Re: facets of meme-talk

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Sun, 29 Aug 1999 14:20:29 EDT

From: <>
Date: Sun, 29 Aug 1999 14:20:29 EDT
Subject: Re: facets of meme-talk

I would like to thank you all for your thoughts on this thread. I do
the depth of the problem, and my necessarily limited viewpoint. I would like
respond partially before going away to incubate it some more.

I am coming at this from the point of view of a practicing geneticist, but
I view memes as quite strange things, quite different from genes in many
and not subject to (all of) the same constraints as genes, as some of you have
pointed out. It appears that neither I nor anyone else, including Dawkins,
yet knows
what memes truly "are", and therefore I'm leery of presumptions about their
characteristics. Yes there are (several) definitions that serve as handles
discussion, but handles for discussion do not necessarily correspond (in the
important ways) with what exists in the real world, subject to the laws of
thermodynamics. The OED definition reflects current usage, not scientific
Blackmore has advised sticking to the OED definition, and that's fine with me
long as we keep in mind that the editors of the OED are not in the business of
uncovering scientific truth. The generalized "replicator" has properties
that have
yet to be clearly defined in a scientific sense, and although we might
pretend that
some of these properties are nailed down, that seems premature to me, in our
current state of vast ignorance (even concerning the general properties of
most well-known replicator, the DNA gene).

JS: The following is something that I wrote for the Critical Cafe.....
JS: ...... -- individual organisms, groups, and even to
JS: some extent species, are more fleeting than the genetic information that
JS: carried through those mediums...

That's an important point, agreed.

JS: .......If genes are now considered to be the replicator in the
JS: evolutionary algorithm for this theory, then "genes" have not been
defined in
JS: terms of DNA. They have been defined in terms of the evolutionary
JS: ......By itself, DNA is an inert string of nucleotides, not
JS: a gene

There is a point of confusion there, for me. Sometimes I think about "DNA"
in an evolutionary sense, other times in a biophysical sense. In the former
sense, the sequence of nucleotides in a DNA gene is not merely an inert string
of nucleotides, but an extremely particular string that must be viewed as the
particular output of a 4 billion-year long evolutionary process. Information
related to that process is somehow conserved, remembered, encoded,
whatever, in that sequence. In this sense, a DNA gene "is", essentially,
information of a particular type, and I guess that's what some of you are
emphasizing. If so, I agree that DNA (and any gene) is not simply DNA, but it
is more fundamentally information of a peculiar (evolutionary) type. That is,
there is a calculable bit content in a gene, so far as its physical
sequence is concerned, but it seems that that completely ignores the
evolutionary information that it somehow embodies. How does one get at the
bit content that reflects the evolutionary process? (Or is it an illusion? -
radical off-the-cuff thought).

JS: But it does give one pause to reflect on whether Lamarckian thought has
JS: role to play in evolution abstractly or biology in particular as some
JS: Neo-Darwinists would insist.

Neo-Darwinists are getting old and will be replaced by something more
highly evolved. Hang in there. ;-) (I'm not proposing that Lamarck be
disinterred quite yet - although I think that some memetic interpretations
do look very Lamarckianesque-ish at first sight).

Again, thanks to all for the discussion.

Pgh PA

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