Friday, March 27, 2009

The Blog and Zahavi's Handicap Principle

Are there handicaps in the realm of evolving memes? What are they? Is the brain itself a handicap? Look at the amount of glucose it requires. One "fun fact" that has haunted me for years is this: the human body uses the equivalent of 160 grams of table sugar each day to maintain regular operation. Of this total the brain alone uses 130 grams. The brain bathes in metabolic energy. Why does the brain get all this attention if all we really need to do to pass on our genes is find a mate? Is the brain the human equivalent of the peacock's tail?

PZ Myers writing about his expectations for the state of Florida brought Amatz Zahavi's handicap principle back to my frontal lobes. The first commenter on PZ's post predicted he would be attacked as sexist. Is the ability to sustain personal attacks part of the new phenomena of memetic evolution?

Last night I watched a repeat broadcast of the PBS production entitled Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial. As I listened to the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin - Matthew Chapman - speak about the creationist fiasco in Dover, PA, Christopher Hitchens immediately came running into my mind. During a recent pow-wow with the Four Horsemen Hitchens makes an argument that the others don't seem to agree with. He announces that he hopes the crazies on the other side of the God vs. Nature debate never go away completely, simply because he likes the exercise of debate. It is interesting that Richard Dawkins seems the most disturbed by this proposal. It is almost as if Hitchens is talking about the very thing none of them can acknowledge. Their fame and why they are famous. The fact that their presence there on camera, in best selling books, and in the social ooze of the internet is due to the conflict itself. The same wave of controversy Matthew Chapman is riding centuries after Darwin's birth.

All this led me to thinking about Zahavi's principle in the context of memetic evolution and Darwin's family. Charles Darwin left a legacy when he published Origin. He not only reaped the rewards of the multi-platinum sales of his book but also left a nice fiscally padded red carpet into the future for his family to survive and thrive. While blogs are still in their adolescent phase when taken from the average global citizen's perspective, their role as incubators for cultural memes is becoming ever apparent. With the publication costs at essentially nil what is the rate limiting step to blogging and conquering blogdom?


And if we are all supposed to be working feverishly to maintain those research grants, or keep the boss happy then how does PZ have the time to blog?
How do I, and how are you reading this?
But we are.
Regardless if it is for sexual or intellectual selection "the Blog" represents a new handicap for cultural memeticists to muse over.

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