RE: The information theoretic view Was: JOM

Richard Brodie (
Thu, 2 Sep 1999 07:50:30 -0700

From: "Richard Brodie" <>
To: <>
Subject: RE: The information theoretic view Was: JOM
Date: Thu, 2 Sep 1999 07:50:30 -0700

James McComb:

<<The problem with this conception of the meme is that it stretches the
genetics analogy too far. Memes are not like genes. They are not limited to
a single physical form, like genes are with DNA.>>

Neither are genes. For years, researchers have been writing down genes as
strings of characters on paper. Soon genetic engineers will use those
strings of characters on paper to construct new organisms.

<<Strictly speaking, a meme is not a brain pattern, artifact or behavior,
the information it carries. On the information-theoretic view, memes are not
physical objects. Instead, memes should be regarded as 'information' or
'instructions' that is 'encoded' in physical objects.>>

Correct. And the word "meme" means such information in a mind, whose
existence influences events such that more copies of itself get created in
other minds. Information outside of minds that causes replicas of itself to
be created is galled, generically, a "replicator." replicators include
genes, memes, and anything else.

<<Memes are, in Robin's words, 'peripatetic'. Memetic information is encoded
in brains (i-form), and it is also encoded in behaviors and artifacts
(m-form). This view dissolves the genotype/phenotype distinction (and with
it any Lamarckian worries). It also solves Derek Gatherer's problem about
the location of mutations. Mutations can occur in both the i-form and the
m-form of a meme.>>

The problem is that it's not just ENCODED in the mind---it actually is
active and influencing the future when it is in the mind. That's what makes
memes special. Information that is encoded outside of minds can only effect
change through its interaction with human minds (although this is changing
as electronic minds become more powerful).

<<P.S. Sorry to be argumentative, Richard. I don't really disagree with your
viewpoint as such. I just think that memetics must inevitably progress to an
information-theoretic view.>>

And Marx thought economies must inevitably progress to communism. Look,
there is no conflict between memetics and information theory any more than
there is between bridge-building and physics. But a more specific model
helps if you want to build something specific. People are building memes and
mid viruses right now, and all the talk in the world about how all pieces of
information are brothers under the sun isn't going to help understand it.
What helps is knowledge of human psychology and the special relationship the
human mind has with information.

What is an example of how an information-theoretic view would help
understand some facet of culture or build a self-replicating organism?

Richard Brodie
Author, "Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme"
Free newsletter!

This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)