Kate's book/ "recessive memes"

From: Scott Chase (osteopilus@yahoo.com)
Date: Thu 24 Mar 2005 - 03:09:51 GMT

  • Next message: Scott Chase: "Kate's book/ memetic recombination"


    I just received your book and I'm finding it really interesting so far (I'm only around 45 pages into the paperback). You've gotten me really thinking about representations in novel ways. Sperber talked of them in his book, but I'd been posting here about Durkheim's "collective representations" long before reading Sperber, so I'm really hoping you set my individual representations about representations straight during the course of your book.

    Anyway I haven't had any serious eye roll moments yet. So far you haven't engaged in the obligatory chapter on Lamarck and how memetics is fundamentally Darwinian by contrast (is Dr. Wilkins in the house?)

    The part where you present evolution as replication, variation and selection made me cringe a little. I'm not much of a fan of selectionism and if you're really going to unpack memetics as an evolutionary account of culture you need to entertain the possibility of something analogous to Kimura's neutral theory and also to genetic drift, cases in evolutionary biology that call an excessive reliance on selection as an explanation into question.

    I'm at the point in your book where you look at the
    "flat earth" meme as a possible case analagous to recessive alleles in biology. Was this a passing thought or were you really serious about this one? I'm really nervous about going too far with meme-gene analogies and I'm wondering if this is a case of that kind of excess. If you were serious could you expand upon the notion of recessive memetic alleles?

    You do realize that with genes there's vertical transmission where we can assess the situation via the use of Punnett squares or branching diagrams. Taken too far we might say that parents could be homozygous or heterozygous for round versus flat earth memetic alleles. If both parents are heterozygous (ie Ff) is there a 25% chance that offspring will be homozygous
    (ie- ff) for the flat earth allele and express the flat eartn belief in their phenotype?

    But you do imply on p. 45 (pbk) that the problems of horizontal or oblique transmission would apply to memes, but I'm still not sure what you mean by
    "recessive" in this context. There's a truth value in the statement that the earth is flat. It has been demonstrated to be false. Yet truth or falsity of a statement or corresponding belief would be something I'm not sure is in any way analogous to dominance or recessiveness in genetics. Recessiveness could be a useful thing in evolutionary biological contexts, such as the case with sickle cell anemia where heterozygotes have an advantage in malarial environments.

    Taken too literally your example with the flat earth meme would mean there's a specific locus for the belief in the shape of the Earth and that one receives an allele from each parent, so they could have a round earth phenotype if not homozygous for the flat earth memetic allele (f) (ie they are FF or Ff). But since people could have belief states transmitted from non parents the point is moot, right? Then why risk creating a conceptual mess with the biologization of dominance versus recessiveness in memetics?

    This is a monor point probably not at all crucal to the main direction of your book. Maybe I'm looking at it all wrong. If you can elaborate on dominance versus recessiveness in a way that lessens my apprehension I'm willing to listen. Besides your focus on representations is the important matter for future discussion...


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