Re: re.Cultural Evolution (units of analysis)

Timothy Perper/Martha Cornog (
Fri, 13 Jun 1997 12:13:39 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Fri, 13 Jun 1997 12:13:39 -0500
From: (Timothy Perper/Martha Cornog)
Subject: Re: re.Cultural Evolution (units of analysis)

Some comments on conversation between Bill Benzon and Aaron Lynch:

>Aaron Lynch,
>You've provided the following definition of a meme:
>>MEME. Noun. A memory item, or portion of an organism=EDs neurally-stored
>>information, identified using the abstraction system of the observer, whos=
>>instantiation depended critically on causation by prior instantiation of
>>the same memory item in one or more other organisms=ED nervous systems.
>>("Sameness" of memory items is determined with respect to the
>>above-mentioned abstraction system of the observer.)
>I don't have much trouble understanding that definition, nor, I would
>imagine, most folks posting to this list. What I do question is whether or
>not those entities play a role in cultural evolution which is analogous to
>that played by genes in biological evolution. I don't see where you or
>anyone else has made a convicing demonstration of that.
>What I do see is a lot of talk about the power of things like "God is Love"
>etc. Since those things obviously correpond to, are produced by, whatever,
>entities which match your definition of a meme, those things must be memes.
>And since memes, by definition, are to culture what genes are to life, it
>follows that your discussion of those things is ipso facto a discussion of
>cultural evolution.
>I don't buy it.
>What I think is going on is that the homunculus in the brain has been cut
>into pieces which are then parcelled to these "memes." The biological
>analogy is being used as hocus pocus to blind us to the casual nature of
>the arguments being made about these other things.

TP: The dissected homunculus is a striking image, and quite apt. I still
think the issue is whether or not the "memes" are the prime movers and
shakers. The "hard-liners" -- a phrase I borrow from Mario -- say they
are; the "memes as circulating particles of information" people say they
are not.

A propos of Mario's suggestion that we split up into smaller discussion
groups, I'm not so sure that's a good idea (if in fact that's what he
intended). So far, my experience with this free-wheeling discussion is
that my own viewpoint has become clearer because I unexpectedly read
someone else who has come to similar conclusions, and because equally
unexpectedly I read someone who has different opinions.

More comments are attached to Nick Rose's posting on spandrels.

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)