Re: List of meme definitions (reply to Josip Pajk)

Aaron Lynch (
Tue, 07 Apr 1998 16:00:25 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Tue, 07 Apr 1998 16:00:25 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: List of meme definitions (reply to Josip Pajk)
In-Reply-To: <>

>At 22:26 05.04.98 -0500, Aaron Lynch wrote:
>>MEME: A memory item, or portion of an organism's neurally-stored
>>information, identified using the abstraction system of the observer, whose
>>instantiation depended critically on causation by prior instantiation of
>>the same memory item in one or more other organisms' nervous systems.
>>("Sameness" of memory items is determined with respect to the
>>above-mentioned abstraction system of the observer.)
>Another meme definition could be found in the interesting recent John S.
>Wilkins`s article:
>>>Memes are those units of transmitted information that are subject to
>selection biases at a given level of hierarchical organization of culture.<<
>Unfortunately, in both papers memes are seen as PASSIVE structures
>(replica-tors,-nda). As I see them, memes are interactors (ACTIVE, dynamic)
>categories in human neural (dynamic system) ecologies. Moreover, memes are
>elements that form every individual KNOWLEDGE (memetic) structure
>(Wilkins's phemotype) or the "informational structure" of any dynamic system.

You would need to show that "memory" is a passive structure in order to
show that "meme" as I define it is a passive structure.

>In order to apply memetics to broader systems like culture (Wilkins`s
>attempt), we have to define the structure that can be applied to any
>dynamic (cybernetic) system (organism, mechanism, organization).

I have no problem with applying evolutionary replicator theory to entities
instantiated at levels other than the brain. But I want to see the term
"meme" used with some consistency. If an article expresses brilliant ideas
and wonderful research, but uses the term "parameter" incorrectly, the
article does not make me any more inclined to accept the notion that
"parameter" refers to "qualitative limitations." Unfortunately, there seems
to be a common unwillingness to "impose" something even so basic as an
approximate word meaning on a fellow scholar in our field. The Symposium
call for papers says that "chaos exists because a general framework is
lacking." I would add that a lack of terminological consistency amplifies
the chaos greatly. Many people may simultaneously attempt to draw attention
to their own favorite levels of structure by changing the definition of
"meme," in contrary ways, but this ultimately leads to a Tower of Babble
and subsequent ridicule by those giving our field a critical review.

I explicitly encourage research into these other levels of organization,
and have even offered new terminology for the purpose. The term
"transcendent meme," for instance, could be used to refer to information
instantiated only in a large system of brains. (See Thought Contagion) But
the term "meme" is already defined to refer to information replicating at
the brain to brain level. Refinements to the term should be restricted to
technical clarifications, unless fundamental new discoveries overwhelmingly
warrant such revisions as have happened with the term "gene."

It is possible to take inspiration from the meme concept and go on to
discuss information replicating at other than brain to brain levels without
attempting to overrule Dawkins and all others who use "meme" in a manner
consistent with Dawkins. Doing so does not cost you any loss of respect,
nor in any way undermine the validity of research. Notice that Calvin takes
inspiration from the "meme" concept, and discusses info-replicators on an
intra-brain level. But Calvin is explicit that "Memes ar those things that
are copied from mind to mind." (The Cerebral Code, p. 18.)

>I took the known structure for dynamic (causal) systems from systematics
>consisting of three mutually connected internal blocks: information
>extraction (observer) model, system output model and inner state model, to
>explain the difference between information and knowledge in a "Tofflerian"
>The same systematics structure can be applied in memetics also. By the
>application of this structure powerful mathematical models are on disposal
>for further analysis and synthesis.
>But, to apply this structure we have to change some notions that are in the
>very base of memetics and are presently blocking the advance in this field:
>1. Information transmission: Information are not transmitted. Signals are.
>Behaviours are transmitted (replicated) from one system to another.
>Information is produced in the system`s information extraction (observer)
>model (block) upon the data (signals, messages, behaviours) gained from the
>environment (other systems) and according to the present (memetic) state of
>the system.
>Such information is used for building the memetic structure stored in the
>memory model (block) of the system which affects as the further information
>extraction process, so the output (response, behaviour) production of the
>2. Memes are replicators: Not at all. We have to review Dawkins`s
>definition or we will argue about this matter another ten years. System`s
>behaviours are replicanda, the system is the replicator. As J. Wilkins says:
>"Memes must be expressed in a cultural** ecology in order to be selected,
>but is the class of behaviours rather than the behaviours themselves that
>are memes. Memes do not control behaviour (including mental behaviour)
>rigidly, but bias and constrain it to a norm of reaction."
>**(I would say any dynamic system)
>and further:
>"When we understand that replication is passing on of a message, it doesn`t
>really matter what the medium, or substrate, of the message is, and the
>notion that there has to be some privileged replicator, like nucleotides or
>neural columns, becomes unnecessary".
>As I see it, the massage (behaviour, system`s output) is the replicanda,
>the system is the replicator. Even Shannon didn`t state that what is
>actually passing through the communication channel are information. He
>purposely inserted the notion of coder and decoder between the
>source/destination of information and the communication channel. Thus, it
>must be understood that:
>Information (an memes also) never leave the system. Information and memes
>"survives" only in a dynamic system ecology.
>I will once more use a J. Wilkins definition to make a conclusion:
>"So, the resultant evolutionary ontology is that replicators (replicanda in
>Ghiselin`s terminilogy-structures that are replicated, Ghiselin 1987)
>generates interactors, which are the evolutionary individuals that are
>subjected to selection and whose economic success or failure biases the
>regeneration of the replicanda."
>Things are very much brighter when in this definition behaviours are
>identified as replicanda and memes as interactors, such:
>Behaviours (replicanda) generates interactors (memes) which are
>evolutionary individuals that are subjected to selection and whose economic
>success or failure in the system`s ecology biases the regeneration of the
>replicanda (behaviour).
>Josip Pajk
>This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
>Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
>For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)