Re: Words and Memes

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Wed Feb 13 2002 - 17:41:12 GMT

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    From: Keith Henson <>
    Subject: Re: Words and Memes
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    At 06:51 AM 13/02/02 -0800, you wrote:
    >Why are memes any
    >> > different?
    >>Genes have a well-defined boundary. They can't be equated with any old
    >>thing. They're not "everywhere" in the figurative sense.
    >Not true. Biologists are still arguing about what constitutes a gene and
    >genes commonly refer to every feature of every plant and animal on earth.
    >Some writers say that proteins have as much influence on how features are
    >expressed as DNA does. Many features are expressed through the actions of
    >more than one gene and the times when they are turned on or off. There
    >seems to me to be almost as much confusion in the literature defining
    >genes as there is in our effort to define memes. Biologists seem to be
    >having trouble deciding where to draw the line, too.

    Dawkins went into this in great detail in IIRC Extended Phenotype. He
    finally came to the unsatisfactory (to him) conclusion that the only way to
    define a gene in terms that made sense in evolutionary terms was to say it
    was a string that stayed together long enough to affect the number of
    copies in the world. (My memory, someone should look it up and post it.)

    >Maybe the line isn't important. But since there is a morpheme in
    >language, it seems to me there should be some similar smallest unit that
    >defines the rest of life's memes.

    At the smallest unit, genes are base-pairs. If you buy into the essence of
    a meme being information, then information is measured in bits, 8 bits to
    the byte. Which makes Watt's meme "separate condenser" 18 bytes or 144 bits.

    You could argue that you need millions of bytes of background technoloy for
    this meme to be applied, but the exact same thing can be said about some
    gene where the actions of tens of thousands of other genes are required for
    it to be expressed.

    Keith Henson

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    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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