Susan Blackmore - Memes and 'Temes'

Think about the amount of corn produced in the world. From our point of view, we might think that there is so much of it because it serves our needs. From the point of view of corn, however, it might think that it only helps us because we are a convenient way for it to make multiple copies of itself. Who is master and who is slave?

Similarly, you might think that when you want to have babies, you are doing it for yourself, out of love for your partner, because they'll help you in old age, or whatever. There may be something to that, but it may also be the case that you want to have babies because your genes find it convenient for them to make copies of themselves if they can fool you into thinking children are a good idea :)

Taken to its deliciously fascinating logical conclusion, the idea of vehicles and replicators is ripe with philosophical implications about personhood, free will, personal identity and other concepts: your genes are the replicators for the sake of whom you are simply a temporary vessel, factory or vehicle, which can be discarded when it is no longer useful. Yes, this is why you would more readily give up your life for your children or your siblings than for more genetically distant relatives or friends: individual self-sacrifice can benefit one's genes, provided the same genes are housed in other bodies.

But evolution doesn't simply have to be genetic. As long as there is variation, heredity and selection, evolution will take place. At the most basic level, the unit of selection doesn't even have to be the gene: it can just be information.

In this fascinating presentation, Susan Blackmore provides a concise introduction to biological (genetic) and cultural (memetic) evolution, and meditates on the implications and potential dangers of a third kind: temetic evolution.

And wouldn't you know it? As smart as we may consider ourselves, we've already managed to be taken over by memes and temes (think religion and twitter), and, despite our shiny personalities, have become vehicles and machines designed for their replication... we just can't help ourselves, can we? :)



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