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

OHooligan's Avatar Jump to comment 25 by OHooligan

@Comment 21 by Zeuglodon

an awful mistake

Yeah, I must admit I phrased it rather provocatively. On re-reading, it was a bit too vague. And half-baked, sure, but this isn't a paper for peer review (when we'd expect the baking to be done), it's a discussion.

I don't mind the belligerence, it's the haystack of strawmen, all the stuff about stars and bits of brains and stick insects with missing twigs.

Consider instead the only instance of an evolving system that we agree on, Life on Earth, and try to extract the essentials that make it evolve:

I nominate these as being necessary and sufficient properties

  • Information in discrete packages

  • A way to replicate these packages

  • replication is not always exact

  • replication requires some finite amount of a finite resource.

  • the content of a package affects its ability to acquire the resource.

  • repetition. Lots and lots of it.

  • I contend that evolution will take place in any system with these properties.

    The physical, molecular, chemical, electromagnetic, mechanical nature of the way the information is carried is secondary, as are the replication mechanism and the nature of the resource.

    The conjecture, in a single sentence:

    Evolution is inevitable in any system that supports repeated imperfect replication of packages of information with competition between packages for finite resources necessary for replication.

    The unit of persistence is the Information Package, not the temporary structures or organisms that participate in the competition for resources and the replication process.

    This means that other systems, not just our familiar "carbon based lifeforms", can also evolve. Granted, we know of no mechanism other than RNA for getting this started.

    But I regard your strict insistence on "self-replication" as artificial, once the process has started.

    You place "self-replication" center stage, and therefore exclude any system that doesn't have this property. You go into detail on the remarkable properties of RNA, essential for the bootstrapping of life as we know it. But once bootstrapped, evolution works on the information packages stored in the DNA "database" as you put it. No reason why we should expect life to stop there. The RNA is still needed, but the evolutionary action has moved on to DNA. Next step, in another layer of bootstrapping, DNA is still needed, but the action may move to another form of information encoding, the "database" may be stored elsewhere, and here is where we get to consider Memes.

    Without requiring genetic (DNA) mutations, memes can evolve much faster.

    Human technology has developed from next to nothing in an eyeblink on the genetic evolutionary timescale. The human brain today is hardly any different from the brains of the people who built the pyramids. The "database" for our technology lies beyond our DNA, and is updated much more frequently.

    In summary:

    With an arbitrary self-imposed constraint, you effectively disqualify "meme theory" from consideration as an evolutionary system on a par with genetic evolution.

    Without that constraint, I contend the opposite, that the evolution of memes can be studied within the same theoretical framework as the evolution of genes, and that both are instances of something more general.

    Perhaps you were also being deliberately provocative in starting a discussion entitled "meme theory..." and then going into great detail on something else.

    Thanks anyway for goading me into trying to sharpening up my thinking. I'm sure it's good for me, but I'm not sure I've succeeded.

    Tue, 24 Jul 2012 00:59:11 UTC | #949948