Wednesday, 31 August 2011

My Memetics book on

My new "Memetics" book is now available on

Here is the book's home page.

Here's the book's launch video:

The transcript of the launch video:

Hi, I'm Tim Tyler - and this is a video to announce my new Memetics book. The book is now available on - see the links at the bottom for details.

So, here's the book, the back cover of the book and the book's spine. I am pretty pleased with the build quality and presentation.

The book is all about memes and the science of cultural evolution - as you can probably see from the subtitle of the book - so: memes are small sections of inherited cultural information. Just as genes transmit inherited organic information down the generations, so memes transmit inherited cultural information. Memetics is the name of the field devoted to the study of memes, thus the title of my book.

Memes represent the rise of a new medium of inheritance on the planet. For the first time in three billion years, DNA has a credible rival. As a result, meme products are making substantial inroads into the biosphere. The rise of the memes shows little sign of slowing down and reaching an equilibrium with the nucleic acids that preceeded them. So, an understaning of this area seems to be rather important.

A brief reading from the introduction should help to give a flavour of the book:

This is a book about a curious and counter-intuitive idea. The idea is that humans are apes with infected brains. That we harbour living things inside our skulls which are even less closely related to us than the bacteria that thrive in our guts are.

These entities are not bacteria, or other microorganisms. They are a new form of life, not closely related to the DNA-based life forms that have dominated the planet for billions of years.

It is the presence of these entities that distinguishes modern humans from primitive cave-dwellers. They are what is responsible for out music, literature, science and technology.

It seems likely that these entities have been with us for millions of years - and are a major factor in contributing to making us human in the first place. This means that most accounts of human evolution that fail to take account of these entities are deeply misguided.

Describing humans as "apes with infected brains" is not intended to imply that the infectious agents are necessarily deleterious - just that they don't necessarily always have our best interests at heart. Many visitors are mutualists - useful symbionts. However, others are toxic and harmful - and humans are often in need of strategies for getting their brains disinfected.

I then go on to explain how ideas behave rather like infectious disease agents using an analogy between the human brain and a zit.

So far, humanity has had a hard time digesting Darwinism, with popular understanding of the topic spreading slowly. According to my book, the revolution started by Darwin is only about half way through. Many scientists are still getting to grips with the idea that our bodies are the product of Darwinian forces, and have yet to get their heads around the idea that all human culture - science, technology, religion and so on - are also the result of Darwinian evolution. Yet without an understanding of cultural evolution, the study of human society and culture is hopelessly stuck in a pre-Darwinian era. Evolutionary theory is key to understanding cultural evolution - just as it is central in understanding organic evolution. Let's hope that - now that we have access to the internet - it won't take another 150 years for the study of human culture to catch up with the rest of evolutionary biology.

Memetics was really founded by Richard Dawkins - in his classic 1976 book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins pretty-much nailed the topic - and authors and scientists since then have mostly been playing catch-up. However, Dawkins only managed a single chapter on the topic - so, with my thirty chapters on the topic I'm hoping to do a little bit better than that.

There have been a few books on the topic since then. The first was Aaron Lynch's Thought Contagion, and then there was Richard Brodies's Virus of the Mind. Probably the most important book on memetics so far is Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine. However, that's over a decade old now - and there's been quite an explosion of activity in the area and scientific publications on the topic in the last decade, so the topic plainly needs revisiting.

Cultural evolution is one of the most confused and misunderstood areas of science I have encountered to date. The specialists within cultural anthropology and history who are supposed to be studying the area have mostly adopted a bizarre and unscientific approach in which observations are key and theoretical expectations represent an undesirable source of bias. However, this is just not how science works, and as a result whole areas of social sciences are grossly distorted. There's also considerable balkanisation: experts in the social sciences can't talk to each other very easily because the of the lack of a unified framework that would be provided by adopting Darwinian foundations. Social scientists have previously seen the influence of Darwinism. Darwin has brought them eugenics, social Darwinism, and sociobiology - which misguidedly attempts to reduce social phenomena to genes. As a result, to this day, Darwin is mostly kept at arms length in the very fields where the topic most urgently needs to be studied. The resulting anti-Darwinian mindset has had devastating effects on genuine scientific study of these areas.

However, there is an ongoing influx of interest in the area. There has been a substantial explosion of memes on the internet recently - with meme-related searches in 2011 rising to 5-10 times previous levels. Internet memes have started appearing regularly in mainstream news channels - and there are substantial online subcultures devoted to memes. The internet is really a key tool for spreading and studying memes. The ability to decompse online memes into sequences of 1s and 0s is broady comparable to the ability to sequence genomes - and this facilitates attempts to study cultural lineages from a phylomemetic perspective and so document the evolution of culture.

So, I reckon that it's a good time for my book on the topic to be published. There are sections on the history of memetics, the origin of human culture, human meme-spreading adaptations, how to classify memes, the major transitions in memetic evolution, applications to marketing, advertising, politics, science and self-development. The science surrounding memetic change is covered, including sections on meme-gene coevolution, symbiosis-based models of their interactions and epidemiological models of meme spread. There's a chapter relating to criticisms of the topic from naysayers. There's a chapter on generalising Darwinism in an attempt to produce a more universally applicable form. There's a chapter on selection processes within the human mind. Another chapter deals with the rapidly developing topic of memetic algorithms. These are related to genetic algorithms - but they represent an attempt to duplicate human cultural evolution inside machines. The book closes with a look to the future and the possibility of a memetic takeover.

A brief reading from the book on the significance of the whole topic:

Richard Brodie, in 1996, characterised the shift towards cultural evolution as a paradigm shift:
Viruses of the mind, and the whole science of memetics, represent a major paradigm shift in the science of the mind.
It is a major paradigm shift - probably the biggest disruption in evolutionary theory since 1859. However it isn't just a paradigm shift. Not only is our understanding of evolutionary theory changing, but the way in which evolution actually happens is changing too. The introduction of directed mutations, intelligent design, and the whole modern optimisation toolkit are not just major developments in the theory of evolution, they are major changes in how the process of evolution actually works.
The book is necessarily somewhat technical. I have tried hard to make it accessible to general population, but some basic knowledge of evolutionary theory would certainly help in understanding its message.

If you are interested in this whole area, my book makes essential reading. It is now available - please follow the links below to get hold of a copy.

Oh yes, and if you can help to introduce other people to this important, but neglected area of science, please go right ahead with my blessing.


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