RE: Lamarckism in memetics (Rose and de la C

Robin Wood (
Tue, 10 Jun 1997 20:27:26 +0100

From: Robin Wood <>
To: "''" <>
Subject: RE: Lamarckism in memetics (Rose and de la C
Date: Tue, 10 Jun 1997 20:27:26 +0100

Dear Nick

See page 310 of Edelmans book: Neural Darwinism, where he describes
interactions between evolution and various developmental features
imposed by embryological events and by somatic neuronal group
selection in individuals. Edelman has, for my money, the best
explanation of the interaction between genes and memes, and has spent
some 30 years working on this. To me the most important phrase in this
whole book is as follows:

"The organism receives stimuli from its econiche as polymorphous sets.
As a result of action, stimuli select among various dynamic nervous
system states and arrangements that have already been established
prior to the receipt of these stimuli (a memetic predisposition via
language, culture etc??) , leading to enhancement of some states and
surpression of others. Such stimulus sets (or memes??) constitute
information, in the instructionist sense, only after selection,
response and memory have occurred; and information processing, in the
larger and more specific sense of the term, occurs only after social
trnasmission has emerged as an evolutionary development."

Neuronal group selection,together with the latest cognitive science
investigations into consciousness, appear to be getting to the root of
how what we call "free will" on the one hand and "determinism" on the
other, interact- see my earlier message on the fact that we can and do
select amongst different streams of consciousness. This is a function
of the developmental ;level at which an individual, team,
organisations or culture are operating at. Lower development levels
are more susceptible to memes as is evidenced by the "Father
Christmas" meme in children or the Cargo Cult meme in the South Seas
islanders. As someone else said today on this list, good science (and
good thinking), relies much more on the ability to spot memes and to
transcend them- that is certainly what higher levels of consciousness
are all about. My own research into cognitive science and personal
development has led me to believe that we are as susceptible to memes
as we allow ourselves to be, subject to our level of development and
consciousness. (Embryos have no choice about the matter, but well
developed adult minds trained in critical and creative thinking have
much more choice).

Does that make any sense to you?

Dr Robin Wood
Managing Director
Genetic Systems Ltd

-----Original Message-----
From: N Rose []
Sent: 09 June 1997 11:04
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)

This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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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)