Re: facets of meme-talk

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Sat, 28 Aug 1999 12:53:44 EDT

From: <>
Date: Sat, 28 Aug 1999 12:53:44 EDT
Subject: Re: facets of meme-talk

In a message dated 8/27/99 5:42:33 PM, writes:

RP>>trying to be a biologist and a philosopher
RP>>at the same time.... [EDIT]
JAKE>I hope so. For dealing with memetics we need to be concerned with both
JAKE>certainly at least until there is some major empirical breakthrough for
JAKE>memetics that we can base further theorizing on....[edit]
JAKE>As used in Dawkin's Selfish gene theory, genes are defined in terms of
JAKE>the evolutionary algorithm, as *the* fundamental replicator in a
JAKE>population. (as opposed to individuals, groups, or species).... [edit]
RP>>If you look up the gene for, say, trypsin, at Genbank, you'll get a simple
RP>>one-dimensional DNA sequence.... [edit]

JAKE>For more applied and technical biology purposes which are less concerned
JAKE>with the context evolutionary theory that may be fine and well, but
those are
JAKE>not our purposes.

RP I stand corrected: my over-emphasis of the physical nature of the gene
RP was a hasty reaction to what I perceived as an over-emphasis of the
RP content of a gene. I am not averse to theoretical biology - else I'd not
be able to
RP pay any attention to memetics ;-). The concept of genes (and more to
the point,
RP here, memes) as replicators (fidelity, fecundity, longevity) is perhaps
the most
RP important biological concept of the century, as far as I'm concerned.
But I guess
RP I am bothered by a tendency for people to treat memes (and, in standard
RP biology, genes) as abstract bits of information. To say that something IS
RP information seems about as enlightening as saying that something IS
matter or IS
RP energy. The development of evolutionary biology was severely retarded
prior to
RP the Mendel/DeVries/Correns/Tschermak discovery that there was a physical
RP intracellular "particle" that "really" accounted for heredity and
evolution. I
RP think the same is true now in memetics. A lot of people sense that memes
RP are stunningly potent devices, a new form of life, even, but no one knows
RP they ARE, in fact. As abstract "replicators" (or "meaningless
metaphors", in less
RP kind words), it is difficult to make any progress with them. Inside any
RP evolutionary biologist's mind is the rock-solid knowledge that there are
real genes
RP that DO the evolving that they discuss (incessantly, some would add).
The molecular
RP details of genetics are (properly) not an explicit part of any
evolutionary discussion,
RP but that discussion would be pretty sterile in the absence of the
implicit physical
RP details. Such sterility is perhaps the same thing as "meaningless

RP The main justification for studying memetics "as a science" is, I
suspect, an
RP expectation or faith (implicit in some students, explicit in others) that
there IS a
RP physical basis for memes, but that it just hasn't been identified yet.
If I were
RP starting fresh, I'd be studying neuropsychobiology, where the
identification of
RP memes is likely to occur.

RP You may fire when ready, Gridley. (...hmm. Is there memeness in that

Pgh PA

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