Re: Sue Blackmore lecture Wednesday 5.15pm London

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Tue 18 Feb 2003 - 00:23:14 GMT

  • Next message: "Re: Sue Blackmore lecture Wednesday 5.15pm London"

    At 06:23 PM 16/02/03 -0500, you wrote:
    >on 2/16/03 5:52 PM, Grant Callaghan at wrote:
    > >
    > > Bill Benzon
    > > --
    > > I think you got it backwards. I was saying that cognitive science has
    > a lot
    > > to offer memetics, not the other way around. I get the idea you wish the
    > > whole concept of memetics would just disappear, but I think there is
    > > something there that is not being discussed in the literature of cognitive
    > > science and that is how ideas become culture.

    Perhaps because it is just too obvious. If you define culture as the sum of all memes in a human population, then the procedure to that makes a meme into a member of the culture pool is simple addition. We can see in the archeological record the spread of such meme driven behavior as pottery styles and before that drilled sea shells showing up hundreds of miles from their origin.

    >Right, the cognitive sciences don't have a clue about that. Neither does
    >memetics. Memetics has identified a problem, but has little useful to say
    >about how to solve the problem.

    Sorry, I certainly agree that memetics has identified a number of interesting problems, some of which I think evolutionary psychology helps understand, but I don't see what problem you are talking about here.

    Memetics is really *very* simple. People have evolved to be good at learning. Memes (replicated information) are a large part of what they learn, clear back to the old stone age. Humans can't learn and pass on every meme that comes along so memes are in competition for the limited resource of human brains and time, thus setting up the conditions for Darwinian differential selection.

    Particular memes become more or less common over time because some are better at getting into new human minds. (Most memes are helpful--ultimately to the genes of their host--but a few are pathological, damaging or killing their hosts.) Memes vary (mutate, copy errors) and because of variation and selection ones better suited to get into human minds and be passed on further become more common and memes less good at being passed on become less common over time.

    The environment for memes both physical and memetic is in a flux, especially in the last few hundred years. So what was a meme of considerable power to get itself replicated 100 years ago may be nearly extinct today (example phrenology).

    The overall system of humans (constructed by their genes) and memes (sum of memes = culture) has co-evolved. This introduces complications, but certainly not beyond that often seen in biologically co-evolved systems.


    Keith Henson

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