Re: Genes and Memes

From: Stuart Armstrong (
Date: Mon Apr 28 2008 - 02:06:15 MDT

> > But in most ways they are
> > substantially different!
> So different it requires an exclamation point?

Yes! Exclamation points are good... as long as they are alone, and
don't bring friends.

> Neither a meme nor a gene is an object, they are adjectives. Both can
> make a huge number of discrete changes, comes bundled in clearly defined
> objects (proteins or a brains),

Memes do not come bundles in a clearly defined object - they are
contained in brains, but leap freely from one to the other, while
genes stay fixed in a body, and are only transmitted by reproduction.

But this whole discussion is rather missing the point - we can find
lots of linguistic similarities and differences between memes and
genes. The question is, are they functionally similar? Can we deduce
behaviour about memes from our extensive knowledge of genes?

And there the answer is no. Genes obey clearly established laws of
inheritance, with an impressive mathematical rigour. A gene is clearly
defined (generally), and many theories can be articulated about them,
and tested to great extent. Also importantly, the underlying theory of
genetic evolution is clearly understood - we not only know what genes
do, but why.

Compare that with our understanding of memes. We don't even have an
clear definition of a meme, let alone a theory of memetic evolution
comparable to the rigour of the genetic variant. Meme theory splits
into two components: extensive statistical analysis that provide no
understanding of the underlying process and have quite poor predictive
power, and sociological explanations that lack rigour (and predictive

Until a proper theory of memetics is developed, and turns out to be
both rigorous and substantially similar to genetics, I will be
justified in regarding the gene-meme similarities as nothing more than
a linguistic analogy.


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