Laurie's Reviews > On the Origin of Tepees: The Evolution of Ideas

On the Origin of Tepees by Jonnie Hughes
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Oct 28, 2011

really liked it
Read in October, 2011

Science writer Jonnie Hughes sets out on a trip across Middle America and Canada with his brother to explore the evolution of the tepee (how long did it take him to figure out a subject that would sound like ‘species’, I wonder?). Along with the travelogue and his discoveries about the tepee (and cowboy hats and a few other things), he explains to us the theories of evolution and natural selection among living things, and the idea of memes. Not memes as in internet quizzes or cat pictures, but memes as in perpetuated, spreading, ideas. Memes are like genes, but instead of spreading biologically, they spread psychologically. They change through time- parts that don’t work get dropped; new things that make the idea better are included. The tepee is a meme; it has changed through time to meet conditions, and has spread to different people.

It’s an interesting book; Hughes is humorous and is good at breaking concepts down. That ideas evolve through time and space can’t be doubted, but at times Hughes writes about memes as if they are living things that exist independently of human minds, that they have a drive to survive of their own. I found that a bit… odd. Likewise, he writes of genes as if they have an actual wish to survive and so drive evolution purposely. While I’m pretty certain he does this as a writing technique, rather than truly thinking that ideas are living things with a will to live and spread, I found it a bit disturbing.

Despite this one oddity, I really recommend this book. He explains how speciation occurs in both animals and in languages in an extremely clear way; his story of how the cowboy hat evolved to fit the new environment of the west – and how it’s now stopped evolving, much as humans have- is wonderful. Hughes has a great future as a writer of science for the layman.
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message 1: by Diane (last edited Nov 02, 2011 01:32PM) (new)

Diane Bluegreen richard brodie wrote about memes in 'virus of the mind' and richard dawkins about genes in 'the selfish gene' as if they were living things too.


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