Re: Memes are Interactors

Paul Marsden (
Wed, 8 Apr 1998 12:08:40 +0100

From: "Paul Marsden" <>
To: <>
Subject: Re: Memes are Interactors
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 1998 12:08:40 +0100

Josip wrote

>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).

This distinction between replicanda (behaviour) and memes (symbolic
representations (i.e. information)) is IMHO, useful but would it not be
better if your definition explicitly referred to your conclusion as to
whether the meme is a replicator or simply the replicated. (THE source of

>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.

No I think this Wilkin's definition is closer to your position than you
think because a meme, in his view is NOT "passive", but "active" because he
claims it has the capacity for "endogenous" change.

The least unit of sociocultural information relative to a selection process
that has favourable or unfavourable selection bias that exceeds its
endogenous tendency to change." Wilkins ("What's in a Meme")

I don't like Wilkins definition precisely because of this very unclear
notion of "endogenous" change, (and why, incidently I prefer Aaron's
explicit definition, which at least is explicit enough to generate
discussion.) Whilst the distinction between the representation and the
represented (symbol and behaviour) is useful, your definition is perhaps
problematic in your use of the term "interactor" for the meme. The problem
is simply historical and due to the fact that labels and neologisms are up
for grabs on a first come first serve basis (Aaron may become a rich man if
he copyrights all those he has introduced), and as you no doubt know a key
author in the development of memetics (David Hull) commandeered the
interactor label over a decade ago to refer to the phenotype, (see Wilkins
"Hull-Dawkin's distinction"). This is not what you are referring to, and I
fear invites confusion.

If you replace "interactors (memes)" with the term "symbol" (i.e. a second
order construct), then you have a fairly conventional definition that has
been used for decades in evolutionary thought in the social sciences; social
psychology (symbolic interactionism - G.H. Mead and the Chicago School),
anthropology (D. Rindos) and evolutionary sociology (W.G. Runciman).

My own (developing) neo-Marxist approach is broadly compatible with this
approach, and contrasts strongly (but is not incompatible) with biological
(neural) definitions. I think the social and biological can be conceptually
integrated within a single selectionist paradigm (perhaps 'memetics', or
'repliconics' in Aaron-speak: - good old 'selectionism' will do just fine
for me) but I do not think one can be reduced to the other.

My working definition (comments and (constructive) criticism invited)
defines memes thus:

"MEME: a unit of sociocultural replication composed of a functional pattern
of information whose selection in a given environment depends on its'
relative fitness, where fitness is defined by the structural relation to the
"ownership" of the means of transmission, and where "ownership" is defined
by the relative power of sources of variation within that structure to
determine the nature and direction of information flow."

Paul Marsden
Graduate Research Centre in the Social Sciences
University of Sussex
tel/fax (44) (0) 117 974 1279

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)