Re: Darwin's Cathedral

From: Chris Taylor (
Date: Thu 18 Mar 2004 - 11:24:48 GMT

  • Next message: Chris Taylor: "Re: Looking for a name."

    >>>While I'm not in agreement with this book review, it does bring up a lot
    > of
    >>>issues we've been tossing about lately. From *Skeptic,* Vol. 10, No. 3.

    Yeah I replied to your original post with (what rapidly turned into) an essay about how Wilson etc got the balance wildly wrong and that biologism is nonsense blah blah. But Mozilla, despite being morally pure, sucks (at least my install) and it died as I finished. And I hate writing things again. But I digress.

    >>It's going on *my* wishlist.
    >>I have been dabbling in politics these past few months, and one thing
    >>I am running across from critics of the democratic party is a
    >>criticism of "identity politics" and "hyphenated americans". These
    >>are from people with basically humanistic values who feel that the
    >>democratic party has lost the mandate of the "common man" - and that
    >>is why the republicans (whose values they decry) have won the last
    >>elections. They say that multiculturalism is a failure and that we
    >>need to have a single cultural identity - as Americans - (maybe even
    >>Christians) - in order to have real social cohesiveness (kind of like
    >>this book suggests). My concern is that this argument is really
    >>stealth racism/ethnocentrism - and that these people should know
    >>better. Is there any research which correlates group cohesiveness to
    >>multiculturalism - a sort of multinational survey? Are there other
    >>memes which can perform the same function of social cohesion? And
    >>has anyone got a real concrete definition of what a "civil society"

    All of population genetics -- variety is just fundamentally good, as insurance against future challenges; uniformity can only ever be good for a fleeting moment (given that the world changes continuously). Clonal species do well for a while but they die (that is why there is sex, broadly speaking, sex gives us dieases, but diseases give us sex). In fact 'functional' clonal species either keep four or more copies of all genes ('freezing' the variety, ironically usually generated from the hybridisation that rendered them unablt to breed); or have alternating rounds of cloning and sexual reproduction (like aphids -- kind of the cash-in-before-anyone-spots-the-flaw principle you see around so much in human commerce).

    > I can't recommend any research, but memes certainly perform a function of
    > social cohesion. A belief held by many people can be the kernel around
    > which a coherent culture or subculture emerges. The latest big meme to hit
    > the scene in the US is, of course, gay marriage. After the new mayor of San
    > Francisco decided to register gay couples in defiance of California law, a
    > few other municipalities started looking into it, and before long it was
    > everywhere. Standard memetic behavior. It begins consciously as one
    > person's idea, builds some steam as a few others sign on, and then suddenly
    > "hits," just like that. Even New Jersey has seen a gay wedding now. So
    > this is very good for gay culture-- as Western society tends to be built
    > primarily around families and married couples, but it's generated another
    > fault-line in US culture taken generally.

    Coherence is interesting. My experience of America is that it takes longer to dislodge cultural norms there (soooo much 80s rock on the radio) for the same reason evolution happens more slowly in large populations -- inertia through sheer numbers (chance of fixation = 1/N if neutral in fitness w.r.t. its niche competitor(s), and lets face it they are mostly fitness-neutral changes).

    The other side of coherence is the avoidance of the disruption of coadapted complexes. 'Species' is a funny concept and often populations of the same species can develop significant genetic incompatibilities, starting at the level of interfaces between protein components of complexes -- [ steady Ted ;) ]. As this applies to mind, I see people rejecting ideas because the knock on effects are unpleasant -- so the person with green hair, or even the genius with the great idea, can get told to go away by the group, because fitness is all about context.

      Chris Taylor (
      MIAPE Project --

    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Thu 18 Mar 2004 - 11:37:12 GMT