Natural Selection and Social Theory: Selected Papers of Robert L. Trivers

By Robert Trivers | Go to book overview
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5
HAPLODIPLOIDY AND THE
SOCIAL INSECTS

Richard Feynman, the great physicist, once warned of the dangers of think tanks—of trying to do intellectual work, especially theoretical work, without any teaching responsibilities. At first it sounds like a wonderful idea, to have that much more time to devote to what you really care about. But in actual fact it was often a death trap. Inevitably, there will be times when you have no ideas. What do you do then? If you have a teaching position you concentrate on teaching, and the teaching is likely to rejuvenate you mentally. The act of preparing materials for other minds requires you to think things through more carefully than if you are merely explaining them to yourself. In addition, of course, you may get valuable feedback from your students, truly naive questions sometimes being the best at generating new possibilities for further thought. Lacking all of this, your “off” times would grow longer, depression more likely, fear of failure greater, and the greater would be the chance of falling into permanent torpor. I believe my social insect paper is a humble illustration of what Feynman had in mind. The paper really emerged from two different lectures that I gave on the subject to students, neither lecture planned with any additional work in mind.


I Lecture on Haplodiploidy to Anthropology Undergraduates

My friend Irven DeVore arranged a teaching position for me, as an Instructor in Anthropology at Harvard, in the spring semester of 1971, before I had finished my Ph. D. There were 51 students in the course, of whom the best turned out to be Barbara Smuts, later a professor of psychology and anthropology at the University of Michigan, who has done valuable work on friendship in baboons, sexual coercion in primates, and a host of related topics.

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