Re: memes -Reply

Fri, 9 Dec 1994 17:15:17 CST

On Fri, 09 Dec 1994 15:52:08 -0700 you said:
>I concur wholeheartedly with Cronk's comments on
>Dawkin's definition of memes. An overemphasis
>on adaptation creates a blindspot for
>epiphenomena and even dysfunctionality in the
>real world, whether biological or cultural
>phenomena are under consideration. This is one
>of the main reasons for my criticisms of (as it
>turned out) Daly and Wilson's polemical argument
>for sociobiology as the only scientifically valid
>approach. Regardless of the explanatory utility of

I don't think Daly and Wilson claim that Darwinian
theory is the only valid approach to anything about
humans, just that it's the only one we have to explain
the origins and diversity of life on this planet.
That's why they said "it's this or creationism."
They didn't mean to lump all other approaches in
the behavioral and social sciences in with creationism,
although I can see why it came off like that. I think
when it comes to human behavior, even D&W see the value
of some non-Darwinian theories, although their work is
all about putting together a set of explanations at
a variety of levels that fit together and complement
one another.

>natural selection, a slavish adherance to
>adaptation as a teleological principle has more in
>common with religion than science, but also
>because it distorts our perception of reality. Not
>everything that exists is functional and adaptive.
Again, I agree, and I think you might be surprised to
find that so does just about everybody else who does work
on evolution, including G.C. Williams, the grandfather
(I guess Darwin's the greatgrandfather) of the
"adaptationist" approach. The idea that there are really
serious scientists out there who rabidly run around
looking for adaptation in everything is really a strawman.
I don't know anyone who really thinks like that. In
Williams' latest book, for example, he has a whole
(very good) chapter on "organisms as historical documents",
which includes some great examples of poor design in
organisms, such as how the tube connecting the testes to
the penis in humans is draped awkwardly over the ureter,
like a garden hose wrapped around a tree in one's yard,
and how the structure of the vertebrate eye forces light
to pass through an extra layer of tissue and creates a
blind spot (squid eyes avoid these problems). I agree that
there was a period in the late 1970s when an awful lot of
silly speculation was published attributing adaptive value
to all sorts of things, but, believe me, things have changed
for the better in this field.

A final word before leaving for the weekend: My guess is that
if we could only read each others' minds, we would find that we
really do agree with each other on a lot of these issues. The
problem is that we can't do that, and we must instead rely on
this awkward language of ours and all of those words that mean
one thing to you, another to me, and yet another to some other
person, to get our points across. Hence we must spend lots of
time on anthro-l!

Have a good weekend, everybody! I'm outa here!