Re: Cultural Evolution & History

Timothy Perper/Martha Cornog (
Wed, 11 Jun 1997 16:40:08 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Wed, 11 Jun 1997 16:40:08 -0500
From: (Timothy Perper/Martha Cornog)
Subject: Re: Cultural Evolution & History

William Gallois wrote:
>I am a newcomer to this list, but already I'm puzzled and worried by the
>amount of work which some correspondents expect the meme to do. It's
>almost as though the meme is a scientific tool which will allow scientists
>to go with assurance into historical and cultural areas which they had not
>previously focussed on; almost reminiscent of nineteenth century ideas of
>progressively scientising the disciplines until, in a text like Emile
>Zola's 'Le Roman Experimental', a 'scientific poetry' could be imagined.
>snip a promise to post more on this<

Can't say I disagree. My own theory is that for several decades the once
isolated disciplines of the social sciences plus the humanities have come
into contact with the natural sciences, and vice versa. The result has
been cross-fertilization (meme exchange, for you purists).

However, some of that cross-fertilization has been pretty vacuous, and I
mean on both sides of the academic division. This can happen when jargon
is mistaken for substance. I suppose I am somewhat more cynical than Zola,
whose scientific poetry I have not read, but it also rather reminds me of
Erasmus Darwin, Charles' grandfather, with his loony but wonderful poems
about the love life of the plants. It can be great fun, but until we stop
using metaphor uncritically and stop assuming that the other fellow's field
is a piece of cake, we will get *nowhere.*

The assumptions of biology are hard enough when they applied to biology by
people who have spent decades trying to decipher what goes on in living
systems. These assumptions *cannot* be transferred across disciplinary
boundaries without the result often appearing to little more than a child's
cartoon with talking animals.

I wrote a paper once about some of these issues, where I tried to define
"secondary competence," meaning one has enough knowledge in field #2 to
make a contribution to it when one is trained in field #1. The first one
I was able to think of was Honesty -- the recognition that one does NOT
really know field #2 until one has immersed oneself in it for quite some

For anyone even remotely interested, the reference is

Perper, Timothy 1989 The loss of innovation: Peer review in multi- and
interdisciplinary research. Issues in Integrative Studies, 7:21-56.

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