Culture as an Evolutionary Strategy, It's Danger, and Science as the Solution

Before the study of Memetics, Feynman provides a succinct description of culture as memes, and then later, he describes the danger of culture, erroneous memes, the cure for which is science.

Folksonomies: enlightenment science memetics

The Evolution of Culture

What science is, I think, may be something like this: There was on this planet an evolution of life to the stage that there were evolved animals, which are intelligent. I don't mean just human beings, but animals which play and which can learn something from experience (like cats). But at this stage each animal would have to learn from its own experience. They gradually develop, until some animal coudl learn from experience by watching, or one could show the other, or he saw what the other one did. So there came a possiblity that all might learn it, but the transmission was inefficient and they would die, and maybe the one who learned it died, too, before he could pass it on to others.

The question is, is it possible to learn more rapidly what somebody learned from some accident than the rate at which the thing is being forgotten, either because of bad memory or because of death of the learner or invention?

So there came a time, perhaps, when for some species the rate at which learning was increased reached such a pitch that suddenly a completely new thing happened; things could be learned by one animal, passed on to another, and another, fast enough that it was not lost to the race. Thus became possible and accumulation of knowledge of the race.

This has been called time-binding. I don't know who first called it this. At any rate, we have here some sample of those animals, sitting here trying to bind one experience to another, each one trying to learn from the other.


Although Feynman calls it "time-binding," this sounds very much like memetics.

Folksonomies: science memetics culture

Cause and Effect

The Danger of Culture and Science as the Solution

This phenomenon of having a memory for the race, of having an accumulated knowledge passable from one generation to another, was new in the world. But it had a disease in it. It was possible to pass on mistaken ideas. It was possible to pass on ideas which were not profitable for the race. The race has ideas, which were not profitable for the race. The race has ideas, but there are not necessarily profitable.

So there came a time in which the ideas, although accumulated very slowly, were all accumulations not only of practical and useful things, but great accumulations of all types of prejudices, and strange and odd beliefs.

Then a way of avoidign the disease was discovered. This is to doubt that what is being passed from the past is in fact true, and to try to find out ab initiio, again from experience, what the situation is, rather than trusting the experience of the past in the form in which it is passed down. And that is what science is: the result of the discovery that it is worthwhile rechecking by new direct experience, and not necessarily trusting the race experience from the past.


Science is the cure for erroneous memes that enter our culture.

Folksonomies: science memetics culture