Re: A more "sciency"-sounding mysticism.

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Fri, 2 Apr 1999 13:03:47 EST

From: <>
Date: Fri, 2 Apr 1999 13:03:47 EST
Subject: Re: A more "sciency"-sounding mysticism.

In a message dated 4/1/99 9:33:49 AM Central Standard Time, writes:

<< Derek:

But it's me who's being the pedant here. I objected to what I saw as your
lack of precision. And you are objecting to my lack of precision? I'm a
bit confused now. >>

Okay, perhaps we really are miscommunicating here. So I retract any
suggestion that you are just being contrarian. So I would welcome any
"putting me in my place" that you can offer - assuming that it is accompanied
by better information and clearer concepts than I am operating with.


I think you are being
a wee bit, and unnecessarily contrarian.


No, I'm being pedantic. You may with reason wonder why. The reason is that
there is a long history within memetics, part of which is reflected in
recent JoM articles, commentaries and on this list too, of debate concerning
to what extent the meme is an abstraction, and how it is an abstraction. As
one in the anti-abstraction camp, I always have to face up to arguments
like: 'but genes are just abstractions too', and that is what I am concerned
to combat.<<

My concern is what I see as the misperception that if we aren't placing the
memes "in the brain" then we are saying that they are completely "out there"
outside of the brain. I don't think that is completely right either.

I think people get unneccessarily concerned about where exactly these memes
are located - where I am more concerned about which memetic processes take
place where. I am of the opinion that some of them take place "out there",
and some of them take place "in here", making the actual physical location of
the meme itself a sort of silly question to me. I am more concerned about
where and how various memetic processes are taking place and I don't think
that they all take place in one particular location - either "out there" or
"in here".


No I don't want gene to mean genotype. Absolutely not. They don't mean the
same thing. Nor is the genotype just the total assemblage of genes (that's
the genome).<<

So don't keep teasing me - what is a "gene" to you?

>>Sorry can't agree with that. The genes are very definitely in the nucleus
(except of course the mitochondrial ones). If you said the genes are not
really located anywhere in the organism, you would definitely fail the level
2 Genetics course I used to teach.<<

... . .and. . .

>>I think that you have some confusion over the biological terminology. I
think you are labouring under the misconception frequently peddled in
memetic circles that since genes are just abstractions (false), it's alright
for memes to be too (which it isn't).<<

Okay - so lets say the gene is located in the nucleus - whatever this gene
turns out to be when you explain it to me. Does having a location make it
any less of an abstraction? For a cultural analogy - since we have to make
"abstractions" work both in biology and culture - I can incorporate a
business here in Texas, and it is definitely located in Texas, but as a
corporation it still remains an abstraction.

Because it is an abstraction, however, the location of the corporation is not
essential to its existence and what it is. For example multi-national and
international corporations have made this principle obvious.

So back to biology - if the gene is located inside the nucleus - is that fact
essential to discussing genes within an evolutionary algorithm framework - or
is it just a happenstance peculiar to our current stage of biological
evolution? Obviously Mendel was able to study genes quite well without any
particular idea of where they might have been located within the mature
organism. He could have even believed that they were located within some
sort of ethereal elan that permeated within and around the individual
organism and was especially potent in the flowers and pollen. It wouldn't
have made any difference to his conclusion.

The thing that was essential was a mathematical/algorithmical pattern to the
distribution of genetic information from one individual and one generation to
the next. That seems like an abstraction to me if there ever was one. The
fact that we find this information encoded in the nucleus instead of an
ethereal elan would not make any difference. It would make a difference if
we found no actual mechanism - but the need for a mechanism for an
evolutionary algorithm does not dictate what kind or where we should find it.

Let's go one level down in abstraction still - and I think that we are still
dealing with an abstraction. Mendel could know that a pea-plant definitely
had a recessive gene because one of the parent plants displayed the recessive
trait, even though the traitless plant had no visible sign of the trait and
could even look identical to another plant that did not have the recessive
gene. Once again, it doesn't really matter where this genetic information is
encoded, whether it is nuclear DNA or elan, only that it be encoded
*somewhere*. This to me still sounds like an abstraction.

>>So although I am a nit-picking pedant, I am a nit-picking pedant with a

Now that is something that I can relate to.


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