RE: Parody of Science

Gatherer, D. (
Fri, 13 Aug 1999 08:51:13 +0200

Date: Fri, 13 Aug 1999 08:51:13 +0200
From: "Gatherer, D. (Derek)" <>
Subject: RE: Parody of Science
To: "''" <>

Boyd and Richerson's memetic model of demographic transition has a few
criticisms placed against it by Borgerhoff Mulder. The first of these is
that there is no real explanation as to why the process should start in the
first place.

If high status individuals are 'imitated indiscriminately', then it is
perhaps easy to see how the behaviour would be horizontally transmitted (to
use the Cavallian phrase), but why should high status individuals opt to
restrict their family sizes in the first place?

Prior to dem.trans., higher status individuals had higher fertility (this is
one of the theories - by no means the only one - about the reasons for the
high frequency of hexosamidase deficiency in Ashkenazi Jews, and its
especially high frequency in rabbinical families). Even today, a study in
Canada by Perusse, quoted by BM, shows that higher status males 'achieve
higher copulation rates'.

Boyd and Richerson's theory is rather akin to Fisher's (genetic) theory of
runaway sexual selection, which accounts for things like peacock's tails
etc. The differences are a) Boyd and Richerson's theory is entirely
memetic, and b) peacock's tails and other such sexually selected traits do
seem to increase the reproductive success of the animals that exhibit them,
and thus are genuinely evolutionarily stable.

'Runaway cultural selection' acting to decrease (genetic) fitness would
however not be stable. BM complains that the memetic model requires our
imitative tendencies to be stronger than our inherent genetic tendencies to
reproduction, and that, for her, just isn't convincing.

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Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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