Monday, 7 April 2014

Memetic metamorphosis

In the organic realm some creatures undergo radical metamorphosis during their own lifetimes. Probably the most famous example is the way that caterpillar turning into a butterfly. Tadpoles turning into frogs represents another example of animal metamorphosis.

In the cultural realm we also see some extreme transformations that deserve to be referred to as cases of "metamorphosis". In particular memes typically change the substrate in which their genetic material resides during their lifecycle. That's one of the most extreme transformations an organism can undergo. Many memes spend part of their time inside human brains, and part of their time in artifacts. Others divide their time between the human brain and sound waves.

There are transformations in the organic realm that involve shifting heritable information between different media. Information in DNA is copied into RNA, and then into proteins. Sometimes, the RNA themselves are copied - and even patterns in proteins are sometimes copied - in certain types of prion. However these transformations only rarely go around in a circle and wind up back where they started - due to the central dogma of molecular biology.

In cultural evolution, the central dogma of molecular biology does not apply, and radical transformations of genetic information between media are the norm.

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