Dave Pape: Analog Feedback and Ringing

Timothy Perper/Martha Cornog (perpcorn@dca.net)
Tue, 10 Jun 1997 18:43:22 -0500

Message-Id: <199706102242.SAA25562@global.dca.net>
Date: Tue, 10 Jun 1997 18:43:22 -0500
To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk
From: perpcorn@dca.net (Timothy Perper/Martha Cornog)
Subject: Dave Pape: Analog Feedback and Ringing

>At 11:29 10/06/97 MET, Hans-Cees Speel wrote:
>>> I could live with that, but the problem is that using replicator itself
>>> is confusing. As I tried to explain before then you speak of an active
>>> agent. In that sense a photocopier is a replicator, still genes and
>>> memes are not, although also the word replicator is used for them. An
>>> enzyme and a photocopier are replicators, cells are self replicators,
>>> genes and memes are information which is replicated.
>>> The confusion is not because I think that we should keep the use of
>>> replicator for cells only, the confusion has been caused by Dawkins from
>>> the start, and it still exists after we call a cell a self replicator
>>> (Moreover I dislike the use of 'self' and 'auto-').
>>I coined the term replication mechanism in my first essay. The copy
>>machine is such a thing and so is the cell. You would then get the
>>replicator (which is not an agent on its own) and the replication
>>mechanism. Next to that you also have the transcription or
>>translation or interpreter mechanism (which enables code to become
>>action, thus enzymes in genetics)
>Recently I went through a phase of thinking of all apparent self-replicators
>as... sort of feedback-like emergents in self-referential systems. The
>simplest example would be audio feedback (singing into a microphone too
>close to a loudspeaker which the mic's connected to). In this example, you
>hear the singer's voice, which starts ringing, and after a short while you
>hear /apparently/ self-perpetuating tones, which come out of the speaker,
>into the mic, and back round the loop. It's a self-referential system... the
>feedback sound /seems to be/ a self-replicating thing (in that tone produces
>more tone... although with "mutation" over time).
>The /immediate/ self-ref. system resulting in the /apparent/
>self-replication of DNA is... cell chemistry.
>But... what's the justification for saying that /cells/ are
>self-replicating? I was wondering whether they were themselves maybe
>/apparent/ self-replicators, emergents of the self-referential system of the
>Earth's organic chemistry. The reason we see self-replication rather than
>wider self-reference, might be because the self-reference in those systems
>is very intimate.
>Sorry if this doesn't look like it relates to memetics... I think it does,
>but want to float this question before digging myself any deeper into my
>armchair memeticist's theories.
>Dave Pape

Might as well take a break from the heavy duty stuff about ethics to
comment about other heavy duty stuff.

1.) The idea that cells are the true self-replicators is empirical. If
you put cells in the proper medium, you get more of them. Lots more of
them. (There's no question begging about the word "proper" -- that too is
empirical.) However, if you put organic chemicals into a medium, they
don't replicate. The medium could be water, petroleum, a large industrial
reactor -- so far no one has ever found ways to get organic molecules to
replicate themselves. The chemical industry would *love* to find such
methods, but no go.

Cells turn out to be the smallest units that self-replicate. ("Smallest"
means that sometimes collectivities of cells also self-replicate, like

Cells, however, do appear to be some kind of complicated emergent from the
Earth's organic chemistry, at least at one period long ago. If, next, one
tries to take cells apart, looking for smaller sub-parts that can also
self-replicate, finds that DNA synthesis can occur in "cell-free" systems
(which merely means cells that have been mashed up so there are no living
cells left). Not surprising, because DNA also is replicated inside cells.
But cells are a genuine unit, just as elements are genuine units in
chemistry, and electrons are genuine units in electronics and physics.

There's no great mystery to this, and Mario -- who has been saying that
cells are the only true self-replicators -- is merely being a biologist.
Since I'm also a biologist, I agree with him. And I think that this
particular piece of biological knowledge is extremely important to grasp
when we sling around words like self-replication.

2.) Amplification and feedback. ALL RIGHT! GOOD STUFF!! Jumping in at
the deep end, Dave, we can analogize memes not to these Platonic thingies
but to information-bearing packets circulating in a social system. It now
follows that the behavior of the system (which we assume has an energy
source that lets it make more memes, or people for that matter), depends on
how its feedback loops are built. It can be hooked up so that it rings and
will eventually oscillate. Indeed, that is how one designs an analog
oscillator. We need several kinds of energy storage components (inductors
and capacitors) in the electronics, which suggests that maybe we have
different kinds of meme storage components also. But we can also break the
loop in various ways to stop oscillations.

This approach I find infinitely more appealing than all the digital models
of how the brain works. The trouble with analog electronics, however, is
that the math is a lot harder (Laplace transforms, for example). But I
think the most fruitful avenue for memetic research will prove to be
analog, and not digital.

Over to you, Dave, and anyone else too.

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