RE: Cichlids & Memes

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Thu Aug 30 2001 - 13:26:27 BST

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    From: Vincent Campbell <>
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    Subject: RE: Cichlids & Memes
    Date: Thu, 30 Aug 2001 13:26:27 +0100
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    >>Of course whether fish really have culture or memes is, I suspect,
    a matter
    >>of some contention.

            <It's more a contention in some quarters to say, hmmm, with all
    these fish
    > and birds and other creatures employing behavioral algorithms, why should
    > we have any cause to claim _another_ mechanism (culture/memes) for our
    > behaviors- and could we then not say that culture is a complex formation
    > of these algorithms, and the admitted complication of language and
    > artifact-making? (Not to mention consciousness, but, that might be along
    > for the ride with language anyway.)
    > Perhaps it's more of a blunting of Occam to call into existence memes.>
            Hi Wade,

            Well, yes. Again there's that possiblity rearing its head.

            As I was typing about cichlids in isolated pools, I started thinking
    about tribes isolated by mountain ranges, or large rivers, or whatever, and
    the resultant changes in language, belief systems etc.

            A good example might be Easter Island. It appears there was a major
    transition in belief from a kind of personality cult surrounding past rulers
    (presumably) that relates to the famous statues, to a belief system relating
    to birds, particularly, IIRC, the Frigate bird. Now, why did this change
    occur? Could, at the most fundamental root, it have been related to the
    changing ecology of the island? It used to be forested, but humans
    basically deforested the entire island, affecting, of course, their food
    supplies as well as the wildlife. Perhaps a changing lifestyle related to
    the sea emerged, and seabirds became more appropriate symbols for that
    different lifestyle. Evidence of niche construction writ large perhaps?
            How might a memetics approach to this transition offer (to use
    Chris' useful comment from a few days ago) a better/more complete/simpler

            Perhaps that's not a fair example. Perhaps we need to explore the
    tranistion from one cultural trend to another, within a society without that
    kind of major environmental change going on.

            Interestingly, a recent series on the BBC ('Ancient Apocalypse')
    offered a number of very intriguing suggestions as to why several ancient
    civilisations fell (the Egyptian Old Kingdom- due to a major drought; the
    Minoans on Crete- due to to a huge volcanic eruption that destroyed a key
    port in the Minoan empire, and severely damage Minos itself; and some others
    that I missed through being on holiday). A far more ambitious, yet very
    similar claim was made by David Keys in his book 'Catastrophe', where he
    reckons that a mega-volcanic eruption at Krakatoa in the 7th century AD
    affected the entire world (by blotting out the sun for months causing crops
    to fail, famines etc. etc.), and had significant politico-religious
    consequences all round the world (e.g. environmental pressures added to the
    political unrest in the Middle East, helping to foster Islam is one of his
    bolder claims). The physical evidence for such major environmental changes
    is there in ice-core, and tree ring data. Keys probably goes way too far
    (and his book isn't very well written actually, especially for a
    journalist), but the stuff on the TV series was quite persuasive.

            Anyway, again the implication here is that some major historical
    events may have, at their root, environmental, natural causes. (The ten
    plagues of Egypt explanation is brilliant in this regard too). Are we
    simply too close to more recent historical events to see underlying
    environmental causal factors in them?


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