Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Tim Tyler: Hughes, On the Origin of Tepees (review)


Hi! I'm Tim Tyler, this is a review of this book:

On the Origin of Tepees - by Jonnie Hughes
This book has a title which is obviously based on Charles Darwin's 1859 book. It's about the author's discovery of cultural evolution and memetics. The author imitates Darwin's trip to the Galapagos by seeking out cultural islands within the American mainland - mainly looking at artefacts - hats, barns and tepees. It is an unusual mixture of popular science and road trip.

The author uses the metaphor of view-point-altering googgles to help describe his journey. When he puts the goggles on he looks at things through the eyes of a cultural evolutionist - and the world looks pretty different and unusual to him.

The memetics in this book is good. Jonnie Hughes has a pretty good understanding of the topic, in my opinion.

The author spends most of the book on cultural evolution, and then describes how the "gene" revolution - which transformed evolutionary biology in the 1950s and 1960s - has a direct parallel in cultural evolution - which has its own little bits of inherited cultural information: memes. This insight has led to the "meme's eye view" - and other important developments.

If I made scientific criticisms, I would first point to the author's endorsement of internalism, which I find to be an unhelpful perspective. The other thing that I thought was wrong was his explanation for why memes have not made much progress in academia. He says it is the difficulty in actually identifying them in the brain. That isn't really the right answer. Plenty of other things that can't be directly observed don't face the same problem. There are several other reasons why academia has had trouble digesting memetics.

Much of the serious science in the book is confined to a bibliography at the end. It is four pages long. I would have preferred the whole book to have been like that. Memetics needs the attention of scientists more than it needs conversion stories by science writers.

Lastly I'll tell you about my favourite bit of the book. It's a bit near the end - where the author likens pioneer species colonising a new environment to memes colonising an infant's mind. Hughes explains in some detail how the early species in an environment create the ecosystem for those that follow them - in the same way that early memes create a mental environment for the more complex ones that follow them. This is a beautiful analogy, and in the hands of an eloquent science writer like Hughes, it is a joy to read.

Let's hope Jonnie keeps those memes coming in the future.


Tim Tyler: Stanovich, The Robot's Rebellion (review)


Hi! I'm Tim Tyler, this is a review of this book:

The Robot's Rebellion: Finding Meaning in the Age of Darwin - by Keith Stanovich.

The book is a manifesto expanding on Richard Dawkins' idea at the end of The Selfish Gene. Dawkins wrote:

We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth and, if necessary, the selfish memes of our indoctrination. We can even discuss ways of deliberately cultivating and nurturing pure, disinterested altruism - something that has no place in nature, something that has never existed before in the whole history of the world. We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.
Stanovich turns this into the central thesis of his book. His book is about a type of morality and ethics which is informed by evolutionary theory.

Stanovich comes from a long line of thinkers that views nature as immoral, or at best amoral. Thomas Henry Huxley, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and many other thinkers have painted nature as curel and indifferent - and evolution as bad and not to be imitated.

Stanovich - like Dawkins - proposes that humans rebel against selfish replicators - namely genes and memes - and instead promote their own interests: "the interests of the vehicle", as Stanovich calls them.

Most of the book is about why and how humans should rebel against their genes. He pictures humans as part-conscious and part-unconscious systems. He sides with the conscious component, or the ego, and characterises our unconscious minds as sub-human saboteurs, getting us to do things that make us miserable against our own best interests.

The whole topic is an interesting one, though the book is a bit on the dry and repetitive.

The book has a section on memes, which is quite good. Stanovich recognises memes as forming a second evolutionary system, and has a pretty good understanding of memetics. However, memes are just another type of selfish replicator to Stanovich. They no more have our interests at heart than our genes do. Indeed, he characterises many memes as being especially nasty - "nastier than genes even", as he puts it.

In the rest of this review, I will directly address Stanovich's main thesis. I should say at this point that I am not sympathetic towards it. The idea that evolution is bad has been opposed by thinkers such as Julian Huxley and Peter Kropotkin. Like them, I see in evolution's positive, cooperative side a guide about how to behave. The views of Huxley and Kropotkin have been mostly trampled on by subsequent thinkers, but their ideas about evolution and cooperation are essentially correct - even though they are not currently in vogue.

The idea of enlightened humans rebelling against the interests of sub-human replicating agents is an intriguing one, but I don't think it is founded in good science. The problem is that Stanovich's picture doesn't include all the copying processes that are taking place.

While Stanovich deserves credit for recognising both DNA genes and memes, he doesn't treat within-brain change as an evolutionary process. However the fact that individual learning also forms its own evolutionary process was recognised long ago by Skinner, Campbell, Calvin, Cziko, Dennett and others. Indeed, any non-trivial goal-directed system is going to have a fitness function and an evolutionary tree-pruning algorithm at its heart.

In rejecting genes and memes, Stanovich is just throwing has hat in with other evolving structures within the brain. Stanovich claims to be siding with "the vehicle", but, in practice this turns out to be something close to the ego, which itself is composed of a bunch of happiness-promoting replicating structures that Stanovich didn't consider. In short, all positions to this topic involve siding with some bunch of copying entities or other. Copying with variation and selection underlies every optimisation process. The issue is not whether to side with a bunch of copied entities, but rather which ones you side with. With this framing of the problem, much of Stanovich's rhetoric about the inhumanity of stupid mindless replicators falls flat.

There are indeed some reasons follow the dictates of your conscious mind - that part of you is often smart and forward thinking. However, the brain's analytic side is heavily dominated by the ego - which is rather like the brain's public relations department. A big part of its job is to convince everyone else how wonderful you are. Stanovich's proposal is rather like giving control over a company to its public relations department. Egoism is fairly common, but there's more to a human than their ego. Thinking of yourself as being your ego is an impoverished picture of yourself which ignores much of what makes you human. Egoism is partly a western disorder - those from non-western cultures are less likely to identify completely with their egos. So: I think Stanovich's idea takes things too far.

Since the ego is largely constructed by genes, we can expect most humans to not have rebellious egos - since those with a tendency to rebel against their genes would have left behind fewer children. So, one wonders what fraction of humanity Stanovich is preaching to.

Stanovich proposes redefining the word "rationality" to refer to actions that promote the interest of "the vehicle". This plan strikes me as being a hopeless one - that just isn't what the word "rationality" means. I think that idea that rationality consists of optimising the function that Stanovich recommends is a non-starter.

Stanovich's book can be regarded as an interesting example of an attempt at founding a secular religion based on science. Stanovich's memes do get cited from time to time and have found themselves an audience. There's a type of human that hopes that their ego will live forever - and isn't interested in reproducing - and some of them seem to approve of Stanovich's ideas.

However, my council is to consider Stanovich's book as another memeplex that wants you to divert your resources into propagating it - at the expense of your own genetic heritage. There are a lot of memes out there hoping that you will divert some of your reproductive resources towards their propagation. Stanovich promises you happiness - if you are prepared to get off the genetic train and - consign your genes to eternal oblivion. If you are normally OK with memes hijacking the goals that nature gave you, then, by all means, go for it. However, if you don't usually approve of that, then I recommend being as cautious of embracing Stanovich's memes as you are of any other ones.


Sunday, 28 October 2012

Tim Tyler: Kelley, The Origin of Everything (review)


Hi! I'm Tim Tyler, this is a review of this book:

The Origin of Everything via Universal Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Systems in Contention for Existence D. B. Kelley. The book is clearly named after Darwin's 1859 book titled:

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life

My book is a review copy - which was sent to me ahead of its release by its publishers. The main topic is universal selection - and what an important idea it is. I'm pretty much on board with the author's views regarding the high level of significance of the topic. Universal Darwinism is a tremendously important subject - and universal selection is a big part of it.

Many people who are interested in expanding the domain of Darwinism only extend the theory to cover the social sciences, the brain and development - leaving the idea still confined to the life sciences. By contrast, this book extends the idea of selection far beyond the social sciences - emphasizing that selection applies to practically everything - including natural selection of moons, stars, atoms, galaxies, chemical compounds and all manner of other things. I think this emphasis is correct - Darwinism and natural selection do also cover the inorganic realm.

Some apply selectionist ideas to complex adaptive systems, but the author points out that even atoms qualify as being complex - and so pretty much any system you care to think of qualifies as a complex system. The author prefers to just call them "systems". I think this is a helpful perspective.

The book offers a symbiosis-friendly version of Darwinism - extending mutualism and parasitism into the organic realm as well. I think that makes reasonable sense - though some will probably view it as being a step too far.

The author presents selectionism as a part of physics. However, since it also applies in a wide range of universes with different physical laws - such as Conway's Game of Life - I prefer to think of it as a principle of statistics - broadly similar to statistical mechanics.

The book offers a treatment of universal selection and the anthropic principle. It's the best treatment of this topic that I have encountered. There is a discussion of memetics, although it is pretty small section. The book also discusses selectionism as a grand unifying principle in science, and the scale of its possible impact.

However, this is a book with a number of problems - some of which I will now describe:

The book is quite repetitive, making essentially the same point regarding the ubiquity of selection over and over again.

There's a lot of discussion of selection, but not much breaking this down into copying and destruction. Copying and destruction are very different ideas, which demand independent treatment and analysis. Bundling them together into the single category of "selection" doesn't really do either of them justice.

The author doesn't really distinguish much between cumulative adaptive evolution and degenerative evolution. This is a pretty critical distinction if extending Darwinism into the inorganic domain.

Other principles - besides universal Darwinism purport to explain the evolution of complex adaptive systems. In particular maximum entropy thermodynamics purports to explain the evolution of a wide range of living and non-living systems. Those discussing universal Darwinism need to discuss the relationship between it and existing ideas like these - but the author doesn't really do that. There is a chapter on entropy - but that addresses quite a different topic.

There's quite a lot of discussion regarding links between Darwinism and relativity in the book. I think this link is overstated.

The author seems to think the material in the book is quite original. However, I wasn't really convinced of that. I published an essay titled "Universal Selection" online in 2010 - which fairly plainly and clearly extended selection into the inorganic domain. I didn't come up with the idea either - my essay cites a paper from 1996 on essentially the same topic.

Radical extensions of Darwinism can expect to face criticism. For example, Massimo Pigliucci says:

Physicists talk about the evolution of the universe all the time but all they mean by that is: change over time. Now, if that is what we mean by "evolution", then pretty much everything falls under evolution - so surely we must mean something more specific than that.

I think those writing in the area should make an effort to anticipate and address such criticisms. However, this book doesn't seem to be written with critics in mind - rather it is a book of enthusiastic advocacy of the idea. I also think that those working on radical reformulations reformulations of Darwinism should probably take efforts to appear credible. The author could have taken more steps in that direction. For one thing, I spotted a number of mistakes. For example, the book claims that trees are asexual. It claims that monkeys and dinosaurs coexisted. It repeatedly reports a discovery of faster than light travel, which was subsequently widely discredited. These kinds of things don't make a positive contribution to making the case.

So, to summarise, this is a good and important book, but it also suffers from a number of flaws. However, because of the vaccuum in the area, any contributions to it are very welcome - and consequently this book makes essential reading for anyone interested in the issue of the domain of Darwinian theory.


Tim Tyler: Campbell, Universal Darwinism (review)


Hi! I'm Tim Tyler, this is a review of this book: Universal Darwinism - by John Campbell

This is one of a tiny number of books on the tremendously important - yet dreadfully neglected - topic of Universal Darwinism. The extension of evolutionary theory into fields beyond the realm of organic biology is long overdue.

The book adopts a perspective based on information theory - and makes many links to the concept of Bayesian updating. It suggests that knowledge acquisition by brains and the accumulation of survival know-how by evolution are closely related. This aspect of the book is excellent.

The book takes a rather conservative approach to Universal Darwinism - sticking to those cases with the best literature support. This conservatism has a positive side - in that critics will find fewer flaws in the book. However, it means that there is little discussion of Darwinism in prebiotic systems - such as whirlpools, crystal growth, propagating cracks and turbulence. Nor is there much discussion of the law of "survival of the stable", or natural selection on a cosmic scale - though Smolin's ideas do get a few lines.

The author correctly links Universal Darwinism to maximum entropy thermodynamics. This is a real and important link - but the author's treatment of the maximum entropy idea is very cursory: he just treats maximum entropy as a constraint. Universal Darwinism and maximum entropy thermodynamics are deeply-linked ideas, but although this book has a whole chapter on the topic, it doesn't really go into their relationship very much.

The book deals with four main examples of Universal Darwinism: quantum physics, biology, learning and human culture. The 'biology' section seemed rather unnecessary to me - application of Darwinism there is well known and this topic has been treated by many others. The sections about cultural evolution and brain evolution are both good. For me, it was also nice to see material about memetics in the book. Lastly, there is a large section about "Quantum Darwinism". Quantum physics doesn't make a great example to illustrate Universal Darwinism with simply because quantum physics is so difficult to understand. I didn't really get on with the author's presentation, because it was framed in terms of "wave function collapse" - a proposed physical process which, so far, we have yet to find any evidence for. A presentation that is more agnostic about its interpretation of quantum physics would probably have a smaller chance of alienating the reader.

I thought that probably the biggest problem with the book is what it omits. Application of Darwinism to complex adaptive systems is a large and important subject. It is also much easier to understand than quantum physics. I wasn't convinced that the author understood this aspect of the topic very well - otherwise, surely it would have been included.

So, overall, this is a very welcome contribution to the topic, but I think it leaves considerable scope for further light to be thrown on the subject.


The corpses of dead and discredited theories

One problem for evolutionary theorists interested in human behaviour is that the field is littered with the corpses of dead and discredited theories.

  • Social Darwinism - has now become a synonym for evolution-inspired racism and eugenics programs and supposedly-discredited unilinear evolutionary theories.
  • Sociobiology - both the memetics and cultural evolution were born in a revolution against Wilson's sociobiology - whose reduction of everything to genetics was half-baked.
  • Evolutionary psychology - this has turned out to be the study of human universals. That is a travesty of a genuine evolutionary study of human psychology.
  • Behaviourism - the study of behaviour, or so you might think. Alas, what went wrong?
The problem is that these theories have sensible-sounding names, which now can hardly be used, due to their pollution with the bad ideas from the past.

Evolutionary psychology should be the study of psychology from an evolutionary perspective - including the evolution of individually and socially learned ideas - instead of the current mess.

Social Darwinism should be the study of the evolution of societies from a Darwinian perspective - obviously an important field.

Sociobiology should be the study of social behaviour in biology - and not refer to Wilson's ideas on the topic, which didn't always make a lot of sense.

Behaviourism should be the study of behaviour. Alas, to most people it refers to a discredited theory today.

We can probably rescue these words from the dustbin of history - but only if we make an effort to start using them to mean what they ought to mean.


Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Susan Blackmore - 2011 Creativity Forum

Creativity Forum - Susan Blackmore.

Susan discusses memes, religion and creativity.

Susan Blackmore interview in 2012

Susan Blackmore interview in 2012

Susan Blackmore: The Meme Machine.

Sue talks about memes, temes and ego.

A glowing review of The Meme Machine

This fellow certainly sounds as though he enjoyed The Meme Machine.

Maybe I should send him a copy of my book on the topic.

Update 2014-01-02 - this video now seems to be a dead link - sorry 'bout that.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Planned "shock-and-awe" campaign

The expansion of the domain of Darwinism to the human sciences is the biggest and most significant scientific revolution I have ever lived through. However, I am disappointed with the slow progress of the revolution. There's a lot of tenures on the line, and it seems as though some are prepared to fight every step of the way, and others who don't want disruption. As a result, progress is frustratingly slow.

So far, I've mainly focussed on memetics - which seems to be the most important domain in terms of applications. Next-most important is probably the field of within-brain evolution. However, for a while I've been aware that Darwinism has a much broader domain of application, going beyond the organic sciences into inorganic realms: turbulence, cracks, erosion, fires, crystals, radiation, etc.

After my next "memes" book, I will probably focus some of my energy on explaining and promoting Universal Darwinism. Universal Darwinism is relatively simple and easy to understand. The field is so badly neglected that a shock-and-awe campaign in the area could easily result in big gains in understanding.

While the inorganic sciences may lack human impact, more widespread acceptance of Darwinism's broader base would imply the correctness of memetic and brain within-brain evolution as sub-fields.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Jonathan Marks and the view from anthropology

Confused critic of cultural evolution Jonathan Marks penned this article in the journal Evolutionary Anthropology, reviewing several of the recent books in the area. It's called Recent Advances in Culturomics [sic].

For Jonathan Marks's previous efforts in the area see here.

I agree with Marks about at least one thing - there's too much "bean bag genetics" in cultural evolution - and not enough understanding of the role of symbiosis - mirroring the situation of organic evolutionary theory between 1930 and 1980. Marks attributes this trait to memetics - which ironically seems to be the most symbiosis-aware strain of cultural evolution to me.

The rest of the article is painful reading for cultural evolution enthusiasts. Not because it makes good points, but because arrogance and confusion don't mix well.

The rest of Evolutionary Anthropology is also a pretty strange place. As with many of those concerned with human evolution, it seems to be preoccupied with the distant past. There's an awful lot of modern data on human cultural evolution that not enough people seem to be looking at.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Critic Massimo Pigliucci offers daft objections to memetics

Massimo Pigliucci has another dopey article out on memes:

Scientists and philosophers have cast doubt on the usefulness, even the coherence, of the very concept. As my evolutionary biology colleague Jerry Coyne has said, it is ‘completely tautological, unable to explain why a meme spreads except by asserting, post facto, that it had qualities enabling it to spread’. We don’t know how to define memes in a way that is operationally useful to the practicing scientist, we don’t know why some memes are successful and others not, and we have no clue as to the physical substrate, if any, of which memes are made.

This criticism doesn't get any less stupid through repetition. Social scientists do know a lot of things about which memes spread. The problem here is that Pigliucci doesn't know about the relevant social science.

I made a video about this one a while back: Tim Tyler: Can memetics predict meme fitnesses?

New book on evolutionary economics from Geoffrey Hodgson

For details see here:

From Pleasure Machines to Moral Communities: An Evolutionary Economics without Homo economicus.

Helena Cronin: flat denial of cultural evolution

One of the most outrageous comments on Steven Pinker's misinformed anti-group selection rant came from Helena Cronin.

Helena Cronin once wrote the nice book The Ant And The Peacock, which included somne positive comments about memes. However, now we have this:

The eminent philosopher sat frozen in horror, forkful of lunch poised between plate and mouth. What enormity had caused the shock? The conversation had turned to cultural evolution. And I had suggested that there is no such thing. There's culture; there's history; there's change; there's progress; there's technological innovation; there's growth of knowledge; there's social learning; and there's lots more. But there's no cultural evolution.

It's flat denial of the large literature on cultural evolution. Helena Cronin obviously doesn't have a clue what she is talking about.

These days, it's rather weird for me to think of this parallel universe which some evolutionary biologists inhabit - where culture doesn't evolve. I think some of these folk still need to get on the internet and read up about the topic before opening their mouths.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Generalised genetics

Many people associate genetics with DNA. It often says in the definition of genetics that it is the science of heredity and inheritance in living organisms. However the phenomena of heredity and inheritance are not confined to living organisms. They extend to inorganic systems - raindrops, electrical discharges, propagating cracks, photons hitting dust. See the articles positional inheriance, velocity inheritance and darwinian physics for details about this.

If genetics is the science of heredity and inheritance in living organisms, what is the science of heredity and inheritance in non-living systems living called? It doesn't have a name. Most people don't know that it exists. There are no journals or conferences. It is a dark area of science.

Universal Darwinism requires generalised symbiosis. However, it also requires generalised genetics.

The most famous approach to generalising genetics is the "replicator" concept of Richard Dawkins. However, this concept is misleadingly-named and has caused widespread confusion - as documented in my references below.

Probably the next most famous approach to generalising genetics is the "mneme" concept of Richard Semon. This was conceptually pretty good, but it never took off, and its "mneme" doesn't roll off the tongue.
Other approaches are described in my essay:

The basic problem with genetics is that it is confined to living organisms. Many things in nature are copied with variation and selection that are not conventially considered to be alive. These include crystals, cracks, lighning, drainage patterns, refraction, reemission, turbulent eddies, etc. For more details see my essays:

Generalised genetics expands the concept of a science of heredity to all the cases where information is copied in nature. It uses conceptions of gene inspired by G.C. Williams - who described genes as:

In this book I use the term gene to mean 'that which segregates and recombines with appreciable frequency'

- Williams, 1966, page 241.

The existing concept of genetics could be described as "narrow genetics" - to distinguish it from the generalised version. The principles are pretty - much the same. Eventually we could deprecate the "narrow" version of "genetics" as being redundant - and drop the "generalised" prefix.


Sunday, 7 October 2012

Memes are not "atomistic"

In recent comments about memes, David Sloane Wilson is critical of the idea of:
memes as primarily atomistic free agents

He joins other meme critics in invoking atomism:

C. Herrmann-Pillath (2011) says:

As it stands, memetics is an approach to culture that is problematic in two respects. First, it is atomistic, and second, it is mentalist.
I Pörn (2002) says:
When atomism is transferred to the social sciences, individualism results. In cultural studies atomism appears as the presupposition of “memes”—that is, a cultural object or belief that can be replicated, passed on, and evolve, and which seems to have a life of its own.

The name atom comes from the Greek (atomos, "indivisible"). It means "uncuttable", something that cannot be further divided.

Words are memes. Words can be subdivided into syllables or letters. It is pretty obvious that some memes are divisible in this way. Similarly genes may be divided into nucleotides. Neither genes or memes are "atomistic".

Of course, no meme enthusiasts ever characterised memes as "atomistic" in the first place.

Instead, "atomism" is a term that has been applied to memetics by critics. This approach is known as a straw-man attack. Such attacks involve projecting undesirable traits onto the object of criticism and then making out that they actually belong to it. Straw man attacks are a well known form of fallacious arugmentation.

Memes are reductionistic, not atomistic - and reductionism is wonderful - one of the foundation stones of the scientific method.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Lapsed memeticists

Who do you go to if you want the dirt on your new boyfriend? Why his ex, of course!

So, what do the ex-memeticists have to say for themselves?

I can think of five fairly well-known ones:

John and Kate have fairly reasonable positions. Aunger seems to be in a meme muddle. Edmonds doesn't seem to have been that keen on memes in the first place. Liane seems to be completely off the rails to me. Although she is evidently an expert, she doesn't seem noticably less muddled on the topic than other meme critics.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Who are memes for?

David Sloan Wilson has an outlandish article out, titled: Human Cultures are Primarily Adaptive at the Group Level.

The article is a good illustration of one of my gripes about cultural group selection. Proponents often muddle together genetic and cultural groups - along the lines of the fallacy of the extended genotype.

Human DNA is influenced by kin selection. Similarly, memes which are influenced by cultural kin selection. Some like to describe kin selection in terms of group selection.

However, to apply cultural group selection to groups of humans - it's a conceptual muddling together of the cultural and organic realms. It is usually best to keep these realms separate - applying organic group selection to genes in the organic realm and cultural group selection to memes in the cultural realm.

This is not to say that the two systems don't interact, rather that attempting to mix separate systems - with independent gene pools - when discussing kin or group selection doesn't make much sense - and just leads to muddle and confusion.

Compare with smallpox. Guns wiped out many native Americans, and smallpox germs wiped out many more. If the gun memes are adaptive on the level of "groups", should we similarly say that smallpox is adaptive on the level of "groups"? The conventional response is to say that this is a wrong question. If we look at the features of the smallpox virus, they are adaptive mainly at the level of the smallpox virus itself. The fact that the virus acts to wipe out groups of humans is an irrelevant epiphenomenon - as far as the adaptive features of the smallpox virus goes.

It's best to look at culture the same way. Culture is adaptive for itself first and foremost.

Now, it is possible to have adaptations in one species that benefit another one. We see this in domestic crops, for instance. Maize's strange cobs are there to benefit the maize plant - but there's also a sense in which they are there to benefit humans. It is a legitimate question whether Maize cobs benefit humans or human groups - and George Price's methodology for approaching this question could be applied if you had a specific breakdown of humans into groups in mind. But surely it is pretty dubious to say that maize cobs are there primarily to benefit humans. Maize cobs are primarily adaptive to maize genes. They've just found a way of manipulating humans into planting maize seeds.

Many memes have a much more negative effect on the fertility of their hosts than maize cobs do. If you think meme adaptations are primarily there for humans then you lose the ability to explain phenomena such as the inverted J-shaped curve of meme adoption and the demographic transition in Japan. Memes do not exist primarily for the benefit of humans - or for the benefit of human groups. They exist for their own sake.

The inverted J-shaped curve of meme adoption

Memes, on average helped our ancestors. Our enlarged crainum and adaptations for speaking illustrate that, for our ancestors, more memes were better. However, in the west, the average effect of most memes on the DNA of their human hosts seems to be negative. The more educated you are, the fewer children you produce. The more memes you have, the fewer children you produce. This phenmomenon, widely recognised under the name of the demographic transition goes beyond r/K selection, and produces results that are positively maladaptive for human DNA. There's no way that the sub-replacement fertility levels in Japan are adaptive to the DNA of the human hosts there. The excess of memes in the developed world are simply bad for human DNA.

In memetics, the reason for this is fairly straightforwards - memes act to divert reproductive resources away from host DNA and towards meme production. The greater exposure to memes you have, the greater the chance of you becoming a victim of memetic hijacking.

Many of the interesting implications of this fact lie in the future. As rise of culture continues, we should not necessarily expect human DNA to be doing well in its new environment.

Monday, 1 October 2012

What discipline is evolutionary theory part of?

Once upon a time, evolution was considered to be part of biology. People called themselves "evolutionary biologists" - and even defined life in terms of evolution. For example, J. Maynard Smith and Eors Szathmary - in "The Origins of Life", p.3 wrote:

What is life? [...]

An alternative is to define as living any population of entities posessing those properties that are needed if the population is to evolve by natural selection.

However, we can now see that this is wrong. Evolution applies to non-living systems, such as cracks, raindrops, erosion, and turbulence. Living systems involve accumulative evolution. However there's also degenerative evolution, which applies to both life and non-life. So: is evolution part of physics?

No. Evolutionary theory applies in a wide range of universes. It is largely independent of the details of physical law. This makes evolution part of systems theory - or alternatively part of statistics.