Darwinizing culture: the status of memetics as a science pits leading intellectuals, against each other to battle it out, in this, the first debate over 'memes'. With a foreword by Daniel Dennett, and contributions from Dan Sperber, David Hull, Robert Boyd, Susan Blackmore, Henry Plotkin, and others, the result is a thrilling and challenging debate that will perhaps mark a turning point for the field, and for future research.
'Gaining control' tells the story of how human behavioral capacities evolved from those of other animal species. Exploring what is known about the psychological capacities of other groups of animals, the authors reconstruct a fascinating history of our own mental evolution. The result is a provocative and insightful book.
Sciences able to identify appropriate analytical units for their domain, their natural kinds, have tended to be more progressive. In the biological sciences, evolutionary natural kinds are adaptations that can be identified by their common history of selection for some function. Human brains are the product of an evolutionary history of selection for component systems which produced behaviours that gave adaptive advantage to their hosts. These structures, behaviour production systems, are the natural kinds that psychology seeks. We argue these can (...) be identified deductively by classing behaviour first according to its level of behavioural control. Early animals in our lineage used only reactive production, Vertebrates evolved motivation, and later Primates developed executive control. Behaviour can also be classified by the type of evolutionary benefit it bestows: it can deliver either immediate benefits (food, gametes), improvements in the individual’s position with respect to the world (resource access, social status), or improvements in the ability to secure future benefits (knowledge, skill). Combining history and function implies the existence of seven types of behaviour production systems in human brains responsible for reflexive, instinctual, exploratory, driven, emotional, playful and planned behaviour. Discovering scientifically valid categories of behaviour can provide a fundamental taxonomy and common language for understanding, predicting and changing behaviour, and a way of discovering the organs in the brain––its natural kinds––that are responsible for behaviour. (shrink)
Mesoudi et al. argue that the current inability to identify the means by which cultural traits are acquired does not debilitate their project to draw clear parallels between cultural and biological evolution. However, I suggest that cultural phenomena may be accounted for by biological processes, unless we can identify a cultural “genotype” that carries information from person to person independently of genes. (Published Online November 9 2006).
The meme is a recently coined name for an old idea: one that explains how culture evolves through a process of inheritance involving bits of information. A meme is thus considered to be analogous to a gene as the unit of cultural, as opposed to genetic, evolution. Some memeticists believe that inheritance is enough to define replication. This article also uses the term ‘imitation’ in the broad sense. However, this is not a definition of imitation which social psychologists would accept. (...) For most psychologists, imitation involves observation of a behavioural model — a figure conspicuously absent when reading a text. This article demonstrates that replication must be something more than just the inheritance of information. The question then is whether cultural reproduction of any type fulfils the criteria for replication. (shrink)
The phenogenotype, a routinely co-occuring combination of a cultural and genetic trait, is unlikely to survive over time because of the potentially varying evolutionary pressures upon cultural as opposed to genetic traits. This is because the production and evaluation of cultural inputs will themselves be based on information previously acquired culturally. As a result, treating both cultural and genetic inheritance in a single recursion may be problematic.
Aunger proposes a solution to a fundamental debate in contemporary ethnography: the source of ethnographic authority. He advocates the method of reflexive analysis as a way of making ethnography a more scientific endeavor. Aunger challenges standards of ethnographic practice in data collection, analysis and presentation. This book is a valuable reference for researchers in anthropology and other social sciences who employ interviewing and participant observation methods, ethnographic method and theory.
Differences in mutation rates, transmission chain-length, phenotypic manifestations, or the relative complexity of the mental representations in which they are embedded do not distinguish between “core” (intramodular) and “developing” (intermodular) memes, as Atran suggests. Dividing memes into types seems premature when our knowledge of mental representation is as imprecise as the unit of biological inheritance was in Darwin's time.
This paper shows that epidemiology, an approach developed to study the social communication of biological information, can be instructively applied to the diffusion of "endemic" cultural beliefs. In particular, I examine whether exposure to information, or susceptibility to belief is more important in determining the distribution of food taboos in an oral society from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Matrix regression techniques are used on optimally scaled cultural similarity data to infer which social and psychological characteristics of the participating individuals (...) are correlated with a higher probability of taboo transmission between them. Results indicate that, despite a lack of mechanized transportation, access to information in this population is nearly universal. Constraints on belief adoption rather than on information flow are much more important in determining the intra-cultural distribution of food taboos. At least for one class of taboo, belief susceptibility is a function of an individual's social role rather than any intrinsic quality of the individual or the believability of the cultural trait. Nevertheless, the processes underlying the dissemination of both cultural traits and pathogens, considered as replicating units of information, appear close enough to justify using epidemiology as a common framework for investigating cultural and biological diffusion. (shrink)