Re: To have a mnemon

Aaron Lynch (
Mon, 08 Jun 1998 11:28:46 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Mon, 08 Jun 1998 11:28:46 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: To have a mnemon
In-Reply-To: <>

Bill Benzon wrote:

>While I have severe reservations about Chomsky's view of things, I think
>Gatherer's general point still holds, that the identification of
>with mnemons does not reflect a realistic psychology. And that is the major
>source of my problems with mentalistic memetics; it is not serious about what
>goes on inside our heads. For that reason I simply cannot take it seriously.
>It trivializes the mind and, by nonetheless insisting that memetics is about
>what does on inside our heads, it thus trivializes the study of cultural
>evolution. It's hardly even worth the effort required to do a serious
>critique, thought I'm certainly glad that Gatherer and Best have
undertaken to
>deliver such a critique. But I'm a bit chagrined that they have to spend
>valuable time on that critique rather than pursuing their own insights into

You have applauded Mr. Best, and Mr. Best has called for "appreciation of
past art." Here, then, is a bit of "past art" from Dawkins (1982):

"A meme should be regarded as a unit of information residing in a brain
(Cloak's 'i-culture')."

--The Extended Phenotype, p. 109.

Therefore, the usenet postings that Mr. Best studies are not memes. That,
however, cannot be taken to mean that they are not evolutionary
replicators, or that they are any less interesting. It is only a matter of
terminology. But if the word "meme" is too specific (again, appreciating
the past art) to encompass non-brain based informational replicators, then
this is not a setback to science: it merely means that we need an
additional word for those other replicators. I have proposed "cultural
replicons" as the superset of memes, and have added other terms more
specific to Mr. Best's types of replicators: "meme relics," "text
contagions," or from Dawkins, "meme phenotypes."

I certainly have not claimed that anything like a full understanding of the
human mind can result purely from the study of memes as Dawkins defines
them. Neither has Dawkins. But to completely neglect studying the units
that Dawkins identifies would be a gross trivialization of human culture.
Both artifactual and brain-stored information need to be studied. And memes
are but a subclass of brain-stored information, as I have argued. To study
memes, as Dawkins defines them, is only to study a part of "what goes on
inside our heads." Nevertheless, many feel threatened at the very idea of
analyzing how certain cherished beliefs became so common, and we should
therefore expect shrill denouncements and efforts to summarily dismiss it.

Best, M.L. (1997). Models for Interacting Populations of Memes: Competition
and Niche Behavior. Journal of Memetics -Evolutionary Models of Information
Transmission, 1.

Best, M.L. (1998). A Letter on: Memes on memes - A critique of memetic
models. Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information
Transmission, 2.

Dawkins, R. (1982). The Extended Phenotype. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman
and Company.

Lynch, A. (1998). Units, Events and Dynamics in Memetic Evolution. Journal
of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission, 2.
--Aaron Lynch

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