Re: meme as catalytic indexical

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Thu 22 Jan 2004 - 03:03:20 GMT

  • Next message: Dace: "Re: meme as catalytic indexical"

    At 02:41 PM 21/01/04 -0800, you wrote:
    >the question is do memes replicate or are they the semiotic sign of
    >something else that replicates?

    In programming, a "semiotic sign" would be a pointer, a level of indirection. Such as the words "my car" point to a physical object. A
    "meme" such as "baseball meme" is already in the most abstract class, information independent of the particular form of matter in which it is encoded. Thus you can say the baseball meme is encoded in a book, a video tape, or a human brain. It is only in the latter place that the information has real world effects such as inducing the batter to leave home plate after three strikes (or hitting the ball).

    >if they do not directly replicate

    I have no idea of what you mean by "directly replicate." I am not aware of
    *any* abstract class that does anything by itself. Certainly the abstract information in DNA does not. The information (of a meme, of a gene) has to be encoded in an appropriate form in physical matter. The string of DNA
    (information encoding but independent of it coding for a gene that results in a protean or not) has to be in a cellular environment (or glass substitute) where it is copied by a mess of unzippers and molecular machines that make a complimentary copy.

    > then we can instead consider their role as catalysts which effect the
    > success, resilience, and replication of the things of which the memes are
    > semiotic signs

    There certainly are physical real world objects which act as essential catalysts to replicate information, encoding the information into physical objects such as DNA or hand axes or at the minimum into physical state changes such as occur when a computer is infected with a virus. (It is not exactly clear if human memories result from state changes or are the result of object construction. Probably both in sequence.)

    >memes as replicators has been a marvelous way to talk about memes but not
    >a useful approach for research or prediction (thus Bruce's three challenges)

    My web browser crashed when I tried to look at his home page so I can't quote and comment on Bruce's three challenges right now. However, I don't think that Bruce has commented on my "baseball island" thought experiment. While memetics is a remarkably useful tool to understand the world around us I am not sure there are non trivial places memetics *per se* can go that are not already understood by analogies from biology. It is a different matter when you start using evolutionary psychology to figure out human psychological biases that determine why particular memes do well in particular conditions.

    (to be continued when I get my browser back and find the paper)

    Keith Henson

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