In this wide-ranging talk, controversial professor Bret Weinstein covers several topics: politics, technology, and tribalism, just to name a few. But ultimately the former Biology professor at Evergreen College talks with us about why this particular decade is so interesting. Given the explosive growth of the 20th century, he argues that we’ve come to the end of that particular boom and have just started searching frantically to keep the pace that we’ve come to expect. When that change doesn’t come, Weinstein posits that we search for scapegoats, turn inwards, and start to attack ourselves. And that’s paraphrasing just some of the half-hour talk we have for you.
Transcript: We’re heading into a very dangerous phase of history; human beings being addicted to growth are constantly looking for sources, so when we feel austerity coming on we tend to become more tribal.
Unfortunately a perfectly free market will not allow benevolent firms to survive in the long run.
My argument is not an argument for centrism. I regard utopianism as probably the worst idea that human beings have ever had.
We find ourselves unfortunately stuck in an archaic argument about policy; frankly the left and right are both out of answers and they should team up on the basis that they agree at a values level about what a functional society should ideally look like.
Human beings, like all creatures, are the product of adaptive evolution, but they are highly unusual amongst evolved creatures. In order to understand them it is very important to recognize certain things that make us different from even the most similar creatures, like chimpanzees. The most important difference is something I call the omega principal. The omega principal specifies the relationship between human culture and the human genome.
The most important thing to realize about human beings is that a tremendous amount of what we are is not housed in our genomes; it’s housed in a cultural layer that is passed on outside of genes.
Culture is vastly more flexible, more plastic, and more quickly evolving in an adaptive sense than genes, which is why in fact cultural evolution came about in human beings.
It allows human beings to switch what they are doing and how they are doing it much more quickly than they could if all information that was adapting was stored in DNA.
One of the very important benefits of understanding this relationship between the genome and the cultural attributes of human beings is that it frees us to engage in an analysis of the evolutionary meaning of behaviors without having to know where exactly the information is stored.
This is especially important with complex phenomenon, which may be partially housed in the genome and partially housed in the cultural layer—something like human language, for example.
Human language as a capacity is obviously genetically encoded, but individual human languages are not.
And so if we are to talk about the adaptive utility of human language, being obligated to specify what is housed where could put off that discussion for generations, whereas if we recognize that the cultural aspects of language—as well as the genomic aspects of language—are all serving a united interest then we can begin to understand the meaning of something like language in rigorous, adaptive terms.
The hypothesis of cultural evolution, which has now has been sufficiently tested to be regarded as a theory—of human cultural evolution, is the invention of Richard Dawkins, who in 1976 in The Selfish Gene coined the term ‘meme’ as an analog for gene; it’s a unit of cultural evolution.
The genome creates a brain that is capable of being infused with culture after an individual person is born.
If culture was evolving to do things that were not in the genome’s interest they would effectively be wasting the time and resources that the genetic individual has access to on frivolous things at best. So the genome would shut down frivolous culture were it a very common commodity. So the theory of memes tells us that there is a process, very much like the one that shapes our genomes, at work in the cultural layer.
That does not mean, however, that the cultural evolving layer is free of obligation to the genome. In fact, the cultural layer is downstream, and one of the things that we have repeatedly gotten wrong is we have attempted to just simply extend the rules of adaptive evolution as we have learned them from other creatures and apply them to human beings, and it leads to some unfortunate misunderstandings.