Friday, 29 October 2010

Carl Zimmer & Paul Ehrlich discuss cultural evolution

Carl Zimmer & Paul Ehrlich discuss cultural evolution on

Here, Paul Ehrlich describes what he thinks is wrong with memetics.

To summarise, he thinks the main problem is that mutations are (more-or-less) random in genetic evolution - while they are directed in cultural evolution.

Alas, nobody ever thought that mutations were random in memetics.

That was never a tenent of meme theory in the first place.

The basic idea of memetics and memetic evolution is that copying with variation and differential reproductive success of culture results in evolution and cumulative adaptations.

Nobody ever claimed that the variations have to be made at random.

Alas, Paul has previously rather seriously incriminated himself in this area in print by saying:

Among humans, genes can only pass unidirectionally from one generation to the next (vertically), normally through intimate contact. But ideas (or “memes”) now regularly pass between individuals distant from each other in space and time, within generations, and even backwards through generations. Through mass media or the Internet, a single individual can influence millions of others within a very short period of time.

In fact cold virus genes pass between individuals of the same generation and from offspring to parent. Hepatatis B is a hardy virus that can exist on almost any surface for up to one month, and so can be transmitted by mail - and viruses can spread from one person to many - in what is commonly known as a pandemic. So, the while the relationship between the cultural and organic realms looks pretty close in these respects, it is clear that Paul is criticising memetics without being very familiar with its basic concepts.

Bernie Hogan - The Social Structure of (Memetic) Diffusion

The Social Structure of (Memetic) Diffusion - by Bernie Hogan.

This video is from the 2008 conference Memory, Social Networks, and Language: Probing the Meme Hypothesis II.

Paul Higgs - Is it Good to Share?

Is it Good to Share? The Parallel between Information Transfer and Horizontal Gene Transfer - by Paul G. Higgs.

This video is from the 2008 conference Memory, Social Networks, and Language: Probing the Meme Hypothesis II.

Robert Finkelstein - What is a Meme?

What is a Meme: A Functional Definition - by Robert Finkelstein.

This video is from the 2008 conference Memory, Social Networks, and Language: Probing the Meme Hypothesis II.

Keith Stanovich - Rationality, Evolution, and the Meme Concept

Rationality, Evolution, and the Meme Concept - by Keith Stanovich.

This video is from the 2007 conference Imitation, Memory and Cultural Changes: Probing the Meme Hypothesis.

I disagree with Keith Stanovich about many things - and he says some strange things in this video (memes have no phenotypes, what?!?) - but he speaks articulately and fairly competently slams meme critics here.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Meme Warfare Centre

More on the US military's interest in memetics:

The Meme Warfare Center offers a more complex and intellectually rich capability absent in current IO, PsyOps and SC formations and is specifically designed to combat the enemy’s sophistication as highlighted above. The emerging tools to win the metaphysical fight are memes. Managing, employing and leveraging memetic power is key for the US to shape and win on future battlefields."
The US must recognize the growing need for emerging disciplines in ideological warfare by ‘weaponeering’ memes. The Meme Warfare Center offers sophisticated and intellectually rich capability absent in current IO, PsyOps and SC formations and is specifically designed to conduct combat inside the mind of the enemy. Memes are key emerging tools to win the ideological metaphysical fight.
I am reminded of this one:

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Donald T. Campbell papers now online

Google have kept up with their book scanning. One of the books they scanned contains:

These papers are both in Evolutionary epistemology, rationality, and the sociology of knowledge - a book by Gerard Radnitzky, William Warren Bartley and Karl Raimund Popper.

Donald T. Campbell is known as the father of evolutionary epistemology.

He came up with the idea of Blind Variation and Selective Retention.

The issue of the significance and applicability of this concept is probably one of the more challenging issues for those attempting to understand cultural evolution.

These papers are tough going on the reader - but they do have significant historical importance.

Memetics compendium

As part of the "military memetics" project, Dr. Robert Finkelstein has apparently used some of the dollars the department of defense sent his way to compile a huge body of existing scientific papers on memetics into an enormous volume, and publish it "for free" on the internet - in the form of the Memetics Compendium.

It runs to 14Mb - and 1680 pages!!!

The release notes say:
The basic purpose of the Compendium is to provide an indication of the prospective value of memetics to the U.S. military for conventional and asymmetric operations, including counter-terrorism.
Whoah! The next time someone tells me memetics isn't a science - and hasn't produced anything of value - I think I'll tell them to go and read the Memetics Compendium - and to tell me that again when they have finished it.

The Compendium apparently pays scant attention to international copyright law. For instance it has the entire text of chapter 11 of The Selfish Gene.

So - it may not stay up forever - but for the moment, you can download your copy now!

Military memetics

It had to happen one day! The US military have their own memetics project!

One Dr. Robert Finkelstein has been apparently been running the project since 2006 under the sponsorship of the department of defense.

Perpare to have all your memes weaponised!

They have a web site and a presentation document, ...which explains their mission. The presentation style of this is rather zany. To quote from it:
  • To develop a new approach to
  • Countering terrorists and insurgents beforeand afterthey become terrorists and insurgents: influencing beliefs in a scientific way
  • Preventing irrational conflict and promoting rational solutions to national and international problems
  • Strengthening the U.S. military in

    • Peacekeeping missions
    • Psychological operations
    • Recruitment
    • Training

  • To make new discoveries concerning the human brain, cognition, and social networks
The web site also says:
The attempt to establish a scientific basis for memetics is critically important. For example, within a suitable memetics framework could be the means to prevent irrational conflict and promote rational solutions to endemic national and international problems. Of course, without safeguards memetics can become a double-edged sword.
Right on.


Sunday, 24 October 2010

Meme poster

Here's a "meme poster" which I found down the back of the internet. Enjoy,

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Animated GIFs

I have noticed that quite a few online RSS readers pass animated GIFs through - including popular ones like Netvibes. Many common blog feeds pass them through as well. However, so far, I haven't seen too many people using animated GIFs in my RSS news feeds.

They are probably pretty attention grabbing. Advertisers have a long history of using them - and using animation has been shown to attract a larger percentage of user clicks. So maybe more people will be using them to promote their content via RSS feeds in the future.

For most of this year, this page has been one of the most popular pages on this blog. Since there isn't very much here - besides that animated GIF - that seems to add support to the hypothesis.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The evolution of the term "meme"

Richard Dawkins coined the term "meme" in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. He defined it to refer to a "unit of cultural transmission".

However, these days, for many people, the term "meme" has taken on a narrower meaning. It has come to be used as an abbreviation for "internet meme" - which is a term most frequently used to refer to a piece of highly viral (but usually rather frivolous) culture which is shared frequently on the internet.

As Tom Michael put it:

It's ironic that the term "meme" has spread much more widely as a term relating to internet silliness than as a general unit of cultural exchange. It had to mutate into a faster-reproducing form in order to be widely known about.

Sometimes the frivolous internet culture is described as being a "meme", as it is being passed around. In such cases, the term "meme" has become a kind of meta-meme - which spreads due to its association with the viral culture which it is associated with.

In biology, there is the concept of "linkage". This causes the fate of genes to be associated with the fate of their neighbouring genes. Some genes can us this effect to spread - because they are near other genes which are favourably selected for. This is commonly known as genetic hitchhiking.

The term "meme" is doing some hitchhiking of its own these days, spreading by virtue of its association with the highly-viral content which it has come to be associated with.

Tim Tyler - Memetics

I've put together a prototype cover for my proposed 2011 book.

The title and subtitle are provisional - and the artwork isn't anywhere near finished - but it illustrates the kind of thing I am considering.

For the second prototype cover, see: here

For the third prototype cover, see: here

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Matt Ridley - Ideas having sex

Ridley writes that "whole economies evolve by natural selection", that "ideas have sex" and he talks explicitly about "cultural evolution".

More videos from Matt are collected on this group.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Introduction to memes video

15 minutes of the basics. Gets a few points from me for mentioning the possibility of a memetic takeover.

The rise of the meme

"Meme" is by far the most popular name for a contagious idea.

Today, the Memetic Explosion continues to gather pace. In fact, memes are exploding!

Here is a graph from Google Trends which illustrates its progress so far:

History of "Meme" searches [Current image]

History of "Meme" searches [Current image]

Archived images - from 2010:

History of "Meme" searches [December 2010]

History of "Meme" searches [source]

Ray Scott Percival lectures on memes

Ray Scott Percival lectures on memes:

This is a bit on the boring side, and has a fair bit of philosophical mumbo-jumbo.

The author tries to knock down memetics and present his own "anti-materialistic" theory of cultural inheritance. This is not an approach which I am very sympathetic towards.