Re: Genes and Memes

From: Stuart Armstrong (
Date: Fri Apr 25 2008 - 02:53:59 MDT

> The primary difference is fidelity of replication, which limits complexity.
> that they are heritable, must have a complexity of less than 100 bits.

Much better phrased than me! I had a post that I sent to SL4 on this
issue, but it kept getting rejected. I'll try and send it again, in
case (as there are other differences between memes and genes that
should be noted):

> > the analogy between memes and genes is
> > interesting, linguistically, but in practice
> > they are completely different.
> No, Memes and Genes are not completely different, they are not even
> substantially different. It's true that they run on different operating
> systems, one on proteins and the other on a brain, but both are units of
> information that can be transferred from one generation to the next.

Yes, in that sense they are the same. But in most ways they are
substantially different! A gene is an object that can make only a
small number of discrete changes, comes bundled in a clearly defined
being (an animal body), is only passed on through one definite process
(reproduction), is nearly entierly dependent on its interaction with
other genes, and can be entirely eliminated.

A meme can make many continuous changes, is not bundled in any strict
structure (notice how post-modernist anti-capitalist ideas have slid
into the market system), is passed on in many different ways, at many
different times, is less dependent on its intereaction with all the
other memes out there (consider deleting 10% of the memes in the world
versus deleting 10% of the genes in a body), and gets entierly
eliminated only very, very rarely.

(this is a somewhat simplified view of memes and genes, but should be
enough to emphasis the differences).

So yes, there are analogies between genes and memes, but they are
sufficiently different that we cannot take genetic evolution, and
expect it to be comparable to memetic evolution.


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