Meme Selection wasLamarckism in memetics

N Rose (
Mon, 09 Jun 1997 14:43:52 +0000

Message-Id: <>
Date: Mon, 09 Jun 1997 14:43:52 +0000
From: N Rose <>
Subject: Meme Selection wasLamarckism in memetics

Nick wrote:
>>...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.

Bill wrote:
>But how does the "environment" do this "selecting"? In the
>biological world the environment does the selecting by killing
>off individuals which aren't "fit". That, in turn, means that
>certain genes those, and only those, individuals are carrying
>will not make it into the gene pool in the next generation. So,
>are you saying the people carrying non-viable memes will die out
>while those with viable memes will not?

No. I'm saying that 'unfit' *memes* (i.e. those memes which are
relatively poor at the tasks of longevity, fidelity and
fecundity) will die out, and that 'fit' memes will tend to
survive. I'm sorry if I didn't make clear the analogy I was
drawing from biological evolution.

It's an interesting point tho'. People who carry biologically
mal-adaptive memes may well die out (long term). This depends
upon genetic based 'filters' (Dennett's phrase from DDI) which
screen out bio-maladaptive behaviours [We're quite resistant to
the idea of jumping under a bus for no reason at all]. I imagine
that there must have been an arms race during the vertical (or
co-evolution) stage of meme/gene evolution. When memes were
predominently passed down through genertaions, people who tended
to imitate bio-maladaptive memes would have been naturally
selected against.
However, now that much of meme transmission is conducted
horizontally (i.e. to non-kin), we derive the 'mind virus'
position much popularised by Dawkins, Broglie, etc. When a meme
can travel horizontally through a large population they can act
much like a virus or bacteria. Their constraint being that they
do not kill each host faster than they infect new hosts. Memes
appear to have a much faster cycle of evolution than genes, thus
winning the 'arms race' hands down. It may well be the case that
these memes will eventually cause the death of the human race.
An ominous thought...

>There must be hundreds of more or less distinct styles [of
>music] (which I think of as roughly parallel to biological
>species). I doubt that that variety can be explained by the
>effects of those musics on the physical survival of the "host"

It can't! We should look to the forces of environmental
selection upon memes, not people, to understand this. As long as
a particular music style has the longevity (sticks around long
enough in someone's head), the fecundity (spreads quickly and
easily to new hosts), and fidelity (people copy the style
accurately enough so that it can still be said to be the same
style); then each style of music has a fair shot at survival.
The selection kicks in when we consider the differential survival
of each style of music. Some styles may be 'fitter' (in terms of
longevity, fidelity and fecundity) than others, and so spread
through the meme pool. Other styles who are less fit (perhaps
they are too complicated to play, or easily forgettable) will
tend to die out. This is what I mean by the environment
selecting fit memes.

>>This is central to any cultural evolutionary theory!

>A bit presumptous of you, wouldn't you say?

Perhaps, but presumptousness a good meme trick sometimes ;) In
future I'll stick an IMHO after such bold statements if you'd

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