Re: Machiavellian Memes

Mario Vaneechoutte (
Tue, 07 Oct 1997 10:07:34 -0700

Message-Id: <>
Date: Tue, 07 Oct 1997 10:07:34 -0700
From: Mario Vaneechoutte <>
Subject: Re: Machiavellian Memes

N Rose wrote:
> 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!

Dear Nick,

1. Allow me to paraphrase you:
'Once I accept that *something* is selling (or that it is being sold),
once I accept that *something* is reading (or is being read), once I
accept that *something* is copying (or is being copied), ...'

You seem to proof here yourself how confusing it is to use active voice
even when you consider ' ... the process as existentially passive...'.

As a matter of fact, you present two opposite statements as synonymous:
'Memes do the replicating theirselves (or memes are being replicated by
some processors)'. Although I only agree with the second statement, you
tell me that - when I can accept both opposite statements as true, I
will be able to make the conclusion that the right question is:"Why are
some replicators better at replicating than other replicators?" Well,
when accepting two opposites, I indeed can make any conclusion, although
I can't see how this is a conclusion or how I should come to it.

2. In case you agree that '... is existentially passive ...' why do you
have problems in using the passive voice? The reason that it is more
handy (as also given by Aaron) seems rather odd to me, because I can say
it in the correct manner rather short. Below is the proof.

Why are some replicators better at replicating than other replicators?
Why is some information better replicated than other information?

3. There is another reason why the passive voice is better. When you and
Aaron insist that memes are causal (I of course do agree that their
presence can cause changes in activity of processors, just like the
presence or absence of glucose alters the functioning of the processor
named E. coli) than this is much better reflected by the question: 'Why
are memes better replicated?' because implicitly you point to the fact
that there is some replication machinery needed to do so. Since the
question refers to the existence of some replication machinery, one is
inclined to look for the answer in the interaction between replication
machinery (humans) and replicated information (memes).

However, when you ask 'Why are memes good at replicating?', you do not
refer at all to the necessary interaction with processors and your
question is very suggestive saying that they do their own replication.

We seem to make the same observations, although my terminology
emphasizes that memetics is about the interactions between human minds
and memes (how they influence each other), while your terminology
indicates that it are the memes that are doing things to us, while we
are passive (your own confusions indicate to me that it is not just me
who is a little slow in understanding what you really mean).

Also, when one wants to make fundamental comparisons between biology and
culture, the use of 'replicator' for genes and memes obstructs further
insights. I hope to make this clear asap.

Allow me to finish with my definitions:

Independent information replicator: cell (a molecular system containing
the information on how to make a processor which can replicate the
information on how to ...)
A cell than is made up minimally by chromosomal genes, enzymes
(replicative and translational) and a membrane.

Information replicators:
analog replicators: heterocatalytic cycles, humans
digital replicators: polymerases and copy machines

Replicated information: genetic information and cultural information,
whereby cultural information can be compared to some degree with mobile
genetic elements like plasmids, but not at all with chromosomal genes
(which form an intrinsic part of a cell).


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