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

t (MemeLab@aol.com)
Mon, 29 Mar 1999 18:29:02 EST

From: <MemeLab@aol.com>
Date: Mon, 29 Mar 1999 18:29:02 EST
To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk
Subject: Re: Where does Blackmore's Replicator Power Come From?

In a message dated 3/29/99 10:00:31 AM Central Standard Time,
PaulMarsden@msn.com writes:

<< 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 output
occurring again, whilst others may modify the environment to make such a
reoccurrence less likely. As more information is processed, information that
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 of
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.>>

In a message dated 3/29/99 10:43:55 AM Central Standard Time,
robin@faichney.demon.co.uk writes:

<< In message <000201be79fc$fd692b00$ec4695c1@pc>, Paul Marsden
<PaulMarsden@msn.com> writes
>I would like to run an idea past you in order to evaluate its worth.

I tend to feel that the active/passive dichotomy implicit
here is unscientific: which is which depends on point of
view. I'd certainly be interested in any argument to the
contrary.
--
Robin Faichney>>

I haven't read Blackmore's book yet, but these posts seem to be yet another
struggling attempt to yank the meme from the clutches of biological metaphor,
into its own right as a cultural concept.

Paul seems to be struggling along trying to convince himself and others that
information ACTS, that it SELF-EMPLACES, and that it INCREASES its chances for
output. While this is all very nice vivid metaphorical imagery, information
in fact does none of these things. WE DO. Information is just information,
it doesn't do anything by itself. Without us, it is inert.

Actually however, the active/passive split that Robin talks about, does have a
very scientific precedent in biology. In genetics, the genotype is decidedly
passive. By itself it does nothing. The phenotype on the other hand is
definitely the active agent that gets the job of replicating done. It causes
me to wonder if there isn't another aspect to evolutionary algorithms that is
not strictly covered by 1) Blind variation - 2) natural selection
(differential reproductive fitness) 3) selective retention (inheritance)
rendition that we are used to seeing. Perhaps there are necessarily two
aspects to any replicator - the active aspect that is involved in #2 natural
selection (the biological phenotype) and the passive aspect that is involved
in #3 selective retention (the biological genotype).

The problem with the "mind virus" and "thought contagion" metaphors is that
viruses and other biological contagions generally are complete replicative
units active/passive phenotype/genotype in and of themselves. Viruses
arguably come closest to being completely passive, but even they have a
minimal phenotype - protein casing and apparatus for latching onto and
injecting the DNA into host cells and borrowing the pheontypical apparatus of
the host to do the work.

The problem with these metaphors in culture is that information is virtually
by definition a passive thing. It does not act - we do. Without us,
information is culturally inert. We are the phenotypical expression of that
information. And I certainly mean "we" in the narrative sense of that
pronoun. We are not just "infected" with information, we ARE the phemotypical
active expression of that otherwise passive cultural information (memotype).

"Jake" is not strictly the biological organism that types these words, he is
the cultural narrative that emerges from the intersection of that organism's
mental process and the cultural information that the organism has recieved.
And once it emerges, it draws far more into it's phemotypical expression than
just the organism. My computer, my day runner, calenders, clocks, clothing,
cameras, video recorders, pens, all manner of material from my environment are
pulled into the active service of that cultural phemotype to create the
cultural organism that is known as "Jake".

Perhaps we can envision the biological organism as being "infected" with
cultural information, but without this cultural information, we aren't even
identifiably the people - the characters - the cultural entities - that we see
ourselves to be. That's why this cultural contagion metaphor just doesn't
work beyond the vivid imagery that it provides. Cultural information by
itself DOESN'T DO ANYTHING. It is only through us, its phemotypical
expression, that it gets replicated. WE do the replicating. We aren't just
infected, we are in fact the expression.

-Jake

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