RE: What does the replicating?

Robin Wood (
Fri, 13 Jun 1997 18:24:47 +0100

From: Robin Wood <>
To: "''" <>
Subject: RE: What does the replicating?
Date: Fri, 13 Jun 1997 18:24:47 +0100

Dear Aaron

Thanks for clarifying much of the unedifying debate about "What is a=20
meme?" and "How do memes replicate?". The next step in this process of=20
clarification might be to differentiate between the multiple levels at=20
which memes exist and replicate- for example:
q the Amish belief systems and lifestyles can be measured by the=20
number of Amish people/size of the Amish community
q the number of people familiar with the "Coke" meme can be measured=20
through market research (the coke meme has many instantiations-=20
bottles, cans, labels, posters, advertisements, slogans, coca-cola the=20
liquid etc)
q a new word can be measured by how frequently it is used.

Surely we should now be in a position to tighten things up between=20
memes, memomes, etc. How small does a meme have to be to be a meme?=20
Would William Calvin's hexagonal "Unit of Thought" in the cortex=20
qualify? What about patterns in the immune system or the hypothalamic=20
limbic or parasympathetic systems?

I also prefer the pure definition of meme as the instantiation of a=20
copy of a recognisable pattern in the nervous system rather than=20
including photocopiers, books etc- otherwise everything pretty soon=20
becomes a meme. The virtue of this definition is that it also makes it=20
clear that human beings act as replicators for memes, not internets-=20
this is the same useful distinction I discovered in doing my PhD in=20
Information Science between human activity systems and information=20
systems- the former can create and replicate memes- the latter are=20
bits of "dead metal" usaed by human activity systems to work with=20

What generic word would work well to define the patterns "in front of=20
our eyes" out there (objects, systems, people, animals etc) vs those=20
patterns "behind our eyes" in the field of memetics?
Answers on a postcard please!

Dr Robin Wood
Genetic Systems Ltd

-----Original Message-----
From: Aaron Lynch []
Sent: 09 June 1997 20:50
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=20
>of history), so I may just be betraying my ignorance of things=20
> but it seems that there is a key disanalogy between the replication=20
>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=20
thinking about this 19 years ago, shortly after re-inventing memetics=20
using my own neologism. I was then a physics, mathematics, and=20
philosophy undergrad. By 1984, I had written a chapter on the subject=20
for publication in a book called ABSTRACT EVOLUTION, which was far too=20
technical and whose field was far too unheard of for publication back=20
then. So I published it in the first journal of memetics that folded=20
in 1991. It is now re-published as UNITS, EVENTS, AND DYNAMICS OF MEME=20
To be perfectly absolute about it, nothing in this universe=20
replicates. The notion of replication rests critically upon our=20
ability to call two entities "the same," which you can only do with=20
respect to an abstraction, or sameness criterion. No two cells,=20
molecules, computer memory items, etc. are absolutely "the same." The=20
only entities which might be "the same" in a very deep sense are the=20
identical particles of a Bose-Einstein condensate, but even these=20
differ by on nano-Kelvin scales and by vacuum fluctuations and perhaps=20
superstrings, etc. The other underlying tenet of "replication" is the=20
notion of causation.
But once you accept the *premise* that two people can have "the same"=20
idea, you are tacitly invoking the axiom of abstraction and are half=20
way to accepting replication. If by the term "causation" you can count=20
cases where one instantiation of an idea plays a crucial (if=20
multi-agent, multi-stage) role in starting the existence of a new=20
instantiation of "the same" idea, then you acknowledge the existence=20
of a "replicating" idea. Absolute self-replication, of course, does=20
not ever happen for any entity, memetic or otherwise. You may, at=20
times, wish to clarify this by way of the passive voice: Cells "are=20
replicated" by the sun etc. DNA "is replicated" by enzymes etc.=20
Cytochrome C "is replicated" by DNA + the sun + other enzymes + etc.=20
Email "is replicated" by computers, dynamos, etc. Monotheism "is=20
replicated" by people, air, etc. And so on. The term=20
"self-replication" is merely a shorthand for calling attention to=20
those entities which play particularly salient roles in bringing about=20
new instances of entities that we call "the same."
The disanalogies between genes and memes are too many to enumerate=20
here, but since the recursive evolutionary replicator theory of mental=20
information could have been developed before Darwin, I consider the=20
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=20
>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=20
belief that what happens in afterlife depends upon what you believe=20
during pre-mortal life. See my book for more about this.
>The above may sound rather negative, but I am willing to be educated=20
>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=20
information is presented. Noting that all replicator theories rest at=20
least tacitly upon the fundamental notions of causation and of calling=20
two or more entities "the same" with respect to an abstraction, the=20
concept is rendered explicit in defining the terms "mmemon" and=20
"meme." A symbolic calculus of mnemon conjugations and replication=20
events follows. Differential equations are developed for meme host=20
population versus time in a two-meme system, modeling the dynamics=20
whereby events at the individual level give rise to trends at the=20
population level. This lays a foundation for computerized simulations=20
and the falsification or verification of specific memetic hypotheses.=20
Mechanisms of creativity as a population phenomenon are examined, with=20
the memetic perspective yielding a novel explanation for the temporal=20
clustering of independent co-creations. Creation and propagation are=20
integrated into a theory of evolution by variation and natural=20
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=20
>For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)


=B7 Aaron Lynch

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

=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D= =3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D= =3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D 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) see:

=============================================================== 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) see: