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Darwin-L Message Log 2:96 (October 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.


<2:96>From SMITGM@hawkins.clark.edu  Mon Oct 18 20:07:41 1993

To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
From: "Gerard Donnelly Smith"  <SMITGM@hawkins.clark.edu>
Organization: Clark College, Vancouver WA, USA
Date: 18 Oct 93 18:03:25 PST8PDT
Subject: textual polymorphism

An obnoxious myth that was only dismissed several years ago involved
Galileo's discovery that the Earth revolved around the Sun.  After
600 years, as you recall, the Catholic Church finally admitted he was
correct and posthumously allowed him to be a Catholic again. Talk
about over-representation of an error in later texts. It would be a
curious study to see how long the Church's sanctioned science texts
retained the error.

Another study which might bear fruit would be an analysis of the
changing rhetoric of creationism as it confronts more and
more irrefutable evidence. Of course faith can move mountains, and
even cause spatial and temporal distortions.

I must say that any study of, or creation of, a theory of textual
polymorphism (I'd like to move the discussion beyond manuscripts),
should include ideology and its role in both substantive and
non-substantive emendations in the text.  Scientific texts, history
texts, religious texts (obviously) arise from and conform to the
ideologies surrounding them.  While I am not sure which part of the
genetic process to compare ideologies with, I would imagine the DNA
represents the cultural code of which I speak.  Errors or changes in
locus, though a minor adjustment to the overall paradigm, are
interesting phenomenon; however, those major adjustments in the
"logos" of the text are more analogous to evolutionary changes or
mutations we might see over several generations of a species being
genetically manipulated.

Discussing manuscript errors, though an interesting analogy, can not
move beyond analogy and into possible application.  Unless I am
missing something, errors in transcription or even changes in single
words or rhymes usually do not change the meaning of texts all that
much.  However, errors which occur in translating one language to the
next can create quite significant errors.  When these errors are
purposeful, as in censorship or disinformation, they represent a
genetic attempt by the cultural DNA to adjust to environmental
imperatives and contraints.

So, the cultural/ideological DNA of the Catholic Church ensured
through the process called inquisitional censorship that the peasants
of the 12th and 13th centuries did not experience the evolutionary
shift in the paradigm until centuries after the discovery.  We might
call these peasants and priests, cultural or ideological Neanderthal's
who could not, or were not allowed to adapt to change, ergo
extinction.

How might we apply this to current models of cultrual/ideological
transmission?  How might "survival of the fitest" be used to discuss
cultrual transmission through texts?  What scientific myths refuse to
die, because there are just enough chromosomes encoded with that
informations still out there in our mental soup?

I see I've rambled too long.

Dr. Gerard Donnelly-Smith    e-mail: smitgm@hawkins.clark.edu
English Department       phone:  206-699-0478
Clark College
Vancouver, WA  98663

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