Hermeneutics of Evolution: metaphor not truth

This is from Jaron Lanier’s One Half of a Manifesto (which I discovered via Dale Carrico’s Amor Mundi) written about ten years ago. It’s an excellent piece of technoskepticism which encourages us to consider technology (specifically, the writing of software) as it is, rather than lazily to give in to considering analogies with biology as representative of some putative, deeper “truth”. If read more widely, it would be an excellent antidote to the more hysterical fantasies of abstract intelligencers, singularitarians, techno-hucksters, and all those others Carrico refers to as “robo-cultists”.

Darwin created a style of reduction that was based on emergent principles instead of underlying laws (though some recent speculative physics theories can have a Darwinian flavor). There isn’t any evolutionary “force” analogous to, say, electromagnetism. Evolution is a principle that can be discerned as emerging in events, but it cannot be described precisely as a force that directs events. This is a subtle distinction. The story of each photon is the same, in a way that the story of each animal and plant is different. (Of course there are wonderful examples of precise, quantitative statements in Darwinian theory and corresponding experiments, but these don’t take place at anywhere close to the level of human experience, which is whole organisms that have complex behaviors in environments.) “Story” is the operative word. Evolutionary thought has almost always been applied to specific situations through stories.

This piece deserves to be read in its entirety, not least for shards of rhetoric such as ‘Is a person a gene’s way of propagating itself? It would be just as reasonable to assert that “A person is shit’s way of making more shit.”‘ To the point!

See also:

The God of the Digerati

The Californian Ideology


3 thoughts on “Hermeneutics of Evolution: metaphor not truth

  1. I haven’t gotten around to it yet! Although, Dale Carrico of Amor Mundi (amormundi.blogspot.com) tweeted two other texts along with the above which he uses as course texts in his classes at Berkeley. I will append them as “see also”s. Haven’t forgotten the idea of doing a post with you either by the way. Just waiting for writing time and space to think!

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