December 27, 2009

Johan J. Bolhuis
Behavioral Biology Group
Utrecht University
Post Office box 80086
3508 TB Utrecht
Open letter on
Dear Dr. Holhuis:

I read Selfless Memes (Science vol. 326 no. 5956 November 20, 2009 page 1063 about The Age Of Empathy, Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society by Frans de Waal, Harmony, New York, 2009) and wound up thinking well  both of you and of the book you reviewed.  That is quite an accomplishment in that you were not consistently indulgent in your evaluation.

You strike me as a person who will let nothing stand between him and the pursuit of the truth – in your case truth in the field of behavior.  Perhaps I overstate the case, but with anything like luck I understate it, and I am looking for someone with skin of flint to take an interest in a matter of human behavior.

One of our strengths as a species is that we are able to cooperate.  Yet the most casual glance around will show in querying mind that just about everything we do that is uniquely human and which by its nature should be expected to draw us together (for instance cooking food, making instrumental music, organizing worship, wearing clothes, playing with balls, forming governments) in fact becomes a matter of social distinction if not outright violence.  How odd. 

The reason is actually not hard to understand.  If people form social groups, and I mean random mating populations, that are of modest size, say dozens to a few hundred, they will be adequately fertile.  If the population is excessive, in the thousands or tens of thousands or larger, fertility will in a few generations become inadequate.  Proof and references are on the enclosed DVD with more evidence at  It is no surprise.  Evolution never prepared us to live in social groups the size of cities.  Arguably evolution did not prepare us to use cars or computers either, but we created cars and computers adapting them to the way evolution did prepare us. 

Since clinging to ones social group generally entails shared beliefs and habits, and since this group is essential to survival in the long term, people are quite reluctant to adopt a new idea.  But in this case it is a matter of adapt or die.  Hence arises my search for the man of flint.

If you are interested or if I can be of help in any way, do let me know.


M. Linton Herbert MD

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