Re: new review of memetics/sociobiology/EP

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sat 04 Feb 2006 - 03:33:07 GMT

  • Next message: John Wilkins: "Re: new review of memetics/sociobiology/EP"

    At 09:39 AM 2/3/2006 +1000, you wrote:
    >On 03/02/2006, at 5:13 AM, Keith Henson wrote:
    >>At 02:23 PM 2/2/2006 +0000, Chris Taylor wrote:
    >>>Mutualism/commensalism versus parasitism; evolution of symbioses.
    >>>I'd argue that memes obey the same rule as most other infectious
    >>>diseases of changing over time to be less of a fitness burden on
    >>>the host. This could be studied; how adapted is the meme pool to
    >>>take account of some of the needs of the human-mind-mosaic
    >>Been making this point about the evolution of memes, particularly
    >>religious ones, becoming less harmful as they age for 20 years
    >>now. I would love to hear your thoughts about how it could be
    >This is a Well-Known Fact that is not true. *Some* parasites become
    >commensual, others don't. Sometimes parasites and pathogens drive a
    >species to extinction.

    Correct. In such cases we no long can see either the species or the pathogen--which is the origin of the "Well-Known Fact."

    "Even if they were harmful when they started, the ones [religious memes] that survive over generations evolve and do not cause too much damage to their hosts. Calvin (who had dozens of people executed over theological disputes) would hardly recognize Presbyterians three hundred years later. Contrariwise, the Shaker meme is now confined to books, and the Shakers are gone." (Henson 1987)

    >As Paul Ewald's seminal book showed, for pathogens to become
    >commensuals, their genetic interests have to more or less coincide
    >with the host's - that is, when the host reproduces, so do they. But
    >if a pathogen reproduces and spreads to new hosts independently of
    >the host's reproductive lineage, then selection is between variants
    >that can outreproduce others, and virulence will be increased,
    >perhaps causing an arms race that drives hosts extinct.

    Mormons and Shakers.

    >Religion is less virulent when passed on vertically (Boyd and
    >Richerson's "unbiased" transmission) from parent to child, because
    >then the religion must adapt to the hosts' needs to reproduce. It is
    >more virulent when it is laterally ("biasedly") transmitted because
    >then the meme-complex (religion is *not* a meme - it's a memome or
    >something similar. A meme-complex of coadapted memes) has different
    >"interests" to the hosts.

    I don't object to your terminology, I just don't see the need for it. Memes to me are like string, any length is still string.

    >Of course, religious evolution is somewhat faster than biological
    >evolution, so there is considerable slop, but overall if a religion
    >is vertically transmitted, it will tend to be more benign.

    At least it can't be too rough on host reproduction.

    Keith Henson

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