Defining the word "replicator" (was Re: Silent memes)

Date: Fri 01 Aug 2003 - 04:06:59 GMT

  • Next message: derek gatherer: "Re: Defining the word "replicator" (was Re: Silent memes)"

    In a message dated 7/27/2003 3:55:26 PM Central Daylight Time, writes:

    > Hi Keith.
    > I have included an explicit definition of the word
    > "replicator" in the current version of my paper "Units,
    > Events, and Dynamics in the Evolutionary Epidemiology of
    > Ideas" at . The
    > definition reads, simply:
    > REPLICATOR: An item whose instantiation depended critically
    > on causation by prior instantiation of the same item.

    This definition is about as minimal or parsimonious as the following definition given by Richard Dawkins in 1982 in
    _The Extended Phenotype_, where he states:

    "I define a _replicator_ as anything in the universe of which copies are made." (p. 83)

    My definition contains what amounts to a formalization of what it means for a copy to be made of something. My definition also requires only knowledge of past causation in order to ascertain the status of a thing (or item, entity) as a replicator. This can make it easier to apply, since one need not know if something eventually will be copied in order to decide if it is a replicator or not. Reference only to past causation may also allow for more inclusiveness: things caused by copying prior instantiations are typically also among the phenomena one wishes to understand in terms of evolutionary replicator theory. However, my definition can, in many cases depending upon the abstractions or sameness criteria in use, leave out things considered as being first in a chain (or lineage) of replicators.

    Does anyone know if Dawkins or other evolutionary theorists have published definitions of the term "replicator" or equivalent terms that are more formal than the Dawkins
    (1982) definition quoted above?

    -- Aaron Lynch

    Thought Contagion Science Page:

    > There is also some discussion of the role of abstractions,
    > or sameness criteria, in deciding whether two things are
    > "the same" and hence also in deciding if something has
    > resulted from replication.
    > Note that some instances of "the same item" may count as
    > replicators and others not. In early precursors to life,
    > there may have been some instances of a molecule whose
    > instantiation depended on prior occurrence of the same
    > molecule (as by catalysis), and other instances that formed
    > by other processes. (The latter could be called
    > "heteroderivative" in the terminology of my paper, and
    > previous papers.) When replication happens often enough,
    > the homoderivative instances come to predominate.
    > Replicators of one type can also have co-replicators of
    > another type, as when a belief and a chain-letter that
    > imparts that belief co-propagate. On the other hand, the
    > causal pathway from one instantiation of an idea to the
    > next can also be lengthy and varied, without being
    > dependent on just one single kind of artifactual or
    > behavioral co-replicator. Parents may, for instance, use a
    > method of leading their children to have a subjective
    > experience of "discovering for themselves" what the parents
    > "already knew." But if the idea that the parents "already
    > knew" played a crucial causal role in leading the parents
    > to lead their children to have a subjective experience of
    > "discovering for themselves" the same idea, then the idea
    > still counts as a replicator. This even if the idea is
    > conveyed without explicit articulation or being represented
    > in some artifactual information medium such as paper,
    > computer disk, sculpture, etc. Causal analysis of the
    > replicator and chain reaction replication events can still
    > proceed in such cases.

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