This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

Comment

← Meme Theory, Zahavi's Handicap, and the Baldwin Effect

Zeuglodon's Avatar Jump to comment 2 by Zeuglodon

Comment 1 by The Jersey Devil

link textBetween Pinker and Zeuglodon (and a few others) my understanding of of meme theory and group selection have been competely changed over the last couple of weeks.

I take that as a compliment. Thank you. :-)

I think my confusion of the issue (and I doubt I'm unique in this regard) stemmed from the fact that group dynamics or cultural evolution is bound to resemble natural selection more then it resembles my older now defunct theistic beliefs.

Yes, you capture it here. That was my position, though without the theistic beliefs since I never really had those. I did think meme theory was plausible, but I was only recently tipped the other way (towards scepticism) after those group selection discussions a while back.

It is very tempting, when an idea ticks a lot of boxes, to give it credit. Group selection seems plausible because it looks like it does a great deal of explanatory work: it explains our social behaviours, groups do come into conflict, they do "reproduce" in a fashion, and so on. But when you dig deeper, more and more crosses rather than ticks start showing up on the checklist. Kin selection is already doing a huge part of the work, for example. People who say kin selection is a subset of group selection have been fooled by the overlap. And groups don't always compete to the death. Sometimes, they form alliances or just ignore each other. And other individual-level explanations work just as well, if not better. Group selection itself presupposes things about groups that are simply untrue.

I wondered if the same couldn't be applied to other ideas: superficial plausibility, but problems emerging when you looked at the mechanism more closely. Meme theory was brought up on a thread recently, so I followed on from that.

Let me use this example:

Twelve step groups have 'replicated'. See here. (For some reason I can't get the link to be in the right spot and I'm done trying) This replication is more similar to natural selection then my discarded belief that god 'created' Twelve Step groups. I just kind of assumed it was the same kind of replication. I now realize that twelve step 'replication' is still different from gene replication.

That's a good example to use. The Twelve Step Program did not copy itself. The brains of the people who adopted it copied the idea by themselves.

I find the following analogy useful for this discussion: if paper copied itself, we'd be interested in the paper; but if paper was copied by a photocopier, we'd be interested in the photocopier. Meme theory is that the paper copies itself. My own alternative (gene-influenced brains actively making a copy) is that the photocopier does all the interesting work.

Thu, 19 Jul 2012 12:15:39 UTC | #949561