Re: Darwinian/Neo-Darwinian, and codes (was Memes and Things)

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Wed, 03 Feb 1999 13:46:14 +0100

From: <>
Date: Wed, 03 Feb 1999 13:46:14 +0100
Subject: Re: Darwinian/Neo-Darwinian, and codes (was Memes and Things)

Hans-Cees Speel wrote:

> > >You go too fast for me:-) Darwinian in your words means selection
> > >on individual organisms, and neo-darwinian selection on
> > >replicators? Else please elaborate becuase then I have definitly lost you
> > >here....
> >
> > As Darwin originally presented his theory, and in the most general version
> > of it as I reconstruct it, selection is selection over variation of types.
> > In biology, this might be types of organisms, sure, but it might also be
> > types of behaviours, antlers, immune cells or environmental stress
> > resistance.
> >
> > Neo-Darwinian evolution stresses the relevance of genes as replicators.
> > This is fine, but there are exotic cases where this is not relevant, such
> > as in epigenetic inheritance (non-nucleotidal inheritance, including,
> > arguably, development systems - see the refs below). So, IMO,
> > Neo-Darwinian evolution is a special case of Darwinian evolution, the kind
> > where there *is* a strict soma-germ sequestration, or, in modern jargon,
> > where the genotype and the phenotype are qualitatively distinct.
> OK, I agree with this line of thought.

Well, I don't or at least I don't understand what you want to proof here. I think you confuse
genotype/phenotype with soma/germ.In unicellular organisms soma and germ are identical, while
in multicellulars certain cells specialize in reproduction (germ) while the rest of the
colony forms a temporary existing construct (soma), but genotype and phenotype are different
in both uni and multicellulars.
In a unicellular the nucleotides are the genotype and the rest of the cell and its behaviour
are phenotype. Still, this classical distinction has its limitations. Take membrane lipids
which are artefacts made by enzymatic activity. You could name these lipids phenotypic
artefacts. But then we have to consider newly formed nucleotide strands as phenotypic
artefacts as well!

Still, I can't see what the relevance is of the distinction between soma and germ in this

> >
> > But when, eg, Dennett says "And since memes are no more multicellular than
> > they are sexual, the fact that there is no clear way---no "principled"
> > way, as they used to say at MIT--of distinguishing mutations from
> > phenotypic acquisitions hardly shows that they are disqualified from a
> > neo-Darwinian treatment.(6) Most--much more than 99%-- of the life forms
> > on this planet have evolved under just such a regime, and neo-Darwinism
> > certainly covers their evolution handily."
> > <> he is just plain
> > wrong.

To me it is simply irrelevant what Dennett says here.

> OK, that is true.
> *Darwinian* evolutiona ccounts for it, but the only way this is
> > Neo-Darwinian evolution is to treat it as a limit case where the
> > geno-pheno distinction is insensible, and this is, to me, semantic
> > salvation only.


> >
> > The very notion of en/de-coding is subjective.
> if you see it that way everything is subjective, and nothing. In other
> words I do not agree or do not understand.
> When is something a code
> > and when not? Well, it depends on how you characterise the physical
> > systems concerned, and a lot also on the scale at which you do so. Is the
> > expression of a given enzyme from a codon of nucleotides a decoding of
> > those nucleotides? Most say yes, but there are other properties of
> > nucleotides - such as their structure in water - that we do not call
> > decoding but just physical peoperties. When does a codon "stand for" (note
> > the semantic nature of that phrasing) something and when not? When we so
> > characterise the relationship for heuristic purposes.
> isn't everything we say heuristic then?

Good question

> >
> > The scalar relationship between nucleotides and phenotypic properties is
> > such that because some features of organisms, and indeed the organisms
> > themselves, are perceptually salient to *us*, and there is some (more
> > complex than most think) relationship between those and genes, we consider
> > that mapping a codical one. Other properties we do not. --
> I do not see the point of this ?

Neither do I. Encoded information needs interpretation to 'mean' something. This is obviously
the case for genes and for texts. From the informational point of view, it does not matter
which characteristics a nucleotide strand has in water or how much place a book takes on a
shelf. So, let us not get too philosophical and stick to the informationally 'useful' points
of view.


Mario Vaneechoutte
Department Clinical Chemistry, Microbiology & Immunology
University Hospital
De Pintelaan 185
9000 GENT
Phone: +32 9 240 36 92
Fax: +32 9 240 36 59


The memetic origin of language: humans as musical primates
J. Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission

"Be very, very careful what you put into that head,
because you will never, ever get it out."
Thomas Cardinal Wolsey (1471-1530)

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