Paul Ehrlich and Carl Zimmer discuss Cultural Evolution on Bloggingheads.tv

I have brought up Paul Ehrlich a lot lately. And this morning Razib emailed me a link to an interview of Ehrlich by Carl Zimmer on Bloggingheads.tv, so I felt compelled to share the interview with you.

In the discussion, Zimmer and Ehrlich discuss Ehrlich’s new book, “The Dominant Animal, the ‘overrated idea of a meme,’ why the study of cultural evolution needs its own theoretical framework aside from evolutionary biology.

I’m particularly interested in the last topic, which comes in at the 20 minute mark, since Ehrlich coauthors links to natural selection in his latest PNAS paper but advocates that social scientists need to step up to the plate and explain why cultures have evolved. The most noteworthy remark Ehrlich makes on this topic is,

“The ball is really in the court of social scientists today. They’ve got to get reorganized and particularly get rid of their preposterous disciplinary boundaries. How can you possibly be a political scientists without knowing economics and sociology and vice versa.”

The two also talk about other selected topics on population growth and the nuances that come with it.

2 thoughts on “Paul Ehrlich and Carl Zimmer discuss Cultural Evolution on Bloggingheads.tv

  1. It’s disturbing to see someone of Erlich’s stature and reputation thinking in such a simplistic manner about so many complex and difficult issues. The very idea that one could draw general conclusions about universals of cultural evolution from a single study of Polynesian boat design is in itself extraordinarily naive and dangerous.

    Cultural change can only be studied through the comprehensive comparative study of a great many cultural practices among a great many different cultures, just as Darwin studied a wide variety of different fossils and organisms from many different parts of the world. The old “lightbulb over the head” method, wherein some “brilliant” scientist comes up with a “brilliant” idea out of the blue is a myth. There have been more than enough books of that sort written by more than enough “geniuses,” each with a different bright idea that he (rarely she) has fallen in love with but can’t really take anywhere or do anything meaningful with.

    Especially disturbing is Erlich’s naive take on the already naive — and extremely dangerous — notion of “global warming.” Gee, if global warming continues on track, then in 100 years, certain stretches of the Earth could be completely below sea level. I have news for you, folks: Holland is already below sea level and has been for a very long time. If the Dutch managed to deal with it, then so can we.

    The potentially deleterious effects of global warming are nothing compared to the disastrous effects of even a single miscalculation on the part of “social engineers” seeking to reverse it. The rush to the development of biofuels is a perfect example of what can go wrong. Erlich is aware of that problem but the obvious lesson hasn’t yet sunk in.

    Global warming may or may not be due to shortsighted human activity but the potentially far more disastrous effects of boneheaded and naive attempts to stave it off most certainly will.

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