RE: Silent memes

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Thu 24 Jul 2003 - 02:56:48 GMT

  • Next message: "Re: Silent memes"

    Richard Brodie wrote:

    >Keith, thank you for the interesting discussion.

    Any time. :-)

    >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.

    If you look at the last interaction I had with Aaron Lynch I think we have converged. A meme "influence its own replication" in the minimal sense that a previous copy existed.

    But a full causal loop may not exist. A short causal loop exists for genes that make DNA replication devices in cells and a longer one exists for genes that contribute to metabolism or body structure. But viruses (being parasites) don't contribute in any way to the DNA/RNA copy machines that replicate them. (Neither does the junk DNA that clutters up animal genomes.)

    Memes of the rock chipping class eventually feed back to more copies of themselves through a long process of improving the survival of the genes and people of those who host such memes. Memes that induce celibacy or suicide simply don't have this kind of causal loop. They are (like viruses) obvious parasites on other replicators. I think a heck of a lot of human culture, particularly fads and fashions, are parasitic, i.e., memes that don't contribute to host survival/reproduction. (But may not hurt it much either.)

    This does not prevent parasites from evolving of course. In fact, some of the most fearsome evolution goes on between parasites and their prey/hosts.

    >><<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
    >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).

    Near as I can tell we are in agreement on what happens, with only a variation in terminology. If an artifact is part of the causal chain for a meme replication, how does the artifact differ from the same material previous to it becoming an artifact? I.e., how does a stone differ from a chipped rock or how does a blank sheet of paper differ from one folded into a paper airplane? Now I refer to the *information* that makes the difference in an artifact as the meme, just as I refer to the same information in a brain as a meme.

    We could restrict meme to "meme-in-a-mind/brain where it might have effect" but then we should have a nice short name for the information that makes the difference between a flat sheet and a folded one, between a blank sheet and one with directions about how to make a paper airplane, between a blank video tape and one showing someone folding up an airplane, etc. This information-in-an-artifact can, of course, create a "meme-in-a-mind/brain" exactly the same as one "meme-in-a-mind/brain" can be replicated verbally or by demonstration into another mind.

    Perhaps we do need to make the distinction and come up with a name for
    "lump-of-information-encoded-in-some-artifact-that-will-become-a-meme-when-in-a-mind." Meme backwards is emem. Pronounced e-mem it could also evoke Encoded MEMory.

    In the example of a chain letter you mention above, the replicating information pattern would run meme -> e-mem -> meme -> e-mem forever until the last e-mem went into the trash. I have been using "replicating information pattern" (which are active in minds rather than computers or cell nuclei) as a synonym for memes. We could I suppose rearrange the terminology and use RIPs to be the inclusive class where meme and e-mem are members of the class.

    To be consistent, we would need to have parallel terms for inactive computer viruses, and dry DNA or DNA listings.

    I don't personally think there is a point in distinguishing between in-minds and on-paper RIPs, but am open to other opinions. It sure has generated a lot of discussion here.

    ><<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.

    The difference is rather more than the difference between cheese and chalk. The artifact you can use to prop up a short chair leg. The informational memes when loaded into brains may induce humans to go on a crusade.

    >> >>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
    >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.

    The Easter Island statues are fairly well understood as displacement pathology by humans trapped in an eco-disaster. There is a lot of material about them and the culture that made them on the net. Eventually humans made the usual response to tight resources and started killing each other. The population may have fallen to as low as 5 percent of its maximum.

    Jared Diamond - Easter's End
    ... of the islanders are rife with cannibalism; the most inflammatory taunt that could be snarled at an enemy was "The flesh of your mother sticks between my ... - 20k - Cached - Similar pages

    >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

    Possibly. But wouldn't such an appearance be marked by people measuring it and trying to figure out what it is? And making plans or NC computer files before they started building another one? Point being that it takes on an abstracted form between being made into material.

    > 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.

    Sure. But even when someone made a mold off the original, they had to make a negative mold in between making replicas. Information extraction first, not just direct replication.

    (Snip to get under size limit)

    >>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
    >>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?

    "Tends to cause" is darn close to Aaron's "Self." When you get down to
    "existence of the replicator" being all you need, it is such a weak requirement that I have no problem with it.

    What surprised me is that nobody corrected my accidentally mutated meme. Probably because it is so well ingrained that you read it right when I had written it wrong.

    Keith Henson

    >Richard Brodie

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