Terminology and Quantification (was Re: Meme Machine reviewed

Aaron Lynch (aaron@mcs.net)
Sat, 17 Jul 1999 19:19:23 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Sat, 17 Jul 1999 19:19:23 -0500
To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk
From: Aaron Lynch <aaron@mcs.net>
Subject: Terminology and Quantification (was Re: Meme Machine reviewed
In-Reply-To: <4fcdf7f9.24c108e2@aol.com>

At 06:14 PM 7/16/99 EDT, Jake <JakeSapien@aol.com> wrote:
>The only thing that I am really wedded to is materialism and the
>algorithm. Because without those, "memes" is just the next new age fad.
>I am actually rather fond of William Benzon's conception of memes, which I
>still see to be different from Gatherer or Lynch. I wonder if he does? I
>wish his website was still operational, does anyone know if his work is
>available elsewhere on the web? Anyways all of these conceptions are inside
>baseball as far as memetics is concerned. None of them suggest anything
>outside materialism or the evolutionary algorithm.

When memetics is presented to journals such as SCIENCE and NATURE, it is
necessary to do considerably more than just show that memetics works as a
philosophical stance consistent with materialism and "the evolutionary
algorithm." If we claim that some kinds of memes spread more than others,
we must be prepared to be very specific and tell just *how much* more they
spread and at what time schedule. That is, the theory needs to be stated in
dynamic quantitative and mathematical terms. Otherwise, we run into charges
of "superficiality," "circularity," "tautology," "cocktail party science,"
etc. By these criteria, Dennett (1995) is utterly inadequate. In fact,
Dennett (1995) even claims that "The prospects for elaborating a rigorous
science of memetics are doubtful..." (p. 369) --a situation I see as
arising from his unfamiliarity in 1995 with quantitative population
memetics. He only defended memetics as a "valuable perspective," not as a
"rigorous science." (Indeed, this opinion about memetics may even account
for his long delay in reading more rigorous population memetics work.)

In my opinion, some meme definitions pose severe problems for the
development of dynamic mathematical and quantitative models. But that is
not for me to prove. Rather, it is up to the proponents of any given
definition to come up with the dynamic propagation equations or other
dynamic quantitative methods that satisfy the demand for rigor exacted by
the scientific community when presented to serious journals such as SCIENCE

A less important point is that Dennett was not sufficiently specific in
using the term "algorithm." What he apparently meant was *recursive*
algorithm--another little technical point that can come up when experts in
recursive function theory who read SCIENCE, etc. see the term "algorithm"
used loosely.

Note that because my own book only *mentions* mathematical memetics, I
would not have sent it by itself to a journal such as SCIENCE or NATURE
without calling attention to material that was too technical to include in
a trade book. The same applies for books by Blackmore, Dawkins, and others.


Dennett, Daniel C. 1995. _Darwin's Dangerous Idea_. New York: Simon &

--Aaron Lynch


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