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← Meme Theory, Zahavi's Handicap, and the Baldwin Effect

OHooligan's Avatar Jump to comment 4 by OHooligan

Zeuglodon, I've followed your comment from the earlier Meme article (the one with the cowboy hats).

I'm heartened to see several articles involving "meme" appearing here recently. I've recently re-read The Selfish Gene, especially the New Replicator chapter, and don't really have anything to add to it, I'm just rephrasing things my own way to get the concept comfortable in my own mind. I strongly recommend you (re) read that chapter too, if you haven't recently.

First, I'm impressed by the effort you have put in to starting this discussion, and I thank you for that. It's a bit long to absorb all at once, so I will go back and re-read, but here are my initial observations:

An attractive part for me is that "memes" explain things at a higher level. You don't need to keep returning to the genetic level, any more than molecular biology has to keep on reminding itself of the details of quarks and gluons.

I think that emphasis on the mechanism of replication is misguided, and overly parochial.

I think that comparison between "memes" and complex multi-cellular creatures such as mammals is also a mistake.

I think that conflating "meme theory" with "group selection" is an attempt to discredit the former by association.

I think that running the idea down is a lot less interesting than running with it.

Comparing memes with viruses is IMHO much more useful. Neither can replicate by itself, but require a complex host to do the work. Viruses need cells, memes need brains. Not just any old cells either, the viruses that bother us need the cells residing in individuals of our own (or similar) species. It does not damage the analogy to note that all the candidate "memes" detected so far require human brains for their replication.

For now, memes are only copied via the action of human brains, with our without photocopiers. That need not continue to be the case.

In any case the analogy appears sound (I hesitate to call it a theory, but maybe it is one). Especially the part that explains how a meme (like a virus) can thrive despite being bad for the hosts that perform the replication.

It also allows for the field of memetic engineering, in which artificial memes are deliberately constructed and deployed. Scientology might be an example.

Taking the "memes-eye-view", analagous to the "genes-eye-view" promoted in The Selfish Gene, will (once again IMHO) provide compelling explanations of the way people behave, and provide a framework for developing defenses against the more pernicious "viruses-of-the-mind".

But, being an analogy, I expect it will break down at some point. Finding that point is worthwhile, and I hope discussions like this help that goal.

Once again, thanks for starting this discussion.

Fri, 20 Jul 2012 00:52:34 UTC | #949617