Fwd: RE: meme as catalytic indexical

From: Keith Henson (hkhenson@rogers.com)
Date: Mon 26 Jan 2004 - 06:31:57 GMT

  • Next message: Van oost Kenneth: "Re: meme as catalytic indexical"

    >[Memetics] Like genetics it has to be embedded in a larger
    >sociobiology/evolutionary psychology/culture context to be
    >meaningful. Perhaps we should talk about the memetic model instead. If
    >you want to contribute to this area of study, the first chapter of _The
    >Adapted Mind_ http://folk.uio.no/rickyh/papers/TheAdaptedMind.htm is
    >essential background. You certainly won't get anywhere trying to develop
    >memetics themes within the SSSM.

    If you wonder why memetics has not been much accepted by the social sciences . . . .

    "Thus, despite some important exceptions, the social sciences have largely kept themselves isolated from this crystallizing process of scientific integration. Although social scientists imitated many of the outward forms and practices of natural scientists (quantitative measurement, controlled observation, mathematical models, experimentation, etc.), they have tended to neglect or even reject the central principle that valid scientific knowledge-whether from the same or different fields-should be mutually consistent (see Cosmides, Tooby, & Barkow, this volume). It is this principle that makes different fields relevant to each other, and part of the same larger system of knowledge. In consequence, this insularity is not just an accident. For many scholars, it has been a conscious, deeply held, and strongly articulated position, advanced and defended since the inception of the social sciences, particularly in anthropology and sociology. Durkheim, for example, in his Rules of the Sociological Method, argued at length that social phenomena formed an autonomous system and could be only explained by other social phenomena (1895/1962). The founders of American anthropology, from Kroeber and Boas to Murdock and Lowie, were equally united on this point. For Lowie, "the principles of psychology are as incapable of accounting for the phenomena of culture as is gravitation to account for architectural styles," and "culture is a thing sui generis which can be explained only in terms of itself. ...Omnis cultura ex cultura" (1917/1966, p. 25-26; p. 66). Murdock, in his influential essay
    "The science of culture," summed up the conventional view that culture is
    "independent of the laws of biology and psychology" (1932, p. 200).

    "Remarkably, while the rest of the sciences have been weaving themselves together through accelerating discoveries of their mutual relevance, this doctrine of intellectual isolationism, which has been the reigning view in the social sciences, has only become more extreme with time. With passionate fidelity, reasoned connections with other branches of knowledge are dismissed as ignorant attempts at crude reductionism, and many leading social scientists now openly call for abandoning the scientific enterprise instead. For example, Clifford Geertz advocates abandoning the ground of principled causal analysis entirely in favor of treating social phenomena as "texts" to be interpreted just as one might interpret literature: We should "turn from trying to explain social phenomena by weaving them into grand textures of cause and effect to trying to explain them by placing them into local frames of awareness" (1983, p. 6). Similarly, Edmund Leach rejects scientific explanation as the focus of anthropology: "Social anthropology is not, and should not aim to be, a 'science' in the natural science sense. If anything it is a form of art Social anthropologists should not see themselves as seekers after objective truth. ..." (Leach, 1982, p. 52). These positions have a growing following, but less, one suspects, because they have provided new illumination than because they offer new tools to extricate scholars from the unwelcome encroachments of more scientific approaches. They also free scholars from all of the arduous tasks inherent in the attempt to produce scientifically valid knowledge: to make it consistent with other knowledge and to subject it to critical rejection on the basis of empirical disproof, logical inconsistency, and incoherence. In any case, even advocates of such avenues of retreat do not appear to be fully serious about them because few are actually willing to accept what is necessarily entailed by such a stance: Those who jettison the epistemological standards of science are no longer in a position to use their intellectual product to make any claims about what is true of the world or to dispute the others' claims about what is true.

    "Not only have the social sciences been unusual in their self-conscious stance of intellectual autarky but, significantly, they have also been relatively unsuccessful as sciences. Although they were founded in the 18th and 19th centuries amid every expectation that they would soon produce intellectual discoveries, grand "laws," and validated theories to rival those of the rest of science, such success has remained elusive. The recent wave of antiscientific sentiment spreading through the social sciences draws much of its appeal from this endemic failure. This disconnection from the rest of science has left a hole in the fabric of our organized knowledge of the world where the human sciences should be. After more than a century, the social sciences are still adrift, with an enormous mass of half -digested observations, a not inconsiderable body of empirical generalizations, and a contradictory stew of ungrounded, middle-level theories expressed in a babel of incommensurate technical lexicons. This is accompanied by a growing malaise, so that the single largest trend is toward rejecting the scientific enterprise as it applies to humans."

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