Online Paper: "Ideas are Not Replicators but Minds Are" by Liane Gabora

From: Bruce Edmonds (
Date: Wed 15 Oct 2003 - 10:59:12 GMT

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                   Ideas are Not Replicators but Minds Are
                             by Liane Gabora

    To appear in Biology and Philosophy, BIPH264-02

    CONTENTS 1 Does Culture Evolve like Biological Lineages Do? * 2 Two Kinds of Replicators *
         2.1 Coded Replicators *
         2.2 Primitive Replicators * 3 Does Anything in Culture Constitute a Replicator? *
         3.1 Ideas and Artifacts are not Coded Replicators *
             3.1.1 Are Cultural Entities Interpreted? *
             3.1.2 Are Cultural Entities Copied (without Interpretation)? *
         3.2 Interconnected Worldview as Primitive Replicator *
             3.2.1 Conceptual Closure * 4 Implications for the Evolution of Culture *
         4.1 What Evolves is Worldviews, Not Ideas *
         4.2 Evolving without Copying from a Code *
         4.3 Inheritance of Acquired Characteristics * 5 Conclusions *


    An idea is not a replicator because it does not consist of coded self-assembly instructions. It may retain structure as it passes from one individual to another, but does not replicate it. The cultural replicator is not an idea but an associatively-structured network of them that together form an internal model of the world, or worldview. A worldview is a primitive, uncoded replicator, like the autocatalytic sets of polymers widely believed to be the earliest form of life. Primitive replicators generate self-similar structure, but because the process happens in a piecemeal manner, through bottom-up interactions rather than a top-down code, they replicate with low fidelity, and acquired characteristics are inherited. Just as polymers catalyze reactions that generate other polymers, the retrieval of an item from memory can in turn trigger other items, thus cross-linking memories, ideas, and concepts into an integrated conceptual structure. Worldviews evolve idea by idea, largely through social exchange. An idea participates in the evolution of culture by revealing certain aspects of the worldview that generated it, thereby affecting the worldviews of those exposed to it. If an idea influences seemingly unrelated fields this does not mean that separate cultural lineages are contaminating one another, because it is worldviews, not ideas, that are the basic unit of cultural evolution.

    Keywords: associative network, acquired characteristics, autocatalytic closure, conceptual closure, culture, evolution, idea, origin of life, replicator, self-replication, worldview.

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