Friday, 31 July 2009
"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.
Sunday, 26 July 2009
"We hate memes, pass it on...".
"Engaging & Dispatching Memetics";
"Brain-culture, memes, and choosing examples".
I looked briefly at the referenced "Engaging anthropology" By Thomas Hylland Eriksen.
There's too much here for me to bother addressing most of it - but it seems like a load of "sour grapes" and "not invented here" material from anthropologists. Apparently, memeticists do not make sufficient references to existing work on cultural diffusion by anthropologists.
We have seen this sort of thing before when Darwinism invaded the other social sciences - resistance from entrenched defenders of pre-Darwinian systems of thought who feel as though they are in a turf war.
Not much about memes - but it sounds as though there may be some in Matt's next book. See also:
He likened memes to phlogiston and said:
We're back to the invisible propagules. I don't believe they exist. I take a sky-fairyist view of their reality.This is a simple misunderstanding. It is analogous to saying that information theory is wrong because it depends on mystical invisible propagules. There are no invisible propagules in information theory - or in memetics - except in Andrew Brown's imagination.
What we know about the transmission of meaning, like that of memory, is that it involves continuous recreation rather than simple copying.Since most cultural information has gone digital these days, it is indeed reproduced largely by simple copying - for example on peer-to-peer networks, or via "retweeting".
...but even back in the stone age, when that wasn't true, cultural evolution still took place. Evolution - by definition - doesn't depend on "simple copying". It involves the transmission of heritable information from one generation to the next. How that happens is an implementation detail, not a fundamental feature. So, this is not really a misunderstanding of memetics, it is a misunderstanding about the proper subject matter of evolutionary theory.
His other objection was that the term "meme" is redundant - since we already have the term "idea". The 213 million references to the term "meme" on Google give the lie to this critique. The term "meme" has different connotations to the term "idea". In particular "meme" invokes the concept of cultural evolution of shared information - whereas with the term "idea" there is no implication that it will ever make it out the head it arose in.
I wouldn't say Andrew's objections were "serious". "Vacuous" seems to be a more appropriate term.
Addendum: they have fixed the links on the front page now: http://cfpm.org/jom-emit/
Article link: http://cfpm.org/jom-emit/1999/vol3/reader_sm&laland_kn.html
It argues for the ubiquitous nature of memes among many animal species. It makes an excellent case that memetic transmission need not depend on imitation, and so that definitions of memes that invoke imitation are wrong.
The view the article criticises can be found here: Imitation and the definition of a meme.
Subtitle: The evolutionary roots of Facebook's "25 Things" craze.
It is an article about the spread of infectious ideas through social networks.
In The Virus of Faith, Dawkins opines that the moral framework of religions is warped, and argues against the religious indoctrination of children. The title of this episode comes from The Selfish Gene, in which Dawkins discussed the concept of memes.
Daniel Dennett: Ants, terrorism, and the awesome power of memes
In this video, I discuss some of the misunderstandings of cultural evolution which I once laboured under.
It is, essentially, a confession video, where I publicly parade the history of my own confusion.
This video is about misconceptions about memetics arising from the ranks of its supporters.
This video is a brief one, which debunks a one of the "obituaries" of memetics, published in the final issue of the Journal of Memetics.
For a more recent update, see here.
Another video about popular misconceptions about memetics.
This particular video will mostly focus on the views of those who accept the concept of cultural evolution - but do not think that memetics is an appropriate model for it.
Memetics is the name given to the study of cultural evolution by Richard Dawkins. It is one of the most misunderstood parts of Darwin's legacy - and that's saying something!
Unlike most misunderstandings of evolution, misunderstandings of memetics are common among ordinary scientists and biologists. This video lists a few of them.
Dennett claims, a few seconds in:
Boyd and Richerson are not real fans of the term "memes" - but they candidly admit that the main reason they don't use the word "memes" is 'cause they didn't invent the term.
No reference is supplied.
I've linked to the full video here.