Re: Machiavellian Memes

N Rose (
Tue, 07 Oct 1997 12:42:47 +0000

Message-Id: <>
Date: Tue, 07 Oct 1997 12:42:47 +0000
From: N Rose <>
Subject: Re: Machiavellian Memes

Mario wrote:
>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.

I misunderstood your issue with me. First let me try and be
clear about my position on this. By calling memes 'replicators'
all that I am implying is that memes play a causal role in the
generation of their copies. A brain is the 'replicating
engine/machine' (perhaps one day computers).
My original point (arising from comments by Brodie) was that
human beings cannot actively (in an existential sense) choose
which memes to replicate and which memes to avoid. That these
issues are determined (by the characteristics of the meme and the
brain) doesn't (IMHO) allow room for free will to exist.
Your argument, I think, has become a grammatical issue. It is
awkward and often regarded as poor English to express every
sentance in the passive voice. The fact that I use active
sentances is really just a convention of grammar which I (along
with most of the English speaking world) has bought in to. An
active gammatical sentance need not necessarily imply an
existential agency; "Molecules of salt in high concentration seek
to move towards areas of low concentration". My point (once
again) is that neither memes nor brains have free will, the
ability to choose beyond causal determination, etc.

>2. [snipped for space]
>... 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. Active: Why are some
>replicators better at replicating than other replicators?
>Passive: Why is some information better replicated than other

Active (equivalent to your passive): Why is some information
better at replicating than other information?

The use of the word information, rather than replicator, doesn't
really help, and the phrase ' replicating ...' or '...
replicated ...' simply moves the emphasis from the element (in
this case the meme) to the processor. Historically the emphasis
(e.g. The Selfish Gene) has been given to the element (meme or
gene) in order to contrast with the organism or species ('self'?)
as the important unit for evolution. You can interpret this as
style and emphasis - not a belief in either genetic or memetic
agency. I don't see a problem with using active sentance
structures - so long as one is not also implying agency.

>3.[snipped for space]
>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).

You appear to think that when I use an active grammatical
sentance I necessarily imply a belief that the object of that
sentance has agency. It may not just be you who makes this
confusion, but I'd guess you're in a minority.

Your definitions were interesting, but by calling a human or a
photocopier a 'replicator', you are only changing the emphasis
from the element to the machinery. Traditionally (as far as I
know) the element has been called the replicator (by convention
if you like). This use of emphasis was to move people away from
thinking in terms of the individual or the species as the unit of
the evolutionary process. "We are just the vehicles for our
genes, we live and die, but our genes have potential immortality
through their copies." - to paraphrase Dawkins. I don't agree
that this is a major obstruction to further work on memetics, but
the call for a change in emphasis is an interesting point, and
one perhaps worth pursuing.


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