biology

P8475423 at vmsuser.acsu.unsw.EDU.AU P8475423 at vmsuser.acsu.unsw.EDU.AU
Thu Sep 14 17:56:55 MDT 1995


A quick observation on an exchange between Scott and Lisa where
both apparently agree:

|Scott: One concept that really got me going was in the Mismeasure of
|Man, where  SJ maintains that really the Civil War could have gone
|either way and  that if the South had happened to win all progress
|would have simply  stopped and gone off in a different direction etc
|etc. And he backs this  up with examples of mutations that have been
|'backwards' and led to  deadends etc.
|
|Lisa:  Well, maybe Gould is even odder than I thought.  I suppose one
|can draw analogies between anything, but what was the point - that
|"progress" is not inevitable?  Defined how?  He's not the only one to
|explore parallels between Darwinian evolution and social/cultural
|evolution, but I'm not very impressed with any of them.

Gould isn't really employing biological reasoning here, or if he is
then it is just a subset of nonlinear thinking. One implication of
nonlinear analysis and chaos theory is that small changes can have
very large effects, and that therefore development of a nonlinear
system is path dependent. Make a "small" change in such a path--
such as who won the US Civil War--and it can have a large effect on
the final outcome.

This might not mean something as drastic as that "progress" might
not have occurred, but it could, for example, have meant that
slavery continued well into the 19th century, and that as a
consequence, US industrialisation did not progress as rapidly.

Or, had slavery continued for long enough and the attitudes it
engenders gone deep enough, the US might have become an ally with the
Nazis in WWII. I think we'd all agree that the world would now be
a *very* different place. But no biological reasoning is needed to
support such musing.

To bounce off one of my least favourite words in the lexicon of
Juan Inigo, it shows that in a real world process which is
underlyingly a chaotic system, *nothing* is "necessary".

Cheers,
Steve Keen


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