Re: Non-memetic behavior (was Parody of Science)

Mark M. Mills (
Mon, 16 Aug 1999 17:24:58 -0400

Date: Mon, 16 Aug 1999 17:24:58 -0400
From: "Mark M. Mills" <>
Subject: Re: Non-memetic behavior (was Parody of Science)
In-Reply-To: <>


The following is a long reply. Sorry. I think you 4 premises are very
interesting. Your declaration of beliefs provide a good opportunity to
discuss memetics in general. I hope others join in.

At 11:24 AM 8/16/99 -0700, you wrote:
>You'll need to pardon my paranoia; I hate getting flamed so I tend toward
>the overly defensive.

OK. First, let me say it looks like we share a similar perspective. That
doesn't mean you will find many people agreeing with you, though. As long
as you can quote some reference, flaming is pretty limited. Once you get
something published, the flame level increases a great deal.

Second, to avoid confused replies, I will use the L-meme and G-meme
convention in my comments. If you need definitions, let me know.

>My premises (ie beliefs at this moment) are that
>1) Memetics is a supplement to genetics as a way to accelerate change

Great. This is clearly a premise of the L-meme. My kind of meme.

I would probably say it increases 'phenotypic plasticity' rather than
change. Change has a twinge of 'direction' to it. In my view, both
genetics and L-memetics contribute to a single phenotype. Traits expressed
by the phenotype might be very different (protein vs behavioral expression)
but the loci of concern is the traditional biological phenotype.

>2) Memetics only applies to organisms that replicate using genetics or
>something homomorphous with genetics

Great. Another premise of the L-meme. Again, the G-meme perspective would
not agree. The G-meme is potientally a virus in various life forms.

What do you mean by homomorphous with genetics? Have you got something in

>3) Not all behavior can be explained using memetics alone in that there is
>some behavior that is genetically determined and some that falls into the
>realm of chaos

I guess this is where our conversation started. Given we agree on 1 and 2,
agreement on 3 depends on the example and associate biological process
details related to the behavior. This is an area of great interest for me.
The devil is in the details.

Of course, my opinion is an expression of the L-meme perspective. The
G-meme perspective would find this problem silly, curious, uninformed or
worse. The G-meme expresses itself as phenotype (or phenogenotype) in the
brain. It might be something like a picture projected upon the genetically
created 'mind screen.' An artifact can be a G-meme genotype (or
phenogenotype) creating the phenotypic idea in someone's mind.

I'm probably doing a poor job of presenting the G-meme view, here. It
doesn't make much sense to me.

>4) Memetics may be the method of procreating an organism that transcends

>the individual biological entity ie society rather than the human

Well, the G-meme crowd will welcome you for this premise. :-) As far as
G-memes go, it has already happened.

I don't have much of an opinion, yet. We know so little about L-meme
biology, it seems beyond speculation.

The ability of the G-meme proposition to deal with the 'transcendent
organism' represents a powerful attraction for many. Few are interested in
the boring details of L-meme neurology.

>I personally believe that dogs offer a better object of study than people
>for the discussions of memetics so I will try to pull my examples from
>their behavior.

Wonderful! I'm not sure they are better, but am excited that someone else
has a non-human experimental domain. My area of non-human L-memetic
interest is primate language research.

Again, this is an L-meme perspective. The G-meme is almost 'by definition'
a human sort of activity. There are a variety of justifications for
limiting memetic ability to humans only. I find this odd, since the G-meme
is supposed to be independent of human biology.

>Dogs were bred over many generations for very specific
>purposes; shepherds, retrievers, tracking etc. Even in the complete absence
>of any possible memetic influence some of these behaviors will
>spontaneously exhibit. We can further shape these behaviors but the genes
>seem to contain some of them in the absence of specific shaping to represss
>the expression. ie we implant memes to surpress otherwise normal behavior.
>This would be an example of behavior that I believe is beneath explanation
>by any theory of memetics.

L-memetics, that is. I think this very interesting. Any proposals
regarding how to distinguish genetic from L-meme behavior would be great.

>Most of the behavior of animate and inanimate objects that is of interest
>in the social science seems to be immune to mechanistic explanations. ...
>Hence, while there may be strange
>attractors and probabilistic expressions for more advanced human behavior,
>it would be difficult or impossible to ever tie this behavior to specific

Strange attractors and probabilistic expression don't seem to bother
genetic work, so it shouldn't faze the L-meme work, either. This is why
the kick-reflex seems of interest to L-meme research. If someone could
prove there is no relationship between the neurology required for
kick-reflexes and the neurology for voluntary kicks (L-memetic), it would
be very interesting. I liken this micro-detail to gene-protein research.
Most people think of genetics as 'eye color' or 'disease resistance,' but
the only place we can determine exact relationships between DNA and
phenotypic expression is protein production.

>As I mentioned in my
>premises, I take the memetic ability of animals as the genetic adaptation
>which allows us to evolve our social organizations much faster than
>genetics alone would allow.

If one could prove social organizations evolve, it would be big news.
Cultural evolution is an intuitive myth, discussed for generations, but
never becoming a science. G-meme advocates are seeking to change this.

As an L-meme advocate, I don't think culture evolves. The human phenotype
evolves genetically and L-memetically, but gene/meme pools are enscribed on
DNA and neural membranes. If evolution is change in the gene/L-meme pool
over time, it is the human phenotype, not culture that is evolving.

The G-meme advocates are convinced the cultural change we witness is
evolutionary. Their model views artifacts as the meme pool and thus
cultural evolution exists 'by definition.' The established scientific
community not accepted this argument. The various review of memetics books
dismiss memetics for providing no mechanism of change. The recent reviews
of Meme Machine in Science and Nature call Blackmore's memetics an exercise
in tautology.

>For this to make sense to me, I must think of

>individual biological entities as analogous to cells in a living body which
>individually are born, live, function and die according to local rules.

This is of interest to me, but is pushing the limits of our L-meme process
model. I hate to be boring, but L-memetic evaluation of things like
kick-reflexes seems a good foundation for this speculation.

The G-meme proposition offers quick access to this kind of study, though.
Unfortunately, the G-meme plants you directly in the sociological logic
systems you seem to dislike.

>More specifically, I am drawn to the fact that the mammalian brain goes
>through distinct developmental steps where the same stimulus (memome?) can
>have very different effects. A trauma to a puppy during the early
>socialization period can leave the adult dog untrainable.

Good example. I had not thought about this.


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