Re: virus: Replication of Memes

David McFadzean (
Mon, 12 Aug 1996 23:01:03 -0600

KMO wrote:
> Steve Upstill wrote:
> > What I meant was that a meme must pass through
> > communication channels to reach another host.
> As we should expect of units of information.

True, but I think Steve brings up a relatively important distinction
between genes and memes. During propagation, the former are copied
more or less directly while memes (patterns embodied in nervous
systems) must be transformed into quite different media (speech,
print, etc.) for transmission.

> "[T]here is no reason to think that every meaningful signal must carry
> information or, if it does, that the information it carries must be
> identical to it's meaning."

If the meaning of the signal is taken to be its effect, then I agree
with the 2nd part of this statement but not the first. I wonder what
he means by 'meaningful'.

> "What one learns, or can learn, from a signal (event, condition, or
> state of affairs), and hence the information carried by that signal,
> depends in part on what one already knows about the alternative
> possibilities."

What one learns and what one can learn are often radically different.
Which corresponds to the information?

> "Roughly speaking, information is that commodity capable of yielding
> knowledge, and what information a signal carries is what we can learn
> from it."

Here he seems to identify information with what one can theoretically
learn from the signal, potential knowledge as opposed to what is
actually realized.

> "[I]nformation is a question of what, and how much can be learned from a
> particular signal, and there simply is NO LIMIT to what can be learned
> from a particular signal about another state of affairs."

Does this imply a signal can potentially contain infinite information?

> "How much information a signal carries is NOT a function of how much
> information the recipient thinks it carries."

Does this mean the information the signal carries IS a function of how
much the sender thinks it carries, or is the sender irrelevant too?

> According to Dretske, what is to be expected from any scientific theory
> is "a more or less complete, precise, and systematic description of
> those entities and processes underlying the phenomena of interest."
> If we accept Dretske's definition of information and his criteria for
> scientific theories, and if we take memes to be the information in
> cultural transmission as opposed to the content of cultural signals,
> then it seems unlikely that we'll be able to formulate a science of
> memetics.

My own view on this is if memetics has the possibility of being a
science, it will be based more on computational metaphors (treating
memes as programs) than information theory (which is concerned more
with the process of transmission).

> Of course, if we use Dretske's notion of information and if a honey
> bee's dance or a termite's pheremones are to convey information, then
> bees and termites must be capable of KNOWING things.
> I have a problem with this, as I think knowledge requires justified true
> belief, and I'm not convinced that bees and termites have beliefs.

Let me ask you this then: Do bees and termites behave *as if* they
have beliefs? Anyone else have an opinion on this?

David McFadzean       
Memetic Engineer      
Ideosphere Inc.