Friday, 27 October 2017

The memetic legacy of Richard Dawkins:

In my 2011 video/essay title "Dawkins Dangerous Idea", I approvingly quoted Paul McFedries as saying:

Richard Dawkins became famous in the 1970s for his concept of the selfish gene, and he has become infamous in recent years for his unyielding atheism. But I predict that Dawkins will be known, a hundred years hence, not for these contributions to science and culture but for the concept of the meme. Feel free to spread that idea around.

Now it appears that genetics blogger Razib Khan has come around to much the same idea, writing an article titled:

In 2546 Richard Dawkins Will Be Remembered For “Memes”

I still think that this is right. What is Dawkins second-biggest scientific idea? Probably the extended phenotype. That seems rather insignificant compared to memes and memetics.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Geoffrey Miller on virtue signaling

Virtue Signaling by Geoffrey Miller

I'm pleased to see an increased number of evolutionists adopting the "virtue signalling" terminology that I've been promoting since 2011.

The best slides (IMO) are the ones in the introduction at the start of the presentation.

Here, Miller applies virtue signaling theory to the "Effective Altruism" community. It is a topic I have been interested in for a while - though I haven't written much about it so far. A number of those involved have tried to distance themselves from signalling - saying they are trying to do good, not appear to do good. Maybe - but that is probably just a form of virtue signaling for a more critical audience.

There's no cultural evolution in this talk. Most self-styled evolutionary psychologists seem to know little about the topic. Of course, cultural evolution is of critical importance in understanding modern cultural movements, such as "Effective Altruism".

Thanks to Andres Gomez Emilsson at Qualia Computing for directing my attention to this presentation.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Minsky on a new kind of evolution

Here's the late Marvin Minsky (1994) in "Will Robots Inherit the Earth?":
In the past, we have tended to see ourselves as a final product of evolution - but our evolution has not ceased. Indeed, we are now evolving more rapidly - although not in the familiar, slow Darwinian way. It is time that we started to think about our new emerging identities. We now can design systems based on new kinds of "unnatural selection" that can exploit explicit plans and goals, and can also exploit the inheritance of acquired characteristics. It took a century for evolutionists to train themselves to avoid such ideas - biologists call them 'teleological' and Lamarckian' - but now we may have to change those rules!
That's more or less what I have been trying to do over the last decade: drag the theory of evolution into the 21st century by incorporating intelligent design, Lamarckain inheritance, directed mutations, evaluation under simulation and so on.

One of the things I have found is that these things are often not quite as novel an Minsky implies. Organisms have been "inheriting acquired characteristics" for at least as long as dogs have been passing their fleas on to their puppies. Plans and goals are not exactly new either. The first mammals were making plans - and these went on to influence their evolution via sexual selection and in other ways. The picture of these new capabilities arising with human engineering design is not really correct - many of them have much older roots.

IMO, this is interesting because it makes the old school evolutionary biologists and their textbooks wrong in their own terms, not just because of human beings, genetic enginnering, etc.