Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Mind-Culture Coevolution: Major Transitions in the Development of Human Culture and Society


I've now turned this into a PDF file which you can download here: https://www.academia.edu/37815917/Mind-Culture_Coevolution_Major_Transitions_in_the_Development_of_Human_Culture_and_Society

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This is revised from the introduction to a website I put up in the old days of web 1.0, all in hand-coded HTML. Where I’ve since uploaded downloadable versions of the documents I’ve used those links in this revised introduction, but you’re welcome to access the online versions from the old introduction. Note: This version supersedes an older post at New Savanna.
Mind and Culture

A central phenomenon of the human presence on earth is that, over the long term, we have gained ever more capacity to understand and manipulate the physical world and, though some would debate this, the human worlds of psyche and society. The major purpose of the theory which the late David Hays and I have developed (and which I continue to develop) is to understand the mental structures and processes underlying that increased capacity. While more conventional students of history and of cultural evolution have much to say about what happened and when and what was influenced by what else, few have much to say about the conceptual and affective mechanisms in which these increased capacities are embedded. That is the story we have been endeavoring to tell.

Our theory is thus about processes in the human mind. Those processes evolve in tandem with culture. They require culture for their support while they enable culture through their capacities. In particular, we believe that the genetic elements of culture are to be found in the external world, in the properties of artifacts and behaviors, not inside human heads. Hays first articulated this idea in his book on the evolution of technology and I have developed it in my papers Culture as an Evolutionary Arena, Culture's Evolutionary Landscape, in my book on music, Beethoven's Anvil: Music in Mind and Culture, and in various posts at New Savanna and one for the National Humanities Center which I have aggregated into four working papers:
This puts our work at odds with some students of cultural evolution, especially those who identify with memetics, who tend to think of culture's genetic elements as residing in nervous systems.

We have aspired to a system of thought in which the mechanisms of mind and feeling have discernible form and specificity rather than being the airy nothings of philosophical wish and theological hope. We would be happy to see computer simulations of the mechanisms we've been proposing. Unfortunately neither the computational art nor our thinking have been up to this task. But that, together with the neuropsychologist's workbench, is the arena in which these matters must eventually find representation investigation, and a long way down the line, resolution. The point is that, however vague our ideas about mechanisms currently may be, it is our conviction that the phenomenon under investigation, culture and its implementation in the human brain, is not vague and formless, nor is it, any more, beyond our ken.

For a glossary of terms, see the page Cultural Evolution Terms.

Major Transitions

The story we tell is one of cultural paradigms existing at four levels of sophistication, which we call ranks. In the terminology of current evolutionary biology, these ranks represent major transitions in cultural life. Rank 1 paradigms emerged when the first humans appeared on the savannas of Africa speaking language as we currently know it. Those paradigms structured the lives of primitive which societies emerged perhaps 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. Around 5,000 to 10,000 years ago Rank 2 paradigms emerged in relatively large stable human societies with people subsisting on systematic agriculture, living in walled cities and reading written texts. Rank 3 paradigms first emerged in Europe during the Renaissance and gave European cultures the capacity to dominate, in a sense, to create, world history over the last 500 years. This century has begun to see the emergence of Rank 4 paradigms.

How is Facebook going to regulate hate speech on its platform? An independent Supreme Court of Facebook?


Mark Zuckerberg has suggested that an independent oversight body should "determine the boundaries of acceptable speech on the platform". This raises a host of issues, most centrally:
What standards, past decisions and values will it consider when evaluating, for example, whether a particular post is “hate speech”?

This is not an easy question. Indeed, the difficulty of answering that question seems to be one of the reasons Zuckerberg wanted such an independent body in the first place. In March 2018, Zuckerberg told Recode, “I feel fundamentally uncomfortable sitting here in California at an office, making content policy decisions for people around the world. … [T]hings like where is the line on hate speech? I mean, who chose me to be the person that [decides]?” No doubt his unease with this situation was only furthered when he sparked off controversy by suggesting in a later interview that he didn’t think Holocaust deniers should be removed from Facebook—a perfect example of the difficulty Facebook faces. The U.S. has a famously expansive interpretation of free speech, and the court rulings that the First Amendment protected the right of Nazis to march in Skokie is remembered as one of the “truly great victories” in American legal history. By contrast, Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany. Putting aside the wisdom of either position, how should Facebook—a global platform connecting over two billion monthly users—respect conflicting standards of free speech, of which the example of Holocaust denial is only one?

Unfortunately, Zuckerberg’s Nov.15 Facebook post suggests he hasn’t given this issue enough attention. His post itself suggests several, sometimes contradictory, options. When he writes of the forthcoming independent body, he says, “How do we ensure their independence from Facebook, but also their commitment to the principles they must uphold?”—implying that the values in question are Facebook’s. These are embodied in the company’s Community Standards—which, along with its internal guidelines, are the rules that determine what content is allowed on the platform and which the 30,000 content reviewers use to make individual calls. Given these are the rules that the first-instance decision-maker will be applying, it makes sense that the tribunal should also be guided by them. This is consistent with Facebook’s goal that the standards “apply around the world to all types of content.”

But in his post, Zuckerberg also notes that “services must respect local content laws.” So will the Supreme Court of Facebook be charged with interpreting this local law? In deciding whether a post was justifiably taken down, will it interpret Thailand’s Lèse-Majesté laws prohibiting criticism of the Thai monarchy? Will it try and interpret the sometimes differing decisions of German regional courts on what is hate speech under German law?

Zuckerberg also suggests that “it's important for society to agree on how to reduce [harmful content] to a minimum—and where the lines should be drawn between free expression and safety.” If it’s society that decides the lines for free expression, how will the independent body determine what society’s views are? Will it take polls? If so, will those polls be national, regional or global? Will Facebook take into consideration national voting ages? Furthermore, doesn’t leaving the decisions to “society” risk undermining protection of minorities?

These options by no means exhaust the possibilities raised by Zuckerberg’s proposal in his post.
And:
Though Zuckerberg appears to be seriously pursuing the idea, currently his conception of the independent body is more soundbite than substance. When he says that the SCOF [Supreme Court of Facebook] will “ultimately make the final judgment call on what should be acceptable speech in a community that reflects the social norms and values of people all around the world,” he sets an impossible goal. There is no homogenous global community whose norms can be reflected in the decisions of a single body deciding contentious issues. But that doesn’t mean the proposed body cannot be an important development in online governance, creating a venue for appeal and redress, transparency and dialogue, and through which the idea of free speech in the online global community develops a greater substantive meaning than simply “whatever the platform says it is.”

How the independent body is set up will determine whether it furthers or hinders rights to freedom of expression and due process. There is a rich literature in comparative law showing that decisions of institutional design can have significant impacts not only on outcomes but the entire stability and legitimacy of a governance structure.

Take me to your leader

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Even modest musical training enhances cognitive function, especially executive ability

Most of those enhanced abilities were limited to what they referred to as "music experts"—people who started training early in life, and kept at it for at least a decade. But one very important skillset, "executive functioning," was also bolstered for lightly trained amateur players.

This suggests that even limited training and practice can provide significant cognitive benefits.

In recent years, many studies have concluded that musical training enhances brain function. The goal of this new research was to confirm that link using the National Institute of Health's Toolbox Cognition Battery, a standardized set of tests that measure the key cognitive functions that together constitute fluid intelligence.

These include focus, processing speed, working memory (the ability to temporarily retain information and use it to learn, reason, or make informed decisions), and executive function (the ability to plan, organize, and accomplish goals).

The participants were 72 college undergraduates, who were grouped into three categories: Musical experts (people who began formal training at age 10 or younger, and kept up their practice for at least a decade); musical amateurs (those with at least one year of musical training); and non-musicians.

Combining the results of all the tests, "musicians with extensive experience scored significantly higher than non-musicians and less-trained musicians," the researchers write in the journal Psychology of Music. Specifically, they did better on four of the five cognitive skills that the tests measured.

These included attention ("ensemble performance requires the ability to focus on one's own part without being distracted by other parts," the researchers note); working memory (presumably strengthened by the process of memorizing music); and processing speed (which is enhanced by learning to react rapidly to the demands of the music, as well as to those of collaborators).

The results of the executive-function test, which involved rapidly sorting pictures by shape and color, were arguably the most intriguing, in that modestly trained musicians performed significantly better than non-musicians (although not as well as highly trained musicians).

If that finding is confirmed using a larger sample, "then as a society, we should be interested in universal musical education, perhaps starting in elementary and pre-school-aged children," the researchers argue.

Monday, November 19, 2018

TALENT SEARCH: Tyler Cowen on the value of sole proprietor pop-up philanthropic shops [plus a widely shared blind spot in his thinking and a plug for a NASA administrator]

A week or so ago Tyler Cowen ran up a post on his philanthropic method, The philosophy and practicality of Emergent Ventures. He notes that traditional philanthropies have large staffs “which means relatively conservative, consensus-oriented proposals emerge at the end of the process.” Moreover “the high fixed costs of processing any request discriminate against very small proposals” and such foundations tend to become “captured by their staffs”, who tend to be treated as valued proxies for the foundation’s audience and thus further increase the conservative insularity of the decision process.

A sole proprietor pop-up philanthropic shop

All of which makes sense to me. In contrast, his approach in Emergent Ventures is quite different. He has no staff. Though he may seek advice from others, he makes all the decisions. The process is quick and cheap and the “arrangement also can promise donors 100% transmission of their money to recipients, or close to that.”

And so:
The solo evaluator — if he or she has the right skills of temperament and judgment — can take risks with the proposals, unencumbered by the need to cover fixed costs and keep “the foundation” up and running. Think of it as a “pop-up foundation,” akin to a pop-up restaurant, and you know who is the chef in the kitchen. It is analogous to a Singaporean food stall, namely with low fixed costs, small staff, and the chef’s ability to impose his or her own vision on the food.
Once a fixed sum of money is given away, and the mission of the project (beneficial social change) has been furthered, “the foundation” goes away. No one is laid off. Rather than crying over a vanquished institutional empire and laid off friends/co-workers, the solo evaluator in fact has a chance to get back to personally profitable work. It was “lean and mean” all along, except it wasn’t mean.
What’s not to like?

He goes on to suggest: “In my view, at least two percent of philanthropy should be run this way, and right now in the foundation world it is about zero percent.” He goes on to suggest: “The ideal scaling is that other, competing ‘chefs’ set up their own pop-up foundations.” YES to all of this.

In particular, what I like about this last suggestion is that it speaks to a blind spot in Cowen’s perception of what he’s up to, a perception that seems almost universally shared by people in the philanthropy business. What is that blind spot? Simple, that what they’re looking for is an attribute of individuals.

Talent, whatever that is, may well be an attribute of individuals. But, to the extent that Cowen is trying to increase innovation by identifying individuals whose work will be widely valued and used, he is in fact looking for a GOOD FIT between individual talent and social need and capacity. Let me repeat that in slightly different terms. Cowen is looking for individuals with a talent that has the capacity to fill a socio-cultural need. What’s missing from his formulation is explicit recognition of that fit, of the importance of socio-cultural context in determining whether or not individual talent will flourish.

Many sowers, many seeds

I’ll say a bit more about that later, but first I want to explain why his suggestion of limited-term sole-proprietor pop-up philanthropic shops speaks to that blindness. It’s simple, really. We are in an era of tremendous social cultural change. It’s pretty clear, at least to many of us, that the future cannot be extrapolated from the past. Something new and different is required. But just what that is, just what will work, no one really knows, though many have opinions. In particular, we don’t know what potentials are latent in the world today.

In that situation it makes sense to sow many seeds widely and quickly. Who should do the sowing? Talented people who are in touch with other talented people. Each of these people will have their own sense of the needs and potentials of the current cultural moment, each will have their own vision about the proper fit between talent and cultural opportunity. But don’t give any one of them too much philanthropic capacity. By endowing many talented people with limited philanthropic capacity you guarantee the placement of many bets over a wide range of future possibilities and potentialities.

Trees on trees

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How am I doing at regulating my action at Academia.edu?

On Oct. 31 I posted this chart in a post that was otherwise about Donald Trump and his tweeting activity:

Academia 10-31-18 10AM

The chart depicts action on my page at Academica.edu, my main repository of articles and working papers. The green (upper) line shows how many papers views I got each day while the brown (lower) line shows downloads.

The point of the chart is that there are two periods of markedly increased activity, activity caused by my deliberate and conscious action. I then asked: “What are the chances that I can keep it going? Off hand, not good. I just don’t have that much of what seems to be the right material to keep it going.” That is, I knew what I did to drive the numbers up but I wasn’t prepared to keep doing that.

This chart depicts my action as of November 16 and 10:32 PM:

Aca 11-16-18 1032p

That certainly looks like I’ve managed to keep the action up for roughly the past month. To be sure, the action is spiky but it does appear that, on average, interest is up.

Here’s a chart I grabbed at 5:52 this morning, November 19, 2018:

Academia 11-19-18 552a

We’ve got a new spike there at the right edge of the chart. While it’s low in relation to the action for Nov 4 and 5, the high point of the chart (and I forget just what I did to produce that), it’s high in relation to the chart as a whole and, in particular, it’s in the range of the mid-September action that started this roll (and which is now trailing off the left edge of the graph).

I know exactly what I did this time. I sent the following note to the Humanist Discussion Group:
I don’t know how old you are, Jim (if i may), but I’ll be 71 in a few weeks and was publishing on literature and computation in the mid-1970s:

"Cognitive Networks and Literary Semantics", MLN 91: 1976, 952-982. Here I used a computational model to examine the semantic structure of Shakespeare’s sonnet 129. There’s a downloadable version of that article here: https://www.academia.edu/235111/Cognitive_Networks_and_Literary_Semantics

That same year David Hays and I published this, “Computational Linguistics and the Humanist”, Computers and the Humanities, Vol. 10. 1976, pp. 265-274. There we proposed something we called Prospero, a computer system for reading Shakespeare in some interesting way. Alas, the more we learn about both computing and about the mind/brain, the most distant that Prospero seems, but still, it’s worth thinking about. You can download that here: https://www.academia.edu/1334653/Computational_Linguistics_and_the_Humanist

Best,

Bill Benzon
That recent spike consists mostly of interest in those two papers, which is much stronger on views than actual downloads (as is generally the case).

I have no idea what will happen today. Of course, I do expect the numbers to rise above the floor, after all it’s 6 AM here on the East Coast of the USA, but just how high they’ll go, I still don’t know. Nor will I hazard a prediction about the future. But I’m pretty sure that if I want to keep the numbers up, I’ve got to upload a paper to the “sweet zone” pretty soon, and I don’t have anything that’s quite ready for upload.

We’ll see.

Two Tweets of the Day – group differences vs. how people think about them

First there's this:

Then Geoffrey Miller (evolutionary psychologist) asked him to do it with real data. Vaisey replied with this:

Q.E.D.!!!
H/t Language Log.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

From the old neighborhood

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Innovation, stagnation, and the construction of ideas and conceptual systems

Patrick Collison and Michael Nielsen recently published an article that’s been getting a lot of attention in this neck of the woods, “Science Is Getting Less Bang for Its Buck” (The Atlantic, Nov 16, 2018). The purpose of this post is to set their idea in the context of ideas about cognitive evolution in culture that David Hays and I have developed.

I’ve addressed the issue of stagnation in some previous posts. There is a short post from 2014, “Why has progress slowed down?”, where I talk of Roman numerals and their limitations. More recently there is an appendix to “Notes Toward a Naturalist Cultural History (with a new addendum on the paradoxical stagnation of our era)”. All of this speculation takes place, as I’ve indicated, within the general account of the cultural evolution of successive “ranks” of cognitive systems that David Hays and I developed between the mid-1970s and 1990s. I’ve written a general overview of that work HERE; the fundamental paper is “The Evolution of Cognition” (Journal of Social and Behavioral Structures 13(4), 297-320, 1990).

First I comment on a metaphor Collison and Nielsen introduce, that of geographic exploration. Then I offer a metaphor of my own, that of physical construction. I conclude by extending that metaphor to the construction of conceptual systems.

The metaphor of exploration

In developing their argument they offer a metaphor which I’ve used to a similar end:
Suppose we think of science—the exploration of nature—as similar to the exploration of a new continent. In the early days, little is known. Explorers set out and discover major new features with ease. But gradually they fill in knowledge of the new continent. To make significant discoveries explorers must go to ever-more-remote areas, under ever-more-difficult conditions. Exploration gets harder. In this view, science is a limited frontier, requiring ever more effort to “fill in the map.” One day the map will be near-complete, and science will largely be exhausted. In this view, any increase in the difficulty of discovery is intrinsic to the structure of scientific knowledge itself.
However, I would stop with “Exploration gets harder” and elaborate a bit on what happens once initial exploration is complete: pioneering settles move in, communities are established, the land becomes more densely settled, and so forth. That’s a matter of detail. The real issue, though, is to move beyond the metaphor and talk directly about ideas and innovation.

I want to build up to that. But for the moment let’s continue with Collison and Nielsen. They continue with this paragraph:
An archetype for this point of view comes from fundamental physics, where many people have been entranced by the search for a “theory of everything,” a theory explaining all the fundamental particles and forces we see in the world. We can only discover such a theory once. And if you think that’s the primary goal of science, then it is indeed a limited frontier.
Are we discovering theories or constructing them? “Discovering” implies that they’re out there independent of us and all we have to do is talk the right path, turn the right corner, and there it will be, the theory. “Construction” places the emphasis on our activities, our tools, materials, and concepts, whatever it is we use in constructing theories. But these need not be opposed ideas. To extend the metaphor of exploration, it was impossible for us to discover the geography of the Moon’s dark side until we’d constructed the means of investigating it. In this case discovery and construction go hand-in-hand. Without the proper tools, discovery is impossible.

They go on:
But there’s a different point of view, a point of view in which science is an endless frontier, where there are always new phenomena to be discovered, and major new questions to be answered. The possibility of an endless frontier is a consequence of an idea known as emergence. Consider, for example, water. It’s one thing to have equations describing the way a single molecule of water behaves. It’s quite another to understand why rainbows form in the sky, or the crashing of ocean waves, or the origins of the dirty snowballs in space that we call comets. All these are “water,” but at different levels of complexity. Each emerges out of the basic equations describing water, but who would ever have suspected from those equations something so intricate as a rainbow or the crashing of waves?
But how do you get from the equations for a single molecule of water to the equations for the crashing of ocean waves? I’m guessing that the mathematics is by no means self-evident, that quite a bit of construction is necessary. Where to the construction techniques come from?

The metaphor of construction

If you give a competent engineer a set of plans and a pile of materials, she should be able to determine whether or not the device can be build with those materials. Any number of things can be built with a given set of materials, and any given device can be constructed in various ways. But the possibilities are not endless. There must be a match between the materials and the device.

This is obvious enough in the case of material devices, whether they be relatively simple things like axes and clay pots, mechanical devices like a watch or a steam engine, or buildings of all shapes and sizes. I contend that the same is true for ideas of all kinds, but we have but a poor understanding of how ideas are constructed. So let’s continue with the physical world for just a bit.

What do you need to build a skyscraper? Well, of course, there are skyscrapers of all kinds and sizes. But it seems unlikely that we could construct even a small 10-story building out of adobe, or even out of wood – at least wood in its natural state as opposed to the various engineered wood materials that we now being made. And you can’t place a skyscraper just anyplace. The ground must be able to support the weight.

But it’s not just about materials and construction techniques. You also need elevators. They don’t play a role in holding the building up, but they make tall buildings functionally useful. When a building gets beyond six, seven, or eight stories or so, stairs become impractical. Not only does it take too much time to go up and down stairs in a tall building, but climbing stairs is physically challenging.

Twenty years ago I had a room on the 14th floor of a building. There was an emergency that required evacuation. Coming down 14 flights of stairs wasn’t bad but, for some reason, the elevators were unavailable when we were allowed back in. Climbing those 14 flights was a challenge. At the time I was an out of shape middle aged man; had I been in shape the climb wouldn’t have been so bad. Twenty years later I’m 50 pounds heavier and I’m not sure I could do the climb at all, at least not without stopping so often that it would take over an hour. Elevators eliminate that problem, one that simply doesn’t exist for lower buildings.

What other problems do skyscrapers present that don’t exist for lower buildings?

My larger point, though, is that conceptual systems are like these physical systems. They consist of parts of various kinds combined in various ways to perform functions. We just don’t know much about the nature of the parts and how they go together. But we know something.

Mercantilism, arithmetic, logarithms, and the clockwork universe

The Wikipedia tells me that mercantilism “was dominant in modernized parts of Europe from the 16th to the 18th centuries.” Fine. Wikipedia tells us that mercantilism “promotes Government regulation of a nation’s economy for the purpose of augmenting state power at the expense of rival national powers. Mercantilism includes a national economic policy aimed at accumulating monetary reserves through a positive balance of trade, especially of finished goods. Historically, such policies frequently led to war and also motivated colonial expansion.” Again, fine.

What made mercantilism possible? Lots of things I presume. For example:
Mercantilism developed at a time of transition for the European economy. Isolated feudal estates were being replaced by centralized nation-states as the focus of power. Technological changes in shipping and the growth of urban centres led to a rapid increase in international trade. Mercantilism focused on how this trade could best aid the states. Another important change was the introduction of double-entry bookkeeping and modern accounting. This accounting made extremely clear the inflow and outflow of trade, contributing to the close scrutiny given to the balance of trade. Of course, the impact of the discovery of America cannot be ignored... New markets and new mines propelled foreign trade to previously inconceivable volumes, resulting in “the great upward movement in prices” and an increase in “the volume of merchant activity itself”.
There’s a lot of stuff in that one paragraph. I note the importance of double-entry bookkeeping. You can’t run a complex mercantile economy if you can’t keep track of your money.

I note as well the discovery of America. Would it have been possible to exploit that discovery in a world where all calculation was done using Roman numerals? I suggest that it would have been very difficult.

Why?

Logarithms, common logarithms.

If we're to survive and thrive with a population of 10B+ then wizards and prophets must collaborate

Saturday, November 17, 2018

In the center

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Critical point dynamics in whole-Brain neuronal activity

Ponce-Alvarez et al., Whole-Brain Neuronal Activity Displays Crackling Noise Dynamics, Neuron (2018), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2018.10.045.
Highlights
  • Zebrafish whole-brain activity displays scale-invariant neuronal avalanches 
  • These scale-invariant avalanches are suggestive of critical phenomena 
  • Sensory inputs and self-generated behaviors deviate the dynamics from criticality 
  • Blocking gap junctions disrupts criticality and deteriorates sensory processing
Summary

Previous studies suggest that the brain operates at a critical point in which phases of order and disorder coexist, producing emergent patterned dynamics at all scales and optimizing several brain functions. Here, we combined light-sheet microscopy with GCaMP zebrafish larvae to study whole-brain dynamics in vivo at near single-cell resolution. We show that spontaneous activity propagates in the brain’s three-dimensional space, generating scale-invariant neuronal avalanches with time courses and recurrence times that exhibit statistical self-similarity at different magnitude, temporal, and frequency scales. This suggests that the nervous system operates close to a non-equilibrium phase transition, where a large repertoire of spatial, temporal, and interactive modes can be supported. Finally, we show that gap junctions contribute to the maintenance of criticality and that, during interactions with the environment (sensory inputs and self-generated behaviors), the system is transiently displaced to a more ordered regime, conceivably to limit the potential sensory representations and motor outcomes.

What's up in Disney World? For the ultimate "out of this world" vacation...

One of the most anticipated additions to Disney World is not a ride. It’s a hotel — one that will have no windows.

The still-unnamed property, code-named Project Hubble by Disney Imagineering, will simulate what it might be like to sleep on board a luxury “Star Wars” starship as it zooms through the galaxy. Every window will be a video screen offering a “space view.” Guests will be encouraged to dress in “Star Wars” costumes.

The hotel reflects a push by Disney to provide more immersive and personalized experiences. Now even your hotel stay becomes an attraction that is “unique to Disney, that you cannot get down the street,” Mr. Chapek said.

He is applying the same thinking to Disney World transportation. Instead of relying on lumbering buses to get around, for instance, people can now use the Lyft app to hail a polka-dotted S.U.V. called a Minnie Van.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Biological vs. cultural evolution (language and music)

Dan Everett recently posted this tweet:

I responded with the following string of tweets:
On the one hand we have the emergence of language as a phenomenon in biological evolution. That's clear enough. But we also have language change over longish time frames. Can we, should we, think of that as an evolutionary process as well? 1/X

I think so, but, yes, an argument is needed. More than can be put in tweets. But, it's about accounting: What entity is the recipient of, the target of, the evolutionary dynamic? In biological evolution it is, depending on POV, the phenotypic ... 2/X

individual, or (if you are a Dawkinsian) the gene. Dual inheritance theory is about biological evolution, where phenotypic individuals benefit from genetic inheritance and social learning. (Can benefits of social learning be toted up at the level of the gene?). 3/X

Dawkins' idea of the meme is that culture operates in an evolutionary domain where the evolutionary process benefits, not biological phenotypes or genes, but cultural entities he called memes. I think his insight is correct, but the explication of 4/X

meme has been thoroughly and badly botched (due in part to the indefatigable industry of Dan Dennett). I've published an article about music where I attempt to set things straight (more or less). 5/5
Here's that article: “Rhythm Changes” Notes on Some Genetic Elements in Musical Culture, https://www.academia.edu/23287434/_Rhythm_Changes_Notes_on_Some_Genetic_Elements_in_Musical_Culture.
Abstract: An entity known as Rhythm Changes is analyzed as a genetic entity in musical culture. Because it functions to coordinate the activities of musicians who are playing together it can be called a coordinator. It is a complex coordinator in that it is organized on five or six levels, each of which contains coordinators that function in other musical contexts. Musicians do not acquire (that is, learn) such a coordinator through “transfer” from one brain to another. Rather, they learn to construct it from publically available performance materials. This particular entity is derived from George Gershwin’s tune “I Got Rhythm” and is the harmonic trajectory of that tune. But it only attained independent musical status after about two decades of performances. Being a coordinator is thus not intrinsic to the entity itself, but is rather a function of how it comes to be used in the musical system. Recent argument suggests that biological genes are like this as well.

Friday Fotos: Some varieties of light