Re: Cultural selection - Electronic book available for discussion

John Wilkins (
Thu, 12 Sep 1996 14:36:23 +1000

In article <50kn3t$>, (Gerold Firl) wrote:

| In article <>,
(Agner Fog) writes:
| |> Unlike traditional evolutionist thinkers, I do not infer that cultural
| |> selection always will lead in the same direction (called 'progress').
| |> Rather, I have found that cultural selection may lead in different
| |> directions depending on the external conditions.
| I can't imagine who these "traditional" evolutionist thinkers might be;
| viewing history, sociology, and anthropology from an evolutionary
| perspective is hardly common, and hasn't been around enough to have any
| traditions besides those coopted from our collegues in biology. If I
| were to try and name some of those you had in mind, max weber,
| nietzsche, toynbee and spengler are possibilities, but their view was
| much more complex than the caricature of "progress" you lampoon. I will
| try and read your website, but based on what I see here it looks like
| you are trivializing the work that has already been done.

Peter Bowler's 1988 book _The Non-Darwinian Revolution_ argues that the
Darwinian revolution so-called divided into Darwinians like Darwin,
Wallace, Romanes and Weismann on the one hand and into "pseudo-Darwinians"
on the other. These latter had varying degrees of adherence to what Bowler
calls a "developmental" view of evolution more in keeping with the word's
etymology. This analogy between ontogeny and phylogeny assumes a
preprogrammed course to evolution, either from within or without.

Fog is right in that pretty well every application to culture of an
evolutionary model from Spencer to Popper was directional, progressive,
and Lamarckian in the sense that acquired characteristics were
transmitted. This is especially true of cultural evoltion sociologies in
the early 20th century. They also tend to posit a stage view of social
change whereby cultures are supposed to pass through improvements step by
inevitable step. The few cultural evolution model sketches that weren't
include Dewey's, Dawkins' and DT Campbell's.

The simple r/k model Fog proposes strikes me as overly typological and has
not learned from the lessons of the species problem in biology. It also
seems to be an implicit appeal to the r/K strategies that were so popular
a few years ago (eg, in Gould's 1977 _Ontogeny and Phylogeny_)

John Wilkins, Head of Communication Services, Walter and Eliza
Hall Institute of Medical Research
It is the glory of science that it finds the patterns
in spite of the noise - Daniel Dennett