Re: Replicator article

From: Ray Recchia (
Date: Sat 08 May 2004 - 00:05:26 GMT

  • Next message: Ray Recchia: "Re: Replicator article"

    Just thought I would pipe in after a bit of lurking. I think that rather attempt to pigeon-hole vague concepts like "replicator", we should focus on more describing characteristics of what we observe, regardless of what label we attach to it.  Memetics is more a more complicated nut than genetics because of the nature of replication.  DNA replication is easier to characterize than memetic replication for two reasons: 1) because with rare exceptions it takes place at the discrete level organism, and 2) because the chain of replication requires only the two phases of DNA and anti-sense DNA.  The phenomenon of cultural evolution is more difficult to characterize because replication occurs by bits and pieces and because the chain of replication involves many elements from internal representation to external speech, writing action, or artefact production.  Each element of the chain can be reproduced through a number of different pathways.  E=mc2 may mean different things to different people.  For some people it is an incompressible symbol of science.   For someone who understands the physics behind it, a very different internal representation is created. Regardless o the internal representation, the external symbol can be be reproduced.

    Others on this list have argued because those internal representations can be so different, we should not regard them as reproducing at all. However, I believe that a fundamental basis for culture is a recognition of the commonalities of internal representations. Two physicists who can place E=mc2 within the context of each other's knowledge of physics share an internal representation that they are capable of recognizing within each other.

    However, just as DNA can mutate in either it's sense or anti-sense form, so too can culture mutate in any of its forms.  Words may be misheard or miswritten or smudged. The external shapes that culture exists in are subject to selection pressures in those shapes. A sturdier building that is observed may be replicated because of it's sturdiness allows it to exist for a longer period of time.  What makes the building more sturdy is a cultural phenomenon that reproduces. In the mind, internal representations are subject to a different set of selection factors based upon other internal representations and upon the limitations of mind that representations exist in.

    Selection pressure exists a variety of levels even in biological evolution.  It was once thought that codons for amino acids were just randomly arrived at and then became fixed. So for example according to the old thinking it was random chance that the amino acid alanine ended up coded by GCA,GCC,GCG,GCU. Recent research though, has shown the codons are optimized to minimize the negative effects of single point mutations, so that if an amino acid is changed, it is more likely to change to another amino acid with similar biochemical properties.  At a much larger scale, mechanisms for introducing change, like crossing over, and chromosomal mixing are also phenomena that exist due to evolutionary pressure.    This are no discrete elements of selection. Selection occurs at every level. Variation is optimally introduced at every level.

    The notion of a world view is an important one.  I think it might be possible to come up with an objective method of looking at how internal representations cluster together and what sorts of elements of internal representations are likely to be found working together.   But saying that "world views" are "The Replicator" just continues a pointless fight that we ought to be able to move beyond.

    Ray Recchia

    (In my typical way, I'll probably just go back to lurking now.  I'm away at a conference next week anyway.)

    At 12:22 PM 5/6/2004, you wrote:

    I'd like to say a few words regarding the discussion of my paper which came up recently on this list. I have been sympathetic to the memetic perspective for a long time, and in some ways still am. The paper was not something I dashed off quickly, but the result of nearly 20 years of reading, writing, and computer modeling devoted to really getting to the bottom of the question: how does culture *really* evolve?

    Clearly ideas or memes do not consist of, as part of their information content, self-assembly instructions (akin to genetic material), which get carried out to form new copies. If they did, then for one thing, inheritance of acquired characteristics would be prohibited. But we all know that ideas or memes can inherit changes as they pass from one person to another. If you read this email, you will accommodate it to your own way of thinking, if you tell someone about it you will put your own slant on it, perhaps garnish it with your own insights&..  It acquires characteristics along the way. But that doesn't mean it isn't *evolving*; it is undergoing descent with modification after all. So what is going on here?

    In fact, inheritance through a self assembly code came about in biological evolution only after millions of years of inheritance through a more primitive, self-organized form of replication, which is more akin to the form through which culture evolves. I argue that it is worldviews or minds evolving, not discrete ideas or memes, because a worldview constitutes an integrated, self-modifying, self-healing structure, and that ideas or memes are how a worldview *reveals* or manifests its (ever-changing) structure (like a slice through a log reveals something of the internal structure of the wood, slicing at a different angle reveals something different&). I wont go on to re-write the whole paper here, but just mention that it is not a line of reasoning that can be quickly dismissed after light reading of the title or abstract, and it is better to read the whole paper before leaping to quick assumptions about what it is saying.


    PS The paper can be obtained in reprint form from the Biology and Philosophy journal website ( )
    or in html form from my website (below).

    Liane Gabora
    Center Leo Apostel for Interdisciplinary Studies, VUB, Brussels Ph: (32)2.644.26.77
    Psychology Department, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-1650 Ph: 510-642-1080
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