File Size: 2115 KB
Print Length: 401 pages
Publisher: Monthly Review Press (November 1, 2007)
Publication Date: November 1, 2007
The present book on dialectical essays on ecology, agriculture and health has been prolonged to clarify that dialectics is different from systems theory in that the former looks at the total process including social aspects in complex systems while the latter attempts to deal with complexity, nonlinearity, and change through superior mathematical and computational techniques. For instance, a systems analysis of the rules of blood sugar levels may include the interactions among sugars itself, insulin, adrenaline, cortisol, and other molecules but is not likely to include anxiety as a factor. A larger system including anxiety and interpersonal factors affecting it can reverse the expected effects of a pathway studied in the usual systems method. The book, divided into three parts, attempts, in general, to apply the insights of dialectical materialism that emphasizes the wholeness, connectedness, historical contingency, the interaction of the levels of research and the active nature of things as snapshots to processes. Interesting matters cover a large range from Human Genome Project to psychological issues in Cuban agriculture. It is a major effort to impact the open public understanding of science and nature and is therefore worth reading by experts and laymen alike.
I strongly recommend the book for reading and study by one and all.
E-mail: narainprem@hotmail. com, Too clever and difficult to follow..., Apologists for capitalism love those scientists who claim that the inequalities, competition and conflict natural in the capitalist system are the inevitable outcome of "human nature" along with biologically determined inequalities between people.
Those apologists will not like this book. One of the primary achievements of Lewontin and Levins is to destroy scientifically the foundations of theories such as sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, which claim that everything about human conduct and society can be explained by our genetics.
The authors are not new to this battle. Over 20 years back Lewontin co-authored "Not inside our Genes" with Steven Rose and Leon Kamin, and he is also the author of the excellent "The Doctrine of DNA". The late Stephen Jay Gould was also part of the small community of radical scientists fighting against the currently dominant tendency of genetic determinism. But Lewontin and Levins are even more radical than Gould in that they are explicitly Marxists.
The other main purpose of Lewontin and Levins is to show that a dialectical approach can and must be applied to science as a whole. Some Marxists are doubtful about the performance of dialectics, particularly when applied to the natural savoir. This book ought to convince those doubters. The authors demonstrate necessity of applying a dialectical materialist method in science if we want to gain a full knowledge of the world. They argue for "a dialectical emphasis on wholeness, connection and framework, change, historicity, contradiction, anomaly, asymmetry, and the multiplicity of levels of trends, as a refreshing counterweight to the prevailing reductionism".
This dialectical approach is reflected in the essays in this book, which cover a wide range of topics, including the relationship between disease and capitalism; the ecological danger posed by capitalism; the complex intermeshing of the biological and the interpersonal; the relationship between the natural and social savoir; the interaction between the organism and its environment; the falseness of the view outside the window of the brain as your computer; and the uses and misuses of data.
For Lewontin and Levins, science under capitalism has a dual nature. On the one hand they have added to our understanding of the world. But on the other hand, "as a product of human activity, science reflects the conditions of its production and the viewpoints of its producers and owners. "
Two words of caution. Firstly, a few - but not many - of the 31 essays in the book are rather heavy going for non-specialists. Secondly, the creators are too uncritical of what they describe as "Cuban socialism", but which I would describe as state capitalism. But overall this is an excellent publication from two Marxist experts who assume that the purpose of science should be "the creation of a just modern society compatible with a abundant and diverse nature".
Phil cannella Webster.
(England), this is an accumulation of essays by two of America's leading biologists. It is generally written for the general public, however some of the essays are a little more technical. Overall, Lewontin and Levins achieve providing a comprehensive picture of some of the leading debates in the field, notably, the relevance of molecular the field of biology and evolutionary thought for issues such as education and learning and other aspects of social policy. Strongly suggested., Any kind of one interested in science or who teaches science should get this book. It's a wonderful collection of essays on genetics, evolution and natural science seen through the lens of Marxist dialectics and materialism. Every article has an original point of view and whether you agree with everything the authors say or not, each essay will make you think deeper about science and its role in society today., I really like the work by Levins and Lewontin. They will are great thinkers. The make exellent reflections about the history of natural sciences (especially biology). But I believe that the essays on this book do not represet the full capacity of the authors. Within part this may be the result of a misunderstanding of the role of social savoir in the explication of social phenomena. They use mostly Marx, and very lightly. I do not want to imply that marxism is not a good way to aproach interpersonal events but I believe that it is innapropiate considering the incredible number of theories (modern and posmodern) that social scientis have produced. Mabye this is in part to allow for some causalism (wich is one of the things they criticize). The book still has great paragraphs and explanations but those passages are certainly not trying to do a pseudo-marxist model of the "role"of sciencie in society. I believe that to complement Levins and Lewontin one should also read Latour, Hacking, Foucault, Keller (feminist biologist) and Gould (paleontologist).
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