Re: evolution

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Tue 10 Dec 2002 - 01:56:13 GMT

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    >>>On Monday, December 9, 2002, at 12:04 PM, Grant Callaghan wrote:
    >>>>I think we have to define memetic evolution as Lamarkian for two
    >>>>reasons: 1) the "seed" of an idea is broadcast to everyone withing
    >>>>seeing or hearing distance rather than selectively passed to just one
    >>>>individual, which these days means everyone watching TV, going to
    >>>>school, reading the same book or reading this list, etc., etc. and 2)
    >>>>the meme which is picked up by various members of the public does not
    >>>>produce a faithful reproduction of the meme that was spread in the
    >>>>broadcast. There is too much variation for it to be a Darwinian type
    >>>>reproduction and evolution.
    >>>Each performance is goal-oriented (aka lamarckian) (the performance
    >>>itself, as far as the performer is concerned, is only a goal, but the
    >>>performance itself is only half of the equation of culture), yes, but,
    >>>each replication may only have the goal of replication itself, so, while
    >>>lamarckianism might be a fair analyzation of some individuals' memetic
    >>>processes, I don't think cultural evolution itself demands lamarckian
    >>>mechanisms, at all.
    >>>And, evolutionary mechanisms are not presumed to be individual's
    >>>mechanisms, are they, regardless of the agency within evolution of
    >>>- Wade
    >>If Mr. Darwin were still around, I'd ask him. But then I can't ask Lamark
    >>for the same reason.
    >Well if he's not too busy with thesis work, I'm sure Mr. Wilkins will be
    >chiming in on you mates as this this happens to be his area of expertise.

    Another distinction of memetic distribution that differs markedly from genetic is the fact that almost everyone who is exposed to a meme becomes a carrier. When you sit around the lunch table the next day, nearly everyone is aware of what has been talked about on the news or was in the evening paper. Even on this list, most of us are aware of what the others are talking about despite the fact that we live as much as half-a-world apart. There isno way genes could be broadcast and picked up by other members of a species this way.

    Another feature of the meme is that it is spread across cultures whereas genes are restricted to specific species for the most part. The defining characteristic of a species is that they cannot mate with another species. Language and culture do restrict the passing of memes but don't even begin to prevent them, although they did at one time when tribes were small and widely separated. Species that look identical are considered separate if they can't impregnate each other. Memes, on the other hand can be passed from one species to another in a restricted sense. Gorillas did learn sign language, after all and used it to pass information back to their human handlers. Altough I don't believe they passed it to other members of the same ape species.

    On the other hand, humans learn from observing other species all the time. Chinese developed martial arts based on animal movements. We know more about the lives of animals like wolves and apes than we know about our next door neighbors if we're in the business of animal observation. We know how lions live, mate and coordinate a hunt. We know how wolves mark their territory. We know that an ant colony is smarter than any individual ant.

    And all of this knowledge is common to our culture and available to anyone who wants to pursue it. What's more this knowledge has had a strong effect on the shape of our culture and whole areas of memetic knowledge are devoted to it. Just because we don't peck the tops off milk bottles to drink the milk doesn't mean we didn't pick up the meme when the finch (or whatever) did it. And we have passed that information to millions (if not billions) of other humans.

    So when you look at it, there is no way we can defensibly call the spread of memes a Darwinian process. I don't even think we can call it Lamarkian, now that I think about it. I doubt that either of them envisioned anything like what is going in here.


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