Monday, 25 May 2015

Disagree with Daniel: Are memes going out of date?

I don't much like many of Daniel's recent ideas about "DeDarwinizing" culture. However one particularly bad idea seems to me to be the one that the idea of memes worked best in the early days of cultural evolution. Here's Daniel:

Now, if you look at it this way, then one of the nice things of this is that it means that I can still cling to one of my favorite ideas — the idea of a meme — and say where the meme's eye point of view really works, and really when it is needed is in the early days. The best example of memes are words. Words are memes that can be pronounced; that's their genus and species. Words came into existence not because they were invented, and languages came into existence not because they were designed by intelligent human designers, but they are brilliantly designed and they're designed by cultural evolution in the same way that a bird's wing and the eye of the eagle are designed by genetic evolution. You can't explain human competence all in terms of genetic evolution. You need cultural evolution as well, and that cultural evolution is profoundly Darwinian in the early days. And as time has passed, it has become more and more non-Darwinian.

IMO, evolution is becoming more and more meme dominated. The copying fidelity of memes has gone up, and their volume and signifince is exploding. Another change is that memes are experiencing more and more horizontal transmission - horizontal w.r.t. the DNA genes of their human hosts, I mean. Dennett seems to think that intelligently designed memes are an oxymoron. However, genetically engineered genes are still called "genes". The involvement of intelligence makes no significant difference in either case. Memes aren't going out of fashion, they are in the ascendant.


  1. What would be a genetically designed gene?

    1. I meant to say: genetically engineered genes are still called "genes". I updated the post.

  2. Well, if evolution only applies to things that occur naturally, then the idea that memes are indeed being tampered with is problematic.

    Of course, this is becasue evolution isn't explicitely genetics, nor is memetics explicitly cultural evolution. It's a bit like confusing velocity with acceleration, or perhaps even more appropriately, a sine curve with a cosine curve.

    No... I think the idea of memetics itself evolving is par for the course. It's funny that he's becoming gun shy now, when more advanced and self-sufficient memes have come around as a response to thier discovery. This doesn't make them any more unnatural than entangled particles.

    Fucking weird, I'll grant you -from belief and political systems to spooderman- but arguably just as natural. I think everyone even remotely related to biology needs to give this all a good re-think and read this book: The Runes Of Evolution by Simon Conway Morris