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  1. 1. From Gene to Meme From the Replication of Organisms to the Replication of Ideas
  2. 2. Cooperation and Altruism <ul><li>The prisoner’s dilemma </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A model for reciprocal altruism. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Both parties benefit </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Is it really altruism if there is a benefit, however delayed? </li></ul>
  3. 3. Another Mechanism? <ul><li>Is there another way to account for the kinds of altruism where there is no tangible benefit derived from acts that cost the giver? </li></ul>
  4. 4. Memes <ul><li>Memes can be called the genes of culture </li></ul><ul><li>Memes operate under natural selection </li></ul><ul><li>Memes can be capable of either helping or hurting the propogation of genes. </li></ul>
  5. 5. What is a Meme? Meme: /meem/   • (noun) An element of behavior or culture passed on by imitation or other non-genetic means . Comes from the Greek root mimeme . It was abbreviated by Richard Dawkins.
  6. 6. Origin of the Meme <ul><li>Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins is credited with the first publication of the concept of meme in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. </li></ul>
  7. 7. Parallels between Nature and Culture <ul><li>In many ways, a meme is to culture what a gene is to nature </li></ul><ul><li>Countless memes working in concert are what make up the cultural aspect of human existence </li></ul>
  8. 8. How is a Meme like a Gene? <ul><li>Memes and genes are both replicators that compete with alternative forms and undergo natural selection </li></ul><ul><li>Both entities spread through the population, sometimes remaining stable and sometimes undergoing mutation </li></ul><ul><li>Memes are replicators that use the mind as a vehicle of their own. </li></ul>
  9. 9. Some Examples <ul><li>Fashion Styles </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Wearing baseball hats backwards </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Differences in Social Organization </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Communism vs. Capitalism </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Concepts and Ideas </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Everything is relative </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Culture is primary </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Tunes </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Macarena </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Computer virus </li></ul>
  10. 10. Computer Virus <ul><li>Dawkins (2006) himself, in a speech on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the publication of The Selfish Gene described his motivation for postulating memes: he portrayed the idea not so much as an attempt at creating an account for cultural complexity, but rather as seeking something with which the selfish-genetic mechanism would still work with unreliable replicators: </li></ul>
  11. 11. Computer Virus <ul><li>“ Next question might be, does the information have to be molecular at all? Memes. This is not something that I’ve ever wanted to push as a theory of human culture, but I originally proposed it as a kind of… almost an anti-gene, to make the point that Darwinism requires accurate replicators with phenotypic power, but they don’t necessarily have to be genes. What if they were computer viruses? They hadn’t been invented when I wrote The Selfish Gene so I went straight for memes, units of cultural inheritance.” </li></ul>
  12. 12. Memes <ul><li>A meme is a self-replicating unit of information that (a) actually guides behavior, (b) is susceptible of hierarchical integration, and (c) is differentially transmitted as coherent units </li></ul><ul><li>Memes are replicated through social transmission, which produces in the mind of the cultural learner a copy of the meme represented by the cultural elder </li></ul><ul><li>Cultural patterns are the outcome of differential meme replication </li></ul><ul><li>The plasticity of mind allows for important cultural variation </li></ul>
  13. 13. Memes <ul><li>3 attributes of a “successful replicator” (genes or memes) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Fidelity: copying-accuracy </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Fecundity: copying frequency </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Longevity: the characteristic of remaining distributed in the population long enough for selection pressures to act </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. Interactions Between Genes and Memes <ul><li>Working in concert </li></ul><ul><li>Working in opposition </li></ul>
  15. 15. Genes and Memes… Working Together (symbiotic) <ul><li>Confer mutual benefit upon one another. </li></ul><ul><li>Social norms support evolved mechanisms for cooperation. </li></ul><ul><li>Co-evolution. </li></ul>
  16. 16. Genes and Memes… In Opposition <ul><li>Priest celibacy </li></ul><ul><li>Suicide bombing </li></ul><ul><li>Pursuing rewarding career over a family </li></ul><ul><li>Adoption </li></ul>
  17. 17. Blackmore <ul><li>Recently, Blackmore has become an outspoken and extreme proponent of memetic theory </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Millions of memes are created each day </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Memes are created by combination and variation of existing memes inside people’s brains or during transmission (this provides the variation necessary for selection to operate) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Memes hop from brain to brain (sometimes via an intermediary such as film or written word)—thus, they replicate their essence </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Only the most successful memes (the ones that are most attractive to imitators) survive </li></ul></ul>
  18. 18. Memes <ul><li>Because there is enormous selection pressure, only the “best” replicators will prevail </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Memes that most often occupy our incessant trains of thought will survive (may explain why the seemingly energetically wasteful business of the mind came to be) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Why so hard to meditate? Because memes are competing for mental rehearsal? Are memes “trying” to replicate? </li></ul></ul>
  19. 19. Memes <ul><li>It has been argued that memes lack the copying fidelity to be considered selfish replicators </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Memes mutate in every act of transmission (imitation). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Consider 500 Eskimo words for snow. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Urban myths -- so compelling that they had to be invented. </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. Memes <ul><li>Some memes succeed and others fail: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The nature of human beings as imitators and selectors </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Some memes too complex? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Counter-psychological </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The nature of the memes themselves </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>The ways them combine and tag along with one another </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The connectedness of people (i.e., via the internet). </li></ul></ul>
  21. 21. Memetic Evolution <ul><li>Do successful memes accumulate (memeplex) to create cultures that are more “evolved” than others? </li></ul><ul><li>This flavor of Social Darwinism was prominent at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. </li></ul><ul><li>Judgments about culture? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Sexism, authoritarianism, democracy, etc… </li></ul></ul>
  22. 22. Religion: Genetic or Memetic Phenomenon? <ul><li>Humans systematically interpret ambiguous evidence as being caused by a living agent </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Not what went bump in the night, but who </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>This cognitive bias prompts proactive responses to threats to survival and to opportunities to reproduce </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Agency detection is a variant of Pascal’s wager </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Responding as if an agent existed may ensure survival or secure a reproductive opportunity </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>The only downside is the cost of the response </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Religion condenses a wide range of unseen agents into an anthropomorphic deity </li></ul>
  23. 23. Dawkins <ul><li>“ Consider the idea of God. We do not know how it arose in the meme pool. Probably it originated many times by independent ‘mutation’. In any case, it is very old indeed. How does it replicate itself? By the spoken and written word aided by great music and great art.” </li></ul>
  24. 24. Dawkins (cont.) <ul><li>“ Why does it have such high survival value? Remember that ‘survival value’ here does not mean value for a gene in a gene pool, but value for a meme in a meme pool. The question really means: What is it about the idea of a god that gives it its stability and penetrance in the cultural environment? The survival value of the god meme…results from its great psychological appeal.” </li></ul>
  25. 25. Blackmore (again) <ul><li>Regards religions as particularly tenacious memes. Many of the features common to the most widely practiced religions provide built-in advantages over other memes. For example, religions that preach of the value of faith-based belief over evidence from everyday experience or reason inoculate themselves against many of the most basic tools people commonly use to evaluate their ideas. </li></ul>
  26. 26. Blackmore (cont.) <ul><li>Also, by linking altruism with religious affiliation, religious memes can proliferate more quickly because people perceive that they can reap societal as well as personal rewards. </li></ul><ul><li>The longevity of religious memes improves with their documentation in revered religious texts. </li></ul>
  27. 27. Psychological Appeal? <ul><li>Religion is human behavior. Accordingly, its origins and significance can be illuminated by evolutionary analysis </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Dennett, Breaking the Spell (2006) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Boyer, Religion Explained (2001) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Religious belief is adaptive </li></ul>
  28. 28. Indirect evidence of religion as adaptive behavior <ul><li>Religion appears to be a human universal </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Humans are religious across time and space </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Efforts to crush religion fail, often spectacularly </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Active atheism demands effort </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Components of agency detection emerge very early in childhood </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Face, animal, and artifact identification </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Piety follows Gender (female) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Women are systematically more involved in and committed to religion than are men </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Very stable sexual asymmetry (Paloutzian 1996) </li></ul></ul>
  29. 29. Child-think <ul><li>Children intuitively embrace many theological tenets, almost favoring these faiths (Barrett & Richert 2003) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Omniscient, superperceptive, immortal, superpowerful creator </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Children distinguish between natural and human-made things (Petrovich 1997) </li></ul><ul><li>Children ascribe natural origins to theistic rather than human agency (Petrovich 1999) </li></ul><ul><li>Creationism trounces evolution, human invention, and mere emergence in polls of children (Evans 2001) </li></ul><ul><li>Children see living and nonliving things as purposeful, and religion may merely confirm this instinct (Keleman 1999) </li></ul>
  30. 30. Adult-think: the offensiveness of randomness <ul><li>Humans think in terms of certain kinds of narratives. </li></ul><ul><li>We expect virtue to be rewarded and vice to be punished (Lerner & Miller 1978) </li></ul><ul><li>Right-and-wrong narratives dominate popular views of science, religion, and art </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Spencer coopted Darwin into “survival of the fittest” and made nonextinction normative </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Amoral endings are deeply dissatisfying </li></ul></ul>