Received: by alpheratz.cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk id VAA06564 (8.6.9/5.3[ref firstname.lastname@example.org] for cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk from email@example.com); Sun, 3 Jun 2001 21:25:16 +0100 X-Sender: firstname.lastname@example.org X-Mailer: Windows Eudora Light Version 1.5.2 Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii" To: email@example.com From: Ray Recchia <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Book review: The Imitation Factor by Lee Alan Dugatkin Date: Sun, 3 Jun 2001 14:08:12 -0400 Message-ID: <email@example.com> Sender: firstname.lastname@example.org Precedence: bulk Reply-To: email@example.com
Lee Alan Dugatkin has spent the last ten years studying imitation in guppies
and in "The Imitation Factor: Evolution beyond the Gene" Simon & Schuster
(2000) he explains his research and summarizes numerous other examples of
imitation found in nature. His conclusion: even low intelligence animals
like guppies can engage in the non-genetic transmission of behavior through
imitation, and that transmission can have an impact on genetic evolution.
In carefully controlled experiments using guppies Dr. Dugatkin explores how
the tendency to imitate other females in mate selection can override other
mate selection preferences. Female guppies of a certain species prefer
bright orange males over drab grey ones. Dugatkin places a female and a
dull male in one corner of a tank and a bright male in the other and then
allows a second female to observe the guppy groupings. Then the first
female is removed and the observer female is allowed to choose which male
to go to. The observer female shows a greater tendency to select the male
she saw with the first female (Yes there is a control to make certain that
the observer is not just going to the side of the tank where there were two
guppies). Further, after repeated exposure to females associated with drab
males, the observer female shows a preference for drab males in general.
Other examples include some very carefully controlled experiments with
pigeons poking open boxes to get food (expanding on the discussion in 'The
Meme Machine") and blackbirds learning which animals are predators. He
also has examples already discussed in this list like the rats who learn
which foods are edible from their presence on other rat's whiskers, and the
numerous chimp studies.
Dugatkin is clearing attacking one of Susan Blackmore's central ideas in
'The Meme Machine'. If behavioral imitation is as common place as
Dugatkin's evidence shows, then arguments that humans are special because of
imitation are certainly erroneous. With his numerous examples and
carefully controlled experiments Dugatkin does a very credible job of
proving his point. In addition to those examples he also discusses when
imitation is likely to a useful survival strategy and points towards other
authors who have developed mathematical models for when imitation is more
likely to occur and what affect it will can have on the evolution of a species.
I do have some problems with Dugatkin's book. His definition of culture is
a bit too loose for my preference. I would only count the guppies as being
cultural because they can develop a general preference for drab males that
can be transmitted, whereas Dugatkin would consider it culture even if the
preference only applies to one male at a time. I am not certain under his
definition whether a distinction can be made for fleeting imitation examples
like observer animals moving when they see another member of their species
fleeing something the observer can not see. I would hesitate to call that
culture because their is nothing to pass from generation to generation.
Similarly, while a general preference for drab males learned by observing
females mating is something that could pass along indefineatly, a specific
preference for a single male can only be passed along until while the male
In addition, although he does an excellent job with his own specialization
he seems unwilling to fill the gap left if Blackmore's human as super
imitator idea is incorrect. Early on in the book he suggests that there
might be two types of cultural evolution, that which he describes for
guppies and other animals and a sort of 'runaway' cultural evoltion which
develops its own rules independent of genetic evolution. Nowhere in this
book is that idea fleshed out at all though.
Overall though this book should be valuable reading for anyone interested in
memes. In my opinion the disciplined experimental approach adopted by Dr.
Dugatkin will prove more valuable than any heated discussion on what the
exact definition of a 'meme' or 'culture' should be.
Raymond O. Recchia
This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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