Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Chris Buskes on the evolution of cultural evolution

Here's a new article by Chris Buskes on the evolution of cultural evolution: Darwinism Extended: A Survey of How the Idea of Cultural Evolution Evolved

This article has some fairly major problems from my perspective. One problem is this:

I will argue that cumulative selection is the distinctive and defining characteristic of Darwinian evolution.
Darwin didn't ever say that. He discovered the copy-variation-selection algorithm behind evolution. It seems insulting to his heritige to confine the term "Darwinian" to the subset of cases where there's cumulative adaptive evolution. Chris's proposal would mean that we would have to rename Universal Darwinism. However, Chris's proposal sucks - I recommend that people ignore it.

Another problem with this article is its memetics FUD. Sure, some people don't understand memetics, but that doesn't mean that nobody does.

The criticisms about replicators and the alleged particulate nature of memes have good answers, but Chris doesn't seem to be aware of this.

Another problematical sentence is:

Of course, nobody denies that the transmission of cultural information differs from the transmission of genetic information, if only because the former process generally does not involve sex.
Huh? Cultural evolution seems to me to involve recombination around as often as organic evolution does.

Chris presents an argument that organic mutations are directed, but he doesn't seem to understand the position that he is arguing against very well. The opponent's don't claim that mutations are entirely random. Showing mutations occur non-randomly seems to be arguing against a straw man. The actual position of critics is that organic mutations are not directed towards higher fitness. This position is indeed incorrect - but Chris fails to mount a coherent argument against it.

The general thrust of Chris's argument - that cultural evolution is less directed than critics say, and organic evolution is more directed than critics say - is essentially correct.

Overall, I don't recommend learning about memetics from Chris. If you don't understand memetics, find people who have a sympathetic understanding of the subject, and learn it from them. There aren't any valid technical criticisms of memetics. It's a perfectly valid and useful set of frameworks, perspectives and terminology for studying cultural evolution with.

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