Yee on Darwin's Dangerous Idea

Sun, 21 Jul 1996 12:49:01 -0400

I greatly appreciated the sharp review by Danny Yee of Darwin's Dangerous
Idea (Daniel Dennett, 1995). It was thorough and fascinating. Rather than
plow through the whole book myself (500+ pages!), I'm going to take the
shortcut and ask Yee (or anyone) a follow-up question.

>From what I gathered, Dennett sees the application of Darwinism to culture
in the concept of "memes", what Boyd and Richerson have called "particulate
inheritance". To me that is dissappointing. But it fits with an earlier
comment you make, that Dennett gives a "very brief look" at the units of
evolution debate, and argues that it doesn't impinge on the fundamentals of

So I guess my question is, has Dennett missed the ecological and
nonequilibrium thermodynamics arguments for (thermodynamic and otherwise)
evolution at multiple scales. A humans-with-culture scale being another.
You mentioned Kauffman and Eigen (and some others I haven't heard of,
shame!), who I know have been contributing to that tradition. I'm thinking
more of Prigogine, and Wicken, and Odum, and O'Neil, and Holling, and Adams,
and the type of work that is treated beautifully in Darwinism Evolving
(Depew and Weber 1995). Does Dennett address it? What's your take on it
(anybody)? To me there's alot of potential in it for an integrated
ecological and cultural evolution.

Tom Abel
University of Florida