Darwin Spencer Genes Memes

Dave Rindos (arkeo4@UNIWA.UWA.EDU.AU)
Wed, 2 Feb 1994 08:26:55 +0800

On Tue, 1 Feb 1994 Steve Mizrach noted:
> >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 think that it is now *very* well established that Spencer, et al.,
NEVER proposed, or even accepted, a darwinian (undirected variation +
selection) kind of evolution. Unlike the internally driven and
interactive selection of Darwin, Spencer (and the cultural evoltionists
of the 1950's) saw an EXTERNAL force which acted upon organisms (and in
the case of Spencer, the whole universe) to DIRECT temporal change in
specific directions. The whole simple->complex nonsense comes from this
cultural source, it would appear, and it also seems that the common
MISunderstanding of evolution and what it entails derives from these
same kinds of a orthogenetic and progressivist models.

> 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.

Well.. to be honest, Darwinian evolution is not dependent upon genes in
any case. Historically, Darwin didn't know squat about genes. His
theory of heredity was simply wrong. I believe that the confusion of
genetics and darwinian evolution probably arose from the very success of
the New Sytheseis in mid-century. After almost half a century during
which the mendelians and dawinists were at each others' throats, the
realisation that the theories were not only compatable, but that they
were mutually re-inforcing must have come as quite a jolt! Somehow
"genetics is darwian and genes evolve" became equated with "evolution is
genetic and darwinism applies only to genes." Quite beyond me how this
ever happened but clearly it did!

> Clearly a different model of selection is needed.
We can use the same model for *selection*. It is models for heredity,
"vehicles" and "replicators" that need to be altered.

> "Memes" are not "traits," per se.
Well put. Neither, of course, are genes "traits" either (except in a
few rare cases such as those governing meiotic drive). Hence, the mode
of coding (cultural vs genetic) is really quite irrelevant to the basic
darwinian model of differential selection of hereditable alternatives.

> "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..."

In terms of these sorts of issues (interface of genetic and cultural
systems) I highly recommend Durham's recent volume. It should come as
no real surprise that cultural and genetic systems interact -- after all
it was this very sort of interaction of behaviour and genetic systems that
permitted cultural systems to arise in the first place!


Dave Rindos arkeo4@uniwa.uwa.edu.au
Australian Foundation for Archaeological Sciences
20 Herdsmans Parade Wembley WA 6014 AUSTRALIA
Ph:+61 9 387 6281 (GMT+8) FAX:+61 9 380 1051 (USEST+13)