Re: The Baldwin Effect

Paul Marsden (
Mon, 8 Mar 1999 09:14:00 -0000

From: "Paul Marsden" <>
To: <>
Subject: Re: The Baldwin Effect
Date: Mon, 8 Mar 1999 09:14:00 -0000

Rob Levy wrote

>I'm curious as to what various memetics-oriented people feel is the role
>of Baldwinian effects in the evolution of the human genome, especially in
>regard to the origin of culture.

Very Interesting Question, which can be addressed on two levels - 1) The
interaction at between genes and culture (standard Baldwin Effect) and the
second - a kind of memetic Baldwin Effect which describes the
institutionalisation (tradition, organisations, rules etc) of culture:
Let's fist review what the Baldwin Effect is:

The Baldwin effect works in two steps. First, phenotypic plasticity allows
an individual to adapt to a partially successful mutation, which might
otherwise be useless to the individual. If this mutation increases inclusive
fitness, it will tend to proliferate in the population. However, phenotypic
plasticity is typically costly for an individual. For example, learning
requires energy and time, and it sometimes involves dangerous mistakes.
Therefore there is a second step: given sufficient time, evolution may find
a rigid mechanism that can replace the plastic mechanism. Thus a behavior
that was once learned (the first step) may eventually become instinctive
(the second step). On the surface, this looks the same as Lamarckian
evolution, but there is no direct alteration of the genotype, based on the
experience of the phenotype. This effect is similar to Waddington's (1942)

In computational terms, in the first step of the Baldwin effect, local
search smooths the fitness landscape, which can facilitate evolutionary
search. In the second step, as more optimal genotypes arise in the
population, there is selective pressure for reduction in local search,
driven by the intrinsic costs associated with the search.

Now, this indirect relationship between genotype and culture is relatively
self-evident - culture speeds up evolution by modifying the local selective
environment. Dennett covers this well in Consciousness Explained - and in
his various lectures that address the evolutionary emergence of culture.

But applying the same process at a cultural level, we can see how the
cultural world appears to a new social agent to be an objective facticity;
the traditions of a church appear as concrete as the bricks of the church.
Once an individual adopts a new behavioural strategy, which is then,
*selected by an observer* based on its consequences, the behaviour behaviour
is adopted *indirectly*, without a search - we do it, as our parents were
apt to say, because that's the way it's done - the action becomes
institutionalised. We appear to be inheriting acquired characteristics, but
importantly - INDIRECTLY. Thus when social agents adopt clusters of actions
based on their position in society, they can be said to adopt roles, priest,
worker, criminal etc.

I hope this short partial sketch of my thinking so far helps you to position
your own response. Comments would be most welcome - let me know how you
think the Baldwin Effect might be applicable to memetics.

Paul Marsden
Graduate Research Centre in the Social Sciences
University of Sussex
tel/fax (44) (0) 117 974 1279
-----Original Message-----
From: levy@Oswego.EDU <levy@Oswego.EDU>
To: <>
Date: 06 March 1999 02:42
Subject: The Baldwin Effect

> - -
> -Robert P. Levy-
> - -
> A random quote...
>"We ARE as gods and might as well get good at it."
> -- Whole Earth Catalog
>This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
>Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
>For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)