A number of weeks ago cosmologist Sean Carroll posted a link on his Google+ stream to a recent paper published by Addy Pross in the Journal of Systems Chemistry. Since Sean’s comment about the paper was positive, I went and checked it out. Essentially, Pross argues that he has come up with a general theory of evolution that bridges biology and chemistry by reducing the former to the latter. The key conceptual element in the new theory is something called Dynamic Kinetic Stability (DKS), to which I will return in a minute. Sean briefly noted that he is generally sympathetic to attempts at extending the Darwinian framework to non-biological domains, as for instance Lee Smolin has done in physics with his idea of cosmological natural selection.
As a biologist I’m much less intrigued by, and indeed tend to be somewhat guarded against, this sort of thing. Moreover, as a philosopher I simply don’t buy Dan Dennett’s idea that “Darwinism” (which of course is not a scientific theory, but an ideological-philosophical position) is a “universal acid,” as expressed most famously in his eminently readable Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.
Perhaps the trouble started with Theodozius Dobzhansky, one of the fathers of modern evolutionary theory, who famously said that nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution (the phrase is, in fact, approvingly quoted by Pross). Problem is, Dobzhansky was writing for an audience of science high school teachers, and his statement is patently wrong, as an even cursory examination of the history of biology makes clear. For instance, developmental biologists had done a lot of highly fruitful research throughout the 19th and 20th centuries even as they ignored Darwin. And molecular biologists made spectacular progress from the 1950’s though the onset of the 21st century, again pretty much completing ignoring evolution. This is not to say that evolutionary theory doesn’t help in understanding developmental and molecular systems, but it is a stretch of the record to make claims such as those of Dobzhansky. (It would be like saying, for instance, that nothing makes sense in physics except in the light of quantum mechanics. Plenty of things in physics make perfect sense even as one brackets quantum mechanics and considers it a background theory.)
Or perhaps the culprit is Richard Dawkins, who famously proposed the idea of memes in his 1976 popular work, The Selfish Gene. Indeed, Dawkins was looking for a way to universalize Darwinian principles, perennially dissatisfied with the emphasis put on contingency by some of his colleagues, most notably the late Stephen Jay Gould. As it turns out, memetics (warmly endorsed as a general theory of cultural evolution by Dennett) failed abysmally, as shown for instance by the premature closure of the Journal of Memetics, the only academic source of all things memetic.
Of course, Darwinian evolution is indeed applicable to some non biological systems, particularly to so-called genetic algorithms, a type of evolving computer program whose properties have been studied by computational scientists over the past few decades. Indeed, genetic algorithms mimic biological evolution so closely that a number of population geneticists I know have been annoyed by repeated claims of computer scientists to have discovered this or that principle describing such systems, apparently without realizing that many of those discoveries had already been made by theoretical population geneticists decades earlier.
But, back to Pross’s paper. His project is not exactly to extend Darwinian principles from biology to chemistry, thus accounting for the pre-biotic evolution of the chemical precursors of living organisms. Rather, he wishes to proceed the other way around and to subsume biological evolution as a particular instance of a chemically-based general theory. This makes sense within the always popular framework of theory reduction, though of course one would then immediately ask why not go all the way and attempt a quantum mechanical model of biological evolution (answer: because such an attempt would quickly begin to look ridiculous on epistemological grounds, if not on ontological ones).
As I mentioned above, Pross’s key idea is that of DKS. As the author puts it: “There is another kind of stability in nature that is actually achieved through change, rather than through lack of change. This stability kind is a dynamic stability,” and proceeds to give the example of a river, which maintains its general feature (stability) even though the actual water making up the river is always different (dynamic). The problem is, of course, that even if biological systems can be thought of as a type of DKS, this is surely not sufficient for an extended theory of evolution, as clearly some not evolving systems — like the above mentioned river — are also DKS.
Pross realizes that his proposal faces serious problems, not the least of which is that while DKS is supposed to be equivalent to fitness, it is exceedingly hard to actually measure DKS. Pross attempts to bypass the issue by asserting that biologists too have trouble measuring fitness, a statement that would surprise many biologists. (There are both conceptual and methodological issues with biological fitness, but nothing like what I gather being the case for DKS in chemistry.)
This is obviously not the place for an in-depth discussion of Pross’s paper (anyone out there interested in a PhD dissertation on various attempts to expand the domain of Darwinian evolution? Drop me a note...). The bottom line is that I am suspicious of theoretical approaches to biological evolution that don’t seem to take on board what the Darwinian theory actually says. As is well known, the best summary of what the latter consists of was given by Richard Lewontin, and it is still today an obligatory station for any serious discussion of “Darwinism.”
Lewontin was able to provide a highly formal and abstract rendition of the Darwinian theory, which boils down to the statement that a given system will evolve in Darwinian fashion if three conditions are met: 1) There is variation within populations of evolving entities; 2) The variants in question differ in their fitness (i.e., their ability to persist and spread); and 3) There is a system of inheritance that allows the next generation to increase the frequency of the successful (higher fitness) variants.
I suspect that Lewontin’s analysis simply doesn’t fit many of the proposed expansions of Darwinian theory. It works for computer algorithms, as I mentioned above, but not for memes (whatever they are), nor — likely — for DKS, and probably not for Smolin’s parallel universes. I guess I’m not bothered by this “failure” because I am happy with scientific theories having proper domains of application and because I’m somewhat suspicious of “theories of everything.” My pluralism about scientific theories is to be taken as epistemologically grounded, not as a deeper ontological statement. That is, I don’t know (nobody does, regardless of what they’ll tell you) whether the total reality of the universe can in principle be described by a single theory unifying all the special sciences. But I think it is pretty plain for everyone but the most dogged reductionist to see that in practice we will have to do with special theories for special purposes, probably forever. Where this leaves the question underlying Pross’s effort — how to bridge the gap between chemical and biological processes, thus explaining what life is — remains to be seen.
Re: memes, my understanding is that Dawkins pushed the analogy to genetic inheritance too far.
In other words, cultural evolution may be a real, experimentally supported phenomenon - it just isn't Darwinian.
Would you agree?
Addy Pross's stuff might make more sense in the light of his previous papers. Basically he argues that, in chemistry, two things control what reactions happen: thermodynamics and kinetics. Thermodynamics controls what the equilibrium state of a reaction system will be, and, if people remember anything from general chemistry, they usually remember this part of it.ReplyDelete
But in biology, reaction kinetics are just as important as thermodynamics, or often even more import, for controlling reactions. Enyzme catalysis etc. speeds up reactions that would otherwise be too slow to be biologically relevant.
There have been a lot of attempts over the decades to describe life in chemical thermodynamics terms, without stunning success. Pross points out that it might be more productive to think of life as a chemical system under extreme kinetic control. This connects quite naturally to biological concepts of reproduction and natural selection. He argues that there is a deep underlying connection between the traditional biological concepts and chemical kinetics. I think there is something here worth exploring -- whether or not the new paper expresses this well is another question.
This is reminiscent of my introduction to biological thinking as a teenager in the writing of Isaac Asimov. He basically defined life as the lowering of entropy through the action of enzymes which seems a nice mix of thermodynamics and reaction kinetics.
I continue to think a most productive way of viewing life is as constrained chemistry and that these constraints have evolved over time in a Darwinian manner.
Journal of Theoretical Biology
Volume 220, Issue 3, 7 February 2003, Pages 393–406
The Driving Force for Life's Emergence: Kinetic and Thermodynamic Considerations
Department of Chemistry, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, 643, Beer Sheva, 84105, Israel
Received 26 December 2001. Accepted 23 September 2002. Available online 3 December 2002.
The principles that govern the emergence of life from non-life remain a subject of intense debate. The evolutionary paradigm built up over the last 50 years, that argues that the evolutionary driving force is the Second Law of Thermodynamics, continues to be promoted by some, while severely criticized by others. If the thermodynamic drive toward ever-increasing entropy is not what drives the evolutionary process, then what does? In this paper, we analyse this long-standing question by building on Eigen's “replication first” model for life's emergence, and propose an alternative theoretical framework for understanding life's evolutionary driving force. Its essence is that life is a kinetic phenomenon that derives from the kinetic consequences of autocatalysis operating on specific biopolymeric systems, and this is demonstrably true at all stages of life's evolution — from primal to advanced life forms. Life's unique characteristics — its complexity, energy-gathering metabolic systems, teleonomic character, as well as its abundance and diversity, derive directly from the proposition that from a chemical perspective the replication reaction is an extreme expression of kinetic control, one in which thermodynamic requirements have evolved to play a supporting, rather than a directing, role. The analysis leads us to propose a new sub-division within chemistry — replicative chemistry. A striking consequence of this kinetic approach is that Darwin's principle of natural selection: that living things replicate, and therefore evolve, may be phrased more generally: that certain replicating things can evolve, and may therefore become living. This more general formulation appears to provide a simple conceptual link between animate and inanimate matter.
Seeking the Chemical Roots of Darwinism: Bridging between Chemistry and Biology
Addy Pross Prof. Dr.
Chemistry - A European Journal
Volume 15, Issue 34, pages 8374–8381, August 24, 2009
Chemistry and biology are intimately connected sciences yet the chemistry–biology interface remains problematic and central issues regarding the very essence of living systems remain unresolved. In this essay we build on a kinetic theory of replicating systems that encompasses the idea that there are two distinct kinds of stability in nature—thermodynamic stability, associated with “regular” chemical systems, and dynamic kinetic stability, associated with replicating systems. That fundamental distinction is utilized to bridge between chemistry and biology by demonstrating that within the parallel world of replicating systems there is a second law analogue to the second law of thermodynamics, and that Darwinian theory may, through scientific reductionism, be related to that second law analogue. Possible implications of these ideas to the origin of life problem and the relationship between chemical emergence and biological evolution are discussed.
I consider this post on universal Darwinism to be woefully misinformed and and misleadingly dismissive.ReplyDelete
Your focus upon memetics as 'the' Darwinian approach to cultural evolution within the social sciences is misleading. In fact Darwinism is flourishing in the social sciences. Indeed Darwinism has become central to many scientific studies spanning a wide scope of scientific subject matter. While memetics seems to have faded from favor practically every branch of the social sciences now contains a field whose name is prefaced with 'evolutionary': evolutionary economics, evolutionary psychology, evolutionary archeology etc, etc. Many of these employ Darwinian processes meeting even Leowtin's standards. And what of those that don't; should we really expect that a powerful general principle applicable to many branches of science should all be exactly equivalent to its biological implementation?
Smolin's theory of cosmological natural selection appears more promising than ever; see his latest paper on the subject: http://arxiv.org/pdf/1202.3373.pdf. In this paper Smolin makes powerful arguments that fundamental scientific theories must be Darwinian.
I have proposed that the reason we should expect a broad range of scientific theories to be Darwinian is that Darwinian processes (in accordance with Leowtin's definition) are a physical implementation of the mathematics of Bayesian inference and that we should expect to find this process operating wherever knowledge has accumulated in the universe; see my paper Bayesian methods and Universal Darwinism (http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1001/1001.0068.pdf).
See also my book Universal Darwinism: the path of knowledge 9.(http://www.amazon.com/Universal-Darwinism-The-path-knowledge/dp/1456456938/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1332435373&sr=8-1)
Smolin views physical laws and the fundamental cosmological parameters as instances of such knowledge accumulation.
Indeed a number of eminent philosophers of science, including Karl Popper, view the accumulation of knowledge within science itself as a Darwinian process; hence the subject of evolutionary epistemology.
Also we should not overlook the theory of Wojciech Zurek of the Los Alamos National Laboratory: Quantum Darwinism. He has not only reduced the axioms of quantum theory from 5 to 3 and solved the 'measurement problem' but he has explained the transition from the quantum to the classical as a Darwinian process. And yes it too meets Leowtin's standards; see my paper Quantum Darwinism as a Darwinian process (http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1001/1001.0745.pdf)
Dobzhansky's comment says that evolutionary theory provides the explanatory context for biology; even in fields such as developmental and molecular biology where the researchers may not have been focused on evolution. Clearly developmental features such as homeobox genes are best understood as inherited from the earliest multi-cellular life forms. The succession of developmental strategies amongst vertebrates, those of fish, amphibians, reptiles and placental mammals only makes sense in the context of Darwinian evolution. Clearly the stunning findings of molecular biology since the 1950s have discovered the mechanism of Darwinian inheritance and elucidated the mechanism by which genotype becomes phenotype. It is fair to say that molecular biology only makes sense in the context of a code whose message evolves in a Darwinian manner.
For a less dismissive view of the exciting field of universal Darwinism please visit my site: www.universaldarwinism.com
"Smolin views physical laws and the fundamental cosmological parameters as instances of such knowledge accumulation."Delete
Why not, if such laws are regulatory and there are strategic purposes that regulations serve.
All knowledge is to some extent in service of such purposes.
Note that Lewontin (1970) - the source of the "abstract rendition of the Darwinian theory" - explicitly includes cultural inheritance in the same paper, saying: "The population would evolve whether the correlation between parent and offspring arose from Mendelian, cytoplasmic, or cultural inheritance."ReplyDelete
There's now an enormous literature on Darwinian cultural evolution - dating back 40 years. Check out my page of "Memetics references" for details. The evidence favouring the idea is now overwhelming. If you want the best paper making the case for Darwinian cultural evolution, I nominate: "Is human cultural evolution Darwinian?" - PMID: 1505871 - with full text available free online.ReplyDelete
> In other words, cultural evolution may be a real, experimentally supported phenomenon - it just isn't Darwinian. Would you agree? <
Correct, cultural evolution is definitely real, though it is more Lamarckian than Darwinian in nture, given horizontal trasmission of information.
> Pross points out that it might be more productive to think of life as a chemical system under extreme kinetic control. This connects quite naturally to biological concepts of reproduction and natural selection. He argues that there is a deep underlying connection between the traditional biological concepts and chemical kinetics. <
That's precisely the part that didn't convince me. Certainly biological systems are also chemical systems, but I really didn't see much of an analogy between DKS and fitness.
> While memetics seems to have faded from favor practically every branch of the social sciences now contains a field whose name is prefaced with 'evolutionary': evolutionary economics, evolutionary psychology, evolutionary archeology etc <
I know, and I think it's a bad idea which will bear just as little fruit as memetics.
> we should expect to find this process operating wherever knowledge has accumulated in the universe <
I'm not sure what sense to make of the idea that knowledge accumulates in the universe, knowledge is a concept that requires agency.
> Smolin views physical laws and the fundamental cosmological parameters as instances of such knowledge accumulation. <
I like Smolin, but this makes no sense to me, unless he uses words like "Darwinism" and "knowledge" in entirely idiosyncratic ways.
> Clearly the stunning findings of molecular biology since the 1950s have discovered the mechanism of Darwinian inheritance <
There is no such thing as Darwinian inheritance. Inheritance is a concept / mechanism entirely orthogonal to Darwinism.
> Check out my page of "Memetics references" for details. The evidence favouring the idea is now overwhelming. <
Please mention one interesting discovery arising from the concept of memetics.
>I know, and I think it's a bad idea which will bear just as little fruit as memetics.<
If you are aware of these wide ranging and thriving theories utilizing a Darwinian process within the social sciences then why did you single out memetics which you claim has “failed abysmally”. It might seem this was setting up a straw man in order to dismiss it. If you consider memetics as failed then let's not discuss it. There are many real men out there; let’s discuss those.
One small fruitful example: Claudistic analysis, borrowed directly from Darwinian evolutionary theory, is routinely used to illustrate the chain of evolutionary descent taken by the design of cultural artifacts such as pottery and arrowheads within evolutionary archeology.
>I'm not sure what sense to make of the idea that knowledge accumulates in the universe, knowledge is a concept that requires agency.<
Is it fair to say that DNA represents an accumulation of knowledge? In my view knowledge accumulation occurs frequently in the natural world: in genomes, in brains both human and non and in culture as for example in the scientific literature.
I am not familiar with your use of ‘agency’. Do you mean that knowledge may only be had by an agent such as an organism? Isn’t DNA a source of such knowledge? Are we splitting hairs here or is there a meaningful distinction?
>I like Smolin, but this makes no sense to me, unless he uses words like "Darwinism" and "knowledge" in entirely idiosyncratic ways.<
He makes it quite clear. He view physical law and cosmological parameters as having evolved over a succession of parent/offspring universes. Collapsing black holes within a parent universe ‘bounce’ into or give birth to a new child universe. The cosmological parameters and laws governing the child universe are inherited with slight variations from the parent. The reproductive success of the child universe depends of the ability of its variations to produce black holes. All as per Leowtin.
He views the knowledge repository of cosmological parameters as analogous to the knowledge repository of genomes:
“In any landscape scenario-whether in biology or physics- there are two landscapes: the landscape of fundamental parameters and the landscape of parameters of effective low energy theories. There can be a rather complicated relationship between them. In biology these are the spaces of genotypes-the actual DNA sequences and the space of phenotypes-the space of actual features of creatures that natural selection acts on.”
>There is no such thing as Darwinian inheritance. Inheritance is a concept / mechanism entirely orthogonal to Darwinism.>
In your original post you championed the views of Leowtin “a given system will evolve in Darwinian fashion if three conditions are met:”. #3 of these conditions is:
“3) There is a system of inheritance that allows the next generation to increase the frequency of the successful (higher fitness) variants.”
How can you now say “There is no such thing as Darwinian inheritance”?
Please explain as I have become suspicious of the tactics used in this discussion.
Another great post, esp. including John's comments. Have always believed in what you call 'Universal Darwinism', If you allow that you are simply making the case against extensibility, it just seems to me that many good theories have that attribute. In any case, your arguments against a big tent sure sound convincing.ReplyDelete
Re the comments about ontology, maybe one day we will be graced with a new post containing a really technical defense of objective stuff. And yes, I think more than a few credentialed scientists in every field would agree it needs defending.
Here, if you won't let branches of science cohere, how can you even begin to talk about the way things are?
Massimo, the science of cultural evolution does not just consist of memetics. Only a small fraction of the researchers in the field even use the "meme" term these days. However, there have been dozens of books, hundreds of papers and numerous conferences on the topic. Check out the 2010 Royal Society "Culture evolves!" conference, for example.ReplyDelete
So as not to duck your question specifically about memetics, its main contributions have been to generate a theory of cultural evolution incorporating generalised versions of symbiosis and epidemiology - and to suggest that an approach to biology that looks for benefit to genes is incomplete (since memes can also benefit), to provide neat terminology for discussing cultural evolution with - and to popularise the whole idea.
Among the most interesting ideas to arise from all this (IMO) are the idea of cultural kin selection (memetic inclusive fitness) (Heyligan, 1992), the memetic domatia hypothesis of the enlargment of the human brain (Blackmore, 1999), the symbiosis theory of ultrasociality (Blackmore, 1999), and memetic algorithms (Moscato, 1989). Of all the ideas derived from the field, memetic algorithms will probably have the most lasting significance.
However, it is important not to judge this field on the basis of the work directly derived from memetics. Population geneticists began to build models of culture which treated it as an semi-independent evolving system in the 1970s. Some of this work was cited by Dawkins in The Selfish Gene. It is mostly their models that other scientists have built on. This work largely went on in parallel to that of the memeticists. It is often known as the "Dual Inheritance Theory". The models used are broadly similar to those of memetics - though usually with much more dense maths - and a somewhat bigger emphasis on how memes and genes interact. Some of those involved are Rob Boyd, Peter Richerson, Joe Henrich, Marc Feldman, L. L. Cavalli-Sforza, Ed Wilson, Alex Mesoudi and Kevin Laland. Much of this work is summarised in the popular books "Not by Genes Alone" (Boyd and Richerson, 2005) and "Cultural Evolution" (Mesoudi, 2011).
Tim:..." It is mostly their models that other scientists have built on. This work largely went on in parallel to that of the memeticists..."...This sentence is not accurate: what parallelism?. Also, what memeticists? Can you be more explicit?Delete
To quote from: "MATHEMATICAL MODELS FOR MEMETICS" (2000):Delete
"Memetics has developed in virtually complete isolation from a related discipline with very similar concerns, namely, cultural evolution and gene-culture co-evolution. Cultural evolution is a branch of theoretical population genetics established in the early part of the 1970s, and dedicated to using population genetics models to investigate the evolution and dynamics of cultural traits equivalent to memes. Gene-culture co-evolution employs the same methods to explore the co-evolution of genes and cultural traits."
That paper goes into the relationship between memetics and gene-culture co-evolution in detail - arguing that they are essentially equivalent - saying:
"We reject the argument that meaningful differences exist between memetics and the population genetics methods. We also believe that cultural evolution and gene-culture co-evolutionary theory will be much enriched by embracing memetics."
ah!....thank you..note :"...they reject..."..it didnt do too much good for the memes .."..all in good faith...Delete
> Population geneticists began to build models of culture which treated it as an semi-independent evolving system in the 1970s.Delete
I am curious whether any such models are both reliably predictive and have led to novel insights into cultural characteristics and dynamics. If so, can you suggest any works that would help me get a grasp of the state of this particular field of inquiry? I have long found this particular concept of culture extremely compelling. In fact, I've been quietly looking askance at much of what I read about the inquiry into the nature of morality from a scientific perspective for some time now (especially, but not limited to, the sometimes thinly disguised prescriptive bits), specifically because of the strong tendency to treat individuals as the fundamental unit to which morality pertains, whereas it seems pretty obvious to me that a more cogent understanding of morality's nature can be gleaned if viewed primarily as a culturally distributed phenomenon.
I mentioned two good introductions already: "Not by Genes Alone" and "Cultural Evolution". Pretty much all science is predictive. Theorists have determined all manner of things about how culture evolves - from finding out the best words to put in tweets if you want them to be retweeted, to the location within old empires where new ones are most likely to arise. If it didn't make predictions, it surely wouldn't be much of a science.Delete
There are at least eight books which cover the cultural evolution of religion. Search for "list of books about applications of memetics" (with the quotes) and you should find a list of them. I appreciate that religion and morality are not the same thing - but that's how much of the work on this subject has been framed historically.
Thanks. It was not completely clear to me from your earlier mentions that those two suggestions would be appropriate introductions. Moreover, yes, science is predictive, just as useful science also reveals something previously unknown about its subject. However, not everything that is called science is science, nor does everybody who presents himself as scientifically grounded have sufficient knowledge, honesty and intellectual rigor to so qualify, so I find it useful to specifically invoke those criteria in prefacing a request for more information in order to strain out the majority of false directions as well as (and more importantly) identify false directors.Delete
Apologies if my request put you on the defensive (and conversely, my complete disinterest in your mistake if you assumed a basic ignorance of science on my part due to the nature of my request), but time is an extremely valuable and non-renewable personal resource. I feel that people with valuable knowledge they wish to share can spare a moment now and then for a spot-check of their intellectual credentials for the benefit of sowing where the ground is more fertile.
The other literature I should probably have mentioned is the literature on cooperation and altruism. The best of this factors in the influence of culture. There are again a number of books on cooperation and altruism from writers that are aware of Darwinian cultural evolution (listed on the same book list as before). However, frankly, I find much of this literature to be rather flawed (the problems typically include too much cultural group selection, not enough cultural kin selection - and insufficient appreciation of "induced altruism" - or manipulation). However, if this is your area of interest, feel free to check this material out.Delete
Altruism is considered from the memetic view in Chapters 12 and 13 of The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore.
This book has a foreword by Richard Dawkins in which he says: 'Any theory deserves to be given its best shot, and that is what Susan Blackmore has given the theory of the meme.'
Most of these otherwise fine comments miss the point that culture's main contribution to evolution is to greatly speed up the process of inheritance of adaptive behavioral traits. How instincts have developed from shared experiences in other words.Delete
The Meme Machine is a fine book, but it is 13 years old, and some things have changed since then - including our understanding of altruism.Delete
For example, it is now clear that inclusive fitness theory (which is the basis of many ideas about apparent altruism in the rest of biology) also applies to memes. That was not appreciated so acutely back then - and didn't get into her book. There's now a whole field of "tag-based cooperation" related to this that simply didn't exist back when Sue's book was published. There have also been other developments...
> If you are aware of these wide ranging and thriving theories utilizing a Darwinian process within the social sciences then why did you single out memetics which you claim has “failed abysmally”. <
Because it has. This post isn't about memetics, but it has produced little more than metaphorical talk about cultural evolution.
And no, it has nothing at all to do with Cavalli-Sforza's et al.'s efforts based on population genetics theory. Though I must say that those too didn't get very far.
> Claudistic analysis, borrowed directly from Darwinian evolutionary theory, is routinely used to illustrate the chain of evolutionary descent taken by the design of cultural artifacts such as pottery and arrowheads within evolutionary archeology. <
Didn't see the word meme in there at all. At any rate, population genetic techniques have been used to trace changes of surnames through time, without implying that one has a "theory" of surname change. One can borrow other fields' techniques, but that doesn't amount to generating a theory of the importing field.
> Is it fair to say that DNA represents an accumulation of knowledge? <
No, DNA is a molecule that stores information, which is not the same thing as knowledge.
> Do you mean that knowledge may only be had by an agent such as an organism? <
A conscious organism. Knowledge is "justified true belief," non-conscious organisms can't justify what they "believe" (if the word has any meaning in that context).
> He view physical law and cosmological parameters as having evolved over a succession of parent/offspring universes. <
For Darwinian evolution to work there has to be inheritance (what's the mechanism) and an ecology, meaning that the entities have to compete for common resources. Has Smolin built an ecological theory of universes?
> How can you now say “There is no such thing as Darwinian inheritance”? <
Because Darwinism requires inheritance, but is silent on the mechanism of inheritance, so to speak of Darwinian inheritance in that context is not correct. You probably meant Mendelian inheritance.
> a foreword by Richard Dawkins in which he says: 'Any theory deserves to be given its best shot, and that is what Susan Blackmore has given the theory of the meme.' <
I wouldn't disagree with that stament...
>No, DNA is a molecule that stores information, which is not the same thing as knowledge.<
I see, your position is that a bird does not ‘know’ how to fly, a cat does not 'know' how to catch mice and a chloroplast does not ‘know’ how to turn the sun’s energy into ATP. They just contain information that instructs them how to do these things. This seems but an evasive and hair splitting denial of something having obvious truth.
>A conscious organism. Knowledge is "justified true belief," non-conscious organisms can't justify what they "believe" (if the word has any meaning in that context).<
Now I understand that you are a philosopher that has not yet succumbed to Quine’s views on naturalistic epistemology and who remains true to the views of Plato and his ‘justified true belief’ definition of knowledge; please consider that we may have gained some knowledge since then, you might want to update this position.
I believe a broader view of ‘knowledge’ as the 'negentropy' described by information theory is now compelling.
>For Darwinian evolution to work there has to be inheritance (what's the mechanism) and an ecology, meaning that the entities have to compete for common resources. Has Smolin built an ecological theory of universes?>
Very tricky! First you champion Lewotin’s definition of Darwinian processes and then when confronted with the example of Smolin's theory which conforms to Leowtin's definition you invent additional requirements that must be met. Leowtin does not require either mechanism or ecology.
As you correctly state in the point below Darwin was not able to provide a mechanism for inheritance and this is as it must be as DNA and molecular biology were unknown in his time. In your argument below you say something cannot be a Darwinian process that specifies the mechanism of inheritance because Darwin did not specify a mechanism. Yet here you say that something cannot be Darwinian that does not specify the mechanism of inheritance.
Even the slipperiest philosopher cannot have it both ways.
You might consider reading Smolin's papers before further questioning his work; I am not interested in parrying each of your many thrusts into the unknown. His hypothesized mechanism is in the bounce where variations are made and passed to the child generation. This mechanism is well referenced in Smolin's papers.
>Because Darwinism requires inheritance, but is silent on the mechanism of inheritance, so to speak of Darwinian inheritance in that context is not correct. You probably meant Mendelian inheritance.<
Outrageous! When you quoted Leowtin and his condition of ‘inheritance’ wasn’t he referring to Darwinian inheritance. You did list inheritance as one of three requirements for a Darwinian process.
Even Leowtin is silent on the requirement of mechanism. Darwin was not silent on mechanism. It troubled him deeply that he couldn’t devise a plausible mechanism which wouldn’t result in the blending of inherited characteristics and he conceded that it was a detail which needed to be filled in. Of course Darwinism has evolved since Darwin just as Newtonian mechanics evolved after Newton. Darwin's theory has been supported by the findings of Mendel and molecular biology. The mechanism which puzzled Darwin and that he conceded was missing from his theory was revealed partially by Mendel and then more fully by molecular biology. To imply that our current understanding of the mechanism of inheritance is not part of Darwinian theory is simply bizarre.
The tactics used in this discussion more closely resemble the bobbing and weaving of a fighter in the ring than they do any path to understanding. In that context I believe I have countered your dismissive and unreasoned attack on universal Darwinism and that there is nothing further I can do here. I am tuning out, adios.
Re: For Darwinian evolution to work there has to be inheritance (what's the mechanism) and an ecology, meaning that the entities have to compete for common resources. Has Smolin built an ecological theory of universes?Delete
James Gardner proposes that new biocosms are created by intelligences in their parent biocosms. Mark Martin proposes new worlds are simulated by intelligeny agents in their parent worlds. However these are just two possibilities.
It seems dubious whether Darwinian evolution *requires* competition for shared resources. For example MWI-style quantum Darwinism has differential reproductive success of worlds, *without* resource limitation. It would be more in accordance with the basic principles of Darwinism to claim that some variants need to do better than other ones - rather than claim that such differences in success are *necessarily* caused by resource limitation. For example, check with Lewontin (1970). There's no mention of resource limitation. Mentioning resource limitation in this context would be undesirable.
> Why not, if such laws are regulatory and there are strategic purposes that regulations serve.
All knowledge is to some extent in service of such purposes. <
I think it is a mistake to talk about purpose without the involvement of agency, and surely Smolin doesn't think there is agency involved here.
> Of all the ideas derived from the field, memetic algorithms will probably have the most lasting significance. <
Again, this post is not about memetics, but I seriously doubt that statement.
> Population geneticists began to build models of culture which treated it as an semi-independent evolving system in the 1970s <
Indeed, and as I mentioned above, it fizzled out, unfortunately. I have read several papers by Cavalli, as well as "Not by Genes Alone" (which is not at all building a theory of cultural evolution, but rather a rebuke of genetic determinism).
> "We reject the argument that meaningful differences exist between memetics and the population genetics methods."
They can reject all they want, but I was trained as a population geneticist, and I see no parallel whatsoever between the two.
> There are at least eight books which cover the cultural evolution of religion <
Yes, and some of them are good. None of them amounts to a theory of cultural evolution in general, though some contain interesting (and largely untestable) speculations. The best work there is by Pascal Boyer, for those interested.
> it is now clear that inclusive fitness theory (which is the basis of many ideas about apparent altruism in the rest of biology) also applies to memes <
I have no idea how it could, considering that we don't have a good enough sense of what memes are (what are they made of? How do they act? Why do they show differential reproduction? How large/small can a meme be?).
"Not by Genes Alone" was USING the theory of cultural evolution, as worked out over the previous two decades - and explaining it in layman's terms. I doin't mean to patronise you, but perhaps you have embarassingly got this book muddled up with "Not in Our Genes" - by Lewontin and Rose - which was a rebuke of genetic determinism.Delete
The study of cultural evolution by the population geneticists did NOT "fizzle out". The literature has exploded in the last decade. There's more work being done on the topic now than ever before. Perhaps you are thinking specifically of L. L. Cavalli-Sforza - who did leave the field. That's about the only way I can think of to make any sense of your statement. He was just one guy. The work was continued by others.
In the cultural version of population genetics, these concepts transfer straight across: population memetics, meme, memetic drift, mutation, meme flow, phylomemetics, epistasis, memetic linkage, memetic hitchhiking and recombination.
There are some differences. For example, there's not really an equivalent of meiosis. Dominant and recessive are not too useful.
The definition of a meme is a big non-issue - for the purposes of population memetics. All that requires is some way of roughly identifying which individuals have which cultural traits. Then it can get to work analysing their frequencies, distributions, and spread. From there, it becomes obvious that some memes are surrounded by sterile copies of themselves, that other memes have extended relationships with their offspring - and so on.
I can see you have other meme-related questions. However, IMHO, you seriously need to hit the library in this area. If you prefer, feel free to ignore the memetics literature, and go for the numerous academic books and papers that have been published on the topic.
I think that the definition of a meme as something that rests somehow in the culture outside of the individuals where all cultures in the end reside is what makes the concept as magical as the stochastic process it was initially meant to augment.Delete
One of the first papers on cultural kin selection is:Delete
Allison, Paul D. (1992) The Cultural Evolution of Beneficent Norms.
The PDF is available on the net. This is not an especially good place to begin an education on the topic of cultural evolution - but it does offer an explanation how inclusive fitness theory applies to the cultural realm.
> the definition of a meme as something that rests somehow in the culture outside of the individualsDelete
What say you then of the definition (or more accurately, description) of a memory as something that rests somehow in the brain outside of the individual cells? Has it not yet been satisfactorily demonstrated that memory "rests" in associations between groups of cells, and cannot be properly understood to reside in the cells themselves without some rather involved and unnecessary gymnastics?
And if you grant that the analogy is apt, then by extension, would that not imply the absurd notion that the brain ultimately resides in its cells?
I think fixating on the inside/outside aspect muddles rather than clarifies.
I don't see any apt analogy between what we know to be memories and what we can only imagine to be memes.Delete
Pardon me, Roy, but you weren't imagining when you specifically cited a concept of memes as something that exists in the culture outside of the individuals, were you? I grant that you may have been imagining when you made the (unsupported) assumption that individuals are where all cultures in the end reside, and then went on to assert that these very explicit and specific ideas are what makes the concept of memes magical.Delete
For clarity, the concept you cited is real, correct? Just as the concept of a unicorn is real? Even if the thing it symbolizes is not?Delete
I see no arguments there worth responding to.Delete
Fair enough, and credit to you for making that call before I did.Delete
Richard Semon's "mnemes" - from 1904 - were general units of memory. The idea covered information in DNA, human memory and cultural artifacts. The idea makes a lot of sense. However the term "mneme" lost out to the term "gene" - which took on much narrower connotations. These days the term "mneme" suffers from being unpronouncable and dead. For more details about Semon, see the "memetics timeline".Delete
"I think it is a mistake to talk about purpose without the involvement of agency, and surely Smolin doesn't think there is agency involved here."
I think that when you speak of such laws, you speak of their service to the universal system, and in that sense an evolving universe is the agent of its evolution. Otherwise it's simply changing, not evolving.
In any case, an agency can be a thing that acts to produce a particular result, Reactive processes in the universe are all distinguished by the ways they do that.
And actually Smolin does think purpose is involved in this process (see your own initial citation) although not necessarily for the same reasons I've proposed.Delete
> an agency can be a thing that acts to produce a particular resultDelete
I would agree with this phraseology, but is there any reason to believe that the actions you're talking about take place in order to produce a particular result? Or are you offering the view that causality is equivalent to agency? Or something else? Serious question.
They exist to anticipate a response and react to it. In short, it's nature's version of our biological trial and error process.Delete
That seems like a wild and unsupported assumption.Delete
I see a lot of support for it, and you don't. Fine with me.Delete
Tim (and John, more later),ReplyDelete
> you seriously need to hit the library in this area. <
These and other comments along the same lines simply don't help. First, I am aware of more of the literature than you seem to think, though of course up to a point, since this is not my specialty. Second, this is a blog post, not a scholarly paper, so the discussion is bound to be more general and brief. Third, neither memes nor Smolin's ideas were the main target, and I find it interesting how little discussion there has been of the actual paper I was criticizing.
> I doin't mean to patronise you, but perhaps you have embarassingly got this book muddled up with "Not in Our Genes" - by Lewontin and Rose - which was a rebuke of genetic determinism. <
Yes, I know, I read both papers. But, again, to talk about culture and how it changes isn't at all the same as proposing a "theory" of it, unless we are using the word theory in significantly different ways.
> The study of cultural evolution by the population geneticists did NOT "fizzle out". The literature has exploded in the last decade. <
Not really, I actually did research this particular point for a forthcoming book, and there is only a scatter of post early '90s papers.
> population memetics, meme, memetic drift, mutation, meme flow, phylomemetics, epistasis, memetic linkage, memetic hitchhiking and recombination. <
Yes, the analogy transfers, not the theory. For instance, you simply cannot apply the population genetic terms "hitchhiking" and "recombination" to memes while retaining their technical meaning. You can do so only by analogy, which is the whole problem with memetics. It's a metaphor.
> All that requires is some way of roughly identifying which individuals have which cultural traits. <
Individuals don't have cultural traits. They have ideas, which can change during their lives, and they display behaviors (which can also be highly plastic).
> I think that when you speak of such laws, you speak of their service to the universal system, and in that sense an evolving universe is the agent of its evolution. Otherwise it's simply changing, not evolving. <
Precisely, I really don't think it makes any sense to talk about the universe being an agent, unless one endorses some version of intelligent design. As you say, it changes, it doesn't evolve.
> Individuals don't have cultural traits. They have ideas, which can change during their lives, and they display behaviors (which can also be highly plastic).Delete
This is a rather heavy-handed statement, and I see no reason to accept it at face value. Certainly we can speak in a meaningful way of individuals possessing cultural traits using set theory semantics, where such traits are ideas that are elements of the culture in question's membership set. Thus people can have varying degrees of membership in a culture as their ideas change during their lives.
I suspect that the seemingly irreconcilable differences in viewpoint in these types of discussions may often come down to whether one is intellectually open to the concept of fuzzy systems.
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Zooming out to make a comment on another note,Delete
> Second, this is a blog post, not a scholarly paper, so the discussion is bound to be more general and brief. Third, neither memes nor Smolin's ideas were the main target, and I find it interesting how little discussion there has been of the actual paper I was criticizing.
Perfectly valid, but this being the comments section of a blog post as opposed to a formal response to a scholarly paper or, say, a classroom discussion on the subject of a professor's choosing, it's not surprising (and I'm not sure in what sense interesting) that the conversations that have unfolded in response have done so in the manner of an informal and undirected consensus process about what makes for engaging conversation.
If I may be so bold, you sound slightly disappointed that your blog readership appears to have found discussing particular supporting arguments you made in your article more interesting than the primary subject matter you had hoped to address. But it seems to me that one may reasonably infer from this that your primary conclusion is fairly non-controversial, so the fact that there is some measure of lively conversation and debate going on anyway can easily be seen (and if I may be even bolder, ought to be seen) in a positive light.
@Massimo, "I really don't think it makes any sense to talk about the universe being an agent, unless one endorses some version of intelligent design. As you say, it changes, it doesn't evolve."Delete
Smolin seems to disagree. As do other non-Creationist scientists who argue that intelligence in the best sense has designed itself. Hence life, unless all this complexity is nothing but another in an endless series of universal happy accidents.
And I apologize if my tone seems impertinent - I'm really trying to make a brief but valid argument.
I reject the idea that memetic hitchhiking is any more of a metaphorDelete
than genetic hitchhiking is. In both cases proximity of pieces of heritable material persist through a copying process - due to linkage.
I also reject the idea that memetic recombination is any more of a metaphor than genetic recombination is. In both cases, one or more parents combine their heritable material in the process of creating an offspring.
The problem here is that some people have grown attached to concepts based on their experiences with organic biology - while ignoring all the other forms of life we now know about. That is narrow-minded approach to basic biological concepts.
I looked at Boyd and Richerson's output based on my references. They have 63 papers and two books on the topic since 1990. Henrich has 22 papers. Mesoudi has some 42 papers. Marcus Feldman and Kenichi Aoki are still active in the area. The whole academic field is really based on the work of the population geneticists. The field of cultural evolution seems to be coming along nicely to me. If you are not seeing that, then we have to enquire what activity you are monitoring. If what you are looking at is the Journal of Memetics, then there's no mystery about why you can't see these publications: you are not looking in the right place.
Regarding "individuals don't have cultural traits" - individuals have traits and some of them are inherited culturally - e.g. circumcision, kilts, dialects, surnames. Thus the idea of "dual inheritance" for humans - TWO information superhighways leading down the generations.
Examine the Lamarckian and Baldwinian theoretical methods for inheritance of behavioral traits that have been assisted by cultural distribution to in the end become heritable instincts. Initially it's been clearly an epigenetic process, but with distribution as a culture wide practice, 'instinctive' behaviors become common that evidence would indicate have been genetically heritable.Delete
As I say, it's a theory, but seems much more practical than the invention of memes to accomplish what instincts will clearly develop to do.
Simply put, the neo-Darwinian (pr Dawkinsian) invention of memes still cannot account for the earlier invention of instincts.
Tim, I don't think your argument directly engages Massimo's assertion because he is saying that the concept of memetics is a metaphor based on the empirically observable anchor known as genetics. So to assert that genetic hitchhiking and recombination are as much metaphors as their memetic counterparts, you would have to specify their anchor.Delete
Memetics considers how memes change and recombine. Genetics considers how genes change and recombine. Neither one is more "metaphorical" than the other. Each involves an instance of a Darwinian evolutionary process, based on different inheritance media. There's no need to invoke the concepts "metaphor" or "analogy". In my experience, these just cause people to get into a muddle over how good the supposed analogy is. My council is to forget about analogies - there's no pressing need to invoke the concept of analogy. Better to consider Universal Darwinism as a superclass, with cultural and organic evolution as sub-classes.Delete
Okay, Tim, but stating that doesn't get us past the communication discontinuity between your perspective and that of someone who fundamentally rejects the idea that a meme can actually be anything more than an analogy or perhaps even less, a convenient bucket category in the minds of individuals. At a certain point, if you believe that the person with whom you disagree is arguing in good faith, you have to be willing to engage with them on terms that are mutually understandable, even if only to demonstrate that those terms are inadequate.Delete
Mind you, I don't think it's necessarily productive to try to bridge this gulf, but I'm not completely convinced to the contrary either. However, I think getting past that discontinuity in this particular conversation would probably be aided by an effort to address Massimo's earlier comment,
> we don't have a good enough sense of what memes are (what are they made of? How do they act? Why do they show differential reproduction? How large/small can a meme be?).
Doing so would probably involve explaining specifically why the questions themselves are poorly suited to the purpose of defining what a meme is. After all, one can't expect wholly cogent questions about something to come from somebody who admittedly doesn't know what that something is - and it's no slight to that individual to say so, either.
Diving back into analogy-land for a moment, I think it may be useful to consider all of those questions with respect to vortices instead of memes, since we can hopefully all agree that vortices are real phenomena. Now, it's not apparent to me at all that obtaining answers to those particular questions would result in a useful understanding of what vortices are. Yet they certainly are something, are they not? Perhaps when discussed this generally, there are many things they could be. Perhaps we could even get ambitious and formulate a generalized mathematical description of the relative balances of forces in fluid media to describe them. But regardless, we can say that what a vortex is in each case is inseparably bound up in the medium in which it operates. To restate: One cannot extract a vortex from its medium. Yet a vortex cannot properly be understood as a characteristic of its medium's elements either. A tornado, for example, does not exist in individual atoms of the atmosphere.
Now carry these conclusions back to meme-land and see how well they fit. We know that a phenomenon needn't be separable from its medium nor be a characteristic of its medium's elements in order to exist as a phenomenon. Can the loosening of constraints in this way make it more possible for those who perhaps cleave to an asymptotic, all-or-nothing view of the gene/meme analogy to loosen those constraints and accept that memes may be a phenomenon that bear certain similarities to genes, yet are not their conceptual counterparts in all ways?
Again, I'm not convinced that this discontinuity of thought can be resolved completely or even partially, depending as it does on both clear communication and good faith argumentation, by which I mean a shared interest in truth that far surpasses individual interests in being right from the outset. But I think it may be worth the effort.
So: there's a substantial scientific literature based on the concepts of "cultural variants" or "cultural traits". At one stage, two of the scientists involved wrote a book on the topic using the term "meme" - and then substituted "cultural variant" in before publication. Cultural variants appear to be instances of particular memes - as good as dammit. The memetics terminology additionally distinguishes between memes and memeplexes - but that's a minor point of distinction. So: a simple and obvious way to give memes scientific credibility is to just assert that they are a synonym for "cultural variants". Then, there's no need to argue by analogy - one can instead argue by pointing at a voluminous scientific literature.Delete
As to genes, I've both seen and been one, but as to memes, I've neither been nor seen one.Delete
Yes, but I still need to know, what is a dammit made of? How does it behave? Why do dammits display differential reproduction? How large/small can a dammit be? Who is John Dammit Galt?Delete
I kid, I kid.
Have you ever seen a computer virus? What is it made of?Delete
The corresponding questions for memes inside brains are being explored by the neuromarketing folk with their MRI scanners - but even WITHOUT the corresponding information for brains, we can still usefully classify memetic symptomology and epidemiology, make inferences about how memes mutate and recombine, engage in memetic engineering - and so on. We can acutally see memes being transmitted outside minds - via speech, writing, etc. That provides a huge mountain of data to work on.
A computer virus is man made and the program is easy to see by its programmer, etc.Delete
You can't see memes, nor can neuromarketing folk, et al. You can only speculate and infer that they exist.
In my book, a meme is best described as a unit of self-delusion.
You have seen some memes in a printed format too (this message for instance). It too is man-made - it was made by me. Both this message and computer viruses are copied across computer networks. You should consider awarding these entities the same ontological status.Delete
As for inference - all our knowledge of the world is derived from inferences. We infer that memes exist inside heads because we can see them go in and come out again - and we can also see if we make changes to the sensory inputs there are corresponding changes to the motor outputs. That's a pretty reasonable sort of inference, overall.
Why, the very idea is as preposterous as Leeuwenhoek’s precious "animalcules"!Delete
Yes, the critics say that memetics is bringing back demonology, possession and exorcisms. Rather ironically, they are pretty much correct.Delete
A computer virus is made by man to perform as a virus, and that's what happens. What you just wrote was perhaps intended to perform as a meme but you have no way of knowing that your inferential result in that respect will come to pass. You're jumping to an unconfirmable conclusion.Delete
You're suggesting that the fact that other people appear to have read my other blog comments (since they have responded to a number of them) is no guarantee that they will have read my last one - and so my message might not be socially transmitted - and thus fail to qualify as being a meme - through potentially not finding an audience?Delete
Well, *maybe* - but each of the words that my messaqe was composed of was also a meme, which has a previous track record of being socially transmitted. I think it is fair for me to have said that my message was made of memes - according to the dictionary definition of that term.
Alas, discussions about whether memes exist (like this one) seem rather pointless to me. Cultural evolution is cutting-edge science, and because the field is relatively new, there's a huge quantity of interesting hypotheses to explore. Frankly, I'd rather be doing that than debating ontological issues surrounding memes. If you don't think that memes exist, I recommend that you look the word up in a dictionary - and then think the issue through carefully.
If memes were merely messages, what't the point of the theory that has them as much more than that? Your attempts at rationalizing the concept as being run of the mill are simply sad.Delete
For other uses, see Meme (disambiguation).
A meme ( /ˈmiːm/; meem)) is "an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture." A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.
Note that last sentence - it's a meme killer.
Alternatively, Tim, you might have invoked the meme:Delete
I see a lot of support for it, and you don't. Fine with me.
And left it at that.
To start with, that's *not* what it says in the dictionary. The citation supposedly supporting point 3 is to a meme critic who repeatedly mis-spells "Blackmore"!Delete
You should try an *actual* dictionary.
However, on brief reflection it occurs to me that finding an audience (i.e. successful transmission) as a criterion for being a meme is rather useless, although it certainly makes sense with respect to persisting as one.Delete
Memes are not the same as messages. For example, in communications science, some messages can be considered to be transmitted down axons - whereas you would never talk about a meme being transmitted down an axon.Delete
> Memes are not the same as messages.Delete
I presume you're referring to this. If so, yes, I got a little flippant there.
If the meme is an evolutionary element for adaption of learned behaviors, rather than just a bit of useful information, then the usual dictionary definition doesn't cover that. Otherwise why not just say memes are invoked memories and be done with it.Delete
So... if you drop the "social learning" aspect of the definition of "memes", you get "lemes" (L for learned).Delete
If you search for "memetics lemes" you should come across an article which explores the consequences of this possibility.
If you want to selectively promote *some* "protomemes" to "meme" status before they have launched - based on their properties - I don't think too many people are with you there - that seems to be too much complication.
Also if memes are simply shared memories of experience, then Lamarck, Baldwin, and the proponents of adaptive mutation have already covered that.Delete
Roy, that seems like three proposed redefinitions you have there!Delete
Around the time "meme" was proposed, scientists in the field (Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman) were saying that they needed a term for a similar concept. Dozens of proposals were made over the years, and the term "meme" is the one that stuck. Ed Wilson (who had previously proposed the term "culturegen") publicly gave in and endorsed the term "meme" as "the winner".
The main virtues of "meme" are that it sounds like "gene", is short and plays nice with ther terminology of genetics (phylomemetics, memealogy, Memotype, meme pool, memetic drift, etc. Most proposals to use other existing words all seem to be fairly seriously flawed.
"Ecphory" is Semon's term for memory retreival. "Meme" means something rather different involving social transmission. "Meme" isn't *exactly* a shared memory of an experience (e.g. memes aren't just about epsodic memory - and it may take multiple learning experiences to get a meme to stick).
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I'm proposing that it's you that redefines the concept when it suits your purposes, and I'm simply pointing out that to do so defeats those very purposes. Which it seems is to augment genes from the perspective of neoDarwinism when all you really need is to add a twist of adaptive self-engineering to the mix and those contortions to make memories transportable in some pseudo-genetic fashion will not be needed.Delete
see my comments above to Tim about the lack of usefulness of sentences like:
> Even the slipperiest philosopher cannot have it both ways. <
> your position is that a bird does not ‘know’ how to fly <
You are playing on the ambiguity of the word "know." In the sense of knowledge we have been discussing, no, it doesn't. But this is hardly a controversial statement.
> you are a philosopher that has not yet succumbed to Quine’s views on naturalistic epistemology <
I try not to succumb to anything, particularly Quine. He had several very interesting ideas, but there is a good degree of skepticism about many of them among contemporary philosophers.
> I believe a broader view of ‘knowledge’ as the 'negentropy' described by information theory is now compelling. <
Not at all, because it confuses the two meanings of "knowledge" referred to above.
> First you champion Lewotin’s definition of Darwinian processes and then when confronted with the example of Smolin's theory which conforms to Leowtin's definition you invent additional requirements that must be met. <
I didn't invent anything. There is a difference between Lewontin's bare bones definition of evolution (which, btw, does require a mechanism of heredity) and a scientific theory of evolution in a non-biological domain. At any rate, I reserve further discussion of Smolin for a separate post, which I meant to do for some time anyway.
> Darwin did not specify a mechanism <
But there had to be one, and I expect any serious modern theory of evolution to provide it (we are a bit paste the Victorian stage of scientific development).
> Outrageous! When you quoted Leowtin and his condition of ‘inheritance’ wasn’t he referring to Darwinian inheritance. You did list inheritance as one of three requirements for a Darwinian process. <
I did. But you can have Darwinian evolution via non-Mendelian inheritance. Just check any intro population genetics text.
> To imply that our current understanding of the mechanism of inheritance is not part of Darwinian theory is simply bizarre. <
Indeed, and I did not do any such thing.
> I believe I have countered your dismissive and unreasoned attack on universal Darwinism and that there is nothing further I can do here. I am tuning out, adios. <
Good luck to you.
I think the point here is that you can study Darwinian systems WITHOUT knowing all the details of how copying, mutation and persistence are implemented in them. Darwin didn't understand EXACTLY how organic heredity worked. That's more-or-less the same situation as we find in the case of memetics. It is true that there has to BE a mechanism of heredity, but we do not need to know all the details about it to be able to do useful work. Lewontin never claimed otherwise.Delete
In the case of memes, we can see them very clearly between brains, and we can get fuzzy pictures of memes inside brains in MRI machines (neuromarketing does this). There's also the ability to study pathology - to see the brain in action as it breaks down. What we can see allows us to infer a LOT about what is going on - even though we can't see ALL the details yet.
The existing scientific theory of evolution does apply to domains beyond the organic realm. It is substrate-neutral. Darwin recognised this - and included passages to that effect in "The Descent of Man". Examples are widespread - among what I call "degenerative Darwinism". This applies Darwin's theory to fractures, ripples, crystals and other commonplace adaptive systems which are not "advanced" enough to exhibit cumulative adaptation - thereby justifying the term "universal Darwinism" without recourse to controversial ideas about black holes, quantum physics, or biologically-derived systems like culture and modern computer systems.
The case for cultural evolution being "Darwinian" seems fairly simple - Darwin himself understood that culture evolves - writing in 1871: "The survival or preservation of certain favoured words in the struggle for existence is natural selection."ReplyDelete
The case for cultural evolution being "Lamarckian" is controversial - according to both my recent book on the topic and the recent book on the topic by Mesoudi. It depends on how you create the "replicator"-"interactor" distinction.
Lots of people have assumed that cultural evolution is "Lamarckian" - but much the same logic that is usually used to make this case also argues that a dog passing some fleas it acquired on to its offspring is "Lamarckian" - a position that few working biologists would agree with.
Lamarck did not make it clear that evolved behaviors predominantly caused physical changes, rather than vice versa. Baldwin and now microbiologists make it clearer.Delete
Tim - please don't stop contributing here - I know you have to sleep, eat, etc.. but this post/comment chain is just so damn good. As is your website.ReplyDelete
Without going into a long, detailed post, I generally agree with with Massimo said in the body of the blog. Dennett's claims not only about a "universal acid" but that Darwinianism was algorithmic struck me as unproven, unprovable and ... pretentious. Of course, since the time of his writing "Dan Dennett's Idea of Consciousness Explained," that's kind of been the case with him, eh?ReplyDelete
I looked at the "Pross" paper. It seems to be OK. However, I prefer my own terminology for these ideas - namely "degenerative Darwinism" and "nanoDarwinism". However, the paper doesn't even mention "universal Darwinism". They don't cite Lewontin, Cziko, Campbell, Plotkin, Hodgson, Dennett or Blackmore. Could the authors really be that badly plugged in to the topic?ReplyDelete