RE: sexual selection and memes

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Tue Jun 19 2001 - 13:14:44 BST

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    From: Vincent Campbell <>
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    Subject: RE: sexual selection and memes
    Date: Tue, 19 Jun 2001 13:14:44 +0100
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            Thanks for the strident response Chris,

            <Yep. I'd say forget about genetics when discussing culture because
    > the rather disparate time scales just don't work at all,>
            Miller had a response to this point, but I left the book at home, so
    can't tell you what it was.

            < and (b) anything which was transmitted genetically can be
    transmitted much more
    > efficiently in culture, so genetic drift would 'rot away' any genetic
    > component.>
            This is an interesting idea, since I'm not sure it's right. It
    seems to me that one of the problems with memetics is the fidelity question.
    Like games of chinese whispers, cultural transmission can become
    extraordinarily distorted over time, so I don't know about efficiency. One
    of the paradoxical things about religions, it seems to me, is that one the
    one hand they arguably have clear memetic components, but on the other the
    complexities of their rituals would tend against their successful
    transmission. As I'm sure has been remarked before, would Jesus on his
    return recognise those people who call themselves 'Christians' to be related
    to his teachings?

            Otherwise, again Miller said something countering this notion of
    genetic drift weeding out genetic components of cultural behaviour, but I
    can't remember what it was he said.

            <Thirdly, I'd also say that the unit of selection is *not the
    > individual* but the meme - otherwise we would be saying something a bit
    > like "one field is 'favoured' over another, by selection, because of the
    > species which grow in it". Conventional Darwinian evolution is
    > occurring, but not in the host. What that author has asserted amounts to
    > the worst kind of group selectionist argument.>
            Hmm... thinking about it, there may indeed be a group selectionist
    undercurrent to Miller's argument. He does talk about microniches, minor
    variations in environment leading to significant differences in sexual
    selection. It does seem there's evidence for this kind of thing. Someone
    not long ago posted details to the list about a study of a species of bird,
    where birds at slightly different altitudes sing different songs, and don't
    breed with the birds who sign the other song despite them all belonging to
    the same species.

            < (because, frankly, you can make any old shit up and
    > find examples to back you).>
            Too right... that's what I do for a living :-)

            <Blokes do more stuff because they are (currently) the dominant
    > and therefore are more likely to have the self-confidence to assert
    > stuff. They tend to do this after they have grown up a bit, but before
    > they are distracted by the tedium of later adult life (when they tend to
    > rely on postdocs to do the stuff, while they wonder how the hell they
    > ended up as a manager, or run out of new ideas because they have
    > rehashed their life experience too much, without enough novel input).
    > Does this strike you as more parsimonious than an explanation invoking
    > all sorts of unproven stuff about massively epigenetic 'behaviour'
    > genes?>
            Well Miller does mention the patriarchy explanation for the data he
    refers to. I wouldn't know how to genuinely judge this. My own social
    science instincts, do indeed incline me to think that this is a product of
    patriarchy, not sexual selection per se, but that may be as much to do with
    me siding with what's familiar and understandable to me.

            What about the notion that a lot of cultural behaviours that don't
    make much sense in terms of survival utility (hence something else must be
    going on hence memes) may be explainable in terms of sexual selection? I
    assume you don't buy that either?


    > ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    > Chris Taylor (
    > »people»chris
    > ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    > ===============================================================
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