Re: Dwight Read's Remarks

Robert Snower (rs219@IDIR.NET)
Sat, 27 Apr 1996 22:41:35 -0500

At 01:39 AM 4/27/96 PDT, you wrote:
>If we were to account for the trajectory of the "evolution" of the computer,
>we would need (I suggest) two parts: (1) an adaptive scenario (Why some
>designs have "survived" and others not) and (2) an intentionality scenario
>(what is driving design, hence change in design, such as the RISC technology
>for CPU design). If this is valid, then the second part seems to suggest a
>necessary divergence from a "natural selection" model as "intentionality" is
>excised from evolutionary theory.
>What does this have to do with culture? This comes back to the question of
>what is culture. Is culture, in effect, a sum of parts whose particular
>configuration is the consequence of "selecting" out parts or combination
>of parts that do not have "fitness," or does intentionality play a
>significant and major role in what we refer to as culture? Are the units of
>culture the equivalent of the computer, or are the units of culture the
>equivalent of trait/allele? I think the former--and the work I do on the
>structure of kinship terminologies supports this contention through arguing
>that these are logically coherent systems, hence cannot be considered as a
>"sum of parts" but have a design (namely their logic). (There are a number
>of guises under which this general idea has appeared; e.g., arguments about
>the necessity of taking into account the cognitive/decision making/"free
>will" etc. all seem to be aimed at something like the intentionality
>This second senario places any notion of "universality" at an ever deeper and
>level. While Pastore is referring to anthropological epistomology, it may be
>more useful to shift the argument over to what constitutes culture; that is,
>the notion of "universality," in the form of supposed universal laws,
>founders at the level of intentionality unless the "univeral law" is set at
>the level of the propensity of the human mind to engage in intentionality.
>In this sense, I suggest, the notion of "multiple truths" may be more
>reasonalby considered. The "multiplicity" then arises not because of some
>unwillingness to agree that, ultimately, there is a single external reality,
>but as a way of expressing the "multiplicity" of truths upon which
>intentionally created cultures are based.
>D. Read
Enjoyed your post, though I don"t believe I followed all of it.

Do you think teleology draws a line which thinking about culture and
thinking about biology cannot cross?

Of course, if one advocates synthesis of the two, it does not follow he is
advocating the replacement of the teleology manifest in cultures by the
trial and error of natural selection. It might be the other way around. Or
yet another way, as I will suggest.

I share your aversion to the idea that the scientific approach involves a
reduction of the data of anthropology to elementary particles of some kind.
But ask a physicist what he means by the mass of a particle, and he is apt
to say its mass is its resistance to a change in motion. He is thereby
attributing to the particle a desire, as it were, not to alter its velocity
or direction. Physics is shot through with notions of inertia,
conservation, force, pressure, attraction, repulsion, of potential (what is
intended!) vs. kinetic (what is realized). These are all attributions of
intentionality. Though obviously not attributions of the conscious
awareness of an intention, which is reserved for the higher mammals.

So intentionality is found on the most basic levels. But more. In the
biological process, since "adaptive" is defined as reproductive success,
nothing could be more adaptive than reproduction itself, except perhaps, as
Shapiro has pointed out, the intent to reproduce. Reproduction is biology's
realization of the intent to conserve, as inertia was the particle's
realization of the intent to conserve. Intentions are adaptive or not, just
as much as their realizing behavior is, just as physical structures are, and
they evolve, or fail to, according to the same laws. Our desires, fears,
ambitions, loves, wants, plans, are all intentions which fall into this

The data of culture could certainly stand some reduction, I would say, but
not to particles, not as phenotypes to genotypes, but rather in the
direction of from the less to more primordial intentions of biology. Freud
did a lot of this kind of thing, of course, in his reductions of humor, wit,
dreams, etc., to more basic biological intentions. But he completely missed
the sociobiological story on kinship and altruism.

Natural selection via trial and error is not a process which is alternative
to intentionality. It can account for intentions, for teleology!

I do not want to leave the impression with you, or anyone who has seen my
recent posts that I think adaptation, as measured by fitness, represents the
current dynamic of extant cultures. I don't; nor does Shapiro. He argues
explicitly and convincingly (to me) against that position throughout his
book (1978). Read it, and tell me what you think.

R. Snower