Saturday, 23 August 2014

Cultural evolution exhibits deep similarities with organic evolution

Alan Winfield recently claimed (on Twitter):

Memetics claims to resemble bio. evo. but only at the highest level of process: variation, selection and heredity.
I don't think this is true. In memetics, cultural evolution is part of biological evolution - since culture is part of biology.

Cultural evolution resembles DNA-based evolution in a wide variety of ways. There's adaptation, drift, kin selection, hitchhiking and linkage. There's parasitism, mutualism, epidemics, stasis, phenotypes, ontogeny and progress. There's Hamilton's rule, Wright's "shifting balance" theory and Fisher's fundamental theorem.

Of course, there are differences too - but the similarities are widely under-appreciated - and they run deep.

The point of memetics is to study the differences between genetics and its cultural equivalent - the study of cultural heredity. However, the very first step in that project is to appreciate the similarities with genetics - so you can make appropriate use of all the work that has already been performed.

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