcomes. The author’s framework would not provide any value judgement on either fiction. But what’s missing is that we can’t easily separate out “social fictions” from biology, especially in light of brain plasticity and just the fact that the human brain is still an active area of biology research. Practically speaking, social fictions are still highly intertwined with our DNA, and the author at least slightly acknowledges it. I give him a pass because he is probably trying to be a bit provocative in this chapter to get his point across about “shared myths”. Indeed it’s a very strong point.

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