Re: Terminology and Quantification

Aaron Lynch (
Tue, 20 Jul 1999 21:19:32 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Tue, 20 Jul 1999 21:19:32 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: Terminology and Quantification
In-Reply-To: <>

At 05:52 PM 7/20/99 EDT, wrote:
>In a message dated 7/17/99 7:26:40 PM Central Daylight Time,
>>>In my opinion, some meme definitions pose severe problems for the
> development of dynamic mathematical and quantitative models. <<
>Are the problems prohibitive? Or just severe? Severe problems can be dealt
>with. Prohibitive ones cannot. The severity of a problem is only relative
>to the patience and hard work of the people who wish to solve it.
>Prohibitiveness is oblivious to such things. I know you said "severe",
but I
>just wanted to put that into some context.

The problems actually range from severe to prohibitive (prohibitive being a
subclass of severe). A few prohibitive problems that I have noticed involve
embedded theoretical constructs that are often unusable, such as meme
"size." (The "size" concept can work in special cases, but not in general.)
My 1998 paper comments on the problems with "smallest units" and "largest
units" definitions.

Although severe problems can in principle be dealt with, they may in some
cases still result in a cumbersome, unparsimonious, or "inelegant" theory.
I am still inclined to recognize multiple kinds of cultural replicators,
much as biology is now recognizing prions in addition to genes.

>>>But that is not for me to prove. Rather, it is up to the proponents of any
>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
>or NATURE.<<
>You are absolutely right. Assuming we are ready for such things. Have
>memetics studies made it there? I didn't think so, but its always possible
>that I missed something. I personally think that it WILL happen one day -
>chalk me up as more optimistic than Dennett - but my prognosis on how long
>that will be is rather bleak (if you are impatient) for the near future
>(let's just say 1 to 10 years). Doesn't the Foresight Institute run a
>prediction market game or something like that? Maybe somebody can propose
>that for their speculation if they haven't already.

The dynamic propagation equations do exist, but it is an open question as
to whether they would be accepted in SCIENCE or NATURE as part of a
theoretical study. They have not yet been used in an empirical study,
however--that is a more extensive project on both the data gathering and
data analysis fronts. With the requisite error analysis, such a paper could
be much too long for a general science publication like SCIENCE or NATURE.
(Indeed, the error analysis problem leads me to consider a computational
approach called the "Monte Carlo" method.) A summary of results and methods
might have to be submitted to SCIENCE or NATURE.

--Aaron Lynch

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