Robert Ardrey: Incidents in the Disappearance of an Unperson

Who was Robert Ardrey?  He was the most important, eloquent, and influential opponent of what is now referred to as the Blank Slate orthodoxy.  You don’t have to take my word for it.  The fact is documented in the major newspapers and magazines of the 60’s and 70’s, the period in which Ardrey published his four major books on the subject.  It is also documented in the testimony of his Blank Slate opponents themselves.  For example, from an essay by Geoffrey Gorer, a patron of George Orwell and a widely read psychologist of the time, entitled “Ardrey on Human Nature,”

Almost without question, Robert Ardrey is today the most influential writer in English dealing with the innate or instinctive attributes of human nature, and the most skilled populariser of the findings of paleo-anthropologists, ethologists, and biological experimenters… He is a skilled writer, with a lively command of English prose, a pretty turn of wit, and a dramatist’s skill in exposition; he is also a good reporter, with the reporter’s eye for the significant detail, the striking visual impression. He has taken a look at nearly all the current work in Africa of paleo-anthropologists and ethologists; time and again, a couple of his paragraphs can make vivid a site, such as the Olduvai Gorge, which has been merely a name in a hundred articles.

…he does not distort his authorities beyond what is inevitable in any selection and condensation… even those familiar with most of the literature are likely to find descriptions of research they had hitherto ignored, particularly in The Territorial Imperative, with its bibliography of 245 items.

The above was published in a historically invaluable little collection of essays by prominent Blank Slaters entitled Man and Aggression, edited by Ashley Montagu, and published in 1968.  It was aimed primarily at Ardrey, with Nobel laureate Konrad Lorenz thrown in for good measure, and novelist William Golding added for comic relief.

For those unfamiliar with what’s been going on in the biological and behavioral sciences during the last hundred years or so, the Blank Slaters believed that there was no such thing as human nature, or, if it existed, its effect on our behavior was insignificant.  For example, from Montagu in Man and Aggression,

Mr. Ardrey deplores the rejection of “instinct” in man, and actually goes so far as to suggest that “a party line” has appeared in American science designed to perpetuate the “falsehood” that instincts do not exist in man.  Mr. Ardrey needs the concept of “open instincts,” of innate factors, to support his theorizing.  But that requirement constitutes the fatal flaw in his theory, the rift in the playwright’s lute, for man is man because he has no instincts, because everything he is and has become he has learned, acquired, from his culture, from the man-made part of the environment, from other human beings.

In other words, the Blank Slaters were what might be referred to as “cultural determinists.” They believed that human behavior was exclusively, or almost exclusively, learned, and determined by culture and experience.  Ardrey referred to this as the “romantic fallacy,” and his analysis of it and of the reasons for its existence is unsurpassed to this day.  In fact, in spite of Montagu’s blustering denial, the Blank Slate did represent a prevailing orthodoxy, or “party line.”  The Blank Slaters managed to enforce this “party line,” so absurd that, as Orwell might have put it, it could only be believed by children and intellectuals, over a period of many decades, in psychology, sociology, anthropology, and the rest of the behavioral sciences in the United States, and in large measure in Europe and the rest of the world as well.  Few of them were as polite as Gorer.  For the most part, their methods consisted of the same combination of vilification and lies used against the great anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon, and documented in Alice Dreger’s outstanding essay, “Darkness’s Descent on the American Anthropological Association.”

Such an impudent and obvious perversion of science couldn’t last forever.  Ardrey exposed the hoax in a brilliant and widely read series of four books that appeared in the 60’s and 70’s.  In the process, he touched on many topics which have become commonplaces in evolutionary psychology today, such as ingroup/outgroup behavior, which he referred to as the Amity/Enmity complex, altruism, the biological roots of morality, etc.  In all of his work, his major theme was that there is such a thing as human nature, and it is important.

One would think that Ardrey has been triumphantly vindicated in our own day.  The Blank Slate orthodoxy he fought so long has collapsed, and many of his ideas and theories have become familiar and widely accepted, not only in the scientific literature, but in the popular media as well.  If so, however, one would think wrong.  As Orwell wrote, “Those who control the present control the past.”  As it happens, the true historical role of Ardrey is a source of some discomfort to the scientists, academics, and public intellectuals who control the message today.  You see, he wasn’t one of their tribe.  Indeed, he was a “mere playwright.”  He may have been right, but he committed the sin of daring to think outside of their ingroup, and to shame that ingroup with the simple truth that there is such a thing as human nature at a time when most of its inmates were dead wrong on that score.  His whole career was a blatant insult to their amour-propre.  He had to be suppressed.  He became an unperson.  He was dropped down the memory hole.

The way in which history has been rewritten is sufficiently absurd, and has been the subject of some of Fate’s more amusing and ironic practical jokes.  To make a very long story short, E. O. Wilson was anointed the new “Father of Evolutionary Psychology,” for writing the same things as Ardrey more than a decade later.  A whole mythology has been invented about the various and sundry “novel theories” set forth in Wilson’s Sociobiology and On Human Nature.  In reality, the only reason both books were so widely read and achieved such notoriety was their insistence that innate behavior existed, and it applied to humans as well as other animals, themes long familiar in the work of Ardrey.  A whole decade has been erased, and today one commonly finds ludicrous assertions about the “first stirrings” of the new science of evolutionary psychology happening in the mid-1970’s.

As it happens, to the extent that any justification is ever given for the dismissal of Ardrey at all, it is often based on his embrace of group selection.  Indeed, he was impressed by the theories of group selectionist V. C. Wynne-Edwards, whose books were popular at the time, but the idea that group selection was somehow essential to the major theme of innate human nature which was central to all his work is absurd.  Nothing daunted, public intellectual Steven Pinker used the group selection red herring to dismiss the entire corpus of Ardrey’s work as “totally and utterly wrong” in the revised version of history presented in his The Blank Slate.  As I mentioned above, Fate occasionally plays some uncommonly funny practical jokes on the revisers of history.  In a perverse show of disdain for the “historical” role of “Father of Evolutionary Psychology” assigned to him by the modern puppet masters, the gallant old man has just defiantly embraced (you guessed it) group selection!  So far I haven’t been able to determine whether Wilson’s faux pas will be allowed to pass in the name of keeping up appearances.  If not, then perhaps we will see him, too, disappear down the memory hole, along with the crowning of some new and improved “Father of Evolutionary Psychology.”

Well, that should be enough to bring those who have missed some of the earlier episodes of this continuing drama up to speed.  With that, let me finally return to the incidents that are the theme of this post.  In fact, they are just a couple of data points for those who happen to take an interest in the arcane details of post-Communist techniques of transforming important historical personalities into unpersons.  Perhaps they will bring a smile to the shade of Trotsky, wherever he may be.

The first turned up in a recent interview of that courageous and recently vindicated anthropologist, Napoleon Chagnon, by Carol Iannone, that appeared in Academic Questions, the journal of the National Association of Scholars.  In a discussion of the now-familiar attacks on his work by the Blank Slaters he remarks,

By 1974 I was attempting to shed additional light on Yanomamö social and political behavior by using Sewall Wright’s widely known coefficients of relatedness and inbreeding.  As I read more work in what was emerging as “evolutionary biology,” I realized that I was trying to do what William D. Hamilton had done in a much more sophisticated way in 1962 in his two classic papers on inclusive fitness, now more widely known as “kin selection” theory.  In 1975, E. O. Wilson published his widely acclaimed book, Sociobiology, and touched off a wave of public reactions from individual academics in the social sciences, including the cynical reaction of one of my former professors, Marshall Sahlins, in a book he hastily rushed to press entitled The Use and Abuse of Biology (1976).  The distinguished English theoretical biologist, Richard Dawkins, immortalized a central argument in Sahlins book by naming it “the Sahlins Fallacy”:  that kin selection could not possibly apply to humans because most languages do not have words for the fractions needed to calculate relatedness.  That’s like saying that rocks cannot fall according to the laws of gravity because rocks cannot calculate their mass.

I – and other social scientists and anthropologists – publically defended E. O. Wilson and the academic freedom to extend the arguments of W. D. Hamilton, G. C. Williams, and other theoretical biologists in explanations of some human social behavior regardless of how antagonistic cultural anthropologists such as Sahlins were to these ideas.  And of course, this made me very unpopular among those cultural anthropologists who yet subscribe to the view that all human behavior is learned and “cultural” and none of it is the consequence of our evolutionary past.  In short, there is no such thing as “human nature” – there is just a “cultural nature.”

Here, Chagnon has embraced what I sometimes refer to as the “Big Bang Theory of Evolutionary Psychology,” the notion that, “in the beginning, the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.  And the E. O. Wilson said, ‘Let there be evolutionary psychology,’ and there was evolutionary psychology.”  It is one of the central bits of scaffolding propping up the revised history of the field.  Of course, the contention that, “In 1975, E. O. Wilson published his widely acclaimed book, Sociobiology, and touched off a wave of public reactions from individual academics in the social sciences,” is absurd.  Just buy yourself a copy of Man and Aggression for a penny, or whatever the current rate is at Amazon, and you’ll find it documented that this “wave of public reactions from individual academics in the social sciences” had already been “touched off,” at least as early as 1968, and by none other than Robert Ardrey.

I deeply admire the courage and perseverance of Chagnon, not to mention E. O. Wilson’s brilliance and defiance of academic fashion.  However, here the former is simply parroting the contrived “history” of the Blank Slate approved by his tribe.  I won’t speculate on whether he has simply never read the work of Ardrey, and, isolated among the Yanomamö, wasn’t aware of the very active controversy about human nature during the period from the publication of Ardrey’s African Genesis; A Personal Investigation into the Animal Origins and Nature of Man in 1961 to the supposed “invention” of the idea that there is such a thing as human nature by Wilson in 1975, or whether he is simply suffering from some variant of Orwellian doublethink. In any event, his comment demonstrates the extent to which the Wilson fantasy has been transmogrified into “historical fact.”  I simply set it forth as the first of my two data points touching on the disappearance of Robert Ardrey.

If, to paraphrase Marx, we can look on the first of my two anecdotes as tragedy, the second is better characterized as farce.  It turns up in an interview entitled Richard Dawkins: By the Book, that recently appeared in the New York Times.  In this ramble through Dawkins’ favorite authors, he replies to the question, “Who are your favorite contemporary writers and thinkers?” as follows:

I’ve already mentioned Dan Dennett.  I’ll add Steven Pinker, A. C. Grayling, Daniel Kahneman, Jared Diamond, Matt Ridley, Lawrence Krauss, Martin Rees, Jerry Coyne – indeed quite a few of the luminaries that grace the Edge online salon conducted by John Brockman (the Man with the Golden Address Book).  All share the same honest commitment to real-world truth, and the belief that discovering it is the business of scientists – and philosophers who take the trouble to learn science.  Many of these “Third Culture” thinkers write very well.  (Why is the Nobel Prize in Literature almost always given to a novelist, never a scientist?  Why should we prefer our literature to be about things that didn’t happen?  Wouldn’t, say, Steven Pinker be a good candidate for the literature prize?)

Yes, that would be rich indeed!  A Nobel Prize to reward a man who somehow managed to write a whole book about the Blank Slate that devoted only a single paragraph to the man the Blank Slaters themselves admitted was their most important and influential opponent, and then only to dismiss him, quoting another author, as “totally and utterly wrong.”  But wait, there’s more!  Do you know who Pinker used as his authority for the assertion that Ardrey was “totally and utterly wrong?”  You guessed it, dear reader!  It was none other than Richard Dawkins!

There’s nothing to be surprised about in all this.  The revision of history is proceeding as planned.

Robert Ardrey
Robert Ardrey

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

20 thoughts on “Robert Ardrey: Incidents in the Disappearance of an Unperson”

  1. I read an Ardrey book about 30 years (The Territorial Imperative, I believe). It was quite good.

    My assumption is that scientific theories based on math get more respect in the long run than ones based on words. William D. Hamilton’s 1964 papers on the arithmetic of kin selection and similar breakthroughs were taken up by two publicists of genius, Edward O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins in readable books in the 1970s.

  2. There are few things if any more important for us to understand than why we behave and think the way we do. Progress towards that understanding was derailed for a period of decades by the episode of the Blank Slate. Ardrey was, by far, the most important player in the whole affair. He gave a brilliant explanation for the reasons behind the Blank Slate orthodoxy years before anyone else had a clue about what was going on. Unless you understand his role, your grasp of the history of the affair is bound to be incomplete. However, Pinker’s portrayal of that history is not just incomplete. In fact, in ignoring Ardrey’s role other than to say he was “totally and utterly wrong,” quoting Dawkins as his authority, he falsified history. I doubt that it was intentional. It was probably merely reckless. It certainly soothed the injured amour propre of Pinker’s academic tribe. However, in my opinion the history is too important to be left uncorrected.

    As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Hamilton was indeed a brilliant mathematician, and another brilliant mathematician, George Price, demonstrated to him that group selection, if not common, was at least possible. E. O. Wilson, who was anointed the “father of evolutionary psychology” for writing the same things as Ardrey 15 years later, recently embraced group selection in his latest book. Dawkins claimed that Ardrey was “totally and utterly wrong” because, while it was hardly a central theme of his work, he had good things to say about group selection. It has to be one of the more amusing ironies in the history of science.

  3. Thanks for the article,

    Ardreys work really helped translate a lot of the questions about almost everything important I needed to know.

    This article links up the “unpersoning” I couldn’t understand how his name wasn’t as common as Darwin’s or some other pioneer of knowledge and understanding who’s work is one epiphany after another or at least reaches out and puts word to thought.

    For a single persons impression, I have learned the most from Ardrey. His books are like field, practical exercises and assignments for psychology, zoology, anthropology. If another species wanted to know how man ticks and what to expect on earth I would refer him to Robert Ardrey’s books first up.

  4. Finding someone who has the experience of life to accept the reality of much of what Ardrey said is such a tremendous relief.
    That much of what Ardrey says strikes one as the blinding obvious, yet is denied by even the so called leaders in the fields of evolutionary theory, leaves a sense of either being on the cusp of understanding or so far out on a limb as to worry about the strength of the branch.
    Thank you so much for your strident if frustrated sharing of your insights and supporting Ardrey.

  5. I’d say “strident and frustrating” is a pretty good description of my defense of Ardrey. I find the spectacle of one who was the most effective and influential opponent of the Blank Slate in its heyday, and who was right about human nature when all the “men of science” were wrong, being treated as an unperson very frustrating. Today we see the Territorial Imperative, the Hunting Hypothesis and many of the other ideas for which he was denounced as a racist and a fascist in his own day treated as if they were commonplaces that no one had ever doubted, without attribution or mention of Ardrey’s role in promoting those ideas. Those who denounced him are celebrated as if they were the heroes. Ironically, even group selection, the very hypothesis Pinker used to rationalize his absurd and cynical dismissal of Ardrey in a book that was supposed to be about the Blank Slate, is now supported by none other than E. O. Wilson. Apparently the academics will have to rewrite the history books again. Yes, it’s very frustrating, to say the least.

  6. Thank you for your thoughts. Dawkins intrigues as he was a student of Niko Tinbergen, author of a book titled ‘instinct’, which I have yet to read. Tinbergen received is Nobel prize wuth Lorenz. That much of what I see in Lorenz is denied, yet illustrated by the actions of the post Christian moralists of the Dawkins types strikes me as rather illustrative of a deeper pattern of behaviour.
    Let’s face it Dawkins is the child of the ‘in group’ of his cultural academia. He seems unconscious of his territorial and agressive actions, these being reinforced by rewards within his cultural setting.
    Have you read the Tinbergen book, if so would you recommend it. Its very expensive and I’m intrigued if Dawkins faction run his estate? Thanks again

  7. Unfortunately, the only book I’ve read by Tinbergen was “Curious Naturalists,” which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m sure his “The Study of Instinct” would be well worth reading. I’ll have to see if I can find a copy.

  8. Returning to the post that led me to your site, Ardrey.
    Just rereading the first part of the territorial imperative. The words directed to Montague were clear, fool.
    One of the areas that we find it so hard to analyse is why do we think/believe, Montague argues that we are all cultural, so a man stripped of all culture is a void? Madness, what is man if stripped of all his culture? Where does such a man go, what does a man do, Surely his understanding of himself will give some footing to this.
    Man without culture, an interesting thought.

    The Dan Schneider Interview 8: Desmond Morris (first posted 2/16/08)

    This is a interview with one of Ardreys contemporaries, and one of the very few still alive, Desmond Morris. I was thrilled to see that he dropped an old Ardrey line, but sadly not surprised when the interviewer missed the reference.

    Thought you’d like it.

    DS: It’s been some years since I last read the book, but as I recall you seem to have been insistent that the connections to our simian past are manifest and should be embraced, and that this was the source of controversy. Yet, in recent years, those who favor ignorance seem to have gotten only stronger. Why do you think there is such a visceral objection to evolution, when it is so manifest, even a century and a half after Darwin?

    DM: Some people are arrogant enough to think of themselves as a ‘special creation’ – fallen angels rather than risen apes. But personally I like animals and I am proud to be called one, not insulted.

  10. As a long time Buddhist and one who studied Ardrey and EO Wilson when they first wrote their classics, seeing how their ideas resonate with the deep theory of karma, I wanted to comment.

    The “Blank State” idea directly contradicts the Buddhist idea of the latent causes of behavior of animals and humans, implying past, prenatal (past life, transmigration) causes. Central to the Buddhist theory was the Ten Life States and the “3000 Life States.”

    The “6 lower life states” refer to the range from hellish life as manifested by all known creatures during their life moments to hunger/desire, to Animality and Anger, then tranquility, to heavenly life moments-transient raptures and their “mutual possession” also on a continuum, with learning, deeper thinking, compassion and Enlightenment.

    Buddhism speaks of “voidness”, sunyata, which contains all causes and effects. In Japan the advanced theory is called “Ichinen Sanzen” — “3000 life states in a momentary condition of life.”

    As a point of interest the particular sects of Buddhism, with this theory as explained by Arthur Clarke, in his write-up of the making of the film, 2001 A Space Odyssey, “worship a black rectangular slab.” Kubrick was very much influenced by Robert Ardrey.

  11. I’ve just finished reading the Matt Ridley book, ‘The origin of Virtue’, and was wondering if you have read it? Much of his analysis seems to point in the same direction re the refutation of the blank slate, (he even mentions it by name in the last couple of chapters), yet there is a curious annoying gap somewhere that I just couldn’t put my finger on.
    Midway through Ridley gives the line re ‘group’ selection and states that groups interbreed and as such its not a positive correlation. Now I simply don’t get group theory, at some level it makes total sense to me, and Ridleys’ explanation got me thinking. I always thought that group selection was logical as man in an individual state, ie alone, would have a real problem. Ridley only compares success between groups, which is like comparing oranges with oranges and then saying they are just like apples as they are the same.
    Just rereading your Ardrey article above and how amazingly Alice in Wonderland is the Dawkins quote mentioned by Chagnon.

  12. Yes, I’ve read Ridley’s book. There are some good things in it. I particularly like the following passage:

    The conventional wisdom in the social sciences is that human nature is simply an imprint of an individual’s background and experience. But our cultures are not random collections of arbitrary habits. They are canalized expressions of our instincts. That is why the same themes crop up in all cultures – themes such as family, ritual, bargain, love, hierarchy, friendship, jealousy, group loyalty and superstition. That is why, for all their superficial differences of language and custom, foreign cultures are still immediately comprehensible at the deeper level of motives, emotions and social habits. Instincts, in a species like the human one, are not immutable genetic programmes; they are predispositions to learn. And to believe that human beings have instincts is no more determinist than to believe they are the products of their upbringings.

    The above is not only well and succinctly put, but is really fundamental for anyone who really wants to understand the human condition. As for group selection, Ridley takes a fairly conventional approach, starting with the section about the “selfish herd” in Chapter 9. I personally am more interested in the historical significance of the group selection debate than in the question of whether it really happened to a significant extent or not.

  13. Re Ridley, yes he does have moments of clarity.
    Re people’s ability to grasp the truth, Ridley quotes Thatcher when she said “There’s no such thing as society, there are individual men and women, and there are families”. Progressives froth at the mouth over this. However, lets look her statement clearly, its the truth. Society is a construct when it moves beyond the biological/evolutionary unit of family.
    One then asks, why was she the Prime Minister within a cultural fiction, if she knew it was a cultural fiction. The answer is advantage, she was gaming the misunderstanding of the weak. For the left, and dare I say, the academic tribes, are weak, they are desperate not to be the adult, they are for ever searching for an authority figure to tell them what to do and to tuck them into bed at night.
    For when we ask why is it so hard to tell people the truth, the answer is that they don’t want the truth.
    Look at Putin and the reintroduction of the role and power of the Russian Orthodox Church, he isn’t allow religion to rise because its ‘right’ he’s using it as a tool in the manipulation of the weak, the lesson it teaches is submission and being meek.
    So when we had the brief emergence of the great thinkers in this field, Lorenz, Tinbergen and Ardrey with the support cast that your familiar with, what was the response of the academic circles, “Good grief, you can’t say that, you can’t say that nature is harsh, unforgiving, challenging! You can’t say that the natural systems support strength, deal unmercifully with weakness, oh no thats Fascism.”
    Ridley makes the point at some stage that the tribalism and the ingroup/outgroup behaviour of the academics of the blank slate was like a cartoon of the very thing they were denying.
    Lets face the reality that in ever society there are many who know exactly what is going on, they tend to run the show, and as they meander through the religious institutions of the church and the academia of the day the only thing that they check for is that the truth, the brutal harsh truth is not taught. Look at Dawkins and his idiotic rankings around social issues!
    Fantasies, fine, submission, fine, reality, Oh hang on, careful, don’t tell people the truth. Look at any book shop and there is wall to wall rubbish and maybe the occasional “the art of War’, the “Prince’, and of course Ardrey and co slowly being lost etc.
    So why, well maybe the group is so powerful that the natural system demands that 99% of the family group follow, that submission is the dominant system, a system that can only be broken when the leadership/elders etc are dead or lost. Fascinatingly, if this is anyway near the truth then its not in our individual advantage to tell anyone else, far better to progress with the knowledge, do a Thatcher, game others weakness and succeed.

  14. I’m surprised that Thatcher said something like that. She was right, of course. It’s now quite possible for people to imagine that millions or even billions of people belong to their “tribe,” a perception that could not have related to more than about 150 or 200 people when the responsible behavioral predispositions evolved. That fact alone is responsible for many of the more absurd morality inversions that we are experiencing today. This is certainly one of the truths people don’t want to hear. They become furious at the very suggestion that the evolution of the innate roots of their motivation to be noble and virtuous fighters for the good of “society” occurred for reasons that have nothing to do with the good of “society.”

    There are many historical examples of people “doing a Thatcher,” that is, insisting that some religion/ideology is necessary to keep the proles in line. Whether that’s true depends on whether human beings are really capable of ever grasping what it is that motivates all their behavior at an innate, fundamental level, and the implications of the reasons those motivations exist.

    I’m currently reading a fascinating book by Lorenz and a guy named Paul Leyhausen. It contains lots of references to now long forgotten papers about innate human and animal behavior going as far back as the 19th century! Leyhausen had some fascinating insights about human morality that were simply ignored. He is now remembered, if at all, as an expert on cats. I discovered Westermarck almost by accident as well. It makes you wonder what a wealth of knowledge is out there in obscure books that will remain buried forever because our ideological gatekeepers find the truths they contain inconvenient.

  15. Well, enjoy the Lorenz Leyhausen book, I found a copy about 5 years ago, I only read the Lorenz essay and what a genius the man is. Having said that I was just rereading ‘Behind the Mirror’, and whilst I like to think that I understand about one tenth of what he is saying I wonder if it couldn’t be more simply put,. I’ll read the rest of the combined book and make a longer comment,. Already Leyhausen has mentioned the lock/key concept, and both have mentioned that Taxis and instincts when seen in behaviours must be track backwards to the original stimuli/action/reaction. So they talk is scales of millions of years, idiots like Montagu expect us to understand behaviours with the false lense of culture with a span of what 10,000 lets be generous and say 50,000 years.
    It’s culture, or its actual reality, which is fascinating me at the moment. What if it is no more/less than a ‘false stimuli’, like Tinbergens beak?

  16. And then Lorenz makes it as plain as could be. Page 66 of ‘Behind the mirror’.
    When discussing ‘Adative modification of behaviour’.
    “There has hardly been a greater error in the history of human thought than the view of the empiricist that prior to every experiences the mind is a blank sheet, a tabula rasa. Equally disasterous is the apparently opposite, but basically identical error made by many non-biologically minded psychologists…… “

  17. With respect to your earlier comment, I think Lorenz was occasionally too addicted to German philosophy-speak. Leyhausen, on the other hand, writes in a very clear style. Some of the stuff he wrote back in the 50’s and 60’s is amazing. The man was completely uncowed by the Blank Slaters. “Motivation of Human and Animal Behavior has inspired me to go back and look at some of the source material on the “hydraulic theory,” Pinker’s other excuse, in addition to group selection, for deleting Lorenz and Ardrey from history. I found the Blank Slate playbook in the early 50’s was already pretty much the same as the Montagu and company one we’re familiar with from the 60’s, with some charming Orwellian touches added for good measure. I’ll try to write something about it on the blog in the near future.

  18. The more I read of the Lorenz ‘Behind the Mirror’ and the combined book with Leyhausen, I concur with your comments, they are really tremendous and insightful books.
    Re Pinker, I accept some of his work but re the Hydraulic issue, the ability to grasp the role of instincts at an ‘unconscious’ level is not an academically transmittable concept, it’s an experiential, self awareness, imperfect and highly subjective emotional/intuitive realm. Lorenz had life experiences that Pinker cannot imagine.
    The language fails but the build up of ‘energy/tension’ within the competing ‘parliament of instincts’ was magnificently described by Lorenz.
    What I would give to witness a debate between Lorenz and Pinker! What I would give to witness the dressing down of Dawkins by Tinbergen!

  19. Pinker concocted two fairy tales to erase Ardrey and Lorenz from history. One, of course, was the claim that they didn’t matter because they were “totally and utterly wrong” about group selection. The second was Pinker’s description of Lorenz’ hydraulic theory as “archaic.” The true story behind that claim is nearly as fascinating. I will have more to say about it in a post in the near future.

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