Caturday felid: On the Origin of LOLcats, or the Preservation of Favoured Felids in the Struggle for Noms

December 1, 2012 • 4:34 am

Yesterday’s hilarious strip at Tom the Dancing Bug deals with two topics dear to my heart: evolution and LOLcats (be sure to click on the link to give the artist “click credit” and to see it in full size).  Note the nod to Dawkins running down the right side of the strip.

Picture 2

Now I’m not a big fan of memes, as I don’t think they’ve helped us explain anything about cultural evolution (see my review in Nature). Unlike adaptations caused by genes, there’s no mechanistic explanation for how a meme spreads. Presumably it has some neurological/psychological/sociological feature that explains its appeal to humans, but that’s completely outside the theory, which is basically the statement that “a cultural unit replicates because it has features that make it replicate in the brain.” Because of that, the cartoonist’s puzzlement about how the memetic mutation that caused Breadcats “has any adaptive advantage whatsoever” is misguided. In memetics, no such explanation is required beyond “it sticks in the brain and thus ensures its own spread”.

Nevertheless, I love the name of the new species of LOLcat:  Felis virtualis.

h/t: Abandonwoo

9 thoughts on “Caturday felid: On the Origin of LOLcats, or the Preservation of Favoured Felids in the Struggle for Noms

  1. Because of that, the cartoonist’s puzzlement about how the memetic mutation that caused Breadcats “has any adaptive advantage whatsoever” is misguided. In memetics, no such explanation is required beyond “it sticks in the brain and thus ensures its own spread”.

    But which side will be down?

    Perhaps more pertinent, one can ponder whether this phenomena can be tied to the observation of spread Breadcats as perpetual motion machines. Perpetual meme machines, as it were.

  2. The claim that “survival of the fittest is a tautology” was long used as an argument against Darwin’s theory of evolution. Though it is long discredited as an argument against organic evolution it is still being misguidedly used against cultural evolution. This is because of the scientific lag between understanding of cultural evolution and understanding of organic evolution. Critics are presumably aware of the fact that it’s the exact same argument – and is refuted in the exact same way – but for some reason the message doesn’t get through.

    Of course scientists do, in fact, have an understanding of why some cultural elements spread at the expense of other ones. Listing this as a problem with memetics misinterprets the aims of the field. Memetics is the cultural version of genetics. Genetics isn’t concerned with why some genes spread at the expense of others either – instead it studies how mutation and recombination work. To understand why genes spread you need experts in ontogeny and ethology. Similarly to understand why memes spread, look to ontomemy and cultural ethology.

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