memes and cultural evolution -Reply -Repl

N Rose (
Wed, 04 Jun 1997 15:02:54 +0000

Message-Id: <>
Date: Wed, 04 Jun 1997 15:02:54 +0000
From: N Rose <>
Subject: memes and cultural evolution -Reply -Repl

Tim Perper wrote:
>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.

I'm sorry if I appeared to evade the question, that certainly
wasn't my intent. I'll try again and hope that everyone will be
patient with me. Perhaps I was a bit careless when referring to
'the old photocopier/ book problems' as looking back through my
file of references I cannot find a single paper or aticle which
refers to it. I'm sure that Dennett has written about this
somewhere, but for the life of me a can't remember where.

The first problem simply stated is;
"Is a photocopier a replicator?"; after all it *appears* to copy
things. The answer is obviously no, in my opinion. But I recall
some debate about this some time back, perhaps on alt.memetics?
The problem comes down to how you define a 'replicator'; For
"A bird is just the nest's way of making another nest." is
certainly wrong, because there is nothing within a nest that
could be called a replicator. The replicator is quite rightly
the bird's genes which lead to the construction of nests (the
extended phenotype of the genes, e.g. Dawkins The Extended
My suggestion was that by calling artifacts of culture (like
photocopiers), 'memes' - as presumably you have to if you side
with the pre-biotic position - it is easy to create confusion
regarding what is actually doing the replicating.

The second problem;
"Can a book or a blue print contain a meme?" After all it
*appears* to contain the instructions for a replicator. This was
apparent in a part of the argument over meme extinction. Again
the question involves the definition of a meme, as an
instruction, as a replicator. The answer, in my opinion, is no
again; because the contents of a book cannot replicate
Once again, by calling artifacts of culture, memes, it is easy to
create confusion over the definition of a meme.

I honestly hope I've answered Elizabeth's question this time. If
I haven't then I can only apologize and promise to try to be more
clear in future.

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