Au contrere, drink Perriere!

Tue, 1 Feb 1994 16:49:45 -0500

>In response to Steve Mizrach and Jerry Forstadt:
>The Darwinian/memetic/selectionist model of evolution (as opposed to
>traditional Lamarkian/adaptationalist approaches) is not as new to
>anthropology as Mizrach and J.Forstadt appear to realize.

You're conflating two things. Darwinian evolution has been applied to
explain cultural change, to be sure, long before the sociobiologists.
Mostly by Social Darwinists like Spencer and so on. I am not arguing that
memetics involves Darwinian evolution at all. Memes do not "compete" in the
way genes do for ecological niches. Rather they compete for cerebral space.
Clearly a different model of selection is needed. And I am not sure if
memes "evolve," they only change, although one might argue that memetic
*systems* do evolve toward greater complexity. However, history belies
this; even the confabulations of the most complex academic theories pale
before the complexity of the medieval Scholastics' ruminations. Thomism is
piled thick with mounds of memes.

>Dunnell and other selectionists
>realize this distinction and believe that archaeologists and
>anthropologists can benefit by employing Darwinian models of evolution to
>cultural traits.

I think this is a mistake. Darwinian evolution deals with organisms.
*Dawkins*ian evolution deals with *genes* as the principal actors rather
than organisms or species. And memetics deals with neither - it deals with
*memes* and their collectivities, e.g. memetic (belief) systems.
Of course, memes would not propagate without organisms capable of
communication and learning, so clearly genes and memes are connected.

>An important component of the biological model is the understanding that
>evolution is not progressive; it does not have any directionality.
>Increased complexity through time does not mean directionality and does
>not imply that evolution is some sort of *force*.

Except insofar as complexity might reveal greater self-organization... and
this is a matter for inorganic as well as organic systems...

>The major problem remains the identification of memes, or units of
>variation: i.e., traits. Culture is so complex that this may never be
>attainable. Mizrach's ad hoc "identification" of memes must be seen as
>naive oversimplifications.

"Memes" are not "traits," per se. If my mother puts a pink skirt on a small
child, and it does not understand the reason why this is so, then the meme
"One is to wear pink skirts before going to school" is not present,
although the anthropologist might observe the *behavior* of his wearing a
pink skirt. I see no reason why memes cannot be identified as propositions;
they can be conditionals or event-driven propositions. One might use the
analogy that a meme is a line of computer code, and that a memetic system
is a program consisting of several lines of code. I am certainly not the
first one to point out the analogy between the memetic system, "ordinary"
viruses, and the computer virus. All three operate similarly, taking over
the instructions and operation of the "host" system...

>Perhaps the most ambitious attempt at applying a Darwinian model to
>cultural evolution was David Rindos' explanation of the origins of
>agriculture from a selectionist perspective. Rindos integrated and
>synthesized biological and social processes and came up with a
>coevolutionary scheme for the adoption of plant cultivation. This work
>has been attacked from many angles (by adaptationalists, feminists,
>others), emphasizing the problematic nature of selectionist research.
>Many of these criticisms are valid, but I won't go into specific
>arguments either way at this point.
>Michael S. Forstadt
>Department of Anthropology
>Harvard University

"Coevolution" does need to be examined... especially the symbiotic
relationships between memetic systems and certain genetic populations; and
also the cooperative "agreements" established between certain memetic
systems that might otherwise be forced to compete, through such things as
"the separation of Church and State..."

Seeker1 [@Nervm.Nerdc.Ufl.Edu] (real info available on request)
Anthropologist, Cybernaut, PoMoDemite, Noetician, Situationiste, et al.
University of Florida, Gainesville, Cosmic Nexus of the Universal Matrix
"'Tis an ill wind that blows no minds!" --Malaclypse the Younger