Memetics FAQ

This page offers a timeline for memetics and cultural evolution - for the period leading up to 2012. There's an emphasis on recent history.

The material here is partly derived from the "History of memetics" chapter in my 2011 "Memetics" book - and partly derived from my memetics booklist.

It is associated with my 2011 "Memetics" book - which is now available.

1651 - Thomas Hobbes publishes Leviathan

In "Leviathan", Hobbes compared society a single unified entity composed of many people working toward the common goal of group survival, with an instance of life composed of many cells working toward the common goal of individual survival. He referred to the state as an:
Artificiall Man; though of greater stature and strength than the Naturall, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which, the Soveraingty is an Artificiall Soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body.

1786 - William Jones

Sir William Jones did pioneering work in the field of language evolution studies, specifically looking for the origin and paths of descent of languages. In 1786, Sir William Jones compared the Sanskrit, Latin and Greek languages. His conclusion was that all three were descended from a common ancestor. This primitive phylogeny of the Indo-European languages was one of the first pieces of evidence for any kind of evolutionary process. He wrote:

The Sanscrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists; there is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothic and the Celtic, though blended with a very different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanscrit; and the old Persian might be added to the same family.

1833 - Prosper Lucas writes a book on contagious neuroses

Prosper Lucas was a French medical doctor and specialist in the study of heredity. In 1833 he published a book on the topic of the spread of contagious or sympathetic neuroses by imitation.

1850 - August Schleicher likens languages to organisms

The German linguist August Schleicher attempted to recreate the common ancestor of all known languages. In 1850, he represented languages as natural organisms that could most conveniently be described using terms drawn from biology - e.g., genus, species, and variety - and suggested they could be represented on a family tree.

1853 - August Schleicher publishes tree-diagrams of languages

Schleicher's first tree-diagrams of languages were published in 1853, six years before Darwin published his theory. These are what we now would now call glossogenetic trees.

1859 - Charles Darwin - The Origin of Species

The relationship between organic and cultural evolution was also observed by Darwin himself. In chapter 13 of Darwin (1859) he uses an analogy with language to explain the process of organic differential reproductive success:
It may be worth while to illustrate this view of classification, by taking the case of languages. If we possessed a perfect pedigree of mankind, a genealogical arrangement of the races of man would afford the best classification of the various languages now spoken throughout the world; and if all extinct languages, and all intermediate and slowly changing dialects, had to be included, such an arrangement would, I think, be the only possible one. Yet it might be that some very ancient language had altered little, and had given rise to few new languages, whilst others (owing to the spreading and subsequent isolation and states of civilisation of the several races, descended from a common race) had altered much, and had given rise to many new languages and dialects. The various degrees of difference in the languages from the same stock, would have to be expressed by groups subordinate to groups; but the proper or even only possible arrangement would still be genealogical; and this would be strictly natural, as it would connect together all languages, extinct and modern, by the closest affinities, and would give the filiation and origin of each tongue.

1863 - Charles Lyall publishes "The geological evidences of the antiquity of man with remarks on the origin of species by variation"

Lyall wrote about languages and species - and the similarities between them. He said:

Although the speakers may be unconscious that any great fluctuation is going on in their language,—although when we observe the manner in which new words and phrases are thrown out, if at random or in sport, while others get into vogue, we may think the process of change to be the result of mere chance, there are nevertheless fixed laws in action, by which, in the general struggle for existence, some terms and dialects gain the victory over others. The slightest advantage attached to some new mode of pronouncing or spelling, from considerations of brevity or euphony, may turn the scale, or more powerful causes of selection may decide which of two or more rivals shall triumph and which succumb.

1863 - August Schleicher publishes "Darwinism tested by the science of language"

In 1863 Schleicher's "Darwinism tested by the science of language" was published. Schleicher is widely recognized as the first linguist to portray language development using family trees.

Schleicher viewed languages as organisms:

Languages are natural organisms, which, without being determinable by the will of man, arose, grew, and developed themselves, in accordance witli fixed laws, and then again grow old and die out; to them, too, belongs that succession of phenomena which is wont to be termed 'life'. Glottik, the science of language, is accordingly a natural science; its method is on the whole and in general the same with that of the other natural sciences.

1870 - Prosper Despine puglishes "Contagion Morale"

Edward Burnett Tylor.

1871 - Edward Burnett Tylor

Edward Burnett Tylor is considered by many a founding figure of the science of social anthropology, and his scholarly works are seen as important and lasting contributions to the discipline of anthropology. He defined the context of scientific study of anthropology, based on the evolutionary theories of Charles Lyell. Tylor’s concept of "survivals" explains the characteristics of a culture that are reflections of earlier stages of human culture. According to Tylor, survivals are “processes, customs, opinions, and so forth, which have been carried by force of habit into a new state of society different from that in which they had their original home and they remain as proofs and examples of an older condition of culture out of which a newer has been evolved,”. Studying survivals assists ethnographers in reconstructing earlier cultural characteristics and possibly reconstructing the evolutionary history of a culture. Here is Tylor writing in 1871:

History within its proper field, and ethnography over a wider range, combine to show that the institutions which can best hold their own in the world gradually supersede the less fit ones, and that this incessant conflict determines the general resultant course of culture.
Tylor represents the strain of anthropology known as "cultural evolutionism". Though largely discredited within anthropology, modern forms of cultural evolution are enjoying a modern renassance in the hands of biologically-inclined theorists.

1871 - Charles Darwin - The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex

In The Descent of Man (1871, p. 86), Darwin illustrated his understanding of cultural evolution, writing:
The formation of different languages and of distinct species, and the proofs that both have been developed through a gradual process, are curiously the same. ... We find in distinct languages striking homologies due to community of descent, and analogies due to a similar process of formation. ... The survival or preservation of certain favoured words in the struggle for existence is natural selection.
Darwin clearly understood the basic principles of cultural evolution. In this respect he was indeed well ahead of his time.

Lewis Henry Morgan.

1877 - Lewis Henry Morgan

Lewis Morgan was an American anthropologist and social theorist who became known partly for his views on social evolution. He presented three major stages societies moved through: savagery, barbarism, and civilization. He defined the stages by technological inventions, such as use of fire in the "savage" era; domestication of animals in the "barbarian" era; and development of writing in the "civilization" era.

Morgan published his magnum opus on the topic of cultural evolution "Ancient Society" in 1877.

1880 - William James lectures on the topic

James had at least some understanding of cultural evolution. Here he is, lecturing in 1880:

A remarkable parallel, which I think has never been noticed, obtains between the facts of social evolution on the one hand, and of zoölogical evolution as expounded by Mr. Darwin on the other.

Leslie Stephen.

1882 - Leslie Stephen

Leslie Stephen distinguisthed between cultural and organic evolution. In his book on "The science of ethics" Stephen (1882) wrote:
Improved artillery, like improved teeth, will enable the group to which it belongs to extirpate or subdue its competitors. But in another respect there is an obvious difference. For the improved teeth belong only to the individuals in whom they appear and to the descendants to whom they are transmitted by inheritance; but the improved artillery may be adopted by a group of individuals who form a continuous society with the original inventor.
A theory spreads from one brain to another in so far as one man is able to convince another, which is a direct process, whatever its ultimate nature, and has its own laws underlying the general condition which determines the ultimate survival of different systems of opinion.

Gabriel Tarde.

1884 - Gabriel Tarde

Gabriel Tarde was a lawyer and judge. He observed how some crimes appeared to spread in waves - almost as if they were fashions. He became interested in how this epidemiological aspect of crime might be just one aspect of a more general social phenomenon. He went on to publish several works on the topic - including: "Darwinisme naturel et Darwinisme social" (Tarde 1884) which developed the idea further. He went on to publish "The Laws of Imitation" in 1903 (see below). For more about Tarde's role, see Paul Marsden's article from 2000: "Forefathers of Memetics: Gabriel Tarde and the Laws of Imitation".

James George Frazer.

1890 - James George Frazer

James Frazer was a Scottish social anthropologist influential in the early stages of the modern studies of mythology and comparative religion. He was a major anthropological theorist at the turn of the century. His work The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, was first published in two volumes in 1890. It looked mainly at early myths, legends, religions and cults. It treated religion it dispassionately - as a cultural phenomenon - and attempted to trace its roots.

1896 - Gustave Le Bon publishes "The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind"

Gustave Le Bon modeled crowd behavior as governed by social contagion and imitation: An excerpt from The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind:

When an affirmation has been sufficiently repeated and there is unanimity in this repetition -- as has occurred in the case of certain famous financial undertakings rich enough to purchase every assistance -- what is called a current of opinion is formed and the powerful mechanism of contagion intervenes. Ideas, sentiments, emotions, and beliefs possess in crowds a contagious power as intense as that of microbes. This phenomenon is very natural, since it is observed even in animals when they are together in number. Should a horse in a stable take to biting his manger the other horses in the stable will imitate him. A panic that has seized on a few sheep will soon extend to the whole flock. In the case of men collected in a crowd all emotions are very rapidly contagious, which explains the suddenness of panics. Brain disorders, like madness, are themselves contagious. The frequency of madness among doctors who are specialists for the mad is notorious.

Herbert Spencer.

1896 - Herbert Spencer

Spencer first published on evolution a couple of years before Darwin, but his perspective on it was revised when Darwin's ideas were publlished. Spencer tried to apply the theory of biological evolution to society.

Spencer believed in progressive evolution - and proposed that society was the product of change from lower to higher forms, just as in the theory of biological evolution, the lowest forms of life eventually evolve into higher forms. Savage societies were at the bottom, and the Victorian English civilisation - which Spencer participated in - was at the top. The idea became known as "sociocultural evolutionism". Progressivism became one of the basic ideas associated with it - but was one of the factors that dragged it into disrepute - when the idea that evolutionary processes were not intrinsically progressive became more popular.

Here is Spencer from 1892 in "Essays, Scientific, Political and Speculative":

The change from the homogenous to the heterogeneous is displayed in the progress of civilization as a whole, as well as in the progress of every nation; and it is still going on with increasing rapidity".
Here is Spencer from 1896 in "The Principles of Sociology":
We must recognize the truth that the struggles for existence between societies have been instrumental to their evolution.

1896 - James Mark Baldwin publishes A New Factor in Evolution

Baldwin proposed that there is a mechanism whereby epigenetic factors come to shape the congenital endowment at least as much as natural selection does. Human behavioural decisions arising from persistent cultural practices ought to be considered among the factors shaping the human genome.

The effect is now known as "The Baldwin effect" or "Baldwinian evolution". Cultural practices migrating into the genome is known as "genetic assimiliation".

1898 - Thorstein B. Veblen

Thorstein Veblen was an economist, who became aware that Darwin's theory applied to the social sciences. In 1898, he published "Why is Economics Not an Evolutionary Science" Alas, the paper still makes a lot of sense over a century later.

Here is Veblen (1899), writing in "The theory of the leisure class: an economic study of institutions":

The life of man in society, just like the life of other species, is a struggle for existence, and therefore it is a process of selective adaptation. The evolution of social structure has been a process of natural selection of institutions.
For more details about Veblen's views on socio-economic evolution, Hodgson (2008) goes into the details.

1903 - Gabriel Tarde - The Laws of Imitation

Gabriel Tarde (1884) had previouslly published: "Darwinisme naturel et Darwinisme social" on the topic of the evolution of culture. In his 1903 book entitled "The Laws of Imitation", Gabriel Tarde wrote:
Self-propagation and not self-organisation is the prime demand of the social as well as of the vital thing.
What is society? I have answered: Society is imitation.
View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1904 - Richard Semon publishes Die mneme

"Mnemes" were units of memory in a very general sense - units of personal, cultural and organic inheritance.

Semon argued for viewing heredity as a form of memory that preserved an essence of experience across the generations. He referred to the fundamental process that subserved both organic heredity and everyday memory with a term of his own creation: "mneme". According to Semon, Mnemes are units that allow the preservation of the effects of experience over time. Semon writes:

Instead of speaking of a factor of memory, a factor of habit, or a factor of heredity and attempting to identify one with another, I have preferred to consider these as manifestations of a common principal, which I shall call the mnemic principal.
Semon also brought the world the term engram in the same book. He coined "engraphy" (memory storage process) and "ecphory" (memory retreival process) at the same time.

Some of Semon's more speculative ideas regarding hereditary memory encountered severe criticism at the time because they relied on Lamarck's questionable doctrine of the inheritance of acquired characteristics.

Semon offered what Darwinism at the time lacked - a theory of heredity. In 1910, Haeckel wrote:

The most important advance that evolution has made since Darwin and the most valuable amplification of his theory of selection is, in my opinion, the work of Richard Semon.
It is now possible to see that many of Semon's ideas were precient. "Mnemes" are similar to genes. They are also similar to - but probably better than - the "replicators" of Dawkins.

The term "mneme" actually seems to predate usage of the term "gene" - which was coined by Wilhelm Johannsen (in Danish and German) in 1909, to describe the fundamental units of heredity. The word "genetics" however is used by Semon himself in 1904.

The term "mneme" seems to more-explicitly include cultural inheritance than the term "gene" does. If the term "mneme" had taken off, evolutionary science might have taken a very different course - and it might not have got into such a mess over the issue of human cultural inheritance.

Richard Semon's work on Mnemes is covered in depth in the book Forgotten ideas, neglected pioneers: Richard Semon and the story of memory By Daniel L. Schacter.

Here's a nice article about Richard Semon's contribution.

Die mneme was later translated into English as The Mneme (1921).

1909 - Richard Semon publishes "Mnemischen Empfindungen"

Die mnemischen Empfindungen ("The Mnemic Sensations") was later translated into English as Mnemic Psychology (1923).

1915 - Albert Galloway Keller - Societal Evolution: A Study of the Evolutionary Basis of the Science of Society

Originally published in 1915. This book seems both too early and too late. Too early, in that a Darwinian group-selectionist view of human society has only really been systemized or well-explored in the past couple of decades, too late in that most of it seems like second-hand William Graham Sumner, with whom Keller studied. That said, there is some meat here; his discussion of the influence of "ghost-fear" on group behavior is quite good, and his endorsement of a materialist basis for cultural development (although he is careful to distance himself from the rest of Marx's theorizing) is also interesting. But this book is largely speculation. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1945 - Alfred Lotka coins "exosomatic evolution"

He did this in "The Law of Evolution as a Maximal Principle", Human Biology, vol. 17.

1946 - Clyde Kluckhohn

Kluckhohn speculated that:

there might be some enlightenment in comparing culture to a postulated but yet unseen virus
This is an early mention of the idea that culture might sometimes act as a parasite.

1949 - Leslie A. White - The Science of Culture: A Study of Man and Civilization

Leslie White was one of the most important and controversial figures in American anthropology. This classic work, initially published in 1949, contains White's definitive statement on what he termed "culturology." In his new prologue to this reprint of the second edition, Robert Carneiro outlines the key events in White's life and career, especially his championing of cultural evolutionism and cultural materialism. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1952 - Pierre Auger - L'homme microscopique

This book is in French. Hofstadter wrote, in 1983 concerning Pierre Victor Auger:
Maurice Gueron wrote me from Paris to tell me that he believed the first clear exposition of the idea of self-reproducing ideas that inhabit the brains of organisms was put forward in 1952 by Pierre Auger, a physicist at the Sorbonne, in his book L' homme microscopique. Gueron sent me a photocopy of the relevant portions, and I could indeed see how prophetic the book was.
View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

George Zipf.

1953 - George Zipf publishes "The PsychoBiology of Language"

Zipf published "The PsychoBiology of Language" in 1953. In it, he defined a "unit of action" as being:
An acteme' is the 'minimum 'segment or component of human activity'
He also called it the smallest unit of experiential classification, and as a 'gene of meaning'.

1953 - B. F. Skinner

B. F. Skinner.
B. F. Skinner wrote a book titled "Science and Human Behavior" in 1953. In the book, Skinner draws various analogies between operant conditioning and organic evolution. For example, page 430 has:

We have seen that in certain respects operant reinforcement resembles the natural selection of evolutionary theory. Just as genetic characteristics which arise as mutations are selected or discarded by their consequences, so novel forms of behavior are selected or discarded through reinforcement.
Page 434 has:
The evolution of cultures appears to follow the pattern of the evolution of species. The many different forms of culture which arise correspond to the "mutations" of genetic theory. Some forms prove to be effective under prevailing circumstances and others not, and the perpetuation of the culture is determined accordingly.
Skinner subsequently went on to write a book titled "Beyond Freedom and Dignity" in 1971 that contained a chapter about cultural evolution - and a chapter about what is now commonly called memetic engineering. Skinner talked explicitly about cultural evolution. He modelled a culture as a single large species, arguing that the flow of heritable information was not seriously restricted within cultures.

The fact that a culture may survive or perish suggests a kind of evolution, and a parallel with the evolution of species has, of course, often been pointed out. It needs to be stated carefully. A culture corresponds to a species. We describe it by listing many of its practices, as we describe a species by listing many of its anatomical features. Two or more cultures may share a practice, as two or more species may share an anatomical feature. The practices of a culture, like the characteristics of a species, are carried by its members, who transmit them to other members. In general, the greater the number of individuals who carry a species or a culture, the greater its chance of survival.
Skinner understood that cultures evolved, exhibited adaptations, competed, and co-evolved with the organic world. He described the cultural inheritance of acquired traits, and how culture could be deleterious. In his chapter on cultural engineering, he advocated the practice, writing:
The intentional design of culture and the control of human behaviour it implies, are essential if the human species is to continue to develop.

1955 - Julian Huxley

Huxley coined the term "Mentifact" and wrote the book “Evolution, Cultural and Biological" in 1955 - in addition to many other books on evolutionary theory.

1955 - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin - The Phenomenon of Man

Visionary theologian and evolutionary theorist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin applied his whole life, his tremendous intellect, and his great spiritual faith to building a philosophy that would reconcile religion with the scientific theory of evolution. In this timeless book, which contains the quintessence of his thought, Teilhard argues that just as living organisms sprung from inorganic matter and evolved into ever more complex thinking beings, humans are evolving toward an "omega point"—defined by Teilhard as a convergence with the Divine. Available online View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1956 - Julian H. Steward

Steward wrote an article in Scientific American Volume 194, titled: Cultural Evolution. The blurb read:

The 19th-century idea that cultures evolve in the same way as plants and animals was abandoned when anthropologists found that it did not jibe with their observations. Now the evolutionary approach is revived.

1959 - Leslie A. White, Burton J Brown and Robert L. Carneiro - Evolution of Culture: The Development of Civilization to the Fall of Rome

This title, one of the major works of twentieth-century anthropological theory, written by one of the discipline's most important, complex, and controversial figures, has not been in print for several years. Now, 'Evolution of Culture' is again available in paperback, allowing today's generation of anthropologists new access to Leslie White's crucial contribution to the theory of cultural evolution. A new, substantial introduction by Robert Carneiro and Burton J. Brown assess White's historical importance and continuing influence in the discipline. White is credited with reintroducing evolution in a way that had a profound impact on our understanding of the relationship between technology, ecology, and culture in the development of civilizations. A materialist, he was particularly concerned with societies' ability to harness energy as an indicator of progress, and his empirical analysis of this equation covers a vast historical span. Fearlessly tackling the most fundamental questions of culture and society during the cold war, White was frequently a lightning rod both inside and outside the academy. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

Peter Medawar.

1959 - Peter Medawar

Peter Medawar wrote "The Future of Man" in 1959 - and presented it as the Reith Lectures. The topic was cultural evolution.

I shall borrow two words used for a slightly different purpose by the great demographer Alfred Lotka to distinguish between the two systems of heredity enjoyed by man: endosomatic or internal heredity for the ordinary or genetical heredity we have in common with other animals; and exosomatic or external heredity for the non-genetic heredity that is peculiarly our own—the heredity that is mediated through tradition, by which I mean the transfer of information through non-genetic channels from one generation to the next.

1960 - Marshall D. Sahlins and Elman R. Service - Evolution and Culture

In his book Evolution and Culture (1960) Marshall Sahlins touched the areas of cultural evolution and neoevolutionism. He divided the evolution of societies into 'general' and 'specific'. General evolution is the tendency of cultural and social systems to increase in complexity, organization and adaptiveness to environment. However, as the various cultures are not isolated, there is interaction and a diffusion of their qualities (like technological inventions). This leads cultures to develop in different ways (specific evolution), as various elements are introduced to them in different combinations and on different stages of evolution. The book offers a unified interpretation of the evolution of species, humanity, and society. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1960 - André Siegfried

André Siegfried was a French writer and political scientist. He observed the parallel between cultural and organic evolution, and described cultural epidemics and contagions. In his 1960 book on the topic entitled "Germs and Ideas: Routes of Epidemics and Ideologies", he wrote:
There is a striking parallel between the spreading of germs and the spreading of ideas or propaganda. On the one hand we are dealing with a virus which can be transported and transmitted under certain conditions which favor or limit its transportation or transmission: on the other hand with ideas, religions, and doctrines, which can be described as germs, benevolent or malevolent, according to the point of view one takes up. These germs can either remain at their source and be sterile, or emerge in the spreading of infection.
He also observed the parallel between the organic and memetic immune systems. There's a partial transcript of an English translation of his book here.

1961 - Conrad Waddington

Conrad Waddington published "The human evolutionary system". It compared and contrasted organic and social evolution. It was reprinted in: Michael Banton (Ed.), Darwinism and the Study of Society (1961).

1961 - John Maynard Smith

John Maynard Smith published "Evolution and history". In Darwinism and the Study of Society, ed. Banton, M., 83-93. London, Tavistock Publications. He went on to review a number of books on cultural evolution.

1964 - Van Rensselaer Potter published "Society and Science"

The article says:

the processes of natural selection and survival of ideas in cultural evolution are analogous to the natural selection and survival of DNA molecules in biological evolution, and that ideas are the key to understanding cultural evolution just as DNA molecules are the key to understanding biological evolution.
Swanson (1983) describes its influence on his own later work:

The Genesis of this volume can be traced back some eighteen years to my reading of an article by V. R. Potter (1964) in Science, in which he discussed briefly the notion that ideas are the cultural analogue of DNA, that is, that ideas are the source of cultural information as well as the basic units of cultural evolution.

Potter says:

that the processes of natural selection and survival of ideas in cultural evolution are analogous

1964 - Margaret Mead and Stephen Toulmin - Continuities in Cultural Evolution

Margaret Mead once said, 'I have spent most of my life studying the lives of other peoples-faraway peoples-so that Americans might better understand themselves.' Continuities in Cultural Evolution is evidence of this devotion. All of Mead's efforts were intended to help others learn about themselves and work toward a more humane and socially responsible society. Scientist, writer, explorer, and teacher, Mead brought the serious work of anthropology into the public consciousness. This volume began as the Terry Lectures, given at Yale in 1957 and was not published until 1964, after extensive reworking. The time she spent on revision is evidence of the importance Mead attached to the subject: the need to develop a truly evolutionary vision of human culture and society. This was desirable in her eyes both in order to reinforce the historical dimension in our ideas about human culture, and to preserve the relevance of historical and cultural diversity to social, economic, and political action. Given the present state of academic and public discourse alike, this volume speaks to us in a language we badly need to recover. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1966 - Roger Sperry

In Mind, Brain and Humanist Values (1966), Sperry argued that ideas are in charge. He wrote:

In the brain model proposed here, the causal potency of an idea, or an ideal, becomes just as real as that of a molecule, a cell, or a nerve impulse. Ideas cause ideas and help evolve new ideas. They interact with each other and with other mental forces in the same brain, in neighbouring brains, and thanks to global communication, in far distant, foreign brains. And they also interact with the external surroundings to produce in toto a burstwise advance in evolution that is far beyond anything to hit the evolutionary scene yet, including the emergence of the living cell.
Interestingly, Sperry appears to grasp and comment on the long-term evolutionary significance of the rise of ideas to power.

1966 - Clifford Geertz

Clifford Geertz's extended essay Religion as a Cultural System was published in 1966. It described culture using a biological analogy as follows:

In so far as culture patterns, that is, systems or complexes of symbols, are concerned, the generic trait which is of first importance for us here is that they are extrinsic sources of information. By "extrinsic," I mean only that - unlike genes, for example - they lie outside the boundaries of the individual organism as such in that intersubjective world of common understandings into which all human individuals are born, in which they pursue their separate careers, and which they leave persisting behind them after they die. By "sources of information," I mean only that - like genes - they provide a blueprint or template in terms of which processes external to themselves can be given a definite form. As the order of bases in a strand of DNA forms a coded program, a set of instructions, or a recipe, for the synthesis of the structurally complex proteins which shape organic functioning, so culture patterns provide such programs for the institution of the social and psychological processes which shape public behavior. Though the sort of information and the mode of its transmission are vastly different in the two cases, this comparison of gene and symbol is more than a strained analogy of the familiar "social heredity" sort. It is actually a substantial relationship, for it is precisely because of the fact that genetically programmed processes are so highly generalized in men, as compared with lower animals, that culturally programmed ones are so important; only because human behavior is so loosely determined by intrinsic sources of information that extrinsic sources are so vital.

Ted Cloak.

1966 - Ted Cloak

In 1966 Ted Cloak published some early forays into the realm of cultural evolution "Cultural Microevolution". Cloak coined the term "Unit of Cultural Instruction (UCI) to refer to what we now call a meme.

1968 - Ted Cloak

In 1968, Ted Cloak published "Is a cultural ethology possible?" and "Cultural Darwinism: Natural Selection of the Spoked Wood Wheel".

Cloak was aomng the researchers cited by Dawkins (1976). He has continued pursuing the evolution of culture over the decades since then.

His home page is here. It has a list of his publications - many of which are downloadable from there.

Jacques Monod.

1970 - Jacques Monod

Jacques Monod endorsed cultural evolution in his 1970 book "Chance and Necessity". This quotation gives the flavour:
For a biologist it is tempting to draw a parallel between the evolution of ideas and that of the biosphere. For while the abstract kingdom stands at a yet greater distance above the biosphere than the latter does above the nonliving universe, ideas have retained some of the properties of organisms. Like them, they tend to perpetuate their structure and to breed; they too can fuse, recombine, segregate their content; indeed they too can evolve, and in this evolution selection must surely play an important role.

Monod didn't present much of a theory of cultural evolution in the book - but he did seem to grasp the basics of the idea.

1971 - Elman Rogers Service - Cultural Evolutionism: Theory in Practice

Elman R. Service, an anthropologist explores the doctrines of Cultural Evolutionism. The book contains essays arguing for a theory of cultural evolution: Part I - Cultural Evolution Defined and Discussed as Intellectual History; Part II - The Modern World Evolving; Part III - Evolutionary Stages and the Forms of Acculturation; Part IV - Evolution and Kinship; Part V - Problems of the Comparative Method. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1971 - B. F. Skinner - Beyond Freedom and Dignity

B. F. Skinner wrote a book titled "Beyond Freedom and Dignity" in 1971 that contained a chapter about cultural evolution - and a chapter about what is now commonly called memetic engineering. Skinner talked explicitly about cultural evolution. He modeled a culture as a single large species, arguing that the flow of heritable information was not seriously restricted within cultures.
The fact that a culture may survive or perish suggests a kind of evolution, and a parallel with the evolution of species has, of course, often been pointed out. It needs to be stated carefully. A culture corresponds to a species. We describe it by listing many of its practices, as we describe a species by listing many of its anatomical features. Two or more cultures may share a practice, as two or more species may share an anatomical feature. The practices of a culture, like the characteristics of a species, are carried by its members, who transmit them to other members. In general, the greater the number of individuals who carry a species or a culture, the greater its chance of survival.
Skinner understood that cultures evolved, exhibited adaptations, competed, and co-evolved with the organic world. He described the cultural inheritance of acquired traits, and how culture could be deleterious. In his chapter on cultural engineering, he advocated the practice, writing:
The intentional design of culture and the control of human behaviour it implies, are essential if the human species is to continue to develop.
There is more from Skinner on the topic in his 1981 paper Selection by consequences.


1971 - L. L. Cavalli-Sforza writes his first paper on the topic

It was called "Similarities and dissimilarities of sociocultural and biological evolution". It appeared in: Mathematics in the Archaeological and Historical Science.

1972 - Karl R. Popper - Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach

Karl Popper describes science in terms of evolution, as a process of conjecture and refutation - with conjectures resulting in variation and refutation resulting in selection.

His major work on evolutionary epistemology and science is the 1972 book: Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach.

In the book, Popper argues that scientific knowledge is a separate entity that grows through a process he described as "critical selection". Blurb:

The essays in this volume represent an approach to human knowledge that has had a profound influence on many recent thinkers. Popper breaks with a traditional commonsense theory of knowledge that can be traced back to Aristotle. A realist and fallibilist, he argues closely and in simple language that scientific knowledge, once stated in human language, is no longer part of ourselves but a separate entity that grows through critical selection. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

Peter Medawar.

1973 - Peter Medawar

In "Technology and Evolution" from 1973, Medawar again looked to the future:

The coming of technology and the new style of human evolution it made possible was an epoch in biological history as important as the evolution of man himself. We are now on the verge of a third episode, as important as either of these: that in which the whole human ambience - the human house - is of our own making and becomes as we intend it should be: a product of human thought - of deep and anxious thought, let us hope, and of forethought rather than afterthought.

Donald Campbell.

1974 - Donald Campbell

Donald Campbell was an American social scientist. His first ventures into the field took place in the late 1960s.

He coined the term "evolutionary epistemology" and developed a selectionist theory of human creativity. He also introduced the term Blind Variation and Selective Retention (B.S.V.R.) - to refer to what he believed was the fundamental principle of evolution.

Campbell was a pioneer in cultural evolution - and was one of the first to clearly articulate the idea in modern times.

1975 - Elman Rogers Service - Origins of the State and Civilization: The Process of Cultural Evolution

How did civilized life begin? How did government arise? These questions have intrigued philosophers and historians since ancient times. In this volume, Elman R. Service, an anthropologist widely known for his studies of evolution and social organization, uses a unique mix of ethnology, history, and archaeology in exploring the origins and early development of political organization. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1975 - Edward Wilson publishes Sociobiology

Sociobiology didn't have anything specifically to say about cultural evolution - but it was an important part of the historical background against which the subsequent story of the development of cultural evolution panned out.

Ted Cloak.

1975 - Ted Cloak writes on the topic of cultural symbionts

In 1975 Ted Cloak published an updated version of his paper "Is a cultural ethology possible?" It had an interesting new section about cultural epidemiology, which reads as follows:
In a human carrier, then, a cultural instruction is more analogous to a viral or bacterial gene than to a gene of the carrier's own genome. It is like an active parasite that controls some behavior of its host. It may be in complete mutual symbiosis with the human host, in which case the behavior it produces has survival value for itself through the value it has for the survival/reproduction of the host. On the other hand, it may be like the gene of a flu or "cold" virus; when the virus makes the host behave, e.g., sneeze, that behavior results in extraorganismic self-replication of the virus gene but not in survival or reproduction of the host or his conspecific. From the organism's point of view, the best that can always be said for cultural instructions, as for parasites of any sort, is that they can't destroy their hosts more quickly than they can propagate. In short, "our" cultural instructions don't work for us organisms; we work for them. At best, we are in symbiosis with them, as we are with our genes. At worst, we are their slaves

Peter Richerson.

1976 - Boyd and Richerson write their first paper on cultural evolution

It was called "A simple dual inheritance model of the conflict between social and biological evolution".

1976 - Richard Dawkins - The Selfish Gene

Richard Dawkins devoted a chapter of The Selfish Gene (1976) to cultural evolution. He coined the term 'meme'. He subsequently claimed that his purpose was to show that evolution was a general phenomenon - not one confined to DNA - and culture was a convenient example.

Dawkins (1976) writes:

I think that a new kind of replicator has recently emerged on this very planet. It is staring us in the face. It is still in its infancy, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate that leaves the old gene panting far behind. The new soup is the soup of human culture.
This neatly captures the modern understanding of cultural evolution, and gives some hint of its significance. Dawkins also refers to the possibility of the new kind of creatures taking over:
For more than three thousand million years, DNA has been the only replicator worth talking about in the world. But it does not necessarily hold these monopoly rights for all time. Whenever conditions arise in which a new kind of replicator can make copies of itself, the new replicators will tend to take over, and start a new kind of evolution of their own. Once this new evolution begins, it will in no necessary sense be subservient to the old.
...and here, Dawkins discusses the idea of selfish memes:
Biologists are accustomed to looking for advantages at the gene level (or the individual, the group, or the species level according to taste). What we do not ordinarily consider is that a cultural trait may have evolved in the way that it has, simply because it is advantageous to itself.
Blurb: Inheriting the mantle of revolutionary biologist from Darwin, Watson, and Crick, Richard Dawkins forced an enormous change in the way we see ourselves and the world with the publication of The Selfish Gene. Suppose, instead of thinking about organisms using genes to reproduce themselves, as we had since Mendel's work was rediscovered, we turn it around and imagine that our genes build and maintain us in order to make more genes. That simple reversal seems to answer many puzzlers which had stumped scientists for years, and we haven't thought of evolution in the same way since. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1978 - René Girard writes on "mimetic" behavior

A sample from Girard's "Things hidden since the foundation of the world" shows that he was on a similar track to Dawkins:

In the science of [humanity] and culture today there is a unilateral swerve away from anything that could be called mimicry, imitation, or mimesis. And yet there is nothing, or next to nothing, in human behavior that is not learned, and all learning is based on imitation. If human beings suddenly ceased imitating, all forms of culture would vanish. Neurologists remind us frequently that the human brain is an enormous imitating machine. To develop a science of [humanity] it is necessary to compare human imitation with animal mimicry, and to specify the properly human modalities of mimetic behavior, if they indeed exist.

B. F. Skinner.

1981 - B. F. Skinner publishes Selection by consequences

In 1981, Skinner published Selection by consequences - in which he argued for a 3-stage model of selection processes. Level 1 started with the origin of life - and was based on evolution by random mutations; Level 2 was based on learning; Level 3 was based on cultural evolution. Skinner wrote:

As a causal mode, selection by consequences was discovered very late in the history of science - indeed, less than a century and a half ago - and it is still not fully recognised or understood, especially at levels ii and iii. The facts for which it is responsible have been forced into the causal pattern of classical mechanics, and many of the explanatory schemes elaborated in the process must now be discarded.
Alas, this is still true some 30 years later. The broad power and applicability of selection processes in nature is still not particularly widely recognised, at the time of writing.

Indeed, we can see now that Skinner did not go far enough in extending the role of selection. For one thing, he missed the applicability of selection processes to pre-biological systems. However, that is a topic which is better discussed elsewhere.

1981 - Charles J. Lumsden and Edward O Wilson - Genes, Mind, And Culture: The Coevolutionary Process

Charles J. Lumsden and Edward O Wilson (1981) start out by saying:
This book contains the first attempt to trace development all the way from genes through the mind to culture. Many have sought the grail of a unifying theory of biology and the social sciences. In recent years the present authors have come to appreciate the probable existence of some form of coupling between genetic and cultural evolution, and we have undertaken our effort with the conviction that the time is ripe for the discovery of its nature.
However, the book did not really present a modern-looking model of culture. It tried to get away from the sociobiological approach of tracing things back to genes - but they imagined that genes are able to control whatever they liked by adjusting human preferences. Their book is now known for its "leash" metaphor. Lumsden and Wilson (1981 p. 13) wrote:
genetic natural selection operates in such a way as to keep culture on a leash.
Their work was subsequently heavily criticised. Maynard Smith (1986) described the work as "deeply unsatisfactory". Marion Blute (1987) described their work as being "sociobiology in drag". Alper and Lange (1981) suggested that the authors were still trying to trace things back to genes too much. Blurb:

Long considered one of the most provocative and demanding major works on human sociobiology, Genes, Mind, and Culture introduces the concept of gene-culture coevolution. It has been out of print for several years, and in this volume Lumsden and Wilson provide a much needed facsimile edition of their original work, together with a major review of progress in the discipline during the ensuing quarter century. They argue compellingly that human nature is neither arbitrary nor predetermined, and identify mechanisms that energize the upward translation from genes to culture. The authors also assess the properties of genetic evolution of mind within emergent cultural patterns. Lumsden and Wilson explore the rich and sophisticated data of developmental psychology and cognitive science in a fashion that, for the first time, aligns these disciplines with human sociobiology. The authors also draw on population genetics, cultural anthropology, and mathematical physics to set human sociobiology on a predictive base, and so trace the main steps that lead from the genes through human consciousness to culture. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1981 - Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza and Marcus W. Feldman - Cultural Transmission and Evolution

Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman produced a mathematical treatment, derived from population genetics. They distinguished between first-order organisms (organic creatures) and second-order organisms (cultural creatures) - giving technologies, languages and customs as examples of the latter. Here they are, on page 341:
We have used the terminology "second-order organisms" for such cultural objects as technologies, languages and customs that are entirely dependent on the properties of the "first-order organisms", namely humans, or other cultural animals. Concepts usually reserved for biological evolution can the be transferred to the second-order organism which will also be affected indirectly by the evolutionary pressures acting on the first-order organism. The result is two orders of selection, natural and cultural.
Some of their models are derived from epidemiology. They give epidemic-based models of cultural transmission, and identify an epidemic threshold (p. 348), in the form of a number of individuals. They discuss drift, the evolution of surnames and languages and present many specific models of gene-culture coevolution. Blurb:

To understand human evolution, we require, among other things, a theory describing the dynamics of culturally acquired phenotypes. In this book, Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman present a series of theoretical models that represent an important beginning toward such a theory. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1982 - Richard Dawkins - The Extended Phenotype

Richard Dawkins continued his writing on memes in The Extended Phenotype (1982). He backed off the topic to some extent. The book also acted founded "internalism" - the idea that memes are structures inside brains.

1982 - Vilmos Csányi - General theory of evolution

Outline a general theory of evolution that extends classical Darwinian theory to include human society. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1983 - Carl P. Swanson - Ever-Expanding Horizons: The Dual Informational Sources of Human Evolution

One: Introduction; Two: The Making of Adam or Ever-Expanding Horizons; Three: The Informational Bases of Evolving Systems; Four: A Further Comparison of Biogenes and Sociogenes; Five: Organic and Cultural Evolution; Six: A Summing Up. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1983 - Charles J. Lumsden and E. O. Wilson - Promethean Fire: Reflections on the Origin of Mind

Lumsden and Wilson followed up on their 1981 work with another related book in 1983. This was on the topic of the evolution of the human mind. They wrote (p. 2.):
To many of the wisest of contemporary scholars, the mind and culture still seem so elusive as to defeat evolutionary theory and perhaps even to transcend biology. This pessimism is understandable but, we believe, can no longer be justified. The mind and culture are living phenomena like any other, sprung from genetics, and their phylogeny can be traced.
View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1983 - Douglas Hofstadter gets into memes

Douglas Hofstadter penned a Scientific American article about memes itiled ""Metamagical themas: Virus-like sentences and self-replicating structures" - in 1983.

1983 - F. A. Hayek lectures on Cultural Evolution

Hayek promoted the idea that governments and institutions evolved in a Darwinian manner. In 1983 he lectured on the evolution of morality and social norms, arguing that they result from unplanned, emergent processes.

1983 - Frederik Kortlandt writes on the topic

Frederik Kortlandt is a linguist. Here are some excerpts:
The view of language as a tool of the human species is less well-founded than its converse. [...] The relation of a language to its carrier bears a strong resemblance to that of a parasite to its host. [...] The fast rate of change which language exhibits can be compared with the instability of the influenza virus.

1985 - Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd - Culture and the Evolutionary Process

This book built on top of the work of Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (1981). They included comprehensive reviews of studies illustrating horizontal and vertical transmission and other phenomena they considered. They made a greater effort to place their work in the context of the work of others. Unlike the earlier academic authors, Boyd and Richerson even mentioned the term "meme"! They did so only once, and it was to be critical of it - they claimed that Dawkins assumed that culture was encoded as discrete "particles".

Although its coverage of memetics was dismal, Boyd and Richerson's book is pretty good - though fairly dense and technical. Boyd and Richerson invoked the "puppet masters" of memetics, by saying:

Horizontal transmission is analogous in some ways to the transmission of a pathogen
The item of culture being spread horizontally acts like a microbe that reproduces and spreads rapidly because it is "infective" and has a short generation length compared to the biological generation length of the host. Fads and fashions and technical innovations are familiar examples.
...but only get as far as calling it an "analogy". View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1985 - Douglas Hofstadter - Metamagical Themas: Questing For The Essence Of Mind And Pattern

Douglas Hofstadter's Metamagical Themas book contains the chapter "On Viral Sentences and Self-Replicating Structures". This was a follow-up to his 1983 Scientific American article with a similar title.

1987 - K. Eric Drexler - Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology

Eric Drexler's book Engines of Creation is heavily saturated with memes. Blurb:

This brilliant work heralds the new age of nanotechnology, which will give us thorough and inexpensive control of the structure of matter. Drexler examines the enormous implications of these developments for medicine, the economy, and the environment, and makes astounding yet well-founded projections for the future. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1988 - John Maynard Smith - Did Darwin Get It Right?: Essays on Games, Sex and Evolution

Now in paperback, Did Darwin Get It Right discusses some of the hottest issues in biology today. Its author, the eminently quotable John Maynard Smith, discusses such fascinating conundrums as how life began, whether the brain works like a computer, why most animals and plants reproduce sexually, and how social behavior evolved out of the context of natural selection - a process which would seem to favor selfishness. A humorous and insightful writer, John Maynard Smith has the special ability to convey the excitement of science, its complexity and fascination, without baffling or boring his readers. In these 28 brief and accessible essays, Maynard ranges widely over such issues as science and the media, the birth of sociobiology, the evolution of animal intelligence and the limitations of evolutionary theory. For his work on the evolution of sex, Smith won the Darwin medal from the Royal Society, and he has pioneered the application of game theory to animal behavior. The book contains reviews of: The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype, On Human Nature, Genes, Minds and Culture, Culture and the Evolutionary Process and Cultural Transmission and Evolution. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

Daniel Dennett.

1990 - Daniel Dennett gets into memetics

Dennett's first article on the topic was "Memes and the exploitation of imagination". The article goes over the basic idea of universal Darwininsm and calls for more research into memetics.

1991 - Daniel C. Dennett - Consciousness Explained

Consciousness is notoriously difficult to explain. On one hand, there are facts about conscious experience-the way clarinets sound, the way lemonade tastes--that we know subjectively, from the inside. On the other hand, such facts are not readily accommodated in the objective world described by science. How, after all, could the reediness of clarinets or the tartness of lemonade be predicted in advance? Central to Daniel C. Dennett's attempt to resolve this dilemma is the 'heterophenomenological' method, which treats reports of introspection nontraditionally--not as evidence to be used in explaining consciousness, but as data to be explained. Using this method, Dennett argues against the myth of the Cartesian theater--the idea that consciousness can be precisely located in space or in time. To replace the Cartesian theater, he introduces his own multiple drafts model of consciousness, in which the mind is a bubbling congeries of unsupervised parallel processing. Finally, Dennett tackles the conventional philosophical questions about consciousness, taking issue not only with the traditional answers but also with the traditional methodology by which they were reached. Contains a section on memes.' View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1992 - William Durham - Coevolution: Genes, Culture, and Human Diversity

This book openly embraced the "meme" terminology. However, its subject area was relatively narrow - it focussed on areas where culture had influenced human genes - things like lactose tolerance, and the sickle-cell trait. Blurb:

In 'Coevolution,' the author proposes a powerful new theory of cultural evolution--that is, of the descent with modification of the shared conceptual systems we call 'cultures' - that is parallel in many ways to Darwin's theory of organic evolution. The author suggests that a process of cultural selection, or preservation by preference, driven chiefly by choice or imposition depending on the circumstances, has been the main but not exclusive force of cultural change. He shows that this process gives rise to five major patterns or 'modes' in which cultural change is at odds with genetic change. Each of the five modes is discussed in some detail and its existence confirmed through one or more case studies chosen for their heuristic value, the robustness of their data, and their broader implications. But 'Coevolution' predicts not simply the existence of the five modes of gene-culture relations; it also predicts their relative importance in the ongoing dynamics of cultural change in particular cases. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1993 - Newsgroup alt.memetics is formed

1995 - Daniel C. Dennett - Darwin's Dangerous Idea

In the book Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life (1995) Dennett argues that Darwinian processes are the central organizing force that gives rise to the complexity of living things and human culture. Dennett asserts that natural selection is a blind and algorithmic process which is sufficiently powerful to account for the evolution of life - including the complexities of human minds and societies. Blurb:

One of the best descriptions of the nature and implications of Darwinian evolution ever written, it is firmly based in biological information and appropriately extrapolated to possible applications to engineering and cultural evolution. Dennett's analyses of the objections to evolutionary theory are unsurpassed. Extremely lucid, wonderfully written, and scientifically and philosophically impeccable. Contains a section on memes.' View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1993 - Richard Brodie - Getting Past OK: The Self-Help Book for People Who Don't Need Help

A self help book. Only some small sections on memes - but this was probably the first self-help book that mentioned them. Richard Brodie was to expand on the theme in his next book. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1995 - Richard Brodie - Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme

"Virus of the Mind" was one of the first whole books devoted to memetics. It offered a basic introduction to the field. Blurb:

If you've ever wondered how and why people become robotically enslaved by advertising, religion, sexual fantasy, and cults, wonder no more. It's all because of 'mind viruses,' or 'memes,' and those who understand how to plant them into other's minds. This is the first truly accessible book about memes and how they make the world go 'round. Of course, like all good memes, the ideas in Brodie's book are double-edged swords. They can vaccinate against the effects of cognitive viruses, but could also be used by those seeking power to gain it even more effectively. If you don't want to be left behind in the coevolutionary arms race between infection and protection, read about memes. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1996 - Dan Sperber - Explaining Culture: A Naturalistic Approach

Ideas, Dan Sperber argues, may be contagious. They may invade whole populations. In the process, the people, their environment, and the ideas themselves are being transformed. To explain culture is to describe the causes and the effects of this contagion of ideas. This book will be read by all those with an interest in the impact of the cognitive revolution on our understanding of culture. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1996 - Aaron Lynch - Thought Contagion

Subtitled: 'How Belief Spreads Through Society. The New Science of Memes.' This was an early book on memetics. It was full of armchair psychology and thought experiments about memes. Blurb:

Why do certain ideas become popular? The naive view is that it's because they're true, or at least justified. This fascinating book, influenced by evolutionary biology and epidemiology, is the first full-scale examination of some of the other reasons. Consider Aaron Lynch's example of optimism - it may not be true or warranted, but it tends to prevail because optimists tend to have more children to pass along their outlook to. Sometimes, Lynch points out, there is a paradoxical but predictable expansion-contraction pattern to the social spread of ideas. This was one of the first books about memetics. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

Susan Blackmore.

1996 - Susan Blackmore gets into memetics

Sue started off with a brief presentation called Memes, Minds and Selves: Dismantling the selfplex; meme machines and the nature of consciousness.

1997 - Henry Plotkin - Darwin Machines and the Nature of Knowledge

Plotkin is a psychologist and his book places most emphasis on learning or the acquisition of knowledge and the cultural transmission of that knowledge. It is an extended essay on 'evolutionary epistemology', a phrase coined by D. T. Campbell and rightly seen by Plotkin as a barrier to understanding. Indeed, one of this book's great virtues is that Plotkin writes incomparably more clearly than most others who have ventured into these fields. His exposition, even of complex issues, is beautifully lucid, his arguments well thought through and his illustrations apt. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1997 - Journal of memetics opens

1997 - Gary Cziko - Without Miracles: Universal Selection Theory and the Second Darwinian Revolution

"Without Miracles: Universal Selection Theory and the Second Darwinian Revolution" covers universal Darwinism. The perspective is derived from Donald Campbell. It is a fine and interesting book - though these days, I find parts of Campbell's B.S.V.R thesis to be rather confused. Blurb:

Cziko, an educational psychologist, critically examines puzzles of fit on many levels, from providential through instructionist to selectionist theories of explanation. His naturalistic and mechanistic interpretation of evolution rejects miracles, innatism, teleology, and natural theology. Especially influenced by zoologist Richard Dawkins and psychologist Donald T. Campbell, Cziko argues that the emergence of global diversity and ongoing adaptive complexity in and among organisms (e.g., the immune system and instinctive behavior), as well as throughout the human world from neurons to computers, is due to the pervasive process of cumulative variation and selection. In particular, his universal selection framework includes an ultra-Darwinian explanation for the emergence of language, acquisition of knowledge, and development of science and technology. Cziko even maintains that blind variation and hindsighted selection also apply to advances in drug design, genetic engineering, and directed molecular evolution. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1997 - Geoffrey Martin Hodgson - Economics and Evolution: Bringing Life Back into Economics

Economic theory is currently at a crossroads, where many leading mainstream economists are calling for a more realistic and practical orientation for economic science. Indeed, many are suggesting that economics should be reconstructed on evolutionary lines. This book is about the application to economics of evolutionary ideas from biology. It is not about selfish genes or determination of our behavior by genetic code. The idea that evolution supports a laissez-faire policy is rebutted. The conception of evolution as progress toward greater perfection, along with the competitive individualism sometimes inferred from the notion of the 'survival of the fittest,' is found to be problematic. Hodgson explores the ambiguities inherent in biology and the problems involved in applying ideas of past economic thinkers - including Malthus, Smith, Marx, Marshall, Veblen, Schumpeter, and Hayek - and argues that the new evolutionary economics can learn much from the many differing conceptions of organic evolution. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1998 - William H. Calvin - The Cerebral Code: Thinking a Thought in the Mosaics of the Mind

The Cerebral Code is a new understanding of how Darwinian processes could operate in the brain to shape mental images in only seconds, starting with shuffled memories no better than the jumble of our nighttime dreams, but evolving into something of quality, such as a sentence to speak aloud. Jung said that dreaming goes on continuously but you can't see it when you are awake, just as you can't see the stars in the daylight because it is too bright. Calvin's is a theory for what goes on, hidden from view by the glare of waking mental operations, that produces our peculiarly human type of consciousness with its versatile intelligence.As Piaget emphasized in 1929, intelligence is what we use when we don't know what to do, when we have to grope rather than using a standard response. Calvin tackles a mechanism for doing this exploration and improvement offline, as we think before we act or practice the art of good guessing.Surprisingly, the subtitle's mosaics of the mind is not a literary metaphor. For the first time, it is a description of a mechanism of what appears to be an appropriate level of explanation for many mental phenomena, that of hexagonal mosaics of electrical activity that compete for territory in the association cortex of the brain. This two-dimensional mosaic is predicted to grow and dissolve much as the sugar crystals do in the bottom of a supersaturated glass of iced tea.

1999 - Susan Blackmore - The Meme Machine

Blurb: In the book, Blackmore attempts to provide foundations for memetics as a science by discussing its empirical and analytic potential, as well as some important problems with memetics. The first half of the book tries to create greater clarity about the definition of the meme. The second half of the book consists of a number of possible memetic explanations for such different problems as the origin of language, the origin of the human brain, sexual phenomena, the internet and the notion of the self. Blurb:

Blackmore is a parapsychologist who rejects the paranormal, a skeptical investigator of near-death experiences, and a practitioner of Zen. Her explanation of the science of the meme (memetics) is rigorously Darwinian. Because she is a careful thinker (though by no means dull or conventional), the reader ends up with a good idea of what memetics explains well and what it doesn't, and with many ideas about how it can be tested - the very hallmark of an excellent science book. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

1999 - Geoffrey Martin Hodgson - Evolution and Institutions: On Evolutionary Economics and the Evolution of Economics

This study of the future of economics as a viable discipline analyses some attempts to redirect theoretical economics to real world issues. It proposes a move away from mathematical formulizations and greater tolerance for the possibilitiy of learning from other sciences, especially biology.

1999 - Robin Dunbar (Editor), Chris Knight (Editor), Camilla Power (Editor) - The Evolution of Culture: An Interdisciplinary View

This book explores the ways in which contemporary evolutionary thinking might inform the study of the peculiarly human phenomenon of symbolic culture, including language, ritual, religion, religion and art. It draws together contributions from biologists, linguists, anthropologists and archaeologists in order to establish common ground where collaboration and interaction will be especially productive and challenging in the study of those fundamental aspects of our biology that makes us human. * Multidisciplinary * An evolutionary approach to culture. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2000 - Kurt Dopfer - The Evolutionary Foundations of Economics

Evolutionary economics is attracting increasing interest as a way of understanding the processes which generate particular forms of economic activities and structures. This collection brings together economists who are at the forefront of this new field of enquiry to provide the most comprehensive and authoritative survey available. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2000 - Ben Sandford Cullen - Contagious Ideas: On Evolution, Culture, Archaeology and Cultural Virus Theory

Neo-Darwinism is becoming an increasingly important influence on archaeological theory, as a number of recent edited books on 'Darwinian archaeologies' make clear. However many of these volumes are internally inconsistent and reflect the muddled understanding many archaeologists have of the potential of Darwin's thought for interpreting material culture. Dr Cullen's book starts by critiquing some recent neo-Darwinist approaches, including cultural evolutionism and cultural sociobiology. He then presents a neo-Darwinian paradigm of extreme power, which he has termed the Cultural Virus Theory (CVT). This compares the transmission of cultural ideas vs. natural genes. In the final section he takes the important step of applying this theory to real materials; demonstrating how CVT can be used to understand the spread of megalithic monuments in prehistoric North-West Europe, the diffusion of the renaissance in medieval Europe and the basis of stylistic change in pottery. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2000 - Robert Wright - Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny

Evolution meets game theory in this upbeat follow-up to Wright's much-praised The Moral Animal. Arguing against intellectual heavyweights such as Isaiah Berlin, Karl Popper and Franz Boas, Wright contends optimistically that history progresses in a predictable direction and points toward a certain end: a world of increasing human cooperation where greed and hatred have outlived their usefulness. This thesis is elaborated by way of something Wright calls 'non-zero-sumness', which in game theory means a kind of win-win situation. The non-zero-sum dynamic, Wright says, is the driving force that has shaped history from the very beginnings of life, giving rise to increasing social complexity, technological innovation and, eventually, the Internet. From Polynesian chiefdoms and North America's Shoshone culture to the depths of the Mongol Empire, Wright plunders world history for evidence to show that the so-called Information Age is simply part of a long-term trend. Globalization, he points out, has been around since Assyrian traders opened for business in the second millennium B.C. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2000 - John Cartwright - Evolution and Human Behavior: Darwinian Perspectives on Human Nature

A new edition of a comprehensive text on the concepts of evolutionary psychology, including coverage of such contemporary issues as familial relationships and conflict and cooperation. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2000 - Lee Alan Dugatkin - The Imitation Factor: Evolution Beyond The Gene

The dominant paradigm in evolutionary biology asserts that genes are responsible for virtually all manifestations of animal behavior while the environment plays a small role. In a thoroughly engaging, accessible manner, Dugatkin, professor of biology at the University of Louisville, challenges 'that assumption by presenting the case that cultural transmission and gene-culture interactions are serious, underestimated forces in evolutionary biology.' He analyzes a broad array of behavioral studies conducted by himself, his students and many other scientists to demonstrate that animals imitate each other regularly, learn new behaviors from this mimesis and even engage in activities that are best called teaching. By presenting behavioral examples of simple and complex animals ranging from guppies to macaques, from blackbirds to humans, he proves that large brains are not a prerequisite for imitation. Even more important, Dugatkin establishes these actions as constituents of culture, which many scientists limit to humans. Dugatkin explains scientific method superbly and conveys the thrill of designing an ingenious experiment. His theories and supporting evidence will inspire even the most skeptical readers to rethink humans' place in the animal kingdom. Anyone interested in the nature/culture debate will learn something new from Dugatkin. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2000 - Gary M. Feinman and Linda Manzanilla - Cultural Evolution: Contemporary Viewpoints

Drawing on Kent Flannery's forty years of cross-cultural research in the area, the contributors to this collection reflect the current diversity of contemporary approaches to the study of cultural evolutionary processes. Collectively the volume expresses the richness of the issues being investigated by comparative theorists interested in long-term change, as well as the wide variety of data, approaches, and ideas that researchers are employing to examine these questions. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2001 - Robert Aunger - Darwinizing Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science

Blurb: The publication in 1998 of Susan Blackmore's bestselling 'The Meme Machine' re-awakened the debate over the highly controversial field of memetics. In the past few years, there has been an explosion of interest in 'memes'. The one thing noticeably missing has been any kind of proper debate over the validity of a concept regarded by many as scientifically suspect. This book pits leading intellectuals, (both supporters and opponents of meme theory), against each other to battle it out, and state their case. With a forward by Daniel Dennett, and contributions form Dan Sperber, David Hll, 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. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2002 - Kevin N. Laland and Gillian Brown - Sense and Nonsense: Evolutionary perspectives on human behaviour

Sense and Nonsense gives those interested in the use of evolutionary reasoning to explain human behaviour and culture a cogent, evenhanded and lucid survey of five disparate fields utilizing that apprach. More importantly, it provides substantive critical analysis of each ... Throughout the authors deserve applause for their consistent clarity and fair-mindedness... a valuable book for many audiences. It should be useful even to those at the cutting edge of research... At the same time, it is not so technical that it couldn't be of value to students and educated laypersons. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2002 - Robert Aunger - The Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think

Here, Cambridge anthropologist Aunger (Darwinizing Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science) theorizes on the nature of this so-called 'thought gene.' In doing so, Aunger coins a term of his own, 'neuromemetics,' proposing that memes are in fact self-replicating electrical charges in the nodes of our brains. The author explains that the shift in perspective from Dawkins's purely social memetics to a memetics working at the intercellular level is akin to sociobiology's view of social behavior as a genetic trait subject to evolution. This is an ambitious book on a par with Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2003 - Henry Plotkin - The Imagined World Made Real

Can the insights of science provide a proper understanding of human culture, or must we leave the analysis of culture to the so-called humanities? The ability to share knowledge and beliefs is the preeminent characteristic of our species. Science itself is a product of culture and the natural sciences are the most powerful forms of knowledge we have. From explanations of the origins of the universe to descriptions of the molecular structure of life, science has a spectacular record of achievement. Yet it has mostly failed to provide an understanding of human culture. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2003 - J. M. Balkin - Cultural Software: A Theory of Ideology

In this book J. M. Balkin offers a strikingly original theory of cultural evolution, a theory that explains shared understandings, disagreement, and diversity within cultures. Drawing on many fields of study - including anthropology, evolutionary theory, cognitive science, linguistics, sociology, political theory, philosophy, social psychology, and law - the author explores how cultures grow and spread, how shared understandings arise, and how people of different cultures can understand and evaluate each other's views. Cultural evolution occurs through the transmission of cultural information and know-how-'cultural software'-in human minds, Balkin says. Individuals embody cultural software and spread it to others through communication and social learning. Ideology, the author contends, is neither a special nor a pathological form of thought but an ordinary product of the evolution of cultural software. Because cultural understanding is a patchwork of older imperfect tools that are continually adapted to solve new problems, human understanding is partly adequate and party inadequate to the pursuit of justice. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2004 - Kate Distin - The Selfish Meme: A Critical Reassessment

Culture is a unique and fascinating aspect of the human species. How did it emerge and how does it develop? Richard Dawkins has suggested that culture evolves and that memes are the cultural replicators, subject to variation and selection in the same way as genes function in the biological world. In this sense human culture is the product of a mindless evolutionary algorithm. Does this imply that we are mere meme machines and that the conscious self is an illusion? Kate Distin extends and strengthens Dawkins's theory and presents a fully developed and workable concept of cultural DNA. She argues that culture's development can be seen both as the result of memetic evolution and as the product of human creativity. Memetic evolution is therefore compatible with the view of humans as conscious and intelligent. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2004 - Ken Renshaw - Everyday Magic: The Power of Memes

Change your memes: Change your life. Memes are learned attitudes or behaviors, decisions and beliefs. They determine the Everyday Magic in our life, the way things flow. Life can be easy with everything magically turning out the way we wish. Life can be difficult, a struggle. It all depends on the memes you hold. This book shows you how to systematically examine and understand your memes and life pattern to change your Everyday Magic. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2004 - Robin Dunbar - Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language

Arguing that gossiping is vital to a society, and that there is no such thing as 'idle' gossip, this book disputes the assumption that language developed in male-male relationships. The author believes that, on the contrary, language evolved among women, and contends that, although men are just as likely to natter as women, women gossip more about other people, thus strengthening the female-female relationships that underpin society. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2005 - Keith E. Stanovich - The Robot's Rebellion: Finding Meaning in the Age of Darwin

According to Stanovich, we're only just beginning to grapple with the deep consequences of Darwin's theory of natural selection. One such consequence, Richard Dawkins's theory of the 'selfish gene,' implies that living creatures are mere vehicles constructed to facilitate the survival and replication of genes. While Stanovich (How to Think Straight About Psychology), a cognitive scientist at the University of Toronto, agrees with the basic idea of the selfish gene, he finds fault with the conclusion that we are simply at its mercy. Drawing on recent research in cognitive science, he argues for an alternate conception of our relationship with our genes: we may be robots originally constructed as vehicles for genes, but our higher-level analytic reasoning abilities (themselves a product of evolution) enable us to rebel against our genetically programmed 'autonomous set of systems,' as well as the analogous cultural memes that infect our rational minds. Though framed as a revolutionary manifesto about how we can retain our autonomy and humanity if we are merely vehicles (robots) for genes and memes, this book is fundamentally a work of scholarship, bridging cognitive science and evolutionary psychology. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

Alex Mesoudi.

2005 - Alex Mesoudi publishes his PhD Thesis

Alex's 2005 PhD thesis on the topic is a fine document - especially part 1 - which summarises the evidence for cultural evolution.

Some links to Alex's pages:

2005 - Journal of memetics closes

2005 - Ruth Mace, Clare J. Holden and Stephen Shennan - The Evolution of Cultural Diversity: A Phylogenetic Approach

Virtually all aspects of human behavior show enormous variation both within and between cultural groups, including material culture, social organization and language. Thousands of distinct cultural groups exist: about 6,000 languages are spoken today, and it is thought that a far greater number of languages existed in the past but became extinct. Using a Darwinian approach, this book seeks to explain this rich cultural variation. There are a number of theoretical reasons to believe that cultural diversification might be tree-like, that is phylogenetic: material and non-material culture is clearly inherited by descendants, there is descent with modification, and languages appear to be hierarchically related. There are also a number of theoretical reasons to believe that cultural evolution is not tree-like: cultural inheritance is not Mendelian and can indeed be vertical, horizontal or oblique, evidence of borrowing abounds, cultures are not necessarily biological populations and can be transient and complex. Here, for the first time, this title tackles these questions of cultural evolution empirically and quantitatively, using a range of case studies from Africa, the Pacific, Europe, Asia and America. A range of powerful theoretical tools developed in evolutionary biology is used to test detailed hypotheses about historical patterns and adaptive functions in cultural evolution. Evidence is amassed from archaeological, linguist and cultural datasets, from both recent and historical or pre-historical time periods. A unifying theme is that the phylogenetic approach is a useful and powerful framework, both for describing the evolutionary history of these traits, and also for testing adaptive hypotheses about their evolution and co-evolution. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2005 - Richerson and Boyd - Not by Genes Alone

Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd publish 'Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution'. This was a simpler book that their earlier works on the topic - designed for a wider audience. Richerson and Boyd reject the terminology of memetics, but their book is very close to memetics in spirit. The book is full of interesting ideas - though some of them are rather speculative. Apart from its direct coverage of memes, the book makes a fine introduction to the field. Blurb:

Not by Genes Alone offers a radical interpretation of human evolution, arguing that our ecological dominance and our singular social systems stem from a psychology uniquely adapted to create complex culture. Richerson and Boyd illustrate here that culture is neither superorganic nor the handmaiden of the genes. Rather, it is essential to human adaptation, as much a part of human biology as bipedal locomotion. Drawing on work in the fields of anthropology, political science, sociology, and economics - and building their case with such fascinating examples as kayaks, corporations, clever knots, and yams that require twelve men to carry them - Richerson and Boyd convincingly demonstrate that culture and biology are inextricably linked, and they show us how to think about their interaction in a way that yields a richer understanding of human nature. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2005 - Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd - The Origin and Evolution of Cultures

Blurb: Oxford presents, in one convenient and coherently organized volume, 20 influential but until now relatively inaccessible articles that form the backbone of Boyd and Richerson's path-breaking work on evolution and culture. Their interdisciplinary research is based on two notions. First, that culture is crucial for understanding human behavior; unlike other organisms, socially transmitted beliefs, attitudes, and values heavily influence our behavior. Secondly, culture is part of biology: the capacity to acquire and transmit culture is a derived component of human psychology, and the contents of culture are deeply intertwined with our biology. Culture then is a pool of information, stored in the brains of the population that gets transmitted from one brain to another by social learning processes. Therefore, culture can account for both our outstanding ecological success as well as the maladaptations that characterize much of human behavior. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2006 - Eva Jablonka, Marion J. Lamb, Anna Zeligowski - Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life

Ideas about heredity and evolution are undergoing a revolutionary change. New findings in molecular biology challenge the gene-centered version of Darwinian theory according to which adaptation occurs only through natural selection of chance DNA variations. In Evolution in Four Dimensions, Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb argue that there is more to heredity than genes. They trace four 'dimensions' in evolution - four inheritance systems that play a role in evolution: genetic, epigenetic (or non-DNA cellular transmission of traits), behavioral, and symbolic (transmission through language and other forms of symbolic communication). These systems, they argue, can all provide variations on which natural selection can act. Evolution in Four Dimensions offers a richer, more complex view of evolution than the gene-based, one-dimensional view held by many today. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2006 - Linda Stone, Paul F. Lurquin and L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza - Genes, Culture, and Human Evolution: A Synthesis

Genes, Culture, and Human Evolution: A Synthesisis - a textbook on human evolution that offers students a unique combination of cultural anthropology and genetics. Written by two geneticists-including a world-renowned scientist and founder of the Human Genome Diversity Project-and a socio-cultural anthropologist. Based on recent findings in genetics and anthropology that indicate the analysis of human culture and evolution demands an integration of these fields of study. Focuses on evolution-or, rather, co-evolution - viewed from the standpoint of genes and culture, and their inescapable interactions. Unifies cultural and genetic concepts rather than rehashing nonempirical sociobiological musings. Demonstrates that empirical genetic evidence, based on modern DNA analysis and population studies, provides an excellent foundation for understanding human cultural diversity. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2006 - Evan Louis Sheehan - The Mocking Memes: A Basis for Automated Intelligence

All scientific evidence supports the astonishing hypothesis that minds are brains and brains are biological machines. But, then, what sort of neural architecture accounts for the human ability to think? The answer logically follows from another astonishing hypothesis: There is no source of creativity anywhere in the universe other than the process of evolution. Such is the simple premise on which this book's description of all intelligence is based. Human thinking is thus reduced to a mechanistic process of neural firing patterns evolving. In this unique yet simple model of mind, memes are the currency of creative thought. All sorts of intelligence, from the creation of the universe all the way down to human thoughts, are explained as evolving patterns. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2007 - Richard McElreath and Robert Boyd - Mathematical Models of Social Evolution: A Guide for the Perplexed

Over the last several decades, mathematical models have become central to the study of social evolution, both in biology and the social sciences. But students in these disciplines often seriously lack the tools to understand them. A primer on behavioral modeling that includes both mathematics and evolutionary theory, Mathematical Models of Social Evolution aims to make the student and professional researcher in biology and the social sciences fully conversant in the language of the field. Teaching biological concepts from which models can be developed, Richard McElreath and Robert Boyd introduce readers to many of the typical mathematical tools that are used to analyze evolutionary models and end each chapter with a set of problems that draw upon these techniques. Mathematical Models of Social Evolution equips behaviorists and evolutionary biologists with the mathematical knowledge to truly understand the models on which their research depends. Ultimately, McElreath and Boyd’s goal is to impart the fundamental concepts that underlie modern biological understandings of the evolution of behavior so that readers will be able to more fully appreciate journal articles and scientific literature, and start building models of their own. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2007 - Geoffrey Martin Hodgson - Economics in the Shadows of Darwin and Marx: Essays on Institutional and Evolutionary Themes

This book examines the legacies of these two giants of thought for the social sciences in the twenty-first century. Darwin and Marx stand out as the supreme theorists of structural change in complex living systems. Yet their analytical approaches are very different, and the idea that Darwinism has application to the social sciences is not widely appreciated. This collection of essays establishes the importance of Darwinism for economics and other social sciences, and compares the Darwinian legacy with that of Marx.Critical realism is just one of the tendencies within economics influenced by Marxism that is dissected here. The final part of the book adopts a Darwinian evolutionary approach to the analysis of institutions and routines. Geoffrey Hodgson's book will be warmly welcomed and received by evolutionary and institutional economists, methodologists of economics and other social sciences, heterodox economists as well as other social scientists including economic sociologists, organisation scientists and political scientists. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2008 - Melissa J. Brown (Editor) - Explaining Culture Scientifically

What exactly is culture? The authors of this volume suggest that the study of one of anthropology's central questions may be a route to developing a scientific paradigm for the field. The contributors - prominent scholars in anthropology, biology, and economics - approach culture from very different theoretical and methodological perspectives, through studies grounded in fieldwork, surveys, demography, and other empirical data. From humans to chimpanzees, from Taiwan to New Guinea, from cannibalism to marriage patterns, this volume directly addresses the challenges of explaining culture scientifically. The evolutionary paradigm lends itself particularly well to the question of culture; in these essays, different modes of inheritance - genetic, cultural, ecological, and structural - illustrate evolutionary patterns in a variety of settings. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2008 - Craig Mackay - Supergenes: What Really Makes Us Human

Why do we behave so differently in different situations? Why did you choose the clothes you are wearing, the books you read and the friends and opinions you have? What is it about humans that has let us achieve so much, so quickly? This book tries to understand why the evolution of our human species is happening at a rate so much faster than may be explained by Darwinian biological evolution alone. The engine of our extraordinary social evolution is human behaviour. We have a deep-seated need to pass on to others some part of our own achievements, what we have made of our lives. Our survival and success now depends principally on our adaption to our social environment and not to our physical environment. It is these supercharged social genes that are the essence of our remarkable and accelerating rate of evolution today. This book looks critically at our present understanding of human behaviour and evolution to seek a consilience across a wide range of fields of research. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2008 - Thorsten Botz-Bornstein - Culture, Nature, Memes

This collection of essays on cognition, which involves continental as much as analytical approaches, attempts to observe cognitive processes in three areas: in culture, in nature, and in an area that can at least from some point of view be perceived as an in-betweenť of culture and nature: memes. All authors introduce a certain dynamic input in cognitive theory, as they negotiate between the empirical and the conceptual, or between epistemology and the study of culture. In all chapters, culture, nature, and memes turn out to be dynamic in the sense of being non-essentialist, their significations and modulating functions always being multi-dimensional. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2009 - Stephen Shennan - Pattern and Process in Cultural Evolution

This volume offers an integrative approach to the application of evolutionary theory in studies of cultural transmission and social evolution and reveals the enormous range of ways in which Darwinian ideas can lead to productive empirical research, the touchstone of any worthwhile theoretical perspective. While many recent works on cultural evolution adopt a specific theoretical framework, such as dual inheritance theory or human behavioral ecology, Pattern and Process in Cultural Evolution emphasizes empirical analysis and includes authors who employ a range of backgrounds and methods to address aspects of culture from an evolutionary perspective. Editor Stephen Shennan has assembled archaeologists, evolutionary theorists, and ethnographers, whose essays cover a broad range of time periods, localities, cultural groups, and artifacts. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2009 - W. G. Runciman - The Theory of Cultural and Social Selection

In The Theory of Cultural and Social Selection, W. G. Runciman presents an original and wide-ranging account of the fundamental process by which human cultures and societies come to be of the different kinds that they are. Drawing on and extending recent advances in neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory, Runciman argues that collective human behaviour should be analyzed as the acting-out of information transmitted at the three separate but interacting levels of heritable variation and competitive selection - the biological, the cultural, and the social. The implications which this carries for a reformulation of the traditional agenda of comparative and historical sociology are explored with the help of selected examples, and located within the context of current debates about sociological theory and practice. The Theory of Cultural and Social Selection is a succinct and highly imaginative contribution to one of the great intellectual debates of our times, from one of the world's leading social theorists. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2009 - Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich - The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment

In humanity’s more than 100,000 year history, we have evolved from vulnerable creatures clawing sustenance from Earth to a sophisticated global society manipulating every inch of it. In short, we have become the dominant animal. Why, then, are we creating a world that threatens our own species? What can we do to change the current trajectory toward more climate change, increased famine, and epidemic disease? Renowned Stanford scientists Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich believe that intelligently addressing those questions depends on a clear understanding of how we evolved and how and why we’re changing the planet in ways that darken our descendants’ future. The Dominant Animal arms readers with that knowledge, tracing the interplay between environmental change and genetic and cultural evolution since the dawn of humanity. In lucid and engaging prose, they describe how Homo sapiens adapted to their surroundings, eventually developing the vibrant cultures, vast scientific knowledge, and technological wizardy we know today. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2010 - Hoyle Leigh - Genes, Memes, Culture, and Mental Illness: Toward an Integrative Model

What produces mental illness: genes, environment, both,neither? The answer can be found in memesÄreplicable units of information linking genes and environment in the memory and in cultureÄwhose effects on individual brain development can be benign or toxic. This book reconceptualizes mental disorders as products of stressful gene-meme interactions and introduces a biopsychosocial template for meme-based diagnosis and treatment. A range of therapeutic modalities, both broad-spectrum (meditation) and specific(cognitive-behavioral), for countering negative memes and their replication are considered, as are possibilities for memetic prevention strategies. In this book, the author outlines the roles of genes and memes in the evolution of the human brain; elucidates the creation, storage, and evolution of memes within individual brains; examines culture as a carrier and supplier of memes to the individual; provides examples of gene-meme interactions that can result in anxiety, depression, and other disorders; proposes a multiaxial gene-meme model for diagnosing mental illness; identifies areas of meme-based prevention for at-risk children; and defines specific syndromes in terms of memetic symptoms, genetic/ memetic development, and meme-based treatment. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2010 - Marion Blute - Darwinian Sociocultural Evolution: Solutions to Dilemmas in Cultural and Social Theory

Blurb: Social scientists can learn a lot from evolutionary biology - from systematics and principles of evolutionary ecology to theories of social interaction including competition, conflict and cooperation, as well as niche construction, complexity, eco-evo-devo, and the role of the individual in evolutionary processes. Darwinian sociocultural evolutionary theory applies the logic of Darwinism to social-learning based cultural and social change. With a multidisciplinary approach for graduate biologists, philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, social psychologists, archaeologists, linguists, economists, political scientists and science and technology specialists, the author presents this model of evolution drawing on a number of sophisticated aspects of biological evolutionary theory. The approach brings together a broad and inclusive theoretical framework for understanding the social sciences which addresses many of the dilemmas at their forefront - the relationship between history and necessity, conflict and cooperation, the ideal and the material and the problems of agency, subjectivity and the nature of social structure. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2010 - Henry Plotkin - Evolutionary Worlds without End

In Evolutionary Worlds Without End, Henry Plotkin considers whether there is any general theory in biology, including the social sciences, that is in any way equivalent to the general theories of physics. It starts by examining Ernest Rutherford's famous dictum as to what science is. In the later chapters he considers the possibility, within an historical framework, of a general theory being based upon selection processes. Throughout, the author constructs a compelling argument for the idea that there are within biology, and that includes the social sciences, something like the general theories that make physics such powerful science. The book will be valuable for all those in the biological and social sciences, in particular, biologists, psychologists, as well as philosophers of science. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2010 - Geoffrey Martin Hodgson and Thorbjorn Knudsen - Darwin's Conjecture: The Search for General Principles of Social and Economic Evolution

Of paramount importance to the natural sciences, the principles of Darwinism, which involve variation, inheritance, and selection, are increasingly of interest to social scientists as well. But no one has provided a truly rigorous account of how the principles apply to the evolution of human society—until now. In Darwin’s Conjecture, Geoffrey Hodgson and Thorbj°rn Knudsen reveal how the British naturalist’s core concepts apply to a wide range of phenomena, including business practices, legal systems, technology, and even science itself. They also critique some prominent objections to applying Darwin to social science, arguing that ultimately Darwinism functions as a general theoretical framework for stimulating further inquiry. Social scientists who adopt a Darwinian approach, they contend, can then use it to frame and help develop new explanatory theories and predictive models. This truly pathbreaking work at long last makes the powerful conceptual tools of Darwin available to the social sciences and will be welcomed by scholars and students from a range of disciplines. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2010 - John Gunders Ph.D. and Damon Brown - The Complete Idiot's Guide to Memes

Memes are 'viruses of the mind' - symbols, ideas, or practices that are transmitted through speech, gestures, and rituals. Understanding how symbols like the peace sign or ad slogans like 'Where's the beef?' or viral videos become part of our common culture has become a primary focus of sales and marketing companies across the globe. The Complete Idiot's Guide(r) to Memes explains how memes work, how they spread, and what memes tell us about how we make sense of our world. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2010 - Matt Ridley - The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves

Ideas have sex, in Ridley's schema; they follow a process of natural selection of their own, and as long as they continue to do so, there is reason to retire apocalyptic pessimism about the future of our species. Erstwhile zoologist, conservationist, and journalist, Ridley (The Red Queen) posits that as long as civilization engages in exchange and specialization, we will be able to reinvent ourselves and responsibly use earthly resources ad infinitum. Humanity's collective intelligence will save the day, just as it has over the centuries. Ridley puts current perceptions about violence, wealth, and the environment into historical perspective, reaching back thousands of years to advocate global free trade, smaller government, and the use of fossil fuels. He confidently takes on the experts, from modern sociologists who fret over the current level of violence in the world to environmentalists who disdain genetically modified crops. An ambitious and sunny paean to human ingenuity, this is an argument for why ambitious optimism is morally mandatory. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2010 - Kate Distin - Cultural Evolution

This book proposes a theory of cultural evolution and shows how it can help us to understand the origin and development of human culture. Distin introduces the concept that humans share information not only in natural languages, which are spoken or signed, but also in artefactual languages like writing and musical notation, which use media that are made by humans. Languages enable humans to receive and transmit variations in cultural information and resources. In this way, they provide the mechanism for cultural evolution. The human capacity for metarepresentation - thinking about how we think - accelerates cultural evolution, because it frees cultural information from the conceptual limitations of each individual language. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2011 - James Gleick - The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

In a sense, The Information is a book about everything, from words themselves to talking drums, writing and lexicography, early attempts at an analytical engine, the telegraph and telephone, ENIAC, and the ubiquitous computers that followed. But that's just the 'History.' The 'Theory' focuses on such 20th-century notables as Claude Shannon, Norbert Wiener, Alan Turing, and others who worked on coding, decoding, and re-coding both the meaning and the myriad messages transmitted via the media of their times. In the 'Flood,' Gleick explains genetics as biology's mechanism for informational exchange - Is a chicken just an egg's way of making another egg? - and discusses self-replicating memes (ideas as different as earworms and racism) as information's own evolving meta-life forms. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2011 - David Deutsch - The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World

Throughout history, mankind has struggled to understand life's mysteries, from the mundane to the seemingly miraculous. In this important new book, David Deutsch, an award-winning pioneer in the field of quantum computation, argues that explanations have a fundamental place in the universe. They have unlimited scope and power to cause change, and the quest to improve them is the basic regulating principle not only of science but of all successful human endeavor. This stream of ever improving explanations has infinite reach, according to Deutsch: we are subject only to the laws of physics, and they impose no upper boundary to what we can eventually understand, control, and achieve. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2011 - Mark Changizi - Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man

Excerpt: One of the alien probers wondered whether there might be design, or selection, underlying the difference between modern humans and their non-linguistic and non-musical ancestors – not natural selection and not learning, but cultural selection. This is a selection process that selects not on biology, but on human artifacts that are used by biology. The human artifacts are animal-like, in the sense that they themselves have evolved over time, under selection pressure. These artifact-creatures (in the realm of “memes”), like naturally selected biological creatures, can be highly complex, with all the hallmarks of an engineering masterpiece. “Aha!” the alien prober exclaimed. The modern humans are not merely learning language and music, they’re being raised in an environment with symbionts. Language and music are technological masterpieces that evolved to live with non-linguistic hominids and transform them into something beyond their biology. What makes these modern humans no longer the non-linguistic Homo sapiens apes they biologically are is not on the inside, and not in the ancestral environment. It is due to a novel variety of evolving entity the humans have been evolving with. Language and music are evolved organism-like artifacts that are symbiotic with these human apes. And like any symbiont, these artifact symbionts have evolved to possess shapes that fit the biology, namely our brains. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2011 - John Lin - The Origin of Cultures

The book investigates how information is acquired, processed and transmitted by the human mind and, based on this knowledge, formulates an original theory of cultural evolution to understand phenomena such as altruism, morality, ideology, and religion. Highly original and covering a wide range of subjects in philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience, it addresses the obstacle faced by memetic theorists in their analysis of culture: that nobody really knows what goes on inside the mind or how mental experiences may direct cultural evolution. Part 1 of the book, How to Build a Conscious Robot with Feelings, breaks down information processing in the mind into purely mechanical components for analysis and implementation. Part 2, Cultural Evolution, uses the results to build a theory of cultural evolution to understand cultural phenomena. Book home page View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2011 - Jonnie Hughes - On the Origin of Tepees: The Evolution of Ideas (and Ourselves)

Why do some ideas spread, while others die off? Does human culture have its very own “survival of the fittest”? And if so, does that explain why our species is so different from the rest of life on Earth? Throughout history, we humans have prided ourselves on our capacity to have ideas, but perhaps this pride is misplaced. Perhaps ideas have us. After all, ideas do appear to have a life of their own. And it is they, not us, that benefit most when they are spread. Many biologists have already come to the opinion that our genes are selfish entities, tricking us into helping them to reproduce. Is it the same with our ideas? Jonnie Hughes, a science writer and documentary filmmaker, investigates the evolution of ideas in order to find out. Adopting the role of a cultural Charles Darwin, Hughes heads off, with his brother in tow, across the Midwest to observe firsthand the natural history of ideas—the patterns of their variation, inheritance, and selection in the cultural landscape. In place of Darwin’s oceanic islands, Hughes visits the “mind islands” of Native American tribes. Instead of finches, Hughes searches for signs of natural selection among the tepees. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2011 - Tim Tyler - Memetics: Memes and the Science of Cultural Evolution

'Memetics' is the first proper scientific book on memetics for many years. It covers the theory, evidence, history and applications of memetics.

Blurb:Memetics is the name commonly given to the study of memes - a term originally coined by Richard Dawkins to describe small inherited elements of human culture. Memes are the cultural equivalent of DNA genes - and memetics is the cultural equivalent of genetics. Memes have become ubiquitous in the modern world - but there has been relatively little proper scientific study of how they arise, spread and change - apparently due to turf wars within the social sciences and misguided resistance to Darwinian explanations being applied to human behaviour. However, with the modern explosion of internet memes, I think this is bound to change. With memes penetrating into every mass media channel, and with major companies riding on their coat tails for marketing purposes, social scientists will surely not be able to keep the subject at arm's length for much longer. This will be good - because an understanding of memes is important. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2011 - Alex Mesoudi - Cultural Evolution

Mesoudi is a researcher with considerable experience in the field of the experimental study of cultural evolution. His book rejects the terminology of memetics, but otherwise it presents good-quality coverage of the field. Subtitle: How Darwinian Theory Can Explain Human Culture and Synthesize the Social Sciences. Blurb:

Charles Darwin changed the course of scientific thinking by showing how evolution accounts for the stunning diversity and biological complexity of life on earth. Recently, there has also been increased interest in the social sciences in how Darwinian theory can explain human culture. Covering a wide range of topics, including fads, public policy, the spread of religion, and herd behavior in markets, Alex Mesoudi shows that human culture is itself an evolutionary process that exhibits the key Darwinian mechanisms of variation, competition, and inheritance. This cross-disciplinary volume focuses on the ways cultural phenomena can be studied scientifically—from theoretical modeling to lab experiments, archaeological fieldwork to ethnographic studies—and shows how apparently disparate methods can complement one another to the mutual benefit of the various social science disciplines. Cultural Evolution provides a thought-provoking argument that Darwinian evolutionary theory can both unify different branches of inquiry and enhance understanding of human behavior. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2011 - Robert Frank - The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good

Who was the greater economist--Adam Smith or Charles Darwin? The question seems absurd. Darwin, after all, was a naturalist, not an economist. But Robert Frank, New York Times economics columnist and best-selling author of The Economic Naturalist, predicts that within the next century Darwin will unseat Smith as the intellectual founder of economics. The reason, Frank argues, is that Darwin's understanding of competition describes economic reality far more accurately than Smith's. And the consequences of this fact are profound. Indeed, the failure to recognize that we live in Darwin's world rather than Smith's is putting us all at risk by preventing us from seeing that competition alone will not solve our problems. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2012 - Mark Pagel - Wired for Culture: Origins of the Human Social Mind

A unique trait of the human species is that our personalities, lifestyles, and worldviews are shaped by an accident of birth—namely, the culture into which we are born. It is our cultures and not our genes that determine which foods we eat, which languages we speak, which people we love and marry, and which people we kill in war. But how did our species develop a mind that is hardwired for culture—and why? Evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel tracks this intriguing question through the last 80,000 years of human evolution, revealing how an innate propensity to contribute and conform to the culture of our birth not only enabled human survival and progress in the past but also continues to influence our behavior today. Shedding light on our species’ defining attributes — from art, morality, and altruism to self-interest, deception, and prejudice — Wired for Culture offers surprising new insights into what it means to be human. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.

2012 - Kim Sterelny - The Evolved Apprentice: How Evolution Made Humans Unique

Over the last three million years or so, our lineage has diverged sharply from those of our great ape relatives. Change has been rapid (in evolutionary terms) and pervasive. Morphology, life history, social life, sexual behavior, and foraging patterns have all shifted sharply away from other great apes. No other great ape lineage--including those of chimpanzees and gorillas--seems to have undergone such a profound transformation. In The Evolved Apprentice, Kim Sterelny argues that the divergence stems from the fact that humans gradually came to enrich the learning environment of the next generation. Humans came to cooperate in sharing information, and to cooperate ecologically and reproductively as well, and these changes initiated positive feedback loops that drove us further from other great apes. Sterelny develops a new theory of the evolution of human cognition and human social life that emphasizes the gradual evolution of information sharing practices across generations and how information sharing transformed human minds and social lives. Sterelny proposes that humans developed a new form of ecological interaction with their environment, cooperative foraging, which led to positive feedback linking ecological cooperation, cultural learning, and environmental change. The ability to cope with the immense variety of human ancestral environments and social forms, he argues, depended not just on adapted minds but also on adapted developmental environments.

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For more on the early history of memetics and cultural evolution, see: