What I learned from interacting with Edser


Jim Menegay

Having written the title, I was sorely tempted to leave the body blank. But that would be both
uncharitable and untrue. I have learned several things, some directly from John, some by observing
other posters' interactions with John, more from thinking and study provoked by John. I have learned
things about communication, about fitness, and about the uses of epistemology.

Things I learned about communication:

1. Never attribute to malice what is adequately explained by stupidity.
2. Never attribute to stupidity what is adequately explained by ignorance.
3. Never attribute to ignorance what is adequately explained by miscommunication.
4. Don't expect that miscommunication can be cured by clarity unless rules #1-3 have been
scrupulously followed by all parties.

Things I learned about fitness and Hamilton:

5. The word "fitness" has a lot of meanings and has been defined by a lot of different formulas.
6. Hamilton wrote a lot of papers, some of which used words differently than others.
7. An "altruistic gene" will prosper only if the average carrier of the gene has higher average
fitness (under any definition of fitness) than a non-carrier.
8. But an "altruistic gene" can be described as altruistic only if the average carrier of the gene
has lower average fitness (under any definition of fitness) than a non-carrier.
9. There is no contradiction in believing that an altruistic gene will prosper, even if you accept
#3 and #4. (Hint - the key is a change in the meaning of "average" (i.e. taking an average over
what group?) between
#3 and #4. You work it out.)
10. If I inherit an altruistic gene, my fitness may be higher than the population average, but if
I acquire the same gene by mutation, my fitness may be lower than the population average. (You
work it out.) Thus, any claim that the gene itself "causes" an increase or decrease in fitness
gets you into quasi-philosophical discussions regarding causation, correlation, conditional
expectations, etc. Mastering these issues is essential to understanding what is going on in
the world.

Things I learned about using epistemology:

11. Use it on your own thinking - never attempt to impose it on others.
12. The reason for this rule is that most people are ignorant of academic epistemology - but that
doesn't mean that they are stupid on the subject of good evidence. People can mend their
epistemological ways without learning anything about Popper. Just point out their error - it
isn't necessary to teach them the proper name of their error.

So, thanks John, for helping me to learn these things. Your viewpoints on a lot of topics are
different than most of the poster's here. I think that I have now come to understand why they are
different, so there is no longer the attraction of mystery to draw me into interrogating you. Thank
you for your unfailing honesty and politeness. It has been real. Good luck with your "Happy
Selectons" book.