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Darwin-L Message Log 1:215 (September 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<1:215>From WILLS@macc.wisc.edu  Sun Sep 26 21:29:29 1993

Date: Sun, 26 Sep 93 21:31 CDT
From: Jeffrey Wills <WILLS@macc.wisc.edu>
Subject: Re: DARWIN-L digest 23
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

Let me second Peter Junger's motion that we connect cultural evolution to
specific items or features or objects.
	For me the usefulness of the parallel with biological evolution
increases when there is a coded structure which we can parallel with genetic
material.  For example, in the history of a text through different manuscripts,
I would liken the sequence of characters to a genetic code, which undergoes
various mutations. In the case of manuscripts I would even venture to suggest
that each "generation" of the text is the result of "intercourse" between a
code of human language and the text (a sort of hybridization). I say this
because I am interested in finding a formalism for the multiple ancestry of a
given manuscript. To say, as we usually do, that 25 manuscripts all come from a
common ancestor omega may be true, but it does little to explain why/how there
are differences (mutations). In any case, it is clear that the generations of a
manuscript (a cultural object) are completely independent of human generations.
	Another example: in the case of language change, I think we need some
formalization of features or a way of expressing formally the system if we are
to take full advantage of the biological parallels ("metaphors?") in the
historical sciences. Language, of course, changes frequently within anyone's
lifetime--it is not genetic transmission which is needed as a precondition. In
fact the most intractable problem of language change (and perhaps all cultural
change) is that the changes are so frequent (faster than a fruitfly) and our
tracking of them is so infrequent and approximate that we lack the precision we
need.
	Jeffrey Wills, wills@macc.wisc.edu

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