Re: information transmission

Fri, 19 Mar 1999 11:29:54 GMT

Date: Fri, 19 Mar 1999 11:29:54 GMT
From: UEA <>
Subject: Re: information transmission

> >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.

I'm not sure they are delinked - if Dawkins did link them in the first place it's because it was a bit of a quantum leap to start
talking about memes and he wanted to ground the idea in something more concrete. The view that I accept is that genetics and
memetics are both examples of Universal Darwinism, which is a useful way of looking at the world in order to predict the
patterns of spread of various phenomena. The fact is though, we have much more evidence to support our claims for genetics
than memetics. Like many memetic theorists have said, memes don't have to be parallels of genes, they just need to display
Darwinian properties (like variation, selection and retention) like genes do.

As for whether this, that or the other is a thing or a pattern, I'm not the right guy to ask. I view memetics as a potentially useful
theory for how culture and so on proliferates and propagates. Whether you view them (or genes) as merely patterns, or you
think you can actually isolate the neural substrate which contains certain information and label it "a meme" is irrelevant to me.
Either way all these phenomena have observable properties that seem to fit with the notion of good science - that we can make
predictions about them, test our theories about them and so on.

So as an analogy, let's look at chemistry. One of the tasks of chemistry is to understand the nature of the most basic and
smallest particles. A scientist isolates the atom and says "ah! we've found the smallest particle." Then someone discovers the
electron and says "ah! we've found the smallest particle" (you can make the rest up yourself!) Of course, the main point is that
whatever happens, we still have the periodic table - and imperfect though it is, it's still an INCREDIBLY good predictor of
chemical behaviour and properties.

Universal Darwinism is our Periodic Table. Whether or not memes or genes or other replicators "really exist" by whatever
criteria of judgement you wish to use, we have their behavioural patterns right under our noses. And we can study them and
taxonomise them without necessarily knowing all their nuts and bolts. Of course the nuts and bolts help. And I guess this is
where your and my job differs. So to fast forward a bit:

> > 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.

OK, so without getting involved in an argument, the fact that information can get passed horizontally really is a central
property of memetics qua Universal Darwinism. That doesn't happen in genetics. And the fact of the matter is whether
something does or does not get "physically" passed horizontally, if you look at these patterns of informational or cultural
transfer with an evolutionary framework the bit that we are interested in - cultural phenomenon or whatever - is spreading in a
non-heriditary way. If we still want to do evolutionary theory on these phenomena, we have to understand what processes
were behind this horizontal transmission of information/culture. That, in my opinion, is the main remit of memetics.

cheers, alex.

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Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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