Re: Memes and Things

John Wilkins (
Mon, 01 Feb 1999 10:33:08 +1000

Date: Mon, 01 Feb 1999 10:33:08 +1000
From: John Wilkins <>
Subject: Re: Memes and Things
In-Reply-To: <>

Hans-Cees Speel <> wrote in reply to me:

>> So, I think that there is a sense in which a type is low fidelity but
>> transmitted without a replicator, and that this is still within the
>> evolutionary paradigm, so construed. I also think that there is an
>> operational issue: we can best investigate the high fidelity replicators=
>> and that is where we should start, as I argue in my forthcoming JoM-EMIT
>> reply to Gatherer.
>transmitted without a replicator? Do you mean that there is no geno-pheno
>distinction, or something else?

No, this is a claim about necessity. I think that Darwinian evolution occur=
on reproduced types (what Griesemer calls "reproducers"), while neo-Darwini=
selection occurs over replicators. The latter certainly applies in most cas=
but that does not exhaust the range of Darwinian process.

>Buty you are right that *I adhere to the Hull school of what
>evolutionary means.

David has admitted privately to me that this sort of non-replicative evolut=
occurred at the origins of life, but thinks that is the only case. This is =
the admission I require to pick up the memetic ball and run with it. If it
*can* happen under the "orthodox" Hull-Dawkins-Williams model, then it can
happen - with different frequencies - in culture as well. In fact, I think
that quite a lot of ordinary biological evolution does not require replicat=
fidelity, but don't push me on that as I have no nice knock-down examples t=
give you.
>In my thoughts i see memetics as a mix of systems where there
>are evolutionary feed-back loops (learning and evolutionary
>selection leading to adaptation) and transmission where there is
>just spread, and perhaps struggle for survival without adaptations.

Analogous to selection and adaptation, and drift and neutral variation, but=
cannot make sense of the third option. If system S struggles to survive, th=
it needs some processes of acquiring and utilising resources, even in the
absence of competition with conspecifics or allospecifics. If these work, t=
I cannot think they aren't adaptations in at least one sense. Especially si=
variations will drive a refining in progeny of those traits and mechanisms.

And Mark Mills <> also replied:

>I wonder if this doesn't touch on the ability of 'things' to be both
>genotype and phenotype in special situations. I guess I could claim that
>all things are 'code', most simply have low fecundity and reproductive
>fidelity. I could also claim that all things are the result of
>antecedent processes and thus phenotype.
>Would you agree?

I would rather say that what is reproduced is [physical] structure which, i=
n a
given context, has some [physical] properties that can interact in some
[physical] processes. "Phenotype" is one location in the
<obligate-facultative, low-high fidelity, hi-lo energy-efficiency> space,
"genotype" is another. The rest is a matter of semantic convention.

The notion of a "code" (as opposed to a mapping of prior to subsequent stat=
in a set of processes) is an analytic tool that says as much about us as
cognisers as it does about the systems being studied. IMNSHO.




John Wilkins, Head, Graphic Production The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research Melbourne, Australia <mailto:wilkins@WEHI.EDU.AU><> Homo homini aut deus aut lupus - Erasmus of Rotterdam

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