Re: Three Scientists and Their Gods

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Thu Jan 24 2002 - 01:59:35 GMT

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    From: Keith Henson <>
    Subject: Re: Three Scientists and Their Gods
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    At 10:17 PM 22/01/02 -0900, "PHILIP JONKERS" <>


    > > I have often mentioned in my writing that you could replace "meme" with
    > > "replicating information pattern." Replicator is the inclusive class that
    > > incorporates genes, memes and computer viruses. Meme though is a short
    > > handy word and does not have much baggage (outside of meme discussion
    > > groups that is).
    >But why do you make a distinction between meme and computer virus?

    Operational/practical reasons. Consider this as a taxonomy

    Replicator, the general case. Examples are:

         1) Genes, replicators which mostly replicate in cells and have their
    main effects there.

         2) Memes, replicators which are elements of culture and however
    replicated have a lot of their effects in human brains/minds.

         3) Computer viruses, replicators that take control of computers to
    make copies of themselves. Often they require humans to do something or
    fail to do something. They are distinguished from computer programs that
    are installed by intentional actions by humans. Any computer program can
    be replicated (there are more copies of Windows than *any* virus), but
    copying is intentional.

         4) ?? (Prions maybe?)

    There are all sorts of mixed and even pathological cases such as when you
    have memes and computer viruses mixed or a gene encoding a meme (which
    could be done). There are definitely animals that pass elements of culture
    around. And all three share a lot of characteristics, such as darwinian

    A word is used as a convenient tag. Meme beats using a longer term for a
    class of replicators which mostly have effects in brains. In the long run,
    if humans abandon flesh and move into simulations of reality in computer
    space, the difference between memes and computer viruses might fade out.

    The "essence" of all three replicators is pure information. That is you
    can convert them from being encoded in one form of material to another with
    (in theory) no loss of information.

    The similarities and differences between these classes of replicators are
    worth discussion, but there is so much more interesting things to talk
    about that I can't see making a massive deal out of definitions.

    >A computer virus is nothing but a computer program, albeit somewhat pushy
    >and malevolent. Therefore, in principle you should extend the distinction to
    >memes from computer programs, which is not correct I think as computer
    >programs also feature all the properties of memes. Moreover, computer
    >have a high longevity, vary easily and can be terribly fecund and
    >easily transmittable (by internet, discs, etc...). A typical example of a
    >potentially very
    >successful meme I would say.

    Your point is correct. Of course you could consider all programs as
    memes. But while it is common to be singing some popular song, hardly
    anyone is chanting the code from the computer virus someone sent you last
    week. :-)

    Keith Henson

    This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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