my symposium paper

Hans-Cees Speel (
Wed, 20 May 1998 11:08:33 +0000

From: "Hans-Cees Speel" <>
Date: Wed, 20 May 1998 11:08:33 +0000
Subject: my symposium paper

Dear all,
I hope this post is not too long, but it contains my paper for the
symposium. Not the final one, but nearly so. I am afraid the
footnotes have dissappeared. When it is ready i will put a htrml
version on

Hope you enjoy it and
will come to see me talk about it:-)

Memes are also Interactors

H.C.A.M. Speel
Research assistant Policy analysis.
Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management
Delft University of Technology
Tel. 00 31 15 2785776
Fax. 00 31 15 2783422

Dawkins (1976) defined memes analogous to genes as replicators, and
rightfully so. However, it is not generally mentioned and thus
probably often overlooked that memes can also be interactors. Both
interaction and replication is needed to explain natural selection
(Hull, 1988b). Memes, but also genes are interactors if their direct
characteristics count in selective events. Hull (1988a) mentions
humans as interactors in memetic evolution, not memes. I argue (Speel,
1997) that if we can and do judge memes by their merits without
necessary interference of the physical world, which implies a kind of
phemotype or conceptual phenotype, memes should count as interactors.
If we take the definitions of Hull and Dawkins seriously we cannot
deny this conclusion.

Memes are replicators by definition, in analogy to genes. This is the
common denominator in memetics, and it is recognized by about every
writer on the subject. Dawkins (1976) started the definition of memes
in this way, and where memeticists differ in opinion on what should
count as phenotype-genotype distinction (see Hull, 1988a for some
opinions), and even on what memes are (see Benzon (1998) versus Speel
(1998)), they do agree that memes are replicators. A large part of
memetics focuses mainly on the dissemination part of memetics that is
directly related to replication. The meme as thought contagion is a
well-known view that focuses mainly on memetic processes of
dissemination. Aaron Lynch's Thought Contagion (1988) is perhaps the
main work giving the meme such connotations. Of course memes may be
rightfully seen as disseminating through human systems, but this view
alone cannot account for natural or artificial selection involving
memes. Any theory accounting for adaptations by natural or artificial
selection must include processes of interaction (processes such as
competition and predation in biology) and processes that account for
new variation and possibly the re-combination of old variation. I have
argued before (Speel, 1996) that memetic theory such as proposed by
Dawkins (1976) leaves it unaccounted for if meme-complexes such as
religions adapt. Worse, it does not provide us with possible
mechanisms for such adaptations. The same can be said for the work of
Lynch (1988) on religion that also lacks explanations on how religions
as meme-plexes (co-adapted meme-complexes) somehow incorporate
adaptations, by which they become more successfully disseminated than
other religions. This lack of focus on adaptations and mechanisms
perhaps explains why memetic theory has incorporated that memes are
replicators, but not that memes are interactors.

In the following pages I shall argue that memes are by definition
replicators, but that they can be interactors as well in 'internal'
selection. This view is consistent with the view that in RNA selection
is possible where there is no translation steps like from DNA to RNA
to enzymes (Calvin, 1997). Hull's (1988a) view that genes can be
interactors as well is also consistent with this view. If memes are
taken to be interactors, consequences follow for the discussion on
what the phenotype must be in memetic evolution. I shall argue that
memetic (sometimes vicarious) selection implies two kinds of
phemotypes, contrary to Benzon (1998), Hull (1988a) and others.

Memes can be interactors
Replicators in biological evolutionary theory were introduced by
Dawkins (1976) and have become part of the received view on natural
selection. Hull has argued that interactors are the necessary
counterpart of replicators, if the theory of natural selection is to
be described fully. Hull (1980) applies the following definitions in
biological evolutionary theory:

- Replicators, or the 'struc-tural entities that are replicated', pass
on their struc-ture direct-ly from genera-tion to generati-on.

-In principle replicators can only replicate them-selves, but they
can also pro-duce entities that interact and this indirectly results
in the re-plication of the replicators (by reproduction). These
entities are known as:

- Interac-tors: 'entities that directly inter-act as a co-he-sive
whole with their environ-ment in such a way that repli-cation is

In the paradigm example of evolution by natural selection, a sex-ual
repro-duc-ing spe-cies, the paradigm replicators are the genes and
the paradigm interactors are the or-ga-nisms. Hull argues that
replication or interaction alone cannot ac-count for evo-lu-tion by
natural selection, but that both pro-cesses are nee-ded:

- Selection becomes defined as 'a pro-cess in which the
diffe-ren-tial extinction and proliferation of inter-action causes
the differential perpetuation of the re-plicators that produced

- Lineage is the third term in the Hull scheme and refers in this
case to the historical changing entity called the spe-cies. Notice
that Hull thus takes selection to be more than just 'weeding out'.
For him selection refers to evolution by selection on replicators
that form lineages.

Interactors play an essential role in biological evolution theory as
counterpart of replicators. Brandon (1988) sees organisms, genes,
groups and taxa as interactors in hierarchical levels of interaction.
It might be noted that different stadia in reproductive cycles often
amount to interaction in different arena's: sperm-cells usually
compete for a few or only one egg cell; genes in meiosis can compete
for inclusion in the sexual cells (meiosis-distorters) and so on.
Beyond this, there is probably also interaction between DNA in
chloroplasts and other cell-organelles (Eberhart, 1980). It should be
noted that some (Dawkins, 1982) use to prefer the concept 'vehicle' in
stead of 'interactor'. The interactor-lineage-replicator scheme can
and is used in memetic evolutionary processes (Hull, 1988b; Speel,
1997). Hull (1988a) has argued that humans in memetic processes are
interactors. He consequently holds memes not to produce interactors
since humans are not produced by memes of course.

Human individuals can indeed be interactors in memetic evolution, but
I have argued before (Speel, 1997) that memes can also be interactors
in 'internal' interaction or selective interaction . Internal
selection is selection inside a mind when someone makes up his mind on
whether A or B is better, true, more important or something equal to
such criteria . External interaction is interaction where individuals
are the interactors that defend memes against other human individuals
that act to discredit the memes they defend. When humans thus in
practice act to defend a meme, the interaction is between humans, and
not between memes. While this internal and external difference of
s-interaction might seem far-fetched it is needed to make memetic
terminology suited to describe internal selection. If only humans can
be interactors in memetic evolution, there is simply no way to
describe whatever factors inside a brain, or making up a mind are
responsible for the selection of ideas. Such factors might be called
installed complexes of memes (Dennett, 1991), or a self, or something
else. I think memetic theory should be able to describe the internal
selection of proposals, theories, and so on we all witness in our own
minds, but that we can also verify in other ways, for example by the
study of verbal and other behavior.

Interactors are part of the phenotype
However, if memes are replicators, can they also be interactors? Can
the same entity that is a replicator be an interactor? Can an entity
that is code, geno-or memotype, be part of the pheno- or phemotype?
First of all replication and s-interaction are definitions of process
or in other words functional definitions (and not structural
definitions). If I use a chair to sit on it, it is a seat, when I use
it to hit someone it might be called a weapon. In principle like to
words like interactor and replicator are such words also: definitions
of process. The role an entity plays or has played in a process at a
specific time and place is decisive for such a definition of process.
Memes can thus not be excluded from the interaction roles by
definition. In fact genes and RNA are also said to be both interactor
and replicator. Hull (1988a) acknowledges that genes can be
interactors, and Calvin (1997) mentions research on RNA:

"Weismann's genotype-phenotype distinction in biology is not a
necessary condition for a Darwinian process, as recent experiments on
"RNA evolution" have shown (there isn't a body that lives and dies,
carrying the genes along, but rather patterns directly exposed to
environmental selection). Envelopes such as bodies (phenotypes) are
an example of stratified stability; they nicely illustrate why strict
one-trait-at-a-time adaptationist reasoning is insufficient."

Parts of
DNA are normally not interactors: either a body of an organism or
enzymes are the interacting entities coded for by the DNA. However, in
some instances the direct physical characteristics of DNA might be
decisive in s-interaction: Eberhart (1980) mentions the hypothesis
that the size of DNA molecules might be of importance in DNA selection
in cell-organelles. DNA would be s-interactor if there was selection
on the form of DNA molecules, the stability of them, for instance in a
high-temperature environment and so on. In RNA evolution RNA could be
interactor if the chemical groups of the RNA-molecules are involved
themselves in processes that are decisive for their survival.

The conclusion must be that memes can be both be replicators and
interactors. Notice that the general terminology of geno- and
phenotype can be caught in the following definitions:

- An entity is part of the phenotype if Memes are also Interactors it
is directly subject to selection.

- An entity is part of the genotype if it contains a kind of code,
and is replicated

For memetics we can simply substitute pheno and geno with phemo and
memo, and we have the memetic definitions:

- An entity is part of the phemotype if it is directly subject to

- An entity is part of the memotype if it contains a kind of code,
and is replicated

This leaves us with a problem: why should human individuals be the
only interactors in memetic evolution as Hull (1988a) holds? If
theories are tested, or only small parts of them, should not the
theories be the interactors? Hull does speak of conceptual phenotypes
(Hull, 1988a), but of interactors as scientists. I think that if
characteristics of a theory describing reality are the decisive things
that make a theory rejected or not, the theory (or a part of it) is an
s-interactor. If the academics proposing the theory would be the
interactors, they would be weeded out. Of course they might socially
become isolated, not respected, ridiculed or even released from their
duties, but that would be a very different matter. Ultimately
scientists and the theory they defend might be weeded out together,
but this need not be of course.

S-interaction and vicarious selection.
Memetic evolution largely goes on within people's heads. Most memes
never become accepted by the mind they are reviewed in at some moment
and get forgotten or are remembered as not useful, untrue, and so on.
Memes, being descriptions of situations, solutions, problems, opinions
and so on can play a role in the behavior of human individuals and
organizations. In such a view, memetic evolution inside people's minds
is vicarious selection (Campbell, 1974), 'producing future' on behalf
of the individual or organization involved. It is very true that the
behavior individuals and organizations show is part of the phenotype
of the individual human or organization. When descriptions of such
behavior are vicariously pre-tested in the mind of someone, against a
virtual model of the real world, this is a test too. It is virtual in
the sense that the test stands for something else, a possible action
in the real world, but it is a real test in the sense that something
is rejected in someone's mind. Even if memes are internally tested
without having an effect on human behaviour, it is still a selection-
or weeding-out event. If memes are thus internally selected, they are
phemotype (or conceptual phenotype), and thus interactors.


Memes are usually defined as replicators, and rightfully so. However,
memes can also be tested inside minds, which makes them interactors.
Human individuals can also be interactors in memetic evolution if they
'defend' memes in their struggle to be considered true, useful and so
on. If a power struggle in for instance politics results in one party
dictating policies, the party was the interactor, not the memes. They
too won, but through selection of the party. If memetic theory is to
include explanations of why specific memes win from other memes, the
focus on only the dissemination and replication of memes must be
widened. Interaction of memes and humans must be included amongst
other things, to explain both adaptations of meme-plexes (co-adapted
meme complexes), and adaptations of human and organizational behavior
by means of vicarious memetic evolution.

Benzon, W (1998)Culture as an Evolutionary Arena. Journal of Social
and Evolutionary Systems (in press). Brandon RN (1988) The levels of
selection: A hierarchy of interactors. In: Plotkin HC (ed.) The Role
of Beha-vior in Evolution, Mit Press. Calvin, W.H. (1997) The Six
Essentials? Minimal Requirements for the Darwinian Bootstrapping of
Quality. Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information
Transmission, 1.
Dawkins, R. (1976) The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press
Dawkins, R. (1982) The Extended Phenotype: The long reach of the gene.
Paperback. Oxford University Press, New York Dennett, D.C. (1991)
Consciousness explained. Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Company.
Eberhard, W.G. (1980) Evolutionary consequences of intracellular
organelle competition. Quarterly review of biology 55, 231-249 Hull,
D.L. (1980) Individuality and selection. Ann. Rev. Ecol. Syst., 11,
311-332 Hull, D.L. (1988a) A period of development: a response.
Biology and Philosophy 3, 241-263 Hull, D.L. (1988b) Science as a
Process. An evolutionary account of the Social and conceptual
Development of Science. The University of Chicago Press Speel,
H.C.A.M. (1996) Memetics: On a conceptual framework for cultural
evolution. In: Heylighen, F. and Aerts, D. (ed.) The Evolution of
Complexity. Kluwer, Dordrecht (in press). Speel, H-C. (1997) A Memetic
Analysis of Policy Making. Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models
of Information Transmission, 1.
Speel, H.C.A.M. (1998) A short comment from a biologist on William
Benzon's essay 'Culture as an Evolutionary Arena'. Journal of social
and evolutionary systems (in press)

Theories come and go, the frog stays [F. Jacob]
Hans-Cees Speel
Managing Editor "Journal of Memetics Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission" submit papers to

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