Saturday, 30 July 2011

Richard Lewontin - Does Culture Evolve?

Richard Lewontin - Lecture 1: What is Evolutionary Theory?

Richard Lewontin - Lecture 2: The Organism as Subject and Object of Evolution

Richard Lewontin - Lecture 3: Does Culture Evolve?

The third lecture features Richard Lewontin on memes. Lewontin was a critic of universal Darwinism - and of memes. Here's a quote:

I would claim to you that culture should not be analogised to particles like genes that are transmitted, that the notion of transmission is wrong, and that if we want to understand the history of culture, we need to start from culture, and not try to make it isomorphic with some other system of phenomena that we understand too well. That's the bottom line the thing I really want to impress on you most and that is the Darwainaian theory of evolution and its modern form, which I have tried to explain in the previous two lectures, are theories and systems designed to match a particular set of natural phenomena, there's nothing universal about them.

They are tailor-made in every aspect to deal with mortal individuals, with lifespans, with particular mechanisms of transmission of genes of particular kinds of relations and building of the environment, and so on... and if we are to have any kind of successful lawlike dynamical systems for human cultures, we need to discard our knowledge of the phenomenon of biological evolution, and take culture for itself as a set of phenomena and build a set of mechanisms and theories based on our understanding of that phenomenon.

Lewontin's position has failed to stand the test of time. The position he expressed in his 1970 paper The Units of Selection was much better.

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