Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Pinker calls cultural evolution a "loose metaphor"

Pinker - in his recent, scientifically mistaken article about group selection - writes:

What all this means is that so-called group selection, as it is invoked by many of its advocates, is not a precise implementation of the theory of natural selection, as it is, say, in genetic algorithms or artificial life simulations. Instead it is a loose metaphor, more like the struggle among kinds of tires or telephones. For this reason the term "group selection" adds little to what we have always called "history." Sure, some cultures have what it takes to become more populous or powerful or widespread, including expansionist ideologies, proselytizing offensives, effective military strategies, lethal weaponry, stable government, social capital, the rule of law, and norms of tribal loyalty. But what does "natural selection" add to the historian's commonplace that some groups have traits that cause them to grow more populous, or wealthier, or more powerful, or to conquer more territory, than others?

What indeed? Adaptation, cultural kin selection, memetic drift, founder effects, population memetics, phylomemetics, shifting balance theory, memetic linkage, memetic hitchhiking - amongst many others.

Pinker also says:

The truly Darwinian mechanisms of high-fidelity replication, blind mutation, differential contribution of descendants to a population, and iteration over multiple generations have no convincing analogue.
His ongoing muddle about cultural evolution still continues, it seems.

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