Memetic fitness

Gatherer, D. (
Tue, 20 Jul 1999 13:27:03 +0200

Date: Tue, 20 Jul 1999 13:27:03 +0200
From: "Gatherer, D. (Derek)" <>
Subject: Memetic fitness
To: "''" <>

Paul asks:

How do we define memetic fitness?

The 'real' definition of fitness (as opposed to the Spencer's soundbite
'survivial of the fittest' which has never had a clear meaning) is down to
Fisher and is defined as w, where w = 1-s, for instance in the case of a
deleterious recessive which has selection pressure s against it. W is
calculated by comparing the frequencies of p squared (in the case of
recessives) from one generation to another. For dominants and co-dominants
there are minor tweaks but the basic principle is the same.

A while ago I was talking about homosexuality and made the point that
imposition of taboos against homosexuality can only restore w to 1 (where
previously it had been 1-s), and that therefore homosexuality will _not_
spread under taboo conditions.

However, that was a discussion about how genes interact with cultural
taboos, here the question concerns memetic fitness.

One might seek to apply Fisher directly to hosted cultural traits. This is
what Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman have been doing since 1981, and which Sue
mentions in Meme Machine p.34-35

Feldman's ex-post-doc Kevin Laland has been dealing extensively with memetic
fitness in a whole series of papers in the Cavallian vein. There is quite a
mass of theory in this area.

The problem, as I see it, is with the issue of 'hosting'. The Cavallian
importation of genetic methods into memetics requires us to have:

a) a definite meme-host relationship
b) some agreed measure of memetic generation time

The Cavallian school get round a) by simply assuming it. They only study
those things where they think they can safely see the relationship. They
get round b) by using biological generations ie. a cultural generation is
taken to be the same as a genetic one.

So, to try to be concise:

1) memetic fitness already has a solid definition
2) that definition is couched within a Cavallian theoretical memetics

and of course

3) Sue does discuss theoretical population memetics in MM (contra to some
statements that have appeared in the list recently)


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