Re: information transmission

Mark Mills (
Thu, 18 Mar 99 10:24:31 -0600

Subject: Re: information transmission
Date: Thu, 18 Mar 99 10:24:31 -0600
From: Mark Mills <>
To: "Memetics List" <>


>This is all very well, but it isn't memetics. The kind of
>evolution you're invoking here is longitudinal (that is
>'down' from one generation from the next) like genetics.

Let me place myself within the context of all those that use the term
'memetics.' My framework is based on the relationship between genetics
and memetics. Based on the dicotomy between things and patterns, there
are 4 ways to relate genetics and memetics.

a) genes are things, memes are patterns: Lynch, Gatherer, Marsden, Price
and many others
b) genes are things, memes are things: Brodie and Benzon probably come
closest to this view.
c) genes are patterns, memes are patterns: Wilkins, Emeche, Hoffmeyer
d) genes are patterns, memes are things: No one takes this position.

b) and c) allow strong parallels between genetics and memetics. a) and
d) delink the two, just as you suggest.

Dawkins created the 'meme' construct as a variation on the term 'gene.'
'Meme' was to culture as 'gene' is to an individual organism.

This seems like a good place to start. Most memetics writers start here,

Most writers on memetics initially view genes as 'things' and memes as
'patterns.' I suspect you find yourself in this group. In this case, the
mechanics of genetics fundamentally differ from memetic processes. The
memetics/genetics foundation tends to be forgotten.

As I remember it, I started at this point, too.

At this point, my various readings and interactions on memetics suggest
group c), both genes and memes are patterns, is more useful. More
specifically, genes are patterns on a DNA substrate. Memes are patterns
on the neuro-tissue substrate.

I am still open to conversion, though. From time to time, I consider the
null option: both gene and meme are useless notions. As far as I can
tell, most people would be better off using the term 'open reading frame'
when they say 'gene,' but that is a different conversation.

>Yes, some information does get passed on longitudinally, and
>it's possible that this knowledge is inherited "physically"
>- perhaps like the LAD.


> But what makes memetics interesting
>- infact it's the main premise of memetics - is that
>information *can* get passed horizontally.

I agree it is an initial starting assumption. I disagree that it is the
main premise. As I pointed out above, Dawkins initial premise suggested
a systemic parallel between memes and genes. IHMO, this is the main
premise of memetics.

>ideas get passed from person to person (in a way unlike
>longitudinal passing of information) and we are trying to
>look for a plausible algorithm for that phenomenon.

Transmission and duplication can both provide models for communication.
One has to pick the one that is more useful. As far as I can tell, one
can only transmit tokens. Since I view memes a patterns, not tokens
(things), the transmission of memes makes no sense.

>If you are saying that "information" of all kinds exists in
>some Platonic form in people's heads, and the way
>information pools differ from person to person is that
>information gets moulded by people's experiences, then:
> The stuff that we call memetics concerns the phenomena (the
>tokens, or whatever you want to call them) that are doing
>the moulding, that are actually being passed from person to
>person horizontally - these are the memes.
>In other words the token of the burnt finger the mother
>passes to the baby *is the meme* - and what we are looking
>at is how these memes get transmitted, and why sometimes
>they are succesful, and sometimes they are not.

Now you are suggesting group b): genes are things, memes are things. It
is another workable model. It isn't the one I would pick, though.


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Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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