Friday, 13 November 2015

Matt Ridley: Cato institute 2015

This one is from November 11th (two days ago). Ridley speaks for the first half, with Ronald Bailey taking over after half an hour.

Matt mentions the "Special" and "General" theories of evolution a few minutes in.

Matt irritates me by repeats]ing an old and ignorant objection to memes by anthropologists. He says (21 minutes in):

You don't have to have particulate information which is what people used to think about cultural evolution that the problem was that you don't have something equivalent to a gene which is a sort of specific, hard object.

The main problem here is the idea that genes are "specific, hard objects". In informational genetics, genes are informational. They can exist in databases just as well as cells. My article: Genes are not sections of nucleic-acid goes into more detail.

I feel that the idea that our understanding of cultural evolution has progressed from the idea that culture consisted of "specific, hard objects" to a less "particulate" understanding is a fantasy view of the history of the field which misunderstands and then denigrates the meme enthusiasts.

Memetics is often reductionist - in that it splits cultural inheritance into "bits" of culture. This reductionism is highly productive: a foundational technique in science is splitting complex things into smaller pieces in order to analyse and understand them.

The evolution I would like to see is in people's understanding of genes. Either genes are units of inheritance, or else we need a whole new science of heredity to replace genetics. Keeping genes as units of inheritance is the more conservative and sensible path, I claim. The idea that genes and genetics are confined to the "special theory of evolution" is an awful one. Genetics could be - and should be - quite general. My next post will be all about that topic.

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