tip o' the hat to Wilkins

From: Wade T. Smith (wade.t.smith@verizon.net)
Date: Mon 19 May 2003 - 13:01:11 GMT

  • Next message: Richard Brodie: "RE: Definition of meme"

    In reviewing some online memetics resources, it appears I'm knocking the door on one side of -

    "The Hull-Dawkins Distinction, as it came to be called, gained almost immediate and bipartisan support across the selectionist debate - both Eldredge (1989) and Williams (1992) accepting that replicators and interactors are the active and general entities in Darwinian evolution
    (interestingly, both made the now almost obligatory passing comments about these terms also applying to culture.) Dawkins' "memes" (like Campbell's mnemones, 1974, 1988) are cultural replicators, which, if they are to function in cultural evolution analogously to genes, must be transmitted with fidelity, and must cause some interactive traits that in turn will cause a differential replication of the memes. This also helps us with the question whether memes are instructed or selected; that is, whether they arise in response to environmental needs (are "learnt") or are generated randomly with respect to the prevailing social ecology ("random trial and error"). Unexpressed memes
    (memes not "visible" to the environment through their products) cannot be selected, and so the likelihood of them being prescient or anticipatory is reduced, since we would need to have already selected some memes as likely candidates for success in order to predict which ones will work in practice. Before a meme can be assessed as "likely to succeed", it must already have passed some tests. We therefore get a regress - any "instruction" of a meme is either a case of transmission followed by selection, or it is a case of transmission of an already selectively tested meme. The Central Dogma remains unshaken for memes, even if some mechanisms of instruction are shown to occur, for even learning is a selection process (Cziko 1995, chapters 11-12) at some level."

    - where the above is from http://jom-emit.cfpm.org/1998/vol2/wilkins_js.html#11636 and what follows also would seem to me to be, generally, and from my layman's perspective, a rather nicely done rationale for the performance model, including this comment about the need to address the cultural venue-

    "If we are to understand how memes diversify into relatively stable lineages like religious traditions, the structures within which novelties arise and the selective pressures to which they are exposed are crucial."

    - and, if I may, in this conclusion-

    "Memes must be expressed in a cultural ecology in order to be selected, but it is the class of behaviours rather than the behaviours themselves that are memes. Memes do not control behaviour (including mental behaviour) rigidly, but bias and constrain it to a norm of reaction. Memes are the replicators of cultural evolution and the structures that bear the cultural properties they express as are the interactors, in the language of the Hull-Dawkins Distinction. They are, as Hull once entitled a paper (1987), genealogical actors in ecological roles. Packages of memetic interactive properties - phemes - constitute the phemotype of memetic individuals, or memetic profiles, that are not coextensive with the descriptors of the biological individuals in which they are instantiated, and cultural evolution is neither identical to nor derived from biological evolution. Memetic inheritance may be, but probably isn't, analogous to Lamarckian inheritance, but in any event, memetic evolution is Darwinian. Memes form ancestor descendent chains of populations that ramify and reticulate with frequencies differing from biological phylogeny, but the differences appear to be within the extremes of the parameters of biology. The models developed for biological evolution and ecology need to be understood more broadly than just vertebrate animal evolution and applied as they are suited to culture, in order to determine the general evolutionary properties of both domains."

    - and so, I find myself on Hull's side, it appears. And it ain't just because I'm jealous of Romana. I preferred Mary Tamm....

    - Wade


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