RE: implied or inferred memes

Gatherer, D. (
Mon, 20 Sep 1999 09:34:28 +0200

Date: Mon, 20 Sep 1999 09:34:28 +0200
From: "Gatherer, D. (Derek)" <>
Subject: RE: implied or inferred memes
To: "''" <>

So, having left this discussion in a huff, citing irreconciliable
differences, are we now to conclude that you feel that memetics itself is
relegated to that limbo of pseudosciences which throughout the ages have
always used 'plausibility' as their 'proof'?

I don't know if this is what Jake actually thinks, but raising this issue is
important, because:

a) we all think memetics is plausible (or else we wouldn't be here on this
list), but
b) there is no 'proof of memetics'

Since the basic framework is evolution of cultural elements (however
defined) by transmission, variation and selection, we need to prove that
these three processes occur in a cultural context.

Transmission: - well the best we have here is the 1983 Cavalli-Sforza
Science paper, and the subsequent follow-up done in Taiwan
Variation: - this one seems to be too self-evident to bother proving. I
mean culture is variable from society to society and from person to person
within societies. But, and this is a big but, we should remember Fisher's
dictum (mentioned in John Wilkins' JoM paper) that the mutation rate, ie.
the rate at which novelty is generated, needs to be an order of magnitude
less than the selection pressure. I don't think anybody has ever looked at
this in a cultural context.
Selection: - again it seems to be obvious, some cultural practices are going
to be disadvantageous - but that isn't necessarily going to select against
the practice, societies are full of apparently maladaptive cultural
practices that nevertheless are fairly persistent over time.

If I might be permitted to blow my own trumpet (sorry, I know it's against
the rules of the list to plug one's own books, but this is just an article
not a book), I did the following study:

Gatherer D and Manning FCR (1998) Correlation of examination performance
with lecture attendance: a comparative study of first year biological
sciences undergraduates. Biochemical Education 26, 121-124.

as part of an attempt to look at selection in a cultural system. It seems
that the cultural practice of lecture attendance definitely gives a
selective advantage in terms of survival in the academic system, but only
for ethnic minority groups. However:

a) this selective advantage seems to disappear at the second-year level
b) the students don't seem to be aware of how their study practices affect
their performance, ie. students who don't attend lectures and then fail are
often puzzled.

these 2 above are not so important, but....

c) students don't seem to learn study practices from each other ie. we have
no evidence that there is any horizontal transmission a la Cavalli-Sforza
d) apparently there is a corpus of unpublished work at the University of
Nottingham which indicates that study practices correlate strongly with
personality type (thank you Prof Jung) - they may not be strictly cultural
at all - but rather some Pinkerian/Chomskian elaboration of fundamentally
genetic personality factors.

Ouch! d is a bad one.

So, is memetics merely plausible? like NLP?

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