Re: Genetics/Memetics analogy

Bill Benzon (
Fri, 11 Jul 1997 08:55:48 -0400

Date: Fri, 11 Jul 1997 08:55:48 -0400
From: Bill Benzon <>
Subject: Re: Genetics/Memetics analogy

Dr I Price wrote:

> In genetics it is the double helix, chemically conditioned to
> replicate
> taking a coded substrate [or algorithm?] with it. Does the network of
> neurons have the same basic thermodynamic drive to replicate?. I have
> no
> idea. Maybe one day neuorscience will tell us whether a single 'meme'
> matches a certain pattern of neuron connectivity. Does, for example,
> the
> meme 'meme' produce [or get produced by] the same pattern of neuron
> connections in your brain as in mine?. If we both shared an 'exactly
> similar' interpretation of the meme 'meme' [or any other meme] would
> the
> neuronal connections match - in the sense that if we shared say a gene
> for
> a particular phenotypic effect we would share a string of DNA code
> somewhere? I simply do not know.

My educated guess is that these are not the right kinds of questions to
ask of the nervous system; trying to establish whether neural
connections "match" strikes me as the wrong way to look at it. However,
if we consider invertebrate nervous systems, which have on the order of
10K-100K neurons, it seems that they do contain at least some neurons
which can be identified specifically in the sense that we can say:
neuron X in individual A is to neuron X in individual B as leg Y in
individual A is to leg Y in individual B. I don't think there are any
such neurons in the human brain. So establishing a correspondence
between neurons won't work. But that's quite not what you're looking

In any event its obvious that people on this list have rather diffrent
concepts of memes. As long as we talk of "the X meme" or "the Y meme"
we seem to be OK. But when it comes to defining the buggers, we're all
over the map. And I don't see that any of us has such a compelling
vision of what they are that there can be meaningfull agreement. Even
if we responded to one of the occasional call for definitions, I think
we'd find that we had rather different interpretations of what those
definitions actually mean.

> I still tend to find it more elegant to think of the 'idea or
> experience'
> being the replicator but maybe we have to start viewing idea /
> experience
> and 'neuronal network' as different manifestations of the same thing
> [reminiscent of waves versus particles in physics perhaps].

The replicator of what? Neuronal patterns? & how does this replicator
get from one brain to another, the Vulcan Mind Meld?

I see an infinite regress threatening: A is encoded in B, B is encoded
in C, C in D..... And which of these is the meme true blue?

> Bill B responded to you with his usual insight. Yes Bill I am also
> interested in cultural, or organisational evolution, but when you say
> >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.>
> something in me cries no. The paradigms maintain the groups ,not the
> other
> way around.. I have to say Mark's version seems more plausible.

So chemistry underwent a revolution when the phlogiston paradigm lost
control of continental European chemists as the oxygen paradigm took
over? And once the heliocentric paradigm had taken over Copernicus's
mind it used him to proselytize so that, over the next 100 years, it
could take take over the group of European astronomers?

How do paradigms maintain groups? What is the administrative structure
of a paradigm? How do they enforce discipline?

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