Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Contra Hayek, Cultural Evolution IS Darwinian

In Hayek's The Fatal Conceit (1988) there is a section titled "The Mechanism of Cultural Evolution Is Not
Darwinian." Within the section Hayek takes the position that Darwinian theory applies only to biological and not cultural evolution. He writes that "cultural evolution simulates Lamarkism" (25).

However, when we take an abstract view of Darwinism—variation, selection, and retention—we see that Hayek is mistaken. The problem of Lamarkism is not that characteristics are acquired, as characteristics resulting from mutations are also acquired; but that there is no mechanism of retention. Rather than DNA, it is the institutions of society that pass on the mutations of society—the new ideas, technologies, and customs. The mechanism of cultural retention is what Karl Popper called World 3 (1972).

The mention of World 3 prompts the suggestion that DNA is also a World 3 phenomenon created by processes in the cell for purposes of retention. Where this suggestion leads is anybody's guess.


Hayek, F.A., 1988, The Fatal Conceit, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
Popper, K.R., 1972, "On the Theory of the Objective Mind" in Objective Knowledge, London, Oxford University Press, 153-190.

1 comment:

Rafe said...

DNA belongs to world 1 in its physical form but in terms of the information it contains it is an amazingly dense collection of world 3 information and instructinos.