Re: Is Memetics Needed? [Was : A Drosophila etc]

Timothy Perper/Martha Cornog (
Mon, 23 Jun 1997 10:20:36 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Mon, 23 Jun 1997 10:20:36 -0500
From: (Timothy Perper/Martha Cornog)
Subject: Re: Is Memetics Needed? [Was : A Drosophila etc]

>Tim or Martha
>>This boils down to saying that memetics does not seem to be *necessary*
>way Mendelian genetics was necessary for explaining particulate
>inheritance. Now, the staunch theorist of memetics will hold that memetics
>offers a better or more plausible explanation for known phenomena that its
>alternatives, but so far no one has been able to define the criteria for
>being a better explanation.<
>Don't know whether I count as a staunch memticist Tim or Martha but I agree
>memetics is not *necessary* the way a Mendelian particle was necessary. I
>do suggest
>1. Memetics offers a unifying paradigm for all sorts of observations of
>selection processes at work in cultural domains
>2. The meme as autonomous self-interested replicator helps us understand
>why the organisations we think we create do not always behave the way we
>might like them to.

This is Tim, now. I'm always ready for a unifying paradigm. So here's the
final exam in Memetics 101.

Q1. What precisely is the unifying paradigm offered by memetics?

Q2. How do memes help us understand organizations that do not do what we
might like?

Q3. Give two examples of an organization that does not always behave the
way we might like, and explain the role of memes in these examples.

Q4. Explain how memetics helps us understand why so many people live in

Ans 1. Cultural and social phenomena are produced by the actions of
autonomous self-interested replicators. Selection processes among them
produce cultural evolution. This paradigm unifies phenomena in a wide
variety of cultural domains.

Ans 2. We create organizations but they behave differently than what we
might like because autonomous, self-interested replicating memes change the
organizations when they replicate and survive better than anything we might

Ans 3. In the United States, the infamous Denver Airport Baggage Handling
System is an example. Sixty zillion dollars and so far twelve suitcases
and three garment bags have successfully been transferred to their owners.
The reason is that computer systems plus their hardware and software are
instantiations of autonomous, self-replicating, and self-interested memes.
Alternative memes could not compete because they were unable to replicate
and survive as autonomously or as effectively.
Another US example is the Hubble Space Telescope. Three hundred and
seventy zillion dollars were spent to design, build, and launch the highest
resolution space telescope ever invented. An additional two hundred and
nineteen zillion dollars was spent to fix it once it was launched. The
reason is that the original design memes were autonomous, self-replicating,
and self-interested, so they reproduced faster and more effectively than
alternative memes.

Ans 4. A great many people live in cities because memes for city-dwelling
are better at replicating themselves than memes for living anywhere else.

Do I get an A?

In Answer #3, I left out the part where a number of people and corporations
got very, very, VERY rich from both projects -- that's economics, not


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