Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Kate Distin - Cultural Evolution

Kate Distin has a new book out: "Cultural Evolution".

This apparently covers similar ground to her 2005 book, "", though with a different emphasis.

One interesting part for me was in the appendix - where she explained why she was not using the memetics terminology:

She talks about the torrent of confusions and misunderstandings surrounding memetics:

So although, in a way, I feel that it is a shame not to make use of memetic shorthand when talking about cultural evolution, I feel more strongly that it is no longer worth taking the risk of obscuring my words behind the mists of hostility or unwanted implications.
She concludes with:

For now, at least even though in my view memetics has established that it is quite theoretically respectable, in practice it is not yet quite socially acceptable.
My attittude is a bit different. The meme terminology is a great shorthand - as indicated by its overwhelming popular adoption - and I am not about to give it up because it is linked to confusing beliefs in some people's minds. Having a convenient shorthand for "cultural genes" helps more than it hinders.

Update 2015 - I read the book - though I seem to have neglected to review it. I found it tough going and dry - and I disagreed with the author quite a lot.


  1. And one should also consider that the first years of every science is full of confusion and misunderstanding and also, if it is too well succedded, misuse of key terms will be the rule, not the exception, by the public. Like happens to terms like "energy", "quantum", "evolution" and so on... I also like the word "meme", by the way.

  2. Some initial confusion is to be expected - but Darwin was > 150 years ago now - and popular understanding of the scope of his theory is still hovering around the zero mark. Understanding how culture evolves is surely not *that* hard!