Saturday, November 5, 2011

On the Origin of Tepees: The Evolution of Ideas (and Ourselves) by Jonnie Hughes

Rating 4/5

The central idea in this book is that ideas (memes) are subject to Darwinian evolution (natural selection) and, having hijacked our ancestors, are the reason we are so different from all other life on earth. It's an interesting idea and it is explained very well. The author takes us on a journey across America to visit different tribes of Indians, and uses the evolution of the tepee to explain the evolution of his ideas about ideas. And in true road trip form, I was very excited at the beginning, somewhat less excited but still happy to be on the road mid-trip, but 2/3rds of the way there I began asking "Are we there yet?". Hughes managed to get me as interested as I could possibly get (not much) in Native American history and (hardly at all) tepees. Luckily I am very interested in evolution, nature and culture. I'm not sure where one can go with the idea that memes are as selfish and function just like genes. It's definitely intriguing, but will it make a practical difference in how we live as humans if we know intellectually we are just gene and meme machines?

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