Re: The information theoretic view Was: JOM

Bill Spight (
Sun, 05 Sep 1999 12:12:42 -0700

Date: Sun, 05 Sep 1999 12:12:42 -0700
From: Bill Spight <>
Subject: Re: The information theoretic view Was: JOM



It never occurred to me that the complex environmental conditions and behavioral processes relating to meme propagation would called memes themselves. This is certainly incorrect, but several errors defending this point have really allowed in a trickle (flood?) of vitriol.


It seems that there has been a tendency lately to talk about aspects or manifestations of memes as "memes" themselves. I think that proves to be a mistake and is the cause of considerable confusion. The meme itself is a *complete replicator* capable of filling the role of replicator in the evolutionary algorithm.


I agree attempts to expand the meme definition to phenomena like infectious behavior are misguided. . . .

I think this idea's main problem is expanding the scope of meme to an unfalsifiable definition.


The most fundamental question is: what is it that survives? The answer is "genes and memes".


Rocks and stars survive much better than genes or memes. The question is, what influences the future? Replicators (including genes and memes) play a huge and growing role. I suspect, though that more complex cultural replicators composed of artifacts and groups of people with same or complementary beliefs -- replicators that Dawkins and I call mind viruses -- are becoming more and more important as influencers of the future.


"What is it that survives?"

"What influences the future?"

Important questions. Dawkins addresses both of these, and others, in "The Extended Phenotype", Chapter 5, "The Active Germ-line Replicator". He coined the term "optimon" to mean the unit of natural selection (also termed "selecton" by E. Mayr).

Dawkins develops the idea of the selecton this way:

"The optimon (or selecton) is the 'something' to which we refer when we speak of an adaptation as being 'for the good of' something. . . .

"A replicator [is] anything in the universe of which copies are made. . . .

"An active replicator is any replicator whose nature has some influence over its probability of being copied. . . .

"A germ-line replicator . . . is a replicator that is potentially the ancestor of an indefinitely long line of descendant replicators. . . .

"The active germ-line replicator [is] the 'optimon'."

It is true that Dawkins sees the meme as an analog to the gene, inhabiting the brain and having phenotypic effects. However, it seems to me that the L-meme, the G-meme, and (if I may) the P-meme ('P' for 'polymorphous' or 'peripatetic') *all* qualify as active germ-line replicators. The G-meme is *not* the phenotype of the L-meme. Mutations in G-memes are replicated; changes in phenotypes are not.

Best to all,


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