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

Date: Sun 03 Aug 2003 - 17:14:54 GMT

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    In a message dated 8/2/2003 8:12:44 PM Central Daylight Time, Scott Chase writes:

    > Would you hold that memory units (engrams, mnemons
    > or what have you) replicate?

    Hi Scott.

    I don't generally use the term "memory units," and if I did, I would want the term defined more clearly than above, particularly with clarification of the wild card "or what have you." I don't rely on the term "engram," and thus take no position on whether such an entity replicates. My 1991 and 1998 papers did not use the term "mnemon" in the same sense that Cherkin used that word under prior independent coinage, and in particular, I did not use it in connection with "engrams." But with the definition I did use in my 1991 and 1998 papers, the only mnemons I considered as replicators were ones whose instantiation depended critically upon prior instantiation of the same mnemon.

    Having said that, I can point out that when I say that two people have "the same" memory item, I am not claiming that the two people must therefore have within them "the same structure" corresponding to the memory item. Calling two memory items "the same" with respect to the abstraction system or sameness criteria in use does not indicate that the abstraction system or sameness criteria are based on
    "structure" per se. Thus, saying that two people have "the same" memory item does not, in my terminology, indicate that the two people have any more "structures" that can be considered "the same" than if they did not have "the same" memory item. For example, two people who both know the telephone number for the UN headquarters can be said to both have that number as memory items that are "the same" with respect to an abstraction system about phone numbers. But saying this does not assert anything about sameness of structures in their brains.

    Furthermore, I do not even say that all memory is stored as structural variation even apart from the issue of sameness between individuals. Information can also be stored as processes that do not qualify as structures. Living systems contain many processes. A burning candle can be said to store a binary "1" even if the flame is not a structure. A current flowing in a solid state device need not be considered a "structure," either. And a binary bit can be stored as a spin state of an electron or atom, even though the spin state is not normally considered a "structure." Unlike Cloak's 1973 paper on Elementary Self-Replicating Instructions, I do not define replicating things in terms of structures (though I don't broadly rule out key roles of structures either). In this respect, my position also differs from what Dawkins says about memes having "a definite structure, realized in whatever physical medium the brain uses for storing information." (_The Extended Phenotype_, p. 109) I don't rule out that neurally stored information (memory) might be based on structure in this way, but I don't require it or specify it either.

    These are just a few clarifications. I don't want to restate by listserver what things I do consider as replicators and why -- that would be a long arduous discussion. My recent papers (past 3 years) give a good sense of what I say and the terminology I use to say it.

    --Aaron Lynch

    Thought Contagion Science Page:

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