Re: Meme vs. meme-vehicle

Mark Mills (mmmills@OnRamp.NET)
Tue, 22 Jul 1997 19:16:34 +0000

Date: Tue, 22 Jul 1997 19:16:34 +0000
From: Mark Mills <mmmills@OnRamp.NET>
Subject: Re: Meme vs. meme-vehicle

Martti Nyman writes:

>Notice that Mark here makes precisely
>the same conceptual distinction: On the one hand, we have
>'cultural information'; on the other, we have the
>'coded substrate' of this information. This would be
>well and good, were it not for the fact that he decides
>to call the latter - 'meme' instead of 'meme-vehicle'.

The DNA double helix consists of a invariant sugar-phosphate substrate
and sequenced DNA bases. The sugar-phosphate substrate 'holds' the
code. Genes are generally considered to be 'chunks of code' sitting on
the invariant substrate. Because of variable interactions between other
subsets of DNA code, RNA and other nuclear material, it may be
inappropriate to say a 'gene' is literally a DNA sequence. There are a
few well documented cases where the simple proteins can be tied directly
to DNA sequences, though. In these cases, the DNA code is literally a
template for protein constructuion. This linkage is determined by
molecular analysis of DNA code and simple proteins. There is a one to
one correspondence between 'gene' and 'protein.' The gene is the
'code.' The protein allows one to decode the DNA sequence.

I am using this 'system' as a basis and starting point for memetics.
The substrate is the neural network of the brain. The code is a set of
proteins set into the synapses to 'weight' electro-chemical waves
crossing the neural network created by billions of these synapse
connections. More so than genetics, the memetic code is too complex to
read. Instead, most brain research is involved in understanding a few
easy to identify behaviors (just as molecular biologists work with
simple proteins) and brain studies.

In terms of replication, one can draw an analogy between mitosis and
'learning.' Mitosis takes a few minutes, generally less than 1% of the
cell's lifetime. 'Learning' takes much longer. Adulthood is achieved
after about 10% of the organism's life span in most species. In many
ways 'learning' continues for almost the entire lifetime of the

In the case of mitosis, the DNA double helix opens up, producing 2 sets
of coded attractor locations. In the space of a few minutes, these half
strings are repopulated with free DNA bases, becoming two compete DNA
sets. In the case of learning, the 'infant' brain is like an open DNA
string, pre-coded to attract experiences (analogous to the free floating
bases in the nuclear fluid) which fill in the attractors.

The mirroring aspect of replication is preserved in both genetics and
memetics. In genetics, the open DNA thread attracts a 'mirror' image of
itself. They are not identical, but translations of each other.
'Mirroring' is a simple form of translation.

In a similar same way, a mature human brain is created by absorbing
(inprinting/memorizing) experiences which represent a 'translation' of
it inherent memetic structure into a databank of experience. The brain
attracts and collects these experiences based on its inherent structure
and organized stored experience. Experience probably starts soon after
conception, so it is really impossible to separate completely the
inherent structure and 'structured memory.' Regardless the difficulty,
it is clear that we seek out 'meaningful' experiences and meaning comes
for our inherent memetic structure. By looking at our experiences, we
should eventually be able to determine the 'translation' for decoding
underlying memetic code itself.

This is an oversimplified view, but it does identify the building blocks
fo the system and the utility of the gene-meme analogy.

Both genetic and memetic systems are constrained by natural selection.

I am convinced that there are recording substrates of a non-biological
nature in the cultural milieu, but suspect we would be better off
classifying these to be in the realm of cybernetics. If rules are
unwritten, locked up in the brains of family, tribe or culture, the area
of study is memetics.

I have not yet mentioned gene-vehicles, nor meme-vehicles. If there is a
meme-vehicle, I'd say it was the sperm and egg. Carried within the DNA
code and embryology (form factors) of these life states, there are the
process that plant the inherent 'initial' memetic structure each
individual receives.

Based on the above, would you still call the code within the brain as


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