William Wimsatt—Why Development is Crucial to Cultural Evolution

Man, philosophers sure take a long time to get to the point.

OK, his outline: 1) development and differential entrenchment in evolution. 2) application of these principles to culture. 3) what new phenomena this theory can capture.

Plunges into “thick, thin, and medium viscosity theories of culture”. I have no idea what he’s talking about: I hope he’ll get into some specifics I can grapple with soon, because right now this is just a wall of words.

Any evolving system must meet Darwin’s principles: variation, which is heritable, which has consequences on fitness. Wimsatt suggests two additional principles: structures generated over time have a developmental history, and they have parts which have larger or more pervasive effects than others on that production. Wimsatt says that life cycles emerge from these principles, and illustrates it with some strange models.

I give up. I have no idea where this talk is going. I keep waiting for an empirical foundation to be dragged in from offstage, but it’s just not happening. He seems to be saying some interesting stuff (or stuff that should be interesting), but it all seems to be built on air.

I don’t think I could ever be a philosopher.