PCT, Memetics, and
the Evolution of Culture

Introduction & Background


Welcome to tedcloak.com. This website and its contents are dedicated to the memory of Donald T. Campbell and to the memory of William T. Powers.

About this Website.

The First Page of the site is this Introduction and Background section.

The Second Page is the main article, the purpose of the site, "A Natural Science of Culture; Or, a Neurological Model of the Meme and of Meme Replication", consisting of text and four interspersed short film clips. Although no longer labelled "DRAFT", it is still a work in progress.

The Third Page is Bibliography and References.

The Fourth Page includes links to the earlier, all-PowerPoint/film, version of this enterprise.

The Fifth Tab links to a Forum for discussion. Comments about the website and its substance are valued and requested. (If that doesn't work for you, you can contact me directly at tcloak@unm.edu.)

There is also a depository of relevant articles, in PDF form, which are accessible from the Bibliography and References page. 

At several points, here and on the second page, some words and phrases will  be hyperlinked to fuller descriptions, usually in Wikipedia.

About Science – my assumptions.

Scientific Realism: There is a world out there, and science (specifically, physics) is the best (and so far, the only) way to find out what it is and how it works.

Naturalism (Physicalism):  Anything that happens is caused by, and can in principle be explained by, prior happenings, mediated by one or more of the four (or three) Basic Forces of Nature. The Basic Force most usually involved in the biosphere is Electromagnetism (Cloak 1981). In Dennett's (1995: 73-83) terms, Reductionism; build "cranes", not "skyhooks".

Selection, or “artificial” selection: A selector entity chooses, according to criteria (reference standards), among two or more entities, causing differential survival (or reproduction) among them.

“Natural Selection”: A phenomenon unfortunately so called by its discoverer, Charles Darwin. The.Best.Idea.Ever: An entity acts and, as a result, there are more of such entities in space and/or time (Cloak 1986). No selector entity is required. Given the right initial environment, such as that in places on or near the surface of our Earth, and given deep enough time, repeated events of Natural Selection have resulted in "endless forms most beautiful" (Darwin 1859).

Universal Selection or Universal Darwinism: Any case of apparent design is actually a result of natural or artificial selection (cf. Campbell 1960, Cziko 1995).

About Culture.

Most of the late 19th and early-to mid-20th-century anthropological Greats – Boas, Kroeber, Mead, Sapir, Benedict, Linton, Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, Steward, Sharp, Redfield, et al. – asserted or implied that cultures, at least the preindustrial cultures they studied, are (or were) functionally integrated wholes, FIWs, each being greater than the sum of its parts. Describing a culture by listing its cultural features as traits was, to a great extent, disparaged. In my doctoral dissertation, published as Cloak 1967, I attempted to show that if cultures are indeed FIWs, then, under unforced acculturation, a culture would exercise some control over the temporal sequence of features (traits) that it would adopt and lose. It didn’t occur to me then that the process of this control is cultural selection; i.e., natural and artificial selection where products of the culture itself are among the salient environmental features.

After reading a number of cultural neo-evolutionist books and articles, particularly by Leslie A White, Elman Service, and Marvin Harris, and while working on my dissertation (p. 23), I began to realize that selection (“natural” or artificial) is the only mechanism, for any kind of evolution, which meets the standards of naturalism. That led to thinking of analogues to genes, then considered the units of “biological” inheritance. I wrote that up in Cloak 1966, using the expression “units of cultural instruction”.

The next time I explicitly cited natural selection of culture was in a multi-media presentation entitled “The Wheel”, which I presented at the 1968 AAA meetings in Seattle (Cloak 1968c, 2002).  I mentioned “cultural instructions” in that paper, but only en passant.

My thinking about this finally reached the light of day with Cloak 1975a, where I spoke of “i-culture” - instructions, analogous to genes, and "m-culture" - material culture (in the broadest sense), the associated phenotypic features. Apparently Richard Dawkins had been thinking along these same lines, and introduced the meme, as a “replicator”, like a gene, in Dawkins 1976.[1]

About  Hierarchical Perceptual Control Theory  (hPCT).

Although I actually cited Powers 1973 in my 1975 paper, I obviously failed to grasp hPCT thoroughly. In particular, I did not fully understand the hierarchical modularity of a behavioral system, or its importance. I saw instructions more-or-less on the same level, each governing a “snippet” of behavior. Moreover, I thought of neural instructions simply as If-Then (or When-Do) directives encoded in the nervous system.[2]
 I can’t explain why some 35 years had to pass before I joined the Control Systems Group and finally made the connection between PCT, Memetics, and the evolution of culture.

About Memetics (Memes).

Jesiek 2003 does an excellent job, in my opinion, of explaining the history of the meme up through the turn of the Third Millennium.[3] I see no reason to go over that ground. It suffices to say that the field has always been characterized by a great lack of agreement (Rose 1998).

You may note that I don’t think memetics concerns information, or ideas, or mind, or thought, or consciousness, or language. I assert that culture, and therefore memetics, is simply about behavior. Its job is to explain why people and some infrahuman animals do certain things.

[1] Jesiek (2003, 83-87) reports a spurious controversy during the first few years of this century, entirely made up by Aaron Lynch (1957-2005), around the question of priority between Prof. Dawkins and me. My only part in said "controversy" consisted of listening on the telephone to hours-long rants by Mr. Lynch, interrupting from time to time to inform him, gently of course, but to no avail, that he was talking nonsense.

I now think Don Campbell must have seen the possibility, at least, of a connection very early. When he received the original version of “Is a Cultural Ethology Possible?” (1968a) from Human Ecology for review, Prof. Campbell broke protocol and wrote to me. His encouragement, then and later, was more than helpful, and he told me about Behavior: The Control of Perception (Powers 1973) .

[3] The idea that culture evolves through a Darwinian process has deeper antecedents (e.g. Keller 1931, Gerard el al. 1956). But the notion of an analogue to the gene is not apparent.

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