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Friday, December 9, 2011


Mark Hodgetts from the UK has sent a link to a very interesting article about replicators by Dr. Susan Blackmore. This article is about how Darwin's replicator theory was passing knowledge and aiding the selection process. Here she quotes Dawkins, 1976, p192, about the cultural implication of memes.

"We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. ‘Mimeme’ comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like ‘gene’. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme. ... Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation."

I also like this example she gives, just one of many questions she poses.

"I previously gave the example of someone inventing a new recipe for pumpkin soup and passing it on to various relatives and friends (Blackmore 1999). The recipe can be passed on by demonstration, by writing the recipe on a piece of paper, by explaining over the phone, by sending a fax or e-mail, or (with difficulty) by tasting the soup and working out how it might have been cooked. It is easy to think up examples of this kind which make a mockery of drawing analogies with genotypes and phenotypes because there are so many different copying methods. Most important for the present argument, we must ask ourselves this question. Does information about the new soup only count as a meme when it is inside someone’s head or also when it is on a piece of paper, in the behaviour of cooking, or passing down the phone lines? If we answer that memes are only in the head then we must give some other role to these many other forms and, as we have seen, this leads to confusion."

She applies the use of memes to the creative process, "For example, let us suppose that at some particular time the most successful males were the meme fountains. Their biological success depended on their ability to copy the best tools or firemaking skills, but their general imitation ability also meant they wore the most flamboyant clothes, painted the most detailed paintings, or hummed the favourite tunes. In this situation mating with a good painter would be advantageous. Females who chose good painters would begin to increase in the population and this in turn would give the good painters another advantage, quite separate from their original biological advantage. That is, with female choice now favouring good painters, the offspring of good painters would be more likely to be chosen by females and so have offspring themselves. This is the crux of runaway sexual selection and we can see how it might have built on prior memetic evolution. "

Dr. Blakesmore makes distinction between the memes themselves and the machinery in and out of our brain that we have developed to aid the mematic process. She also suggests we look at those who copy (with errors and improvements) the actual thing and those who copy the instructions for the thing.

This could be a very interesting base of information for a DNA of Creativity project.

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