Re: Genetics/Memetics analogy

Bill Benzon (
Wed, 09 Jul 1997 16:21:21 -0400

Date: Wed, 09 Jul 1997 16:21:21 -0400
From: Bill Benzon <>
Subject: Re: Genetics/Memetics analogy

Mark Mills wrote:

> Bill,
> I know you would rather put memes in the external environment, but I'm
> not comfortable with that strategy. Here is my working framework.
> Please let me know how you would change this.
> Mark


Alas, it's not that simple. What I'm interested in is the long-scale
evolution of human culture. I'm not sure what memetics is about, your
version or anyone else's. But it certainly seems that many folks are
interested in a memetics that somehow accounts for much of the
small-grain detail of human interaction. As I don't much like inventing
new terms, I'll probably continue to use the term "meme," but I'm no
memeticist. Cultural evolution is what interests me.

> Genetics - Memetics analogy
> Coded substrate:
> Genetics: DNA double Helix
> Memetics: Network of neurons

CE (cultural evolution): the many physical substrates of culture, sound,
marks on paper, clothing, building materials, etc. As for the brain....I
take it that the brain has requirements of informatic fitness and it is
these requirements which drive cultural evolution. I'm currently
reading a book on _Conceptual Revolutions_ by Paul Thagard, in which he
examines scientific revolutions. He develops a notion of explanatory
coherence where theories ultimately win-out because they are coherent.
I think such coherence is a condition imposed by the brain (cf. remarks
by Liane Gabora on coherence in her article in JofMemetics).

> Meaningful units within the coded substrate determined by linking code
> subsets to:
> Genetics: protein creation
> Memetics: organism behavior

CE: Whatever people do in/with culture. But we need some account of
just how people learn a culture, from infancy to adult.

> Intermediates between coded substrate and code using process:
> Genetics: RNA
> Memetics: Ideas and experiences

Methinks this begs many many questions for memetics. You talk as though
ideas and experiences occurred somewhere other than in the brain.

> Moderate fidelity replication
> Genetics: sexual reproduction
> Memetics: mimesis (mimicry)

Note that imitation is very important in human growth and learning,
psychological epigenesis.

> Genotype:
> Genetics: Chromosome set
> Memetics: Brain and nervous system

CE: The physical stuff of culture. Whether or not this stuff is
particulate in the way the genes (almost) are is an open question. In a
way I'd be happy to think of memes (in my sense) as just abstract units
(analogous to bits) of measure.

> Phenotype:
> Genetics: biological organisms (plants, animals, bacteria, etc)
> Memetics: cultural organisms (families, tribes, corporations, etc)

CE: Paradigms, which are maintained by various social groups, including
tribes & corporations. But it is the paradigms which are the phenotypes,
not the groups which maintain them.

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