Friday, 31 July 2009

Evolution's third replicator?

Sue Blackmore's latest article:

"Evolution's third replicator: Genes, memes, and now what?"


The article is another one based around Sue's own replicator classification scheme.

She defines memes in a way which few others seem to accept - in terms of behavioural imitation. This defines most modern culture as not being "memetic" - because the associated copying processes are often performed in a digital medium by computers - which are not "imitative" except in an extremely contrived sense.

Also, I find it extremely hard to credit that DNA was the first replicator. Wasn't there RNA before that? And PNA or TNA? And before that there were probably other replicators, based on crystal growth processes. The whole "third-replicator" terminology makes little sense to me.

I give Sue credit for recognising the significance of machines taking over from brains in the copying process. However, I think we differ on the issue of terminology.

Surely the most basic category here is that of cultural replicator - a replicator that can be deliberately written to by an intelligent agent. Whether the copier is a brain or a computer seems like a bit of an implementation detail to me. I think we should give replicators in this basic category our best name - namely "memes".

Replicators are informational - and so can be represented in any physical medium. Cultural replicators have existed in multiple media at least since the invention of writing, if not before.

A meme classification scheme that attempts to divide brains and computers would be challenging - since memes can replicate via both. Information can easily hop between different media - it is portable.

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