I am, I admit, new at this subject and freely admit I haven't read all of the prior discussions (yet! Promise I will ;) so if this has come up before I apologise. I have often thought about memes and wondered how memes have shaped genetics. Certainly and obviously the memes of humans about breeding animals have shaped the genes of domesticated species; notably cattle, cats, dogs, horses and pigeons etc. Even to the extent that some animals are now completely reliant on human supervisors for their survival (in the case of birthing and even feeding their young!)

In the same vein cultural memes must have had to some degree shaped the genetics of humans, the initial idea of survival of the family group, changing to sociable groups of numerous families and then laws being put in place (memes) to punish and execute/banish those who were excessively violent, too rebellious or destructive and couldn't conform to the new social formations. Those that prospered and gained position in tribes would generally produce more offspring and thus affect the gene pool. 

To clarify I'm not suggesting eugenics or genocide here, sick regimes that have attempted this in the past are not what I'm referring too. I am suggesting that early on in the birth of society during the origin of memes those that could learn language or concepts, obey laws and were sociable were fitter and those genes for learning memes, empathy and conforming behaviours would have flourished in the new environment. 

Don't mind being shot down in flames or being pointed to a prior post, just wandered what people thought. Great group btw ;). J

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In the same vein cultural memes must have had to some degree shaped the genetics of humans

Very much so, and I think you summed it up well. Susan Blackmore brings this up in The Meme Machine. I uploaded that chapter to a post in the book group, which you can find here.
Excellent! thanks for the link, I'll have a read and then probably write up some thoughts.
I find the whole subject fascinating, the idea that ideas shape genes that shape ideas ad infinitum is a bit mind-blowing.
I find the subject of memes fascinating, too. It really alters your outlook on what you are exposed to day to day.
James, I love this subject and devoted Mirror Reversal to it. Blackmore talks about meme-driven genetics which became a major force in natural selection. Take the ability to copy, definitely a meme. Learning how to make a spear was a benefit to the early hominids.

To me, this accounts for kids being so gullible and why they are so quick to believe Santa Claus and Zombie Christ.
James - I think it's fair to say that a huge percentage of what distinguishes humans from other primates is the genes that support memes. Human language evolved specifically as a way to pass information (memes) culturally rather that via the glacially-slow mechanism of the gene. I devoted an entire chapter of The Religion Virus to this very topic: "Why Do Humans Talk?"

In a nutshell ... in order for the genome to "learn" something new (say, how to stay warm as an ice age approaches) requires a new genetic mutation. Maybe it inclines the species to like caves, or makes fur longer. That mutation first has to randomly arise (or if already present, must be amplified in the population). It must then be passed, generation by generation, until most or all members of the species inherit the gene. It is S...L...O...W.

The key is to think of the genome as information, not chemicals. The "goal" of evolution is to change that information in a way that enhances survival by changing an animal's physiology or behavior. But what if you could change behavior with information that bypassed the genome?

You can see this in any species in which the young actually learn from their parents. An alligator's parenting is merely protective, but a wolf teaches its young about the specific prey in its region of the world. The information that makes the wolf pups into predators is passed genetically, but the information about what type of prey they should stalk, and how to bring it down effectively, is learned from the parents. This sort of learning might be thought of as a proto-memetic mechanism, an evolutionary precursor to what's found in humans.

In humans, this ability is greatly magnified by language and memes. Language (the ability to pass complex memes) and the large human brain (the ability to understand, store, use and eventually retransmit this information) evolved because it is a vastly superior way to pass information from one generation to the next. Rather than taking thousands of generations for a mutation to spread, information that enhances survival can be passed immediately, in zero generations.

So to your question, do memes affect genes, it's almost a tautology. The genes that make human language are only there to support memes.
Craig, I don't know that I'm qualified to either agree or disagree with you here, but I do have some concerns.

Whey you say things such as:

Human language evolved specifically as a way to pass information (memes) culturally rather that via the glacially-slow mechanism of the gene.

The "goal" of evolution is to change that information in a way that enhances survival by changing an animal's physiology or behavior.

In humans, this ability is greatly magnified by language and memes. Language (the ability to pass complex memes) and the large human brain (the ability to understand, store, use and eventually retransmit this information) evolved because it is a vastly superior way to pass information from one generation to the next.


You make it sound as though there is an intentionality behind all of this. How do we know that language eveolved specifically to do what you have suggested here? I'm not sure that that evidence exists, though I do think it is probably true in a way. Did our large brain help us develop language, or did language drive the growth of our large brain?

I realize you put "goal" of evolution in quotation marks, but just to clarify: As I understand it, the goal of genes are simply to reproduce themselves. Genes don't care if they are are genes for short and fat or tall and thin, they simply replicate themselves. They cannot possibly know whether their particular traits are good for survival or not, it is more of a matter of chance. If they are conducive to survival, they will have the opportunity to replicate. If they are not conducive for survival, they won't get that opportunity. There is no design, purpose, goal, or intention to any of it, as I understand it. (But I'm not a scientist, either.)

As for the last quote, I don't think language evolved "because it is a vastly superior way to pass information from one generation to the next," or at least I don't see how that can be proved. What I take exception to here is the use of the word because, because we cannot say that language isn't simply just a fringe benefit of evolution (though yes, it is clear that it has influenced evolution, too). IDK, it seems to me more reasonable to say it evolved and subsequently it can do xyz, and not because it can do xyz.

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