Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Thirteen

I continue my series of short comments on Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back. These comments are mainly written for an online forum, in which undergraduate students of Professor Dennett post. Each time I raise a point about one chapter. This time I comment on chapter thirteen.

Cultural Evolution– Cultural Progress?

Chapter 13 treats the evolution of culture. A picture emerges that shows cultural development residing between two extremes, on the one side strictly Darwinian memetic evolution, on the other side intelligent design by individual geniuses.

My question is whether there is place for a notion of cultural progress here. I take for granted that we should conceive of Darwinian evolution as a non-progressive development. There is no progress in the evolution from dinosaurs to birds; adaptation to a changing environment, perhaps, but no progress. The same should be true for strictly Darwinian memetic evolution. Continue reading “Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Thirteen”

Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Twelve

I continue my series of short comments on Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back. These comments are mainly written for an online forum, in which undergraduate students of Professor Dennett post. Each time I raise a point about one chapter. This time I comment on chapter twelve.

How Much Work Can Memes Do for Explaining the Origin of Language? Continue reading “Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Twelve”

Task List 5

A discussion of this public task list can be found in the first one.

I have the following reasons for maintaining it:

  1. It might help me to structure my own work better.
  2. Some readers might have helpful comments for how to accomplish a task.
  3. Transparency: My PhD is funded by WRoCAH i.e. by public money. If you are reading this in the UK, your tax money. In general, I presume that research can profit from a certain level of transparency.

The list is incomplete, that is I do more than I record. One reason for this is that certain tasks are finished before I ever end up putting them on this list. Continue reading “Task List 5”

Published: Gruppen als Akteure

An essay of mine on group agency has been published on Soziopolis. Soziopolis is a platform for sociologists and other social scientists maintained by the Hamburg Institute for Social Research. My essay tries to convey the relevant implications of theories of groups agency, especially the proposal by List and Pettit, for the social sciences.

The essay is in German, which limits its readership on the one hand, but on the other hand the analytic debate on group agency has received less attention there so far. I hope I can contribute to changing this.

The first paragraph:

Die Beschäftigung mit Fragen des Gruppenhandelns – etwa danach, ob Organisationen zielorientiert handeln, Klassen genuine gesellschaftliche Akteure sind oder Staaten Handlungsfähigkeit besitzen – hat in der Soziologie eine lange Tradition. Dabei ist jedoch umstritten, ob Gruppen als irreduzible Akteure tatsächlich dasselbe Gewicht für soziologische Erklärungen haben wie Individuen, insbesondere, ob Gruppen dieselbe irreduzible kausale Rolle einnehmen. Können die Handlungen von Gruppen also Tatsachen kausal erklären, ohne dass eine individualistische Reduktion auch nur im Prinzip möglich wäre?

More here.

Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Eleven

I continue my series of short comments on Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back. These comments are mainly written for an online forum, in which undergraduate students of Professor Dennett post. Each time I raise a point about one chapter. This time I comment on chapter eleven.

Are Dollars Memes? Continue reading “Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Eleven”

Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Ten

I continue my series of short comments on Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back. These comments are mainly written for an online forum, in which undergraduate students of Professor Dennett post. Each time I raise a point about one chapter. This time I comment on chapter ten.

On page 212 Professor Dennett suggests that a memetic theory of cultural evolution might provide the mechanism that Durkheimian functionalism lacked. I find the claim intriguing, yet dubious for the following reason: At least as far as I am familiar with sociological functionalism the function of social practices, traditions and so forth is relative to the whole society. Memes might also be functional e.g. a word functions very well to express a certain issue and therefore may be operated upon by natural selection. But how could a meme be functional relative to the whole society? How would this functionality lead to the meme being selected for?

Until this question is answered, I do not see Professor Dennett’s account of cultural evolution helping Durkheimian functionalism.

UPDATE (9. 3. 2017)

I have received confirmation from Professor Dennett that he in fact asserts that memes can functional relative to the whole society. Furthermore, I have been pointed to chapters 5-8 of Breaking the Spell.