How memes work

John K Clark (
Sun, 3 Aug 1997 21:54:30 -0700 (PDT)


James Daugherty <> On Sunday Aug 3 1997 wrote:

>Too bad Extropians never seem to question Dawkins' extreme

I like reductionism for purely pragmatic reasons, it produces results, the
competition doesn't. Prove me wrong and I'll be happy to dump reductionism
for something better. I'm not holding my breath.

>Genes and memes compete primarily via the characteristics they
>impart to their respective biological organism and social organims
>(or culture). Genes and memes change or evolve for different reasons

I agree, Dawkins would too.

>I think the evidence still indicates that genes mutate randomly

Evolution theorists like Dawkins like to emphasize the random nature of
mutation to show that you can still produce structures of staggering
complexity provided you have the other the other half of evolution, natural
selection. Darwin would have no problem dealing in non random mutations and
in fact in the real world mutation is mostly random but not completely.
For chemical reasons some "hot spots" on the chromosome are more likely to
have mutations than others.

>Hosts can invent new memes and try to spread them! However, only
>the rich and powerful segments of a society can make a new meme
>operational through a whole culture

So what, Dawkins never said all hosts are created equal. As for the whole
culture, genes don't give a damn about that or even about the welfare of the
individual they inhabit, natural selection works at a lower level. The gene
is only interested in reproducing itself. By analogy Dawkins is saying the
same thing is true for ideas and gave it a name, "meme".

- From the species point of view females are much more important than males,
one male could service dozens of females so you don't need as many of them.
Take elephant seals for example, just 4% of the males are the father of 88%
of the baby seals, most males never reproduce at all but they still live long
lives and eat lots of valuable food. If natural selection operated at the
species level you would expect many more females to be born with enough males
to just barely handle it, the species would be better off but that's not what
happens, the sex ratio is still 50- 50. In such a world producing a daughter
would mean 2 or 3 grandchildren with your genes, producing a son would mean
hundreds and that pushes the pendulum back toward the 50% sex ratio.

>Memes that engender war, for instance, may create a successful
>Imperialist culture that spreads through military force. Just look
>at history.

True, that means that those infected with the "it's good to die for your
country" meme must have been able to infect at least one other person before
the meme killed him. As I said, the meme doesn't give a damn about the
individual, it just wants to spread.

>Notice how the Establishment periodically cracks down on "conspiracy
>theory memes"?


>Conspiracy memes are quite infectious


>partly because there is a large element of truth

I doubt it.

>Admit it! You [Anders Sandberg] just want to be in memetic resonance
>with the powers that be! ...the manipulators of the State!

Oh come now James, I've never seen the slightest evidence that Anders is a
lackey for the state! Somebody can disagree with you without being a
government agent.

John K Clark

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