Re: Aunger vs. Pinker on Galton

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Sun 24 Apr 2005 - 04:39:02 GMT

  • Next message: Scott Chase: "Aunger's ecological relationships"

    --- William Benzon <> wrote:

    > on 4/21/05 3:26 PM, Bill Spight at
    > wrote:
    > > Dear Bill B.,
    > >
    > > Bill S.:
    > >>> I was also disappointed by Blackmore. In "The
    > Selfish Gene" Dawkins
    > >>>> talks about memes replicating by "a process
    > which, in the broad sense,
    > >>>> can be called imitation." Now, that statement
    > cries out for more
    > >>>> detailed explication and analysis based upon
    > social learning theory. But
    > >>>> Blackmore takes off her psychologist hat for a
    > second and says, "Hey,
    > >>>> it's imitation."
    > >>>>
    > >
    > > Bill B:
    > >> But at least Blackmore is within the realm of the
    > more or less possible.
    > >> Even if she takes imitation at unanalyzed face
    > value, one can imagine that
    > >> something would be left of her ideas if one were
    > more careful.
    > >
    > > I did not mean to be overly critical of Blackmore.
    > I was just expressing
    > > my disappointment in that regard.
    > I know. Your disappointment is quite proper.
    > >
    > > Bill B.:
    > >> But Aunger's
    > >> confusion is so massive that it's hard to imagine
    > anything coming of his
    > >> book. It's also hard to imagine how it ever got
    > past editorial review.
    > >
    > > Scott:
    > >> When [Aunger is] talking about replication in
    > biology, I'm
    > >> hoping for a competent description of DNA
    > replication,
    > >> but instead get something that grates on my
    > nerves and
    > >> makes me worry about the rest of the book.
    > >
    > > Unfortunately I am reminded of something someone
    > (Carl Sagan, I think)
    > > wrote about Velikovsky ("Worlds in Collision").
    > Many scientists who read
    > > Velikovsky in the 50s spotted his errors in their
    > own fields, but
    > > thought he knew what he was talking about in other
    > fields. I do not mean
    > > to put Aunger on Velikovsky's level, but it is
    > very easy to go astray
    > > when you venture outside your area of expertise,
    > and not so easy to
    > > recognize that someone has done so, when it is
    > outside your field, as well.
    > Still, it seems to me that Aunger was pretty
    > perceptive in his pre-neural
    > chapters. He got some biology wrong -- which I
    > didn't catch, because my
    > molecular biology's pretty primitive -- but mostly
    > it was good stuff. The
    > neuro-memetics is a different matter. I'm keenly
    > aware of the difficulties
    > of working outside of your core expertise, but you
    > don't have to abandon all
    > sense when you do so. Aunger clearly had little
    > grasp of the neuroscience he
    > was reading and he seemed to be blissfully unaware
    > of that. The stuff he
    > wrote doesn't even make sense on its own terms. The
    > idea seems to be that
    > if its confusing enough, there must be something in
    > there that's correct.
    What hair tonic works if you've torn all you hair out trying to pin Aunger's neuromeme stuff down? At least he's cured my grey hair problem :-)

    He says (pages 225-6) memes could have originated in simpler nervous systems than our own, but excludes the sea slug with its "32 hard-wired neurons". Not sure which neurons he's talking about, but I don't know enough about the sea slug studies to figure it out. Joseph LeDoux, whos book _Synaptic Self_ I should probably be reading instead, points out that sea slugs
    (*Aplysia*) have around 20,000 CNS cells, but points to some subdivisions of neurons, like those involved in gill withdrawal. He contrasts the numbber of sea slug neurons with the billions in mammalian brains. So what was Aunger talking about with those specific 32 cells? Given his track record on *Aplysia* I'm a little unsure.

    [Plucks final remaining hair follicle. Looks at the refuge of LeDoux book and prays for a time to read that instead and wear wig while hair grows back in.]

    Aunger does make neuromemes *extremely* primitive or fundamental and delineates them from reperesentations and concepts, hoping that this answers the objection of the eminent Ernst Mayr to memes as retooled concepts. There's something very tidy about this delineation itself, but much of the rest is difficult going.

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