Re: comparison/contrast of memes and engrams

Scott Chase (
Wed, 13 Oct 1999 15:22:32 -0700

Date: Wed, 13 Oct 1999 15:22:32 -0700
From: "Scott Chase" <>
Subject: Re: comparison/contrast of memes and engrams


On Wed, 13 Oct 99 10:12:08 - Mark M. Mills wrote: >Scott, > >>Memes, however >>defined, I would take as mostly external and cultural phenomena. > >With respect to 'external,' I assume you think of memes in terms of the >G-meme definition. With respect to 'cultural phenomena', I don't know >what you mean. Everyone talking about memes is interested in culture. > Is memory and its neurophysiological basis irrelevant then? Can we scrap the term engram? There is culture and your neologism of the "G-meme", which I would plainly call meme. Coining terms like G and L-meme might add excess baggage where it might not be warranted. Then there is memory and its basis as a spatiotemporal pattern or trace within the neural structure of the brain. This I would call engram. > >>I've been >>reading about memory research over the past year (mostly on synaptic >>plasticity and long-term potentiation (Bliss and Lomo etc...) and >>molecular/electrophysiological correlates and criticisms). I've been >>intrigued by this particular "search for the engram". Engrams would likely >>be individual and internal phenomena, contrasted with memes. > >What do you mean by saying engrams are 'individual and internal >phenomena'? > Exactly that. They exist within organisms. > >When you say 'contrasted to memes,' I assume you mean >'contrasted with the G-meme.' > Probably so, but I'm open to what others might say. > >>Noticing debate on "internal memes" on this list, I wonder why one would >>replace the older term engram with a new term "internal meme"? Wouldn't it >>be better to keep the ideas separate, having memes represent a unit of >>cultural selection/drift existing outside and engrams representing >>internal storage units? There could exist a chasm between research into >>cultural evolution and research into memory, so maybe the gap might be >>hard to bridge. Plus, both memes and engrams are somewhat chimeric and >>elusive in nature, so the study is difficult, I would assume. > >In short, there is nothing evolutionary about the term 'engram.' The >L-meme (I assume this is what you mean by 'internal meme') is by >definition a participant in evolutionary processes. Additionally, the >L-meme suggests significant parallels to genetics. > Why two memes? Expand on these parallels to genetics. Why wouldn't the "G-meme" or just plain meme be the unit of selection or drift? > > Few miss the >similarities between the word meme and gene. > >As to the chimeric nature of a meme, this is entirely the result of one's >definition. The L-meme is no more chimeric than a gene. > >If one looks at the reviews of memetics books by established periodicals >like Science and Nature, they will find the scientific establishment >gives little credit to the term 'meme.' Of particular concern is an >apparent use of tautology by memeticists. > >Wilson in his Science review of Blackmore's Meme Machine says: > >"Part of the problem stems from the replicator concept, which has led to >some interesting insights but often merely redescribes the familiar... >selfish memes often turn out to be a convoluted way to describe the >obvious. ..The ability to define fitness independently of what evolves >saves the concept of natural selection from being a tautology. For the >meme concept to escape the same problem, we must define cultural fitness >independently of what evolves. If the first four notes of Beethoven's >fifth is a powerful meme only because it is common, we have achieved no >insight." > >Later, Wilson suggests a solution: > >"More problems arise when we try to think of culture as broken into >replicating units like genes. Unlike genes, memes do not exist in a >physical form." > I would ask why the focus must be on fitness. Is memetics also going to suffer from adaptationist bias? Couldn't drift exist if we're going to extend the gene/meme analogy for all it's worth? > >As far as I can tell, this critique addresses the unfortunate use of the >G-meme construct without a foundation in L-meme physical reality. Meme >Machine is an essay on G-memes. It explicitly chooses to ignore brain >physiology and thus can hardly avoid tautology. If one adds the L-meme >construct, the G-meme becomes rooted in established evolutionary theory >and finds clear links to reality. The tautology problem is solved. > > Why two memes? Why not one meme and a basis in or relation to a memory correlate?


--== Sent via ==-- Share what you know. Learn what you don't.

=============================================================== 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) see: