Re: [asa] Darwin only biological evolution? (can anything exist without evolution?)

From: Iain Strachan <>
Date: Wed Jan 14 2009 - 17:58:20 EST


Thanks for these thoughts.

The question to be asked in respects of the suggestion
> that Beethoven's Ninth "evolved" is "what accounts for the difference?" If
> the answer is "intelligent agency" then I think Iain can rest his case -
> Beethoven's Ninth simply DIDN'T "evolve" through the same sort of processes
> involved in biological evolution.

I'll just conclude what I think about Beethoven's Ninth and why I
chose it as a challenge for Bernie to explain how it evolved, and why
I think he has failed to do so.

Even if one allows the idea that thoughts developing are a kind of
evolution (I actually think the whole "meme" concept is pseudo-science
- and a number of other commentators think so too). But let's for a
moment allow the idea as a kind of evolution.

Now it seems clear to me that a number of components of the Ninth
symphony arose through a process analogous to evolution; yes, the
instruments evolved (and have evolved since Beethoven's time - played
on "period instruments" the Ninth sounds quite different). Also
Beethoven's musical "voice" would have evolved - even to the extent
that one might say that "natural selection" left him with the most
pleasing harmonies, chord progressions, melodic phrases etc). The
"Ode to Joy" theme could be said to have evolved from the tune in the
Choral Fantasy (though it is different), and that in turn (according
to Wikipedia) was based on a much earlier song that Beethoven wrote.

So there are all these inputs that could be said to have evolved. But
in each case the evolution is a successive modification of an earlier
version (e.g. the tune, the instrument, the set of motives that
appealed to Beethoven).

But AS AN ENTIRE ENTITY it did not evolve. There are no earlier
versions of the Ninth symphony that could be said to be its
predecessor. There are earlier versions of some of the components
that make it up. But those components still had to be put together
creatively by an intelligent agent.

And also, there are elements of it that are quite unique, and have no
precedent. The use of operatic recitative in the first entry of the
baritone soloist in a symphony was unprecedented. No one before had
used a chorus in a symphony (though Beethoven had previously used a
chorus in the fantasy for piano chorus and orchestra - and this itself
was a completely original idea, definitely no-one had ever used a
chorus in a Piano concerto). In addition, the famous frenetic final
bars of the symphony are completely unique. All of Beethoven's
previous symphonies had finished with a downwards cadence. This one
ends with a frenetic rush, ever upwards, with the final cadence moving
upwards in pitch. The reason, I suggest is not that it was an
"evolution". It was simply a creative decision to make the most
emphatic celebratory statement he could come up with (it's about joy
after all).

Anyone who wants to check out the final bars of the Ninth (if they are
not familiar with it) could check the following YouTube:

If you don't want to be bothered with all of it but just hear the end,
advance to around 4:10 in the recording.

Interestingly, in this performance from 1989, the conductor, Leonard
Bernstein attempted a little "evolution" himself, by changing
Schiller's text, replacing the word "Freude" (Joy) with "Freiheit"
(Freedom), in recognition of the fact that the concert was to
celebrate the Berlin wall coming down. This was a mutation that
didn't replicate itself, because (a) it was a one-off gesture, and (b)
 It doesn't work too well - it is much more natural to sing "Freude
schoene Gotterfunken" than "Freiheit schoene Gotterfunken".

However, the performance is fantastic - the massive scales on the
violins at around 4:10 sound like peals of bells.


On Tue, Jan 13, 2009 at 8:09 PM, Murray Hogg <> wrote:
> Thanks for this David,
> I've been reflecting upon how to make the point that largely what we have
> here is a matter of semantics - with Bernie's use of "evolution" and "memes"
> not according with general historical usage. Thankfully your timely post has
> saved me the trouble!
> Two further points, however;
> First, the semantics are a matter of importance. As Greg Arago has
> repeatedly pointed out (and quite rightly so, in my view); there are major
> sociological issues as stake here when we allow such blatant equivocation of
> a term of such cultural significance as "evolution." It's frankly critical
> that we be very clear that ideas do NOT evolve in the same way as bacteria.
> When we fail to do so, the only criterion by which we can measure thoughts
> is their survival value. Failing such a distinction, we have no way to
> discern between "good" and "bad" ideas in the world of thought, anymore than
> we can speak of "good" or "bad" species in the world of animals.
> Second, on the question of whether Beethoven's work can be said to be
> "evolutionary" the important question to my mind is NOT how it resembles
> previous work, but how it varies from same. What's powerful about
> evolutionary theory in the life sciences is that it accounts for CHANGE as
> well as similarity. The question to be asked in respects of the suggestion
> that Beethoven's Ninth "evolved" is "what accounts for the difference?" If
> the answer is "intelligent agency" then I think Iain can rest his case -
> Beethoven's Ninth simply DIDN'T "evolve" through the same sort of processes
> involved in biological evolution.
> Incidentally, I find the historical inversion curious: Darwin tried to
> explain biological evolution by saying it is "a bit like" selective breeding
> with the major point of difference being that in the one case selection was
> without purpose whilst in the other human agency was obviously involved. His
> argument, in other words, was basically "biological evolution = selective
> breeding - intelligent agency." Now, it seems the reasoning is "selective
> breeding = biological evolution" therefore "intelligent agency = 0".
> Blessings,
> Murray
> David Opderbeck wrote:
>> Bernie, I think you're right about this: if "evolution" means simply
>> "change over time," and "meme" means simply "thought," then yes, everything
>> (except God perhaps) evolves, and all cultural artifacts are memes. But if
>> "evolution" and "meme" are defined so broadly, they cease to be meaningful
>> terms. I could just as well say, "you drove a ham sandwich to work today."
>> You can't dispute that proposition if I happen to define "ham sandwich" to
>> mean what you think "automobile" means -- but that signifies nothing.
>> I understand "evolution" to imply, at least, gradual change over time
>> without the influence of any apparent sentient agency, i.e., by a stochastic
>> process. That would exclude any human cultural product, with the possible
>> exception of things like the stock market that can be analyzed as emergent
>> forms of stochastic self-organization, from the definition of evolution.
>> I understand "meme" to imply, at least, a discrete unit of culture that
>> has its own existence and that acts like a gene. Under this definition,
>> most thoughts are not memes.
>> I think my usage is reasonably consistent with how these terms
>> historically have been used.
>> David W. Opderbeck
>> Associate Professor of Law
>> Seton Hall University Law School
>> Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology
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Received on Wed Jan 14 17:58:26 2009

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