Why did multiple civilisations all over the World build pyramids? It's not ancient aliens: it's physics. Limited to Bronze age construction techniques, if you want to build something big that doesn't fall down, a pyramid is the only feasible shape. It was discovered independently multiple times in different locations around the world, because it was inevitable. It’s simply the best way to stack big stone blocks. The blast furnace, cross-bow, telegraph, light bulb, and steam engine, were all discovered by multiple people independently. Useful ideas are found, shared and remembered more often, because those that employ them benefit from some advantage. The laws of physics don’t change so there will be some optimal way to do something, it’s just a case of discovering it. So it’s no wonder different groups happen upon the same good ideas. The same thing occurs in genetics: the power of flight evolved multiple times in insects, birds, pterosaurs, and bats. For some reason, nature repeatedly tries to evolve the crab. Photosynthesis in plants has emerged multiple times as have certain body shapes, features, and reproductive strategies. Sometimes a local maximum is reached: for example the crocodile has been relatively unchanged for hundreds of millions of years.
Beneficial traits become more frequent when they confer an evolutionary advantage. If something makes its host more likely to survive, its more likely to get passed on. That goes for genes and memes. Parents pass on successful genes to their offspring, but they also pass on their best memes, through direct instruction, passive imitation, and the culture they raise them in. We try and pass on ‘good’ memes when we recognize them, but no agency is required to confer benefits. Religious avoidance of pork helps you avoid tapeworms, even if that’s not why you do it. The same process works in negative. Organisms infected with harmful memes are less likely to survive, and they take their memes down with them if they don’t recognize and actively abandon toxic memes first.
In memes as in genes, the great majority of mutations are thought to be selectively neutral, conferring neither benefit nor cost on their bearers. They’re hitchhikers, coming along for the ride because they happened to coevolve in a vehicle that was going places. This is an evolutionarily unstable position however. Eventually reality changes, and a meme that was neutral or even beneficial, can suddenly put you at risk. Religions that refused pork may have been less likely to get sick, but in certain periods like the Spanish Inquisition it may have gotten you killed, and today with modern refrigeration techniques, it no longer confers an advantage. If we’re going to evolve better fitness within our ecosystem, memes have a major advantage over genes: they can be easily edited. We can cheat evolution. By actively learning and sharing useful memes, or unlearning harmful ones, individuals can engineer their culture to a much greater extent than they can their biology. Our ability to evolve ideas faster than the millions of years it takes to change our DNA is what makes us the dominant species.
Animals Keep Evolving Into Crabs, and Scientists Don't Know Why
Evolutionary Adaptation in the Human Lineage
List of multiple discoveries
Muslims claim pork is forbidden because of a malignant heat-resistant worm in the meat. Is there scientific evidence to support or disprove this?
Pork politics and the Spanish Inquisition
Why did multiple civilizations all over the world build pyramids? It’s hard to see how this could just be a coincidence. Is it safe to postulate that ancient humans were a little more advanced and well traveled than we currently give them credit for?