Re: Machiavellian Memes

N Rose (
Mon, 06 Oct 1997 10:01:42 +0000

Message-Id: <>
Date: Mon, 06 Oct 1997 10:01:42 +0000
From: N Rose <>
Subject: Re: Machiavellian Memes

Mario wrote:

>Dear Nick,
>I tried to explain to you where you go wrong here, months ago.
But then
>you disappeared all of a sudden from the list. So, I'll try
again (only
>briefly, the full argument is somewhere in the archives of this
>discussion list).

Many thanks - and sorry if I disappeared before reading your

>'Memes survive and replicate because they are good at
>1. Here you take an observation (memes are good at replicating)
as an
>explanation. You don't answer the question: 'Why are they good
>2. Memes do not replicate, they are being processed and - to
some degree
>- replicated by human minds. Like you, many on this list put
>inside memes, blaming others to put a homunculus inside the
human mind.
>The scientific approach is trying to explain things without
homunculi of
>any kind.
>Mario Vaneechoutte

Hi Mario,

1) I was referring to Dennett's tautology - a single tautology
to replace a multitude of possible tautologies which might exist
for culture. e.g.
'X was believed because X was held to be true'
'X was believed because X was held to be beautiful'

Once you accept a position that *something* is replicating (or
being replicated) then the question is why are some replicators
better (at replicating) than other replicators. By understanding
this we might understand more about the process of differential
survival that allows culture to evolve. My point was that if you
accept this view (which I understand you do not) then there is
(perhaps) a problem with 'machiavellian memes' which appear to
fuction for biological advantage rather than falling within
Dennett's tautology.

2) Memes do not replicate ...
Well some people define memes as 'that which replicates in
culture'. I agree, incidentally, that memes are meaningless
without reference to brains. (Can 'information' exist without an
'information processor'?). I think you have misunderstood my
argument. Like brains (IMHO), memes are existentially passive -
and have no intentionality, self-determination, etc. I think
Aaron makes this point well with his discussion on autocatalysts.
Memes are non-homuncular in the same way that genes are. If I
describe memes as 'selfish' or 'machiavellian' it is only a short
hand of a much longer argument - and one I figured most people
would be pretty familiar with. You appear to be suggesting that
any talk of replication implies a homunculus?! Perhaps the term
'replicator' is just a pet hate of yours? The process involved
(at least when most of us talk about replicators) is as
existentially passive (non-homuncular) as a crystal seeding!



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