RE: Silent memes

From: Richard Brodie (
Date: Fri 18 Jul 2003 - 16:39:29 GMT

  • Next message: William Benzon: "FW: [evol-psych] Darwinian Poetry -- participants needed"

    Keith, thank you for the interesting discussion.

    Keith wrote:

    <<Memes differ from other kinds of replicating information in their active locus, which is (mostly) human minds/brains. Exceptions being those memes active in other animals. When we get human like AI, the difference between memes and computer viruses might get a bit hard to sort out.>>

    No argument here.

    << It is the active location rather than influencing its own replication that defined an information pattern as a meme. (Otherwise, computer viruses become memes, since they are much more obvious in influencing their own replication.)>>

    Not "rather than" but "as well as." Information in a mind that does not influence its own replication (if there really is any such thing) is not a meme. But theoretically my behavior is influenced by the totality of my mental state, so maybe it's just a matter of some memes being more potent than others. But the whole point of a replicator is that it influences its own replication and therefore may be subject to Darwinian selection.

    <<I kind of miss why you think we are in disagreement. I don't see any reason to call artifacts memes either. Now as I have pointed out, the meme
    (information) can sometimes be extracted from the artifact, but an artifact is not per se a meme. (Memes-on-paper are supposed to be easy to extract.)>>

    I wouldn't say a meme can be extracted from an artifact. I would say the presence of an artifact can be a part of the causal chain for meme replication. Memes can also be part of the causal chain for artifact replication (such as a chain letter).

    <<I can see why the confusion occurs. Take the King James Bible. (If you know much about gay history, a better name would be the Queen James Bible.) We are forever using the informational content to refer to a particular lump of paper. But we think about it, we really know that's a shortened way of saying this lump of paper encodes a *copy of the information we call the KJ Bible.* We sort out the different meanings from context. "Do you have a (copy of the) KJ Bible?" (artifact) "Have you read the KJ Bible?" (informational)>>

    I don't get your point here.

    >although I have said repeatedly that
    >some can be fruitfully viewed as replicators (the Eiffel Tower is the
    >standard example).

    <<That's on a par with saying people replicate. It does not really reflect what replicates.

    People possess or are possessed by the artistic meme of the Eiffel tower. For reasons not entirely clear, but rooted in our attraction to visual items like Bonsai trees and lawns, they desire to have one of them. This leads to a construction project. The welded (instead of riveted) result is not a "replication" of the original much more than children are replicas of parents. It is the underlying memes or genes that are the replicators and the towers or humans are expressed artifacts and phenotypes.>>

    I disagree. For example, we have made replicas of the statues at Easter Island and the block arrangements at Stonehenge although the civilizations that built them and their original purpose is lost in antiquity. I daresay if you plopped the Eiffel Tower into the middle of a modern culture that had never seen it you would be more likely to get high-fidelity replicas than if you dropped 10,000 random Frenchmen into a country without one (or plans for one). And look at the Venus de Milo: the acquired characteristic of the removal of arms has been replicated countless times, not the sculptor's original intent.

    ><<Consider what a different place the world would be if there had been
    >no copies of the Qur'an printed in the last 500 years.>>
    >I would call that an artifact, not a meme. In this case I think it is
    >the entire religion Islam that is the obvious candidate for replicator,
    >although the book itself has self-replicating qualities.
    <<A copy of a book is definitely an artifact. The information, the memes, contained in the artifacts is what has the effect on human behavior--including making more copies of the book in question.>>

    OK, well you're definitely using the word "meme" looser than I or Dennett do, but welcome to the club. I think we agree once we get past that. I'm still worried, though, about your saying that a replicator need not influence its own replication.

    ><<On the second point, it's true that memes in some way influence their
    >That is pretty much the entire definition of meme, once you specify that
    >minds are involved.
    <<Minds are the locus of action for memes. But consider this as a thought experiment. A computer generates memes, perhaps memorable slogans to be used as pass phrases. They are distributed to humans and have influence over human behavior, particularly these memes are used every day to gain access to a computer account. Rarely if ever are they communicated beyond the person they are assigned too. Here we have memes that do not influence their host to spread them, since that would defeat the reason for the pass phrase.>>

    And therefore those memes do not replicate (although "Bosco" is a counterexample! :) ). I don't see your point.

    <<I think it is more useful to look at the information itself as the meme, and artifacts as "phenotypes" of the meme.>>

    Not if the very presence of an artifact, such as the statues at Easter Island, causes their replication. Then it is fruitful to look at that artifact as a replicator. This is especially true when the artifact is too complex to be held easily in a mind without external aid. But it is not cut and dried. Some replicators, such as some religions, are a living collection of memes in minds and artifacts. If either were removed, it would be improbable that the same religion could regenerate.

    Some religions (maybe even McDonalds!) are so well packaged they could probably be reconstituted just from their artifacts.

    <<I have a difficult time with "self-replication."

    Mainly because I can't think of an example.

    Take DNA replication. In cells or in glass it takes a witches brew of enzymes to make copies of DNA. Now in cells, there usually *is* a casual loop, where the copying enzymes get constructed from the DNA's information. But lots of DNA strings that don't contribute even indirectly to making the brew of enzymes get a free ride. (As do biological viruses.)

    Memes, at least the abstract information model I prefer, don't
    "self-replicate" either. Takes a copy machine at least, even if you don't count the humans in the loop (which you should since they made the copy machines).

    Point being that the *only* common thing I can see in any "replication" is making copies of the *information*. The media in brains, on paper, or mag tape, in which a meme is encoded is never exactly the same. Even DNA replication seldom makes an "exact" material copy since the copies could be distinguished by different isotopes of the elements in the base pairs. But unless there has been a mutation, the genetic *information* is exact between copies. Same way the information of 3 balls and 4 strikes is exact in millions of books and brains.>>

    Self-replication does not mean replication without any external help. It simply means that the existence of the replicator in its necessary venue tends to cause more copies of that replicator to exist in the future than there would be if it didn't exist in the present.

    Are we getting closer?

    Richard Brodie

    =============================================================== 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:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri 18 Jul 2003 - 16:46:13 GMT