Older blog entries for tony (starting at number 4)

More Memes

In response to Kelly again:

I had not considered the social implications of accepting the concept of memes wholesale; the original proposition by Dawkins was simply to state that genetics is a special case of the more general concept of information propogation through a selection process; as shorthand, he called the general abstract unit of information a "meme." In his model, each meme-based system would have its own special bounds. In the case of genetics, it's the mode of encoding (genetics) and the mode of filtering (natural selection). In the case of concepts, its the mode of encoding (words, logic, and mathematics) and the mode of filtering (the biases and logic abilities of the different minds).

In this sense, I agree with Dawkins; genetics is merely a special case of information propogation.

I had not considered what the close ties to genetics would do in the minds of people not already familiar with the dual concepts of genetics and information theory. Not long ago (only about 7 years ago) I read an editorial in Newsweek that suggested we prod the "upper-middle-class and rich people" into having more children, and entice the "lower class (that is, people on welfare)" (these were the words of the author-- sorry, I don't recall the date of the issue nor the name of the author) to have fewer children. His reasoning was that, since the rich were obviously more successful, they were genetically superior.

Social darwinism.

The idea of "social memetics," or even worse, "memetic engineering," is repugnant. We don't understand the flow of ideas in any real way; we can model it statistically, but that is about it. Mostly, we don't uderstand the millieu of the mind, which handles encoding, filtering, and propogation of ideas-- the entire life-cycle. And since minds generally don't work in isolation, we don't understand propogation of ideas beyond a statistical level.

Really, we don't even understand how ideas are generated in the first place.

I guess this is all just a rambling attempt to explain that I agree with Kelly that memes are not a precise way to describe the creation, propogation, and selection of ideas or information, and that to take action based on this meme hypothesis is dangerous.

Is this a catch-22? The meme concept is a great shorthand for thinking about the flow of ideas (as long as you realize that it is not derived from genetics; rather, genetics is derived from it); but to understand it, do you need to understand the more-rigorous idea of information theory? In which case, you don't need the meme shorthand.

Sorry about these incoherent thoughts. But an idea is only as good as the use to which it is put; and if the expression of an idea (the phenotype, as it were) is wrong, then the memotype (sorry, couldn't resist) is innapropriate. Not "wrong," necessarily, just as a good genotype can lead to an innapropriate phenotype.

Oh, well. It seems silly to talk about the meme concept in terms of memes. Plus, the idea of memes is rather like Freud's writings-- impossible to disprove, and therefore it really has no place in science or logic.

(NOTE: I'm not saying some truths don't transcend logic. I'm just saying they have no place in science.)

A Note:

Natural selection is not about survival of the fittest. It's about survival of the most appropriate.


Hmm. Kelly states that "Basically, [Martin Gardner's] main point is that meme theory is a sexy but misleading way of explaining something that can just as easily be explained by the boring language of information exchange."

I'm not convinced the idea of memes is any different than information exchange theory. I see them as the same concept as seen from two different frameworks. You could just as easily explain the concept statistically, or through plasma physics analogies.

The concept of memes is based in genetic theory. Richard Dawkin's main point when he invented the idea of memes is that genetics is nothing more than information exchange, where the information packets (genes) are weighted in some manner. In genetics, natural selection does the weighting (though natural selection deals with phenotypes, and not genotypes, the result is statistically similar).

The concept of memes is nothing more than an abstraction of genetics, where you have information (a meme), some transmission method (genes or ideas, perhaps), and a filter mechanism (natural selection or minds). The concept of memes came into its own whenother people starting proposing that the general idea ofinformation evolution through selection explains the increase in human knowledge.

Do I "believe" in memes? In the general sense, yes. In the specific sense, not really. In genetics, information is transmitted digitally, in discrete packets, with very specific rules about gene propogation. I see no true gene analogue in ideas themselves, where the merging and evolution of ideas can happen seamlessly across an unbounded spectrum.

But I don't think the concept if the meme is fatally flawed. In fact, I find it a very convenient shorthand for the idea of weighted (or filtered) idea propogation. I could be swayed, of course. I've not read Martin Gardner, so I don't know his arguments; I don't know why he thinks memes are misleading.

And given the choice between sexy and boring-- if all else is equal, I choose sexy.

Okay, the headings should be easier on the eyes now. . . Sorry about that.


Added a new plug-in for gnome-filer, a "text" object. It's just a text canvas item, but I should be able to use it to create compound objects seamlessly. It's only a small step to label, say, a rectangle object like this:

data_set (rectangle, "label", "This is a rectangle");

Other things

Jeez, so I'm spending work time on gnome-filer; makes me feel a little guilty, I guess, but I'm so freakin' bored with regular work stuff. I'm waiting for the E450 to free up (which'll happen tomorrow) so I can consolidate all those ancient SparcStation 20s, and free up the E4000. So I'm bored. Terribly bored.

In case anyone reads this:

I work at a place called "SEARHC," the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, in Sitka, AK. I'm the senior DBA, in charge of the financial and medical databases. Normally I love my job, so this angst is a bit misplaced. Today I am just listless.

Oh well. Back to gnome-filer, and to hell with real work. Hack, hack!

So, does this append, prepend, or add another entry for entries of the same date? I'm about to find out.


I've been to college. I spent some years as a physics geek, ended up working as a student in the "media" shop in the library, and from there worked on a Netware LAN. So I ended up with a real job and dropped out.

I discovered Linux in '93, though. Some SLS distribution, you know the one? Took 60 floppies. I loved installing Linux. I found it one day while looking for Unix on Usenet. I knew I wanted to learn a real OS, and was lucky enough to get in when Linux only had about half-a-million users.

That's about the only good thing college ever gave me, besides fencing. Well, and perhaps the creative writing classes. The ones that taught me not to use sentence fragments. And said that prepositions are bad things to end sentences on.

So, why do you care? I suspect you don't. But I was giving away source code before I ever discovered Linux, or the GPL; I gave away the source to a program called "Shepard," a TSR that read keystroke sequences from a file, and used those to exit out of DOS-based applications after a period of user-inactivity. So my discovery of Linux, and the culture it personified, made me feel at home for the first time.

I was completely disillusioned by the computer industry; there was so much greed, when I first went to school for CS (before I switched to physics), almost half the class had never touched a computer before. They just knew there was a lot of money in a career in computers. I realized then that my love of computers, and my love of programming, didn't much matter. It was like discovering that wrestling is fake.

Now I'm slowly getting back into programming, and loving every minute I geek.

And it sure beats the hell out of working.

Quick comment-- seems to be a great deal of talent here. Yeah, I'm sucking up. Wanna make something of it?

I am serious, though. The list of participants is quite astounding. I wonder if it'll rub off?

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