Cultural Evolution – Fidelity and Fecundity

I repeatedly use the evolutionary concepts of fidelity and fecundity when talking about (small c) conservatism in political and social change.

Freedom to change things, anything, anytime, is a kind of dogma of free-thought and individual freedoms generally. A principle to be defended at all costs, to the death. Because we can, and have a right to be different, we always should … apparently.

Why would a defender of individual freedoms including free-thought also defend conservatism?

If you take the memetic analogy (*) of biological genetics in cultural evolution, it’s quite simple. Evolution, of new species of anything worth naming, relies on many (hi-fecundity) replications of mostly (hi-fidelity) copies with relatively few changes – engineered or mutated – in each generation. High conservation of the existing patterns with few enough changes not to destroy the replicating patterns. Too much creatively engineered mutation not only reduces the replication of copies of the old-guard – which may be your progressive, revolutionary aim – it also inhibits the development of the new. It’s degenerate chaos.

“Creativity suppresses innovation.”

I picked up that expression to day from this exchange with David Deutsch.

Anyway since then David suggested a chapter from his 2012 book The Beginning of Infinity, entitled The Evolution of Creativity. (Just ordered a copy. Previously loved his 1998 Fabric of Reality.)

Both his books received some negative reviews in terms of readability and naivety of their historical philosophical content – he is a physicist after all 😉 – but I’ve found more than a germ of truth in what he’s trying to say, not just in his books.

And, “Giggs Boson” suggested this 2016/17? paper The Creative Process of Cultural Evolution” by Liane Gabora. (Just downloaded and started to read. Fascinating and a fascination with “omissions” from the reference list – no Dennett or Hofstadter, not even Deutsch(!) – suggests some new sources and directions.)

I’m guessing as an academic source the latter may have more “evidence” to back-up the natural analogy. Here’s hoping.

I may be some time.



(*) People who reject the “objectifying” nature of memes in a cultural context, should note that genes are often too objective in biological contexts too. Identifying and naming objects is done for linguistic purposes, and it is “scientism” to take the next mis-step of presuming the distinct physical reality of those same objects.  Genes or memes, or atoms for that matter.

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