Re: Systematics and Memetics:Towards a Memetic Species

From: John Wilkins (
Date: Sun Feb 24 2002 - 23:53:19 GMT

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    Subject: Re: Systematics and Memetics:Towards a Memetic Species
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    On Monday, February 25, 2002, at 04:57 AM, rmey4892 wrote:

    > I am an undergraduate, Marine Biology major from the University of Rhode
    > Island who has recently come across the theory (or theories) of memetics
    > while
    > learning the basics of Neo-Darwinian theory. My readings of Richard
    > Dawkins
    > "Selfish Gene" as well as Daniel Dennetts "Darwins Dangerous Idea"
    > occurred
    > simultaneously with my course in Systematics, and has led me to again
    > pose the
    > question that Darwin seems to have never answered: What is a species?
    Thanks for this, but you have overlooked some recent work onb the subject.
      The issue of species seems to be undergoing a revival lately. Here are
    the most recent books:

    Claridge, M. F., H. A. Dawah, et al. (1997). Species: the units of
    biodiversity. London; New York, Chapman & Hall.
    Ereshefsky, M. (2000). The poverty of Linnaean hierarchy: a philosophical
    study of biological taxonomy. Cambridge, U.K.; New York, Cambridge
    University Press,.
    Ghiselin, M. T. (1997). Metaphysics and the origin of species. Albany,
    State University of New York Press.
    Hey, J. (2001). Genes, concepts and species: the evolutionary and
    cognitive causes of the species problem. New York, Oxford University Press.
    Howard, D. J. and S. H. Berlocher (1998). Endless forms: species and
    speciation. New York, Oxford University Press.
    Paterson, H. E. H. (1993). Evolution and the recognition concept of
    species: collected writings. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press.
    Wheeler, Q. D. and R. Meier, Eds. (2000). Species concepts and
    phylogenetic theory: a debate. New York, Columbia University Press.
    Wilson, M. R., H. A. Dawah, et al. (1997). Species: the units of
    biodiversity. London; New York, Chapman & Hall.
    Wilson, R. A. (1999). Species: new interdisciplinary essays. Cambridge,
    Mass., MIT Press.

    (and that's just the books! There are hundreds of papers around)

    The major competitor concepts to the BSC are the Evolutionary Species
    Concept, three kinds of Phylogenetic Species Concepts - the Monophyletic,
    the Hennigian and the Autapomorphic, and the Genealogical Concepts. There
    are, in Mayden's recent overview in the Claridge et al volume, 25
    different concepts, and since then at least four new ones have come to
    light. I'm proposing Yet Another Concept in my thesis, which I call the
    Synapomorphic Species Concept, although it is really a pluralistic
    grouping of concepts.

    Now I got into this topic because I wanted to figure out what the memetic
    equivalents are to species. My best answer is that they are traditions -
    relatively isolated groups of concepts that are passed on as a type (where
    a type is a modal distribution - what Eigen calls a "quasispecies"). Some
    of them are "reproductively isolated", but, like many biological species,
    some are distinguishable on other grounds. Also, like biological species
    (not biospecies sensu BSC), there is a considerable amount of lateral, or
    horizontal, transfer between traditions.

    Examples of traditions in this sense - a research programme in science, a
    language, a political movement, an artistic style, a fashion scene, and so
    forth. They are defined by being, for whatever reason, cohesive over time.

    Finally, a comment that is a bit revolutionary - species is, in the
    linnaean system, an absolute rank, which means that all and every species
    is commensurate in that convention. But on the account I am taking,
    species is *not* commensurate across all kinds of living things - a
    bacterial species, a fungal species, and an amniote species can all be
    different kinds of things. Likewise in culture - there is no requirement
    for all traditions to have the same generality or to be commensurate with
    traditions of other varieties. There are just taxa...

    John S Wilkins
    PhD Student - jointly between
    History and Philosophy of Science, and Botany
    University of Melbourne
    Topic: Species concepts

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