Amateur Status

January 13, 2010 | Leave a Comment

Category: Biology, Society, Web

I’m in the process of refining a nearly 100-page introduction to what I’m now calling “The Orchestral Theory of Evolution” or maybe “Neoteny, Evolution and Autism”. I haven’t decided yet.  The 13-page introduction to “The Theory of Waves,” posted last February, has been made less condensed and more accessible, with societal applications included.  The name has been changed with the integration of estrogen as the hypothesized agent controlling the timing of maturation.  I see estrogen as the conductor of the symphony of evolution.

Whereas most not-particularly-grounded amateur theorists with big ideas usually find themselves thinking of Einstein, I wonder about Darwin.  A couple things come to mind right now.

I often write about the nature of the Internet and its future.  It’s not just my profession, but it feels to me to be a particularly evocative part of the contemporary manifestations of neoteny-driven social structure transformations.  A half dozen blogs pick up my pieces regarding the Internet, some with respectable circulations, such as Counterpunch, The Public Record, BuzzFlash and The People’s Voice.  In the world I see forming, the amateur is gaining influence insofar as a person with few or no credentials now has an ability to acquire a relatively large audience.  New communications technologies are integrating with our primate compulsions to socialize to form massive hub-and-spoke relationship structures built on a horizontal rather than a pyramid premise.  With a bachelor’s degree, emphasis in art, I get to discuss biological and social evolution with a bunch of folks.

Weird effects emerge.  About four months ago, a blog picked up a piece I had written on the Internet, social evolution and the future.  About 30 Twitterers that specialized in social media picked it up, many with over 5,000 followers.  Over the course of maybe 24 hours, close to 100,000 Twitterers were transmitted a link to my piece.  Twitter has a low read rate for transmissions, so fewer than 1,000 people of the 100,000 read the essay.  I received three emails asking questions.  This blog receives a comment or email for about every 300 views.

What I’m trying to get a feel for is how exactly are new ideas on evolution emerging and being distributed outside the conventional context of publishing in a peer-reviewed journal?  Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and blogs seem integral to this new world.  Stumbleupon, Digg and other vehicles seem to be having an effect.  Right now I am observing mostly the distribution of various aesthetics, such as music, across the Internet landscape.  I am curious how unique theory, the realm of academia, might proliferate in a nonacademic context.

It’s relatively easy for me to write and distribute a piece about the Internet on the Internet.  It’s more a challenge when it comes to evolutionary theory.  The Internet and evolutionary theory are the same to me.  Communicating the experience of it being the same is a challenge.

Back to Darwin.  One of the strangely similar things between many theorists writing in the early to mid-1800s and bloggers keyboarding today is that they were/are both amateurs.  Those earlier amateurs were almost always wealthy and were accorded excellent educations.  Their elevated station, their higher position on the social hierarchy, made it possible to influence the status quo.  Amateurs today are instead sharing ideas in an environment where hierarchies are coming down, enhancing the ability for former outsiders to have access to communities of other former outsiders.  The status quo is becoming less controlled by those with wealth and the conventional credentials.

What we are observing now is the beginning of a process of credential or barrier destruction.  Not surprisingly, it seems to be driven by the young, those with the least invested in traditional enclaves of influence and control.  Young people are creating and distributing their own aesthetics in the form of music, an area formerly controlled by corporations.  They are creating and distributing their own opinions on current events, an area formerly controlled by mainstream media.  Young people are populating one another’s world with image, video and written content; they are not satisfied with being consumers of corporate content anymore.

How exactly this will impact academia is not clear to me.  I find myself in an amateur’s position, in a small way like Darwin 170 years ago, except Darwin was at the top of a hierarchy where amateurs were respected, whereas I am watching hierarchies fall, and perhaps the last to fall will be academia.

Ironically, academia has been instrumental to the present seismic changes.  Lawrence Lessig and his colleagues have encouraged the destruction of the segregation of information with the Creative Commons movement, which encourages individuals to give up the traditional covetous attitude toward what they have created.  Where it was the working class that drove the 1930s changes, the middle class the 1960s, it seems to be a combination of youth and savvy academics that are propelling changes currently underway.  Nevertheless, not surprisingly, academia itself is proving difficult to introduce to a noncredentialed status quo.

Darwin felt loath to experience the ramifications of an introduction of his theory of natural selection to a society perhaps too willing to embrace it.  Only Wallace’s letter managed to push Darwin to publish.  Even then, Darwin put off for another 13 years publishing his theories regarding how specifically humans evolved.  Darwin was a man who was confident his ideas would be accorded both respect and controversy.

My theory of biological and social evolution emerges in an environment where again the amateur is respected, though strategies for being accorded respect are far less clear.  Darwin was a scientist who was wealthy, brilliant, creative and articulate.  I’m an artist with an active unconscious.  I ask myself if there is anything in Darwin’s amateur status that I could learn from as I seek an audience with my peers.


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