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Robert Trivers

intermediates, then it’ll tend to push the two sexes further apart.

So to use a crude compelling example, men with breasts or women with masculine characteristics may be less well off than firmly belonging to one sex or another. So to that degree selection operates against the intermediates, and we have to imagine, whenever we see dimorphism in nature–and sexual dimorphism is just one example–that somewhere along the line selection was disrupted, acting against the middle, and in favor of two different positions, not extremes, but two different forms or morphs.

RMN: So, by disrupted you mean it’s moving away from the middle?

ROBERT: Yeah, I think so. The only other image of disrupted that I can think of is that if you have a normal distribution to begin with– a single uniform distribution– and you disrupt it, you’ll end up producing two distributions instead of one.

RMN: The term “disruptive” sounds a little pejorative.

ROBERT: Well, if you’ll pardon me, I wouldn’t attach too much significance to the term disruptive as in disruptive selection. I see your objection and did when you were asking your earlier question, but it’s just a term like normalizing selection and directional selection, just for describing a kind of selection. Now, getting back to the union of opposites–sure, in some cases, as in the sexes in producing offspring. But, I guess answering your question I realize that I came out of a world twenty years ago in which differences between the sexes or within species tended to be minimized and conflict tended to be minimized, and there was always some claim of a higher purpose, benefits for the group or the species, and insufficient attention was paid to conflict, even within relationships that have a cooperative goal. So regarding the sexes, yes, especially in species with male parental investment, especially in cases of monogamy, you can have a large overlap of self-interest between a male and a female, so they’re involved in a higher goal, a common goal of, let us say raising offspring together.

RMN: Which is what life is all about, right?

ROBERT: Eventually. But that still should not obscure the fact that they have conflicting self-interest, and that their self-interest may not be maximized in the same way.

DJB: James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis have proposed a theory, which they have termed the Gaia hypothesis, to explain how and why life forms on our planet work in such a cooperative fashion together to achieve the delicate chemical ratios in our oceans and atmospheres, which are maintained in such perfect balance that life is made possible and sustained. They claim that the whole earth seems to function much in the way a single organism operates. Do you have any thoughts on this, and how does the “selfish gene” theory that you subscribe to explain this extraordinary phenomenon? ROBERT: Well, I’m really not familiar with this area. From my bias, I’ve always imagined, in so far as I’ve thought about it at all, that the organisms are just busy concerning themselves with what’s good for each other, and the result is some kind of steady state that is beneficial, more broadly put. Some organisms consume oxygen, others generate oxygen. There’s going to be a balance struck between those two sets of organisms, some kind of density-dependent laws that come into effect.

I think that it would be a mistake to imagine that the organisms are attempting to set up something in the biosphere itself, or to create a biosphere, but I may be a little bit old-fashioned in that approach, and I know that geologists, and people that study the earth as a whole, do often imagine that it’s like an organism, and maybe it is. I just don’t know. Nothing in my line of work would suggest so, that I know of.

RMN: You refer a number of times in your book Social Evolution to the “apparent coincidences” of natural selection. When literally translated this term coincidence means simply the coordination of incidents. Would you venture further and postulate as to the directing force that is coordinating these incidents? Do you see any kind of teleology in nature or do you view all events as the product of mere chance? Does Natural Selection play dice with the universe, and is the only meaning to life in your view, really, more life?

ROBERT: I don’t see any teleology in nature. The teleology was beaten out of me in my training. It was an important aspect of paleontology, for example, to learn there were no trends, inevitable trends, of groups tending to always get larger, or always go in one direction or another.

RMN: What are your views on genetic

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