Re: Where does Blackmore's Replicator Power Come From?

Tim Rhodes (
Mon, 29 Mar 1999 12:34:34 -0800

From: "Tim Rhodes" <>
To: <>
Subject: Re: Where does Blackmore's Replicator Power Come From?
Date: Mon, 29 Mar 1999 12:34:34 -0800

Paul Marsden wrote:

>I would like to run an idea past you in order to evaluate its worth.
>[big body snip]

I like it. It seems a simple enough way of looking at information and
information processors as two "species" evovling in one anothers
environment. (And the image of minds as 'processors' gobbling their way
through a sea filled with floating bits of information is quite lovely.)

But could you expand a little more on what you mean to imply when you say
"self-emplacement"? Do you mean something like what the juicy body of a
fruit is for the seeds? or something else entirely?

-Tim Rhodes

Snipped material:
>Memeticists often speak of self-replication, replicators, and some hold
>memes are interactors as well. That debate has been done - and I do not
>to repeat it here. But if e take memes to be non-genetically transmitted
>information (i.e. culture), or indeed a sub-unit of it; socially learned
>behaviours, units of imitation, representations, instructions or
>then it is difficult to see how this non-genetic information can properly
>called a replicator, it may be replicated, but it doesn't actively
>replicate, unless a miracle ingredient, such as Blackmore's "replicator
>power". Now, our brains may be hardwired to appropriate behavioural
>strategies (or any other conceptualisation of a meme you many choose) under
>certain circumstances, and these might be called memes, but that leaves
>memes with an entirely passive role. However, having read Cloak (1986) I
>think there might be a sense in which cultural information may act as a
>replicator - and this is it: (Comments Please)
>One central insight of memetics is that this process of differential
>replication or imitation will result in some cultural information being
>spread simply because it is good at being spread, rather than for the
>benefit of the agents that are spreading the culture. This memetic lan, or
>replicator power as Blackmore calls it, is a simple consequence of the
>casual logic of natural selection. It is perhaps unfortunate that Blackmore
>does not make explicit the mechanism by which memes may legitimately be
>understood in terms of replicators, because this leaves the reader and
>critic in danger of misunderstanding the whole paradigm and conceptualising
>culture as some kind of active parasite. It would be more proper to say
>cultural information is replicated rather than replicates itself.
>Nevertheless, cultural information does have a self-replicative effect, or
>more properly, an effect of self-emplacement, by virtue of the fact it
>modifies the environment within which it operates. The causal logic here is
>identical to that of natural selection of genetic information. Imagine a
>population of information processors in an environment of information. Some
>processing is completely transparent, that is, the input is identical to
>output, whilst other processing modifies the informational environment by
>outputting information that is different to the input. The usual
>evolutionary scenario is to imagine that the processing activity of the
>processors results in differential survival chances for the processors, and
>given a replicating population of processors and heritable processing,
>differential replicative success. Processing that enhances survival and
>replication chances, because it allows the processors to exploit an
>environment upon they are dependent, tends to increase in prevalence,
>because those processors have a higher probability of successfully
>replication. Now, given a degree blind variation in replication, and an
>environment of insufficient resources for the population, relatively
>maladaptive processing may become extinct, whilst relatively adaptive
>processing will become the norm, until a new blind variation is selectively
>retained because it has relatively more evolutionary fitness. In short, the
>population will evolve through a mechanism of natural selection, processing
>that enhances the chances of that processing's self-emplacement will spread
>through the population.
>However, by shifting the focus from the processors to the information that
>the processors are processing, a second evolutionary mechanism may be
>identified, the natural selection or self-emplacement of the information
>itself. Because some processors output information that is different to the
>input, the informational environment is changed, and because output will
>depend on input, outputs will have some causal effect in determining the
>probability of a similar output being elicited. In other words, some
>information may result in outputs that enhance the likelihood of that
>occurring again, whilst others may modify the environment to make such a
>reoccurrence less likely. As more information is processed, information
>increases the chances of its own output will naturally increase in
>prevalence whilst information that reduces the probability will decrease.
>Over time, information that acts so as to increase the probability of this
>self-emplacement will become more prevalent, and if there is more
>information than can be processed, only that information that has a force
>self-emplacement will be processed. In other words, Blackmore's "replicator
>power" can be seen as the product of the non-miraculous causal logic of
>natural selection, that is, self-emplacement.

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