Thursday, 27 January 2011

Chronological list of all posts

Alphabetic list of all posts

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Mind's Big Bang

Richard Dawkins and Susan Blackmore appear in this 2002 documentary about the evolution of the human brain - where they present about memes:

Memetics suggests that cultural replicators took up residence in the human skull, and then expanded the cranium to make more room for themselves - by rewarding the genes of those with space for the most memes.

There is a section in this documentary about memes starting at 47:30 - but this hypothesis doesn't really get mentioned. The documentary is an example of how memetic explanations frequently get neglected.

Genes travel in packs - memes are loners

On Google, we have:

meme: 234,000,000 - memes: 5,450,000 (a factor of 42.9);

gene: 97,600,000 - genes:44,700,000 (a factor of 2.2).

The difference in this area is enormous! Memes appear to be loners. They are not anywhere near as sociable as genes are.

To see the history, consider these four graphs:

If you focus on the more recent results, you will see that "meme" has come to outnumber "memes" far more than "gene" outnumbers "genes".

Will memes eventually develop better teamwork?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Popularity contest: meme vs gene

In the process of writing the criticism chapter of my book on the subject, I have been reading what some of the critics of memetics have to say for themselves.

I recently read this one:
  • Wimsatt, William C, (2010) Memetics does not provide a useful way of understanding cultural evolution: A developmental perspective. In Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Biology, Ed. Francisco Ayala and Robert Arp, Chichester, Wiley-Blackwell, 255-72.

This paper is pretty bad, in my humble opinion, but it did have at least one interesting bit in it! It pointed out that the term "meme" was no more popular than the term "gene" on the internet - according to search engines.

I checked. The idea has some truth to it.

Google has meme: 233,000,000 - gene: 106,000,000.

Bing has meme: 14,700,000 - gene: 57,100,000.

Yahoo has meme: 12,200,000 - gene: 56,500,000.

Youtube has meme: 644,018 - gene: 225,997.

"Meme" beats "gene" on Google and YouTube - but not on Bing or Yahoo. I think those are the same program behind the scenes these days anyway.

However, Google contradicts itself a little:

Anyhow, the memes are clearly ascendant - and are already ahead - in many places on the internet!
Update 2013-12-20: OMG - now it's a complete walkover!

Sunday, 16 January 2011

An Introduction to memetics

Another basic introduction to memetics on YouTube.

The bits about memes doesn't really start until about 3:00.

The God Virus

The God Virus: How religion infects our lives and culture is a 2009 book by Darrel W. Ray.

There's also a web site:

The author is pretty into his memetics. Here is an interview with him about the topic:

The author has a YouTube channel with many videos on the topic.

David Deutsch - The Beginning of Infinity

David Deutsch's new book is about the philosophy of science - and it reputedly has a section all about memes.

The book is called The Beginning of Infinity - and it is due to be published in mid 2011.

The blurb says:

It looks at the philosophy of science from an uncompromising perspective and reaches startling new conclusions about the nature of human choice, scientific explanation and the evolution of culture.
Update: The book is now out. An Amazon review says:

Deutsch's development (in Chapters 15,16) of Dawkins and Blackmores' theory of memes is seminal stuff, and takes us into politics and sociology. The classification of memes into rational/anti-rational is novel and fascinating. Together with a careful investigation into the logic of the transition from pre-humans to humans, it leads to yet another extraordinary claim: that human creativity evolved because it promoted, not innovation, but conformity to the norms of static societies.
Another update: I read the chapter on memes and the chapter on creativity. It has its moment, though I also found some flaws. Deutsch says:

The whole of biological evolution was but a preface to the main story of evolution, the evolution of memes.

Deutsch emphasises the differences between the organic and cultural realms in a way that I find to be rather distasteful. He also seems to have agendas to do with rationality and escaping from "static societies".

Deutsch supports a bizarre Popperian philosophy - so in some sections we have Popper meets memetics - resulting in passages like this:

Meme replication is often characterized (for example by Blackmore) as imitation. But that cannot be so. A meme is an idea, and we cannot observe ideas inside other people’s brains. [...] Meme replication always follows this pattern: one observes the holders’ behaviour, directly or indirectly. Then, later – sometimes immediately, sometimes after years of such observation – memes from the holders’ brains are present in one’s own brain. How do they get there? It looks a bit like induction, does it not? But induction is impossible. [...] So there is no such thing as ‘just imitating the behaviour’ – still less, therefore, can one discover those ideas by imitating it. One needs to know the ideas before one can imitate the behaviour. So imitating behaviour cannot be how we acquire memes.
I don't have much patience with this kind of Popperian thinking, I'm afraid.

Deutsch offers this summary of his "creativity" chapter:

On the face of it, creativity cannot have been useful during the evolution of humans, because knowledge was growing much too slowly for the more creative individuals to have had any selective advantage. This is a puzzle. A second puzzle is: how can complex memes even exist, given that brains have no mechanism to download them from other brains? Complex memes do not mandate specific bodily actions, but rules. We can see the actions, but not the rules, so how do we replicate them? We replicate them by creativity. That solves both problems, for replicating memes unchanged is the function for which creativity evolved. And that is why our species exists.
So: it is strange stuff. I think you have to be fairly keen on Popper or Deutsch to appreciate such material.

Update: I read the book - and, alas, the philosophy of science is outdated, bad and dogmatic.

Meme song: You Became A Meme

College humour has produced a meme song. It is a song about a lady whose bad day winds up all over the internet. The song has lots of "meme" in-jokes. It is by based on a song by Taylor Swift - a country music singer.

They don't let you embed, but here's the link: You Became A Meme.

The original Taylor Swift VMA viral video:

The music video for the original Taylor Swift track the "meme" song is based on:

The "KayneGate" Swift-interruption moment became so viral that now it has a whole blog associated with it.

I think the Beyoncee video is this one:


Internet meme repositories are pretty common. Memebase seems to be a fairly major one, though. It's from the Cheezburger network.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Memetics references

I've compiled some memetics references - associated with my book project - and they are now online.

This is currently a work in progress - and so it may be updated from time to time.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Facebook Marketing Book

Congratulations to Dan and Alsion Zarella on the launch of The Facebook Marketing Book.

Monday, 10 January 2011

BlogPulse - blog trend tracking tool

BlogPulse is another trend monitoring tool, tracking blogs.

Sample output can be seen here.

Trendistic - track twitter trends

Trendistic is a popular Twitter trends site. Here is a sample:

Here's their list of current hot topics.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Automatic image macro creation

If you are having any trouble creating image macros these sites are here to help:

Online University's guide to internet memes

Online university have kindly produced a visual guide to Internet Memes:

Online University

The above image has been resized. There's a full-size version here.

This looks like simple marketing for Online University - an attempt at memetic hitchhiking with a bunch of virulent memes.

Tim Tyler - Cultural Evolution

Here is another prototype cover for my proposed 2011 book.

The book is probably going to be called "Memetics". However, the main topic is going to be cultural evolution, rather than cultural genetics (memetics).

This cover is based on one of the diagrams from the book - illustrating cultural evolution using the classic example of knots.

Anthropologsts have long been aware that artefacts bear resemblances to each other that are suggestive of phylogenetic trees.

However, the idea works imperfectly - and it is not usually possible to construct phylogenetic trees of artefacts. This appears to have led to the approach being rather neglected - since it was evidently an inaccurate model of what was happening.

A beter model involves constructing phylogenetic trees of the associated memes. Knot tying involves a variety of themes - including:

  • Tying knots on top of each other;
  • Slip knots;
  • Doubling up strands;
  • Entwining strands;
  • Overhand knot pattern;
  • Reef knot pattern;
  • Figure-eight knot pattern;

...and so on. Some of these are simple enough to have multiple independent origins - but some more complex knot patterns have
single origins, and their sources can be traced.

A picture of origin and spread with diffusion and variation of knot memes - along with selection favouring useful knots - better accounts for the history of knot tying.

In the diagram, simple knots are in the middle, double-stranded knots are on the left-hand side - and nearby knots are often related in some way.

For the first prototype of the cover, see here. For the third prototype of the cover, see here.