Re: I know one when I see one

From: Dace (
Date: Thu 31 Oct 2002 - 19:12:05 GMT

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    > From: Bill Spight <>
    > Dear Ted,
    > > Let's say a computer program is replicated numerous times with slight
    > > variations. The one that best does the job is automatically selected.
    > > Where's the self in this process? "Replication, variation, and
    > > implies selfish behavior only in the context of life. Without this
    > > we can treat the entire process in terms of simple mechanics. That
    > > and memes are functions of life, not automata, is essential to
    > > understanding them.
    > So your claim is that memes are alive, right?

    The basic idea of memetics is that memes play the same role in human evolution that genes play in natural evolution. Memes provide the particulate aspect of human culture and consciousness, just as genes are the
    "particles" of species and organism. The particles of *living* matter are necessarily alive, just as the particles of inanimate matter, electrons and quarks, are not.

    > > > Emphasis mine. All of the emphasized phrases are personifications.
    > >
    > > Not at all. All living things exist in themselves. Life is all about
    > > self-nature, from bacteria on up.
    > Including memes, by your lights, right?

    That gene-like "memes" provide the raw material of human culture through their self-replication was Dawkins' great insight and what makes him the true originator of the science of cultural evolution, despite the fact that all he really did was to tweak a long-standing conjecture that goes all the way back to T.H. Huxley and "evolutionary epistemology," which also regarded cultural evolution by analogy to natural evolution but which lacked an atomistic model.

    > > > Do the genes for blood type replicate themselves? If so, how?
    > >
    > > All genes replicate themselves in the process of cell division.
    > How do the genes for blood type affect cell division?

    It's not that every gene individually replicates itself but that the genetic material, taken as a whole, replicates itself via the production of the appropriate enzymes. In order to be environmentally selected, genes have to reproduce themselves. Same goes for memes. If they can't reproduce, they won't be around to be selected either for or against.

    However, it's not necessary to follow Dawkins in reducing culture to its elementary constituents. To practice memetics we must only recognize that units of culture propagate themselves. While we tend to think dualistically, in terms of paired, mutually-negating opposites, reality isn't bound by our preconceptions. Culture can propagate holistically as well as atomistically. In fact, we can approach the matter in terms of three levels: whole cultures, conscious humans, and memes, all of which function "selfishly." No different than the hierarchical model of species, organism, and gene, which, according to Dawkins' arch-nemesis Gould (in his final book) is the newly dominant "structure of evolutionary theory."


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