Re: Systematics and Memetics:Towards a Memetic Species

From: William Benzon (
Date: Sun Feb 24 2002 - 21:48:33 GMT

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    Subject: Re: Systematics and Memetics:Towards a Memetic Species
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    on 2/24/02 12:57 PM, rmey4892 at wrote:


    > Here I will now propose another such "subset" to the Evolutionary Species
    > Concept: The Memetic Species.

    I think one can easily think about musical styles as cultural species.
    Thus, in Beethoven's Anvil (Basic books 2001) I say (pp. 226-227):

    In his book, The Four Ages of Music, Walter Wiora looks at music as a
    comparative anatomist looks at the fossil record. He is a comparative
    anatomist of musical style. After a career¹s worth of study he has concluded
    that, in the large, musical styles have emerged in four ages in which the
    newly emerging styles have broadly similar characteristics. Older styles,
    meanwhile, continue to be performed. The process is thus a cumulative one,
    yielding newer kinds of music without completely eliminating the older.

    It is easy enough for an anatomist of musical types to listen to live and
    recorded performances of existing music‹that¹s how Lomax did his work‹but
    only Western music has left fossils in the form of scores. We have some
    ancient musical instruments, but the instruments cannot tell us how they
    were played. We also have various written accounts of music performed in
    ancient literate cultures. Those accounts can tell us about the occasions
    for music, the number and kinds of instruments in an ensemble, the effect of
    the music on listeners, the general esteem in which music and musicians were
    held and they can give us general impressions of how it sounded; but those
    accounts cannot give us the music itself. We have even less evidence about
    the music of preliterate peoples living 5000 or more years ago.

    And yet Wiora¹s first age is that of ³prehistoric and early times² in which
    he includes ³survivals among primitive peoples and in the archaic folk music
    of high cultures.² Similarly, his second age is that of ³the music of the
    high cultures of Antiquity, from the Sumerian and Egyptian to the late
    Roman, as well as its manifold continuations and further developments in the
    high cultures of the Orient.² Wiora has no direct evidence of how those old
    musics sound, but he is willing to assume that their general characteristics
    are like those of musics existing among living peoples, as biologists are
    willing to assume that the soft tissue parts of extinct species resemble
    those of living species having similar bony parts. One may or may not be
    willing to grant Wiora this assumption, but we must recognize that it is an
    assumption‹one that is common among students of cultural history and
    evolution. Given this assumption Wiora compares the musics of his first and
    second ages with those of his third, the ³musical art of the West,² and his
    fourth age, ³the technical and industrial Age, spanning all countries of the
    world, uniting the heritage of all previous cultures in a kind of universal
    museum and carrying on its international concert life.²

     Just as a paleontologist can conduct her investigations without having to
    think about the nature of the process which produced reptiles about 300
    million years ago and mammals about 250 million years ago, so Wiora is not
    concerned about the process that led from the earlier to the later types of
    music. He simply wants to provide a proper description of the types.
    My primary purpose in discussing Wiora is, then, is to present and
    reinterpret his general account in this and the next section. Once I have
    done that, however, I will go on to sketch an account of how the later types
    evolved from the earlier. The validity of Wiora¹s work, of course, is
    independent of my theory about the process through which music has evolved.
    I can be wrong without my error propagating to Wiora¹s typology.


    William L. Benzon 708 Jersey Avenue, Apt. 2A Jersey City, NJ 07302 201 217-1010

    "you won't get a wild heroic ride to heaven on pretty little sounds"--george ives

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