Evolutionary biology is treated unlike any science by both academics and the general public. For the average person, evolution is equivalent to natural selection, and because the concept of selection is easy to grasp, a reasonable understanding of comparative biology is often taken to be a license for evolutionary speculation. It has long been known that natural selection is just one of several mechanisms of evolutionary change, but the myth that all of evolution can be explained by adaptation continues to be perpetuated by our continued homage to Darwin’s treatise in the popular literature. For example, Dawkins’ agenda to spread the word on the awesome power of natural selection has been quite successful, but it has come at the expense of reference to any other mechanisms, a view that is in some ways profoundly misleading. There is, of course, a substantial difference between the popular literature and the knowledge base that has grown from a century of evolutionary research, but this distinction is often missed by nonevolutionary biologists.
Michael Lynch in The frailty of adaptive hypotheses for the origins of organismal complexity. Published in PNAS (2007).
This is a very good paper, however my favorite part is in the conclusion,
This tone of dissent is not meant to be disrespectful.
The connectivity of the amygdala with the neocortex is not symmetrical. The amygdala projects back to the neocortex in a much stronger sense than the neocortex projects to the amygdala. … The implication is that the ability of the amygdala to control the cortex is greater than the ability of the cortex to control the amygdala. And this may explain why it’s so hard for us to will away anxiety; emotions, once they’re set into play, are very difficult to turn off. Hormones and other long-acting substances are released in the body during emotions. These return to the brain and tend to lock you into the state you’re in at the time. Once you’re in that state it’s very difficult for the cortex to find a way of working its way down to the amygdala and shutting it off.
In principle, we can know all of mathematics. It is given to us in its entirety and does not change. … That part of it of which we have a perfect view seems beautiful, suggesting harmony; that is that all the parts fit together although we see fragments of them only. … Mathematics is applied to the real world and has proved fruitful. This suggests that the mathematical parts and the empirical parts are in harmony and the real world is also beautiful.
The greatest pleasure in science comes from theories that derive the solution to some deep puzzle from a small set of simple principles in a surprising way.
My mitochondria comprise a very large proportion of me. I cannot do the calculation, but I suppose there is almost as much of them in sheer dry bulk as there is the rest of me. Looked at in this way, I could be taken for a very large, motile colony of respiring bacteria, operating a complex system of nuclei, microtubules, and neurons for the pleasure and sustenance of their families, and running, at the moment, a typewriter.
When I look up at the night sky, and I know that, yes, we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up—many people feel small, because they’re small and the Universe is big, but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars.
But the reason I call myself by my childhood name is to remind myself that a scientist must also be absolutely like a child. If he sees a thing, he must say that he sees it, whether it was what he thought he was going to see or not. See first, think later, then test. But always see first. Otherwise you will only see what you were expecting.
Mathematics is the music of reason. To do mathematics is to engage in an act of discovery and conjecture, intuition and inspiration; to be in a state of confusion—not because it makes no sense to you, but because you gave it sense and you still don’t understand what your creation is up to; to have a break-through idea; to be frustrated as an artist; to be awed and overwhelmed by an almost painful beauty; to be alive, damn it.
Right away, everyone wants to know what’s to be cut. Whatever you all settle on cutting, it should not be science. Investment in science is investment in innovation. New ideas are what keep the U.S. economy driving forward.
The distinction between diseases of “brain” and “mind,” between “neurological” problems and “psychological” or “psychiatric” ones, is an unfortunate cultural inheritance that permeates society and medicine. It reflects a basic ignorance of the relation between brain and mind. Diseases of the brain are seen as tragedies visited on people who cannot be blamed for their condition, while diseases of the mind, especially those that affect conduct and emotion, are seen as social inconveniences for which sufferers have much to answer. Individuals are to be blamed for their character flaws, defective emotional modulation, and so on; lack of willpower is supposed to be the primary problem.