RE: Terminology and Quantification

Mark M. Mills (
Thu, 22 Jul 1999 12:45:25 -0400

Date: Thu, 22 Jul 1999 12:45:25 -0400
From: "Mark M. Mills" <>
Subject: RE: Terminology and Quantification
In-Reply-To: <2CDFE2C8F598D21197C800C04F911B203492B0@DELTA.newhouse.akzo


At 08:30 AM 7/22/99 +0200, you wrote:
>A quick question regarding your meaning of the term 'fitness.' Is this
>term taken to mean the fitness of a meme per se to transmit it self or to
>influence the host system in which it lodges?=20
>The latter.=A0 In Cavallian cultural evolution theory (ie. memetics, since
>Cavalli's main disciple Kevin Laland uses the word meme now interchangeably
>with the Cavallian 'cultural trait'), phenogenotypes have fitness.=A0 A
>phenogenotype is produced by an underlying genotype coupled with a cultural

Phenogenotype. =20

I wonder how far this term will go. Based on my reading of the Laland,
Odling-Smee paper 'Niche Construction, Biological Evolution and Cultural
(<>http://www.cogsc, I doubt it will go far.

The key paragraph justifying their term phenogenotype is:

<<<<This small, but growing, body of theory suggests that niche construction
and ecological inheritance may be of greater evolutionary importance than
generally conceived. In our view, the capacity of populations of organisms=
modify their selective environment through niche construction, and the fact
that many of these changes persist for multiple generations, demand an
adjustment in understanding of the evolutionary dynamic, because they=
that a description of evolutionary change relative only to independent
environments is rather restrictive. In the presence of niche construction,
adaptation ceases to be a one-way process, exclusively a response to
environmentally imposed problems: instead it becomes a two-way process, with
populations of organisms setting as well as solving problems. (Lewontin,=
Odling-Smee, et al., 1996). Evolution consists of mutual and simultaneous
processes of natural selection and niche construction.>>>>>>

I want to emphasize the leap from the first sentence to the third. After
making much of the fact that individuals alter their environment and change
selective pressures, something that should surprise no one familiar with our
planet's shift to an oxygen rich atmosphere, they suddenly conclude
ceases to be a one-way process.' =20

This is quite a leap. They have not gone into any detail about any=
of genotype change. They simply bring up a few points about environmental
change, find this difficult to understand and conclude phenotypes change
genotypes. This is a huge leap. It provides a good entry point for=
divine intervention or alien visitation, if someone is so inclined. If I
about the probability distribution that 'the way I make my bed' changes my
gametes, it seems negligible. =20

At a minimum, they need to explain how this can happen biologically. It=
be nice if they discussed probability distributions at the genetic level
supporting their two-way process.

I am not convinced. Are you? =20

I prefer to stick with the foundational work on information processing by=
Neumann. He suggested a simple model for information processing: genotype +
ribotype produces phenotype. The genotype contains source information. The
ribotype transports the information to construction areas where materials=
assembled and a phenotype is produced. Causality is straightforward.=20
Information is transported from the genotype to the phenotype via temporary
ribotypes. It is provides a excellent model for artificial intelligence,
computer science, genetics and other systems. =20

Why not expect this model to hold in memetics?

The Gatherer-meme lends itself to the phenogenotype notion. Blackmore's=
doesn't use the word phenogenotype, but adopts the stance when it dismisses
need to worry about genotype/phenotype distinctions. =20

Though I have not talked to Lynch about phenogenotypes, I doubt the=
supports the notion.

Based on the reactions of the Science and Nature reviews, dismissing
genotype/phenotype distinctions was not well received.


For more on von Neumann's formuation, see:

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