Re: A Drosophila for cultural evolution

Mark Mills (mmmills@OnRamp.NET)
Mon, 18 Aug 97 23:27:15 -0000

Message-Id: <>
Subject: Re: A Drosophila for cultural evolution
Date: Mon, 18 Aug 97 23:27:15 -0000
From: Mark Mills <mmmills@OnRamp.NET>
To: memetics list <>

>...I don't think there has ever been a human culture without
>some form of toilet training, at least not in ethnographic time. And I am
>not aware of any non-human form of it, with the possible exception of the
>toilet-trained cat....

I'd agree that 'toilet' training is probably one of the most ancient =
human cultural activities. As far as the uniqueness of human =
scatalogical training, I suspect our activies have many parallels in =
the animal kingdom, humans simply rely on a higher ratio of learned =
to instinctual behavior than most.

Sensing a high degree of covert interest in this subject, I've looked =
into in search of signs of =
evolutionary data:

1. The first flushing toilet was in use almost 4000 years ago =
(around 1700 BC), at the Minoan Palace of Knossos. Replication of =
these artifacts in Europe stopped around 400 AD.

2. In 1596, Sir John Harrington of England invented a toilet (which =
he called a water closet) for his godmother, Queen Elizabeth I. =
People made fun of it, so it was not replicated.

3. Between 400 AD and 1800, Europeans found 'chamber pot' training =
an acceptable social rigor. Changes in chamber pot design can be =
used to infer cultural changes. Specific designs can be related to =
cultural status if the context is fairly well defined. Chamber pots =
can provide clues about the expansion of cultures into new =
territories (see appearance of European chamber pots in North =

4. In 1775, London watchmaker Alexander Cummings reinvented the =
water closet, creating
what is known as the "S" trap =AD a curved piece of pipe that holds =
standing water =AD to prevent stinky sewer smells from entering the =
house. The S trap seems to have revolutionized cultural acceptance of =
the 'toilet.' Toilets and toilet training rapidly spread through a =
variety of human cultures for the next 100 years.

So, where are the memes?

As usual, I'd say they are brain patterns in the head. Just as genes =
contribute to the creation of proteins, memes contribute to the =
creation of cultural this case toilets. Just as one =
tracks evolution of 'bodies' via assemblies of ancient fossils, one =
can track the evolution of culture by assembling ensembles of =
cultural artifacts. The genotype is the brain pattern, the phenotype =
is the toilet and toilet training.

It is interesting to note that one can determine 'territorial' =
implications from both scatalogical droppings of hunting animals and =
scatalogical artifacts (toilets, chamber pots) abandoned by humans. =
Human culture has added complexity to the issue of territorial =
marking, but not departed from fundamental instincts.

>But- yours was the only response, so I guess either the others are afraid
>to get their hands dirty, ...

I wouldn't touch that with a ten foot pole!



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