Re: language, creativity and science

John Wilkins (
Wed, 03 Dec 1997 11:42:04 +1100

Date: Wed, 03 Dec 1997 11:42:04 +1100
From: John Wilkins <>
Subject: Re: language, creativity and science
In-Reply-To: <>

>From: Karthik Swaminathan <>
>Date: Mon, 01 Dec 1997 16:06:08 -0500
>Subject: language, creativity and science
>My next question is on how does creativity in non-survival
>persuits be explained in the Darwinian world. Art serves
>no obviouse purpose and yet gets reinforced over and over.
>I play violin and I enjoy playing violin, but I don't see
>what the genetic purpose of this endeavor is. Why do we
>have an imagination that can be used beyond creating useful
>models in our world?

There are two distinct questions here:

1. How do we come to have some biological feature (imagination) that
permits this to occur?

2. Why do some behaviours get propagated more frequently than others?

The first question is a matter of biological evolution. The second is a
matter of cultural evolution. These are distinct (but interacting)
evolutionary processes. What serves the evolutionary interests of genes
is not what serves the evolutionary interests of memes, and the two must
be held separate.

Answers to the first question include - A. undiscovered or
insufficiently explicated adaptive reasons; or B. "unintended"
consequences of selection for other adaptive features, called
"spandrels" buy Gould and Lewontin; or C. chance (random drift).

Answers to the second involve similar issues, but now in
cultural/psychological terms, and are independent of answers to the
former. Each case will be unique.
>And the final question is if Memetics can be considered a
>science. How can you test something like this? What makes
>this any different than "scientific" investigation of the

Memetics is a science-in-training. It uses methods developed in the
social sciences already, but I think it can use methods from
systematics, population genetics and computer science with success.

A science involves two broad areas: method and explanation. Memetic
science has a broad explanation taken from evolutionary *biology* and is
in the position evolutionary biology was about 60 years ago or so. IMO.

John Wilkins
Head, Graphic Production
The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
Melbourne, Australia

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