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Ch. 6 - Organisms, Groups and Memes: Replicators or Vehicles? 
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Post Ch. 6 - Organisms, Groups and Memes: Replicators or Vehicles
Ch. 6 - Organisms, Groups & Memes: Replicators or Vehicles?



Fri Jul 31, 2009 10:59 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 6 - Organisms, Groups and Memes: Replicators or Vehicles?
The debate about group selection is hotting up. An excellent review in The Economist of The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why it Endures (By Nicholas Wade. Penguin Press; 310 pages; $25.95) states:

Quote:
Mr Wade is convinced that a Darwinian approach offers the key to understanding religion. In other words, he sides with those who think man’s propensity for religion has some adaptive function. According to this view, faith would not have persisted over thousands of generations if it had not helped the human race to survive. Among evolutionary biologists, this idea is contested. Critics of religion, like Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker, suggest that faith is a useless (or worse) by-product of other human characteristics.

And that controversy leads to another one. Does Darwinian selection take place at the level only of individuals, or of groups as well? As Mr Wade makes clear, the notion of religion as an “adaptive” phenomenon makes better sense if one accepts the idea of group selection. Groups which practised religion effectively and enjoyed its benefits were likely to prevail over those which lacked these advantages...

In what way, then, does religion enhance a group’s survival? Above all, by promoting moral rules and cementing cohesion, in a way that makes people ready to sacrifice themselves for the group and to deal ruthlessly with outsiders. These arguments are well made.


I have posted the following comment on this at http://www.economist.com/node/15124974/ ... ent-440861

The narrow path of rational religion is deeply unpopular on all sides. The faithful see reason as destroying dogma, while the rational cannot see the need for a mythic 're-binding' as the basis of human identity. Wade therefore provides an invaluable service in outlining this middle way.

His comment about Richard Dawkins is extremely pertinent to the current debates on atheism. Dawkins continues the emphasis on individualism seen in British empiricism from Locke, Hume and Smith. Hence Dawkins maintains an almost religious hostility to group-selection, and to the idea that religion has a positive evolutionary function at the group level.

At face value, religious group selection is a compelling argument, and Dawkins' objections reflect his own cultural biases. It reminds me of JM Keynes famous line "Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist." Dawkins' theory of the selfish gene is the slave of British empiricism and its atomistic myth of the rational individual as the unit of economic life. The observation that faith serves the survival (salvation?) of the group undermines the quasi-utilitarian orthodoxy of contemporary secular Britain.



Tue Dec 22, 2009 11:00 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 6 - Organisms, Groups and Memes: Replicators or Vehicles?
Quote:
According to this view, faith would not have persisted over thousands of generations if it had not helped the human race to survive.


Faith may have persisted over thousands of generations if there is an evolutionary selection process at work separate from genetic evolution. Namely, memetic evolution. The real question is then whether or not enduring memes have a positive correlation on genetic survivability. I see no reason for this correlation. It would be an interesting study.



Tue Dec 22, 2009 11:24 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 6 - Organisms, Groups and Memes: Replicators or Vehicles?
Robert Tulip wrote:
The debate about group selection is hotting up.
Mr Wade is convinced that a Darwinian approach offers the key to understanding religion. In other words, he sides with those who think man’s propensity for religion has some adaptive function.

Aargh!--it took quite a while to squelch the first eruption of Darwins' great theory into the social realm (I'm talking about Social Darwinism). Now we have to endure another one? Saying that such-and-such--religion in this case--helps men adapt to some social condition is not Darwinism. Natural selection is just that, by natural forces. Once the agents involved have to such an extent extracted themselves from the natural environment through culture, the natural selection game is over.
Quote:
And that controversy leads to another one. Does Darwinian selection take place at the level only of individuals, or of groups as well?

I'm still with Professor D. on this one. Groups are amorphous and motley. How do they get acted upon by natural selection? And As I think Dawkins says, how would an individual know for which group he was supposed to be acting in benefit? Why wouldn't it be at the level of the genus or even above? In any event, the answer to this biological question would either keep alive or scuttle the this whole matter of group selectionism in our culture. I think it should be reviewed.
Quote:
In what way, then, does religion enhance a group’s survival? Above all, by promoting moral rules and cementing cohesion, in a way that makes people ready to sacrifice themselves for the group and to deal ruthlessly with outsiders. These arguments are well made.

But the observations and historical reports of the religion of the most primitive social groups does not show a moral dimension to religion. Fear and appeasement of gods predominate. The social rules promoting cohesion exist, but not as a product of the religion. This, of course, agrees with what we've often said here about religion not being necessary to morality.
Quote:
His comment about Richard Dawkins is extremely pertinent to the current debates on atheism. Dawkins continues the emphasis on individualism seen in British empiricism from Locke, Hume and Smith. Hence Dawkins maintains an almost religious hostility to group-selection, and to the idea that religion has a positive evolutionary function at the group level.

Robert, this appears to be skirting the evidence and arguments Dawkins presents. You can't discredit his positions just because you don't like the tradition you say he belongs to.



Wed Dec 23, 2009 10:28 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 6 - Organisms, Groups and Memes: Replicators or Vehicles?
Quote:
How do they get acted upon by natural selection?


The way I've heard it explained is that group selection happened at periods of time when tribes routinely dwindled and died off. If there were enough tribes across a region all individually competing for resources, they could succeed as individual groups, or fail as individual groups. So in groups where an individual has had a mutation which causes him to act for the benefit of the group, sharing food and protecting neighbors and such, the group would be more likely to survive from his contributions. The genes would spread through the tribe. Tribes without such altruism would be less likely to survive.

I don't advocate this position, since I'm not an expert, but I see nothing wrong with it on the surface.



Thu Dec 24, 2009 12:13 am
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Post Memetic Evolution is intrinsically Lamarckian
A memetic jingle to the tune of I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General from The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan

Memetic evolution is intrinsically Lamarckian
Genetic evolution is intrinsically Darwinian
I really wonder which of them more scientific light is in.


In Chapter Six of The Extended Phenotype Dawkins describes his opposition to the inheritance of acquired characteristics as the "central dogma" of his book. This is reasonable from a purely genetic scientific stance, but the fact is that cultural inheritance through memes is the principal method to prevent delinquency and fragmentation. Groups do have identity and cohesion which is purely Lamarckian. Lamarck's error, pointed out by Darwin, was to claim that acquired physical characteristics are inherited. This mistake has obscured the fact that culture relies entirely on memetic transmission of things people have picked up along the way in Lamarckian fashion.



Thu Dec 24, 2009 1:47 pm
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Post Re: Memetic Evolution is intrinsically Lamarckian
Robert Tulip wrote:
Memetic evolution is intrinsically Lamarckian
Genetic evolution is intrinsically Darwinian
I really wonder which of them more scientific light is in.

Let me know when you've written the full operetta! But is there really any question about scientific light? I guess ideas about inheritance called Lamarckian continue to get sporadic attention. It doesn't seem,though, to give memetics a very firm base to use a largely discredited theory, but it does please me if Darwinianism will be left out of that discussion.
Quote:
In Chapter Six of The Extended Phenotype Dawkins describes his opposition to the inheritance of acquired characteristics as the "central dogma" of his book. This is reasonable from a purely genetic scientific stance, but the fact is that cultural inheritance through memes is the principal method to prevent delinquency and fragmentation. Groups do have identity and cohesion which is purely Lamarckian. Lamarck's error, pointed out by Darwin, was to claim that acquired physical characteristics are inherited. This mistake has obscured the fact that culture relies entirely on memetic transmission of things people have picked up along the way in Lamarckian fashion.
[/quote]
There wasn't any reason, I think, for "soft inheritance" to be limited to characteristics that would show up on bodies. But one thing your so-called Lamarckian or memtic transmission doesn't have is sex. Replication by passing to other minds isn't an adequate stand-in for sex. So I question whether even the Lamarckian label is workable.

Applying theory to culture, history, the economy, etc. seems to me an invitation to join the vast graveyard where such theories are buried.

The most interesting aspect in this remains, for me, whether group selection exists or not. I came across a passage written by someone in response to a Scientific American article on group vs. individual selection. It gives an idea of how much we might need to stretch our minds to entertain the thought that groups are an atificial construction.

Salviati at 10:47 PM on 02/18/09
Group selectionists need to meet a challenge they have never been forced by their opponents to confront, at least to my knowledge, namely, to explain how they know that when they use a word like �pride� to refer to lions living together, they are actually referring to a higher-level entity rather than, for example, fifteen lions hunting, feeding, sleeping, and otherwise interacting in the same area. To put this bluntly, how do they--and how do we--know that groups exist? This question may strike almost everyone as bizarre, but the biologists do ask a similar question about species, which are groups of a sort (that is, if they exist). The reality of species has been questioned mostly because of their fuzzy boundaries, but someone can reasonably wonder whether, irrespective of the issue of boundaries, people who use the noun phase �the species Panthera leo� are merely referring to, say, 40,000 lions rather than a higher-level entity comprising the individual organisms. Further, imagine for a second that the species skeptics are correct and that what exist are individual lions and nothing that can be called �the lion� or �Panthera leo.� Ask yourself what exactly is lost. Evolutionary biologists can still say most of the things they want to say about the evolution of lions. The lions currently extant can still be said to be descendents of proto-lions, which in turn were descendents of proto-proto-lions, and so on. The evolutionary tree still stands, it still has roots. Now ask yourself the same question about denying the reality of smaller groups, such as packs and flocks. What is really lost by rejecting their existence and claiming that group talk--use of terms like �group�and �pack�and �flock�--is just a way of talking about individual conspecifics that are living in proximity and causally affecting each other in important ways? To help in answering this question, let me point out that the group rejectionist will redescribe the Pseudomonas fluorenscens bacteria example by saying, not that the bacteria who develop the beneficial mutation are group saving, but that their secretion of the polymer saves both their own lives and the lives of the freeloaders, at least up to the point that the freeloaders outreproduce the polymer-secreting bacteria, causing death and destruction for all. This account does not require accepting that there is some higher-level entity comprising altruists and freeloaders, it just requires acknowledging the obvious fact that what happens in the neighborhood depends on who lives in the neighborhood.|



Thu Dec 24, 2009 7:34 pm
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Post Re: Memetic Evolution is intrinsically Lamarckian
DWill wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
Memetic evolution is intrinsically Lamarckian
Genetic evolution is intrinsically Darwinian
I really wonder which of them more scientific light is in.

Let me know when you've written the full operetta! But is there really any question about scientific light? I guess ideas about inheritance called Lamarckian continue to get sporadic attention. It doesn't seem,though, to give memetics a very firm base to use a largely discredited theory, but it does please me if Darwinianism will be left out of that discussion.
So, Bill, you claim there is doubt that acquired cultural characteristics are inherited? Parents routinely instruct their offspring in how to succeed in life. Cultural institutions secure their replication through transmission of shared understanding of practical operations and ideology. The world is Lamarckian. We have been deluded by the elegance of the Darwinian fit with Newtonian mechanics to downplay the massive role of environment in evolutionary transmission of culture. Our memetic makeup, human psychology, is just as determinant for which genes will prosper as the Darwinian analysis of biological evolution.
Quote:
Quote:
In Chapter Six of The Extended Phenotype Dawkins describes his opposition to the inheritance of acquired characteristics as the "central dogma" of his book. This is reasonable from a purely genetic scientific stance, but the fact is that cultural inheritance through memes is the principal method to prevent delinquency and fragmentation. Groups do have identity and cohesion which is purely Lamarckian. Lamarck's error, pointed out by Darwin, was to claim that acquired physical characteristics are inherited. This mistake has obscured the fact that culture relies entirely on memetic transmission of things people have picked up along the way in Lamarckian fashion.
Quote:
There wasn't any reason, I think, for "soft inheritance" to be limited to characteristics that would show up on bodies. But one thing your so-called Lamarckian or memtic transmission doesn't have is sex. Replication by passing to other minds isn't an adequate stand-in for sex. So I question whether even the Lamarckian label is workable.

Applying theory to culture, history, the economy, etc. seems to me an invitation to join the vast graveyard where such theories are buried.
The question here is whether acquired characteristics are inherited, and how. Clearly education is Lamarckian, so your report of its demise is Twainian.
Quote:

The most interesting aspect in this remains, for me, whether group selection exists or not. I came across a passage written by someone in response to a Scientific American article on group vs. individual selection. It gives an idea of how much we might need to stretch our minds to entertain the thought that groups are an atificial construction.

Salviati at 10:47 PM on 02/18/09
Group selectionists need to meet a challenge they have never been forced by their opponents to confront, at least to my knowledge, namely, to explain how they know that when they use a word like �pride� to refer to lions living together, they are actually referring to a higher-level entity rather than, for example, fifteen lions hunting, feeding, sleeping, and otherwise interacting in the same area. To put this bluntly, how do they--and how do we--know that groups exist? This question may strike almost everyone as bizarre, but the biologists do ask a similar question about species, which are groups of a sort (that is, if they exist). The reality of species has been questioned mostly because of their fuzzy boundaries, but someone can reasonably wonder whether, irrespective of the issue of boundaries, people who use the noun phase �the species Panthera leo� are merely referring to, say, 40,000 lions rather than a higher-level entity comprising the individual organisms. Further, imagine for a second that the species skeptics are correct and that what exist are individual lions and nothing that can be called �the lion� or �Panthera leo.� Ask yourself what exactly is lost. Evolutionary biologists can still say most of the things they want to say about the evolution of lions. The lions currently extant can still be said to be descendents of proto-lions, which in turn were descendents of proto-proto-lions, and so on. The evolutionary tree still stands, it still has roots. Now ask yourself the same question about denying the reality of smaller groups, such as packs and flocks. What is really lost by rejecting their existence and claiming that group talk--use of terms like �group�and �pack�and �flock�--is just a way of talking about individual conspecifics that are living in proximity and causally affecting each other in important ways? To help in answering this question, let me point out that the group rejectionist will redescribe the Pseudomonas fluorenscens bacteria example by saying, not that the bacteria who develop the beneficial mutation are group saving, but that their secretion of the polymer saves both their own lives and the lives of the freeloaders, at least up to the point that the freeloaders outreproduce the polymer-secreting bacteria, causing death and destruction for all. This account does not require accepting that there is some higher-level entity comprising altruists and freeloaders, it just requires acknowledging the obvious fact that what happens in the neighborhood depends on who lives in the neighborhood.|


This is a strange text. It argues that groups of lions do not exist. I find that rather weird, given that lions live in groups. At issue is whether the group operates as an organism in evolutionary terms. Clearly the pride establishes an evolutionarily stable strategy, and prides compete with each other, so there is a valid sense in which the pride must be an operational unit of evolution. Lions procreation depends on the group. This group identity is partly memetic and partly genetic, with the acquired memetic wisdom of the pride, rescuing the young from delinquency, grounded in the natural boundaries of the genetic phenotype.

As for the panthera leo, that is a real platonic idea.



Fri Dec 25, 2009 1:38 am
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Post Re: Memetic Evolution is intrinsically Lamarckian
Robert Tulip wrote:
So, Bill, you claim there is doubt that acquired cultural characteristics are inherited? Parents routinely instruct their offspring in how to succeed in life. Cultural institutions secure their replication through transmission of shared understanding of practical operations and ideology. The world is Lamarckian. We have been deluded by the elegance of the Darwinian fit with Newtonian mechanics to downplay the massive role of environment in evolutionary transmission of culture. Our memetic makeup, human psychology, is just as determinant for which genes will prosper as the Darwinian analysis of biological evolution.

No, Robert, there is no doubt that culture can be viewed as something inherited. This has been recognized for several milennia. My beef mainly concerns clarity. I don't think clarity is served by introducing terms that don't represent a real advance in understanding. For example, if Lamarckian now stands for a theory that has been proved false by science, why in the world would you want to claim it for culture, or non-science? I don't see this mass delusion, caused by Darwinism, that prevents us from acknowledging the role of environment. That role is very commonly recognized. And if you are equating human psychology with "our memetic makeup," well, that is a whole other, involved discussion.
Quote:
In Chapter Six of The Extended Phenotype Dawkins describes his opposition to the inheritance of acquired characteristics as the "central dogma" of his book. This is reasonable from a purely genetic scientific stance

I think that elsewhere you referred to Dawkins being right in a narrow scientific sense. Well, yes, being right in a scientific sense is indeed being right narrowly. And why would you want to take issue with some extension of Dawkins' ideas that he isn't even concerned with? Are you attacking a straw man?

Quote:
Applying theory to culture, history, the economy, etc. seems to me an invitation to join the vast graveyard where such theories are buried.
Quote:
The question here is whether acquired characteristics are inherited, and how. Clearly education is Lamarckian, so your report of its demise is Twainian.

Again, no argument to be made whether culture is transmitted. As to how it's done, you can have your theories. I haven't seen any yet that are informative. We don't have a gap in this regard, though, as far as I can determine our needs.


Quote:
Salviati at 10:47 PM on 02/18/09
Group selectionists need to meet a challenge they have never been forced by their opponents to confront, at least to my knowledge, namely, to explain how they know that when they use a word like �pride� to refer to lions living together, they are actually referring to a higher-level entity rather than, for example, fifteen lions hunting, feeding, sleeping, and otherwise interacting in the same area. To put this bluntly, how do they--and how do we--know that groups exist? This question may strike almost everyone as bizarre, but the biologists do ask a similar question about species, which are groups of a sort (that is, if they exist). The reality of species has been questioned mostly because of their fuzzy boundaries, but someone can reasonably wonder whether, irrespective of the issue of boundaries, people who use the noun phase �the species Panthera leo� are merely referring to, say, 40,000 lions rather than a higher-level entity comprising the individual organisms. Further, imagine for a second that the species skeptics are correct and that what exist are individual lions and nothing that can be called �the lion� or �Panthera leo.� Ask yourself what exactly is lost. Evolutionary biologists can still say most of the things they want to say about the evolution of lions. The lions currently extant can still be said to be descendents of proto-lions, which in turn were descendents of proto-proto-lions, and so on. The evolutionary tree still stands, it still has roots. Now ask yourself the same question about denying the reality of smaller groups, such as packs and flocks. What is really lost by rejecting their existence and claiming that group talk--use of terms like �group�and �pack�and �flock�--is just a way of talking about individual conspecifics that are living in proximity and causally affecting each other in important ways? To help in answering this question, let me point out that the group rejectionist will redescribe the Pseudomonas fluorenscens bacteria example by saying, not that the bacteria who develop the beneficial mutation are group saving, but that their secretion of the polymer saves both their own lives and the lives of the freeloaders, at least up to the point that the freeloaders outreproduce the polymer-secreting bacteria, causing death and destruction for all. This account does not require accepting that there is some higher-level entity comprising altruists and freeloaders, it just requires acknowledging the obvious fact that what happens in the neighborhood depends on who lives in the neighborhood.|


Quote:
This is a strange text. It argues that groups of lions do not exist. I find that rather weird, given that lions live in groups. At issue is whether the group operates as an organism in evolutionary terms. Clearly the pride establishes an evolutionarily stable strategy, and prides compete with each other, so there is a valid sense in which the pride must be an operational unit of evolution. Lions procreation depends on the group. This group identity is partly memetic and partly genetic, with the acquired memetic wisdom of the pride, rescuing the young from delinquency, grounded in the natural boundaries of the genetic phenotype.

But he doesn't argue that lions don't live in groups, only that the group may not be a true higher-order entity in whose behalf a lion could act altruistically. Remember that altruism is what The Selfish Gene is really about. When we see instances of altruism by an animal, how are we to interpret such acts? The old way, now apparently come around again, is to say the animal did it "for the good of the species." This would validate group selectionism, but Dawkins says that any overall benefit that seems to come to the species is simply the accumulated effect of the success at reproduction of the individuals whose drive it is to pass on their genes. Species thrive (at least according to our view; who is really to say what "success" for a species is?) because of strategies for individuals work. Note that these strategies include, for some animals, well developed social habits that tie each individual into groups for better survival chances. But the existence of social units is not an argument for natural selection of entire groups.



Last edited by DWill on Wed Dec 30, 2009 10:47 am, edited 1 time in total.



Wed Dec 30, 2009 10:42 am
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Post Re: Memetic Evolution is intrinsically Lamarckian
DWill wrote:
there is no doubt that culture can be viewed as something inherited. This has been recognized for several millennia. My beef mainly concerns clarity. I don't think clarity is served by introducing terms that don't represent a real advance in understanding. For example, if Lamarckian now stands for a theory that has been proved false by science, why in the world would you want to claim it for culture, or non-science? I don't see this mass delusion, caused by Darwinism, that prevents us from acknowledging the role of environment. That role is very commonly recognized. And if you are equating human psychology with "our memetic makeup," well, that is a whole other, involved discussion.
Hi Bill, this is tough material, so thank you for continuing the dialogue. The question here is whether culture evolves through the inheritance of acquired characteristics (Lamarck’s main theme). My argument is that this evolutionary dimension of culture is clear. For example law evolves by precedent, acquiring new standards by cultural assessment of previous events, with the current generation of lawyers copying what was done before. Law evolves by a combination of genetic (eg constitutional) and cultural (case law) factors. You speak of ‘mass delusion’ but the issue is that people live as groups, and cultural evolution occurs when the group accepts a new direction. Group selection is not about waiting for a genetic change, on the fatalistic model of natural selection, but about using intelligence to drive evolution as a conscious plan with deliberate intent. My point about Lamarck was that while his theory of environmental factors in genetic evolution has been rightly rejected, this rejection has disregarded the areas where the Lamarck theory does apply, namely in the evolution of ideas. Ideas do actually evolve in Lamarckian fashion, mixing and matching as people see the need, with 'acquired characteristics' handed on to the next generation when they are found useful. Dawkins describes this process as memetic, also a play on the actual word mimetic which means by imitation, observing that many processes seen in natural evolution also apply in culture. For example there is what we might call a ‘sedimentary’ deposition of both genes and memes. Later ideas rest on the junk of earlier ideas, choosing and finding earlier themes that support what is of interest at each time. Where Dawkins gets it wrong, in my opinion, is that his biological model for culture ignores the group operation of intelligence. Group selection seems clear to me as a framework to analyse history, with groups (empires) who are able to expand out-competing their stagnant neighbours. Yes history is made by individuals, but only when those individuals lead groups.
Quote:
Quote:
In Chapter Six of The Extended Phenotype Dawkins describes his opposition to the inheritance of acquired characteristics as the "central dogma" of his book. This is reasonable from a purely genetic scientific stance
I think that elsewhere you referred to Dawkins being right in a narrow scientific sense. Well, yes, being right in a scientific sense is indeed being right narrowly. And why would you want to take issue with some extension of Dawkins' ideas that he isn't even concerned with? Are you attacking a straw man?
No, this is a fair attack. Dawkins builds a philosophy and a theology upon his biological observations. By denigrating the role of religion in forming group cohesiveness and identity, Dawkins casts doubt on one of the major drivers of cultural change. As well, while he says that the selfish gene does not mean that selfish organisms succeed, there is a strong subtext of the economic model of the rational individual with all its assumptions about human behaviour. His argument that religion is not needed is supremely elitist and based on his unusual life circumstances as a successful scientist. His suggestion for the abolition of religion removes a main plank of human group identity. Science alone does not offer a path for workable social values, which need to emerge from the twisted timbers of humanity.
Quote:
Applying theory to culture, history, the economy, etc. seems to me an invitation to join the vast graveyard where such theories are buried.
Bill, you are saying here that reality is intrinsically opaque and incomprehensible. You may regard scholarship as a graveyard, I would rather view it as an inheritance, or at least a junkyard.
Quote:
Again, no argument to be made whether culture is transmitted. As to how it's done, you can have your theories. I haven't seen any yet that are informative. We don't have a gap in this regard, though, as far as I can determine our needs.
The debate here is about cultural evolution, not just cultural transmission. Your comment ‘we don’t have a gap’ implies the modern world has a satisfactory understanding of cultural evolution. I would beg to strongly differ. If we understand the science of social change then we have greater power to influence its direction and speed. Dawkins’ hostility to group selection seems to me to be a major brake on informed dialogue about social change.
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But he doesn't argue that lions don't live in groups, only that the group may not be a true higher-order entity in whose behalf a lion could act altruistically. Remember that altruism is what The Selfish Gene is really about. When we see instances of altruism by an animal, how are we to interpret such acts? The old way, now apparently come around again, is to say the animal did it "for the good of the species." This would validate group selectionism, but Dawkins says that any overall benefit that seems to come to the species is simply the accumulated effect of the success at reproduction of the individuals whose drive it is to pass on their genes. Species thrive (at least according to our view; who is really to say what "success" for a species is?) because of strategies for individuals work. Note that these strategies include, for some animals, well developed social habits that tie each individual into groups for better survival chances. But the existence of social units is not an argument for natural selection of entire groups.
You are mixing species selection with group selection. A pride of lions behaves in ways to expand the power of the pride. They are not concerned about the species as a whole, and indeed lions will kill the cubs of other lions. The phenotype of the group exercises selective pressure on the individuals, so that those which instinctively behave in ways that are good for the group prosper. A group with such lions will outcompete a rival group which fails to respond to pressures at the group level. We see this group selection operating all the time in human life, with cohesive empires defeating smaller scattered groups. Human groups gain goals and identity through shared narrative, formerly known as myth or religion. The content of group narrative is a main driver of memetic evolution of human culture.

An underlying issue here is that the climate problem indicates the failure of individualist models, whereby each person has a right to pollute without concern for externalities. "Business as usual" is causing the planet to fry, and can only be averted by collective action. Anthropogenic climate change is a first time in the history of our planet that an organism has power to influence its environment at such scale and speed, and human survival depends on our ability to work as a group to prevent dangerous global warming. If we don't try group selection we will probably go extinct, which would vindicate Dr Dawkins' theory that group selection is impossible. The cacophony of Copenhagen certainly indicated that group selection appears to be beyond the limited scope of human intelligence.



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Post Re: Memetic Evolution is intrinsically Lamarckian
Happy new year to you, Robert. You alluded to Mark Twain in a previous post. With regard to your position and mine in this and other discussions, I'd have to say that never the twain shall meet. We have such different ideas of the boundaries that should be set between the findings of experimental or theoretical science and the social sciences. To me, you seem to think that metaphorical similarities reveal an identity between science and culture or history. I reject that method of working and can only admire, but not sign on to, the fertility of your thinking, which reminds me of a jazz composition. Looking at the prospect of directing social change, this seems too reminiscent of the gleam in the eye of intellectuals of the modern age. We're past all such theories, and I think that is a very good thing, really. I'm not saying that we shouldn't extend our efforts to describe or understand what happens; that seems a worthwhile and helpful goal. This will give science a role to fulfill but won't be theoretical in any real sense.
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No, this is a fair attack. Dawkins builds a philosophy and a theology upon his biological observations. By denigrating the role of religion in forming group cohesiveness and identity, Dawkins casts doubt on one of the major drivers of cultural change. As well, while he says that the selfish gene does not mean that selfish organisms succeed, there is a strong subtext of the economic model of the rational individual with all its assumptions about human behaviour. His argument that religion is not needed is supremely elitist and based on his unusual life circumstances as a successful scientist. His suggestion for the abolition of religion removes a main plank of human group identity. Science alone does not offer a path for workable social values, which need to emerge from the twisted timbers of humanity.

Again I would cite boundaries, in a related sense. If Dawkins makes the claims that you refer to in the two books under discussion--or anywhere else--we have something to evaluate. But since to my knowledge he doesn't make the claim that his science validates his views on religion, what he has spoken out about has no bearing at present. You also seem to be saying that Dawkins' views are an inevitable corollary of his science. Even if this correspondence was binding, which I doubt (does no one who accepts his theory have a different view of the faith question?), what would you have him do, suppress his theory? In one of his Selfish Gene prefaces, he laments that readers accuse him of spoiling their day with ideas that make them less proud of their creatureliness. He's just calling things as he sees them, I believe, and you have said you think he's on-target.

Quote:
Bill, you are saying here that reality is intrinsically opaque and incomprehensible. You may regard scholarship as a graveyard, I would rather view it as an inheritance, or at least a junkyard.

If I sounded anti-intellectual, I didn't mean to. Scholarship is fine, and the best will rise to the top. I was singling out theories that apply reductionism inappropriately. An example of that would be to equate human psychology with memetic makeup.
Quote:
The debate here is about cultural evolution, not just cultural transmission. Your comment ‘we don’t have a gap’ implies the modern world has a satisfactory understanding of cultural evolution. I would beg to strongly differ. If we understand the science of social change then we have greater power to influence its direction and speed. Dawkins’ hostility to group selection seems to me to be a major brake on informed dialogue about social change.

We can't and should not try to control cultural evolution. That is an outstandingly bad idea, anyway. Dawkins' reasoned, science-based objections to group-selectionism (he of course might not be right) have no relation whatsoever to impeding social change. Dawkins never said or implied that group dynmamics aren't important in culture.
Quote:
You are mixing species selection with group selection. A pride of lions behaves in ways to expand the power of the pride. They are not concerned about the species as a whole, and indeed lions will kill the cubs of other lions. The phenotype of the group exercises selective pressure on the individuals, so that those which instinctively behave in ways that are good for the group prosper. A group with such lions will outcompete a rival group which fails to respond to pressures at the group level. We see this group selection operating all the time in human life, with cohesive empires defeating smaller scattered groups. Human groups gain goals and identity through shared narrative, formerly known as myth or religion. The content of group narrative is a main driver of memetic evolution of human culture.

Interesting, perhaps true, but needing confirmation. Is there competition among prides of lions that selects groups for survival? Possibly, but I have doubts that natural selection could be operating when it is not usually the case that an entire group is killed or dies of starvation. When we come to human groups, we find that survival of groups isn't meaningful in terms of evolution. What does it mean when we say a group doesn't survive? Frequently, individuals merely opt out or are absorbed by another group. Their survival usually is not entailed. Even their belonging to one group or another is often just something we say about them, but not a reality for them in their lives. The "group" might not survive, but since mortality might not be involved for individuals as a result of group dissolution, what we are seeing perish is rather abstract.



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Post Re: Ch. 6 - Organisms, Groups and Memes: Replicators or Vehicles?
DWill wrote:
Happy new year to you, Robert. You alluded to Mark Twain in a previous post. With regard to your position and mine in this and other discussions, I'd have to say that never the twain shall meet. We have such different ideas of the boundaries that should be set between the findings of experimental or theoretical science and the social sciences. To me, you seem to think that metaphorical similarities reveal an identity between science and culture or history. I reject that method of working and can only admire, but not sign on to, the fertility of your thinking, which reminds me of a jazz composition. Looking at the prospect of directing social change, this seems too reminiscent of the gleam in the eye of intellectuals of the modern age. We're past all such theories, and I think that is a very good thing, really. I'm not saying that we shouldn't extend our efforts to describe or understand what happens; that seems a worthwhile and helpful goal. This will give science a role to fulfill but won't be theoretical in any real sense.


Hi Bill, and likewise wishing you a fulfilling 2010.

My reference to Mark Twain was to his comment that reports of his death were much exaggerated. Your suggestion that Lamarck’s theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics is dead and buried seems similarly to be an over-confident diagnosis.

Sure, it is easy to laugh at Lamarck regarding his idea that giraffes necks have become longer by the inheritance of the behaviour of stretching to reach leaves. Incidentally, Dawkins provides a beautiful discussion in his latest book, The Greatest Show On Earth, of the actual evolution of the long neck of the giraffe, especially how one of its face nerves loops from the brain around the heart because that path was efficient in fish and the disruption in shifting to a direct path is more than the genes can handle.

However, when we come to analyse the evolution of culture and group behaviour, it is another story entirely. Institutions operate primarily by the inheritance of acquired characteristics. People learn about the culture, and copy existing behaviour to be successful. The question of memetics is whether such cultural behaviour applies the same laws as are observed in genetics. Dawkins says yes it does, in terms of copy-fidelity, fecundity and longevity. Of course culture evolves much faster than nature, but the point here is that memes follow the same laws as genes because these laws are accurate descriptions of any evolution of a complex natural system. The similarity is not just metaphorical, as you suggest, but rather provides a powerful analytical tool to study the nature of culture.

Your scepticism about ‘directing social change’ reminds me of Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, and his deep conservative suspicion about the power of reason, and of Karl Popper’s attack on Plato as a totalitarian. While I respect Burke and Popper, their attitude condemns us to a stagnant repetition of the past, with no prospect to identify how reason can shape society.

My comments here are against the context of the potential for catastrophic climate change, and the need for humanity to evolve into a new group identity to implement measures to prevent global warming. My beef with Dawkins is that his theory of the selfish gene excludes precisely the form of global evolution most needed to manage the climate, by retaining an individualist conception of human identity which downplays the important role of memetic identity in the evolution of groups.

Quote:
If Dawkins makes the claims that you refer to in the two books under discussion--or anywhere else--we have something to evaluate. But since to my knowledge he doesn't make the claim that his science validates his views on religion, what he has spoken out about has no bearing at present. You also seem to be saying that Dawkins' views are an inevitable corollary of his science. Even if this correspondence was binding, which I doubt (does no one who accepts his theory have a different view of the faith question?), what would you have him do, suppress his theory? In one of his Selfish Gene prefaces, he laments that readers accuse him of spoiling their day with ideas that make them less proud of their creatureliness. He's just calling things as he sees them, I believe, and you have said you think he's on-target.
Of course Dawkins says his science validates his views on religion. His most famous idea is that science requires atheism and excludes religion as an obsolete form of false consciousness. I see this claim as an essential empirical stepping stone towards a revaluation of religious values, not as the final word. By excluding group selection in his dogma of the selfish gene, Dawkins taps into the British mytheme of individual liberty, a mytheme that I greatly admire, but one of which I am also quite critical. I agree with Dawkins’ lament that people see themselves as creatures rather than organisms, as these two forms of human self-identity conceal whole memeplexes of assumptions. ‘Creatureliness’ involves a belief in a supernatural God which Dawkins suggests lacks logical rigour. However, the contrasting atheist view, that we are essentially organisms, can cut us off from the group identity provided through mythology and religion.

Quote:
If I sounded anti-intellectual, I didn't mean to. Scholarship is fine, and the best will rise to the top. I was singling out theories that apply reductionism inappropriately. An example of that would be to equate human psychology with memetic makeup.
What is wrong with linking psychology and memetics? This seems to me the most obvious application for the memetic theory that cultural transmission follows an evolutionary path. Our psyches are the product of our culture, built on the junkyard of all the ideas that have ever influenced us. What do you see as the non-memetic factors in psychology?

Quote:
We can't and should not try to control cultural evolution. That is an outstandingly bad idea, anyway. Dawkins' reasoned, science-based objections to group-selectionism (he of course might not be right) have no relation whatsoever to impeding social change. Dawkins never said or implied that group dynamics aren't important in culture.
More Burke and Popper. You are a real Tory Bill! Of course we should try to control cultural evolution, for example towards ideals such as freedom, justice and peace. The problem here is whether Dawkins extends his science of genetic determinism into the cultural realm. He argues that cultural evolution should promote atheism to move the planet towards more rational management. I agree to the extent that atheism is evidence-based, but the problem is that atheism excludes the depth of human identity found in religion. Reform of religion is likely to be a more effective path to achieve social goods than is the opposition to religion that Dawkins advocates.

Quote:
Is there competition among prides of lions that selects groups for survival? Possibly, but I have doubts that natural selection could be operating when it is not usually the case that an entire group is killed or dies of starvation. When we come to human groups, we find that survival of groups isn't meaningful in terms of evolution. What does it mean when we say a group doesn't survive? Frequently, individuals merely opt out or are absorbed by another group. Their survival usually is not entailed. Even their belonging to one group or another is often just something we say about them, but not a reality for them in their lives. The "group" might not survive, but since mortality might not be involved for individuals as a result of group dissolution, what we are seeing perish is rather abstract.


The subordination of some human groups by others through war, colonisation and imposition of new social arrangements and narratives is a main theme of history. You are saying that just because members of a conquered group survive as a fragmented underclass that their former group was ‘rather abstract’. Were the religious identities of indigenous peoples of the Americas and Australia mere ‘abstractions’ which do not matter because the descendents of their believers remain alive at the margins of the dominant group? Group identity is a key to human identity. Belittling the group identity of others is a strategy much used by dominant groups, through suppression of language, culture and land rights. In mythology, we often see the conquered group return in a subordinate position. Members of a dominant group have an unfair advantage over those who have been conquered, and part of this advantage is their implicit acceptance of memes that validate the cultural beliefs of the dominant group. Identifying and analysing the memes that provide identity for dominant groups seems to me a central task for social evolution.



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Post Re: Ch. 6 - Organisms, Groups and Memes: Replicators or Vehicles?
Robert Tulip wrote:
My reference to Mark Twain was to his comment that reports of his death were much exaggerated. Your suggestion that Lamarck’s theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics is dead and buried seems similarly to be an over-confident diagnosis.

I did get the point of your Twain reference and was just knocking another chip off the Twain block. What is called Lamarckian theory is as irrelevant to a discussion of culture as it is to biology, IMHO. It seems a poor authority to seek. Why not just say that cultural traits are passed on and leave it at that? That much was known well before the pre-Darwinian scientists.
Quote:
Incidentally, Dawkins provides a beautiful discussion in his latest book, The Greatest Show On Earth, of the actual evolution of the long neck of the giraffe, especially how one of its face nerves loops from the brain around the heart because that path was efficient in fish and the disruption in shifting to a direct path is more than the genes can handle.

Thanks for the recommendation. I was handling the book the other day and would like to get a chance to read it.
Quote:
Institutions operate primarily by the inheritance of acquired characteristics. People learn about the culture, and copy existing behaviour to be successful. The question of memetics is whether such cultural behaviour applies the same laws as are observed in genetics. Dawkins says yes it does, in terms of copy-fidelity, fecundity and longevity. Of course culture evolves much faster than nature, but the point here is that memes follow the same laws as genes because these laws are accurate descriptions of any evolution of a complex natural system. The similarity is not just metaphorical, as you suggest, but rather provides a powerful analytical tool to study the nature of culture.

Of course, I more than "suggest" the similarity is metaphorical. Apples and oranges sums up my view of the comparability of natural selection and culture change. I do believe there is one, broad and important similarity, which is that each partakes of a creativity that is partly beyond the explanation of natural law. This similarity doesn't depend on what I think is an indefensible position that genes and memes are alike in substance, process, or function.
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Your scepticism about ‘directing social change’ reminds me of Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, and his deep conservative suspicion about the power of reason, and of Karl Popper’s attack on Plato as a totalitarian. While I respect Burke and Popper, their attitude condemns us to a stagnant repetition of the past, with no prospect to identify how reason can shape society.

Didn't I say directing 'cultural evolution'? I would never deny that it was good for the U.S. government to pass laws barring racial discrimination, for example. Understanding how culture changes in order to be able to direct it seems not promising and a bit ominous. On Burke's supposed deep suspicion of reason, well how did that French Revolution thing go? Don't you think that it's really rationales, not reason, that Burke distrusts? There is a necessary tension between conservatism and liberalism, a healthy dynamic in a society. When one pole is eliminated, trouble appears.

I'm still curious, Robert, about these tools for understanding culture change that we supposedly don't have and which memetics will provide. What have historians and anthropologists been doing all this time if not tracing cultural change and development? If they have not come up with laws, have not made the field into a science, the reason is the nature of the subject itself.
Quote:
My beef with Dawkins is that his theory of the selfish gene excludes precisely the form of global evolution most needed to manage the climate, by retaining an individualist conception of human identity which downplays the important role of memetic identity in the evolution of groups.

This is opinion about Dawkins, of course. You don't believe him when he says that selfish genes describe the motive force of natural selection but do not equate to any determinism in societies. If selfish genes were in fact determinants of behavior, then yes, we would would be in the bind you allege. But this isn't the case that D. makes.
Quote:
Of course Dawkins says his science validates his views on religion.

I must ask you to show me these statements. Otherwise I can only think you're saying he 'acts as if' he makes this leap.
Quote:
The subordination of some human groups by others through war, colonisation and imposition of new social arrangements and narratives is a main theme of history. You are saying that just because members of a conquered group survive as a fragmented underclass that their former group was ‘rather abstract’. Were the religious identities of indigenous peoples of the Americas and Australia mere ‘abstractions’ which do not matter because the descendents of their believers remain alive at the margins of the dominant group? Group identity is a key to human identity. Belittling the group identity of others is a strategy much used by dominant groups, through suppression of language, culture and land rights. In mythology, we often see the conquered group return in a subordinate position. Members of a dominant group have an unfair advantage over those who have been conquered, and part of this advantage is their implicit acceptance of memes that validate the cultural beliefs of the dominant group. Identifying and analysing the memes that provide identity for dominant groups seems to me a central task for social evolution.

Here you take my remark entirely out of context. There is no argument I am making, none at all, that groups don't conflict and that nations and ethnic groups haven't used the force of their collectives to crush other peoples. That certainly isn't trivial. But let's stay with the program, which I thought was to evaluate the strength of the group selection argument as the driver of natural selection.



Last edited by DWill on Mon Jan 04, 2010 11:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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