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

Paul Marsden (
Tue, 9 Feb 1999 09:32:01 -0000

From: "Paul Marsden" <>
To: "memetics" <>
Subject: Re: Darwinian/Neo-Darwinian, and codes (was Memes and Things)
Date: Tue, 9 Feb 1999 09:32:01 -0000

| > isn't everything we say heuristic then?

| Good question

John Wilkins replied

>Yes, and my answer is, well, yes. What else could it be? And when a
>heuristic fails, drop it and select another.

Are you suggesting a pragmatist, (verificationalist or at least an
instrumentalist) approach?

>In the limit cases being
>discussed here, the replicator concept breaks down. Since evolution
>occurs anyway, the notion is not an essential feature of
>characterisations or models of evolution. Since so far as we know there
>is no other kind of evolution than Darwinian evolution, there must be
>something wrong with neo-Darwinian exclusivity, such as we find in
>Dennett and Dawkins (but not, IMO, Maynard Smith, for all that he claims
>to be a methodological reductionist)

This I do not understand, perhaps I've missed the point - surely Dennett is
the "heuristic" champion par excellence (i.e. intentional stance); his
"tower of generate and test" is explicitly Darwinian not neo-Darwinian, and
he argues for methodological rather than ontological reductionism - and
Dawkins' brand of Universal Selection Theory (hyperbole apart - "Burying the
Vehicle"etc) is ultimately similarly impervious to replicator/interactor
fuzziness. That the replicator concept breaks down in both biology and
culture, fair enough - but I am tempted to say, so what?

Personally, I find Cloak's instructional notion of self-emplacement more
useful, and less problematic than the replicator concept. In Dawkins and
Ridley 1986, Cloak argues that an object emitting a response (behaviour) to
a stimulus (cue) (where behaviour + cue = instruction (heuristic)) such that
the behaviour modifies the environment so as to increase the chances of that
behaviour reoccurring describes the underlying mechanism of natural
selection. Self-emplacement can occur at various levels of selection,
through clusters of instructions - that are by definition interactors. This
I think is compatible with your definition that I like that a meme is "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." IMO self-emplacement is less problematic, more
flexible and less dangerous than the replicator concept

Cloak F.T. (1986) The Causal Logic of Natural Selection: A General Theory in
Dawkins, R. and Ridley M, Oxford Surveys in Evolutionary Biology Vol 3.

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

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