“Memeticists say language offered an advantage to our early ancestors because it can transmit memes: for instance, how to make a stone ax. Memes thus tipped the evolutionary balance in favor of individuals with language skills. Through this mechanism they may even be responsible for our big brains.”
no,Cecil–ya got it backwards!–It wasn’t memes that “tipped the evolutionary balance”–it was the stone axes. As soon as one cave man saw how useful it was, he used his biological BRAIN, not his “memes” to copy the idea. Then he survived, while some other dumb and axe-less cave man died of starvation.The guy with the biggest brain copied the ax, the guy with the chimpanzee-size brain died out.

Its simply Survival of the fittest, based on genetic biology, not “memes”.

You give genetics too much credit. No one doubts (well no one not raised under fundamentalist creationism) that the human evolution of big brains was vital to our current civilization. Genetic evolution however takes a helluva long time and obviously cannot explain all the dynamics of our civilization. Once all the people in a society are relativiely intelligent enough to know how to imitate each others behaviour genetic modifications take a back seat. Do you really think you evolved your ability to use a computer or recite shakespeare. This is most clearly demostrated by the fact that many memes have survived which offer no obvious advantage to human survival (though any meme that did would obviously be popular and successful). Memetics goes a whole lot further in explaining aesthetics then genetic modification will ever get you. In science the better explanation wins out.

This from my very limited understanding of neurophysiology is true but that does not mean memes do not exist. Presumably meme’s exist at the smallest level of neurobiology if we could see that we would know everything about how the brain works. Do not forget that it was almost a century after Darwin published his theory that actual the unit of genetic evolution the “gene” was discovered. Everything we know about memes suggests they are much much smaller then genes. Your genetic code could be written on a few pages but all the knowledge in your head would (for some of us anyway) take up a whole library. Dear god the dialogue i have memorized form old simpsons episodes could fill up a book.

Chappachula, it’s not like one day a guy was born with a huge brain, subsequently causing the rest of Man to die and this new Ubermensch to be the ancestor of all future men, you know?

And as your quote says, Cecil stated that “Memeticists say” etc. He was asked what a meme was and he answered it from a memetici…stic(?) point of view. Shooting the messenger, tempting as it may be, is usually not considered good manners.

Okay, so there are some serious criticisms of Meme Theory listed above. AND there are a few posters who seem to be, more or less, serious and informed about specifics of this theory. SO…would any of the latter care to address the former? Y’know, in order to give this thread some substance, rather than having it remain a series of disconnected philosophical maunderings…

I, for instance, know nothing of Meme Theory, other than Cecil’s description and similar (but obviously inferior) summaries encountered over the years. But as many of you noted, the idea (or perhaps the meme interested in examining the “memes” meme) is, at the least, intriguing.

Nevertheless, from the abstracted descriptions given thus far, it lacks rigor. Seems more of a philosophy than a theory. I’d sure like to remain open-minded to it, but what about those pesky issues raised earlier? E.g. if memes are evolutionarily analogous to biological entities, what or where is their substance? By what mechanism do they replicate themselves? If genes don’t have any interest in improving themselves, but mutate through (apparently) accidental biological fender-benders, what is the process by which memes are altered and given an opportunity to establish a new memetic niche on the neural frontier? Obviously not because they WANT to, because that would just be peeling back one layer of the Free Will onion to reveal another, perhaps jucier layer of the same basic stuff…So what’s up with all this?

C’mon Dopers! Save the rest of us from having to do the legwork! Are there answers within the Meme Doctrine to the above, or is the theory just some trashy, eminently untestable mumbo-jumbo, like string theory (wink wink).


Shawn Bradbury

And you give memes too much credit. Memes are analogous to the operation of genes, just as cultural evolution is analogous to biological evoution. However, the point many seem to miss completely is that memes are not genes, and cultural evolution is not biological evolution. Memes are the obvious result of humans being able to communicate and pass on what they have learned. They are little more than a by-product of language; they are ideas that survive on the basis of acceptance by those who encounter them, and nothing more.

Our ability to communicate and teach others is the evolutionary advantage at work here, not the insidious viral infections of self-serving concepts working to propagate themselves. There is no known physical component to a meme which can serve a s bridge between the biological and the cultural. And lacking any such bridge, all you’ve got are “just so” stories.

Thats not the point were missing, thats the point were making.

I dont really know what you’re trying to say here. Genes are little more then the result of random chemicals bumping togethor that doesnt make them any less real. Genes exists solely on the basis of there habitats ability to accept them. Meme’s habitats happen to more or less be exclusively human brains.

I’m not suggesting our ability to use memes isnt something we’ve evolved it obviously was. If you take a step back though you will see how this last genetic modification (the ability to imitate so well) was unlike any other genetic modification in the history of life on this planet. In less then a million years we’ve gone from a miniscule population in africa to the dominant form of life on the plant. Looking at the fossil record will tell you that no form of life has ever ascended so quickly. Genetic evolution cannot explain this mystery whereas memetics can. The answer is hard to see simply because it is staring us in the face. If you accept darwin’s theory of natural selection, then you have to aknowledge that a mutating replicator will inevitably evolve over time. I propose the fact that memes mutate and reproduce so much faster then genes and that memes rely on homo sapiens as their habitat is precisely the reason we have come to dominate the planet. The tools that humans used to create civilization did not evolve through genetics but through the competetion of memes. You are correct the individual meme has yet to be found in the brain but as i said the identification of the gene was decades away when Darwin first formulated his theory but that in no way precluded that theory form being the best explination of the meta-effects of genetic evolution. In the same way memetics is the bestn explination for cultural evolution.

I would just like to say that I thought his article was a wonderful introduction into a topic I had never heard about. Upon speaking with a couple of my friends about it (thereby submitting to the power of the meme meming itself) I had found that they had already heard of the concept.

Thanks Cecil, ignore the OP.


I was interested in your quote by Tom Wolfe- is the assumption that thoughts have a specific electrical signature in one’s brain? I would think that most of our early conscious cerebral signals have a similar form. For example, mommy holds up a bottle, your brain begins to recognize that bottle = food. I would expect that for most people this pattern is similar, but as everyone’s experience becomes infinitely more varied, wouldn’t it be difficult to glean information from a brain scan?

So I was thinking that maybe a meme is just a name given to a sequence of electrical impulses in the brain- as these electrical sequences repeat (for example, as you ponder a new math problem you’ve learned, or a new vocabulary word, or driving directions to a new favorite restaurant), our brain gets more and more used to responding to these sequences. Maybe like a river becoming deeper and deeper, and branchoff streams taking shape.

Because our brains have developed according to our individual experiences, maybe our memes- if they exist- won’t look exactly the same in a brain scan. But they can be transmitted, as long as the two people involved have had a similar enough upbringing. By contrast, imagine trying to explain how to burn a CDR to a Chinese rice farmer!

I don’t think anyone can deny that we are a product of our experience. If I’ve never been taught Russian, I can’t understand or retell a Russian joke. It’s scary to imply that we have no free will, but I think free will itself is a meme- a defense mechanism for our brains to justify our existence. Who wants to go on living if they can’t control their destiny?

Once again, we humans bash into the brick wall of our own organic nature. Some things are simply beyond our very limited scope.

I’m saying there is nothing mystical or magical about memes. It is language and communication that is the true “thing” at work, the adaptation that gives rise to even the concept of meme. I’m saying we give rise to memes, not the other way around. We think up the ideas which we then relate to others; the ideas which are called memes are not independent discoveries. They are passed form person to person, from generation to generation, and eventually disappear. In that, they are of course analogous to genes, but that’s as far as the similarity goes. As a “unit of cultural transmission”, they are equivalent to the already existing concept of “an idea”. But we are not the products of our ideas - they are ours.

Genes exist as physcial entities: we can identify them in a as strand of DNA, we can excise them, we can insert them. We can identify their effect on an organism: with, or without, this gene, this organism develops thus. We can identify the mechanism and means of transmittal. Thus, it makes sense that such physical entities would play a vital role in evolutionary theory.

The same cannot be said for memes. What is the form of a meme? How is it copied, then transmitted? We cannot test the effects of the omission or inclusion of any given meme on a culture. We cannot even measure a meme. Memetics as a whole treads dangerously close to pseudo-science as a result.

The evolution of language is quite sufficient to explain it. Other organisms do not appear to possess the capacity to both think complex thoughts and relay those thoughts to others in a coherent manner. We can do both, thus we can be exposed to those thoughts from earlier generations, and build upon them with our own. This is how cultural change happens.

And I propose that memes exist solely because we let them. Any time you are exposed to an idea, it is you who decides whether that idea is worth “keeping”. In this way, memes are completely non-analogous to genes, as the organism has no say over what genes get passed on - a gene either remains in a population or does not based on the survival of the individuals which carry it. This is not the case with memes. Each of us determines which ideas or concepts we will perpetuate. A meme does not copy itself, we copy them.

Ah, but a major problem with memetics is that the nature of the replication is overlooked. With biological replicators, the identity of the copy is entirely and wholely dependent on the nature of the replicator. The replicator exists to create copies, and the copies are the product of the replicator. Furthermore, the copy itself provides the means to create more replicators. That is, the replicator replicates itself by means of its replicants (say that ten times fast!). The properties of the replicant are derived from the means, and mechanics, of the replication itself.

This is not the case with memes. It might be said that the replicator for a meme is the human brain. However, that brain is not the product of memes, but of genes. And the memes themselves have no influence over the genes that produce their supposed vessels. Thus, the analogy with genes fails, and we are stuck with an idea which is supposed to be able to copy and transmit itself, but without a mechanism whereby it can assuredly do so. The replicant, in this case, cannot create more replicators.

This is for TessBarker, or anyone else that was wondering organized religion’s role as a meme.
Dawkins himself on the topic: “Viruses of the Mind”

Good read.

Bravo, Darwin’s Finch! But I think Dawkins missed the point as well.

Who has said there is? Not me certainly not Dawkins or Blackmoore.

Of course memes came from us, I repeat I and no one else is saying they invaded us from another planet, are the product of fairydust, or any sort of extra-evolutionary process. That is not to ay they do not influence us. First people rarely get to pick what memes they remember, then when they decide which memes to then transmit out they are inevitably relying mostly on other memes to make that decision. When you “think up ideas” what do you really think your doing? Your taking existing ideas (or memes) and combining or very subtly altering them in some new way nothing more and nothing less. In your description of ideas you have described a process of replication with occasional mutation, in other words the Darwinian algorithm (see: Daniel Dennet’s Darwin Dangerous Idea). This is where the concept of meme seperates form your concept of idea. Once the Darwinian algorithm begins natural selection will inevitably take over. Those memes that have good tricks will survive memes that dont catch on will die.

Yes but we couldnt always would you have accused Darwin of conspiring with faeries because he couldnt point at a gene? Memes can be postulated because they are the only logical explination for cultural evolution just as Darwin could postulate that something like the gene had to exist because it was the only thing that could explain organic evolution.

Language is not enough on its own to explain the human domination of the planet. In your schema the only type of evolution is genetic. Genetic evolution simply does not act quickly enough to move a species to the the top of the food chain across the entire planet in a few thousand generations. The only answer I’ve ever seen that can explain this unprecedented change in the biological order, practically overnight on an evolutionary scale, is that a new form of evolution is going on symbiotic to our species.

this is simply wrong. A catchy tune does not require your permission to get stuck in your head. Neither does a horrifying image. You cannot simply choose to forget a bad memory.

You have some funny ideas about genes and a misunderstanding about memes. First genes exist within our bodies but they are not all our bodies are. Only about half your genes will get transmitted to your offspring. The genes that survive over the long run are not decided by the gens themselves but by the way they exist in relation to their habitat (heres that natural selection again). I am not saying that memes have the same relationship with humans that genes do. The only things that memes construct in human beings are other memes. They can alter their habitat like any organism but they do not dictate its construction in the same way a gene construsts the organism it is part of.

Do you really think guys would be chasing after thin-hipped super models if genetics were still running the show?

Tom Wolfe quoted off “A neurophysiologist can use the most powerful and sophisticated brain imaging now available - and still not find a meme.”

I think this does not take into account the basic
nature of memes. A similar situation would be tearing
apart your computer looking for a chunk of Windows
(or whatever backwards “incorrect” OS you may be using).
If memes are a mental virus, then equating them to
software running on the hardware of the brain isn’t
all that far fetched.
Thoughts and ideas can’t be observed until they
alter the environment in the form of behavior or
operations (monitoring brainwaves wont tell you
what flavour of ice cream im thinking of).
Cecil himself mentioned B.F.Skinner’s book
“Beyond Freedom and Dignity” in which he pretty
much eliminated the notion of free will. To a
Behavioral/Evolutionary Psychologist there is
nothing shocking in the concept of memes. Its a new
name for an old idea.
What advantages would we get from memes? The
Scientific Method and scientific research have
pretty much destroyed superstition as our way of
explaining our surroundings. Look at the benefits
to medicine: penicillin, vaccines, anti-bacterials,
pasturization, viagra…
While memes themselves may not directly do much,
their results certainly seem to aid in our survival.

Anyone who thinks that a meme is anything more than an idea or concept which is passed on is giving that idea some special properties which cannot even be said to exist.

Here you acknowledge that it is not the memes which transmit themselves! And I disagree wholehartedly with the idea that we do not get to choose which memes to remember and especially which ones to transmit. If I relate a tale, it’s because I like the tale, not because the tale is using me to copy itself. If I tell a friend about a song, or tell a joke, it’s because I like that song, or that joke. It’s not the meme forcing me to do so.

And, if we accept your last point (that memes rely on other memes to transmit themselves), then that belies the statement that memes survive to pertpetuate themselves. A meme must now rely on other memes, which it cannot directly affect, and cannot control the ways in which it might affect it, to transmit itself?

False. The Darwinian algorithm requires a means of replicating true, with mutations being the result of errors in the replication process. If a meme is altered by means of outside influences (e.g., other memes), then we are talking Lamarckian modes of transmittal, not Darwinian.

Jokes, stories, and legends, as examples, can be freely embellished by the teller. If those “joke memes”, “story memes”, or “legend memes” are to have any benefit in being transmitted, they need to be able to copy themselves faithfully, not become meme chimeras in which bits and pieces of other jokes, stories or legends beocme incorporated into them. I cannot sress this point enough: simply being copied, or copiable, is not sufficient for a Darwinian process. If I find that a joke is funnier if it’s told about a priest instead of a rabbi, then the “joke meme” has lost any sense of control of its own transmission. Indeed, it becomes the victim of the very thing it’s supposed not to allow for: free will.

Unfortunately, a mechanism, or even a standard, whereby a meme can be judged “good” is lacking. Nor is there any sort of “natural selection” occuring*. A person can expose himself to all religious teachings, and can pass on those teachings in the form of , well, teaching. A person can collect jokes of all, or any, sort, and keep them for prosperity. These are not selective processes. I can freely teach that with which I disagree with, or even reject entirely. Or, I can determine that I will keep only those jokes I find funniest, or teach the religion that I most agree with. But the memes involved surely have no means of controlling that decision.

Nope. Darwin postulated the traits that would be necessary for the basic units of replication for his theory to function as advertised. If DNA turned out to be other than it was, natural selection would not function. What are the postualted traits for the basic units of replication for memes? It is not enough that “we may find the means by which meme are replicated someday” - we have to know what we are looking for, and what would prove meme theory false if it is found.

Really? And what evidence do you have that this is the case? Genetic evolution has been shown to be much faster than what is even required for Darwinian natural selection to occur (indeed, in some cases, it appears to be too fast!). Long periods of stability are common in established populations, with very rapid change occuring in times of upheaval or catastrophe. Mammals in general went from living in the shadows of dinosaurs to being the dominant life forms in but 10-15 million years. I don’t see why it is surprising that a single mammal species could further dominate within 3MY.

All major evolutionary change happens virtually overnight (in a geological sense).

A catchy tune getting stuck in my head does not ensure that it will ever get out again. And when did bad memories become memes? Bad memories are not cultural information, so are irrelevant - surely you are not trying to pass off any single thought that humans might have as a meme!

My ideas are not the least bit amusing, I assure you. It is a simple fact that Darwinian natural selection dictates the stated properties (which was also pointed out in Dennett, I might add) of a replicator. If the final form is not dictated by the means and mechanism of the replicator, then natural selection has no effect: any given form can be created from any previous form, so it does not matter which persist or which do not. Thus, in order for natural selection to even be relevant, it must be the case that the replicator is capable of carrying out its own copying, and ensuring as true a copy as possible. This is true at any level of selection you care to examine: molecular, genetic, organismal, or even entire species. In each case, the entity in question is capable of reproducing itself, and is dependent on the faithful reproduction of lower levels. Memes, in order to be propagated by natural selection must fit into this schema somewhere, and be able to copy themselves in an analogous manner. They do not, however; you have even essentially admitted that memes are often conglomerations of other memes, rendering faithful replication virtually impossible.

I am not contesting the fact that ideas, or thoughts, or memes, or whatever you wish to call them propagate. I am contesting the idea that they do so by means of natural selection, and are thus driving our evolution.

Do you really not recognize that such is a case of sexual, not natural, selection?
*I would like to point out, here as I have many times before, that natural selection requires three basic criteria must be met: variation (and the agent of the variation itself has been covered above), heritability, and competition. A trait must be variable, those variations must be heritable, and those heritable variations must affect the owner’s ability to compete with others for limited resources.

Memes appear to fail on all three points: they do not vary as a result of replication errors, but rather are affected by other, unrelated memes; those variations are not heritable in the sense that modifcations remain intact and are built upon; nor do they compete with one another for resources - a “joke meme” does not compete against other joke memes in any kind of “meme space”.

If anything, if memes are to be shoehorned into human evolution, it may, perhaps, be said that they are part of our environment, and in that way shape our own evolution. But even that is stretching it, as there are few such memes which would actually influence the selection of individual humans.

I’m not giving ideas any special properties I’m saying our conventional understanding of ideas meets the requirements for Darwinian life.

Memes and humans live in a symbiotic relationship, it does not have to be one way or the other. Humans transmit memes because it benefeits us, memes become things appealing to humans so that more will be transmitted.

Maybe you have super powers I’m not aware of but most humans cannot simply will a memory away. We have evolved into creatures highly recepetable to memes a sufficiently provocative meme is hard to ignore. When it comes to the decision of which memes to transmit obviously things get a bit more complicated. You are not forced by some other enitity to pass on a particular meme any more then the pond is forced to allow the duck to survive there. The duck has adapted itself to survive in the pond analagously to the way a meme has adapted itself to survive in human minds. The meme does not force you it caters to you.

the process of how meme’s mutate is probably the least well understood but I do not think it is a Lamarkian system. Meme’s combine in weird ways lets for instance take the example of the football phone. Someone take the meme for football and the meme for phone and combines them. This may look Lamarkian but I would say its closer to sexual reproduction. Obviously memes dont come in defined genders but then neither do worms. The only way a meme is altered through outside influence is in an example like that of the liberty bell. For most of us the “liberty bell” meme pictures a cracked bell this crack was obviously not part of the original artists design. His “liberty bell” meme was mutated but this mutation did occur in the replication process. The real world artifact the liberty bell is the means by which this meme happens to transmit itself.

the joke in this case is not an individual meme but multiple memes clinging togethor if you change the joke in this way you are simply substituting one meme in the larger memeplex. Once you heard the joke the memeplex began floating around in your head, the the priest meme combined with the memeplex in your head in a method akin to sexual reproduction. The rabbi meme and even the rabbi version of the joke memeplex both still exist in your head but only the new priest version of the memeplex will be passed on. Natural selection has just occured. You may feel the need to appeal to some airy idea like free will to explain your personal meme preferences. I people preferences can basically be boiled down to a combination of physiological needs and dominant cultural memeplexes.
Unfortunately, a mechanism, or even a standard, whereby a meme can be judged “good” is lacking. Nor is there any sort of “natural selection” occuring*. A person can expose himself to all religious teachings, and can pass on those teachings in the form of , well, teaching. A person can collect jokes of all, or any, sort, and keep them for prosperity. These are not selective processes. I can freely teach that with which I disagree with, or even reject entirely. Or, I can determine that I will keep only those jokes I find funniest, or teach the religion that I most agree with. But the memes involved surely have no means of controlling that decision.

And I’m saying this can be done. What we need to find is something that matches the Darwinian algorithm. What would this look like you know dont wish to ask? I can offer my guess in that if you take the smallest parts of an idea. Not like a whole joke but the smallest feature of that joke, it would produce the same pattern somewhere in two different people minds. I do not think we are anywhere close to finding such a thing, if we already had we would know practically all ther eis to know about how the mind works. Until Technology reaches such a state though we are left in Darwin’s position in the nineteenth century the measurable meta-effects cry out for an explanation and genetic evolution does not answer them. Specifically I am refferring to man’s clear cultural evolution witnessed by his domination of the earth at a pace improbable to genetic expectations.

First you seem to be describing punctuated equilibrium theory which is another huge debate altogethor. I can claim no expertise on this subject but I’ve yet to hear a theory for it which explains how the normal mutation process suddenly begins accelerating. Your timescale even though its pretty generous with how long it took humans to dominate only enforces my point. Multiple mammal species take 1o million years to crawl over this planet even with the notable aid of their prime competition (the dinosaurs) all being dead. How could a few genetic modifications have so helped us take over so quickly. Normally if a species became extra good at hunting or gathering food it would quickly use up its immidiate rescources over populte and die. Instead our species has shown remarkble adaptibility time and time again on a timescale inequitable with genetic evolution. You do raise another interesting anomoly about the human domination. No one species has ever been able to so dominate, at different times different orders have taken primacy but only by breaking up into specialized groups.

I surely am. A bad memory is a meme, any memory is a meme. Many memes and especially meme-cominations quickly burn out because no one wishes to pass them on.

It is quite possible it is just difficult to see because memes are probably much smaller then we think. Very often when we speak about memes like, catchy tunes, jokes, etc we actually mean memeplexes. Organisms and species do not perfectly follow the Darwinian algorithm they only seem to most of the time only the gene does. This is by and large the point of Dawkin’s book and although I’m sure we could get into another huge debate over the selfish gene but I was wondering if I might get away with a shameless apeal to authority when i say that according to cecil “the selfish gene is now the accepted scientific view.”

what is driving this sexual selection in your worldview if not natural selection? I can rely on the memes for explination.

Wow! I’ve been away for a couple days, and the discussion has gotten much better (ooh - maybe I should just stay out of it?)

Anyway, I think what I’ve just quoted is directly relevant to my earlier post. I was trying to guess what a memetic “organism” might be.

See, genes don’t copy themselves (or transmit themselves), either. Similarly, I think memes, like strands of nucleotides, get copied by something else. They get carried somewhere else by something else. Nothing mysterious there.

Crux of the problem is, how “tightly coupled” are the meme and whatever is copying/carrying/transmiting it?

I disagree that meme theory fails simply because we don’t have a “mutual causal process” like we appear to have in genetics. As I said above, we guess that before there were biological organisms, nucleic acid strands sort of floated around. The mechanisms that copied them and transcribed them to make various enzymes also just sort of floated around. Genes that were, for some reason, better at getting themselves copied became more plentiful, and some of that probably had to do with the kinds of enzymes that the transcription mechanisms were able to make with them. And so it goes.

Millennia (billennia?) later, somehow, some clumps of biochemicals got packaged together into something that could more or less reproduce, making copies not of single nucleic acid strands, but rather of the entire set inside the package. From then on, you had another level of selection working: the selection of organisms based on their genetic contents. (I’d say the genes and their attendant biotic environment became “tightly coupled”.)

Well, to me, it seems like there are no memetic organisms because the system in which memes reside is not sufficiently developed. Sure, we may have memes, and they may get copied, but the copying and transferring happen in a rather haphazard, chaotic way. They are very loosely coupled.

That’s why I think the arguments about how memetics doesn’t measure up to genetics are moot. IMO, there are no memetic analogues of biological organisms yet, so, naturally, we aren’t going to find them! Instead, they are more analogous to pre-biotic biochemical glop. :eek:

So, can we imagine what a memetic organism (what I called a “metameme”) might be like? That might be more fun than arguing whether apples are oranges…

In which case, the whole “no free will” argument from a memetic point of view fails. The only way free will can be removed from the equation is if we have no say at all in their transmittal. Which causes other problems, then: what is the mechanism of selection for memes? If we cannot “choose” to pass on a meme, then what does the selecting? What is the meme’s environment which dictates the fitness of a meme?

Either we do the selecting, or we do not. If we do, then it cannot be said that memes circumvent free will. If we do not do the selecting, then what is left?

Memories are not memes. I’d like to see anything from a memeticist that says otherwise.

Again, this belies the claim that memes act independently of free will.

Here you go contrary to the established definiton of meme as a unit of cultural change. A unit is not broken down into smaller parts; it exists as its own entity. A meme either exists in such a way that it can be defined and studied, or it does not. If you state that memes are made up of other memes, then it’s simply turtles all the way down and the entire concept is both meaningless and useless.

Sexual reproduction fails as an analogous process because memes are not supposed to be analogs of entire genomes, but of genes. A gene is copied, while an entire genome is passed on (assuming it passes selection). A meme does not exist as part of a larger “memome”; they are simply copied and pased on. However, once you start incorporating other memes into an exsiting one, you have inheritance of acquired characters - just as if individual genes were modified in situ prior to replication.

This is sounding like more and more mumbo-jumbo. No natural selection has occured, because the “memeplex” has not met the requirements I’ve already put forth for natural selection. The variation that forms new jokes is not a “mutation”, but a purposeful alteration. It is no more a mutation than when a twig is broken off a tree. Nor is there any competition; the “priest” meme and “rabbi” meme are not competing for laughs.

Besides which, compare your explanation above with the following:

I changed the joke from “priest” to “rabbi” because I thought it was funnier.

Which is the simpler explanation for how jokes change through time?

I never said it did. I said evolution accelerates. A very different thing, since as I’m sure you realize, evolution is not simply the result of mutations.

And you have failed to explain why the evolution of language is not sufficient to explain man’s dominance. We can think thoughts and relate them to others. If it’s a “good idea”, then others will think similar thoughts. We do not have to relearn everything from scratch, we build upon what others before us have learned. Thus, each generation can “evolve”, in a cultural sense, beyond previous generations. There is no need to resort to “memeplexes”, or even memes themselves as an explanation.

Then what you are doing is saying “thought” = “meme”, and you have therfore needlessly multiplied entities. “Meme” becomes a useless concept, as we can then just as easily explain cultural evolution as I have above.

Unfortunately, such an explanation is likely to be ad hoc, as sexual selection occurs in virtually every sexually-reproducing species. Unless you are prepared to extend memetic influence to the likes of caribou and peafowl, of course. In which case, it pretty much fails to explain human culture, since it no longer becomes unique to us.

Genes do not copy themselves, but the entire genome codes for not only genes, but the mechanism to copy that genome, as well. The “reader”, if you will, must go along with what is read in order for any of it to make sense. In order for a meme to be “read” - in order for it to be copied in a manner analogous to genetic replication - the reader must be part of the package.

I have to say I’m losing track here.

Who’s arguing what? Is someone suggesting that genotype or memotype (blah!) precludes free will (whatever that is)?

We can demonstrate that genotype is not absolutely controlling by using contraceptives. Memotype is more difficult because you have to decide what a meme is. The commonest model is religion and conversion to another or no religion at all may be proof they do not preclude choice. Unless you consider agnosticism or atheism another meme.

The important aspect of memes is that they do not have to be of benefit to the meme carriers (us) to propagate. Even a lethal meme only has to propagate faster than it kills the carriers off to persist.

I never said that memetics denies free will. Frankly free will is not a scientific concept of any sort it is no more supported by traditional genetic evolution theroies then by memetic ones. Blackmoore is the only one who brings up the free will thing in the memetic literature that I’ve read and she does so as a philosopher. Also she does not mention it as proof of memetics only as an interesting corollary. I certainly do not need free will to explain memetic evolution though. The mechanism for selection of memes is human needs. One can certainly imagine these needs are the product of some ethereal free will if that helps you sleep at night but one might just as well say they are the product of physiological programming and prior memetic influence.

Sigh you’re gonna make me go to the library over this? Memes are memories or their in memories. There is quite a bit of controversy in memetics over where to draw the line for where the meme ends and the memeplex begins. Might I point out there is a similar controversy over genes. I tend to say memes are quite small, the most basic thoughts or concepts, I would actually put them as the smallest thought or concept that cannot be further reduced. I don’t see one argyument you’ve made that disallows me to make this move. It is still a unit of cultural exchange they just usually travel in larger packages, or memeplexes, just as genes usually travel in larger collectives called organisms. It is true most of the early talk of memes centred around jokes or tunes but that is like saying Darwin’s evolution doesnt work because he said animals mutated when in fact it was there genes.

easily solved by the introduction of the memeplex. I know you would prefer a less sophisticated version of memetics to argue against hence your reluctance to argue against anything but this strawman version of memetics you’ve devised.

the memeplex no more evolves then the organism or the species does, only memes and genes truly evolve the others only benefit from that evolution. If “priest” and “rabbi” are individual memes (ie they cannot be further deconstructed) then they can be said to have undergone natural selection. They are not competing for laughs as such they are competing for transmission.

the two versions are not mutually exclusive mine just gives a better understanding of whats going on. Compare these two sentances “the pink worm as caught by the bird because it was less camoflaged then the green worm” and the “The green genes present in the green version of the worm allowed that worm to survive better then the pink genes found in the pink version of the worm.” The second sentance is much more complicated but that does not make it wrong. In fact it makes it a better explanation.

No you didnt but you and no one else supporting punctuated equillibrium or any other accelrated evolution prgram has offered any real mechansim by which evolution could vastly accelerate itself.

No there is very real need to explain why man was able to evolve so well and so quickly. Language, tools, and social organization all contributed to the human domination of the earth, as they of course all benefitied from memetic evolution. That does not explain why we should have evolved so quickly if you are just relying on genetic evolution as your model.

You havent explained cultural evolution you’ve just said it “evolves” when the only kind of evolution you recognize is genetic this makes no sense.

sexual selection in other species is in line with genetic evolution. The whole point for a caribou or a peafowl is to find the mate with the best genes. Human mating has lost all sense of practicality on this regard. The thin-hipped super models would have been no catch to our ancient ancestors. Today of course modern science has made child birth fairly safe for even the likes of Kate Moss but do you really think our genetic programming has already figured this out in a handful of generations?

Meme’s rarely travel in memeplexes as stable as the genetics of an organism. As has been said previously memes are likely in a sort of primordial soup stage. More stable forms of meme tranfer have arisen though. For instance a book the idea of a particular book not only contains all the millions of memes doubtless contained within but also the meme of what a book is and how the memes within should arranged.

For organisms as we know them, yes, that’s what I’m calling a “tightly coupled” package. But I think you are not getting the whole picture. Before there were organisms, what was there? We don’t know, of course, but we can pretty well guess, and it couldn’t have been tightly coupled at all.

So, if there was something before organisms (rather than some sort of special creation), then the proto-genes got replicated by something that was not a well-organized “reader” such as you’re proposing. The two were not tightly causally linked or coupled.

And I still suggest that that’s where memes are now…