RE: meme as catalytic indexical

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sun 25 Jan 2004 - 23:23:40 GMT

  • Next message: M Lissack: "RE: meme as catalytic indexical"

    At 05:42 PM 24/01/04 -0800, you wrote:
    >Richard you are ignoring the question. How do you
    >know that it is the meme that is the replicator rather
    >than something else being the replicator and the meme
    >only being the sign?

    Richard answered this once, so I doubt he will respond a second time.

    First, do you doubt that Richard Dawkins coined the term meme?

    Second, do you doubt that Chapter 11 in _Selfish Gene_ is called "Memes: the new replicators.

    Dawkins *defined* memes as replicators, something that is the right of a person who coins a new word.

    It is in my opinion a terribly unfriendly act to come along and redefine a word someone else invented and defined. If you have a different concept, use a different word. There is no charge for inventing words.

    >Some ideas thrive some ideas do not. What is that
    >distinguishes them? What is the mechanism for their
    >thriving or failing?
    >Sure you can cite many examples of ideas that have
    >been replicated but what is the cause of the

    The answer to this class of questions will be found in evolutionary psychology, i.e., evolved psychological traits, if they are found at all. Of course some memes such as remote TV controls depend on psychological traits *and* other memes. In other words, the remote control meme is not going to do well before TV sets come along.

    >Memes as replicator is an assertion that the meme is
    >its own cause for replication. Idea as "Final Cause"
    >if you will. But what distinguishes the causes
    >between successful and unsuccessful memes?
    >When word meanings change over time have the memes
    >changed, failed, succeeded, or mutated and what
    >distinguishes these from the change in environment.
    >You are happy with memes as they are. That is not
    >what my article or Bruce's challenges are about. If
    >the world is happy with memes as they are ---
    >wonderful. But memetics is presently not treated as
    >science and lacks academic credence. Without either
    >credence or the "science" label it gets little in the
    >way of research attention or funding.

    Ah. That's your problem.

    >Maybe memetics is fine but maybe it is like cold
    >fusion or the misapplications of catastrophe theory.
    >Your web site contains many stories but little in the
    >way of serious research. Some of us who think
    >memetics could be so much more find that to be an
    >unacceptable state of affairs for the field in

    May I suggest you research just who Richard Brodie is? And if you have a serious research proposal related to memetics, publish it. I would say that the lack of research is more from a lack of good proposals than a lack of funding.

    >Dawkins made an offhand remark when he coined "meme."

    Offhand? Look at the chapter name!

    >To treat an offhand analogy as the "word of god"
    >instead of as an initial idea worthy of research and
    >subject to change is to suggest that all memes can be
    >subjected to evolutionary forces except for the meme

    "Evolutionary forces" normally mean going extinct or (since memes don't usually go entirely extinct) inactive--like phrenology. If memetics is not a useful model it will become a disused concept. If you have something that makes better sense in understanding changes in the social world around us, by all means give it a name and make a case that it does a better job helping to understand the world than the concept of replicating elements of culture (memes).

    >Memes as catalysts and memes as replicators differ
    >mainly in the notions of cause and of actors. All of
    >the stories found on your web site can be recast as
    >meme as catalyst without losing anything except these
    >two notions.

    And how does the above have any relation to the next paragraph? How about a specific example?

    >I still await someone else to suggest an answer to
    >Bruce's challenges or explain why they should be
    >rejected. Telling me I have suggested that the word
    >of god is wrong does neither.

    If you can't come up with examples, perhaps others can.

    One of the most stable *genes* of all time is Cytochrome C that makes the enzyme for the last step of food oxidation.

    The shape of Cytochrome C is strongly constrained by its function, so much that there are only a hand full of differences that have accumulated over the last half billion years. I.e., if you inherited a mutated version, generally you didn't live to pass it on.

    One of the most stable *memes* of all time is the killer Frisbee or hand ax. These things look the same over most of a million years of human line existence.

    A hand ax's shape is strongly selected by aerodynamic considerations and the role it has in water hole hunting. (Thrown horizontally it turns vertical to come down among grouped animals on its spinning sharp edge.) So people who chipped rocks differently for this application didn't kill as many animals and didn't survive to teach chipping out their mutated hand ax as well as those that chipped them into the optimal shape.

    Is this example related to your concepts of niche?

    Keith Henson.

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