Re: Inherited memes = inherited predispositions?

Mark Mills (mmmills@OnRamp.NET)
Tue, 29 Jul 97 21:47:34 -0000

Message-Id: <>
Subject: Re: Inherited memes = inherited predispositions?
Date: Tue, 29 Jul 97 21:47:34 -0000
From: Mark Mills <mmmills@OnRamp.NET>
To: memetics list <>


>Your conclusion prompts
>me to wonder, whether there is, after all, any substantive difference
>between your 'inherited memes' and (what is often called) inherited

Mendel didn't use the word 'gene.' Instead, he used the word trait. =
Darwin used words like 'inheritance' and 'variation,' he didn't use =
the word 'gene.' Why was 'gene' superior to 'trait,' 'inheritance' =
or 'variation.'

I suspect others here can do a much better job of answering that =
question, but it seems to me that 'gene' provides a better =
delineation for the larger discussion of evolutionary perspective. =
As Webster's dictionary defines it, a 'gene' is a 'unit of a =
chromosome that determines the character and activities of cells and =
inherited traits.' The key aspect of this definition is the notion =
of 'unit' with the unwritten 'indivisible' undertone. The reference =
to DNA clarifies the physical nature of the noun. Thus defined, the =
term is an excellent devise for evolutionary discussions. It is a =
useful unit of measure.

Since you've compared 'inherited memes' to 'inherited =
predispositions,' I suspect the real question is why we need the term =
'memes' when 'predisposition' is in much wider use.

'Predisposition' according to Webster is 'the state of being =
previously disposed towards something.' The term 'meme' (undefined =
in Websters) is generally agreed to be a 'unit' of something to do =
with culture.

Robin Wood stated in this dialog:

>Perhaps we
>can use it as shorthand for "a unit of 'something' that human beings
>replicate in the process of communication and culture building".

Richard Brodie said:

>A MEME is a unit of information in a mind

John Wilkins said:

>memes are the smallest unit of
>sociocultural information

I've called it a 'unit of code on the neural substrate.'

So, I think this idea of a 'unit' is clearly desired. That leaves =
two questions, where is it and how does one measure it. From my =
perspective, it is easy to answer the 'what' question, it is pattern =
laid down on the neural network (the substrate). The more difficult =
question is 'how do we measure it'? or 'how do we observe the =
smallest indivisible whole'?

It was upon this issue that Arel brought up the problem that 'every =
experience was probably not a meme.' There seemed to be some sort of =
summarizing going on. The comment kicked off the dialog.

It is useful to remember that genes are not contiguous sections of =
DNA. There are interuptions in sequences, timing issues and probably =
flexture factors that come into play. Seeing that this is entirely =
to complex to decode semantically, scientists define genes by linking =
protein creation to chunks of chromosome. Proteins are the mirror =
image of a gene and vise versa.

Thus, it is natural to 'locate' and 'measure' a meme by linking a =
'behavior' to a chunk of brain.

When one starts trying to define behavior, it is impossible to =
eliminate the predisposition to action inherited by each brain. My =
comments about autism have been made to illustrate what happens when =
the instinctual aspect is missing. Thus, the smallest 'unit of neural =
code,' as defined by linkage to a behavioral action, will always have =
some inherited patterns.

Frankly, I'm not particularly pursuing this conclusion. It happens =
to fall from the logic.

Thus, meme is better than 'predisposition' because it provides a unit =
of measure for evolutionary dialog about culture.

Of course, it is possible to define meme in such a way that it is =
only the neural code placed by experiential events. This seems =
arbitrary and counter to a free discussion of evolutionary issues. =
In particular, it ignores the fact that inherited processes continue =
all our lifetimes. A teenager, complete with 15 years of =
experiences, is forced through a rather rigorous program of inherited =
behavioral changes. Drug addicts administer hormonal changes to =
accentuate desired inherited processes. Death is an inherited =

Alternatively, one could draw an analogy between the inherited code =
(predispositions) and 'RNA,' the messengers or 'enactors' of DNA. I'm =
not sure the analogy works, though. RNA is simply a transposition of =
DNA and the inherited neural code is clearly unique from experience.

It may turn out that instinctive behaviors are entirely defined by =
fixed networks of neurons, devoid of weighting factors in the =
synapses which physically form the basis for experiential memory. If =
this is the case, memes would be entirely 'learned.' This should not =
be too hard to test in the lab.

There are probably a hundred other physical reasons that I may be =
entirely wrong.

Despite these possibilities, I believe the notion a useful mental =
model. If we can accept the notion that memes have both an inherited =
and experiential aspect, we set out a good foundation for cultural =
evolution. Culture is a reflection of slow evolutionary changes to =
inherited human capabilities on one hand, and relatively flexible =
replication of experiential development on the other. Understanding =
this can help us use the 2.0 million years of gradual cultural change =
to human society (largely instinctual change) to understand the last =
20,000 years (1% of human history) which has been dominated by change =
in learned traits.

To conclude, 'inherited meme' is more useful than 'inherited =
predisposition=B9 because it provides a sense of unitary measure =
indispensable to evolutionary dialog. The main issue is agreement =
that a meme is a unit of code on the neural substrate, it doens't =
really matter how it got there. I'm rather ambivalent to whether or =
not memes have an inherited segment, research into brain functioning =
and structure will answer that. It simply seems reasonable to =
suspect an inherited aspect exists and early memes were entirely =


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