RE: Tyranny of the replicators

Richard Brodie (
Tue, 10 Jun 1997 13:10:49 -0700

From: Richard Brodie <>
To: "''" <>
Subject: RE: Tyranny of the replicators
Date: Tue, 10 Jun 1997 13:10:49 -0700

>>>we would still be 'victims of "the tyranny of the
>>>selfish replicator"'; only this time its memes rather than genes
>>>that are 'pulling the strings'.
>>R Brodie wrote
>>Don't you think you are being needlessly reductionist?

Paul Marsden wrote:

>No, I think Nick is simply describing the (correct) logical
>consequences of
>adopting evolution through natural selection seriously to the evolved
>object we are calling a meme. if you want to find a ghost in the
>you won't find it in evolutionary epistemology.

To take a very broad view...

Can we all agree that the universe is a chaotic mess of stuff undergoing
a variety of processes? Newtonian physics is a great way to describe
bouncing balls and orbiting planets, but it breaks down as a model when
the pieces being examined are very small, in which case we need quantum
mechanics, or are moving very fast, in which case we need Einsteinian
relativity. These models are all simplifications. To describe exactly
the behavior of all the matter and energy in the universe would take a
lot of bits.

Likewise, looking at genes as replicators directing biological evolution
works well for high-school experiments with fruit flies and even for
breeding animals, but as Tim Perper so lucidly points out, breaks down
when we start thinking about genetic engineering of actual strands of

Memes are an enlightening way of viewing the forces shaping human
cultural evolution. I can try to sprinkle my books with fit memes; we
can predict which cults are likely to grow, as Paul Marsden excitingly
proposes; and memetic engineers can analyze the business plans of
multi-level marketing companies to see if they are likely to succeed in
self-replication. But memetics will break down as a model when looking
at parts of reality driven by different forces, perhaps even a force
which emerges from the memetic soup itself---consciousness. This does
not invalidate memetics any more than the fact that humans have invented
birth control invalidates genetics. We've just reached the twilight zone
at the fringe of the interaction of two powerful forces.

We say that people's actions are determined by their genes and memes.
Does it then follow that consciousness and free will do not exist? No.
These are emergent properties of the underlying substrate of the human
mind and body, and they are forces in their own right.

Richard Brodie +1.425.688.8600
CEO, Brodie Technology Group, Inc., Bellevue, WA, USA
Author, VIRUS OF THE MIND: The New Science of the Meme
Visit Meme Central:
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