Re: Sue Blackmore lecture Wednesday 5.15pm London

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sun 16 Feb 2003 - 18:21:51 GMT

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    >It is my belief that memes aren't capable of "trying" to do anything. It
    >is the man who keeps them in his head who does the trying

    You are correct in the direct sense. At the root of it, memes are just abstract information. The reason people such as Dawkins started using the
    "language of purpose" was to avoid having to spell out each time that genes
    (or memes) could cause those animals who contained them to do things which made the gene (or meme) more common in the "next generation." The *effect* of this Darwinian selection loop gave rise to a metaphorical "viewpoint" of
    "selfish" genes (or memes) which--from this viewpoint--seem to be
    "striving" to become more common. A gene or meme can be no more "selfish" than a rock. The shorthand "language of purpose" is a really useful shorthand thinking tool in evolutionary biology, but there was never any intent for it to be taken literally.


    >The meme is not a rational entity --

    Certainly. By analogy a program on a CD ROM just sits there. For it to do anything, for us to interact with it, it has to be running on a computer. A meme (such as the Jehovah's Witness meme) has to be loaded into a human brain for it to be brought to your door and annoy you.

    >it is a tool, just like the ax. We use it to do things. It does not use

    Some memes have aspects of being useful as thinking tools and most of the time we do use the information in a meme to chip rocks, make shoes or even million gate computer "chips."

    But consider the information in a virus or a computer virus. The information itself takes advantage of cell duplication machinery and computers and makes copies. (The latest computer worm that clogged the net all over the world had a doubling time of 8.5 plus or minus one second.)

    Most of the time memes can be understood as just things we learn, ultimately to the advantage of our genes.

    But the pathological cases point out that "ideas (memes) have a life of their own," sometimes to the detriment of the genes (and the persons) involved.

    Sorry to belabor the point, but understanding this model is what memetics is about.

    Keith Henson

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