Adapted Mind--where memetics fits in knowledge space

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Thu 29 Jan 2004 - 13:53:08 GMT

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    At 08:38 PM 28/01/04 +0200, you wrote:
    > > Keith wrote:
    > > PS. The critique of social "science" in The Adaptive Mind is devastating.
    >who wrote it? A search on Amazon turns up about a dozen different books.

    [resent, new subject for some reason came back to me but does not show on the web site]

    Sorry, typo.

    Barkow, J.H./Cosmides, L./Tooby, J., eds. 1992. The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Up this thread on Monday I quoted 3 paragraphs.

    There might have been too little white space to make it screen readable.

    Begin quote *************

    Thus, . . . the social sciences have largely kept themselves isolated from this crystallizing process of scientific integration.

    . . . social scientists . . . have tended to neglect or even reject the central principle that valid scientific knowledge . . . should be mutually consistent . . . . In consequence, this insularity is not just an accident.

    For many scholars, it has been a conscious, deeply held, and strongly articulated position . . . . 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

    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, . . . this doctrine of intellectual isolationism, . . . has only become more extreme with time. . . . many leading social scientists now openly call for abandoning the scientific enterprise . . . .

    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, . . . 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.
    . . . .

    "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.

      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, . . . 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.

    We suggest that this lack of progress, this "failure to thrive," has been caused by the failure of the social sciences to explore or accept their logical connections to the rest of the body of science-that is, to causally locate their objects of study inside the larger network of scientific knowledge.

    . . . what should be jettisoned is what we will call the Standard Social Science Model (SSSM): The consensus view of the nature of social and cultural phenomena that has served for a century as the intellectual framework for the organization of psychology and the social sciences and the intellectual justification for their claims of autonomy from the rest of science.

    Progress has been severely limited . . .. In place of the Standard Social Science Model, there is emerging a new framework that we will call the Integrated Causal Model.

    This alternative framework makes progress possible by accepting and exploiting the natural connections that exist among all the branches of science, using them to construct careful analyses of the causal interplay among all the factors that bear on a phenomenon.

    In this alternative framework, nothing is autonomous and all the components of the model must mesh.

    **************** (end quote)

    Which is why I make the case that memetics (if it is to be a useful field of study) must fit seamlessly into the larger frame of evolutionary psychology/sociobiology just as those fields mesh without a flaw into the larger frame of evolutionary biology.

    Keith Henson

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