RE: A more "sciency"-sounding mysticism.

Gatherer, D. (
Tue, 06 Apr 1999 09:29:23 +0200

Date: Tue, 06 Apr 1999 09:29:23 +0200
From: "Gatherer, D. (Derek)" <>
Subject: RE: A more "sciency"-sounding mysticism.
To: "''" <>

-----Original Message-----
From: []
Sent: Friday, April 02, 1999 7:04 PM
Subject: Re: A more "sciency"-sounding mysticism.


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.


Yes, this is where I have failed to convince the memetics community as a


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
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".


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


A gene is part of the DNA that codes for a protein or RNA product. So
sentences like 'there are about 85000 genes in the human genome' refer to
the postulated 85000 product-coding regions within the larger DNA string.


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.


I agree that all concepts are abstractions. But your actual physical
business, its locks, stocks and barrels, is in Texas in the same whay that
the gene is in the nucleus. What I'm driving at is: some things are just
abstractions, just hypothetical entities, whereas other things are 'more'
real. Granted, the concepts used to describe them are products of human
imagination, but neverthless the 'realer' things can be pointed to. The
problem for memetics is whether or not memes are tangible in this way, or
whether they are 'just' abstractions.

Because it is an abstraction, however, the location of the corporation is
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
essential to discussing genes within an evolutionary algorithm framework -
is it just a happenstance peculiar to our current stage of biological


The evolutionary algorithmic framework, since Fisher, takes genes as being
in individuals. So Fisher and his successors don't refer to nuclei, but
they do require what became known as the gene-host, or replicator-vehicle,
duality. So yes, I'd say that it is essential.

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.


Yes, Mendel's idea of the gene was different to Fisher's, but even so it
wasn't totally a hypothetical entity (a HYPE). Mendel's genes were
observable through the very rigorous criteria he developed, ie. segregarion
ratios, assortment, linkage etc.

The thing that was essential was a mathematical/algorithmical pattern to the

distribution of genetic information from one individual and one generation
the next. That seems like an abstraction to me if there ever was one.


Yes, I'm not disputing that Mendel's notion of the gene was more abstract
than the more concrete definitions that came later. But what I am keen to
point out in this context, is:

that Mendel's genes were not defined solely in terms of phenotype. This
seems to me to be an important point with regard to memetics, since the
Dawkins B school claim that we can reasonably infer the presence of an
internal neural structure or conformational unit, just by looking at the
produced behaviour. The process is: observe phemotype, score memotype.

When I have protested that this is an unreasonable leap of speculation, when
I have tried to insist that there can be no grounds for believing in these
'internal' memes, it has been pointed out to me that this is a perfectly
reasonable simplification in view of the early state of memetics, that
Mendelian genetics performed the very same manoeuvre, ie: observe phenotype,
score genotype. But it didn't. Dawkins B school memeticists are engaged in
a far more speculative exercise than Mendelian geneticists.


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


Depends what you mean by an evolutionary algorithm. In the most basic sense
of variation-selection-replication, then I agree, it can be purely
mathematical. Evolution is, in that sense, universal (Universal Darwinism,
as Dawkins said), but with regard to memetics, wouldn't it be nicer if we
could actually get down to some specifics???

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
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
encoded, whether it is nuclear DNA or elan, only that it be encoded
*somewhere*. This to me still sounds like an abstraction.


Yes, as I said above, Mendel's genetics was less concrete than the molecular
versions that succeeded it. (But it was still more concrete than any
present day memetics)

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