Re: Meme Selection wasLamarckism in memetics

Bill Benzon (
Mon, 9 Jun 1997 11:26:50 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Mon, 9 Jun 1997 11:26:50 -0500
From: (Bill Benzon)
Subject: Re: Meme Selection wasLamarckism in memetics

Nick wrote:
>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.
But what makes memes fit at longevity, fidelity & fecundity?

The tune for "Greensleaves" has been around at least since the 16th century
and has appeared in many versions. It's long-lived, fecund, and accurately
copied. But why? Presumably because, in some sense, people like it. What is
it about the tune which makes it likeable? That's the kind of question that
interests me. I wouldn't expect memeticists to have an answer, but I'd be a
bit happier if you all saw the need for an answer.

>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.

So what makes for differential survival?

There's another issue here. As far as I can tell from my reading, in the
biological world selection doesn't operate directly on the genes. It
operates on individual organisms which the genes "create" though a
developmental process. So selection operates directly on the phenotype and
only indirectly on the geneotype.

Now, if we translate this into cultural terms -- which we are not, of
course, obligated to do, as surely cultural evolution is different from
biological at some point -- then we don't get selection operating directly
on memes, we get it operating directly on whatever the cultural analogue of
the species is.

Derek Gatherer thinks of the meme pool as the cultural analogue of the
species, which is OK by me, though it begs the point I'm raising now. I
have proposed the paradigm as the cultural correlate of the species and
what I had in mind in doing that is a rough parallel between the biological
notion of reproductive isolation and Kuhn's notion that paradigms are
incommensurable. (A paradigm thus is associated with a corresponding pool
of memes.) In the current context I think that musical styles are
paradigms; they are cultural species.

So what we've got in 20th C American is a bunch of styles, cultural
species. But what is the environment which in which they operate? Where
are the niches to which these cultural species are adapted? There is a
certain kind of cultural analysis which would look at things like
ethnicity, social class, and region -- e.g. traditional jazz was created by
working-class blacks in and around New Orleans. But that, which indirectly
relevant, still doesn't get to the heart of the issue, which is: what is it
about those various classes of people that leads them to prefer this or
that musical style (or styles)?

That's where we've got to look for the cultural analogue to the physical
environment of biological adaptation.

Bill B

William L. Benzon 201.217.1010
708 Jersey Ave. Apt. 2A
Jersey City, NJ 07302 USA

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