memes and cultural evolution -Reply

Timothy Perper/Martha Cornog (
Wed, 4 Jun 1997 09:00:45 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Wed, 4 Jun 1997 09:00:45 -0500
From: (Timothy Perper/Martha Cornog)
Subject: memes and cultural evolution -Reply

The following was posted by N. Rose (with the exception of the identifiers,
which I added):

On 6/4/97, 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 go
>>> for the pre-biotic soup position; can we clearly define a meme
>>> without slipping into the old problems about photocopiers and
>>> books, etc.
>Elizabeth Coleman asked:
>>What are the old problems about photocopiers and books etc?
>N. Rose replied:
>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?

All right, so what are "the old problems about photocopiers and books etc?"
In other words, you managed not to answer Elizabeth Coleman's question.

Tim Perper

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