RE: Replicating in and out of minds

Bill Benzon (
Thu, 8 Apr 1999 23:15:06 -0400

Message-Id: <>
Date: Thu, 8 Apr 1999 23:15:06 -0400
From: (Bill Benzon)
Subject: RE: Replicating in and out of minds

At 5:11 PM 4/8/99 -0700, Richard Brodie wrote:
>Bill Benzon wrote:
><<If one defines a meme as that entity in cultural
>evolution that plays a replicator role analogous to that which the gene
>plays in biological evolution, then the question of whether or not memes
>are in the mind/brain is not a matter of definition. It is a matter of how
>cultural evolution works. That is an empirical question.>>
>Well, I'll just say you've got bigger balls than I had when I wrote VM.

Perhaps. But maybe I'm more foolish.


>Whatever you call it, replicator-in-the-mind really is an interesting
>distinction to make (replying to Tim). It focuses on the mechanism of how
>beliefs affect behavior. I catch a meme somehow. What does it do to me? It
>influences me to whistle a tune, wear a hat backwards, or speak a slang
>phrase. But I'm not sure there's much you can do with engineering a "pure
>meme" that doesn't quickly evolve into an artifact-centered replicator. So I
>would be really happy if meme were defined as what Dawkins and I call a
>virus of the mind. My concern is that you're going to confuse everybody
>should you do that.

And maybe "viruses of the mind" and "genes of cultural evolution" are
different things.


We can use any number of phrases for defining meme. For example:

1) "that entity in cultural evolution that plays a replicator role
analogous to that which the gene plays in biological evolution"

2) "mental replicator"

One position would be that those two phrases, while different intensionally
(to use the logician's term), are equivalent extensionally (they designate
the same entities). I don't believe that. I believe that, not only are
they different intensionally, they are different extensionally as well.
And it is the entities defined by the first phrase that most interest me.

>I think Dawkins would be the first to admit that he doesn't know how
>cultural evolution works. He coined the term only to point out that DNA was
>not the only possible replicator. In VM, I pointed out that meme-in-mind is
>not only not the only possible CULTURAL replicator, but it's not even the
>most interesting one. But I still spent a lot of pages on it, both because
>it was a starting point for people who had read The Selfish Gene and because
>the whole idea of memes as components of our individual map of reality is
>essential to understanding the cognitive model of psychology.

But cognitive psychology has developed largely independently of any talk of
memes and it is still largely untouched by memetics. It's an open question
whether or not any of the entities discussed in the many varieties of cog.
psych. is a meme.

William L. Benzon 201.217.1010
708 Jersey Ave. Apt. 2A
Jersey City, NJ 07302 USA

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