Thursday, February 09, 2006

Brainy politicians

Here's a new field of scientific enquiry: Political Biology, or biopolitics. It sounds strange, doesn't it? To me, it sounds most like politicians trying to influence how research should be conducted, which areas should be allowable and which should not.

But it's actually the reverse: as this page attests, biopolitics is about how politics could and should be influenced by scientific advances in biology (and, as a consequence, neuroscience). My only - yet substantial - concern is that this approach seems to stop at "biology", especially evolutionary theory. It most likely includes evolutionary psychology, but even within EP, we rarely if ever see proper discussions about how brain science can inform psychological theories. As this previous note from Martin shows, neuroscience CAN indeed say meaningful things to cognitive and evolutionary psychological theory. So the concern with biopolitics is that it will not include the full range of scientific results in this rapidly developing field.

From that very site, it says;

In their classic formulations, valid to this day, the issue of self-preservation is foundational for both political science and economics. In order to fixate this concept, the Modern theorists relied upon various assumptions about human nature. Due to the advances of biology and evolutionary theory, we are today in the position of explicating these assumptions in the form of stable scientific certainties. A foundational concept in biological theory is that of "fitness". The paper indicates the relationship between the less determined concept of self-preservation and the more rigorous one of fitness. By that, it accomplishes two things: it gives more solidity to the foundation of political theory and political economy, by anchoring them in biology; it opens the path towards a unification between two social sciences and their immediate juxtaposed science, biology. The emphasis of the paper is on political science, aiming to define, on the basis of the above argument, its proper object of study. The notion of fitness extraction is thus defined. A lateral exposition differentiates between political action, thus understood, and economic action, defined more generally as fitness transfer. The distinction is to be eventually furthered in a separate study.

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