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Selective pressures 
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Post Re: Selective pressures
This is all a good discussion of the physics of evolution.
DWill wrote:
Robert, I suspect you of pinching from evolution some higher-order imperative for your argument about climate change. How do you plead :?:
The argument that climate change is a selective pressure is entirely compatible with the science of evolution. I am not 'pinching' anything. The imperatives from evolution apply directly to the need to adapt to climate change. Adaptation is a central theme in response to global warming. In broader evolutionary terms, mitigation (ie action to slow global warming) is a central part of human strategies to adapt to a warmer world.
DWill wrote:
The wiki article doesn't support the warming planet being a pressure that will cause adaptations.
Only because it doesn’t discuss it. I linked that article in response to your question about whether selective pressure exists. It is obvious that fish moving toward the poles constitutes an adaptation to global warming under selective pressure.

This reminds me of a conversation with my brother who is an economist. We were talking about how change in tax law can lead to decentralisation, when that is a policy objective. He pointed out that in economic terms, the main result would not be that firms would move from the city to towns, but that existing firms in towns would do better and be more competitive against city firms, so over time the structure of the industry would change.

Similarly, if we now adopt policies aimed at supporting climate adaptation, it is not that denialists will change their views, but that the economy and society will be better prepared for expected changes. The pressure does not cause the adaptations, but it does enable them to flourish.
DWill wrote:
When a population begins to lose numbers because of environmental conditions, what can happen, according to the article, is that the species might adapt in ways that will enable it to keep reproducing, even if the adaptation is deleterious to the organism. The example is given of the sickle-cell trait that provides some protection against malaria. Malaria will be more fatal than having the sickle-cell trait eventually is. The pressure must refer to that possibility of the overall fitness declining, even as reproduction is helped along by the adaptation.
Selective pressure does not necessarily produce a decline in fitness, although it does so in the case of anaemia. Malaria imposes a selective pressure on human life, and one indicator is anaemia which is a genetic illness that is mildly adaptive to malaria.

But this example does not show it is universal that adaptation to pressure is deleterious. Sometimes what challenges us makes us stronger. Saint Paul recognised this when he said at Romans 5 that Christians rejoice in adversity because suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us.
DWill wrote:
The word 'pressure' still doesn't apply to the environmental condition producing some impulse in adults to have offspring with favorable mutations.
And I did not say it does. Mutations are random, but their success is a function of selective pressures. That is basic evolutionary science.
DWill wrote:
With climate change, if the increasing temperatures begin to lower ability to reproduce, then maybe some offspring will have an adaptation for heat resistance, without necessarily having an overall better fitness. When you talk of climate change as a potential, as a threat in the future, then for certain there is no physical adaptation to it that could occur.
Climate provides an interesting test for memetics. Science can see how the planet will change, and how plants and animals are already adapting. But the unprecedented nature of this change is rather like the Yucatan meteor; if we do not prevent it beforehand we face risk of extinction. Human intelligence is our great adaptive trait. Intelligence caused global warming, and only intelligence can stop it. But intelligence has produced a phase shift in evolution from genetics to memetics: never before have organisms changed at the pace we now see in human culture. But our current change process has not somehow enabled us to transcend nature. That is the great conceit of human culture, a conceit that could be our nemesis. This alienation from nature is the conceit of supernatural religion. Religion has helped us get where we are, but we now have to kick away the ladder of the supernatural in order to evolve further.
DWill wrote:
Suitability to a predicted world cannot cause genes to prosper.
Global warming is predicted because it is already happening. Of course the effect does not precede the cause.
DWill wrote:
I could adopt some of your evolutionary talk and say that fitness is the only criterion that matters for ideas. If we say that the ideas of the Catholic Church were false, we nevertheless have no choice but to recognize that they contributed toward the astounding successes of "Christendom." How long do they have to persist to be sustainable?
The Catholic Church is like the Titanic, whose builders imagined it to be indestructible, but then it hit an iceberg and sank. Past success is a highly uncertain indicator of future prospects in a changed environment. The dinosaurs prospered for several hundred million years.
DWill wrote:
[the insistence that humans are not responsible for rising temperature will become as unacceptable as the denial of Hitler's genocidal intent against the Jews] - No argument in principle against that happening, but it won't be because of natural law.
Yes it will be because of natural law, if you trace the causality clearly. People will only develop a moral repugnance towards climate denial as an unacceptable evil when denial is seen as preventing necessary action, and when that action is broadly understood to be necessary because of our understanding of the laws of nature.
DWill wrote:
the alternative is that denial won't become illegal or vilified, but will win the day. Where then is the inevitability of its demise, according to natural law, that you claim?

The physics is quite simple. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, letting light in and trapping heat. Geologically, hotter times go with higher CO2 levels. Imagining that the laws of physics will miraculously change is central to the denial myth. Pumping increasing amounts of carbon into the air is a recipe for kaboom.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Sat Feb 09, 2013 6:24 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Selective pressures
Robert Tulip wrote:
The argument that climate change is a selective pressure is entirely compatible with the science of evolution. I am not 'pinching' anything. The imperatives from evolution apply directly to the need to adapt to climate change. Adaptation is a central theme in response to global warming. In broader evolutionary terms, mitigation (ie action to slow global warming) is a central part of human strategies to adapt to a warmer world.

I would have liked the drama of "not guilty" better. But I'll point to just one word that you used as indicative of my objection to your defense: theme. Claiming thematic similarity is not coming close to any test of rigor. Lack of rigor in your application of natural selection to your argument sums up my problem with it.
Robert Tulip wrote:
It is obvious that fish moving toward the poles constitutes an adaptation to global warming under selective pressure.

Fish that now are moving closer to the poles have changed their use of territory. They could have done this without any evolutionary change having occurred, just as our beloved brown marmorated stinkbugs are able to move farther north as winter low temperatures moderate. No selective pressure was needed in this case.
Robert Tulip wrote:
This reminds me of a conversation with my brother who is an economist. We were talking about how change in tax law can lead to decentralisation, when that is a policy objective. He pointed out that in economic terms, the main result would not be that firms would move from the city to towns, but that existing firms in towns would do better and be more competitive against city firms, so over time the structure of the industry would change.

Similarly, if we now adopt policies aimed at supporting climate adaptation, it is not that denialists will change their views, but that the economy and society will be better prepared for expected changes. The pressure does not cause the adaptations, but it does enable them to flourish.

This type of analysis is offered all the time and is quite valid. It stands just fine without any window-dressing borrowed from biology.
[
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
When a population begins to lose numbers because of environmental conditions, what can happen, according to the article, is that the species might adapt in ways that will enable it to keep reproducing, even if the adaptation is deleterious to the organism. The example is given of the sickle-cell trait that provides some protection against malaria. Malaria will be more fatal than having the sickle-cell trait eventually is. The pressure must refer to that possibility of the overall fitness declining, even as reproduction is helped along by the adaptation.
Selective pressure does not necessarily produce a decline in fitness, although it does so in the case of anaemia. Malaria imposes a selective pressure on human life, and one indicator is anaemia which is a genetic illness that is mildly adaptive to malaria.

But this example does not show it is universal that adaptation to pressure is deleterious. Sometimes what challenges us makes us stronger. Saint Paul recognised this when he said at Romans 5 that Christians rejoice in adversity because suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us.

No, I don't think that adaptation produces problems for the organism as a rule. And pressure is a common way to describe what is happening when a population adapts. But is "selective pressure" really any different from "selection"? I think that "pressure" can lead our thinking onto unintended paths, giving evolution a directive or purposeful quality.


Robert Tulip wrote:
Climate provides an interesting test for memetics. Science can see how the planet will change, and how plants and animals are already adapting. But the unprecedented nature of this change is rather like the Yucatan meteor; if we do not prevent it beforehand we face risk of extinction. Human intelligence is our great adaptive trait. Intelligence caused global warming, and only intelligence can stop it. But intelligence has produced a phase shift in evolution from genetics to memetics: never before have organisms changed at the pace we now see in human culture. But our current change process has not somehow enabled us to transcend nature. That is the great conceit of human culture, a conceit that could be our nemesis. This alienation from nature is the conceit of supernatural religion. Religion has helped us get where we are, but we now have to kick away the ladder of the supernatural in order to evolve further.

As though for the first time memetics will be tested? Is that what you mean? I'm unclear as to how either memetics or genetics could be tested, really, but if memetics can be tested, it's been tested each time a group has faced even a minor challenge since the early, early days. But actually I find no meaning in that at all. Memes are just another label for ideas, which our genetic makeup has made possible through language and thence to abstract reasoning. There was really no passing from genetics to memetics, as genes are the foundation that produced intelligence and memes are merely what some call units of culture. No equivalence.

Of course I agree we have not transcended nature, though we act as though we have. Supernatural religion is probably not a cause but rather an effect of the basic aggressiveness that was built in to us as we evolved. From this come myths such as that in the Bible's second creation story. But I don't think the rapacity we now see, such as digging up northern Canada for tar sands or letting the rain forests be destroyed (rather than paying other countries to preserve them) has much to do with supernatural religion.

By the way Robert, to me, massively geo-engineering the planet as you've advocated is still a symptom of the human conceit of being above nature.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
I could adopt some of your evolutionary talk and say that fitness is the only criterion that matters for ideas. If we say that the ideas of the Catholic Church were false, we nevertheless have no choice but to recognize that they contributed toward the astounding successes of "Christendom." How long do they have to persist to be sustainable?
The Catholic Church is like the Titanic, whose builders imagined it to be indestructible, but then it hit an iceberg and sank. Past success is a highly uncertain indicator of future prospects in a changed environment. The dinosaurs prospered for several hundred million years.

Then the "right" kind of ideas will ensure success indefinitely into the future? This sounds like heaven on earth.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
[the insistence that humans are not responsible for rising temperature will become as unacceptable as the denial of Hitler's genocidal intent against the Jews] - No argument in principle against that happening, but it won't be because of natural law.
Yes it will be because of natural law, if you trace the causality clearly. People will only develop a moral repugnance towards climate denial as an unacceptable evil when denial is seen as preventing necessary action, and when that action is broadly understood to be necessary because of our understanding of the laws of nature.

It will happen, if it happens, because somehow human intelligence will swing around to confronting it. You are taking a circuitous route in this reasoning, again implying that we will respond, in the end, under compulsion by a law of nature, as if against our volition. But it is going to be 100% about our volition.
Quote:
The physics is quite simple. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, letting light in and trapping heat. Geologically, hotter times go with higher CO2 levels. Imagining that the laws of physics will miraculously change is central to the denial myth. Pumping increasing amounts of carbon into the air is a recipe for kaboom.

This point I haven't been arguing.



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Post Re: Selective pressures
DWill wrote:
I would have liked the drama of "not guilty" better.

I plead innocent to your charge of misappropriating scientific knowledge, milud.
We have to work out how we can cope with a warming planet. The principles of evolutionary causality provide a basic framework for adapting to climate change. My use of these principles is entirely scientific.
DWill wrote:
Claiming thematic similarity is not coming close to any test of rigor.
I don’t know where you see a lack of rigor. Climate science lumps all response to global warming under two strategies – adaptation and mitigation. Adaptation is a purely evolutionary concept. We adapt to selective pressures. While obviously we are not talking about seeing genetic change in response to warming, given the short time frames, we are looking at our big changes in our memetic cultural structures, in terms of how technology and politics will evolve.
DWill wrote:
Fish that now are moving closer to the poles have changed their use of territory. They could have done this without any evolutionary change having occurred, just as our beloved brown marmorated stinkbugs are able to move farther north as winter low temperatures moderate. No selective pressure was needed in this case.
DWill, your comment here illustrates that you could benefit from more study of the science of evolution. These processes affecting your beloved stinkbugs are precisely what is meant by selective pressure.
Here is your Dearly Beloved
Image
Global warming means the ocean water temperature is hotter than it used to be. This natural fact is what is called a selective pressure, because it pressures the fish to move. It is now easier for the fish to live in a place different from where they used to be. They are either under pressure to move, because their old haunts are less comfortable, or the pressure can manifest in more offspring surviving in different locations, as seen in shifting coral in the article from Nature that I linked above.
DWill wrote:
This type of analysis [of tax impact] … stands just fine without any window-dressing borrowed from biology.
Not window-dressing but causal explanation. The evolutionary principle of selective pressure is identical in genetics, climate and economics. An environmental change, or a policy nudge, alters the niche and imposes a pressure that causes different traits to flourish. In the case of climate, global warming imposes a selective pressure on organisms, in terms of where they can live, and also on ideas, such that ideas that are compatible with emerging facts will do better than denialist ideas that are bullshit. That is unless the reprobates win and we are doomed.
DWill wrote:
Is "selective pressure" really any different from "selection"? I think that "pressure" can lead our thinking onto unintended paths, giving evolution a directive or purposeful quality.
Of course evolution is directive. When the niche changes, species in the niche evolve to conform with the direction imposed by the new reality. You may think that purpose is a term contaminated by teleology, but the directional pressure applied by global warming is purely physical.
DWill wrote:
Memes are just another label for ideas, which our genetic makeup has made possible through language and thence to abstract reasoning. There was really no passing from genetics to memetics, as genes are the foundation that produced intelligence and memes are merely what some call units of culture. No equivalence.
Memes are not “just another label for ideas” or “units of culture”. A meme is a description of how an idea changes over time under pressure from natural selection. In conventional Platonic philosophy, ides were held to be eternal and unchanging, on the model of mathematical identity. So ideas that never change, like pi, were held as the paradigm. But real ideas as they exist in the world continually change, for example in the practical use of pi in engineering. The change of the idea exhibits the same causal processes as in genetic evolution, except that ideas mingle and flow and change much faster than genes do, and a dead idea can be disextincted if it is found in a book. With the internet a viral meme can propagate much faster than any natural epidemic. Memes are about the process of how ideas live as evolving entities.
DWill wrote:
Of course I agree we have not transcended nature, though we act as though we have. Supernatural religion is probably not a cause but rather an effect of the basic aggressiveness that was built in to us as we evolved.
Is God the chicken or the egg in relation to culture? Good question. The Bible says man will have dominion over the earth, that God is a single purposive being, and that the flesh kills but the spirit gives life. While these claims have potential for sound allegorical meaning, in practice they have been used to justify human alienation from nature, with a supernatural concept of spirit that intentionally puts us out of touch with reality. Supernatural ideas evolved because they were adaptive, but my view is that this adaptivity also had toxic side effects which are now used to justify indifference to natural science. So there is a vicious feedback loop between supernatural imagination and aggressive indifference to natural reality.
DWill wrote:
From this come myths such as that in the Bible's second creation story.
Do you mean the naming of the animals and plants by Adam at Genesis 2:19?
Quote:
But I don't think the rapacity we now see, such as digging up northern Canada for tar sands or letting the rain forests be destroyed (rather than paying other countries to preserve them) has much to do with supernatural religion.
Hostility towards mother earth has everything to do with supernatural religion as a toxic meme. People reserve reverence for imaginary sky myths, and fail to revere the natural creation. So things that we should hold sacred, such as species that have evolved over hundreds of millions of years, are destroyed through an evil sickness, a displacement of good and evil, with supernatural religion encouraging people to think good things are evil and evil things are good. It is a moral problem rooted in a false vision of the mandate of heaven. It is so interesting that the Bible says at Rev 11:18 that the wrath of God will be against those who destroy the earth, presenting a natural theology that is the opposite of the conventional evil supernaturalism.
DWill wrote:
By the way Robert, to me, massively geo-engineering the planet as you've advocated is still a symptom of the human conceit of being above nature.
Large scale ocean based algae production is not at all above nature, it is within nature. Churning the ocean to produce universal abundance and stabilise the global climate is a way to reconcile humanity and nature.
DWill wrote:
Then the "right" kind of ideas will ensure success indefinitely into the future? This sounds like heaven on earth.
Of course. If our ideas are compatible with what is required for our natural evolutionary flourishing on planetary scale, then we will naturally flourish, and could do so for millions of years into the future. This is what the Bible meant in The Lord’s Prayer when the Jesus Christ character said ‘thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’. Heaven is allegory for the visible heavens, meaning that human society should be modelled on the template of the observable natural universe.
DWill wrote:
It is going to be 100% about our volition.
Consider again the tax law example I gave above. Whether a person starts a business seems to be “100% about volition”, except that our will is conditioned by our circumstances, and we will only want to do things that seem possible. Whether the business succeeds is not just a matter of will, but depends on the range of selective pressures in the business environment. Will is influenced by success. Successful firms are more willing to try, while failing firms tend to give up.

On climate, our volition is influenced by what we see around us. As we see the planet is warming, our volition will naturally become more receptive to the abundant scientific data that conforms to the observation, and less receptive to unscientific vested interests seeking to deceive us. That is unless we are congenitally insane in which case we can just pray to imaginary Gods.
DWill wrote:
Quote:
Pumping increasing amounts of carbon into the air is a recipe for kaboom.

This point I haven't been arguing.
Pardon me for getting that impression. You said “the alternative is that denial …will win the day.” That seems to mean pumping carbon into the air may be just tickety-boo. Unfortunately denial is not an alternative with any basis in observation of reality.


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Post Re: Selective pressures
Quote:
As scientists piece together the plant sensorium, some of those earlier notions are getting a boost from the modern obsession with neuroscience: The past few years have seen the emergence of "plant neurobiology," a new field that flirts with the idea of a vegetal mind. Proponents of the field look for chemical, electrical, and anatomical similarities between animals and plants — for instance, between information networks in plants and nervous systems in animals, or between the architecture of roots and the architecture of neurons. Plant neurobiologists have their own conferences, their own journal, even their own professional society. The approach isn't without controversy; 36 botanists signed a letter to a prominent research journal in 2007 saying the field is 'founded on superficial analogies and questionable extrapolations.'

Chamovitz, who heads Tel Aviv's Manna Center for Plant Biosciences, dismisses the concept of plant intelligence as a scientifically useful idea; to him, it "does not further our understanding of either intelligence or plant biology." But, as his book title attests, he recognizes the power of metaphor to "help us make connections that we might not normally make." In a phone interview, he pressed the point even further: "I don't really think hard-core scientists think that plants are sentient in the way that mammals are sentient," he said, "but [plant neurobiologists] are challenging us to redefine for ourselves what we mean by sentient."

Hello again, Robert. We've disputed before on this same topic (not the one above), and probably nothing is going to change very much. The way we think about the applications of evolution is probably congenital for each of us. The quote isn't meant to be my judgment on plant neurobiology; it seems unlikely that these identities exist, but the research goes on and maybe something will be discovered that is really revolutionary. That is something we can't say for a science of culture based on memes mimicking almost exactly the mechanisms of physical evolution. There seems to be no research going on about that, and can there be, really? There seems to still exist a hunger for systematizing, for connecting all the dots, a theory of everything--and you are a good proponent of such systems. But for me your attempt to merge biology and culture is "founded on superficial analogies and questionable extrapolations."

Notice, though, the value given to these correspondences and analogies in helping "us make connections we might not normally make." So I haven't shown enough appreciation for that part of the new field that Dawkins launched in the mid 70s. It might have spurred better, more imaginative thinking about how cultures work and develop. It's a little like the effect that computer science has had on the study of the brain; we've conceptualized the brain as being partly computer-like; we've employed the language of computers to the brain. But no one seriously proposes that the two things are alike in form or function. Even more than genetics, I think ecology has influenced how we think about the interactions of social units. Your example about tax policy has an ecological flavor.

Although natural selection isn't the entirety of evolution, there is agreement that it's the central piece. We need to be stringent when we judge whether NS applies not only to genes but to theorized memes. It seems an easy question to decide, though, since Darwin and every biologist following him specified that we need sex and reproduction in order for natural selection to occur. "Natural" has this meaning only in the term. "Selective pressure" also needs to be seen in the context of sex and reproduction. The example you gave of fish being able to live further north is really the opposite of selective pressure for that species. The selective pressure would be placed on the animals and plants whose territories were encroached upon. It is they who would be under pressure (metaphorically) to adapt in succeeding generations by acquiring variants useful for survival to reproductive age.

Looking at other technical features of NS, we see that genes are stable over long periods of time, cannot be "deextincted", are transmitted vertically, and refer to specific components of cells. This is in contrast to memes, which can change rapidly (even in the mere act of talking or thinking about them ), can be deextincted, are transmitted mostly horizontally, and refer by some accounts to anything spoken, thought, or written.

Despite these formidable differences, could it be possible that, nevertheless, the process of change in physical and cultural evolution are quite similar? Darwinian evolution is a blind, impersonal process, whereas the evolution of culture and history is anything but. The passive construction "traits are selected" is not even appropriate in culture, because it is humans who are attempting to direct things and frequently succeeding, even though many unintended consequences occur. If, say, a business comes under selective pressure (good metaphor) because of a new business model arriving, the owners will see something happening and they will respond, unless they are poor businesspeople and fail to see what's happening. If you recall Robert Wright's book The Evolution of God, the thesis was that religions change according to the facts on the ground. This would often be a matter of rulers changing the pantheon for some instrumental purpose, such as to increase trading partners or to assimilate conquered groups. Clearly, when it comes to adaptation, humans have taken matters into our own hands, whereas every other living thing must rely on sex and reproduction.

Other species can't fail to adapt, because the means are out of their control. Only we can fail to adapt and bring on our own extinction, something that has happened to groups of humans (see Diamond's Collapse), in which case we say that their culture became extinct. The people did not necessarily all die out, though. The similarity between us and animals that became extinct is that those animals by their nature had to keep on doing what they were doing, and that turned out for various reasons to be not adaptive to the environment. If we need to keep on doing what we've been doing --exponentially increasing our exploitation of the environment-- because of our nature, that could be where we come a cropper (bigtime). Nuclear war used to be, not that long ago, the favored scenario for our demise, our intelligence becoming the means of our destruction. With the Cold War over, now it's climate change.

Whether we can adapt to a condition (global warming) that we were driven by our very natures to exacerbate, is a profound question. That we can adapt might seem to be our greatest strength, but that overconfidence that we can surmount any environmental hurdle might also be a detriment. We're also handicapped by the lack of species-feeling anywhere in nature. Species of animals don't act for the sake of their species-mates. This idea of having obligations to every other fellow creature is new with us, and clearly has been honored much more in the breach than in the observance. If we feel in a climate crisis that, yes, many will perish, but many will not (and even prosper?), we might take those odds, because empathy goes only so far. What will it take to make ideals of human brotherhood more than something that makes us feel good?

This is a pessimistic view, to be sure. But we should know what we're up against. I can't see any support we can take from evolution, nothing about evolution that makes it inevitable that the "adaptive meme" of action against climate change will be selected over the non-adaptive one of denial. (Nor is that the only possibility. We can also accept our contribution to climate change but still decide to ride out the effects.) You yourself don't believe that the adaptive meme will "naturally" be selected, or else you wouldn't be conceding that the deniers could win if they're not beaten down.



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Post Re: Selective pressures
Interesting article on Dual Inheritance Theory . . .

Excerpt:

In the early 1930’s Wintrop and Luella Kellogg (1933) began co-rearing their 10.5 month old son, Donald, with a 7.5 month old female chimpanzee named Gua. The Kelloggs expected that Gua, with the chimpanzee’s popular reputation for aping, would acquire numerous behaviors and practices via imitation from both Donald and themselves. Unexpectedly however, while Gua did finally acquire a few human patterns (e.g., combining his hair), Donald was the one who began to imitate the chimpanzee in some dramatic ways. Following Gua, Donald acquired the habits of knuckle walking (which he continued well after achieving full bipedality), chewing on shoes, scraping his teeth against interior walls, and hard biting. Donald even adopted some stereotypical chimpanzee food grunts, barks and hoots, using a particular bark as the word for orange. Thus, it was the human who did most of the aping.

People in many small-scale societies believe that a human fetus is formed by many repeated ejaculations of sperm into the womb. This belief means that a child can have multiple fathers, who share paternity according to the number of times they had sex with the mother prior to birth (in anthropological parlance ‘partible paternity’). In response to this cultural belief, women in many of these societies actively seek out extra-marital copulations, often to provide their child with extra fathers. And, while male jealously from the husband is sometimes a problem, it is regarded as socially inappropriate and thus suppressed. Detailed statistical analyses from two such societies, the Barí of Venezuela (Beckerman et al. 2002) and Aché of Paraguay (Hill and Hurtado 1996), show that the optimal number fathers for a child’s survival is more than one. These ‘other fathers’ (non-husbands of mom) provide resources, in the form of fish and meat, to their offspring and the mothers, both during pregnancy and while the child is growing up. Interestingly, since much of the sex associated with ‘extra fathers’ occurs after conception, many of these social fathers cannot be the genetic fathers. Culturally-transmitted beliefs in partible paternity have been recorded in various linguistically-unrelated societies across lowland South America, as well as in New Guinea, by multiple researchers over the last 75 years (Beckerman and Valentine 2002).

These examples illustrate two key points about humans. First, while chimpanzees do show some capacities for imitative learning (Horner and Whiten 2005; Whiten et al. 2005), their cultural transmission shows substantially lower degrees of fidelity, frequency, and internal motivation. Compared to chimpanzees, humans are “imitation machines” (Tomasello 1999). More generally, while only limited social learning abilities are found elsewhere in nature, social learning in our species is high fidelity, frequent, internally motivated, often unconscious, and broadly applicable. Humans learn, via observation of others, everything from motor patterns to goals and affective responses, in domains ranging from tool-making and food preferences to altruism and suicide. We will refer to this form of social learning, which may be particular to humans, as cultural learning.

The combination of both the high fidelity and frequency of social learning in our lineage has generated cumulative cultural evolution. Cumulative cultural evolution, which may exist to any significant degree only in our lineage, is the process through which learning builds a body of culturally transmitted information (behavior, practices, beliefs, etc.) in a population in such a way that locally adaptive aspects aggregate over time, with the accumulation of successful additions and modifications. Cumulative cultural evolution builds adaptive practices, tools, technique, and bodies of knowledge (about animal behavior, medicinal plants, etc.) that no single individual could figure out in their lifetime, and that can only be understood as products of cultural evolutionary processes. Paleoarchaeology suggests that substantial cumulative cultural evolution has likely been occurring for at least the last 280,000 years (McBrearty and Brooks 2000), and thus a key element in understanding human genetic evolution.

http://www.wordcentrist.net/dual_inheritance_theory.pdf


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Post Re: Selective pressures
When I was little, I thought our old boxer dog was worth imitating, so I did. I liked the way he ate, just using his mouth, and I would try that myself in a bowl next to him.

That's a good explanation for both the incredible generativity of our minds and the amazing way that the culture of even long-past generations forms part of our minds today, and thus of our culture. It's true that countless ideas, images, and beliefs are embedded in us , which lends credence to the viewpoint represented by memes. But by itself that viewpoint seems to fall short of a full appreciation of how we wield all of these things for specific purposes and in novel ways. Also, we don't even have conscious awareness of much of this embedded heritage. This is why it seems to me reasonable to think, for example, that the modern moral atheist might owe something to past religious generations. We like to think we're self-made in our morality, but I wonder.



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Post Re: Selective pressures
My wife pointed out that when we used to go to a zoo and stand in front of the monkey cage, it's the kids who start jumping around and acting like monkeys, not the other way around.

I think religion has been a positive force in many ways, but it's not the source of our morality. De Waal has a new book coming out called The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates. Looks like it might be an interesting read.

"In this lively and illuminating discussion of his landmark research, esteemed primatologist Frans de Waal argues that human morality is not imposed from above but instead comes from within. Moral behavior does not begin and end with religion but is in fact a product of evolution."

http://www.amazon.com/Bonobo-Atheist-Se ... ds=de+waal


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Post Re: Selective pressures
I wonder what we'd find if we tried to somehow calculate what percentage of a religion concerns morality, as opposed to other elements such as purity, sanctity, and social ordering. We couldn't do that, but there would be a lot that we in the West, at least, would not see as moral concerns. For the non-WEIRD world, it's a different matter, as morality has more "taste receptors," as Jonathan Haidt says.

Whereas religions haven't created moral people from people who otherwise had no idea of morality, in our case (the Western experience) religion played a large role in organizing and institutionalizing morality. I tend to doubt that we can today dismiss the influence of centuries of traditions on what we think about morality today. That is an implication I see in the dual inheritance article which talks about cultural accretion. We are the people we are because of the culture in which we live, and that culture goes way back.

A caveat comes in with Haidt's stipulation that "morality binds and blinds." Though it allows for successful societies, no society has ever been entirely moral, in terms of fairness and harm-avoidance, either to all of its members or to other societies. There has always been the impulse to exclude certain persons from full moral recognition. The U.S. was of course a glaring example up until 1863, and still after that until 1920 when women got the right to vote. And still today.



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Post Re: Selective pressures
DWill wrote:
…[ plant neurobiologists] are challenging us to redefine for ourselves what we mean by sentient."

Good one. A recent program narrated by the renowned naturalist David Attenborough called The Kingdom of Plants was filmed in the London Botanical Gardens, and used time lapse photography to illustrate how plants almost seem to be sentient in the way they compete for light. Of course this appearance of sentience is illusory since plants lack nervous systems, but it still opens interesting problems as the person you quoted notes.
DWill wrote:
…science of culture based on memes mimicking almost exactly the mechanisms of physical evolution. There seems to be no research going on about that, and can there be, really?
Is research ever really the right term for philosophical speculation based on science? It is unclear if Dawkins’ original presentation of memes in The Selfish Gene could be classed as research. He took causal principles that are universal within genetics – that the most successful evolvers are entities that are stable, durable and fecund - and explores how those principles are manifested in culture.

The central evolutionary principle – cumulative adaptation – is exactly what operates in numerous cultural fields, including technology, law and the arts, each of which consists of ideas that build upon precedent and within a stable peaceful context evolve to become steadily more efficient at coping with their niche and finding new niches, just like genes do.
DWill wrote:
There seems to still exist a hunger for systematizing, for connecting all the dots, a theory of everything--and you are a good proponent of such systems.

Yes, I regard systematic logic as the basis of philosophy. My own human scale “theory of everything” is about the integrated shape of the solar system over historical time, aiming to formulate a meaningful framework of time and space based purely on objective astronomical observation.

For practical human purposes, leaving aside the long time frames of physics, geology and evolution, the actual science of the solar system over 6000 years can be considered as a good proxy for everything, since anything outside this framework is irrelevant for human concerns. It is about setting scientific understanding in a human context, rather like how memes take the rigorous observations of genetic evolution and ask how these universal processes of life apply to other living contexts, such as culture.
DWill wrote:
your attempt to merge biology and culture is "founded on superficial analogies and questionable extrapolations."
And that is the nub of our disagreement, which I am trying to reply to at length. I would not say I am “merging” biology and culture though, more “compare”. In terms of set theory culture is nested within biology, and biology is nested within physics. That means there is nothing cultural that is not also biological, and nothing biological that is not also physical, but these statements do not work in reverse.

What this means is that all the laws of physics apply to biology, and all the laws of biology apply to culture. So the extrapolation of evolution from biology to culture is not questionable but rigorous.
DWill wrote:
Even more than genetics, I think ecology has influenced how we think about the interactions of social units. Your example about tax policy has an ecological flavor.
Genetics is just ecology writ long. Over geological time scales, genes are the adapters in ecology. An economy also has its own ecology whose evolutionary adapters are memes, and the memes, or conceptual units, of an economy are structured by the competitive pressure of natural selection. Free markets are adjusted but not destroyed by social forces and policies that seek to influence market results. In the final analysis non-market factors in an economic market are just part of a more comprehensive theory of the market, due to the universal operation of Darwinian selection, in society as in biology. Policies such as trade restrictions are just a selective pressure within which the market evolves.
DWill wrote:
Darwin and every biologist following him specified that we need sex and reproduction in order for natural selection to occur.
No. Natural selection occurs with asexual mutation and evolution of ferns and bacteria and markets and computers. All we need for natural selection is cumulative adaptation. Wherever entities evolve by building on precedent, and the new is more adaptive than the old, we have the operation of natural selection. That applies to culture (ie technology and norms) as much as to nature.
DWill wrote:
fish being able to live further north is really the opposite of selective pressure for that species.
No. Fish populations are pressured to move towards the poles by rising water temperature in their original location, when schools at the poleward limit of a range are more fecund than those at the equatorward limit. In this situation the range of occurrence gradually shifts over generations under pressure from the changing climate.
DWill wrote:
The selective pressure would be placed on the animals and plants whose territories were encroached upon.
No. A changing environment causes the species within it to be most fecund in the locations that are most similar to where they evolved. When the temperature change is rapid, as now, organisms do best at locations of their genetic optimum temperature, so the population location shifts uphill and towards the poles. The pressure placed on organisms already in the new location by encroachment is a different thing to the selective pressure that climate exerts on populations to shift their range.
DWill wrote:
…memes… are transmitted mostly horizontally...
Memes are transmitted mostly vertically, from predecessor to successor. Horizontal leakage between memes is small by comparison. The meme of motor car has a vertical evolution from the stage coach through the first horseless models over a century ago, to mass production and then the diversification we see today, like a sort of Cambrian Explosion. Examples of horizontal spread of memes associated with cars might be their enabling of exurbia (affecting the meme of house) or their colonising of carless societies.

A meme is not a physical viral entity but a scientific way of describing the process of cultural evolution. Horizontal transmission includes the spread of existing memes to new niches, as in cars, but the evolution of the meme is primarily vertical, with design change driven by market supply and demand.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/chang ... aleoz.html says “Members of a phylum inherit the same basic genetic tool kit. Over time, some evolve with modified features and became new species. It might help to think of a phylum as a prototype car design and individual species as different models.”
http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB ... .php?id=29 says “Kauffman notes that in the history of human technological innovation with objects such as guns, bicycles, cars, and airplanes, “early diversity of forms appears more radical and then settles down to minor tuning” of the basic design plan. Since the invention of the automobile, for example, all such systems have included four wheels, two axles, a drive shaft, and a motor. Though many new variations on the original model have arisen after the invention of the basic automobile design, all exemplify this same basic design plan. Curiously, we observe this pattern in the fossil record. In the Cambrian fossil record, morphological disparity precedes diversity. The major animal body plans appear first instantiated by only a single (or very few) species. Then later many other varieties arise with many new features, yet with all still exhibiting the same basic body plan. Phylogeny resembles technology.”
DWill wrote:
could it be possible that, nevertheless, the process of change in physical and cultural evolution are quite similar?
Yes it could. They are. Adaptive processes expand, while maladaptive processes contract, both in genes and memes.
DWill wrote:
Darwinian evolution is a blind, impersonal process, whereas the evolution of culture and history is anything but.
That claim involves a misconception about culture. Will and reason are key shapers of cultural evolution, but these intentional factors operate within a larger niche that is far from fully understood, and contains massive unconscious factors. The direction of fate is in fact impersonal and remorselessly causal, even though we can influence it by our decisions, for example our decisions whether to do anything about climate change.
DWill wrote:
The passive construction "traits are selected" is not even appropriate in culture, because it is humans who are attempting to direct things and frequently succeeding, even though many unintended consequences occur
Again, this claim involves a basic misunderstanding of natural selection, and some hubris about human power to direct our destiny. Any cultural trait that is widespread and longstanding is eo ipso selected by nature, because culture is part of nature. The natural selection of cultural traits includes the success of the human trait of being able to use our brains to change our behaviour based on rational assessment of consequences. That trait is the one that enabled humans to dominate the world, but failure to apply it now to adapt to climate change could cause our extinction as a species.
DWill wrote:
If, say, a business comes under selective pressure (good metaphor) because of a new business model arriving, the owners will see something happening and they will respond, unless they are poor businesspeople and fail to see what's happening.
Selective pressure in business is more than competitive commercial pressure, applying more properly to the whole market than the individual firm. It includes for example changing consumer taste which cause various product lines to change in sell rate, causing some firms to prosper and others to fail.
DWill wrote:
If you recall Robert Wright's book The Evolution of God, the thesis was that religions change according to the facts on the ground. This would often be a matter of rulers changing the pantheon for some instrumental purpose, such as to increase trading partners or to assimilate conquered groups. Clearly, when it comes to adaptation, humans have taken matters into our own hands, whereas every other living thing must rely on sex and reproduction.
You exaggerate the extent to which cultural evolution is deliberate. Religion changes due to many unconscious factors as well as instrumental purposes. The evolution of Gods involves the return of suppressed divinities of conquered people in a subordinate position within a new pantheon, as a sort of emerging modus vivendi rather than a result of deliberate policy by rulers. The ruler would only have a dim appreciation of the factors behind such change, much as the great evolutionary economist Friedrich Hayek showed that central planners have very weak understanding of the natural forces that cause the shifting patterns of supply and demand in a free market.
DWill wrote:
Other species can't fail to adapt, because the means are out of their control.
Not sure what you mean here. As I mentioned earlier in the thread, and eerily before the Russian event, the dinosaurs failed to adapt to the meteor. Failure to adapt is the cause of extinction.
DWill wrote:
Only we can fail to adapt and bring on our own extinction, something that has happened to groups of humans (see Diamond's Collapse), in which case we say that their culture became extinct.
Again this is unclear since animals and plants often fail to adapt.
DWill wrote:
If we need to keep on doing what we've been doing --exponentially increasing our exploitation of the environment-- because of our nature, that could be where we come a cropper (bigtime).
My view is that our planet has resources to support a vastly bigger human population with universal abundance and ecological sustainability. The key is to churn the ocean on large scale, in order to manage the carbon cycle. This is a paradigm shift.
DWill wrote:
Whether we can adapt to a condition (global warming) that we were driven by our very natures to exacerbate, is a profound question.
Yes, it is somewhat existential. But your phrase ‘very nature’ here is contestable: it may be that stupidity is not essential to humanity.
DWill wrote:
overconfidence that we can surmount any environmental hurdle might also be a detriment.
I would put it differently. The overconfidence of human hubris is about denying hurdles, not surmounting them. Recognition of hurdles involves humility and honesty.
DWill wrote:
We're also handicapped by the lack of species-feeling anywhere in nature.
Of course this is hotly selected by Edward O Wilson’s theory of group selection propounded in his recent book The Social Conquest of Earth, a book that I think is deeply superb but which was panned by Dawkins and the mainstream biology crowd. We will only succeed as a global civilization through species feeling. This is what Jesus Christ advocated when he said in the Last Judgment at Matthew 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Dawkins does not like group selection because he does not understand Christian ethics.
DWill wrote:
Species of animals don't act for the sake of their species-mates. This idea of having obligations to every other fellow creature is new with us, and clearly has been honored much more in the breach than in the observance.
And that is precisely the evolutionary change that is needed to respond to the climate crisis.
DWill wrote:
If we feel in a climate crisis that, yes, many will perish, but many will not (and even prosper?), we might take those odds, because empathy goes only so far. What will it take to make ideals of human brotherhood more than something that makes us feel good?
If leaders can explain the necessity of a cultural shift in a way that is compelling then change is possible. This is why I find the Biblical framework so helpful to understand the global climate situation, because the theology of fall and redemption fits perfectly with the current looming global climate apocalypse.
DWill wrote:

This is a pessimistic view, to be sure. But we should know what we're up against. I can't see any support we can take from evolution, nothing about evolution that makes it inevitable that the "adaptive meme" of action against climate change will be selected over the non-adaptive one of denial.
Nothing is inevitable in evolution. We do not know where the balance of forces sit. We could have unawares started the time bomb ticking that will extinct us. But with resolute innovation we could shift to a new higher phase of human evolution, on a ten thousand year trajectory to the next golden age.
DWill wrote:
(Nor is that the only possibility. We can also accept our contribution to climate change but still decide to ride out the effects.) You yourself don't believe that the adaptive meme will "naturally" be selected, or else you wouldn't be conceding that the deniers could win if they're not beaten down.
Nature in this context includes human will as a primary natural force determining our success. Without will we are lost. Thanks again DWill for such deeply fascinating and important comments, I would welcome any comments or requests for clarification.


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Post Re: Selective pressures
Robert Tulip wrote:
Is research ever really the right term for philosophical speculation based on science? It is unclear if Dawkins’ original presentation of memes in The Selfish Gene could be classed as research. He took causal principles that are universal within genetics – that the most successful evolvers are entities that are stable, durable and fecund - and explores how those principles are manifested in culture.

Then is it 'end of discussion,' if it's philosophizing you're admittedly doing? There might not be any point in proceeding if that's the case. Philosophy is nice, but I don't consider it to have any particular claim on me, unlike science, which I don't feel is optional to ignore. I do believe that Dawkins proposed his new theory so that it could be vetted via the scientific method.



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Post Re: Selective pressures
DWill wrote:
Then is it 'end of discussion,' if it's philosophizing you're admittedly doing?
Far from it. The distinction here between science and philosophy is rather like the distinction between induction and deduction, or evidence and logic. The two have to go together. The meme hypothesis is a deductive explanation of how evolutionary processes are seen in culture. The deductive philosophical assertion is that evolution operates universally to govern the process of change in living systems. Inductively, we can see how technology evolves, for example with cars as I discussed above. But generalising this observation to a universal story is a complex question that rests on logical argument as to why it must be universal.
DWill wrote:
There might not be any point in proceeding if that's the case.
Lets not deflect the debate about the operation of evolutionary selective pressures in culture into the related question about whether memes are universal. However, it nonetheless remains a valid threshold question whether there is in fact any real ability of human intelligence to transcend the natural physical constraints of evolution within our cultural choices. Logically the answer must be no, culture cannot transcend nature. Any choices that veer away from the real boundaries set by nature will not be sustainable. And that point of logic illustrates that as a matter of deductive logic, memes must be universal as the process of cultural evolution, because any seemingly non-memetic choices, those that fail to build on precedent to produce durable results through gradual change, will be only small memes that fail.
DWill wrote:
Philosophy is nice, but I don't consider it to have any particular claim on me, unlike science, which I don't feel is optional to ignore.
With respect that is an arrogant and groundless statement. Of course philosophy can make binding statements. 1+1=2 is more a statement within philosophy than within science, and is totally binding. Kant showed that such analytical a priori statements are binding, as their truth is contained in the definition of their terms.
DWill wrote:
I do believe that Dawkins proposed his new theory so that it could be vetted via the scientific method.

Yes, but the interesting thing about the meme theory is that we can find all sorts of examples of how the law of natural selection operates within culture, but generalising these observations into a universal theory remains elusive. Part of the problem is that the idea of memes subverts any claim about supernatural forces, so it plays directly into the cultural debates over religion and atheism.


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Post Re: Selective pressures
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
Then is it 'end of discussion,' if it's philosophizing you're admittedly doing?
Far from it. The distinction here between science and philosophy is rather like the distinction between induction and deduction, or evidence and logic. The two have to go together. The meme hypothesis is a deductive explanation of how evolutionary processes are seen in culture. The deductive philosophical assertion is that evolution operates universally to govern the process of change in living systems. Inductively, we can see how technology evolves, for example with cars as I discussed above. But generalising this observation to a universal story is a complex question that rests on logical argument as to why it must be universal.

Robert, I'm glad to have come to this place in the discussion because it feels much less frustrating. I didn't mean 'end of discussion' in the sense of a question settled, only in the sense that I finally knew that you aren't arguing for equivalence of genetics and memetics, and so I see no need to keep pursuing the same track. I think where your hypothesis in search of a theory is weak is that 'evolution operates' implies that a higher-order entity, governing both the physical constitution of organisms and the phenotypal expression of one species of organism--humans--has been demonstrated to exist. If it has, I don't know about it. If by 'evolution' you mean that both the biology that subsumes all organisms and the culture of one organism that is nested in that biology, demonstrate step-wise change, I see no reason to dispute that. But you know the devil or god will be in the details. There are fundamental differences between how organisms change and how what are essentially products of thought, or culture, change. We should expect to see in the world a diversity of types of change, and we do.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
There might not be any point in proceeding if that's the case.
Lets not deflect the debate about the operation of evolutionary selective pressures in culture into the related question about whether memes are universal. However, it nonetheless remains a valid threshold question whether there is in fact any real ability of human intelligence to transcend the natural physical constraints of evolution within our cultural choices. Logically the answer must be no, culture cannot transcend nature. Any choices that veer away from the real boundaries set by nature will not be sustainable. And that point of logic illustrates that as a matter of deductive logic, memes must be universal as the process of cultural evolution, because any seemingly non-memetic choices, those that fail to build on precedent to produce durable results through gradual change, will be only small memes that fail.

Again, 'evolutionary selective pressures' implies that in the two realms of biology and culture, we see the operation of a specific, uniform principle. You assert this, but it appears that you're saying it must be so, philosophically, not that science itself has had anything to say about it.

We didn't evolve with the ability to live in the air or the water, but through our culture we have done so. We don't even know precisely the limits that evolution or nature places on our ability to adapt. I don't follow your reasoning all the way, but it seems that now you are distinguishing between something in culture that is meme and something that is non-meme (or seemingly non-meme), something that does not build on precedent. How would the latter case even be possible? But this distinction could be a positive point, in that it begins to distinguish culture change from evolution change. One of those distinctions would be in the area of 'durable results.' What is a durable result vs.what isn't can be very difficult to ascertain, and subject to tremendous bias on the part of the observer. When it comes to building on precedent, it's interesting that this is exactly what often does not happen in the give and take or dialectic of intellectual history.
Quote:
In connection with the theory of cultural selection, it has often been stated that knowledge is accumulated. It is an incredible paradox that this very theory itself has deviated so much from this principle when viewed as a case in the history of ideas. The theories of social change have followed a dramatic zigzag course, where every new theoretical fad has rejected the previous one totally rather than modifying and improving it; and where the same ideas and principles have been forgotten and reinvented again and again through more than a century. http://www.agner.org/cultsel/chapt2/

RobertTulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
Philosophy is nice, but I don't consider it to have any particular claim on me, unlike science, which I don't feel is optional to ignore.
With respect that is an arrogant and groundless statement. Of course philosophy can make binding statements. 1+1=2 is more a statement within philosophy than within science, and is totally binding. Kant showed that such analytical a priori statements are binding, as their truth is contained in the definition of their terms.

I'd be interested to know what others think about this matter. You cite a micro-example that is at odds with the generality of what you've been arguing. On matters of generality, which is at least popularly what most people conceive as the territory of philosophy, philosophy does have the flavor of the optional. It's even essential that we know this, so that we don't come under the sway of a destructive philosophy such as racial supremacy. Please don't try to remove philosophy from the humanities. When it comes to ethics, especially, philosophy isn't meant to be binding in the same way that science is, at least I hope not. If memory serves, you disputed one of Kant's formulations of the categorical imperative, that we should not use people as means to an end, but see them as ends in themselves. You did this in the spirit of philosophy. In a similar manner, Robert, your determinations on the present topic cannot hope to be binding, which doesn't mean at all that you should desist.
Robert Tulip" wrote:
DWill wrote:
I do believe that Dawkins proposed his new theory so that it could be vetted via the scientific method.
Yes, but the interesting thing about the meme theory is that we can find all sorts of examples of how the law of natural selection operates within culture, but generalising these observations into a universal theory remains elusive. Part of the problem is that the idea of memes subverts any claim about supernatural forces, so it plays directly into the cultural debates over religion and atheism.

What I see from my survey is the term 'culture selection' being used. This is itself a borrowing from evolution theory, but it seems a lot more appropriate than to use 'natural selection' for culture. I might prefer 'culture creation' or somesuch, but it's in the right direction. The universal theory does remain elusive (though perhaps partly because its utility might be questioned), but I don't think that the agents working on such a theory feel bounded by others' belief in the supernatural.



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Post Re: Selective pressures
DWill wrote:
'evolution operates' implies that a higher-order entity, governing both the physical constitution of organisms and the phenotypal expression of one species of organism--humans--has been demonstrated to exist. If it has, I don't know about it.
To say ‘evolution operates’ does not imply that evolution is an entity. Gravity operates as a higher order law of nature but is not an entity. The laws of physics operate but are not entities. Operators in mathematics (+-/x) operate but are not entities. Evolution is not an entity.

Evolution does govern both phenotype and genotype. Phenotype is defined as “the observable physical or biochemical characteristics of an organism, as determined by both genetic makeup and environmental influences.” Human phenotypic characteristics include culture and the physical influence we have on our planet.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phenotype# ... _variation says
Quote:
phenotypic variation is a fundamental prerequisite for evolution by natural selection. It is the living organism as a whole that contributes (or not) to the next generation, so natural selection affects the genetic structure of a population indirectly via the contribution of phenotypes. The idea of the phenotype has been generalized by Richard Dawkins in The Extended Phenotype to mean all the effects a gene has on the outside world that may influence its chances of being replicated. These can be effects on the organism in which the gene resides, the environment, or other organisms.

Anthropogenic climate change is a big part of our global phenotype. Greenhouse gas emissions present a prime threat to human future, risking global destabilisation, conflict and collapse.

Phenotypes evolve because living systems are incremental and adaptive. Each step in an incremental process is a small change from the previous step.

Homeostasis, the tendency of systems to stay within stable boundaries, means that without external pressure for change a system will usually be evolutionarily stable. But when the homeostatic context changes, we see what we call selective pressure, causing the system to evolve to a new stability. A big change in the context punctuates the equilibrium of steady evolution towards higher complexity by disrupting the set of available niches.

Rising temperature is a selective pressure in the human extended phenotype. When there is a steady phenotypic change, as seen in global warming, selective pressure is placed on all evolving structures within the phenotype.

The incremental nature of evolution applies to genes and memes. A meme, as a phenotypic effect seen in culture, evolves in a step by step linear path. For example musical styles have a memetic evolution, with gradual steady linear change.

A memetic or genetic revolution can be caused by steady directional selective pressure on a system, and by sudden external influence. All the big eras of our planet, Precambrian, Cambrian, Permian, etc, are characterised and separated by changes in environmental selective pressures.
DWill wrote:
If by 'evolution' you mean that both the biology that subsumes all organisms and the culture of one organism that is nested in that biology, demonstrate step-wise change, I see no reason to dispute that. But you know the devil or god will be in the details.
Recognising that culture is nested within biology refines the set theory of the relation between culture and nature. All culture is natural and biological but not all nature or biology is cultural.

Evolution is more than step-wise change, it recognises that mutation is random, but successful mutation involves cumulative adaptation in response to selective pressures. Evolution therefore operates on a defined path, responding to natural selective pressures that can to a fair extent be quantified. When new selective pressures are induced, as is happening with global warming, evolutionary change can be rapid, as seen in poleward migration.
DWill wrote:
There are fundamental differences between how organisms change and how what are essentially products of thought, or culture, change. We should expect to see in the world a diversity of types of change, and we do.
All change in living systems is evolutionary. There are no ‘types of change’ that conflict with the law of evolution. There are fundamental similarities in how genes and memes evolve. Homeostasis is one similarity, incremental change is another, and cumulative adaptation is another. You will not find examples of cultural change that conflict with these laws of nature. When homeostasis breaks down, as is happening now with global anthropogenic climate change, evolution is pushed across tipping points into new chaotic patterns.
DWill wrote:
'evolutionary selective pressures' implies that in the two realms of biology and culture, we see the operation of a specific, uniform principle. You assert this, but it appears that you're saying it must be so, philosophically, not that science itself has had anything to say about it.
Memes are a purely scientific theory, observing that culture obeys the law of evolution. People are free to be creative, but culture is nested in the set of biology. All memetic evolution of human culture obeys the genetic law of natural evolution by cumulative adaptation, because natural homeostasis will rein in any trends that approach the boundaries of the physically possible.

Memes change faster than genes, and can have cyclic structures, but they have the same increasing complexity as genes when occurring within a stable environment, as all available niches aregradually explored by the systematic chaos of mutation.

We can expect the memetic structure of the human phenotype to change rapidly under the selective pressure of global warming. Only those memes suited to a hotter world will adapt and survive. This means that obsolete memes, such as denial of science, will go extinct or become less powerful.
DWill wrote:
We didn't evolve with the ability to live in the air or the water, but through our culture we have done so. We don't even know precisely the limits that evolution or nature places on our ability to adapt. I don't follow your reasoning all the way, but it seems that now you are distinguishing between something in culture that is meme and something that is non-meme (or seemingly non-meme), something that does not build on precedent. How would the latter case even be possible?
Those cultural abilities to fly and float are memetic, as seen in the evolution of technology. I don’t think there is anything in culture that is not memetic. Evolution is all-encompassing.
DWill wrote:
But this distinction [between meme and non-meme] could be a positive point, in that it begins to distinguish culture change from evolution change. One of those distinctions would be in the area of 'durable results.' What is a durable result vs.what isn't can be very difficult to ascertain, and subject to tremendous bias on the part of the observer.
A durable meme, such as an idea that has been around for thousands of years, has proved its adaptability, and can expect to be robust against selective pressure. Christianity is an example. But when the environment changes to something different from the environment in which the meme evolved, the meme must adapt or fail.
DWill wrote:
When it comes to building on precedent, it's interesting that this is exactly what often does not happen in the give and take or dialectic of intellectual history.
With intellectual history, I quite like Hegel’s theory of dialectical change, with a thesis giving rise to its antithesis, and the emerging polarity then being combined in a new synthesis. This model of the history of ideas is entirely evolutionary, showing how ideas evolve as natural memes. Conflicting memes can be locked in Red Queen arms races.
DWill wrote:
Quote:
every new theoretical fad has rejected the previous one totally rather than modifying and improving it http://www.agner.org/cultsel/chapt2/
That is a big exaggeration. Fads go in cycles, and respond to selective pressures. When the economy or technology or society changes, it enables a new set of fads. These may seem original, but they have a causality, always nesting within a memetic evolution of ideas, including the return of the repressed. And in fact, theoretical fads do not always reject their predecessors.

Leaving aside the pejorative and ephemeral idea of fad, theory evolves step-wise, with each new theorist learning from existing theory. Often differences from current views are highlighted in debate because they are at the edge of chaos, the most interesting area of uncertainty where new things emerge. But this focus on difference can fail to see the areas of identity between new and old theories. Even Darwin built upon and modified existing thought about evolution.
DWill wrote:
RobertTulip wrote:
philosophy can make binding statements. 1+1=2 is more a statement within philosophy than within science, and is totally binding. Kant showed that such analytical a priori statements are binding, as their truth is contained in the definition of their terms.
I'd be interested to know what others think about this matter. You cite a micro-example that is at odds with the generality of what you've been arguing. On matters of generality, which is at least popularly what most people conceive as the territory of philosophy, philosophy does have the flavor of the optional.

I don’t see how the universality of mathematical truth is at odds with anything I have said. Mathematics is absolutely not optional. The rise of the optional as an attitude towards philosophy is associated with broad cultural trends, notably the acceptance of cultural relativism and multiculturalism. These are widely seen as ethically positive because of their respect for diversity. But relativism produces its own antithesis, in an interest in shared identity and truth. Science in its pure form is not culturally bound but universal. Relativism expresses the social view that philosophy is inherently incapable of finding universal truths that bridge differences between cultures.
DWill wrote:
It's even essential that we know [that philosophies are optional], so that we don't come under the sway of a destructive philosophy such as racial supremacy.
Your premise does not imply your conclusion. I don’t think that racial supremacy is a starter within any potential respectable philosophy. My own view is that the least powerful cultures are often the most important. But there is much room for argument about the worth of different cultures.

Jared Diamond has a very sophisticated way of analysing cultural difference. In The World Until Yesterday, Diamond points out that there are many things about primitive life that we are well rid of, and also many things that we can usefully learn from. Diamond’s negative observations should not be considered optional just because of a distaste for attention to cultural difference. Many features of primitive life, such as bad health, risk, violence, poverty and superstition, are bad. But equally, primitive life often has more social capital than modern life. Where Diamond’s analysis is sound it should be accepted, for example on what traditional and modern cultures can learn from each other.
DWill wrote:
Please don't try to remove philosophy from the humanities.
Philosophy is the home of human freedom. We are free to think what we like, and that engages philosophy with all the humanities.

In terms of the questions here on how philosophy and science contribute to understanding how selective pressures operate on cultural evolution, we are talking about the philosophy of science, by exploring the possibility of a science of culture. It doesn’t remove philosophy from the humanities to say that the science of cultural evolution requires a philosophical framework. Whether culture can be studied scientifically is a contestable philosophical proposition.
DWill wrote:
When it comes to ethics, especially, philosophy isn't meant to be binding in the same way that science is, at least I hope not.
Kant held that duty is binding. This was part of his rejection of the utilitarian view of ethics as non-binding.
DWill wrote:
If memory serves, you disputed one of Kant's formulations of the categorical imperative, that we should not use people as means to an end, but see them as ends in themselves.
I was simply pointing out that we do in fact routinely use people as means to our ends, for example we use a plumber as a means to fix a tap.
DWill wrote:
You did this in the spirit of philosophy. In a similar manner, Robert, your determinations on the present topic cannot hope to be binding, which doesn't mean at all that you should desist.
The question of what is binding in philosophy opens up the problem of whether systematic understanding is possible. If we start with science, and accept that confirmed scientific statements cannot be sanely rejected, and see a similar necessary status for true mathematical statements, we then come to the problem that statements in ethics lack similar consensus. I find it a very interesting question whether ethics can have necessary truths as found in physics and logic. Kant’s analysis of duty is one way to explore this question. Duty requires a legitimate authority to which consent is binding, and is seen in institutional obligations. But generalising beyond institutions to broader duties is another matter. I believe we have a duty to our planet to sustain human life. That flows through into ethical requirements for action to stabilise the global climate.
DWill wrote:
the term 'culture selection' … seems a lot more appropriate than to use 'natural selection' for culture. I might prefer 'culture creation' or somesuch, but it's in the right direction.

There is only as much selection in culture as nature allows. The sets of society and culture and economy are entirely within the set of nature, as shown in this Venn Diagram.
Attachment:
Nature Economy Society Culture Set Diagram.jpg
Nature Economy Society Culture Set Diagram.jpg [ 112.52 KiB | Viewed 1766 times ]
Ecology determines parameters of culture as a freely evolving set within natural boundaries. Natural selection works very slowly, mostly over decadal and longer units of time, whereas culture appears to change very fast. However, where cultural formations are incompatible with nature they do not prosper for long.
DWill wrote:
The universal theory does remain elusive (though perhaps partly because its utility might be questioned), but I don't think that the agents working on such a theory feel bounded by others' belief in the supernatural.
No, the supernatural does not make sense. Part of the problem with supernatural theories is that they are unscientific. But universal scientific theory grounded in evolution can recognise that supernatural traditions have adaptive traits.


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Post Re: Selective pressures
Dwill wrote:
I'd be interested to know what others think about this matter. You cite a micro-example that is at odds with the generality of what you've been arguing. On matters of generality, which is at least popularly what most people conceive as the territory of philosophy, philosophy does have the flavor of the optional.


Philosophy is everywhere, even within science. From hypothesizing about what direction to take an experiment to mathematically and logically analyzing results.

The sentences you use in your post are philosophical; they can be reduced to logical arguments and either supported or rejected, if someone challenges them. Wisdoms you abide by in everyday life are philosophical. The behaviors that have been passed down by your parents, and enforced by the government, are philosophical.


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Post Re: Selective pressures
Robert Tulip wrote:
To say ‘evolution operates’ does not imply that evolution is an entity. Gravity operates as a higher order law of nature but is not an entity. The laws of physics operate but are not entities. Operators in mathematics (+-/x) operate but are not entities. Evolution is not an entity.

Evolution does govern both phenotype and genotype. Phenotype is defined as “the observable physical or biochemical characteristics of an organism, as determined by both genetic makeup and environmental influences.” Human phenotypic characteristics include culture and the physical influence we have on our planet.

Okay, 'entity' was the wrong word. But replace it with the word 'law' and you have your own problems. You have them if you
mean that there is a natural law, evolution, that has been 'proven' by theory to cover all phenomena of change. You've already said that your assertion is from the side of philosophy, though, so it would seem that you'd have to concede that natural law isn't an appropriate term.

A definition of natural law that I like, by the way, is from Stuart Kauffman via Murray Gell-Mann:"a compact description beforehand of the regularities of a process." If I can continue for a moment with this digression, the point that Kaufman gets to is that "The evolution of the universe, biosphere, the human economy, human culture, and human action is profoundly creative...The upshot is that we do not know beforehand what [Darwinian] adaptations may arise in the evolution of the biosphere. Nor do we know beforehand many of the economic evolutions that will arise...The wonderful diversity of life out your window evolved in ways that largely could not be foretold. So, too, has human economy in the past fifty thousand years, as well as human culture and law. They are not only emergent but radically unpredictable. We cannot even prestate the possibilities that may arise, let alone the probabilities of their occurrence...These phenomena, then, appear to be partially beyond natural law itself...We live in a world whose unfoldings we often cannot prevision, prestate, or predict--a world of explosive creativity on all sides. This is a central part of the new scientific worldview."

I didn't intend to quote so extensively from Kauffman's book, Reinventing the Sacred, just kept going. It's my thought that this view contrasts is some essential way with your view, which seems to me to place all of culture in a Darwinian straitjacket. Your view seems not to take into account the real nature of culture as an emergent phenomenon, but to be overly intellectualized as well as restricted. If I am being unfair or presumptuous, I apologize, but I offer Kauffman's thinking in place of my own less cogent attempts to describe the essential difference between our two worldviews.

I suggest that this is a good platform to try out for now, and that it might be an approachable one for anyone else who hasn't had the time to follow all the turnings of this interesting (to me, anyway) exchange we've been having.



Last edited by DWill on Sat Mar 09, 2013 8:02 am, edited 1 time in total.



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