Re: Darwin Spencer Genes Memes

Dave Rindos (arkeo4@UNIWA.UWA.EDU.AU)
Sat, 5 Feb 1994 07:58:21 +0800

On Fri, 4 Feb 1994, Steve Mizrach wrote in reply to what I wrote:

> >Darwinian evolution is not dependent upon genes in
> >any case.
[ . . . ]
> >Somehow
> >"genetics is darwian and genes evolve" became equated with "evolution is
> >genetic and darwinism applies only to genes." Quite beyond me how this
> >ever happened but clearly it did!

> The "Selfish Gene" tries to move evolutionary analysis to the level of the
> gene instead of the organism. That is, Dawkins wants to look how certain
> genes succeed in replicating themselves, and others fail. He begins with
> looking at how genes manipulate organisms for their propagation. Then he
> tries to expand this analysis briefly to suggest 'memes' can be looked at
> the same way as genes - units of information that also seek propagation
> through manipulating (conscious, communication-ready) organisms.

Well, I think that Dawkins' work provides about as good an example of
the error (or better put, mistaken hueristic) as one could desire. While
I would not fault him entirely (and in fact will recommend his work as
PART of a larger reading programme), the model is far too unrealistic to
stand up to sustained scrutiny. This is doubly so if we (mistakenly)
attribute to him simplistically gene-based level of analysis (eg "If
fitness of the organism is increased by the loss of a gene, can we refer
to a "selfish gene deletion"?).

> >> Clearly a different model of selection is needed.
> >We can use the same model for *selection*. It is models for heredity,
> >"vehicles" and "replicators" that need to be altered.
> Ah, but there's the rub! If the model for selection remains the same, then
> how do we determine the "inclusive fitness" of the meme? We can examine
> such things as speed and breadth and quantity of replication (how fast, how
> far, how many exact copies of self); but how do we know how 'adapted' a
> meme is to a particular 'environment'?

Again, your critique here is telling IF and ONLY IF we take the
following as givens:

[1] "memes" exist as the natural, generative, basis for culture and
therefore that cultural change is the result of changes in memes possed
by people (false on the face of it unless this is held to be
*definitionally* true -- about such matters I cannot argue)

[2] assume that they are capable of being subjected to such an analysis
(highly questionable if nothing material is involved, which seems to be
the case -- how does one go about doing the memic equivalent of
gel-electorphoresis?? Unlike genes, memes do not have a physical
existance and hence are not *objects* for study)

[3] the only "good" analysis is based upon a tally of them (whatever
they might be and however they might be studied). This, of course, can
only occur if you presume application of a replicator based analysis is
your SOLE option.

I have this tendency to think that organisms (including their
interactions) are where it is at (with consideration made for
replicator- or [as I would rather put it] trait-based analysis when the
data seems to demand it!). Here, I think that a lot of the confusion
comes from a problem population genetics confronted successfully a long
time ago -- when we tally fitness do we count genes or individuals with
those genes? Seen as an accounting exercise, you can appreciate that
the results will have to be congruent, and that the choice of one or
the other is based in *methodology* NOT *theory*.


Dave Rindos
Australian Foundation for Archaeological Sciences
20 Herdsmans Parade Wembley WA 6014 AUSTRALIA
Ph:+61 9 387 6281 (GMT+8) FAX:+61 9 380 1051 (USEST+13)