Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Population Genetics Methodology and the Evolution of Spontaneous Orders -- Iliad Edition

Spontaneous orders change over time -- but slowly, and always in relation to the tradition out of which the orders in question emerged. Language is such a spontaneous order. Our languages change over time, but not radically so. They change with use. And they change and spread in a way very similar to how DNA mutations change and spread.

Thus, it should not be surprising to learn that one can use the same tools geneticists use for population genetics to determine the age of works such as The Iliad.Using this technique, it was discovered that "in 762 B.C., give or take 50 years," a date that matches much current scholarship. I can already hear the naysayers arguing that if scholarship was right, what do we need this scientific method for? Well, not every text is as well established as is The Iliad, meaning it can be used to both more accurately date a variety of texts as well as help us to learn more about the evolution of language itself.

Given the fact that this method works for both genes and language, perhaps it is not too much of a stretch to suggest that his method might also work to help us understand change in other spontaneous orders as well.