Friday, July 31, 2009

Memes: Replace Genes as Engine driving Human Evolution

The idea of memes as a cultural analogue of genes has been much maligned, and most biologists still reject it. Yet memetics has much to offer in explaining human nature.

According to meme theory, humans are radically different from all other species because we alone are meme machines.

Human intelligence is not just a bit more or a bit better than other kinds of intelligence, it is something completely different, based on a new evolutionary process and a new kind of information.

The main difference between conventional theories and memetics is this: most biologists assume that culture and language evolved because they helped humans survive and pass on their genes, and that genes retain ultimate control.

Memetics challenges that assumption. Although the capacity for imitation must once have been adaptive for the apes who started it, evolution has no foresight and could not have predicted the consequences of letting loose a new evolutionary process. Nor could it have retained control of memes once they began evolving in their own right.

So memes began to proliferate. What began as an adaptation soon became like a parasite - a new evolving entity that changed the apes and their world forever. Once memes were proliferating, individuals benefited from copying the latest and most successful ones, and then passed on any genes that helped them do so.

Memetic Drive
This "memetic drive" forced their brains to get bigger and bigger, and to become adept at copying the most successful memes, eventually leading to language, art, music, ritual and religion - the successful designs of human culture.

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