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Interesting stuff Wade,
The main question that popped into my mind was:
Why images, which turned out to be so inappropriate, oversimplified
and erroneous, prevailed so gloriously among the masses even until now?
Let's try and tackle this question by analyzing two examples
you came to mention in the story you forwarded.
The first example is the one about the archetypical conception of
the caveman. One has to realize that the caveman-image
saw the light only shortly after Darwin's evolutionary theory began
to gain ground by the popular masses. Prior to Darwin, the conception
of early man was without hairy and animal-like appearance, the fashionable
images of early humans were more like clean biblical figures.
Embracing a theory advocating humans and apes to have had a
common ancestor conjured up images of early humans having animal-like
or ape-like looks. Any image, be it singular
and premature, produced to portray early humans consistent with this
ape-like preconception had no trouble in finding broad acceptance.
As soon as Darwin's theory became popular this is exactly what happened, the
general acceptance of a raw ape-like image of humans substituted the clean
biblical alternative. In memetic terms, the raw human image
is a meme which fitted perfectly in the advancing Darwin-evolutionary theory
memeplex. The caveman image meme, being perfectly compatible with the Darwin
memeplex, was therefore readily absorbed into the Darwin memeplex.
Consequently, the success of the Darwin memeplex correlated highly with
the success of the, albeit premature, image of the caveman.
The success of the oversimplified visual model of the atom is analogous.
During the days of the old quantum theory in the early 1900s the notion
of the atom consisting of a nucleus surrounded by electrons had only just
been established. Prior to this conception the prevailing model of the
atom, due to Dalton if I'm not mistaken, was that of a spheroid in which
electrons were more-or-less distributed randomly and statically.
It was through the experimental efforts of Rutherford and the theoretical
audacity of Bohr that this model was aborted and replaced by a more
planetary alternative. The comparison with a solar planetary model was accepted
by the large audience since it firmly captured, like the caveman image,
the imagination once again. People all knew how to imagine a planetary model,
ever since the Copernicus' planetary model became fashionable.
As such, the planetary model was successful because it was simple to copy
reliably (high fidelity) and fitted easily in the world notion of many
(high fecundity). Longevity came automatically.
This simplicity and compatibility mechanism, I think, lies at the basis
of the successes of both memes. Both are simple to remember and easy to
replicate reliably and both fitted easily in the memeplexes they were
made for. I think that the more reliable alternatives to such images
which should prevail today fail in success because they are too complicated.
The more complicated and hard to replicate a meme is, in spite of its
justification, the less fecundity and fidelity it displays.
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Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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