Re: Systematics and Memetics:Towards a Memetic Species

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Mon Feb 25 2002 - 00:17:47 GMT

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    Subject: Re: Systematics and Memetics:Towards a Memetic Species
    Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 19:17:47 -0500
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    >From: William Benzon <>
    >To: <>
    >Subject: Re: Systematics and Memetics:Towards a Memetic Species
    >Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 16:48:33 -0500
    >on 2/24/02 12:57 PM, rmey4892 at wrote:
    > >
    > > Here I will now propose another such "subset" to the Evolutionary
    > > 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
    >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
    >the music on listeners, the general esteem in which music and musicians
    >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
    >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
    >high cultures of the Orient.² Wiora has no direct evidence of how those
    >musics sound, but he is willing to assume that their general
    >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
    >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
    >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
    >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.
    Doing my Wilson (Tim Taylor's neighbor on _Home Improvement_) impression
    here I'll quote Jung (from _Man and His Symbols_, 1964, Dell Publishing, New
    York, paperback p 57) aptly:

    (bq) "Just as the biologist needs the science of comparative anatomy,
    however, the psychologist cannot do without a "comparative anatomy of the
    psyche."" (eq)

    His archetypes as components of the Haeckelian phylogenetic unconscious
    harken back to those of the morphological idealists and may be a sort of
    homologous trace deriving from common ancestry, though not very
    sophisticated theoretically by modern standards and downright spurious if
    one follows the story of the solar phallus man.

    As people like Haeckel and Jung have let us see by example it is quite easy
    to take a notion too far. I'm a little sketchy on the notion of memetic
    species. Could be yet another hyperdriven tangent.

    Systematic comparison of cultural stuff OTOH sounds like it could be
    fruitful, in the spirit of comparative anatomy. The spirit I recall from
    comparative anatomy was the heavy smell of phenol (yuck). Can one piclle a
    memeplex in formalin and stick it in a jar of alcohol for later study?

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