ACT reading practice test 34

DIRECTIONS: Each passage is followed by several questions. After reading a passage, choose the best answer to each question and fill in the corresponding oval on your answer document. You may refer to the passages as often as necessary.


Natural Science

This passage is adapted from The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (© 1976 Oxford University Press).

Most of what is unusual about man can be summed
up in one word: "culture." I use the word not in its
snobbish sense, but as a scientist uses it. Cultural
transmission is analogous to genetic transmission in that,
05 although basically conservative, it can give rise to a
form of evolution. Geoffrey Chaucer could not hold a
conversation with a modern Englishman, even though
they are linked to each other by an unbroken chain of
some twenty generations of Englishmen, each of whom
10 could speak to his immediate neighbors in the chain
as a son speaks to his father. Language seems to "evolve"
by non-genetic means, and at a rate which is orders of
magnitude faster than genetic evolution.
As an enthusiastic Darwinian, I have been dissatisfied
15 with explanations that my fellow-enthusiasts have
offered for human behavior. They have tried to look for
"biological advantages" in various attributes of human
civilization. These ideas are plausible as far as they go,
but I find that they do not begin to square
20 up to the formidable challenge of explaining culture,
cultural evolution, and the immense differences
between human cultures around the world. I think we
have got to start again and go right back to first
principles. The argument I shall advance is that, for
25 an understanding of the evolution of modern man,
we must begin by throwing out the gene as the sole
basis of our ideas on evolution.
What, after all, is so special about genes The answer
is that they are replicators. But do we have to go
30 to distant worlds to find other kinds of replicators and
other kinds of evolution I think that a new kind of replicator
has recently emerged on this very planet. It is staring
us in the face. It is still in its infancy, still drifting
clumsily about in its primeval soup, but already it is
35 achieving evolutionary change at a rate that leaves
the old gene panting far behind.
The new soup is the soup of human culture. We need
a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the
idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of
40 imitation. "Mimeme" comes from a suitable Greek root,
but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like "gene."
I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate
"mimeme" to meme. Examples of memes are tunes,
ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making
45 pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate
themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body,
so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping
from brain to brain. If a scientist hears, or reads about,
a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and
50 students. He mentions it in his articles and his
lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to
propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain.
Imitation, in the broad sense, is how memes can
replicate. But just as not all genes that can replicate do
55 so successfully, so some memes are more successful in
the meme-pool than others. The longevity of any one
copy of a meme is probably relatively unimportant, as it
is for any one copy of a gene. The copy of the tune
"Auld Lang Syne" that exists in my brain will last only
60 for the rest of my life. But I expect there will be
copies of the same tune on paper and in people's brains
for centuries to come. If the meme is a scientific idea,
its spread will depend on how acceptable it is to the
population of individual scientists; a rough measure of
65 its survival value could be obtained by counting
the number of times it is referred to in successive years
in scientific journals. If it is a popular tune, its spread
through the meme pool may be gauged by the number of
people heard whistling it in the streets. If it is a style
70 of women's shoe, the population memeticist may use
sales statistics from shoe shops.
Some memes, like some genes, achieve brilliant short-
term success in spreading rapidly, but do not last long
in the meme pool. Popular songs and stiletto heels
75 are examples. Others may continue to propagate
themselves for thousands of years, usually because of
the great potential permanence of written records.
When we die there are two things we can leave behind
us: genes and memes. We were built as gene
80 machines, created to pass on our genes. But that aspect
of us will be forgotten in three generations. Your child,
even your grandchild, may bear a resemblance to you, perhaps
in facial features, in a talent for music, in the color of
her hair. But as each generation passes, the contribution
85 of your genes is halved. It does not take long to reach
negligible proportions. We should not seek immortality
in reproduction.
But if you contribute to the world's culture, if you
have a good idea, compose a tune, invent a sparking plug,
90 write a poem, it may live on, intact, long after your
genes have dissolved in the common pool. Socrates may
or may not have a gene or two alive in the world today,
but who cares The meme-complexes of Socrates, Leonardo,
Copernicus and Marconi are still going strong.

1. The author's motivation in writing the passage is his belief that:

A. genes actually have nothing to do with human evolution.
B. genetics does not sufficiently explain human culture.
C. culture is too obsessed with trivial things like fashion and pop songs.
D. humans are too concerned with seeking immortality.

2. When the author says that he uses the word culture "not in its snobbish sense, but as a scientist uses it" (lines 2-3), he means that he:

F. plans to honestly admit what aspects of culture he really likes, rather than pretending he only likes the critically respected things.
G. does not believe that there is really such a thing as culture at all.
H. thinks that culture can be completely explained by Darwinian evolution.
J. does not distinguish between "good" and "bad" culture, but refers merely to the facts of human civilization.

3. The author argues that all of the following would constitute examples of memes EXCEPT:

A. a word.
B. a piece of music.
C. a particular hair color.
D. a fashion item.

4. According to the author, one thing that genes and memes have in common is that they are both:

F. examples of replicators.
G. still only unproven theories rather than facts.
H. ideas that people in the future will only know about because of written records.
J. capable of inspiring great art.

5. The author mentions Geoffrey Chaucer in the first paragraph as an example of:

A. a pioneer in the field of mimetics.
B. one of the first major poets to write in English.
C. someone who would not have understood modern science, even though he was a genius for his time.
D. a speaker of English as it existed twenty generations ago.

6. As it is used in lines 45, 47, 51, and 75, the word propagate most nearly means:

F. multiply.
G. change.
H. prove.
J. conceal.

7. According to the passage, the word meme was invented by:

A. the ancient Greeks.
B. friends of the author.
C. the author's former teacher.
D. the author himself.

8. The author states that [t]he copy of the tune 'Auld Lang Syne' that exists in my brain will last only for the rest of my life (lines 58-60) in order to demonstrate that:

F. no two people's brains are alike.
G. memories do not survive death.
H. no one copy of an idea is vital, as long as the idea survives.
J. he is older than he imagines most of his readers will be, and accordingly has memories of older songs.

9. According to the author, the "survival value" of a meme is expressed by:

A. how widespread the meme itself becomes.
B. how it contributes to the survival of the people who have memories of it.
C. whether it makes the people who have memories of it into better people or worse people.
D. whether scientists believe that it is true or false.

10. The author mentions "Socrates, Leonardo, Copernicus and Marconi" in the closing paragraph because they are:

F. people whose genes have become extremely widespread.
G. people whose ideas have become extremely influential.
H. the four most complex thinkers in the history of science.
J. the people who made the biggest contributions to the field of memetics.