Re: Meme Machine reviewed in Science

Mark M. Mills (
Fri, 16 Jul 1999 13:34:28 -0400

Date: Fri, 16 Jul 1999 13:34:28 -0400
From: "Mark M. Mills" <>
Subject: Re: Meme Machine reviewed in Science
In-Reply-To: <>


At 05:44 PM 7/15/99 -0400, you wrote:

>Philsophically, I think this is much ado about nothing.

OK. I get that you don't see a difference between Lynch-memes and

Though I doubt this will clarify anything, I'll restate what I mean by
Lynch/Gatherer memes. A Lynch meme is an instantiated configuration of
neural tissue. A Gatherer-meme is an abstraction that causes neural
configurations... and a variety of other physical changes. One can say
that a 'belief' is a Gatherer-meme. One would never expect to 'isolate' a
Gatherer meme, it has no physical existence.

Thus, a Gatherer meme has little to do with genetics. The Lynch-meme can
draw many parallels with genetics.

I think this is a major difference. When I say 'meme,' I don't mean 'a
belief.' I mean something very specific, a chunk of brain tissue. By
distinguishing between 'Lynch-meme' and 'Gatherer-meme,' I can help people
understand my intent.

>That genes and memes have *some* material manifestation is philosophically
>important. That we can consistently point to some particular piece of
>matter/mechanism and say "that is a gene" or "that is a meme" is not
>philosophically important.

I agree.

>Though genes have a single obvious stable
>mechanism for information retention - DNA - that is not the sum total of
>a gene is.

While I can see how this perspective is built, I chose to follow the lead
of geneticists. Geneticists as a group define the term, and they say a
gene is instantiated in DNA sequences upon a phosphate sugar substrate.
There is probably some disagreement amongst geneticists about genes
existing in mitochondria DNA, but this is tangential.

I think it is important that geneticists and memetics work together.
Telling a geneticist that genes are more than 'just DNA' falls on deaf ears.

>While DNA is definitely selfishly replicated - it is in no
>stretch of the imagination a solipsistic replicator

While I'm familiar with the term 'solipsism', I have no idea what a
'solipsistic replicator' is. Can you explain?

>That memes have diverse mechanisms for information retention of varying

>stability/fidelity does not make memes any less "real" or have any less
of a
>material manifestation than genes do.

Can you describe any of these? It would help me understand what you mean.

>Until we start taking a more emergent materialistic approach to memetics, we
>will continue to fall for a hopelessly immense array of philosophical
>"problems" based on the fact that memes do not have a consistent, discreet,
>and readily identifiable instantiation or information storage like genes do
>in DNA.

Your confidence that a gene has discrete, identifiable instantiation is
excessive. We can define Open Reading Frames (ORFs), but very few genes
producing anything more than a protein. There are many problems created if
one defines ORFs as genes. We still have no way of pointing to a specific
DNA sequence and saying 'this is the recessive blue-eye gene.'

This lack of specificity is exactly the same situation as we have in
neurology. We can locate a few places in the brain that produce phenotypic
expression, just as we can locate a few places on a DNA strand producing
specific proteins. Just as we might search for a protein producing gene on
a chromosome, we might search for a specific place on the brain producing a

Both a gene and a Lynch-meme are best seen in terms of a 'critical path.'
If you get too close to the DNA or neural tissue, the process path widens.
It is impossible to define a specific 'critical path' for macroscopic
phenotypic expression. Content oneself with microscopic process paths, and
nice discrete physical elements emerge to define both gene and Lynch-meme.

>We will never be able to point to a neuron and say, "that is a meme"
>and capture any significant sense of what we are talking about.

I disagree. We can already do this with simple behavioral expressions. I
was recently reading about a neural researcher who identified a spot on
rabbit brains that produces involuntary eye blinking. Remove this small
group of neurons and the rabbit cannot blink, the phenotypic expression is
gone. That spot contains a meme.

While this is a minor example, it is exactly analogous to what we know of

Perhaps you have a better term than 'Lynch-meme.' I'm not wedded to the
term. I just want to be clear that when I talk about memes, I'm talking
about something analogous to a gene instantiated in brain tissue.


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Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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