Re: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Fri Dec 14 2001 - 05:58:38 GMT

  • Next message: John Wilkins: "Re: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation"

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    From: "Scott Chase" <>
    Subject: Re: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation
    Date: Fri, 14 Dec 2001 00:58:38 -0500
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    >From: John Wilkins <>
    >Subject: Re: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation
    >Date: Fri, 14 Dec 2001 09:57:50 +1100
    >On Thursday, December 13, 2001, at 09:33 PM, Kenneth Van Oost wrote:
    >>----- Original Message -----
    >>From: John Wilkins <>
    >>To: <>
    >>>The problem with "cultural evolution" is that the initial version, and
    >>>the one known under that label by the social sciences, particularly
    >>>anthropology, is the older positivistic Lamarckian view of evolution -
    >>>staged development of civilisations, progressionism, and linear
    >>>evolution. But if we can divest ourselves of the scala naturae version
    >>>of evolution that preceded Darwin, then we can usefully apply the
    >>>mindset of evolution to culture. This includes antiessentialism, hidden
    >>>hand (but not necessarily beneficent equilibria) and contingency.
    >>Hi John,
    >><< I don 't want to nitpick but if we take into consideration that each
    >>of thought, each single idea, every assumption,.... does have its own
    >>does have its own niche and follows that thru', through the eons of
    >>you have ' linear ' evolution on a massive scale.
    >>Maybe we look upon the process of evolution as is it a synergy concept
    >>where it is not !?
    >>Maybe there are no lines which intersect, interconnect or interrelate.
    >>Maybe it is all in the mind of the beholder!
    >All reasonable questions, and asked in the context of biology. But the
    >primitive entity in evolution is a lineage, not a line. Lineages can
    >meander, split, join, go extinct, progress or regress on whatever
    >measure you want to use. Lineages can bundle or separate. While it is
    >true that the origin and destination of any single idea is separated by
    >a straight line, the historical pathway taken between them need not be
    >anything like linear.
    >The older version of evolution is the one that we call the "scala
    >naturae", or the ladder of nature (also known as the great chain of
    >being). This assumes, in neo-Platonic or gnostic fashion, that there is
    >a scale from simple to complex or from imperfect to perfect. Proper
    >evolutionary thought (which I am referring to as Darwinian here) breaks
    >with that tradition. All progress is local to existing conditions, and
    >what is a "good move" in one circumstance need not be in another.
    >Things can get more complex or they can get more simple, or they can
    >remain the same or they can remain the same but work in conjunction with
    >other things (eg, lichens, which are mutual symbionts; or mitochondria,
    >which become simpler once they are fully symbiosed). Evolution is *not*
    >a climbing of the ladder to get better. There is no ladder, and we
    >wander about buffeted by contingency and local pressures.
    >Eschew Oldthink. ;-)
    Instead of lineages wouldn't it be better to think of branches (replete with
    twigs and leaves) or clades? "Lineage" is a word that seems
    so...well...linear. Groupings groping blindly.

    Of course one might be better off eschewing the oldthink of branches or
    lineages altogether and jump upon the bandwagon of anastomoses or mycelia or
    whatever word captures the notion of intricate interweaving (cobwebby?).

    Nonetheless, there comes, if bringing phylogenetic analogies into the
    spotlight, a time when the homology versus analogy problem rears its ugly
    head. When is an idea sharing common ancestry with another and when may it
    have merely converged within similar conceptual territory due to adaptive

    And when is an idea resulting from cryptomnesia (a homology with apparent
    convergence?). Heck..the mycelium idea above came from somewhere
    (Teilhard?), but I'm gonna have a fun time tracking it down within my
    cobwebby memory banks. Daniel Schacter (in his new book _The Seven Sins of
    Memory_) talks about Jung's idea that cryptomnesia played a role in a part
    of Nietzsche's _Zarathustra_ which is similar to something by a German
    fellow named Kerner. I'm now reading Jung's _Zarathustra_ lectures but
    haven't gotten to any parts about Nietzsche's putative cryptomnesia yet.
    IIRC some of Jung's earlier work was on cryptomnesia, which along with the
    complex theory (based somewhat on word association measures) may or may not
    have been more reputable than his meanderings about archetypes, the
    collective unconscious (sorry Ted), or synchronicity (Kammerer's notion of
    seriality?), though the latter may have enjoyed some feigned reputation
    because Wolfgang Pauli was Jung's intellectual sidekick.

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