February 10, 2012

British Breeding

Here's an obituary from The Telegraph in 2010, which I'm putting up here because it sheds some light on issues in earlier postings below. 
Professor Richard Darwin Keynes 
Professor Richard Darwin Keynes, who died on June 12 aged 90, devoted years to the study of the South American adventures of his great-grandfather, Charles Darwin, and achieved scientific eminence in his own right as Professor of Physiology at Cambridge University. 
As a young neurophysiologist, working with Alan Hodgkin, Keynes carried out experiments with radioactive tracers to follow movements of ions in animal nerve fibres. His discovery that sodium ions rush into a nerve cell and potassium ions rush out when the cell is stimulated supported work on the ionic basis of the nerve impulse for which Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley won the Nobel Prize in 1963. Later on Keynes worked out how electric eels project huge electric charges to stun and kill their prey. Jared Diamond recently nominated Hodgkin and Huxley's discovery as his favorite scientific explanation.

Nobel Laureate Andrew Huxley was the grandson of Darwin's Bulldog T.H. Huxley. His half-brothers were the more famous biologist Julian Huxley and the novelist Aldous "Brave New World" Huxley. Andrew's more literary half-brothers were descendants of Thomas Arnold, the reforming Rugby headmaster portrayed in Tom Brown's Schooldays, and related to Thomas's son Matthew Arnold, the famous critic whose 1851 poem "Dover Beach" is kind of the mood music of Darwinism. (Here's a Huxley-Arnold family tree.)
... Richard Darwin Keynes was born on August 14 1919 into two illustrious Cambridge dynasties. His father, Sir Geoffrey Keynes, was a prominent surgeon, bibliophile and younger brother of the economist John Maynard Keynes. His mother, Margaret, was the daughter of Darwin's son, the astronomer and mathematician Sir George Darwin, and sister of the artist Gwen Raverat. 

Three of Charles Darwin's sons were knighted for services to science.

This guy's uncle, J.M. Keynes, was ridiculously smart. Bertrand Russell, who didn't particularly like the economist, complained of:
a certain hard, glittering, inhuman quality in most of his writing. ... Keynes’s intellect was the sharpest and clearest that I have ever known. When I argued with him, I felt that I took my life in my hands, and I seldom emerged without feeling something of a fool. I was sometimes inclined to feel that so much cleverness must be incompatible with depth, but I do not think that this feeling was justified.”

Keynes' sister Margaret married Archibald Hill in 1913, who won the Nobel in Physiology in 1922.

To continue with the obituary:
In 1945 Richard Darwin Keynes married Anne, daughter of Lord Adrian, thereby adding another great Cambridge dynasty to the family DNA. She survives him with three sons. Another son predeceased him.

Edgar Adrian won the 1932 Nobel for Medicine and Physiology.

I wonder if poor Richard Darwin Keynes went through life feeling like a complete flop because he was practically the only man he knew who didn't have a Nobel Prize or launch an ism like Darwinism or Keynesianism? And if he had come up with a whole new and permanently controversial perspective, what would it have been called? His last name and middle name were already taken. I guess it could have been called Richardism. 

44 comments:

Luke Lea said...

The Progressives in America took a similar view:

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CC0QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.princeton.edu%2F~tleonard%2Fpapers%2Fretrospectives.pdf&ei=4PM1T9OLCYPqtge3upmZAg&usg=AFQjCNGAor1beGOPfUmZhjE97E2uJ0rWGA&sig2=Sl8uzLwRlEKLDSi6x-I6VA

Anonymous said...

I used to know a brilliant, beautiful, and accomplished documentary filmmaker. Her dad was Anglo-American anthropologist/polymath/UC regent/Jerry Brown mentor Gregory Bateson. Her grandfather was the biologist/popularizer of Mendel's work William Bateson, who coined the word "genetics." Her great-grandfather was the master of St. John's College at Cambridge.
I recall her from college as an arch liberal and blank slatist who would have denounced any idea of eugenics. She ended up marrying one of jazz genius Dave Brubeck's sons. I hear their kids are amazing, too.

Yes, I'm bitter.

Inní mér syngur vitleysingur said...

'Dark Connections' - in which you trace the influence of genes.

Wasps probably have big books of this stuff.

morleysafer said...

The reductio-ad-kennel-club thing is nothing new at the blog but what's your point? That well-educated geniuses (at least those meriting an obit) have a good chance of being descended from some other genius of old? Not so controversial unless you're working at some daffy survivorship-biased angle, or perhaps just a Brave New World analogy

morleysafer said...

Icelandic fellow: there's now a site called "Frumster" too even though that resembles a parody name thought up by Pynchon or DeLillo

Julian O'Dea said...

Geoffrey Keynes was more than just a bibliophile. He was a serious student of William Blake and published many papers on haematology IIRC. Like his beloved Blake (artist and poet), Keynes was a man of many parts.

As for Russell's modest remark about JM Keynes' intellect, they were part of the same "set", the Bloomsbury Group, who were almost as famous for their arrogance and self-regard as for their ability. They were the progressives of their day, and would have admired each other's minds enormously.

Anonymous said...

253

There are truths which are best recognized by mediocre heads, because they are most appropriate for them; there are truths which have charm and seductive power only for mediocre minds:—at this very point we are pushed back onto this perhaps unpleasant proposition, since the time the spirit of respectable but mediocre Englishmen—I cite Darwin, John Stuart Mill, and Herbert Spencer—has succeeded in gaining pre-eminence in the middle regions of European taste.* In fact, who could doubt how useful it is that such spirits rule for a while? It would be a mistake to think that highly cultivated spirits who fly off to great distances would be particularly skilful at establishing many small, common facts, collecting them, and pushing to a conclusion:—they are, by contrast, as exceptional men, from the very start in no advantageous position vis-à-vis the “rules.” And finally, they have more to do than merely to have knowledge—for they have to be something new, to mean something new, to present new values! The gap between know and can is perhaps greater as well as more mysterious than people think. It’s possible the man who can act in the grand style, the creating man, will have to be a man who does not know; whereas, on the other hand, for scientific discoveries of the sort Darwin made a certain narrowness, aridity, and diligent carefulness, in short, something English, may not make a bad disposition. Finally we should not forget that the English with their profoundly average quality have already once brought about a collective depression of the European spirit. What people call “modern ideas” or “the ideas of the eighteenth century” or even “French ideas”—in other words, what the German spirit has risen against with a deep disgust—were English in origin. There’s no doubt of that. The French have been only apes and actors of these ideas, their best soldiers, as well, and at the same time unfortunately their first and most complete victims. For with the damnable Anglomania of “modern ideas” the âme française [French soul] has finally become so thin and emaciated that nowadays we remember almost with disbelief its sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, its profoundly passionate power, its resourceful nobility. But with our teeth we must hang on to the following principle of historical fairness and defend it against the appearance of the moment: European noblesse—in feeling, in taste, in customs, in short, the word taken in every higher sense— is the work and invention of France; European nastiness, the plebeian quality of modern ideas, the work of England.

Anonymous said...

Steve your posts come so thick and fast these days I can barely keep up and pontificate.

Anyhow, what distinguishes the Darwin, Huxley and Keynes descendants, apart from their ferocious intelligence is the fact that all of them cleave very strongly to that very British school of fabian socialism, which was supposed to be delivered by the Labour Party until Maggie ruined it.
Richard Dawkins and Bertrand Russell were of the same ilk.Hence the continual refusal of Oxford University to give Thatcher an honorary degree.Oxford, largely run by gentle, cerebral, soft spoken and fiercly intelligent socialists of the best sort also has that peculiar unforgiving, intense and implacable English hatred of loathed enemies.Once the English begin to hate.......well, put it this way if a grudge lasts 100 years, that's good going.

I'm glad to see John Maynard Keynes and his ideas rehabilitated.It's just a crying shame he's not alive today to cut through all the bullshit and the intellectual pygmies of the far right such as Friedman et al.

dogzma said...

Oh, these are great men. We aren't educated enough or sufficiently well-read to provide details.

So, trust us.

edgy gurl said...

It's so cute when you guys start using a thesaurus to sound more erudite than you really are. Practicing your posh accents as well? ;0)

Just a suggestion: A genealogy chart would be much more effective than Darwin begat Richard who begat Clementine, etc.

And don't forget, there might have been some scullery maid tipping going on leaving a host of illegitimate, half-noble Darwins, Huxleys and Keynes.

dearieme said...

"As for Russell's modest remark about JM Keynes' intellect...": yeah, but everybody at Cambridge at the time thought him outstandingly bright, and it was easily the best university in the world at the time.

P.S. J M Keynes was not a "Fabian socialist" but a Liberal, which in Britain doesn't (or at least didn't) mean a less-than-frank socialist.

Anonymous said...

Russell's co-author on the Principia, Alfred North Whitehead, had a nephew, John Henry Constantine Whitehead, who did about as much as anyone in formalizing the discipline which we now call "topology".

There was another famous topologist, George W Whitehead, but he was born in Indiana, and I don't know how close the relationship is.

sunbeam said...

I have a hard time taking any of the people you discussed seriously.

It's just part of the world view I've picked up over the years.

This is a good illustration of it:

http://xkcd.com/435/

Basically just assume that the more "pure" a field is, the more likely an intelligent individual will be drawn to it.

I have nothing but contempt for economists. I'd put that field far to the left, maybe below sociologists who don't seem to have pretensions about what they actually are.

If Keynes had gone into Physics we would have gotten the chance to see just how smart he actually was.

Obviously Darwin had an important idea. But other people probably had it before him. (And I understand someone else came up with it virtually at the same time)

He was fortunate enough to be in a situation (the Beagle) where he was in a situation (the South Sea Islands) to see a good display of the phenomena.

Also in being the sort of person (pedigreed, social status) English society would take seriously.

It's just a classic example of something that should have been conducted as a thought experiment first, then data should have been taken to see how it agreed with the hypothesis.

I guess Russell might qualify as intelligent. Math is hardly my field but it's hard for me to think of any real contribution he made.

Guys like Turing it's obvious. Einstein threw out ideas like candy. What exactly did Russell do though?

The rest of these Bloomsbury guys...

I'm just not impressed, is all I can say.

europeasant said...

meanwhile we peasants continue to struggle.Oh well, at least there's more than enough food and entertainment.we don't have to bring out the pitchforks as yet!Sometimes I wish I had never educated myself into hereditarian beliefs.Going through life as a blank stater would be much more comforting.Same with religious beliefs, I wish I had not lost my faith!

Henry Canaday said...

Ah but R. D. Keynes worked in a much more difficult subject, neurophysiology.

Here’s another family to keep an eye on. T.K. Seung was born in northern Korea, emerged from the hell of the Korean War in his early 20s and went on to become an eminent philosopher and literary scholar, writing a famous reinterpretation of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” to kick off his academic career. His son, Sebastian, has a Harvard PhD in physics and is a mathematical neuroscientist at MIT.

I heard Sebastian speak last night at our Local Lefty Bookstore on his new book, “Connectome…,” about mapping the connections between those 100 billion neurons in man’s brain. He thinks this project will take “generations” and is, of course, only one part of understanding the brain. He is skeptical about the Singularity being nigh.

For once, questions from the LLB audience were intelligent, as a lot of neuroscientists, from the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere, were in attendance. Sebastian was cheerful, quick and helpful in his answers.

The son of T.K. Seung is both a man of science and, from the book excerpt he read, a very good and even poetic writer. His introduction to the complex and dense forest of the human brain had more than a bit of Dante’s dark beauty.

Anonymous said...

Anyone see ADVISE AND CONSENT? Walter Pidgeon reminds me of Reagan(maybe Gipper was channeling him as a public persona) while Charles Laughton reminds me of Farrakhan. It seems some of black oratory style comes from the Sooouth.

jody said...

"His discovery that sodium ions rush into a nerve cell and potassium ions rush out when the cell is stimulated"

this is the guy who discovered the sodium potassium thing? damn. that's a key finding.

here's what i wonder about british breeding. is it good, or bad, that the prince married a commoner? does this establish a precedent of the royalty eventually marrying just any old commoner? does this open the door to idiocracy in the UK?

Anonymous said...

OT: Some confirmation for what Steve has been saying.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Less-often remembered (though it is there in Luke Lea's link) is that eugenics did not focus solely, and perhaps not even primarily, on intelligence. The reduction of criminality and idleness were mentioned as often. Your posts two months ago about personal energy may have some interest.

General note: I tend not to read commenters who don't know what paragraphing is.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Anonymous 9:24. Of course she was a blank slatist. That way she could congratulate herself twice: secretly for her heritage, and more openly for what she certainly assumed were her independent efforts and hard work.

alonzo portfolio said...

T.H. Huxley looks like Walter Matthau.

Anonymous said...

For humans, it may be that "breeding" and "lust" don't
mix well for quality control purposes? Also, a lot of what we tell ourselves and believe deeply
is both derived from, and fed back into, our acts and omissions--and
our thoughts are more nearly rationalizations of acts and omissions than we care to admit. Full-throttle sexual hedonism is far more congruent with Blank Slate mythology than with reality.

Anonymous said...

Putin. Imperialist-nationalism vs ethno-nationalism.

I_Affe said...

I feel some sympathy for the (grand)sons of fathers and sons who won Noble Prizes:

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/nobelprize_facts.html

How does one follow those acts? In some ways I'm glad I'm not Roger Kornberg's son (if he has one).

Anonymous said...

Occupy Kindergarten, my ass. How about occupy Harvard, Yale, and other elite schools dominated by liberal elites?

Anonymous said...


Evolution and race

Anonymous said...

Steve said he doesn't care what Israelis do to Palestinians. That's okay because Jews don't care what blacks to do whites. Jews don't lose sleep over what's happening to whites in South Africa. And when Omar Thorton killed a bunch of whites, NY Times didn't care that they died. They were probably racists who deserved what they got.
Like Jews like Steve.

Anonymous said...

Yobois in France. Diversity sure is wonderful.

edgy gurl said...

I'm certain the psychotic too-literal-to-be-metaphors imposed on the English language by an Asian don't come across as poetic to the ears of speakers native in both language and culture. In my experience, you're dealing with a misunderstanding or a false sense of universality which is fundamentally the same as revisionist history with a cat-in-the-hattish flair.

Of course I could only expect the philes on iSteve to embrace bastardization of the language from certain quarters while reviling those from others. I'm predicting we'll have yet another dialect of English with some idiosyncrasies in meaning and usage evolving out of East Asian communities as it did in India. It's inevitable.

It's pretty pathetic that you're worshipping families that have several generations demonstrating stellar accomplishments. You also lose the capacity for critical evaluation in the process. Yes these people can gain recognition in their fields of study but what's their work really worth.

And the melding of science and literature takes us back to the era of superstition usually making for lower quality literature while trapping people's minds in a scientific worldview already obsolete by the time some "poet" incorporates it into his fiction.

dogzma said...

"For humans, it may be that "breeding" and "lust" don't
mix well for quality control purposes? Also, a lot of what we tell ourselves and believe deeply
is both derived from, and fed back into, our acts and omissions--and
our thoughts are more nearly rationalizations of acts and omissions than we care to admit"

Not making much sense there. My theory is that who we are allowed to be attracted to, i.e. what is acceptable to our peers, is dictating our mating behavior early on. This can be for good or ill depending on the zeitgeist. Only the deeply religious discuss what makes a good mate, everyone else thinks in terms of romantic love. Oddly enough people who are less central in their peer groups may be making better choices since there's not the pressure on them to live up to their reputations.

Lust isn't as tangible a thingl as posters on iSteve think. You're making mistakes by thinking backwards from the choice rather than from the point of view of the chooser. People are picking mates that look the part or look good more than because the person sets their veins on fire. What does the romantic partner represent? What image is being projected? You might not feel compelled to make the same statement but that's you.

Anonymous said...

Putin. Imperialist-nationalism vs ethno-nationalism.

Putin and Russian governments generally have turned to "imperialist-nationalism" because they fear a retreat from it will lead to great power interference on Russia's borders. Which is obviously true. America is itching for greater influence and intervention on Russia's periphery like in Georgia with Mikhail Saakashvili.

dearieme said...

" is it good, or bad, that the prince married a commoner? does this establish a precedent..": the Queen Mum was a commoner. Princess Di was a commoner.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

" Putin. Imperialist-nationalism vs ethno-nationalism."

Putin and Russian governments generally have turned to "imperialist-nationalism" because they fear a retreat from it will lead to great power interference on Russia's borders. Which is obviously true. America is itching for greater influence and intervention on Russia's periphery like in Georgia with Mikhail Saakashvili.


It's all about protecting the US Dollar's position as the World's reserve currency ... without that the US could not export inflation to the rest of the world.

Anonymous said...

dearieme:" is it good, or bad, that the prince married a commoner? does this establish a precedent..": the Queen Mum was a commoner. Princess Di was a commoner."

Only in they sense that they were not going to inherit their own titles; I think that most people would say that the daughter of the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne (father of the late Queen Mother) and the daughter of the 8th Earl Spencer (Princess Diana) would not fit most peoples' definition of "common."

syon

Anonymous said...

I think coming up with trivial mental illnesses should be classified as a mental illness too.

Anonymous said...

DRAUGHTMAN'S CONTRACT is a perfect example of elitist anti-elitism. Greenaway's only good film but a very great one.

Lucille said...

Anon @ 6:25:

"Most people" - in what country? I doubt a Brit would be confused, and "Commoner" is not the same word as "common". Dearieme is correct in noting that "commoner" is simply a term for anyone who is not a member of the nobility. It doesn't mean anything more, and has no bearing on whether you are intelligent or accomplished.

dearieme said...

"I think that most people would say that the daughter of the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne (father of the late Queen Mother) and the daughter of the 8th Earl Spencer (Princess Diana) would not fit most peoples' definition of "common.""

You've completely misunderstood. In the context of royal marriages, "commoner" means simply non-royal. However aristocratic you may be, if you ain't royal, you are a commoner. The understanding that you attribute to "most people" matters not a jot: they would simply be wrong.

Anonymous said...

dearieme:"You've completely misunderstood. In the context of royal marriages, "commoner" means simply non-royal. However aristocratic you may be, if you ain't royal, you are a commoner. The understanding that you attribute to "most people" matters not a jot: they would simply be wrong."

Actually, no. Everyone is well aware that there is a significant difference in social (not legal) standing between the daughter of an earl and the daughter of an untitled dustman.I rather doubt that the Queen Mother's prospective royal relatives viewed her as being identical in substance to the progeny of a barrister. Hence, to lump them together as "commoners" (as you are doing) is quibbling.Social realities transcend strict codification.

Syon

Anonymous said...

The Queen Mother and Princess Diana are commoners in the same sense that FDR's Hyde Park estate was a farm; both definitions are only technically accurate.

dearieme said...

For fuck's sake, just how stupid are you people? You can't just invent the meaning of words to suit yourself.

In the context of royal marriages, commoner = non-royal.

In the context of the Houses of Parliament, commoner = non-Lord or non-Dame.

In the context of a manorial estate, commoner = someone entitled to graze animals on the common pasture.

Each meaning is clear, distinct and ancient. Stop being such ignorant hicks.

morleysafer said...

I love when an etiquette comment blasts off w/ exasperated profanity

Anonymous said...

dearieme:"For fuck's sake, just how stupid are you people? You can't just invent the meaning of words to suit yourself.

In the context of royal marriages, commoner = non-royal.

In the context of the Houses of Parliament, commoner = non-Lord or non-Dame.

In the context of a manorial estate, commoner = someone entitled to graze animals on the common pasture.

Each meaning is clear, distinct and ancient. Stop being such ignorant hicks."

Dear boy, you really need to grasp the subtleties of social class; if it were simply a matter of dictionary definitions, ignorant hicks would have no problems.They would simply have to follow your example and look things up in a guide book. Sadly, however, it's so much more complicated than that.Just try to understand that, although Princess Diana and a charwoman are both commoners, they are not social equals. Blood tells.

Anonymous said...

RE: Princess Diana and the Queen Mother, the Uncommon Commoners,

As near as I can follow, dearieme seems to imagine that the population of Britain is just an undifferentiated mass when viewed from the rarefied heights of royalty; how charmingly levelling!To imagine that the status of the daughter of an earl is the same as that of the daughter of a flight dispatcher!Best laugh of the day.