Re: Memetics vs. History of Ideas

Dr I Price (
Tue, 17 Jun 1997 01:16:13 -0400

Date: Tue, 17 Jun 1997 01:16:13 -0400
From: Dr I Price <>
Subject: Re: Memetics vs. History of Ideas
To: "" <>


Thank you for a clear, well reasoned and lucid contribution to the ongoin=
discussion here.

>This [Shai's original question] is an important question, one that will
have to be answered credibly
if memetics is every to be taken seriously. The question really deals wi=
the issues of epistemology and ontology. Does memetics use a different
epistemology and ontology than classical historical theory? Does this n=
epistemology offer any advantages?

Setting aside the question of memetic's utility for a moment, let me poin=
out the difficulties facing any epistemological change. Epistemological
change presents a number of difficulties. How does one communicate a ne=
ontology when the listening of the receiver is a filter than only hears
confirmation of the existing internal ontology? How does one communicate=
new epistemology when the receiver's existing epistemology resorts to
magical explanations of conflicts in observable evidence? How does a new=

epistemology overcome the agents (people, institutions, artifacts)
maintaining the existing ontology?>

----------------end quote--------------------

Does it help if we see the agents maintaining both existing ontology and
existing epistemology as the meme's themselves. This - shades of the free=

will debate I know - is my reading of the Dawkins. Dennet position.
Curiously I find it enhances a sense of choice if we can view
epistemologies/ ontologies less as 'right' or 'wrong' and more as areas
where we have a choice.

------------------start quote--------------------

>I'll frame my response to your question in the light of epistemological
change to explain my understanding of the current debate over defining wh=
a 'meme' actually represents. There are those that liken it to 'a unit o=
replication,' 'a unit of communication,' 'a virus,' 'a brain parasite,'
'replicating idea,' and a host of other metaphors. Each of these has
their own merits, but they are only metaphors, individual words. The key=

to understanding the intellectual dialog is an understanding of the battl=
between epistemologies.


I need to expand on Dennett's use of the word 'replicators' in the last
sentence. As we have seen in recent posts here, the word 'replicator' is=

vague and easily interpreted to mean conflicting things. To clarify what=

Dennett is getting at, I'll assume he is saying memes are like genes exce=
in different media. Thus, the term 'code-recording-objects' can replace

--------------end quote------------

Can it that's the [actually a] question.

My understanding of the replicator position is that it is founded in the
chemical structure of DNA. Put a strip of double helix in the right conte=
[nutrients and cell] and it will unzip then make two copies from each
original strand. Sorry if this is overly simplistic. I make no claim to b=
a hand's on trained geneticist.

But - if the ' unzip - two zip ' operation happens then surely DNA does
more than simply record code, doesn't it?

I do not BTW see this as weakening your call for a better physical
understanding of the hypothetical process of meme replication, nor your
position concerning the potential benefits, especially

>>>1. New insights into the relationship between language and history.
Language preserves a great deal of 'old code.' We will be able to look
back into deep human history (potentially a million years) through lingui=
analysis in the same way astronomers look at the big bang via ancient lig=
just now reaching earth.>>>>

Maybe as Bill B said 50-100k maximum, but yes in principle.

>>>>To conclude, I will have to repeat my assertion that memes are object=
a stable and identifiable shape in time and space. It is only by honorin=
physical analogy between memes and genes that we are likely to make the
epistemological change and thus improve our perspective. >>>>

I think I am more concerned with the process analogy, or the physical
explanation of the process analogy. If a class of replicators has emerged=

which do not require so much [any?] physical existence outside their host=
heads so what. Why is this not simply a neat trick in replicator space?<

If Price

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