Lamarckism in memetics (Rose and de la C

N Rose (
Mon, 09 Jun 1997 10:04:06 +0000

Message-Id: <>
Date: Mon, 09 Jun 1997 10:04:06 +0000
From: N Rose <>
Subject: Lamarckism in memetics (Rose and de la C

Omar de la Cruz wrote:
>>> Nevertheless, there are cases when people modify memes with
>>>the goal of making them better replicators.

Nick Rose wrote:
>> This is very much like Durham's co-evolution line, where he
>>suggests that people consciously select and manipulate memes.
>>The idea that some 'agency' can pick or modify memes denies the
>>central 'bottom up' simplicity of the orginial idea. People do
>>NOT modify memes; memes modify people - otherwise why do you
>>need evolution of culture to explain its complexity?

Tim Perper wrote:
<I shall snip for clarity (I hope!)>
>Much of memetics has the flavour that some of its adherents
>genuinely hold that memes are the prime movers and shakers of
>things, and that in some sense memes are independant agencies
>whereas people are but the carriers and vehicles for memes. In
>this view, yes, it *is* possible that memes modify people, but
>people do *not* modify memes.
>It is a very old idea indeed. It is called "idealism in
>philosophy, and its founding was Plato.

I must protest! The position that memes, as replicators,
manipulate host organisms is about as far away from idealism as
you can get! Memes are physical instantiations in the brain -
(e.g. predispositional weightings within the neural net, etc)
they have to be! The behaviour and cultural artifacts they
produce also act in the physical world. Idealism, as the claim
that there is only 'mind' stuff rather than 'matter' stuff, has
nothing to do with this form of memetic thinking.

>We have, by assumption, memes that do not change when they are
>"thought" by people. However, they can alter or change people.
>How can this be? How can something -- *anything* -- exist that
>has only effects but is not affected?

This is a big assumption, and not at all what I mean. Memes, and
sets of co-adapted memes *must* be able to change for there to be
any variety in the 'memepool'. It is precisely this variety
which allows differential survival to naturally select memes.
Memes *do* change, but it is random mutation, recombination and
permutation within and between sets of memes, copying error, etc,
which alters memes - not "conscious agents". What I am saying is
that memes are not modified or selected by 'consciousness' or
'individual selves', but by the environment; which includes gene
built organisms, and other memes.
This is central to any cultural evolutionary theory! To say that
that 'consciousness' or 'self' can select or modify memes,
renders the notion of meme evolution invalid. The analogy would
be to say that biological evolution proceeds, but all the
selection and mutation is carried out by God!
To trade philosophical traditions with you; the notion that memes
are somehow selected or mutated by conscious agents is a form of
dualism! If humans are a gene built organism with a meme built
mind, then there is no need to refer to 'self' or 'consciousness'
as the starting point for any theory of culture, or even theory
of mind! This nebulous and ill-defined 'self' which Omar
believes modifies memes is merely a benign user illusion; an
illusion we, as memeticists have no need for.

The central conundrum, as you so rightly put it, is not between
Platonism and non-Platonism, but between free-will and
determinism. I'm 'simply' saying that human beings have no
'free-will' with which to modify a meme.

(phew! that'll open up a can of worms - cheers Tim)

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