X-Message-Number: 11960
Date: Tue, 15 Jun 1999 00:23:40 EDT
Subject: Memetics and Evolution

Peter Merel pounded "memetics" for lack of utility or predictive value, and I 
used to feel the same way. Memes, shmemes--sure, if you want to promote 
something, it helps to have a catchy slogan, but that isn't exactly news.

Now I'm not so sure. For one thing, ordinary Darwinian evolution, applied to 
ordinary organisms, is presently lacking in predictive (or even retrodictive) 
power in many areas. For example, we know that stress applied to fruit fly 
populations will produce mutations pretty soon, but we don't know what those 
new traits will be.

Beyond that, some pretty heavyweight thinkers are inclined to believe that 
all patterns, of all kinds, in all media, necessarily engage in something 
like Darwinian competition. Lee Smolin, in THE LIFE OF THE COSMOS (Oxford U. 
Press, 1997), suggests that even whole universes, even the constants of 
physics, even the laws of nature may appear and disappear in this way. 
Moravec in ROBOT says in part: "Beings will cease to be defined by their 
physical geographic boundaries, but will establish, extend, and defend 
identities as patterns of information flow in cyberspace." 

These are only hints and conjectures, to be sure, but should still give us 
pause. Perhaps memetics will not be found vacuous after all.

Robert Ettinger
Cryonics Institute
Immortalist Society

Rate This Message: http://www.cryonet.org/cgi-bin/rate.cgi?msg=11960