Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Remarks to Matt Riddley`s The origins of Virtue and Susan Blackmore`s The meme machine

In his book “The origins of virtue”. Matt Riddley describes the theories about the first division of labor based upon sexual differences between human males and females, in chapter 5, Duty and the feast. The sub chapters being called “meat for sex in chimpanzees”, “sexual division of labor”,

The subchapter “sexual division of labor” finishes with the following sentences:

“There is, incidentally, abundant material for those who like stereotypes here, but none of it says anything about the woman’s place being in the home. After all, the argument goes that men and women both went out to work in the Pleistocene, one to hunt, the other to gather. Neither activity was remotely like trooping off to and office and answering telephones all day. Both sexes are equally unsuited to that.”

I do not fully agree with this idea. Matt Riddley has forgotten to take the evolution and the memes into account. This is far better done by Susan Blackmore in “The meme machine”.

Why we are not suited to go to an office and answer telephones all day? Actually we do that, so where is the catch? I would suggest that the catch is in the evolutionary point of view at the fight for power between genes and memes over the human body, as the means of transport for both of them, genes as well as memes.

My idea is that through evolution, humans are not only gene-driven but the driving forces in humans are of genetic as well as of memetic origin. Some human individual might be 1% meme-driven and 99% gene-driven; and vice versa and all possible combination in between.

Those who are more meme-driven might become thinkers, mathematicians, and those who are more gene-driven become cooks, masons etc. There is never a human being driven only by genes or only by memes. Since we started to work with information the memes have been involved and fight for their place in human body.

The more information we are exposed to the more power is gained by memes. This of course does not mean that genes are out of the game. No. Only the mutual ratio of power is changing. Memes overtake more power, but they cannot survive without genes. Genes produce the brain which is needed by memes, for memes cannot produce the brain itself. Brain is a product of genes, but used by memes.
From the evolutionary point of view, memes will overtake more and more power over the humans. But not completely, in the time of adolescence we can see specific mating ritual in humans which are mostly gene-driven, adjusted by memes to fit to the social settings of humans. We describe that as that we learn. We, surely do learn, and therefore we can sit the whole day in an office and answer phones as well as we can sit at home in the living room and typing adventurous theories about the evolution of human beings, spite the fact that he hunter-gathers 100 000 years ago were not used to it.

I would here suggest that the meme influence is passed over much faster than the genetic influence. A child today can read at the age of 4, operate computer at the age of 6. A generation or two ago children used to play soldiers until they were 10 or more. In some families there is still the idea that to put a child to school a year later is good for the child, that its childhood will be prolonged that way. It will, but the one year at the beginning of a life a human can cost him later many years of mental and social development.

I do not want to speculate about how we will look like in several hundreds of years, maybe as borgs from the sci-fi series. But one thing seems perfectly clear to me: we, humans, will develop steadily more an more under the influence of memes. Actually, we can become dependent on the memes as a dope, as we are dependent on sex as a dope. And it is good so, if we were not dependent on sex, most probably we were not here at all.

The TV is a good example of addiction to memes; young children being exposed to TV start to be hungry for new memes delivered to them through TV rather than books. TV is good for spreading memes into the lazy brains. Diligent brains read books or even watch TV but aimed at specific type of information. The reason might be the way of processing and storing of memes in human brain. If the pictorial version of a memes is delivered free home, it is easier for the brain to process and store such memetic information, if the information is deliver in other types of signs, let’s say in words, then the brain firs must create the pictorial version of that memetic information and then process it and store it. This might be felt as extra work which some brains refuse to do if not trained to it. In normal life, we say that reading books develops and supports the imagination, the fantasy of the young human being. Such human being or maybe better to say its brain is then trained well to convert the lexical form of memetic information into a pictorial form which seems to be easier to process and store and recall.

The fact that pictorial way of storing memetic information I have experienced while working as a professor at EARU in Germany, teaching economics and statistics to US personnel stationed in Germany. Any time when I succeeded in presenting certain economic idea in a “pictorial” way, so that the students can easily imagine a picture or even a video sequence in their head, I noticed that such an economic idea was remembered better, processed and stored better. This usually happened when I succeeded to picture the idea well and at the same time to refer to something my students knew for sure.


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