Re: Selfish memes ?

From: John Wilkins (
Date: Tue Feb 05 2002 - 01:16:27 GMT

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    Subject: Re: Selfish memes ?
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    On Tuesday, February 5, 2002, at 11:52 AM, Joe Dees wrote:

    > Memes simply cannot be selfish because they are not self-reflective,
    > i.e. they cannot say to themselves "I'd better take this action in my
    > own self-interest". Memes do not possess intention. They simply
    > mutate, that is, they are intentionally or inadvertantly mutated by us,
    > their hosts, and the mutations that are better at both hooking into the
    > cognitive environments of others and penetrating others' existing
    > memetic filters disproportionately replicate.

    The point of the "selfish gene/meme" metaphor is that we can model the
    behavior/dynamics of these things *as if* they were rationally
    self-interest agents. We can also model economic behavior that way, or
    international relations, but nobody thinks that economic agents really
    *are* rational, and as for international diplomacy... well.

    This is because game theory, which is the branch of mathematics used by
    Maynard Smith to mathematise selection processes in evolution, was
    developed to deal with, oddly, economic behaviors and international
    diplomacy, and it uses the rational egoist as the "ideal agent" from
    which to begin so that "irrational" behaviors can be identified. But it
    is not to say that people are either rational or egoistic, nor is it to
    say that genes or memes are somehow reflective agents. It's just that
    the maths works.

    John S Wilkins
    Head, Communication Services
    The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
    Parkville, Victoria, Australia

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