memes and cultural evolution -Reply

N Rose (
Wed, 04 Jun 1997 13:24:54 +0000

Message-Id: <>
Date: Wed, 04 Jun 1997 13:24:54 +0000
From: N Rose <>
Subject: memes and cultural evolution -Reply

Elizabeth Coleman wrote:
>I was wondering if some-one would be kind enough to answer a
>couple of questions for me.

>N Rose wrote:

>> If we reject Cloak's m-culture, i-culture differentiation, and
>> for the pre-biotic soup position; can we clearly define a meme
>> without slipping into the old problems about photocopiers and
>> books, etc.

>What are the old problems about photocopiers and books etc?

The problem with the pre-biotic soup position was nicely
illustrated by the discussion on extinction. When is a meme
extinct? If a meme is both the instruction in the brain and the
resultant behaviour then it creates a complication with this sort
of question. Is a meme extinct when it only exists in a written
form in an unread book? Are books the sorts of things that can
contain memes? What about pictures, or buildings? Memes are
what we call the *replicators* of culture, is a photocopier
(which is a meme in the pre-biotic view) a replicator? What
about a tune, a catch-phrase, or clothes fashions?

If one takes Cloak's view that books, photocopiers, libraries,
tunes, etc are meme phenotypes, and that a meme is the
instruction for a behaviour inside someone's brain, then the
questions above are simpler to answer (yet, perhaps not entirely
unproblematic), as Aaron Lynch points out.

I might venture further and suggest that artifacts of culture
(such as books and sheet music, etc) could be considered the
extended phenotype of a meme (more likely a set of co-adapted
memes). If a new host encounters that extended phenotype than
they may be able to 'deduce' the memes from it, but the
'accuracy' of that synthesis depends absolutely upon the
phenotype itself; and thus might be called Lamarkian in nature.
If any changes (decay, copying error, pages ripped out, etc) have
occurred to the phenotype (i.e. the book), the synthesis will
incorporate those changes. i.e. aquisition of aquired
characteristics appears possible in cultural evolution.

Is 'Lamarkian' inheritance fatal to meme theory? I think I go
along with John Maynard Smith (in M.Boden (ed) The Philosophy of
artifical life, OUP. p177), when he said;
"The claim that digital coding and non-lamarkian inheritance are
necessary features of a genetic system able to support evolution
is based on a sample of one."

Perhaps we need to 'bite the Lamarkian bullet' and show that
evolution can proceed in a system of well structured, but
essentially analog coding and lamarkian inheritance.

Does anyone have a good example of memetic heredity through a
non-lamarkian mechanism?

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