Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Recombination as a meme repair mechanism

In the organic realm, the idea that recombination can repair bad genes by replacing them with good ones is one of the two main theories that accounts for the origin and maintenance of sexual recombination (the other main theory is the Red Queen hypothesis).

The idea suggests that sexual recombination results in an uneven distribution of deleterious mutations in the offspring - with some having many bad genes and others having few. Those offspring with many bad genes are culled by selection - while those with few get to try again in the next round.

Even random assortment among mating partners would produce this effect. However in practice, the best quality individuals can often seek each other out - and so have offspring with an especially-low mutational load.

The "gene repair" theory of sex has been championed by Richard Michod, among others. He presents the theory in a stimulating popular book, titled: Eros and Evolution.

MIT is in the news today with a souped-up implementation of this idea applied to computer software. They are using recombination to fix crashing programs by using code from working ones. They call their software CodePhage. Here's the associated MIT press release. Their paper is called Automatic Error Elimination by Horizontal Code Transfer across Multiple Applications. It's an interesting case of bio-inspired computing.

I think recombination is a common meme repair technique. If you realize you have a bad meme, it makes sense to find someone with a functioning copy and acquire it. Much the same applies at the level of organizations and institutions. The need to repair dysfunctional memes probably drives a significant quantity of the memetic recombination that we see in the ideosphere.

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