From: DeoxyriboNucleicAcidAnd on this note, it's worth thinking about the fact that the crazies who came up with memetics were trying to strengthen their mumbo jumbo by appealing to an analogy with genes. Not something I can see happening when the concept of a "gene" is such a tarpit.
[The "crazy" who came up with memetics was RichardDawkins. He wasn't trying to strengthen his mumbo jumbo, he was becoming aware that replicators other than DNA/RNA can be subject to evolution. He realized that one could view culture as composed of discrete units in much the same way one views chromosomes.]
Blah blah blah. No, you CANNOT view culture as composed of discrete units like one views chromosomes. See MemesShmemes. And finally, being famous doesn't prevent someone from being a crazy. For example, RogerPenrose is a certified lunatic.
[Blah blah blah blah. I win. And I'll view culture any way I want to, thank you very much. I've seen MemesShmemes and I'm not swayed. Replicators that copy or stop copying based on their interaction with the environment demonstrate the same evolutionary principles observed by Darwin.]
Evolutionary theory provides a veritable constellation of explanations; see WhatEvolutionExplains on WhyClublet. What does memetic evolution explain? Absolutely nothing.
[Memetics is just one more thing that evolution explains. Evolution is bigger than biology.]
If memetics is a valid model, it needs to explain things, not simply be explained. Evolution is bigger than biology, and one can talk about evolution of cultures and cultural constructs. The point here is that they are not comparable to genes, and do not evolve through the same processes, as shown by looking at them in historical societies. You can't view cultures any way you want to, you have to be constrained by evidence. Btw, your argument might be better on MemesSchmemes?, since it has nothing to do with DNA.
[I agree it needs to explain things. It is in its infancy, so the number of things it explains is still small. Units of culture are comparable to units of heredity in certain key ways: they can be replicated, errors can be introduced in the replication, and survival pressure is exerted on them. Given those three rules, both heredity and culture will exhibit the principles of evolution.]
No. As for young theories not explaining very much, this has never been the way things work. You develop theories to fit the evidence at hand, not look for evidence to support analogies. Cultural elements can be replicated, but they do so because other groups are attracted to them and are reinterpreted in the process. It's possible for an idea to travel in a circle, having become unrecognizable to its original culture by the time it returned, like in a TelephoneGame. Further, ideas transform through many processes beside simple Darwinian evolution, to the point where its effects are trivially overwhelmed. All this prevents them from acting like hereditable units, despite being capable of replicating and "mutating". This has already been explained on MemesShmemes and MemesShmemesContinued, and should be removed from here shortly.
[No. Young theories are formed for many reasons, not just to fit evidence at hand. It doesn't matter how cultural elements are replicated, just that they are replicated and that they can change during that replication. Darwinian evolution doesn't address how genes change (being invented before the idea of genes), it describes how the manifestations of those genes adapt to survival pressure. This shouldn't be discussed on MemesShmemes. That's a bash page.]
The points on MemesShmemes stand, whether or not it is a "bash page"; these are that natural selection of replicating ideas is completely overwhelmed by other effects. In particular, it may be noted that ideas are so mutable, and can arise on their own, that the natural tree structure you'd expect from a system evolving by Darwinian evolution is obscure to absent. If you want a page about why memetics is worthwhile, you'd need to start by countering that, because it indicates that while their are small analogies between ideas and genes, they're not enough to create analogies in behavior. Meanwhile, I see no point in trying to fit evidence to a theory when I've no real reason to suspect it describes reality. Young theories are formed for many reasons, but pet projects die with their authors unless they can make some actual advances. The burden of proof, as is customary, lies on the memeticists.
[What "other effects"? Any effects that contribute to determining if a replicator succeeds or fails are part of "natural" selection. I don't understand the dichotomy. The "natural" tree structure occurs in memetics. I make paper airplanes using these steps. I teach you. You simplify it and add a branch to the tree. You teach someone else and they modify it, adding another branch. It isn't the same tree as sexual reproduction, where every instance has 2 parents, but it forms a tree nonetheless. Every new variation has a parent.]
Paper planes are actually a really good example. I suggest you pick up a book showing a variety of paper plane designs, and try and reconstruct a sort of tree for them. I've tried, and never found any elements of one - hierarchy taxonomies are as arbitrary for paper planes as they are for minerals, not natural they way they are for living things. Instead, it looks more like each design was constructed from scratch, based on the person's understanding of how folding works and what sort of shapes will fly better. There is too much spontaneous generation, Lamarckian mutation, and mixing between any number of ideas for Darwinian selection to play much role. And don't just take my word for it, take a look.
[The plane is the artifact created by the meme, not the meme itself, much like I am an artifact created by my genes. The meme is the procedure for building the plane. Someone had the first idea for folding paper (or something like paper) into a form that flew. Others may have had the idea without any exposure to that idea. All of them had exposure to other memes or their artifacts. I doubt any of the people who had original ideas for folding planes also thought of folding paper or making paper. Every paper plane folding meme can be traced to one of these sources, even if it isn't obvious from the artifact. This is much like biological evolution. And all of those memes can be traced back to the memes for making paper, for harvesting the materials for paper, etc. Spontaneous generation, Lamarckian mutation and mixing between any number of ideas don't prohibit Darwinian selection. Darwinian selection still applies, no matter how the meme originated or mutated. The memes that get copied the most outnumber the others. They all compete for survival. There are only so many man hours available for paper plane folding. Sigh.]
[Memetics doesn't say anything about abstraction, analysis, modification or synthesis. Memetics isn't what you say it is. Most people fold paper airplanes the way they were taught, at least initially. Sometimes they change the procedure. There's a limited amount of resources (time and paper) for the activity. Therefore paper plane folding memes exhibit the principles of Darwinian evolution. Successful memes become more populous. Unsuccessful memes don't. None of this insults humans. None of this means a human can't have an original idea.]
Except paper plane folding ideas don't follow the principles of Darwinian evolution, beyond a very rudimentary level. The changes in procedure you talk about aren't simple random changes, as required in Darwin's work, they're consciously directed to improve the "artifact". More often than not they aren't even changes, they're complete and total redesigns. That most learned the concept from another person, i.e. the idea is being replicated, is true but paper plane design is based on competition between ideas only in a vacuous sense. Paper planes exhibit the principles of Darwinian evolution, but not exclusively or even primarily. They depend just as much on abstraction, analysis, modification or synthesis. Both you and RK agree that memetics has nothing to say on these; his entirely valid point is that makes it wrong, incomplete beyond having explanatory power. Why is that so hard to see?
[Darwin doesn't require that changes are random. It's true that memetics allows something like Lamarckian evolution when it comes to changes, but the rules Darwin observed still apply when it comes to survival. Most paper airplane changes aren't "complete and total redesigns", but minor changes to previous designs. Even "complete and total" changes usually have their origins in previous designs. The techniques for finding the mid-line of a piece of paper propagate throughout many designs to give planes balance, for instance. I don't know what a "vacuous sense" is or what you mean by that. Abstraction, analysis, modification and synthesis may spawn variant memes (like gamma rays and transcription errors may spawn variant memes), but replication and survival determine the success of those variants. If we say that the "primary" principle for the success of cultural behaviors is how variations are generated, shouldn't we also say that the primary principle for the success of biological organisms is how variations are generated? That's not the Darwin I read. The source of variation is irrelevant. It's what happens to those variations when they compete for survival that Darwin wrote about. Memetics shows that the individual cause of variation is less important than how well a meme is replicated. The same idea applied to biology made a lot of people angry at Darwin, too.]
That isn't the Darwin you read, because that's precisely where the analogy breaks down. In Darwinian evolution, selection is the primary effect because the variations are random, and so on average useless. In the development of ideas, variations are capably directed, can involve any number of base ideas, and often appear without any apparent ancestor. As a result, they play a far more important role than selection. Further, selection is based upon external properties rather than simple replicative ability, i.e. it's artificial rather than natural selection (yes, there are notable differences). These prevent analogous causes from having analogous effects (and note memetics doesn't show they would, it assumes they would). For instance, the products of biological evolution form a tree, and ideas don't (my challenge for you to construct one even in the limited domain of paper planes still holds).
[Variations aren't "useless", but their source is irrelevant. It doesn't matter if the source is random or causal. Genetic mutations may appear random from a high level of abstraction, but they are the result of non-random processes if you look closely enough. You'll have to explain what "artificial selection" means. Selection is based on external properties in both genetics and memetics. I've already created a tree for paper plan folding memes. See above.]
You didn't give one, you simply claimed one could be made by such-and-such principles. Start giving some justification to your claims: demonstrate that Darwinian selection is a dominant effect, the source of variations doesn't matter, and that my explanation of why the analogy doesn't hold is flawed. Simply asserting them is a waste of time, and I won't be bothered to listen any further otherwise. As for concepts like artificial selection and neutral mutations, learn those on your own time.
[When you learned how to fold your first paper airplane, did you also learn how that variation originated? If not, Darwinian selection was the "dominant effect". "Artificial selection" is a fallacy based on the axiom that humans are different from other animals when it comes to evolution. If a snake population influences the survival skink population we call that "natural selection". The same term should be used if a human population is substituted for the snake population. Humans and their actions are not artificial.]
Despite humans being part of the universe, their actions may still be qualitatively or fundamentally different from other processes. I suppose it makes sense that if you don't even understand the differences between artificial and natural selection, though, you wouldn't understand the differences between biological and ideological evolution.
[I understand the reason some people distinguish between the two, but I also see the flaw in their perspective. It comes from an age when humans were special among the creatures of the earth, alone granted a divine spark, free will, and all of that jazz. We are no more special than any other animal. Darwin showed that. We have no divine spark. There is no magic in us.]
Darwin showed nothing of the sort. No, I don't think humans have a divine spark, and no, that doesn't mean we aren't special. I guess you aren't simply neglecting reason and problem-solving abilities; you don't even notice they exist. Well, how do you possibly expect to construct a coherent theory of human behavior when you don't understand what makes human behavior different?
[I think I do understand what makes human behavior different. We're better mimics than other animals. We have language and symbolic processing. What do you think makes us "special"? How is what we do in a different class from what a whale or a beaver does? (And Darwin did show that we were no more special than any other animal. That's why his work upset so many people. The idea that our ancestors were "monkeys" was quite disturbing to folks who had been taught that we were earth's special occupants.)]
Your appeal of people are part of nature, therefore their ideas should form trees in the exact same way as biological species is a waste of time. I want an idea tree, and if it's at all similar to biology, you shouldn't have to have witnessed their origins to be sure of them. But if not that, I want some other actual evidence. Is there any good reason you won't give examples?
[Human actions are different from all other categories of actions we've observed, but that doesn't make them artificial or unnatural. I didn't argue that because people are part of nature their ideas should form trees. I provided an example of a meme tree. Is there any good reason you won't accept that example?]
Because it hasn't been given. All you've done is claim it could be constructed based on principles of memetic evolution, which haven't been justified. I have had to repeat that one too many times, and together with your claim that people are behaviorally just another animal, this forces me to agree with RK below.
[I gave the paper airplane folding meme tree example. I didn't claim it could be constructed, I explained how it is constructed. People are animals. We have more cultural behaviors than other animals, but that seems to be a matter of quantity, not quality. Other animals (chimps and orcas) have culture. They just don't have as much as we do. Are you claiming that people are not behaviorally just another animal? Can you defend that claim?]
Handwaving diversion and bald statement of falsehood. Bait and switch definition of culture; limited to the point of vacuousness here. Shifting the burden of proof, demanding others prove the obvious.
[It isn't obvious to me. What's obvious to me is that we're animals. I'm using a standard text book definition of culture. I don't imagine that what seems obvious to me must be correct, so indulge me if I don't imagine that about what seems obvious to you. If you have evidence that humans aren't animals or that human culture is qualitatively different from, say, orca or chimp culture, then please present it. You've asked me to present evidence for my claims and I've attempted to do that. Please show me the same courtesy.]
Ok. The difference between reason and mimicry is that the former leads to behaviors different from ones previously exhibited. The difference between reason and trial-and-error is that reason involves mental considerations rather than physical attempts, and this is exhibited by sudden and reasonably complete solutions rather than hammering away. A very few animals have been shown to have some reasoning ability, but none to anywhere near the degree humans possess, making our behaviors fundamentally different. Any attempt to explain the variety of human discoveries without reference to reason is doomed from the start, for the obvious reason that we use it to produce them, and as a corollary anyone who doesn't understand what makes it special can't hope to understand human behavior. As biological selection is based entirely on copying and trial-and-error variation, the two processes end up completely different, as any comparison of the resulting relationships will show. That was an explanation out of courtesy, but that was all I have left of that, especially since you haven't actually provided any evidence of your claims. So beyond this, you'll have to make do.
[Reason and mimicry are not in opposition. Memetics doesn't threaten reason or deny it as a source of variation. "Trial and error" is responsible for a considerable part of human culture. Edison didn't "reason" a practical electric light. He built an assembly line of researchers to try every likely substance as a possible filament and measured the results. He applied reason to build the assembly line, but even there he was mimicking other assembly line solutions. I think you're constructing a FalseDichotomy. We don't have to chose one over the other. Biological selection isn't based on copying and trial-and-error. It's based on copying, variation and survival. Selection applies no matter what the source of the variation is, as long as the copies aren't 100% identical. You acknowledge that the difference between non-human and human reasoning is a matter of degrees, but then you say we're fundamentally different. I can't figure out what the fundament is. Our brains, our language, our reasoning, our culture all evolved in small steps in response to selection pressure. There's nothing stopping other gene lines from developing smarter brains, better reasoning or more complex cultures. Given the right selection environment, they will. What is fundamentally different about humans?]
You've both misunderstood and misrepresented what I just said, and haven't provided anything new. As warned, I'm not working any further with a HostileStudent, it renders courtesy useless.
[... Anyway, does anyone feel like talking about memetics again?]
Not with you. You refuse to accept the blatantly obvious. Such as that a difference of at least three orders of magnitude "in degree" is a difference "in kind" as is common practice in engineering. Such as that just because two things are identical at a low-level of abstraction (H2O and H2O) doesn't mean they're at all similar at a higher level of abstraction (ice and water). These things all have solid bases in the theory of families of functions but we consider you too stupid to bother explaining any of it.
[[Rather than continue on the digression about HostileStudent, it would probably be constructive for both sides to explain whatever the other side is asking to be explained. If it's a redundant request, copy and paste the previous explanation.]]
Eric is asking for someone to prove the blatantly obvious. Nobody here has the patience to bother meeting his unreasonable demands. So seconding his demands is singularly UNconstructive. And the other posters don't want anything explained. We want something PRODUCED, which Eric has repeatedly refused to do.
There's a difference between seconding someone's demands versus a neutral party trying to calm things down and return to an actual discussion; the latter is what I was attempting.
Then I wonder who the third poster is. FYI, there was never any actual discussion on this page. There were simply two parties talking past each other. One of those parties under the mistaken impression that the other was willing and able to respond to what was said. That party quit any pretense of discussion once it became obvious the only way to respond properly would be tedious, onerous and thoroughly unreasonable.
[I'm asking you to explain your assumptions. What is it that I haven't produced?]
[See above, where I say:]
[The "natural" tree structure occurs in memetics. I make paper airplanes using these steps. I teach you. You simplify it and add a branch to the tree. You teach someone else and they modify it, adding another branch. It isn't the same tree as sexual reproduction, where every instance has 2 parents, but it forms a tree nonetheless. Every new variation has a parent.]
[Can you discuss memetics without name calling?]
That's not an example, any more than "use functions to generate code" is an example of a program: it's the principle you hope leads to an example. The difference is the latter can definitely be done. This has been pointed out more than once, yet you obtusely ignore it, as well as several other things. Everyone here is capable of discussion without name calling, but possibly not under such circumstances, huh?
[I don't understand your objection to my example. This is how paper plane folding memes propagate and vary. If you're waiting for research on an actual paper plane folding meme you're not being realistic. This is just a friendly discussion about memes.]
So you freely admit that memetics is nothing more than a cocktail party discussion, that it has no resemblance to anything in biology or genetics or any other scientific field because no-one has EVER or will ever make an actual tree of meme evolution?
[No, I don't. I'm saying I won't research a meme tree for the purpose of this discussion. I won't ask you to research a gene tree, either. Is there some part of my example that you disagree with? Do you disagree that people learn how to fold paper airplanes from other people? Do you disagree that some people modify the process? Do you disagree that those two observations must produce trees of paper airplane folding memes?]
I disagree that people modify the process. Most new plane designs are inspired by old ones, but the folding sequence and all such details are made completely from scratch, to the point where the design often has no more in common with its "parent" (which may not be unique) then it does with any other plane. This does not occur in biological evolution, and prevents trees from being constructed. RK's point is that no meme trees have been researched, which would be necessary to show they can be, by you or anyone else. It's not hard to come up with examples of genetic trees, but in absence of such proof any claims that memetic trees are possible are entirely unsubstantiated.
[So you're saying if I teach you a specific way to fold a paper airplane, but I introduce 2 motions that could be eliminated and produce the same plane, you would never modify the process? If not, then some people modify the process. Even when an entirely new plane is invented, it generally uses memes used in other planes. I'm unaware of any paper airplane that is symmetrical that doesn't use one of two memes for finding the center line of a piece of paper. (One involves folding the top-left corner to the top-right corner, the bottom-left corner to the bottom-right corner and creasing the bend, the other involves pulling one top corner diagonally across the sheet until the top side is flush with the right or left side, creasing the bend, then repeating with the other top corner.) The details are not made completely from scratch, but build on previously existing memes.]
Sure, some new planes are modifications, but the vast diversity of paper planes doesn't arise from this process. They may make use of some common techniques - usually the first fold or two falls into one of a few broad classes - but beyond that they tend to be unique. This makes it impossible to regard them as simple modifications. In other words - imitation and modification do occur, but they play only a relatively small part in understanding planes. Any theory based primarily upon them would fail, neither being able to explain nor make predictions about their variety.
[Imitation and modification produce trees of memes. That was the original question, and that's what the example demonstrates. Memetic theory would make the same sort of predictions about paper airplane memes as genetic theory makes about bird beak shapes. The source of variety doesn't matter in either case, nor is it the central concern.]
Imitation and modification, in the Darwinian sense of small mutations rather than complete resyntheses, don't account for the vast diversity of ideas, and so ideas can't be made into comparable trees. That's my claim, and to back it up I've pointed out that attempts to construct trees by your principles fail, based on the complete non-existence of any actual examples. I'm well aware what you think the principles are, they simply don't work, and you haven't given a single reason to suppose they do, only repeated that claim. I know the claim, and repeating it isn't helpful.
[Meme propagation creates trees. I can compare those trees with genetic trees. Therefore genes can be made into comparable trees. Imitations and modification do account for the vast majority of memes. Very few people create entirely novel memes. The vast majority of surviving memes are not original. For every novel meme you create I can list millions that aren't.]
[[I thought perhaps he just meant that he, himself, wasn't doing such research; I didn't think he meant that he thought it was impossible to do such research.]]
DM, it's not what EH thinks that counts but what he's just admitted. He's admitted that he can't think of any research paper elucidating a meme tree, that he can't think of even a place where someone might have published such a paper. And in the 10+ years that memetics' been around you'd expect at least one or two such papers.
[Molecular biology hasn't produced that many genetic evolutionary trees, and all of them are speculative. We have only the surviving descendants of common ancestors and theories to predict the age of those common ancestors. The effort required to calculate relative distance from common ancestors is significant. I seriously doubt you have the equipment needed to produce them. And with DNA/RNA we have physical copies of the genes to start with. With usually only have something analogous to the "phenotype": the artifact that results from the meme. We don't have the technology for isolating memes inside brains.]
This is false on many points. First, molecular biology has produced an enormous quantity of genetic trees, and while speculative they receive considerable weight through agreement with phenotypic trees. Second, the phenotypic trees follow and support Darwinian evolution on their own, even without looking at the genetic principles behind them. No comparable trees have been constructed for the ideas, the "phenotypes" of memes if you well, so there is little reason to suppose their "genotypes" would follow similar principles to biological genes. And that's assuming ideas have genotypes - but see MemesShmemes, where it's pointed out that ideas aren't digital.
[I've seen a handful of small genetic trees produced by molecular biology, but never an enormous quantity. Perhaps we have different definitions of "enormous". Phenotypic trees often give misleading guesses at genetic trees, hence the recent popularity of cladistics. I just created a comparable tree for paper airplane folding memes that is comparable to the genetic tree for chimps and humans (one of the most studied). The reason we think memes follow similar principals to genes is that the same forces are at work. Their population is based on replication, variation and survival.]
Some phenotypic trees are wrong, absolutely. That doesn't change their enormous success, one which memetics entirely lacks. As stated, many planes have no more in common with their immediate predecessors than with any other plane - I've seen their creation in action - and I imagine any tree you've created for them left out things other than slightly-modified darts, though I can't confirm because you've refused to display it. It's a well-known thing for a goal to be copied, but some entirely new approach used to reach it, not primarily or sometimes even at all based on the earlier attempt. Some writing systems, for example, have originated this way. The result is that the principles you claim will give phenotypic trees don't. If you disagree, please give some counter-argument rather than simply ignoring these criticisms.
[I don't think you're reading what I'm writing. I'm not saying that some planes aren't novel. I'm saying most planes that people make aren't. Most of the paper airplanes folded in the world today are created following steps that someone learned from someone else. The most popular planes are the ones that are easiest to make, fly the farthest, do something interesting, etc. I've given the example twice now. All I'm showing is that there are trees of memes. I'm not claiming there is one tree for all memes. Following the steps of any paper plane folding memes produces an artifact (analogous to a phenotype in genetics). I'm not ignoring these criticisms. I'm addressing them point by point.]
[You learned how to speak through imitation. You learned a great deal about how to learn through imitation.]
No-one has disputed that imitation is important. What's been disputed is that it's important enough to be able to explain the vast majority of human behaviors. You haven't bothered lending any substance to the claim that it is, simply re-asserted it. I could give you plenty of examples of how biological evolution works as a theory, or refer you to books on the subject. That no-one has ever done the same for memetic evolution suggests there is something seriously wrong with it. Exactly what has been suggested in great deal on this and other pages: assumptions that culture can be broken up into discrete units, failure to distinguish directed changes from random (natural selection is, in fact, trial and error in the strictest sense), failure to account for de novo construction of ideas that provides a critical component of our problem solving, and generally ignoring all of psychology. Is there any reason you're ignoring these problems?
[The vast majority of human behaviors are replicated. I didn't invent language using, writing, programming, car driving, tie wearing, sabbath observing, tax paying etc. Very few of my memes originated with me. The fact that I can describe paper airplane folding without having to describe orgiastic dancing shows that culture can be viewed in discrete units. I don't address the distinction between directed and random changes because it doesn't matter when it comes to evolution. The same survival pressures and replication rules apply no matter how the variation originates. I haven't ignored psychology, but we've been focusing on trees lately.]
That paper planes aren't the same thing as orgiastic dancing says nothing of the sort, it simply says ideas can be somewhat compartmentalized. What's the smallest possible unit of mutation in a culture? You've claimed MemesShmemes is a bash page, but do you have any real counter-arguments to its criticisms?
[I can teach a child how to fold a paper airplane without teaching them how to dance orgiastically. In fact, I was taught how to fold paper airplanes and not taught how to dance orgiastically. Those units of culture remained discrete until I learned how to dance orgiastically as an adult. The smallest possible unit of culture is a meme by definition, just like the smallest unit of heredity is a gene. Any unit of culture that can't be subdivided is a meme. I made my counter-arguments on MemesShmemes until I got tired of the abuse.]
It has often been observed that the claims for memetics, although they don't follow genetics well, are quite close to those of epidemiology, in terms of spread of contagion, although memes seem more frequently to be symbiotes than pathogens.
Taxonomy appears to be an innate facility of the brain (see "folk biology"), so in a sense, nothing predates it.
The point is that biological classification has a specific and relatively unique hierarchical classification, without parallel in other fields. For instance, Linnaeus originally had a third kingdom Mineralia, but his system doesn't apply well to minerals. This is because the tree-like organization of living things stems from differentiation a la evolution, whereas any groupings of minerals are for convenience only. See WhatEvolutionExplains.
Comparison to postmodernism - wow, now that's harsh. That's a lot worse (for a theory) than being wrong, that's being actively harmful.
Memetics is just a model and all models are flawed. If one doesn't like the memetics model, how about suggesting alternatives?
The entirety of the fields of philosophy of mind, psychology, social psychology, et cetera. But of course, those are entire fields of science with no overarching theory. So they're very difficult to grasp. But then again, they're not a slapdash analogy that purports to be a theory, so their study will be infinitely more rewarding.
Probably the most widely respected of those pseudo-sciences is criminal forensics.
I wonder where criminal profiling and social network analysis for terrorists would be. . .