Re: Non Homuncular Memetics

Paul Marsden (
Thu, 2 Oct 1997 04:25:29 -0400

Date: Thu, 2 Oct 1997 04:25:29 -0400
From: Paul Marsden <>
Subject: Re: Non Homuncular Memetics
To: "" <>

Message text written by

Paul Wrote

>Science can (hopefully) uncover models that account for *how* memes are
>replicated differentially but metaphysic questions such as why do we get=

up in >the morning, why do we go to bed at night and why do we spend so
much of the >intervening time talking about memes are not scientific
questions proper (but >very interesting questions they are to). (But the=

ultimate reason) why do genes >get replicated - Science must draw a blank=

on this one.

Mario Replied

>Really? I thought this is what evolutionary biology is about offering
>answers to the phenomenon of different replication rates.

I agree with you, evolutionary biology is about offering answers to how i=
is that certain phenotypical expressions are differentially present in th=
environment. But why does evolution occur in the first place? This is
what I meant by the above. As Popper pointed out, Darwinism cannot be
falsified, therefore it is not a science per se, it is an ontological and=

metaphysical position. It is a model that allows us to make predictions,=
paradigm that will remain paramount as long as those predictions are more=

accurate than competing theories. To recentre the debate on memetics, a
little multiple guess question :

Upon which criterion should we evaluate memetics?

a) Validity
b) Elegance
c) Utility

Answer C. Utility, ie the ability of the theory to accutately predict an=
explain phenomena. A. (validity) is wrong because it implies objective
criteria for assessing truth, and unless you happen to be a naive realist=

(direct link with the external world), you know that there aren't any. B=
(Elegance) is wrong for the same reason, because it implies universal
objective artistic or aesthetic standards.

Memetics has evolved (in part) from functionalist theory of mind (What is=

Rodin's Le Penseur actually doing? Why, thinking of course!) which in tur=
evolved from knots eliminative materialism tied itself up in (just how do=

you find MS Word when you take apart your computer?) and in this sense I
don't think it is necessary for the theory to make any ontological claims=

whatsoever. From a functionalist perspective Memes are functional not
physical entities. Open up your computer and you won't find MS Word (or
Billy Gates), just a load of hardware. =

Whilst the anology is not perfect, Memes are to Brains what Software is t=
Hardware. Two *different* levels of analysis. Of course it is possible =
describe MS Word in physicalist terms, but apart from being a very long a=
boring task, it seems a fairly pointless exercise, you lose the meaning. =

The functional level of analysis gives you a better undersanding, even if=

you remain completely ignorant of the underlying physical processes. Mor=
importantly, from a functionalist perspective the endless debate over the=

true nature of memes is obviated. Ultimately, Memes may or may not exist=
(you may or not exist), and in this way memetics, like science, does not=

seek to provide ultimate answers to questions of purpose and existence.=

Rather, from a functionalist perspective, memes are (I believe) *useful*
functional entities that can be posited in a more modest task; building
models that approximate to our experience of the world, and that allow us=

to account for and predict the voracity of phenomana, whether or not thes=
functional entities ultimately exist or not. If Darwin could build a
(functional) theory of evolution without having defined (or even been awa=
of the existence of) of the gene, is it not possible to build models that=

account for cultural evolution (memetics) from a functional level?

Paul Marsden
Graduate Research Centre (Social Psychology)
University of Sussex
= =

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