RE: meme as catalytic indexical

From: M Lissack (
Date: Fri 23 Jan 2004 - 07:34:14 GMT

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    Bruce's 3 Challenges:

    Challenge 1: A conclusive case study

    The purpose of this is to clearly demonstrate that there is at least one cultural process that is of an evolutionary nature, where `evolutionary' is taken in a narrow sense. This needs to be robust against serious criticism. In my opinion this needs to achieve the following as a minimum.

    Exhibit a replicator mechanism - this needs to be something physical and not in the mind. The mechanism must provide a testable cause of the claimed evolutionary process. It must faithfully replicate with a low level of error or change (although there must be some variation). There must be no doubt that particular inheritable patterns have been accurately replicated many times over.

    The lineages of the replicator must be unbroken for long enough to allow a process of adaptation to exterior factors to occur. If a meme originates from a few central sources and is only replicated a few times away from these, then this is insufficient. Thus if lots of people copy an idea from a particular book and this does not then take on a replicative momentum of its own then this can not evolve. Even when there is a demonstrable ability to imitate and the population statistics suggest that there is an evolutionary process occurring it can still be the case that no sustained evolution is actually occurring (Edmonds 1989).

    Over a long time period the success of a replicated meme must be demonstrably correlated to identifiable comparable advantages of a meme in terms of the mechanism and context of replication. If reasons why one meme is more successful than another are only based on vague plausibility, then this is not enough.

    The dynamics need to be numerically consistent with the applicable theories of population genetics, e.g. Price's covariance and selection theorem (Price 1970, 1972). Such a case study is not likely to be of a highly ambitious nature (e.g. explaining complex human institutions), but of a limited nature about which good quality data is available. There may well be many other memetic processes in the world but the point of this one is that it is inarguably demonstrable. Once one such case study has been established more ambitious cases can be attempted, but more ambitious cases will not be believed until some more straightforward cases are established first.

    Challenge 2: A theoretical model for when it is more appropriate to use a memetic model.

    What is needed is some (falsifiable) theory that (under some specified conditions) tells us when a memetic analysis is more helpful than a more traditional one. Such a theory would have to meet the following criteria.

    It would have to make some sort of prediction of when a memetic model was appropriate - i.e. it had explanatory or predictive value - and when not. In other words when it is helpful to model a pattern that has been copied as a self-interested meme.

    The theory would be workable on information that was sometimes possible to obtain, i.e. not based on unobtainable information (e.g. the composition of mental states).

    The theory would have to be understandable in terms of the credibility, appropriateness and clarity of its core mechanism. The assumptions under which the model works would need to be fairly clear and practically determinable.

    The theory would need to be validated against observable phenomena, not just established by the plausibility of its assumptions.

    Challenge 3: A simulation model showing the true emergence of a memetic process

    The purpose of this is to show that patterns of information could have come about in a believable way. If the key imitation processes are `programmed in' by the simulation designer then it would be unconvincing. Instead the simulation needs to be designed so that others would judge it to be a credible model of a situation that is likely to occur in the real world, but so that an evolutionary process composed of information messages emerges as a result of the interactions between and within individuals. The criteria that such a simulation model should meet are the following.

    The micro behaviour of the individuals needs to be credible. That is they need to reflect patterns of behaviour that third parties [note 3] would accept as being really possible. Thus behaviour based on strong a priori assumptions (e.g. utility optimisation) or unmodified off-the-shelf algorithms (e.g. Genetic Algorithms) would not be suitable.

    The emergent behaviour must be demonstrably evolutionary in character by the criteria in Challenge 1. That is to say there must be substantial and repeated accurate replication of patterns. Patterns replicative success must be demonstrably due to their characteristics. There must occur long, unbroken lineages for the evolution to act on etc.

    The emergent memetic process must not be directly `designed into' the simulation. This can be a difficult criterion to judge but, at a minimum, there should be: no built-in and inevitable processes of replication or imitation; the emergent evolutionary process should be contingent upon certain conditions and settings; and the behaviour of the individuals not obviously distorted to encourage the evolutionary process to occur (i.e. they retain some descriptive credibility).

    Such a simulation demonstrates the possibility that a memetic process could emerge in a population of credible individuals. The more abstract or less realistic the design of such a simulation, the less convincing it will be. It is unlikely that such a simulation will be over-baroque or very general, but of a more mundane nature.

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