'Spandrels' of Culture

N Rose (NJ-ROSE@wpg.uwe.ac.uk)
Fri, 13 Jun 1997 11:23:32 +0000

Message-Id: <s3a12ddd.055@wpg.uwe.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 13 Jun 1997 11:23:32 +0000
From: N Rose <NJ-ROSE@wpg.uwe.ac.uk>
To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk
Subject: 'Spandrels' of Culture

The meme complex instructing my brain that the 'Self' has no
power to select or modify memes has biased that brain against
memes which instruct for further discussion on free will vs
deterministic argument. Besides, I can't expect to convince
anyone who believes that they have free will that they don't.

Instead I thought I'd ask the group about another issue; What are
the 'spandrels' of culture?. For those of you who aren't aware
of what spandrels are they essentially refer to non-adaptionist
mechanisms. In biology, Gould points out that *some* features of
an organism will simply arise through the laws of physics and
chemistry - and adaptionist mechanisms are necessary to account
for them. A classic example is why humans have two nipples
rather than one. Rather than an adaptionist answer (we
occasionally have twins), the simple symmetry evident throughout
the development of the organism makes the appearence of one
nipple quite unlikely. We don't need to look for an adaptionist
explaination of why humans have two nipples rather than one; we
simply have a 'spandrel'.

But what are the 'spandrels' of culture? What *inevitable* forms
do we find within memetics which do *not* require any sort of
selectionist process to account for? Can spandrels exist within
culture? Do spandrels account for *all* of culture? (surely

I find myself wondering whether the classic sociobiologist
explanations of behaviour (e.g. attraction value of certain hip
to waist ratios of females) are 'effectively' spandrels of the
next system up - i.e. memetics. Or should we look for inevitable
responses of the nervous system? e.g. The colour red is just an
exciting colour because of the kinds of brains we have evolved.

I wonder if anyone has an opinion on this?

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