Re: Measuring Memes

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Thu, 17 Jun 1999 08:14:27 +0200

From: <>
Date: Thu, 17 Jun 1999 08:14:27 +0200
Subject: Re: Measuring Memes

Tim Rhodes wrote:

> Mario Vaneechoutte wrote:
> >As I argued before: printed text. Nothing compares as well to
> >genes as printed texts. Of course, their function and role is
> >completely different to that of genes.
> But is the comparison to genes really what we need here?

First, because that was the question (which you omitted).

> Sure, they're both replicators,

Sure, none of them is.

> but beyond that, is it even fruitful to try
> to match the workings of a meme to that of a gene? And why should we
> imagine that this would be a useful pursuit? (Especially after seeing how
> difficult it is to make that comparison in the real world.)

You seem to forget that the catchiness of the word meme comes from the analogy
with the word gene, as proposed by Dawkins. Not only phonetic analogy, also he
proposed analogy in function.

> Do we really have any evidence that the mechanisms involved in the
> transmission of cultural traits bares a similarity to that of biological
> traits?

No, we don't, and there isn't basically, because in biology we are dealing with
autonomously replicating systems (cells and the multicellular colonies they
make - not genes), while in culture we deal with elements of information which
are replicated and are transmitted. In biology, selection automatically
involves duplication: natural selection.Nevertheless, printed texts can be
considered as informational analogs to genes, having a function which genes had
4 billion years ago. Difficult exercise, I know.

> Or are we just trying to fit a thing we have yet to completely
> conceptualized (the meme's replication) into the clothing of something we
> already understand (the gene)?

Yes. Although I wouldn't state that we completely understand gene replication
or biological evolution.

> I suspect that the distinctions get so fuzzy so quickly because they simply
> aren't ones that apply to this type of replicator. As you say:
> >Looking for memes as the analogs to genes in minds and behaviors
> >is looking in the wrong place. IMO, words like memotype, phemotype,
> >etc. are completely erroneous since they try to find analogies with
> >genes where they aren't.
> And I wonder, at this stage in the game is it more useful to hypothesize
> about mechanisms or about the effects of those mechanisms? In other words,
> does it do any good to concentrate on pinpointing the memetic "DNA" when we
> have yet to precisely describe WHY a cultural unit even NEEDS TO HAVE a
> genotype/phenotype-esque dichotomy?

-Tim Rhodes

I agree.

Mario Vaneechoutte
Department Clinical Chemistry, Microbiology & Immunology
University Hospital
De Pintelaan 185
9000 GENT
Phone: +32 9 240 36 92
Fax: +32 9 240 36 59

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