Ontology (was Meme Conference)

Robin Faichney (robin@faichney.demon.co.uk)
Mon, 17 May 1999 13:40:23 +0100

Date: Mon, 17 May 1999 13:40:23 +0100
To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk
From: Robin Faichney <robin@faichney.demon.co.uk>
Subject: Ontology (was Meme Conference)
In-Reply-To: <2CDFE2C8F598D21197C800C04F911B20224C0A@DELTA.newhouse.akzonobel.nl>

In message <2CDFE2C8F598D21197C800C04F911B20224C0A@DELTA.newhouse.akzono
bel.nl>, Gatherer, D. (Derek) <D.Gatherer@organon.nhe.akzonobel.nl>
>Forward of Bob Aunger's post of 2nd March
>Nevertheless, the unit of culture, which presumably is subject to those
>as-yet obscure laws, was defined over twenty years ago by the biologist
>Richard Dawkins (1976) as a "meme." He described the meme as a cultural
>replicator, or unit of information with the ability to reproduce itself
>using resources from some material substrate.

This is an interesting angle, which I haven't seen made explicit before.
(Is it in The Selfish Gene?)

I'd like to suggest that, though the meme does of course ultimately use
material resources, its immediate environment is information processing
capacity. Genetic information can be considered to manipulate material
processes so as to ensure its survival beyond the demise of its
substrate. Analogously, memetic information, originally encoded only
within nervous systems but eventually also in artefacts, manipulates
organisms' information processing so as to ensure its survival beyond
the demise of its substrate.

Unfortunately, if the ontological proof of genes is DNA, then there
cannot be a parallel for memes, because they are only indirectly
dependent on a material substrate -- any group of information processors
with the tendency to copy each other's behaviour will do. The
ontological proof being thus ruled out, we are left with the criterion
of explanatory power, where is much less easily judged.

Robin Faichney
Visit The Conscious Machine at

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