Re: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation

From: John Wilkins (
Date: Mon Dec 03 2001 - 06:37:39 GMT

  • Next message: Joe Dees: "Re: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation"

    Received: by id GAA29250 (8.6.9/5.3[ref] for from; Mon, 3 Dec 2001 06:42:10 GMT
    Date: Mon, 3 Dec 2001 17:37:39 +1100
    Subject: Re: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation
    Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII; format=flowed
    From: John Wilkins <>
    Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
    In-Reply-To: <>
    Message-Id: <>
    X-Mailer: Apple Mail (2.475)
    Precedence: bulk

    On Monday, December 3, 2001, at 04:58 PM, Joe Dees wrote:

    >> <>Date: Mon, 3 Dec 2001 00:41:57 EST
    >> Re: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation
    >> In a message dated 12/2/2001 8:21:25 PM Central Standard Time, John S
    >> Wilkins
    >> <> writes:
    >>> The Kingdom of heaven is at hand. I agree with Aaron without
    >>> reservation :-)
    >>> The whole neologism of meme is exactly what Aaron says - a
    >>> distraction.
    >>> ...

    > I disagree, precisely because several related areas in disparate
    > disciplines may be conjoined by applying the term 'meme' to their
    > relata. I have seen no other term, neo or not, that promises to do
    > this. I also maintain that once the memetic life-cycle is understood
    > to include both internal mushroom and external spore, that the
    > confusion that has been unfortunately and unfairly attached to the term
    > 'meme' will quite naturally and rightly abate.


    Science is not advanced by semantic distinctions, although it is often
    advanced by extending terms beyond their breaking point. In this case,
    however, the entire debate about "what is a meme" has been a quibble
    over a word, and we have tended instead to lose sight of the fact that
    what really counts is the entire ancillary conceptual apparatus of
    evolution: populational modelling instead of a typological notion of
    classes and institutions; random drift and selection (and fitness);
    common descent; "strategies" like arms races, Prisoner's dilemmas, game
    theory in general; and also some other analogues that are not yet
    properly elaborated like phylogenetic reconstruction, an analogue for
    biogeography (sociogeography), socioecology (economics?), and so forth.

    And there's a whole philosophy of explanation and science that we can
    transfer across from evolutionary biology as well. But all of this is
    obscured by definitional debates over a term, and at the same time that
    term is being cheapened by marketing and poppsych and popsociology texts.

    I totally disagree that there is *a* (or *the*) memetic lifecycle, any
    more than there is *the* organismic lifecycle. Evolution, and selection,
    happen over a range of biological and nonbiological substrates, and
    developmental trajectories are themselves the subject of evolution.
    Metaphors about metaphytes, metazooans or any other form of life or
    near-life (viruses, sorry Aaron) are at *best* only suggestive
    metaphors, and at worse they blinker us in our expectations. But even
    the biological world is more complex than the undergraduate textbooks
    allow, so why would we expect there to be a global memetic cycle?

    John Wilkins
    Head Communication Services, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of
    Medical Research, Melbourne Australia
    Personal page: <>

    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Mon Dec 03 2001 - 06:48:24 GMT