Re: What does the replicating?

Aaron Lynch (
Mon, 09 Jun 1997 14:50:17 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Mon, 09 Jun 1997 14:50:17 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: What does the replicating?

Aaron Lynch responding to Randy Groves:

>Dear Memetics Investigators:
>I have been following the discussions with interest concerning the
>replication of memes. I am not a biologist (my area if the philosophy
>of history), so I may just be betraying my ignorance of things memetic,
> but it seems that there is a key disanalogy between the replication of
>memes and the replication of genes. Genes have their own replication
> mechanism while Memes do not. Memes depend upon something
>external, minds (most of the time), to replicate them, while genes'
>replication occurs internally.

A good question, Randy. To give some of my own background, I began thinking
about this 19 years ago, shortly after re-inventing memetics using my own
neologism. I was then a physics, mathematics, and philosophy undergrad. By
1984, I had written a chapter on the subject for publication in a book
called ABSTRACT EVOLUTION, which was far too technical and whose field was
far too unheard of for publication back then. So I published it in the
first journal of memetics that folded in 1991. It is now re-published as

To be perfectly absolute about it, nothing in this universe replicates. The
notion of replication rests critically upon our ability to call two
entities "the same," which you can only do with respect to an abstraction,
or sameness criterion. No two cells, molecules, computer memory items, etc.
are absolutely "the same." The only entities which might be "the same" in a
very deep sense are the identical particles of a Bose-Einstein condensate,
but even these differ by on nano-Kelvin scales and by vacuum fluctuations
and perhaps superstrings, etc. The other underlying tenet of "replication"
is the notion of causation.

But once you accept the *premise* that two people can have "the same" idea,
you are tacitly invoking the axiom of abstraction and are half way to
accepting replication. If by the term "causation" you can count cases where
one instantiation of an idea plays a crucial (if multi-agent, multi-stage)
role in starting the existence of a new instantiation of "the same" idea,
then you acknowledge the existence of a "replicating" idea. Absolute
self-replication, of course, does not ever happen for any entity, memetic
or otherwise. You may, at times, wish to clarify this by way of the passive
voice: Cells "are replicated" by the sun etc. DNA "is replicated" by
enzymes etc. Cytochrome C "is replicated" by DNA + the sun + other enzymes
+ etc. Email "is replicated" by computers, dynamos, etc. Monotheism "is
replicated" by people, air, etc. And so on. The term "self-replication" is
merely a shorthand for calling attention to those entities which play
particularly salient roles in bringing about new instances of entities that
we call "the same."

The disanalogies between genes and memes are too many to enumerate here,
but since the recursive evolutionary replicator theory of mental
information could have been developed before Darwin, I consider the forcing
of analogies to be unnecessary.

>The reason I see this as problematic for memetics, as applied to
>history, for example, is that when we then talk about the greater or
>lesser influence of some cultural ideas over others, the argument
>must focus on the minds influenced by the meme rather than some
>internal mechanism in the meme. In other words, we are back to
>traditional questions of influence where we discuss the historical
>background and everything else we deal with in such arguments. The
>role of memetics doesn't seem to loom very large.
>Take, for example, the idea of an afterlife. When we discuss its
>appeal, we do not look for an internal mechanism; we look at more
>mundane interests, like Freudian "wish-fulfillment." It is easy to
>see why people would want an afterlife. Death is a bitch. It isn't
>clear how moving to memetic explanation would be any more

The memetic perspective becomes most illuminating when you discuss a belief
that what happens in afterlife depends upon what you believe during
pre-mortal life. See my book for more about this.

>The above may sound rather negative, but I am willing to be educated
>on the matter if I have missed something.

Here's the abstract of a serious paper you missed:


ABSTRACT An evolutionary recursive replicator theory of mental/brain
information is presented. Noting that all replicator theories rest at least
tacitly upon the fundamental notions of causation and of calling two or
more entities "the same" with respect to an abstraction, the concept is
rendered explicit in defining the terms "mmemon" and "meme." A symbolic
calculus of mnemon conjugations and replication events follows.
Differential equations are developed for meme host population versus time
in a two-meme system, modeling the dynamics whereby events at the
individual level give rise to trends at the population level. This lays a
foundation for computerized simulations and the falsification or
verification of specific memetic hypotheses. Mechanisms of creativity as a
population phenomenon are examined, with the memetic perspective yielding a
novel explanation for the temporal clustering of independent co-creations.
Creation and propagation are integrated into a theory of evolution by
variation and natural selection of memes.

>Randy Groves
>J. Randall Groves, M.A.,M.A., Ph.D
>Associate Professor of Humanities
>Ferris State University
>This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
>Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
>For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)


--Aaron Lynch

THOUGHT CONTAGION: How Belief Spreads Through Society The New Science of Memes Basic Books. Info and free sample:

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