Sunday, 29 November 2015


There are only twenty six letters in the English alphabet. There are also many more types of copied entity than are dreamed of in dual inheritance theory. It follows that those who would continue with terminology along the lines of genes and memes should choose their letters carefully.

I've previously - rather half-heartedly - proposed that we use lemes for learned entities. 'Lemes' cover individual and social learning (by contrast to memes which are normally defined in such a way that they are confined to social learning.

Another proposal which covers similar ground is 'nemes'. The 'n' is short for 'nervous' or 'neural'.

Paul Gilchrist proposed the term 'neme' in 2014 here and here.

A good thing about 'neme' is that it is potentially more inclusive. Not all copying within brains is learning. For example, some is forecasting based on existing models. 'Neme' could plausibly be used as an umbrella term that covers all within-brain copying.

A bad thing about 'neme' is that it is rather closely associated with wetware. Computers also have individual and social learning. However, it seems like quite a stretch to apply the terms 'nervous' or 'neural' to computers.

Another problem is that Paul Gilchrist and I don't seem to agree on what the term should mean. I would want to expand the term to cover copying inside computers and copying of high level structures inside brains - such as ideas. By contrast, Paul says:

I use the term neme to apply to the nerve impulse that is the fundamental element in the operation of the nervous system.

I see where Paul is coming from - but then we need more names to cover all that other stuff that goes on inside brains. We do have 26 letters - but we should use them sparingly and make sure that we don't squander them.

Overall, I quite like the 'neme' term. The surrounding definitional debates show that it needs some more work, though.

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