old memetics/new memetics

Thu, 16 Jul 1998 12:03:28 -0400 (EDT)

From: BMSDGATH <BMSDGATH@livjm.ac.uk>
To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk
Subject: old memetics/new memetics
Date: Thu, 16 Jul 1998 12:03:28 -0400 (EDT)

Came across a couple of interesting articles recently.

The first is a review:

Cavalli-Sforza LL (1988) Cultural transmission and adaptation.
International Social Science Journal 116, 239-253

The second is an excellent example of empirical memetics:

Deb D (1996) Of cast net and caste identity: memetic differentiation
between two fishing communities of Karnataka. Human Ecology 24,

In this one Deb identifies two castes of fisherfolk on the
River Aghanashini in Karnataka province of western India. Each caste
has its own charcteristic method of throwing its net, either an
over-the head technique or a round-the-hips technique. The former is
more useful in deep water but looks quite a bit more difficult.

Deb proves that the head technique really is harder to learn by sending
out a few dozen students to spend some days with the fisherman learning
their methods. The conclusion is that there is no practical basis
in terms of fishing, for the use of the more difficult method over
the other, and that it has probably been maintained for another reason,
possibly as a marker of group identity.

Deb supports this thesis by looking at other castes that live in
proximity to each other and finding that more established castes tend
to use more difficult techniques, whereas the new arrivistes often go
for an easier one. Performance of the more difficult technique then
becomes something of a status marker, denoting member of an older and
more established caste.

Deb uses the Boyd and Richerson memetic mathematical model to show how
the empirical findings are predicted by models of biased and
frequency-dependent meme transmission.

Although I could quibble a little about the assumptions of the
Boyd-Richerson model, there's no doubt that the situation Deb describes
does remarkably fit the predictions. What really stands out in this
paper is the way that it combines theory, not just with observation,
but with a practical trial of meme learning. In fact, it seems like a
good model for other studies on the memetics of skilled
manual techniques.


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