Re: The Significance of Memetics is ...

Mon, 23 Nov 1998 09:52:18 -0500 (EST)

Subject: Re: The Significance of Memetics is ...
Date: Mon, 23 Nov 1998 09:52:18 -0500 (EST)

On Sat, 21 Nov 1998 15:44:39 -0500 (EST) levy@Oswego.EDU wrote:

> Can
anyone here state an important insight or even an accurate prediction
> that has come from using the memetics paradigm?

If you count EM Rogers as a memeticist, his 'Communication of
Innovations: a Cross-cultural Approach' (Free Press, NY 1972) has an
appendix prepared by Jaganmohan Rao which has 38 pages of confirmed
predictions arranged in 10 categories, eg prediction 4-6 is "The degree
of communication integration in a social system is positively related
to the rate of adoption of innovations". 6 empirical studies are cited
all of which support the prediction. And so on it goes.

If you insist that Rogers is not really a memeticist, and admittedly a)
he doesn't call himself one and b) there is no mention of Darwin
anywhere in his work (I'm sure somebody will correct me if I'm
wrong), then try the following:

1) Cultural preferences for progeny of one sex over the other, will
cause changes in allele frequencies at sex-ratio distorter loci, and
these genetic changes will in turn influence the selective pressure on
cultural behaviour. (Kumm et al 1994)

2) The patterns of milk utilisation and yam cultivation are intimately
associated with allele frequencies at loci involved in lactose
utilisation and malaria resistance, with cultural selection and genetic
selection operating in tandem on both genotype and cultural behaviour.
(Aoki 1986).

3) Sexual preferences are cultural rather then genetic but depend on
the underlying (genetic) distribution of body types. (Laland 1994)

4) Possibly also the analysis of Tibetan marriage practices by Durham
(1991, Coevolution, Stanford UP)

You might with reason protest that these are exercises in fitting
bodies of data to models rather than predictive experiments. Number 1
does contain a straight prediction, but it may be a while before we can
see the result.

You might protest again that none of the above call themselves
memeticists either, but Kevin Laland does use the word in his
publications from time to time (when he co-authors with Marc Feldman
there is no mention of memes, since Feldman is a Cavallian 'cultural
traits' man).

Laland of course is now Royal Society Senior Fellow at Cambridge, so
does he count as the first offical academic memeticist? I can see this
is going to get into a 'what/who is a memeticist discussion'.

Memetics shares the problem of evolutionary biology in that the
timescale involved in observation is often longer than the patience of
most observers. The classic confirmatory 'experiment' of
microevolution (and note this is just _micro_ evolution), the case of
the peppered moth Biston betularia and its change in colouring, took
something like 150 years. I'd strongly recommend EB Ford's Ecological
Genetics (1940, in most university libraries) for a taste of the
magnitude of the experimental system in evolution.

Aoki K (1986) A stochastic model of gene-culture coevolution suggested
by the culture historical hypothesis for the evolution of adult lactose
absorption in humans. PNAS 83, 2929-2933.

Kumm J et al (1994) Gene-culture co-evolution and sex ratios: the
effects of infanticide, sex-selective abortion, sex selection, and
sex-biased parental investment on the evolution of sex ratios.
Theoretical Population Biology 46, 249-278.

Laland KN (1994) Sexual selection with a culturally transmitted mating
preference. Theoretical Population Biology 45, 1-15.

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