Category: Cultural Evolution
Recently, I finished reading Lawrence Wright’s new book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollwood, & the Prison of Belief, about Scientology. It’s a lucid history and examination of the movement. [More . . . ]
This is a shocking film to watch. Yes, I understand the concern that kids should beware of strangers. But check out the characterization of “homosexuals.” According to this film, they are all sick pedophiles and murderers. This video serves as a time capsule, or at least it should, except that many people still harbor these attitudes.
In this video, Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins discuss Darwin’s dangerous idea May 9, 2012 at Oxford. Then the conversation turns to memes and cultural evolution. Language appears to be the key, according to Dennett. “Words themselves have replicative norms.”
Check out Dennett’s neologism at the 12 minute mark: “Thinko,” which is a mental version (an incorrect sub-routine) of a “typo.”
Dennett gives an update on the “Clergy Project” (in-the-closet clergy) at the 31 minute mark. As Dennett explains, there are actually two distinct projects in the Clergy Project. The first project involves detailed interview of active clergy. The second project consists of 200 members (50 of them are active clergy), with a waiting list of 60. It functions as a support group.
Have you ever seen this collection of record album covers that are no longer cool … No longer hip … Or are they no longer funky, rakish, chic, ultracool or spiffy? You see, even the words for fashionable go out of fashion.
And as we chuckle at these album covers, there is something a bit uneasy about what we’re doing. Yes, some of these covers were failures from Day One, but others have that high school yearbook thing going on–they look silly to us because they have elements of oldness to them that should remind us that no matter how fashion-tuned we are, some of the photos of us will someday be snidely chuckled at. If not our clothes, it will be our phone or our food or our method of transportation or the type of gadget we use for playing our music.
The only constant is that everything is social.
Today I attended a lecture by Massimo Pigliucci at Washington University in St. Louis. The title of the talk was “A Fresh Look at the Demarcation Problem and Why it Matters.” Pigliucci’s aim was to help us distinguish between real science and pseudoscience.
He offered some a few examples up front to set the stage. It is fairly well accepted these days that Freudian psychoanalysis is pseudoscience whereas Einstein’s theory of relativity is a prototypical example of legitimate science. Most science falls in between these endpoints. One example of a suspect science is string theory, which Pigliucci characterized as a favorite modern day “whipping boy.”
Karl Popper had the same objective back in the 1930s, offering his falsifiability approach: a theory should be considered scientific if, and only if, it is falsifiable. Not only did Popper believe that he had provided a method for determining what is truly scientific; he also believed that he had solved David Hume’s “problem of induction.” Induction is the process of generalizing from a smaller set to a larger as-yet-unobserved set; the induction problem, according to Hume, was that we cannot rationally justify induction, because this conclusion depends upon the assumption that nature will continue to be uniform. Pigliucci argued that Popper’s falsification approach is not sufficient for it distinguishing between pseudoscience and science, because it is “vulnerable to the Duhem-Quine theses.” The problem, according to Pigliucci, is that one can often save a falsifiable hypothesis by tweaking it (as nineteenth century astronomers did when they worked to save Newtonian physics in light of the perturbations of Mercury by positing that there was an as-yet-unseen planet closer to the sun, a planet they named “Vulcan.” It would also seem that there is another problem with falsifiability; some nascent fields don’t yet have a thick collection of observations with which to work. Imagine that Aristotle announced the theory of general relativity, far before Einstein. It might have been impossible for him to offer a way to falsify his theory back then, but not because there was any problem with the theory itself; it would thus be declared to be not-science. Pigliucci addresses this situation (see below).
Throughout his lecture, Pigliucci referred to Larry Laudan’s approach to the demarcation problem. Laudan has argued that the demarcation problem is “uninteresting and intractable,” urging that we should completely stop using terms like “pseudoscience” and “unscientific.” Laudan argues that philosophers have failed to point out necessary and sufficient criteria for distinguishing between pseudoscience and science. He therefore considers the demarcation project doomed. Pigliucci disagrees, pointing out that it is not necessary to find necessary and sufficient criteria for distinguishing between science and pseudoscience. Pigluicci draws upon Wittgenstein’s work on family resemblances. Wittgenstein had challenged people to define the word “game” in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. It seems like an easy task, but it is not. Pigliucci refers to this exercise as “humbling.” Just because we can’t set out the necessary and sufficient conditions doesn’t mean we don’t know what a “game” is. With regard to many concepts, including “species,” and, yes, “science,” no boundaries have been drawn, yet we have workable ideas for what these concepts are. Wittgenstein’s observations have been recognized and expanded by modern linguists, including George Lakoff, who has labeled such concepts as “radial categories,” indicating that prototypes serve as the most typical instances of such categories.
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Neil deGrasse Tyson points out that the human genome overlaps 99% with the genome of chimpanzees. We’re only 1% different, but consider how much we can do that chimps cannot do. Consider de Grasse Tyson’s suggestion:
Cognitive Scientist Andy Clark has also recognized the biological similarity between chimpanzees and humans, and asked how we accomplish so much more with such a meager difference. He suggests that our trick is that we have become proficient at off-loading and making use of information out into the environment. He argues that “self” extends beyond skin and skull.
[W]e create and maintain a variety of special external structures (symbolic and social-institutional). These external structures function so as to complement our individual cognitive profiles and to diffuse human reason across wider and wider social and physical networks whose collective computations exhibit their own special dynamics and properties.
This is an unscientific response to a ridiculous claim. Rick Santorum, who wishes to be the next Bishop In Charge of America (or whatever prelate his church might recognize) recently made the claim that Gay couples are going to destabilize the family in America in order to accommodate their lifestyle.
We’ve all been hearing this claim now for, oh, since gays stopped sitting by and letting cops beat them up on Saturday nights without fighting back. Ever since Gay Pride. Even on my own FaceBook page I had someone telling me I was blinded by the “Gay Agenda” and that the country was doomed—that because of the Gay Agenda little children were being taught how to use condoms in school and this—this—would bring us all to ruin.
If we collectively allow homosexuals to marry each other, how does that do anything to American families that’s not already being done by a hundred other factors?
I’ll tell you what destablilizes families. And I’m not genius here with a brilliant insight, this is just what anyone can see if they look around and think a little bit.
Families are destabilized over money.
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