RE: What does the replicating?

Bill Benzon (
Mon, 16 Jun 1997 19:44:21 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Mon, 16 Jun 1997 19:44:21 -0500
From: (Bill Benzon)
Subject: RE: What does the replicating?

Aaron Lynch says:

>"Coke" has numerous memes associated with it (like the earlier discussion
>of Demeter). The idea that there is such a beverage is a meme. So is the
>idea that this cola is the best cola, an idea with a lower host population
>than the former. The bottles, cans, papers containing ads, etc are
>phenotypes of such memes, as well as phenotypes of various memes saying, in
>effect, that "Coke is profitable." The trillions of copies of the word
>"Coke" that exist in land fills, store shelves, etc. attest to the
>popularity of the drink, but are not enumerated as memes themselves. Meme
>prevalence is measured by counting hosts.

I realize this is just informal chit-chat, but...I got to wondering about
the relationship between the Coke meme and all those phenotype memes. In
the case of complex multi-celled organisms there is a complex epigenetic
process which connects the genes to the phenotype they encode. So what
connects the Coke memes to bottles, cans, ads, etc.? At the very least,
it's that part of Coca-Cola Inc. which is concerned with Coke. That's a
pretty sophisticated social process. And the Coca-Cola taste meme couldn't
replicate itself without all that machinery, social, mechanical, and

And all that machinery involves lots and lots and lots of memes of all
sorts. We have an enormous complex of co-adapted memes -- many of which,
of course, exist in other such complexes. PepsiInc, for example, shares a
great deal of its memetic complement with CCInc (just as we share 98%+ of
our genetic complement with the higher apes). The essential memetic
difference between PepsiInc and CCInc certainly consists of different
formulas for creating cola syrup, different memes for add campaigns and
probably some differences in corporate culture.

Now, in what sense are those cans and bottles of coke the expression of the
Coke memes, as opposed to the profit memes, and the memes for stamping out
aluminum cans, and the "I need a swimming pool in my back yard memes" of
Coke executives, etc.? Those "coke is it" memes couldn't replicate without
the help of all those other memes, and, of course, those other memes get
help from the coke memes. That being the case, why give them all the
"causal credit" for the complex process in the course of which they are
replicated? Why not spread the causal credit around?

Note, however, if we consider CCInc and PepsiInc, we can reasonably give a
relatively small set of coke memes and pepsi memes credit for the
differences in output between these two large meme pools. And if we
compare, for example, Boeing Inc. and CCInc., both a large late 20th C
corporations and, as such, share a good many memes. But the differences
between them are greater than the differences between CCInc and PepsiInc &
so we'd expect greater differences in their meme pools, but just how much
greater? If CCInc and PepsiInc share 99% of their memetic complement, what
do CCInc and Boeing share, 70%, 80%? Do we care? Why or why not? If we do,
how do we go about measuring these meme pools?

Whatever the value of that previous paragraph, however, that isn't where I
was going when I started this note. I was going back to a remark made, I
think by Mario. Namely, that genes don't replicate, only cells do. And, of
course, cells can only replicate if they are in the right environment. So,
gene replication is part of a complex causal process. To talk of genes as
replicators is, in a way, to "give them credit" for all the "causal
dynamics" in the system. And that is misleading.

Similarly, I think it is misleading to give the coke memes all the causal
credit for the complex social process on which they depend for their
replication. And I'd like to put this point in context of the discussion
the determination of human action by memes vs, determination of that action
by (free) will in an (autonomous) self. If that's the opposition I'm
given, then I'm going to come down on the side of will and the self,
eventhough I'm quite content to think of the self as a social construct
(and have written about the evolution of that construct in history) and I'm
not at all sure what a free will is. However, I don't think that's a
meaningful opposition, primarily because I have trouble imagining those
memes doing anything outside & independently of a complex social system.
Thus I'm more interested in thinking about the relationship between
individual desires and actions and social forces which, perhaps, memes
being the coin in which the relationship is negotiated.

>replicator. There is, however, the oft-noted recursion principle of the
>convinced consumer paying the money that gets this central communication
>done, and it is mainly in this sense that a "Coke is it" belief does its

Recursion? I have some idea of what the term means in mathematics, computer
science, and linguistics, but I don't know what it means in this context.


I've read your masturbation passage and thought about it a little. Do you
have any evidence that societies with strong masturbation taboos do in fact
have higher birth rates than societies which don't have such taboos?

William L. Benzon 201.217.1010
708 Jersey Ave. Apt. 2A
Jersey City, NJ 07302 USA

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