The Extended Phenotype

Reed Konsler (
Tue, 13 Apr 1999 14:52:45 -0400

Message-Id: <v02140b17b3393afda627@[]>
Date: Tue, 13 Apr 1999 14:52:45 -0400
From: (Reed Konsler)
Subject: The Extended Phenotype

>From: Mario Vaneechoutte <>
>Date: Mon, 12 Apr 1999 11:02:55 +0200
>Subject: Re: The Extended Memeotype
>Reed Konsler wrote:
>Becuase minds are, at present, the only fully
>> capable medium for memetic reproduction, right?
>> OK, I see this. I can think of machines like watches
>> calculators, palm which we abdicate
>> cognitive functions. But without the minds, these
>> machines couldn't reproduce. They embody
>> information, but they don't have the machinery
>> to replicate that information independently. In
>> the end, they are all perhipherals.
>You are making an understandable mistake here...Really, you can't
>draw the line you are trying to draw here: life is one large 4 billion
>year old organism, and you should include minds and computers into
>it. If you claim that computers are peripherals, than our minds are
>peripherals as well.

Yes, I see that. I wasn't trying to draw a line between our technological
devices and our bodies. I don't think there is much difference between
a watch and an internal biological clock.

Maybe I meant "peripheral" from the invidivdual level perspective.
These things seem perhipheral to me becuase I overemphasise the
importance of my mind. This could be another way of understanding
a statement like "the self is an illusion". I agree that, from a broader
persepctive the lines don't exist.

>There is more: what digital computers do to digitized electronic texts
>resembles much better what digital polymerases do to digitized nucleotide
>information: copying, cutting, pasting, recombining, proof reading,
>transcribing, multiplicating ... than what happens in our analog minds.
>Minds endorse and eventually propagate ideas, but this is not the kind of
>straightforward copying you see by processors like polymerases and copy
>machines/computers. Rarely minds reproduce an idea exactly the way it
>came in. Moreover, ideas and behaviours only are activated or exist
>transiently (like chemical metabolic interactions), while texts exist
>independently of the behavioural/mental interactions (like nucleotides
>exist independently of biochemical metabolic interactions).
>IMO texts are the true memetic analogs of genes, not ideas in our minds.

It seems obvious when you say it that way. That reminds me of
Bill Benzon's stance that memes are "in the culture" and not "in
the mind". This would make the brains/computers/environment
the milieu in which the memes phenotypic effect is felt. Memes
are recorded in languages and if the memes cause the people/
machines/environment to preferentially replicate them then those
memes propogate.

If you look at memes from this perspective there is room for a lot
of "junk", just like in long as a text creates the right
reading frame and focuses the machinery of replication on the
appropriate sequences.

You know, this could be empirically testable. If you statistically
analyze the ROM sequence in a computer connected to the internet
you ought to be able to find the replicated sequences. In some cases
these would be the result of complier protocols or viruses...things
which would be obvious. The interesting thing would be to look for
highly conserved multiple digital sequences that didn't have any
known "function" and then try to figure out what they're doing and

Another implication is that memes and genes might be the same thing.
Both are physically recorded information. Each has an extended
phenotype. The methods of propogation might be radically different,
but the result is the same.

I'll have to think about that. Thanks for the comment.


Reed Konsler

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