From Darwin to Derrida: evolution as interpretation

Genes are the text, evolution is the reader

The standard view of evolution is that it’s a process guided by randomness, and hence its results, as amazing as they are, are meaningless. But if we think of our genes as a kind of text, then we can understand evolution as a process of interpretation, and reinterpretation. And interpretation implies meaning. Organisms and their development are guided not by chance, nor by a deterministic genetic code, but by the trickling down of experiences and memories and goals. This view allows us not only to find meaning in an otherwise meaningless universe but opens up the space for freedom and moral responsibility as the interpretation of the genetic text we’ve been given, argues David Haig.


One of the first commandments of my scientific education was ‘thou shalt not use teleological language.’ This was closely related to a second commandment ‘thou shalt not commit anthropomorphism’. It was permissible to compare

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Dave Zimny 21 January 2023

Interesting application of Derrida's theories to evolution, but still logically deficient. First, evolution involves actual changes in a population's distribution of genes. Interpretation is applied to each text individually -- as a matter of fact, the uniqueness of each text is one of the tenets of Derrida's approach. Evolution would then be equivalent to simultaneous interpretation of many different individual texts fall at once, a task that Derrida would consider impossible. Second, since evolution involves actual change in a population's distribution of genes, genetic "interpretation" would have to be applied to a changing series of texts -- analogous to interpreting a written work some of whose words keep changing between readings. There's nothing wrong with applying a theory in one type of discourse to another type, but just like random mutations in a genome, most of these cross-cultural efforts will be on balance harmful to the organism and will soon disappear from the population. I'm afraid this effort is one of them. The more we try to find some sense or utility in Derrida's work, the more his career looks like a massive con job.