Posted: Jun 16, 2010 12:53 am
by Mr.Samsa
JFDerry wrote:Hi Mr.Samsa,

I can do better than that and point you towards a paper containing the relevant section on psycholinguistics:

Derry (2009) Darwin in Disguise.

hope this helps


Thanks for that, I just had a read through it now. Whilst I don't disagree with your general message (i.e. the concept of Darwinism has been overapplied in some areas and has resulted in, basically, pseudoscientific adpatationism) but I can't help but feel that you're being a little too harsh. Fields like evolutionary psychology do tend to misapply Darwinian principles to their study, but with fields like Neural Darwinism and "Evolutionary Cosmology" they aren't using 'evolution' as a metaphor, instead they are analysing the selectionist principles involved in those areas.

Cosmology is not my area so I might be mistaken on that point, but for neural Darwinism, even though the approach taken by Edelman was perhaps premature and speculative, it has been largely supported by the work of McDowell, Burgos, Donahoe, Palmer etc. As long as the basic units of selection are present (heritibility, variation and differential replication) then "natural selection" will occur - or rather, as long as those aspects are there then we are necessarily looking at a selectionist process in nature. This is true of neural networks and, as far as I'm aware, true of cosmological events like planet formation etc.

I thought your discussion of memes and evolutionary psychology was good though, as both concepts have become much too widespread for my liking. Although I must admit that I thought your google search example was a bit disingenuous as the term "meme" has a meaning outside of its scientific application; that is, the term "internet meme" refers to an image, joke, cliche, etc, that is spread digitally. Here it's not used as a "gene analog" but rather it's just an informal way of referring to a currently popular internet phenomenon. I do understand your point though, and it's hardly a major issue in the scope of your discussion.

I was a little confused by this section:

Skinner’s [16] version of verbal
behaviour (now augmented as relational frame theory)
proposed learning through Pavlovian conditioned response
as brain capacity, intelligence and society gradually coevolved,
in a Darwinian adaptationist fashion.

Skinner did not propose Pavlovian principles for his theory of language, and he largely left the notion of respondent conditioning out of every work he did (generally using it only as a "filler" to try to explain something he couldn't). And he applied selectionist principles to his ideas retrospectively - his whole career basically consisted of simply describing behavior and he refused to speculate on any aspect of his findings. Later on in his life, around 1970, it was pointed out to him that his description of behavior was practically identical to Darwin's natural selection (and that's when he wrote "Selection by Consequences"). So rather than applying Darwinian principles to his work, it was more a case of him "rediscovering" natural selection on the ontogenic level. (There are also issues with Relational Frame Theory, but I'll save that for another time).

It's an interesting perspective though. I think generally I agree with what you're outlining in that article, but perhaps you're being a bit hard on some of the approaches there. For example, Darwinian medicine has come up with some crackpot ideas (like depression being an adaptation), but applying these principles to medicine can be useful, like when explaining the spread of sickle cell anaemia in African countries.

Thanks for the link :cheers: