Re: Meme pools?/ evolution and ecology

Bill Benzon (
Mon, 23 Jun 1997 07:27:32 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Mon, 23 Jun 1997 07:27:32 -0500
From: (Bill Benzon)
Subject: Re: Meme pools?/ evolution and ecology


An interesting set of observations. I'm still left with the fact that
there are large-scale regularities in culture and need some way to talk
about them.
>problems. Take 'ring species'. Silver gulls and mantle gulls form an
>antarctic ring of neighbouring populations which gave rise to each other
>by migration starting in Western Europe (silver gull), to Siberia and
>Northern America (mantle gull) and finally back to Western Europe) and
>which can interbreed with the closest neighbouring populations. Still,
>when the initial population (silver gulls) and the final population
>(mantle gulls) met again in Europe they could no longer interbreed.
>Are they one species or two?
BB Similar problems arise in linguistics. You start at village A and
describe their language. You walk a few miles to village B and do the
same. The language is a bit different, but folks in village A and
communite with those in B. So you continue on to village C and D and so
forth. Each time the language is a little different, but neighboring
villages speek mutually intelligible languages. However, at some point you
are going to find a village where they can't understand folks from village
A, and vice verse. Now just where in your walk did you cross the line from
one langauge to another?

>Bacterial taxonomy with frequent exchange of genetic information between
>groups resembles more a hilly landscape with the species on the
>mountains and a lot of intermediate organisms in between (sexual species
>are islands amidst an ocean).
And that may be how we have to do culture. We still have to talk about the
species on the mountain tops.

>information by using photons (vision) and sound waves. Bill comes close
>when he calls these 'memes', but one would better call it culture.

Now, can you move me closer?

If you look at what I've written so far you'll find that I'm mostly
concerned about species and the selective environment in which they
function. I say something about cultural genes because the causal structure
of the evolutionary mechanism calls for them, but I'm don't do much with

Of course there are the patterns of sound which make up speech and the
patterns of photons which constitute writing, but there are other things as

I recall some work I read years ago about infant perception. What sorts of
things do infants like to look at. So, you have two disks. On one you
paint a set of concentric rings, a target. On the other you have three
dots arranged like 2 eyes & a nose and then a line below, like a mouth.
Infants will spend more time examining the "face" than the target. This
emerges so young that you have to suspect this preference has somehow been
genetically encoded. One can imagine why it would be useful to give
infants a preference for face-like objects.

But what's going on when people see faces where there aren't any?

What's going on when we look into the night sky and see bears and crabs and
people and even tell stories about how they got there. That's culture.
There we're imposing patterns which are meaningful to us on naturally
occuring patterns of energy (photons from the stars). Here we are using
pre-existing patterns and imposing culture on them.

William L. Benzon 201.217.1010
708 Jersey Ave. Apt. 2A
Jersey City, NJ 07302 USA

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