From: Bill Hall (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Mon 31 Mar 2003 - 10:54:51 GMT
I'll amplify a comment I made last week about whether memes can be
considered to be living.
To me the closest thing there is to a living meme is the self-producing
(i.e., autopoietic)organization, which could be interpreted as a self-producing assembly of mutually catalytic memes.
The theory of autopoiesis as a definition for the property of life was first
introduced to the English language in 1980 by Humbeto Maturana and Francisco
Varela in their book Autopoiesis and Cognition. A more recent work is The
Tree of Knowledge, 1988. Personally, I think their structure is quite good
because I was using a very similar definition as an heuristic when I was
teaching a variety of basic biology courses in the 1970's.
Georg von Krogh and Johan Roos 1995 applied the theory to organizations, in
their book Organizational Epistemology. Here they give a neat checklist for
determining whether an entity should be considered to be autopoietic:
o Identifiably bounded (membranes, tags). In other words,
if it can't be clearly distinguished from its environment
it isn't a discrete entity.
o Identifiable components within the boundary (complex)
o Mechanistic (i.e., metabolism/cybernetic processes)
o System boundaries internally determined (self reference)
o System intrinsically produces own components (self production)
o Self-produced components are necessary and sufficient to produce the
Only where all these properties exist together can the entity be considered
to be living.
Memes can certainly participate in forming a complex self productive system,
but as I understand the term, one meme on its own is like a virus (a small
number of genes wrapped in an bomb casing) - it has no life on its own, but
in the right circumstances it can explode and subvert an existing
autopoietic system to make more of its own kind. (An analogue to a suicide
------------------------------------------ Information is not knowledge Knowledge is not wisdom Wisdom is not truth Truth is not beauty Beauty is not love Love is not music Music is THE BEST
(Zappa - Packard Goose)
----- Original Message ----- From: "Dace" <email@example.com> To: <firstname.lastname@example.org> Sent: Monday, March 31, 2003 8:28 AM Subject: Re: memetics-digest V1 #1319
> > From: "Scott Chase" <email@example.com>
> > > > > > Memes alive? Have we resurrected animism?
> > > > >
> > > > >If I attributed life to animals would you accuse me of animism?
> > > > >
> > > > >
> > > > >
> > > > No. Butam I wrong in thinking you are attributing life to memes in
> > > > literal sense (not the marginally less absurd metaphoric sense)? I'd
> > > > that a palm tree or a porpoise are alive. An idea is not alive. A
> > > > strains ones views on what life is, and I'd probably lean towards no
> > > > too. A viral idea ("meme") if this exists, doesn't seem to be a good
> > > > candidate for being alive.
> > >
> > >At the very least, viruses participate in life processes. The same
> > >be said of memes. After all, the mind/brain is as alive as any other
> > >A meme, i.e. a "selfish" idea, lives and evolves in relation to the
> > >environment in the same sense that an animal lives and evolves in
> > >to the natural environment.
> > >
> > >
> > But I thought a meme was akin to a gene, not an animal.
> > An animal is alive. Is a gene alive?
> This is really opening up a can of worms.
> As "systems" theorist Paul Weiss argued many years ago, there's no clear
> definition between life and nonlife. Any self-organized, dynamic system
> that perpetuates the conditions of its existence can be considered alive.
> In recent times biology has tended to arbitrarily divide things off
> those systems that utilize genes and those that do not. For
> biology, it's not simply that genes are alive but that they are life
> It's the gene that makes you alive, and the point of your existence is to
> spread your genes. As Susan Blackmore reasons, if an animal is a gene
> machine, then a human is a meme machine. It's the particles, whether of
> bodies or cultures, that determine the higher levels of structure.
> I'm perfectly willing to grant agency to genes and memes. Not simply
> aspects of larger systems, they help shape those systems and are thus
> "alive." What's most intriguing about memetics is its vindication of the
> founding principles of modern psychology. We are driven by unconscious
> "forces" carrying their own momentum. But that doesn't mean we don't have
> our own agency as conscious beings. It's a complex interaction of
> levels of determinacy, from meme to group.
> Memes in the domain of human consciousness are akin to animals in the
> This is essentially what Dawkins was saying, except that, as a
> he thinks what evolves (and truly lives) is not the whole organism but
> merely its genes. For him the genome stands in for the whole animal. But
> we need not be bound by this predilection. Memes could just as easily be
> regarded as species of beliefs competing in the jungles of the mind with
> other such species.
> This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
> Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
> For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
> see: http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/jom-emit
This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
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