Re: Dan Sperber in Edge

From: John Wilkins (
Date: Fri 29 Jul 2005 - 07:31:21 GMT

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    On 29/07/2005, at 12:16 AM, Robin Faichney wrote:

    > Just as the human mind is not a blank slate on which culture would
    > somehow imprint its content, the communication process is not a xerox
    > machine copying contents from one mind to another. This is where I
    > part company not just from your standard semiologists or social
    > scientists who take communication to be a coding-decoding system, a
    > transmission system, biased only by social interests, by power, by
    > intentional or unconscious distortions, but that otherwise could
    > deliver a kind of smooth flow of undistorted information. I also part
    > company from Richard Dawkins who sees cultural transmission as based
    > on a process of replication, and who assume that imitation and
    > communication provide a robust replication system. -- Dan Sperber in
    > the current Edge:

    I agree with Sperber, although I find the "core meme" idea (an attractor point in a cultural space) a little extended and distended. We do not need to have replicators for an evolutionary process, and in biology they are not required either, although they help to prevent error catastrophes when they do exist.

    All that is necessary for evolutionary processes is the reproduction of form in ways that allows the evolving entity to "make a living"; i.e., persist until it reproduces. Ever since the Paramecium cili experiment, it has been clear that there are multiple modes of reproduction and that not only selection but diversification is possible without replicator-like entities.

    Our biggest problem with memes is the weddedness we all have to replicators. There is no reason why signals in one domain cannot occur in ways that are different in fidelity from signals in another, so long as the conditions are such that error is held to a minimum. In the case of culture, that might involve biological
    "constants" (relative to the duration of cultural items).

    John S. Wilkins, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Biohumanities Project
    University of Queensland - Blog:
    "Darwin's theory has no more to do with philosophy than any other
    hypothesis in natural science." Tractatus 4.1122
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    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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