Tuesday, July 18, 2006

An Example of a Replicator: Meme

In my previous post in my study of Darwinism, I discussed Replicators. We know genes as the primary replicator, but in reality, genes are only a special case of replicators. If we were to discover aliens, their lifeforms would most certainly be based on a replicator, although not likely the gene as we know it. The gene evolved from earlier replicators, and there's nothing special about the gene—the early replicators could have evolved differently, resulting in a replicator different from the gene as we know it. Therefore, it is actually quite improbable that the alien civilization we discover would be based on the exact same replicator that Earth-life is.

Replicators are not limited to the biological world. In 1976, Richard Dawkins coined the term "meme" to represent a theoretical replicator of culture. In the primeval soup of chemicals in the early days of the Earth, infused with energy from lightning and the sun, the situation was ripe for molecules to form and, over time, at least one of which was likely to exhibit self-replicating properties. In terms of life, once consciousness evolved, that provided fertile ground for a new replicator to emerge, the meme.

Instead of discussing memes in complete detail (this isn't a book :) ), I'm going to give several examples over the next few posts and rely on them to explain the essence of memetic thought. There is one important thing to note, however. The gene is a physical molecule with a specific topology—it exists in the world. The meme, in contrast, does not exist. It is simply a model that explains quite well how culture has changed through time. Nobody thinks that we can look inside our brains and find this molecule called a meme. Rather, it is simply a wonderful tool of analysis and planning that is worthy of study, not only for deepening your understanding of replicators and the process of natural selection, but also for understanding of the culture in which we live.

Stay tuned on Wednesday for the first example!


Don Iannone said...

Really interested ideas. How did you get onto this? I should have asked before: What is your background? Maybe it's on your website and I didn't see it. Thanks for enlightening me.

Mike said...

Hi Don, while I'm a Buddhist, I'm also a Darwinist with a huge interest in evolution and natural selection. I'm particularly fond of Richard Dawkins's and Stephen Gould's work. So in order to improve my knowledge in these areas, I thought I'd start writing about them.

My background is in electrical engineering, where I've got a Masters Degree (I'm currently working on finding funding to begin work on my Ph.D). I'm also a certified massage therapist. So most of my writing has nothing to do with my background. :)

As always, thanks for the comment!