Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Susan Blackmore on naked memes

Here's Susan:
for most of memes’ relatively brief life there has been no germ-line phenotype distinction and so no meme vehicles or interactors. However, as one might expect, they have recently appeared and are spreading fast. Printing presses, car factories and computer software all copy the instructions for making more books, cars and digital products rather than copying the products directly.
I'm drawing attention to this because I think it is wrong.

I think that the best way to divide phenotype from genotype in biology is using information theory - as follows: genotypes are inherited from, phenotypes are genotype products that are not inherited.

If you adopt this perspective, there are very few "naked memes". Most memes have associated phenotypes that are not copied. For example, many memes have emotional salience - creating pleasure, fear - or some other emotion. These are meme products and are not themselves copied from / inherited.

I think that the idea that "naked memes" were important historically has to be based on some other conception of what "genotype" and "phenotype" refer to - and I think that all the proposed alternative conceptions are inferior. Sue appears to be using her "copy the instructions" / "copy the product" distinction - but this is a bit vague: what exactly are "instructions" and "product"? The information theory conception of the "genotype" / "phenotype" split is very crisp. In its terms, "instructions" refers to heritable information and "product" refers to the things it influences - but then there are hardly any 'naked memes'.

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