The main idea here is to analyze evolution of memes in noosphere as self-directed actors similar to genes using for illustration variations of teepees design in Indian tribes. This analysis provided using background of travel through great planes and discussions of their history. Author also makes an interesting suggestion that memes are taking over from genes the role of main object of evolution.
Part I: Only Human
Chapter 1: Weirdoes: Misting Up; The Top Five Weirdest Wonders in All Creation; Super-Natural?
At the beginning author establishes his philosophical views on the world stating that everybody looks at the world through some goggles and his are Darwinian goggles. However not everything fits into Darwinian model and he provides top 5 deviations with humans being at the top place because author considers human brains a huge overkill for needs of survival.
Chapter 2: The New World: The Great Indoors; Sandwich Selection; Little Lars on the Prairie; The Road to the Ultimate Problem Solver; Future-proof; A World of Our Own; Into the New World;
Here author presents the new artificial world that humans created for themselves and then provides his classification of live depending on method of evolution:
- “Darwinian” Creatures: regular evolution with change occurring at genetic level and selection by survival of next generation
- “Skinnerian” Creatures: evolution occurs at the level of randomly changing behavior with beneficial patterns continues and harmful patterns not repeated. In other words behavior trial and error.
- “Popperian” Creatures: evolution is still at the behavior level, but trial and error is supplied by preliminary modeling of the future in the brain or in other word by planning. That’s where a big brain becomes really useful: better memory and analytical abilities provide for better modeling of future outcome of actions.
- “Donnettian” Creatures: evolution occurs not at the level of one brain, but at the level of multitude of brains interconnected via language, visuals, and now via Internet. For these creatures the survival occurs not at the level of individual, carrying behavior pattern of models of the world, but at the level of memes that represent such patterns and models.
Part II: What’s the Idea?
Chapter 3: Evolution, Minnesota: Is the Force with Us, Always? Mr. Darwin’s Idea; Finch Mob; Barn in the USA;
Here author discusses and applies Darwin ideas to the meme of barn construction pattern in Minnesota.
Chapter 4: Variation, North Dakota: Plains Sailing; Barn Different; A Port on the Plains; “Home Sweet Home”;
The same analysis continues as author travels through Great Plains where it expands to include not only barns, but also teepees.
Chapter 5: Inheritance, South Dakota: Biological Brothers, Cultural Cousins; The Front of the Barn; Dead Man’s Hand; Tepee or Not Tepee; Big County, Big Picture;
Since author travels with his brother, analysis expanded to similarity and variation of presenting ideas of supremacy of cultural development over biological inheritance. The same extended to barns and teepees analysis.
Chapter 6: Selection, Wyoming: Mindless+; The Evolution of the Cowboy Hat, Served Three Way; The Idea;
Here author looks at evolution of Stetson hat and comes to conclusion that nobody really invented cowboy hat, or rather that hat invented itself by preserving features consistent with cowboy’s patterns of selection, regardless of reasons given for this.
Part III: History Lessen
Chapter 7- Mind Out: Goggles Off; Watchmaking; Differently Dull Flipbooks;
Here author is claiming to look at the world without Darwinian goggles, which he believes limit our ability to understand evolution of ideas in noosphere. He begins with the story of theologian William Paley who came up with analogy of watchmaker to reaffirm need for a god as intelligent designer of complex biological world, causing Darwin to provide detailed analysis of evolutionary development of human eyes by presenting multiple light perceiving organs of various complexity that could be encountered in nature. Then author comes up with his own analogy of evolution as flipbook each page of which could be representing variation in evolution of a specific individual starting with original cell with huge share of pages at the beginning common to all animals. Then he applies this analogy to barns, which could also have their own flipbook.
Chapter 8: How the West Was Won I: Finding the Edges: Hear the Herd? Trail and Error; The Southern Herd; The Nature of Panic; The Northern Herd;
Chapter 9″ How the West Was Won II: June 25, 1876: Culture’s Last Stand; Getting to the Phone; A Space for Design; A Space for Genius;
Chapter 10: How the West Was Won III: America Making: The Maul of America;
Making America; The Secret of Sitting Bull’s Tepee;
These 3 chapters are retelling histories of American movement westward with accompanying pushover and even destruction of Indian cultures. It is also retelling history of buffalo herd annihilation. This is used to build analogy with ideas that author considers to possess similar qualities to animals and as such are being developed and changed by evolutionary process only with changes being much more frequent and flexible.
Part IV: Who’s Driving?
Chapter 11: A Beginner’s Guide to Tepee Taxonomy: Among the Crow; Sort it Out; Tongues in a Twist; Drummers in the Dark; A Pattern of lslands; Poles Apart;
Chapter 12: Bound by Imagination: The World Turned Upside Down; The Medicine Wheel; Imagineering; Life’s Ratchet; Building a Super-super-super organism; Flipping Gulls; The Yellowstone Blues; Life Is Simple;
Chapter 13: The Genes of Culture: A Model Idea; Blackfoot Country; The Idea Behind These Goggles; The Indian Tipi; On the Origin of (These) Tepees
These 3 chapters are combination of discussion about nature of life and attempt to apply it to ideas of teepee construction. It is then extended to notions of superorganizm that includes multitude of DNA and Memes combined into one entity. Obviously it could be built in bigger and bigger entities until some multi-super organism includes everything conceivable. The supporting illustration is provided by teepees.
Part V: Mysteries Solved
Chapter 14: The Past: The Dawn of the Smelly Heads; Border Crossings; Food for Thought; The Art of Aping; Head-Smashed-In Humaneering; A Symbol Creature; Reason to Believe; The Ghost of an Idea;
For some reason author initially deviates into discussion of olfaction – ability to recognize smell specific to mammals. He seems to believe that it was one of important factors for development of the brain and that it allowed mammals to take earth over when dinosaurs were removed, opening multiple ecological niches. Then he follows through evolution process that resulted in creation of symbolic world of noosphere. From this point it is meme that is main subject of evolution and human hosts are just a necessary support system for memes for now, which may or may not be necessary for their existence and further evolution in the future.
Chapter 15: The Present: Welcome to the Jungle; Idea Ecology; The (Post) Modern World; The Truth
This is final summarization of author ideas based on current environment with projection into the future when “meme life would triumph over gene live”. The final truth author believes in is that memes already took world over to such extent that we all have goggles that distort reality to adjust it to command of memes occupying our brains and the only way put is to communicate intensively with other people who have different goggles in order to break free from memes’ control.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find ideas of this book somewhat interesting, albeit not really consistent with reality. The reality is that memes are just a notion existing in human brains in form of neuron connections and levels of their conductivity, making them extremely flexible easily changeable via signals received from senses and changes in internal material conditions of the brain. Genes, however, are not easily changeable and correspondingly to high extent define structure and functionality of animals making their evolutionary process slow and maintaining high levels of stability. We humans and other animals with all our complexity and huge amount of unconscious processing are still one and only entities that consciously build representation of the environment in our brains and act to move from our current situation to whatever situation we consider an improvement over the current. Neither genes nor memes have such ability and I am not sure that attempts to analyze development and evolution as if they were self-directing entities are that useful.