Re: Explanatory coherence

Bill Benzon (
Tue, 05 Aug 1997 12:52:10 -0400

Date: Tue, 05 Aug 1997 12:52:10 -0400
From: Bill Benzon <>
Subject: Re: Explanatory coherence

Dr I Price wrote:

> Bill
> >I certainly do think it is an explanatory force, & that it acts on
> religion
> too. But in my crazy backwards version of cultural evolution, I think
> explanatory coherence works as a selective force on cultural
> phenotypes,
> not on memes. Coherence is a function of the interaction between
> multiple
> pieces of evidence, hypotheses, and explanations.<
> Are we back to a vehicle/ interactor/ replicator discussion?
> What then are the components of cultural phenotypes?

That's a good question, and I don't have a ready answer or....

It's like this: There is an aweful lot of psychology around and I've
read more than a little of it. Most of what gets discussed here under
the general rubrics of memes and meme-plexes in the head would all, from
my perspective, be parts of cultural phenotypes. Something like, for
example, the Romantic style of classical music would be a cultural
phenotype in my view. All of the neural machinery subserving perceiving,
understanding, performing, and composing that style would implement the
"components" of that paradigm. David Hays and I spent a lot of time
working on a networks theory that talks of sensorimotor, systemic,
episodic, and gnomonice networks and has paradigmatic, syntagmatic,
ontological, componential, etc. structures for each of those 4
networks. And this is all just a bunch of terminology which isn't very
meaningful without the papers and books behind it (which aren't, for the
most part, on the web). But anyone with a considerable investment in
psychology can produce their own preferred list of mental stuff. What I
can't produce, even from within my own preferred list, is an account of
what "binds" a bunch of mental stuff together into a paradigm. In my
paper on "Culture as an Evolutionary Arena" I suggest that each paradigm
is governed by a metaphor. Perhaps. Thagard has this notion of
explanatory coherence operating over observations, hypotheses, and
explanations. So one might talk of a "coherence envelope" as binding
observations, hypotheses, and explanations into a paradigm of which they
are components--that seems a bit glib, but...

A final remark: While every cell in an organism contains genetic
material, we don't say that organisms, even single-cell organisms, are
constructed of genes or complexes of genes. By analogy, it doesn't make
sense to me to talk of cultural phenotypes as being constituted of memes
or meme-complexes. All the stuff which memeticists think of as being
extrasomatic meme vehicles are, for me, the memes themselves. They are
outside the brain and the body, out there in the physical world where
they are publically available to all members of the social group.


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