Re: memes and cultural evolution -Reply

N Rose (
Fri, 06 Jun 1997 14:06:53 +0000

Message-Id: <>
Date: Fri, 06 Jun 1997 14:06:53 +0000
From: N Rose <>
Subject: Re: memes and cultural evolution -Reply

N. Rose wrote in reply to Perper & Coleman:

>>The first problem simply stated is;
>>"Is a photocopier a replicator?"; after all it *appears* to
>>things. The answer is obviously no, in my opinion. But I
>>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
>>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
>>create confusion over the definition of a meme.

Bill wrote:
>Coming to this new, could I suggest with some diffidence that if
>replication is a dynamic process, then a replicator must be
>dynamic. A photocopier or a blueprint (does anyone actually make
>these anymore?) is not. Without the dynamic there is little or
>no possibility of variation (OK the copier is short of toner..),
>which, suggests Calvin, is one of the 'six essentials', and
>without which the concept of 'meme' would seem to be redundant.
>Thus a tracer tracing a blueprint MAY be a replicator, but the
>blueprint itself cannot be.

Bill has it entirely right, the difference between a 'replicator'
compared with other types of information is precisely its dynamic
nature. A CDROM is information - but the information upon it is
static, and unchanging.

Dawkins and Dennett both sum up this central (and not at all
'fancy') concept of a replicator;
A replicator has three properties: Longevity, Fidelity and
Fecundity. In order for evolution to proceed there are three
basic 'essentials' which I believe subsume Calvin's six:
A replicator - something which makes copies of itself.
Variation - the copies made are not entirely identical.
Selection Pressure - Not all the copies can survive.
These three rather simple prerequisites allows differential
survival to naturally select the best replicators (i.e. the ones
with the most longevity, fidelity and fecundity) leading to an
accumulation of (what Dennett calls) good tricks.

I don't see how information theory improves upon these concepts
when trying to understand what is necessary for evolution to
occur. The title of replicator appears to me fundamental to the
definition of memes; otherwise, as Bill points out the concept of
a meme appears redundant.

Nick Rose

PS Tim, if you read this; no offence was taken, if anything I
felt annoyed at myself for not being clear enough in my answer.

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Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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