Re: meme as catalytic indexical

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Fri 30 Jan 2004 - 03:17:32 GMT

  • Next message: Scott Chase: "groupthink gauntlet: MacArthur's ill-fated drive toward the Yalu"

    >From: Keith Henson <>
    >Subject: Re: meme as catalytic indexical
    >Date: Wed, 28 Jan 2004 21:36:10 -0500
    >At 08:38 PM 28/01/04 +0200, you wrote:
    >> > Keith wrote:
    >> > PS. The critique of social "science" in The Adaptive Mind is
    >>who wrote it? A search on Amazon turns up about a dozen different books.
    >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
    >"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.
    And the ev-psychers are going to single handedly bring it all together for everybody? How nice of them.
    >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
    >. . . 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.
    Not THAT sounds rather isolationist to me. This grounding of behavioral science into a meshwork wedged into evolutionary biology doesn't seem explicitly to even acknowledge fields of social science (gotta love the rhetoriticians use of scare quotes when denigrating fields they are trying to conquer) that have looked at the relevant problem space. With some exceptions (such as Derek Gatherer) what I see in memetics and a lot of ev psych is hard-boiled adaptionism without consideration of the nuances of modern evolutionary biology. How often does a meme enthusiast or camp follower utter the words neutral theory or genetic drift? With a simplistic view of evolutionary biology an an adaptionist will to power filtering their view of the world they then run rough-shod over areas that have been studied by other fields in the social sciences (should I add the square quotes?). Its unabashed ideational Darwinism which overpowers a more sober appraisal of other approaches such as social psychology or history. I'd like to see a memeticist tackle the topics Irving Janis attempts in his book _Groupthink_ and supplant Janis's work. Then we could put this BS rhetorical SSSM bogeyman nonsense to rest once and for all. Maybe Janis's book could be toppled by a combination of memes and genes where mental gene/virus analogs are subtly leashed to genes that evolved for some behavior beneficial in the context of the EEA?...

    Is that why MacArthur pressed onward to the Yalu river and brought an onslaught of ChiComs onto his troopers? Are social psychology and/or history not up to the task of explanations or too soft in comparison to Universal Darwinism?

    Or maybe actually READ Durkheim and take his views to task point for point. A Durkheimian *sui generis* approach to sociology would be preferable to atomizing cultural units in a possibly wrong direction (aka bum steer of mental gene analogs).

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