Date: Fri, 16 Apr 1999 08:48:17 EDT
Subject: Re: The Replicators or the Replicated
In a message dated 15/04/99 15:38:18 GMT Daylight Time,
<< Genes and memes (whatever: ideas, texts, pottery, behaviour) are unable to
One needs replicators to do so (and now I am using the word 'replicator' in
its correct manner, that is as an active processor, an agent which can DO
(IMNHO (in my non honest opinion :-) ))
Minds, copy machines, computers are replicators for memes, and polymerases
Of course, the replicates (genes, memes) may have characteristics which
makes the replicators act upon them preferentially. Take a joke. It has
characteristics which will make people want to reproduce it: you can make
others laugh with it, which will make you a sympathetic person, which
reinforces your self esteem (psychologial certainty). Or a chain letter:
makes promesses in case you do replicate it and threatens you in case you
would not replicate it (and even if you don't believe the treat, you can
better play 'certain', also because the effort you have to make is usually
neglectable compared to the possible dangers which await you when not
The joke or the letter theirselves doenot replicate, but have
characteristics which motivate people to replicate them.
Is it really that difficult to see the obvious correctness and usefulness
of this approach, instead of pursuing the nonexisting 'self-replicative'
properties of memes?
Not at all, to describe a gene or meme as a replicate rather than a
replicator makes perfect sense to me. The question of what the replicator is
seems to depend on how deep you want to dig.
For genes a biochemical perspective is the appropriate level at which define
the replicator (you mention polymerases, although I don't know what this
means). For memes a psychological perspective is the appropriate level at
which to define the replicator (i.e. the mind and it's peripherals).
As you point out, it appears to be emotional stimuli that encourage the mind
to replicate memes. After witnessing a recent conversion from creationism to
(albeit still a little sceptical) darwinism I have started to puzzle over
what changes when someone moves from a state of knowing an idea to believing
an idea. In both cases the meme is in the mind, but the emotions attached to
the meme seem to change. If positive emotions are associated with a
particular meme it is perhaps more likely to be replicated. However, memes
themselves determine the emotions associated with other memes.
Much of the debate centred around memetics seems to me to be induced by the
wider implications of universal Darwinism which the new(ish) theory
highlights. When we begin to think of the replicate as pure information, we
have difficulty defining a universal replicator. We start looking for the
ultimate cause, the end to the chain of causality.
To prevent this confusion we must clearly define the boundaries of memetics,
as opposed to universal Darwinism. Memes are not any old replicated
information, they are the replicates which are replicated by the mind. In
trying to define a meme, some people have concentrated on the type of
information. IMHO this is a confusing perspective. We should define memes
in terms of the vehicle (symbolic representation i.e. language) used to
transmit the information, by the replicator (the mind). Although memetic
selection may be independant of the genetic selection the driving force
behind memetic replication is an original genetic predisposition to imitation.
My observations of the postings on this list have made me realise that in
order to adopt a memetic perspective I must not only define meme but also a
whole load of other stuff, such as information, vehicle, replicate,
replicator, artefact etc etc I'm still working on it........
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Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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