An Expert On Fools May Be His Own Best Subject

I was browsing B & N tonight when I came across a new book by Robert Trivers.  I will admit I’d never heard of Trivers before, so I was taken aback by his framing of Israel as illustrative of deceit and self-deception in the form of false historical narratives.  His rant qualifies him as a pro-Palestinian apologist and anti-semite of the highest order, his protest at being depicted as such notwithstanding.  Get this (p.244): “Many first-class minds in mathematics, the sciences, and many other intellectual pursuits are Jewish (or partly Jewish).  But this intellectuality can have a downside.  Great intellectual talent may be associated with more deception and self-deception.”  Hitler would have been proud.

If Trivers sounds a bit Chomskian, it is no coincidence.

I’m not sure if the Wikipedia entry on Trivers is entirely accurate, but at the very least he is an interesting individual.  As noted there, as well as in an Edge feature, there were rumors involving breakdowns, jail time, and Jamaica.  A recent TED talk in Jamaica hints at a disheveled if not entertaining anthropologic mind, yet brilliant thinkers like Steven Pinker hold Trivers to be one of the great minds in Western Society.  Go figure.

It was another brilliant mind and fellow professor at Rutgers, Doron Zeilberger, who first called out Trivers publicly for his pseudo-scientific anti-Zionist views.  At the bottom of the page you’ll find a link to Trivers’ reply.  Heavier verbal blows were exchanged between Trivers and Alan Dershowitz.  Though Dershowitz cites this in one of his books, Trivers chooses to totally ignore his critics in The Folly of Fools.  Talk about self-deception.

Zeilberger is admittedly a man after my own heart.  His thinking is clear, though his shelves are a mess.  Look at this clip on ultrafinitism.

Ultrafinitism is a mathematical concept that likens infinity to the mis-impression we might have of being able to sail off the edge of the earth.  When you start counting you can seemingly go on forever, but conceptualize for a moment a number bigger than you could ever imagine.  Eventually, if you were to come to it, add the number one and arrive back at zero.  This may seem like a paradox, but it pales in comparison to the paradox of Trivers’ Follies.



About Leonard J. Press, O.D., FAAO, FCOVD

Developmental Optometry is my passion as well as occupation. Blogging allows me to share thoughts in a unique visual style.
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20 Responses to An Expert On Fools May Be His Own Best Subject

  1. James says:

    I think you’re the greater fool, my friend. Is Israel immune to anykind of acts of injustice? The United States, although a great nation, has had to apologize for internment camps, slavery, civil rights, etc. No nation is saintly.

    It speaks volumes that you have never heard of Trivers, you don’t strike me as someone who is really that well read, or for that matter informed.

    • Len Press says:

      Did I say that Israel is immune to any kind of acts of injustice, James? I would suggest that learning to read well is more important than being well read. As as for being informed, I find Trivers’ premises trivial. That you find them profound speaks volumes.

      • Anthony Lawson says:

        Just a non-political observation about someone who seeks to make corrective suggestions to others: Proof reading a four-line paragraph shouldn’t be all that difficult, but you wrote: “As as for being informed…”. You then used the incorrect possessive form for a proper name that ends with an “s”. You should have written “I find Trivers’s premises… etc.”. Your lack of attention to detail says a lot about you.

      • Thanks for taking the time to comment, Anthony. I’ve seen the use of the possessive following a name ending in “s” either way (with or without the extra “s” – see this stylistic discussion), and I’ve chosen to represent it by syntactic feel in the sentence. Your presumption about my attention to detail says a lot about you.

  2. James says:

    Trivers is one of the most quoted scientists, in the world today. From Steven Pinker to Matt Ridely, you can hardly find a working scientist who has not quoted him. In fact Triver’s recent book, the one that you are an “expert” on due to “reading” it in Barnes and Noble, has been widely praised by Richard Dawkins, Frans de Waal, etc. So it’s a good thing that I am not the only one, who has found Triver’s premises “profound.”

    You didn’t say anything about Israel, and that’s the problem. People like you, operate as if, it only does positive things. When in fact the opposite is true. Countless acts of aggression against neighboring countries, speaks volumes. The reason why people, such as yourself, can’t stand Chomsky and Trivers, is because they don’t operate under cognitive biases.

  3. Len says:

    Nice try, James, but your straw man arguments ring hollow. I read rather voraciously, B & N simply being an environment condusive to literary juices. I needn’t find Trivers illuminating because you’re a fan of his and, well, Chomsky is an interseting case in point A brilliant logician who got carried away with politics and uses his platform to promote a political agenda you happen to agree with. Clearly you have your own cognitve biases and a not well hidden agenda.

    Your name dropping of Pinker, Ridley, Dawkins and de Wall doesn’t impress me. Can’t recall Trivers being esssential to any of their theories or analyses. I’ve read all the greats – Edelman, Ramachandran, Kahneman, etc. Can’t recall Trivers playing much of a role in their thought processes. Trivers is a self-styled social theory expert in search of an audience, and he’s clearly found an uncritically adoring one in you. Aside from his hijacking selfish gene theory and overextrapolating it to Anti-Israelianism, I don’t find Trivers much worthy of further attention.

  4. Dale says:

    You do realize that Dr. Triver’s web site links to this page with the link title: “Is Robert Trivers an Anti Semite?” Perhaps the publicity saying is true. “I Don’t Care What They Say, as Long as They Spell My Name Right” You have spelled his name right! You are his publicity! I do wonder if you read enough of the book carefully enough. Might you have missed something? Could it be that the self-deceived deceiver has managed to deceive you by virtue of your own self-deception? This is a very fascinating topic indeed. Somehow I manage to catch a glimps of the end of the hall of infinite regress.

  5. Len Press says:

    I can only assume, Dale, that Dr. Trivers linked to this post because he found it interesting at some level. I was intrigued enough by a browse of the book to purchase it, and did give it a good read. I’m always happy to return to a book and re-read it, perhaps gaining a different perspective the second time around. The title of the book itself suggests a hall of infinite regress, so it would not be surprising if Trivers’ evolutionary anthro-scope turns up an homunculus of sorts. Once we decide to frame bias and set ourselves up as experts on deceit, there is no end to the joust. Who is to decide that my bias is less biased than your bias? Or that my frame is shinier than your frame? Or my that my regress is less finite than your regress?

  6. Dale says:

    Why should we assume his reasons for linking to this post? Why not ask him directly? His email address is: Would you prefer to ask or shall I?

    “Who is to decide” indeed is the question. Or perhaps “who is to judge.”

    “You cannot avoid making judgements but you can become more conscious of the way in which you make them. This is critically important because once we judge someone or something we tend to stop thinking about them or it. Which means, among other things, that we behave in response to our judgements rather than to that to which is being judged. People and things are processes. Judgements convert them into fixed states. This is one reason that judgements are often self-fulfilling.”
    — Neil Postman (1931-2003), American educator, media theorist, and cultural critic, Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1969)

    “there were rumors involving breakdowns, jail time, and Jamaica.” You forgot to mention that Trivers has discovered himself to be a “petty thief.” He told us so in Chapter One. I put the book down late one evening while reading chapter Nine. I reflected for a while and discovered a self-deception of my own. Within a couple of days I decided to take Trivers advice in chapter Six. I wrote about it. Then I decided to share it.!/12053

    The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.
    – Leonardo da Vinci

    When we remember that we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.
    – MARK TWAIN, Mark Twain’s Notebook

    A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar.

    Perhaps Trivers is also a plagiarist “of the highest order.”

  7. Len Press says:

    It would be fine for you to ask Trivers, Dale, though in the spirit of the Founding Fathers I may still choose to hold some truths to be self-evident, independent of self-deception. Nice piece on Mr. A, by the way.

  8. Dale says:

    Thanks Len. I fully suppoprt your desire to embrace the Founding Fathers. But we must understand that when they held some truths to be self-evident, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, it was only a few years later that some of these same men signed on to a US Constitution that counted for purposes of representation “the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” Five slaves were to be counted as three persons for purposes of representation in the US House. But none of them were allowed to vote. And what of their Liberty and pursuit of Happiness? And the Indians? It seems they did not consider slaves or Indians as men at all. Certainly not equally created men! So were they liars? Deceivers? Self-deceivers? Merely confused and mistaken? Or something else?

    When the first Congress assembled, just one week after the House first achieved a quorum, “The Lighthouses Act of 1789” was introduced to the House. There immediately arose a difference of opinion on whether or not the act was permissible under the Constitution. Many of the same men who had signed the document now disagreed on what it meant! There were several issues. Here are two. 1) Issues of “States Rights”. 2) Disagreement as to what Article 1, Section 8 permitted the Congress to do – “Strict Construction” vs. “Loose Construction”. Sound familiar? The ink was barely dry and some of the signers were disagreeing over the interpretation of what they had signed. Very peculiar. I’m not so certain these truths were self-evident, independent of self-deception at all. But they make a very fine statement of aspirations. Attaining these aspirations has taken a good long time. Are we there yet?

    Click to access 1789_LH_Act.pdf

  9. Dale says:

    Dr. Trivers has responded to my email. He is in Berlin for a couple of weeks. In short his answer is this:

    Believe it or not, there were people saying why are you drawing attention to this; but I answered that I’d rather have the good, the bad and the ugly than build a shrine to myself.

  10. Len Press says:

    I respect that, and thank you for reaching out and for sharing the information. Naturally we may differ on which of the three categories is the best descriptor of our respective positions. Regarding framers of the Constitution, strict vs. loose provided the type of wiggle room that allows us to have this conversation amicably.

  11. Dale says:

    Yes, which of the three categories is the best descriptor of our respective positions? Who is to decide? Who is to judge? Each must judge himself for himself. I’ve run across a few more quotes recently that I’ll also offer to share. Since I see you like baseball, I’ll include some of those too. I do love quotes… Please excuse that there are so many.

    At all events, the next best thing to being witty one’s self, is to be able to quote another’s wit.
    — Christian Nestell Bovee, Thoughts, Feelings, and Fancies (1857)

    You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough.
    — Frank H. Crane (1 January 1873 – 1 September 1948) American stage and film actor and director

    Son, what kind of pitch would you like to miss? — Dizzy Dean
    The doctors x-rayed my head and found nothing. — Dizzy Dean

    If the world was perfect, it wouldn’t be. — Yogi Berra
    There are some people who, if they don’t already know, you can’t tell ’em. — Yogi Berra

    Baseball is like church. Many attend few understand. — Leo Durocher

    Bob Gibson is the luckiest pitcher in baseball. He is always pitching when the other team doesn’t score any runs. – Tim McCarver

    A great catch is like watching girls go by; the last one you see is always the prettiest. – Bob Gibson

    Show me a guy who’s afraid to look bad, and I’ll show you a guy you can beat every time. — Lou Brock
    When I was a kid, I used to imagine animals running under my bed. I told my dad, and he solved the problem quickly. He cut the legs off the bed. — Lou Brock

    Bravery is a complicated thing to describe. You can’t say it’s three feet long and two feet wide and that it weighs four hundred pounds or that it’s colored bright blue or that it sounds like a piano or that it smells like roses. It’s a quality, not a thing. – Mickey Mantle

    The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. — Albert Einstein

    The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year. — John Foster Dulles, Former Secretary of State

    Our major obligation is not to mistake slogans for solutions. — Edward R. Murrow

    The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. – John F. Kennedy

    What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him. – Viktor Frankl

    I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflections. – Thomas Paine

    The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances. – Aristotle

    To see what is right and not do it, is the want of courage. – Confucius

    I have lived a long life and had many troubles, most of which never happened. – Mark Twain

    What you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. – Goethe

    I have endured a great deal of ridicule without much malice; and have received a great deal of kindness, not quite free from ridicule. I am used to it. – Abraham Lincoln

    To look at something as though we had never seen it before requires great courage. – Henri Matisse

    We need to wake up from a thought that lasts too long. – Paul Valery

    It is a great thing to teach. I am never more complimented than when some one addresses me as “teacher”. … The teacher is one who makes two ideas grow where there was only one before.
    — Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915), American writer, publisher, artist, anarchist and libertarian philosopher, Fra Elbertus: Elbert Hubbard’s Selected Writings Part 6, Teachers and Teaching

    No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution. – Niccolo Machiavelli

    In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher. – Dalai Lama

    The reason grandparents and grandchildren get along so well is that they have a common enemy. – Sam Levenson

    Suspicion is far more to be wrong than right; more often unjust than just. It is no friend to virtue, and always an enemy to happiness. – Hosea Ballou

    The greatest enemy of any one of our truths may be the rest of our truths. – William James

    The enemy is within the gates; it is with our own luxury, our own folly, our own criminality that we have to contend. – Marcus Tullius Cicero

    No one will ever win the battle of the sexes; there’s too much fraternizing with the enemy. – Henry A. Kissinger

    No one is to be called an enemy, all are your benefactors, and no one does you harm. You have no enemy except yourselves. – Francis of Assisi

    We have met the enemy and he is us. – Pogo author, Walt Kelly

    Your best friend and worst enemy are both in this room right now. It’s not your neighbor right or left – and it’s not God or the devil – it’s you. – Edwin Louis Cole

    Man has no greater enemy than himself. – Petrarch

    Experience teaches us that it is much easier to prevent an enemy from posting themselves than it is to dislodge them after they have got possession. – George Washington

    Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake. – Napoleon Bonaparte

    Gentlemen, when the enemy is committed to a mistake we must not interrupt him too soon. – Horatio Nelson

    He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself. – Thomas Paine

    Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy. – Isaac Newton

    In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy. – J. Paul Getty

    My other car is a Zamboni. – Hockey Saying

    Four out of five dentists surveyed recommended playing hockey. – Author Unknown

  12. Len Press says:

    Excellent collection, Dale! Thanks for sharing those.

  13. Jason Hodgson says:

    Whether you’ve heard of him or not, Robert Trivers truly is one of the giants of modern evolutionary biology. Trivers’ papers from the early 70’s form much of the basis for the fields of Behavioral Ecology/Sociobiology/Evolutionary Psychology. Triver’s influence is undeniable:

    Among his work, he has five papers cited more than 1000 times, each. These papers, along with the work of W.D. Hamilton, and George C. Williams, were popularized by Richard Dawkins in “The Selfish Gene” and “The Extended Phenotype”.

    As a point of comparison, Triver’s paper “Parental Investment and Sexual Selection” has been cited 8,591 times, while Watson and Crick’s paper on the structure of DNA (“We’ve found the secret to life!”) has been cited 8,497 times.

    Further, Triver’s work is entirely theoretical. His influence isn’t from collecting fortuitous data. It is entirely his ideas. You’d be hard pressed to find a thinker with more influence than Robert Trivers.

  14. Jeffhalmos says:

    When one gets over this mad notion that everything Israel does is free from error or scrutiny, what Trivers says is no where near anti-semmetic.

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