Re: Memes and population size was: Memetic trapping and wars.

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Mon 07 Jul 2003 - 22:00:52 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re: Memetic trapping and wars."

    >From: Keith Henson <>
    >Subject: Memes and population size was: Memetic trapping and wars.
    >Date: Sun, 06 Jul 2003 18:36:12 -0400
    >"It was around this time that, as the economist Michael Kremer has noted,
    >Mother Nature happened to conduct an experiment that underscored the value
    >large social brains. Melting polar ice caps severed Tasmania from Australia
    >and the
    >New World from the Old World. Thereafter, just as you would expect, the
    >the landmass and hence the population, the faster subsistence technology
    >progressed. The people of the vast Old World invented farming before the
    >of the smaller (and, at first, thinly populated) New World. And the
    >Aborigines of
    >yet smaller Australia never farmed. As for tiny Tasmania, modern explorers,
    >contacting the Tasmanians, found them lacking such Australian essentials as
    >bone needles and boomerangs."
    >"In almost every way, the initial lives of the Tasmanians were identical
    >technologically to the Australians. But as the isolation continued, the
    >4,000 Tasmanians began to lose their technology. By 4,000 years ago, they
    >were not making very many bone tools. Instead of the original 1 bone/3
    >stone tools ratio, only 1 bone tool for every fifteen stone tools is found
    >in deposits of that time period. By 3,500 years ago, Tasmanians were no
    >longer making bone tools. (Flood, p. 177) The loss of bone tool technology
    >had implications. No longer were they able to use bone tools to sew their
    >clothing. The Tasmanians simply draped the animal skin over themselves and
    >tied it onto them with animal skin. Considering the cold climate of
    >Tasmania, this was rather poor clothing. Stone tools were not attached to
    >handles as was done on Australia, but the Tasmanians held each rock and
    >used it to cut the trees. This is absolutely the most primitive form of
    >stone tool use and is less efficient than would be the case if the tool was
    >hafted. (Hafting is the process of attaching a handle to the tool) Imagine
    >if you can, chopping down a tree by holding a sharp rock in your hand. By
    >3800 years ago, the Tasmanians had given up fishing. In spite of having a
    >tremendous food source all around them, they no longer ate fish. This means
    >they had given up or lost the technologies for nets, and traps. The
    >Tasmanians had become seal hunters. All they needed for seal hunting was a
    >big club to slaughter the young. During later times, the only fishing which
    >took place was the collection of shellfish. The women would cover
    >themselves with seal fat and dive for shellfish. (p. 181) Boomerangs,
    >barbed points, and ground axe heads were not found among the Tasmanians.
    >All of this technology, possessed by their Australian ancestors, was lost.
    >It is an interesting point that a particular set of technology memes may
    >(very likely does) require a population larger than some critical number.
    And in smaller populations genetic drift becomes important. Due to sampling errors allelic frequencies may fluctuate wildly and either go to fixation or loss from a population, regardless of selection value. There could be instances, like with Tasmanians, of a cultural drift, where important technologies that aid survival of individuals of a population are lost from cultural memory (ie- forgotten). It would have been advantageous for individuals to have some memory of these practices, but if nobody that can pass the technologies to future population members survives, then these traditions vanish.

    This cultural drift or loss of a tradition from cultural memory may stand, if true, as an argument against Sheldrake's theory of morphic resonance, if I can be forgiven for pointing this out. Using the 100th monkey argument as an adjunct to Sheldrake's hypothesis, one would think that the presence of these technologies in the past of the Tasmanians, plus the presence on the Australian mainland would influence the Tasmanian cultural memory in such a way as to faciltate the continued survival of these important technologies.

    Thus, cultural drift stands as an argument both against paanadaptionist arguments that important technlologies should remain in practice because of either their adaptive signficance to a human population or due their own ideational puppetmastery selfishness (selfish genes should likewise remain yet could theoretically drift to extinction) and against the notion of morphic resonance.

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