"Is an ant colony an organism, or is an organism a colony?" 
- Mark A. Changizi

As of now, there are two kinds of evolution: genetic evolution and memetic evolution. The first one is your usual evolution concerned with "change in the heritable characteristics of biological populations over successive generations", responsible for all the biological diversity that we know, and happening on the scale of at least hundreds of years. Memetic evolution, strictly speaking, is just a particularly powerful set of adaptations that appeared in primates (and unique only to them), that enabled the accumulation of adaptations during a lifetime, responsible for the cultural progress of humanity, and happening on the scale from minutes to years depending on definition.

The meme as a concept was coined by biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book "The Selfish Gene"[1] and refers to units of cultural information that are transmitted from person to person through imitation or other forms of cultural transmission. Like genes in biological evolution, memes can undergo processes of variation, selection, and transmission that can lead to their spread or decline within a population.

Memetic evolution became possible after the introduction of several key mechanisms: the obvious suspects such as language and social learning; their dependencies like signalling (prelinguistic communication), {niche construction, extended phenotype}[2], scaffolded upbringing, theory of mind; and development of necessary neural substrates enabling all these mechanisms (whatever they are)

The main benefit that the development of meme evolution has brought up is the drastic increase in problem solving capacity (both on the level of population and, more importantly for this post on an individual level)

While general dynamics remained the same (organisms being innovation aggregators) the details have changed:

  • Selective pressure also had changed, now being pointed at storing knowledge and social interactions. This might be viewed as the last big impact of genetic evolution - the creation of the adaptation loop driving memetic evolution. Which resulted in humans having bigger brains more suitable for both.
  • From that moment onward species switched (arguably fully) towards the accumulation of innovations through memes instead of genes. Individuals that were for some reason deprived of access to the meme pool effectively got thrown back to primates in terms of environmental success.
  1. ^

    Richard Dawkins. The Selfish gene. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/61535.The_Selfish_Gene?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=oWwQlQJHhQ&rank=1

  2. ^

    Richard Dawkins. The extended phenotype. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/61538.The_Extended_Phenotype?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=Ko5sX4zBtL&rank=1

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