L- and G-memes (was: Re: Measuring Memes)

Tim Rhodes (proftim@speakeasy.org)
Fri, 18 Jun 1999 08:37:36 -0700

From: "Tim Rhodes" <proftim@speakeasy.org>
To: <memetics@mmu.ac.uk>
Subject: L- and G-memes (was: Re: Measuring Memes)
Date: Fri, 18 Jun 1999 08:37:36 -0700

Mario wrote:

>Tim wrote:
>> So, if I have all that right (?), you go on to see the relationship
>> between memes and brains to be similar to that before the
>> enclosed cell--where the encoded information doesn't need to
>> include instructions for its own replication because another
>> agency (the brain) takes care of that part of the process.
>I hardly can believe it, but finally someone seems to understand what I am
>trying to explain since a few years.

Well, it looks like you got a few of your memes replicated after all!

>Ideas do not replicate themselves. If they are replicated successfully,
>it is because they can rely on an already existing world of brains. Of
>course they can have characteristics which make them being replicated
>preferentially. Some nucleotides may have been replicated preferentially,
>for several different reasons. Jokes, good recipes, novel insights,
>intriguing hypotheses, ideologies confirming your self image or
>promessing eternal life, threatening and promessing chain letters all will
>be replicated easily.
>> Assuming I've understood all that correctly, my question is this: Do
>> we have any examples of kind of prebiotic situation you describe
>> from which we might be able to extrapolate (and possibly make
>> projections about) the evolutionary rates for the analogous memes?
>I am afraid I can't do so, also because I have problems in understanding
>the question.. What do you want to learn? Could you explain again?

I probably didn't put that as well as I could have. Let me try again.

If we see memes as akin to genes, we're likely to look to genetics
(population or otherwise) for mathematical models which we can use to apply
to the behavior of memes. Aaron and Derek may dispute exactly which of
these formulas to use or how to apply them, but their general usefulness
isn't really in question if you've already decided that memes are
replicators and involved in natural selection.

But if we see memes as something else, as information that is acted upon by
an external agency rather then just copying itself, do we need to use a
different set of equations? If, as you say:

"Present day culture (cultural selection) then is considered to be in an
earlier developmental stage than biology (natural selection), a stage which
is best compared with prebiotic chemical interaction at the time when
informational molecules (nucleotides) were developed."

Do we then have any examples of how evolution and selection would act in
that prebiotic state from which to model the actions of the non-autonomous

Is there enough difference between "evolution" (as in culture) and "natural
selection" (as in biology) for us to worry about that mis-match?

(Hmmm, I'm not really sure if that was any clearer or not...)

I'll tell you where I think I'm going with this. I have an idea which is
cooking away at the moment--although it's still quite half-baked--which sees
both the meme-in-the-mind and the meme-in-the-behavior/artifact as
equivalent; as two different manifestations of the same meme. Such that it
would be misleading to talk about either memes as being passed from
brain-to-brain using behaviors, or from behavior-to-behavior using brains,
since either view only covers one part of the story.

I'm using the following thought experiment:

Suppose we call both the instructions in the mind and the manifestations of
them "memes". But we still make a distinction between the two in regards to
how the meme can mutate and what types of selection pressures will act upon
it in either of those two forms. For simplicity sake, I'm going to call the
memes-in-the-mind "Lynch's memes" or L-memes and the
memes-in-behavior-and/or-artifacts "Gatherer's memes" or the G-memes.
(Despite that fact that this will probably result in shouts of disgust from
both Aaron and Derek. :-)

So, imagine that there can be no such thing as heredity between one L-meme
and the next. And equally, there is no real heredity between G-memes and
their descendants. But rather, that L-memes may be replicated (loosely)
into G-memes and that G-memes may, in turn, be replicated (equally loosely)
into L-memes. So that we can never say that a meme is "passed down", but
rather that in retains characteristics while undergoing a L-G-L-G-L-G

Now, this might seem like a very small distinction, but I really don't think
it is. There'll be a whole different set of rules governing the
transcription of an L-meme into a G-meme than there would with be for
transcribing a G-meme into an L-meme. For instance, if an idea (an L-meme)
is changed into an action (a G-meme) the type selection pressures it
undergoes--which will relate to why that idea was chosen for enaction over
others--will be different than those in play when the witnessed action
becomes stored in anothers memory (as an L-type meme). In the later case,
issues of simple physical proximity, the focus of attention, or the seeming
similarity to other memes previously transcribed may play a greater role in
selecting which G-memes successfully make the change into L-memes than

And in the same way, the types of variations or mutations that take place as
an L-meme becomes a G-meme will be different in kind from those that occur
as a G-meme becomes an L-meme. And these differences would also, therefore,
need to be acounted for in any future models of meme behavior.

survive in different forms throughout the L-G-L-G (or for that matter
"G-L-G-L") process--any arguments about whether a meme resides in the brain
or is actually in the behavior, would appear similar to a debate about
whether the hydrologic cycle begins with mountain rains or ocean
evaporation. (And as such, ultimately just about as useful to boot!)

I also think this viewpoint has certain implications about fidelity though
the L-G-L-G cycle and what characteristics we should expect to see surviving
the process successfully. But my ideas in this area are still even more
rudimentary and less thought out than the mess I've presented you with

-Tim Rhodes.

BTW, it's more than likely I've pilfered some or all of these ideas from
someone or from an article somewhere, but at the moment I can't remember
what or from where that might have been.

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