Saturday, 6 July 2019

Stephen Shennan: Darwinian Archaeology, Culture, And The Origins of Agriculture

Michael Muthukrishna: Human Culture, The Cultural Brain, And Political Corruption

Robert Boyd: Gene-culture Coevolution, Cultural Evolution

Peter Richerson: Biology and Culture, Cultural Evolution, Cognition, and Group Selection

Richerson is asked about his beefs with memetics in the video. His #1 point is that memetics emphasized that memes are maladaptive pathogens. That just seems like a rather silly misunderestanding to me. The cases where meme interests and gene interests are not aligned are important because that's where theories based on them make different predictions. It is also where memetic immune responses can be expected to focus. However, that's about the size of it. Not all memesare bad for their hosts and nobody ever said otherwise.

His #2 critique seemed to revolve around "selflishness". I was remineded of the critique that "genes cannot be selfish or unselfish, any more than atoms can be jealous, elephants abstract or biscuits teleological". Richerson has previously made some more sensible criticisms of memetics; I think this was an off day.

Susan Blackmore: How Memetics Works

One critical point here: Blackmore compares and constrasts memes with the theories of Boyd and Richerson. Around 6 minutes in she says that other cultural evolution theorists argue that culture is for us, for our genes. That's not really right. Numerous theorists (including Boyd and Richerson) appreciate that culture can be and sometimes is genetically maladaptive. There might be a difference in emphasis here, since memetics, for good reasons has been much more interested in maladaptive culture than many other cultural theorists - but this isn't really a qualitative difference, IMO.

Meme theorists have historically emphasized the similarities with DNA-based evolution - since that lets us lever our existing knowledge and theories, while Boyd and Richerson tend to emphasize the differences - on the grounds that that is what is new and different about cultural evolution. Here is a summary of that from me: Differences remain exaggerated.

Here is one attempt by me to articulate the problem: The host-centric approach to cultural evolution. It's not so much that the models are wrong, it is more to do with their interpretation.

Ben Cullen nailed the issue as well as anyone, I think. See my review of Contagious Ideas for the details.

IMO, meme theorists should try and get onto the same page about what went wrong with cultural evolution in academia. If meme proponents produce criticisms that are invalid, that's not going to help to sort things out.